Kelso Creek is one of the major streams of the southernmost Sierra Nevada, dividing the Piute and the Scodie ranges on the south side of the Kern River drainage. It runs north for about twenty miles toward the South Fork Kern River, but now only reaches the Kern during flood events. Normally, it flows above ground year-round to a point about five miles south of the Kern, support several hundred acres of exceptionally lush woodland of Fremont Cottonwood and willows, with stinging nettle thickets so attractive to birds and other wildlife. Above the streambed, dense stands of Joshua Tree woodland are found on terraces, interspersed with tracts of lush desert scrub and desert chaparral. Wildflower displays in this area can be spectacular in April and May. About 150 acres of creek bed has recently been purchased by Audubon California, in hopes of augmenting holdings of the most critical bird habitat throughout the South Fork Kern River watershed. The ownership in this IBA is very complex, being a mosaic of private ranchland (the majority) and BLM holdings. Most of the mountainous lands surrounding the stream were designated as Wilderness Areas by the BLM following the Passage of the Desert Protection Act in 1994, but this did little to protect the riparian areas.

Ornithological Summary

Following a long history of grazing and OHV abuse within the streambed of Kelso Creek, its bird community is recovering each year with the help of conservation easements and acquisitions. Although Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Willow Flycatcher have yet to appear as nesters (as they do along the South Fork Kern River to the north), most of the other riparian obligate species of the Mojave are present, with the addition of the narrowly-endemic Kern race of Red-winged Blackbird. Toward the north, the creek opens up to form a broad, sparsely-vegetated floodplain that supports breeding Burrowing Owl (along sandy river cuts) and Le Conte's Thrasher. Migrant songbirds can pass through in exceptionally large numbers during spring and early fall, although access to the habitat has been difficult due to fencing and ranchers that have barred public access. During fall, thousands of Turkey Vultures migrate south along Kelso Creek from the Kern Valley, en route to the Colorado River and Mexico.

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Conservation Issues

Since most of the lands surrounding this IBA are secure from development, conservation is focused on managing the riparian habitat for birds and reducing threats such as overgrazing and destructive recreation activities. This area of vast federal wilderness areas is contiguous (and occasionally interspersed) with one of the most heavily-used OHV areas in the country, which has led to inevitable challenges managing human use in an area that has long tolerated lawlessness. The occasional motorcyclist that sneaks into the habitat along Kelso Creek often leads to a "rediscovery" the site by other OHV enthusiasts, which restarts the degradation (K. Axelson, pers. comm.).

Ownership

About 150 acres of creek bed has recently been purchased by Audubon California, in hopes of augmenting holdings of the most critical bird habitat throughout the South Fork Kern River watershed. The ownership in this IBA is very complex, being a mosaic of private ranchland (the majority) and BLM holdings. Most of the mountainous lands surrounding the stream were designated as Wilderness Areas by the BLM.

Habitat

Normally, Kelso Creek flows above ground year-round to a point about five miles south of the Kern, support several hundred acres of exceptionally lush woodland of Fremont Cottonwood and willows, with stinging nettle thickets so attractive to birds and other wildlife. Above the streambed, dense stands of Joshua Tree woodland are found on terraces, interspersed with tracts of lush desert scrub and desert chaparral.