Tejon RancH Conservancy eNews May 2017

On the Ranch

In this May issue we’ll focus a little on migration, the seasonal movement of animals from one region to another. We’re most familiar with the migration of birds, usually a fairly visible occurrence, like the iconic V-shape flock of geese traveling across the sky, or the arrival in our region of less familiar species as they migrate through. All migration is prompted by resources, something even true in the movement of humans across the planet.

Tejon Ranch and its abundant grasslands and oak woodlands provides a rich environment for birds and birders alike, with the Conservancy regularly hosting bird walks, counts, and outings, including an upcoming Breeding Bird Blitz. Learn more in this issue about Purple Martins on Tejon from Chris Gardner, Conservancy Citizen Scientist.

It’s been another busy month for Conservancy research as we continue to host researchers from around the country here at Tejon, whose rich, diverse, and relatively untouched environment provides many opportunities for scientific exploration. Facilitating research requires planning, logistics, and coordination with the Tejon Ranch Company, and is an important part of our ongoing work, made possible through your support. Please join today as a member.

Many new volunteers joined the Conservancy to help visitors enjoy the Ranch’s wildflower displays this year. Meet one of our newest volunteers, Jim McInerney, who describes why it is important to him to volunteer.

Finally, we announce the departure of Conservancy Science Director Mike White, PhD at the end of June. After many years at Tejon, Mike has decided to migrate to parts unknown (well, actually Encinitas). Without question, no one has contributed more to conservation at Tejon than Mike. And while he certainly deserves a break, we will miss his leadership, personality and incredible knowledge.

We hope you enjoy reading about Tejon as much as we enjoy sharing it with you. Please let us know what you’d like to see in future issues, or if you're interested in contributing a story.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Spring migration is upon us!

By Conservancy Science Director Mike White

Photo by Conservancy Volunteer Chuck Noble

Spring is here—the wildflowers are in bloom, deciduous oaks are leafing out, and the migrants are arriving! The migrants I am referring to are birds. Keep your eyes peeled because it is not out of the question to see flocks of white pelicans, turkey vultures, California gulls, or long-billed curlews passing over our office in the Grapevine Canyon Pass.

Many different animal species migrate, and migrations can be some of wildlife’s most spectacular shows. Ecologically, animals migrate in response to changes in their environment, such as migrating away from an area with a reduced amount of food or habitat quality during severe winters, or migrating to a very food-rich area during the breeding season.

Species migrate across vastly different distances, and the distances that some species migrate are hard to fathom (the Arctic tern migrates over 50,000 miles each year!). Species that don’t migrate deal with weather and food availability in different ways, and migration is just one strategy that animals use to deal with changes and uncertainties in their environment. But it must be a successful strategy!

Wintering Bald Eagle in the San Joaquin Valley. Photo by Chris Gardner.

Butterflies migrate, fish migrate, birds migrate, bats migrate, pronghorn migrate, whales migrate—migration is a strategy that has developed across a diverse array of species. At Tejon however, we really experience the migration phenomenon through birds.

In fact, while many species at Tejon are year-round residents, many of the common birds that we see on the Ranch at different times of year, don’t actually live here year-round. Some migrate here in the winter from breeding grounds farther north with more severe winters than ours. For example, we usually have two or three bald eagles hanging around the San Joaquin Valley, Lewis’s woodpeckers and yellow-rumped warblers in valley oaks, a number of wintering raptors like ferruginous hawks, and flocks of glorious mountain bluebirds showing off in our grasslands.

A mountain bluebird shows off his colors in the Antelope Valley. Photo by Chris Gardner.

A Lewis’s woodpecker in the winter sunlight. Photo by Chris Gardner.

A ferruginous hawk strikes a regal pose. Photo by Chris Gardner

During the spring and summer, these winter visitors are replaced by many species that wintered down in the southern hemisphere, and are either coming here to breed or passing through on their way to breeding grounds farther north. These include species like swallows (including the Purple Martin featured later in this newsletter) and swifts, orioles, tanagers, hummingbirds, and many other songbirds.

Vermillion flycatchers migrate through Tejon but are not known to breed here (yet!). Photo by Chris Gardner.

While we can see flocks of some species migrating during the day (think pelicans), many smaller bird species actually do most of their migrating at night when there are few predators and smoother flying conditions. When the sun comes up, these nocturnal migrants need to find a place to land and fuel up. Sometimes factors combine and lots of individuals of lots of different species of nocturnal migrants will all drop down at first light to look for a place to spend a day or two, producing a phenomenon birders call “fall out.”

A Bullock’s oriole in a Valley oak. Photo by Chris Gardner.

Scott’s orioles nest in Joshua tree woodlands in the Antelope Valley. Here with an insect larva in his bill. Photo by Chris Gardner.

Western tanagers are colorful breeders on the Ranch. Photo by Chris Gardner.

Natural areas such as Tejon are very important for our resident wildlife, but are also very important for our migratory visitors. The Conservancy is working hard to keep the Ranch a sanctuary for our migrant friends through our stewardship activities. We hope that you will join us in helping them!

Western kingbirds are often one of the first migrants to arrive in the spring. Photo by Chris Gardner.

End of an Era

Conservancy Science Director Mike White

It is with deeply mixed feelings we announce that Mike White, Ph.D, will be leaving his position as Conservation Science Director on June 30, 2017. Mike has been with the Conservancy since 2009 and worked on Tejon Ranch-related issues for many years before that. Many of the Conservancy projects that Mike initiated during this time are just now coming to completion, and fortunately, we have our great program staff in place to continue this work. I think we can all agree, there is no one who understands or respects Tejon and its ecological and conservation value more than Mike, nor has contributed more to the work of the Conservancy with the same impact and passion.

Mike feels it is an opportune time to take a little time off, reflect on the accomplishments of the organization over the last nine years, and think about the next phase of his career. Fortunately, Mike has agreed to continue his professional affiliation with the Conservancy, in a yet undefined advisory role, and we’ll be working with him in considering opportunities for such over the next couple of months.

Please join us all here at the Conservancy in thanking Mike for his incredible contribution to conservation and in wishing Mike and his wife Jerre well in exploring future chapters and adventures in life. In the meantime, feel free to send Mike your fond wishes at mwhite@tejonconservancy.org

Research Update

By C. Ellery Mayence, Conservancy Senior Ecologist

For select parts of Tejon Ranch, the month of May ushers in the first unmistakable days of summer, whereas in other areas, notably those at higher elevation, spring conditions can still be found. As in previous months, research activities on Tejon Ranch in May continue to be in full swing. Ben Klein, a Doctoral student in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be returning to Tejon this month to resume his geological field work.

David Miller, a geologist with CSU-Bakersfield, will also return with his enthusiastic cadre of budding geologists, this time not simply for fieldwork, but for a field-based final exam. What a fun way to finish off the semester! Brandon Pratt, also from CSU-Bakersfield, will be returning to conduct physiological measurements on a suite of chaparral plant species on the Mojave side of the ranch; research that has been quite telling with respect to vegetation drought tolerance and drought recovery (or the lack thereof in some instances).

In May the bryologists, Daniel Palmer, Paul Wilson, and Ken Kellman, will once again descend on Tejon looking to add species of non-vascular plants (e.g., mosses, liverworts, and hornworts) to their growing biogeographical study.

Though not technically research, but scientifically informative nonetheless, Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden located in Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley Hills, will be visiting Tejon in May for a multi-day botanical foray.

With the exception of one final excursion later in the summer, May will draw to a close what has been a busy spring season for native plant enthusiasts, with the Conservancy having co-hosted numerous events with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, and California Native Plant Society.

No research update would be complete without mention of botanists Neal Kramer and Nick Jensen. Neal (Kramer Botanical, Inc.) will return to Tejon looking for early summer blooming rare plants and to assist with yearly vegetation surveys in areas the Conservancy considers conservation hotspots. Nick of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens on the other hand continues to catalog the vascular plant flora of Tejon. Even after four years of field surveys and nearly 1,000 taxa collected, Nick still manages to find new additions to Tejon's plant list, an indication that botanical research on the Ranch is still very much in the discovery phase.

The California Naturalist

By California Naturalist and Conservancy Docent Paula Harvey

Spring is a busy time for hundreds of animal species in California as they move to their summer homes. A few of California’s iconic migrants:

• Spring-run Chinook salmon swim upstream to their spawning grounds from late March through September,

• Gray whales move from their nursery grounds in Baja California to their feeding grounds in Alaska from March to May,

Sandhill cranes wintering by the Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, 45 miles north of Bakersfield. Photo by Conservancy Docent and California Naturalist Paula Harvey.

• Sandhill Cranes return from their winter locations in Central California to their breeding grounds in Alaska in March and April,

• Monarch Butterflies leave their winter homes in Mexico and fly north to breed, looking for milkweed, the plant their larvae eat.

Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery 15 miles north of Cambria, California. Photo by Conservancy Docent and California Naturalist Paula Harvey.

• Elephant seals have a fascinating migratory schedule with different groups coming and going to their California rookeries throughout the year. For example, pups leave by the end of April, as adults return to the area to molt in April and May.

• The Pacific Flyway is a major migratory corridor that runs through California. Birds stop at various places along the way. Here’s a link to a map showing some of the migratory routes in California.

Some animals, such as mule deer, migrate altitudinally rather than latitudinally, ranging up and down mountain slopes in search of food. Habitat fragmentation (division of large, unbroken habitats into smaller patchworks) can affect the movements of these animals.

The Ranch’s importance to migration is by linking adjacent wild areas of the Los Padres and Sequoia National Forests, i.e., connecting the Coastal Ranges to the Sierras, thereby allowing for movement of larger, mobile animal species. The Ranch is also an important corridor for birds and bats migrating north and south between breeding and wintering habitats.

Purple Martin

By Conservancy Volunteer and California Naturalist Chris Gardner

The Purple Martin (Progne subis) is the largest North American swallow. Its flight is strong and graceful, with alternating rapid wing beats and long glides. The wings are pointed; the tail notched. Males are dark, glossy purple-blue. Females have duller upperparts and mostly gray underparts. They feed on flying insects, catching prey in mid-air, flying up to 45 mph when foraging.

Purple Martins winter in South America and return to North America as a summer resident from mid-March to late September, breeding between May and August. They are broadly distributed throughout most of eastern North America. In western North America, Purple Martins occur locally in the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert and Pacific Coast states.

Purple Martins evolved as a secondary-cavity nester, relying on cavities already created by woodpeckers. In the eastern United States, the species has switched to human constructed martin houses due to the competition of natural tree cavities from European starlings and house sparrows. In the western United States, it still nests almost exclusively in woodpecker holes.

In California, though once described as being "fairly common" but irregularly scattered throughout the state, Purple Martin populations have been in decline since the 1970's. The decline is thought to be correlated with the increased number of European starlings out-competing martins for nesting cavities. Different nesting substrates are utilized in different parts of the state. It is recognized that the Tehachapi Mountains, including the Tejon Ranch, may represent the last place where martins regularly nest in oak woodlands.

Reference: Airola, D. A. and Williams, B. D. C. 2008. Purple Martin (Progne subis) in California. Bird Species of Special Concern: A ranked assessment of species, subspecies, and distinct populations of birds of immediate conservation concern in California (W. D. Shuford and T. Gardali, eds.), pp. 293-299. Studies of Western Birds 1. W. Field Ornithol., Camarillo, CA. and Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game, Sacramento.

Volunteer Jim McInerney and his wife, Kathryn

Meet One of Our Newest Volunteers - Jim McInerney

During the 2017 Tejon Ranch Wildflower event, many questions were asked about volunteering with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. While there are many different volunteer opportunities, I selected the wildflower events held over several weekends where I assisted visitors, ensured their safety and worked closely with Conservancy staff.

"I believe what I do is important in both small and large ways. In a small way, I ensure each visitor has the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the Ranch, one visitor at a time. By doing this, I help with the big picture of ensuring the protection of Tejon Ranch for future generations."

Everyone has their reasons for volunteering at the Ranch. In my case, being a neighbor of the Ranch, I enjoy sharing my local knowledge with visitors. Many have never experienced the beauty of the area and are quite surprised at the size and openness of the Ranch. The positive interactions with visitors give me the motivation to continue helping the Conservancy.

The Tejon Ranch is very special to me, with its varied wildlife and many different ecosystems. The Tejon Ranch Conservancy is the key to maintaining the beauty of the Ranch for the enjoyment of future generations of Californians, and through my volunteering efforts, will continue to support this work.

Bears will be Bears

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

It is spring again out on the Ranch, and with painted hillsides, swollen creeks, and budding oaks, comes a flourish of activity from our resident wildlife. As a camera trapper, this is my favorite time of year, as an energetic mélange of well-fed critters reintroduce themselves to my cameras after a quiet, lonely winter. Of course, the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a perennial favorite out here on Tejon, but in springtime they appear particularly rambunctious, which translates into some pretty entertaining wildlife video. Here are a few highlights from our Tejon bears, captured over the last couple years.

Below, nothing like taking a dip on a cool spring morning.

Next, a black bear uses a feral pig's rib cage for scratching.

Next, one of our bears indulges in a nice back scratch while snacking on the tasty termites under one of Tejon’s long lost hunting cabins.

Finally, these two playful cubs are enjoying a swim with mom in a cattle trough above Tunis Creek.

We have 68 wildlife cameras around Tejon Ranch which help our conservation work and provide a rare glimpse into our natural world. Please support the Conservancy's wildlife camera work.

Click here to learn more.

Thank you!

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