Tejon Ranch Conservancy eNews Spring/Summer 2020

On the Ranch

By Conservation Science Manager Mitchell Coleman

The rare California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus) on Bald Mountain in January 2020.

Since our last newsletter in February, our world has changed significantly. Many of us have sought refuge in our homes, while others have braved leaving home and family to complete work that is essential, if not heroic in and of itself. Parks, schools, and nature reserves have closed. Social distancing and Zoom were unknown to many of us two months ago, and now, they are ubiquitous.

Striped adobe lily (Fritillaria striata) in the Tejon Hills in February 2020.

Nonetheless, many good things have remained unchanged. The sun continues to rise and set; spring has arrived with its ritual joys of warmer weather and the colors and buzzings of a world coming alive. These very likely escaped our notice because we have been shut in at home, our minds occupied with thoughts of loved ones far away, worries about tomorrow, making things work where we are, and the blur of days that seem at once both boringly the same and unnervingly new.

Calico monkeyflower (Diplacus pictus) on Cordon Ridge in April 2020.

While the virtual format is no replacement for boots on the ground, we hope you have enjoyed the brief windows to the wild on our social media pages and newly revamped website.

A close shot of calico monkeyflower’s petals.

The Tejon Ranch has opened once again, allowing Conservancy staff to continue our work on the land. We are currently in the midst of annual vegetation monitoring and planning for science and stewardship projects for the remainder of 2020. Public access and education programs are still on hold while we hatch a plan to make them as safe as possible for all concerned. When these activities resume, you will see them on our website calendar and on our social media pages, but, for now, we have no immediate plans for those activities. Please see “Plans for Public Access” below for more details.

View of the San Joaquin Desert side of Tejon Ranch from the crest of Bald Mountain, January 2020.

With much hope and congeniality,

Mitchell Coleman

Photo by Chuck Noble

We Asked, You Answered

By Operations Director Tim Bulone

“Being outside is a great way to reduce stress and it serves as a reminder that we are surrounded by beauty. I live in Pine Mountain Club and have been exploring the trails here. Most of the time I see no one else while on these walks. I come home from them feeling re-energized.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that nature and the outdoors seem to play significant roles for people during crisis. We asked a random group of people, who have either visited or hoped to visit the Ranch, about their views on a variety of topics. Their anonymous answers helped enlighten us, among other things, about why people find the Ranch alluring, why they don’t visit more often, and what they’d like to do when it’s safe to come back. (Please note: The photos accompanying this article were taken prior to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Walking, gardening, birding, and observing wildlife were all included in the responses people had describing how they are interacting with nature right now. They described their experiences this way: keeps me sane; a mental break; good exercise; peace and connection to the wonders of life; mentally refreshing; very high priority; reduces stress and anxiety; it’s essential; and, nature refreshes me.

One person described how even city life has changed for them during this unusual time. They wrote, “There are small, uncommon pleasures in a city brought to a halt. When you step outside in Los Angeles these days, the air is crystal clear… Traffic in the city is nonexistent. When I make the occasional food run (blessing the grocery store workers), I can turn left at the end of my street onto Wilshire Blvd. for the first time in 20 years… When I go out to pick up the newspapers from my driveway (thank you, unseen delivery person), the birds are singing more spiritedly than usual. Is that just the lack of background noise, or are they actually happy we creatures on the ground below have become less frenetic?”

When it is finally safe to return to the Ranch, most people were equally divided between taking a tour and hiking. No surprise there really. “A day on your ranch wipes away my stress and worry. The lands of the ranch are the way much of California was when I was a child, calm and welcoming.” Birding, nature journaling, photography events, and wildflower viewing were also mentioned as activities others are interested in.

“I would love to have Reema Hammad lead photo trips to some of her favorite locations. Her intimate knowledge of the Ranch and her skills in photography would make for a compelling and informative workshop.”

Unless you live in one of the surrounding communities, getting to the Ranch is the single biggest hurdle people found to enjoying it. Although visitors have come to Conservancy events from some pretty far-flung places (to see wildflowers, for example), long drives are not high on people’s wish lists. Time was a second factor. Most frequently mentioned was having to schedule and plan far in advance to participate in Conservancy events. The cost of events, lack of interesting programs, and access difficulty were minor reasons people chose not to participate.

Despite these difficulties, far and away, people recognize the importance of the Ranch for both recreation and conservation, and want to visit.

“I am a college professor and have taken my Environmental Assessment class there to explore the various ecosystems and management activities on the Ranch, first with Mike White and later with Ellery Mayence. I will be teaching this class again next spring and hope to be able to take the students out to explore the Ranch.”

“Tejon Ranch is beyond words for conservation. The more I learn, the more in awe I am.”

“Living in LA, the ability to escape the city and get out into the wilds is critical. The history of the ranchos also makes it an integral part of California. As John Muir said, ‘The mountains are calling.’”

“I believe that the Tejon Ranch is indeed a very important resource for both recreation and conservation. Whether a person’s interest is the flora, fauna, geology, or history, it is all there. The wildlife and plants are diverse and must be protected. The ranch is a major corridor for the wildlife and in order to survive they must be able to travel.”

“There is nothing I treasure more than being out in the wilderness. And, the ranch does that for me. I am all in about preserving this place, which is one of the most unique places I've ever visited. I love hiking around the ranch. I love finding all the wonderful creature treasures that live there or pass through there. The ranch is so special that it has awakened other interests in the natural realm that I've dismissed before. It has drawn me to wildflowers, insects, trees, reptiles, and also the major reason why I wanted to go there in the first place: birds.”

We truly appreciate all the responses we received. The message was clear to us that people not only enjoy nature, but perhaps need it to balance themselves, especially now. Their love for the conserved lands of Tejon Ranch and its vast open spaces, wildflowers, and wild creatures has not wavered, despite whatever difficulties it may take to get here. We look forward to the days in which we can once again swing the gate open and see you on the Ranch.

Photo by Dan Potter


From citizen science to youth mentorship

By Todd Battey, NAFHA Member

It was April in 2009 when I arranged for a reconnaissance field trip to Tejon Ranch. My companions would be the late great Kent Van Sooy, then the Southern California Chapter President of the North American Field Herping Association (NAFHA), and Mike White, then the Conservation Science Director of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.

Group photo taken during an early NAFHA trip (06/2009) to the San Joaquin Valley side of Tejon Ranch. From left to right, Todd Battey, Hannah Battey, Alex Battey, Patrick Martin, Dr. Sam Sweet, Kent VanSooy, Lee Hull, Dr. Chris Evelyn, Dr. Mike White, Jeff Lemm, Jonathan Hakim, and John Reinsch.

It was immediately apparent to all involved that our alliance was a win-win situation: the Conservancy could take advantage of an enthusiastic group of citizen scientists to scour the Ranch to document species, allowing public access in a constructive and manageable format. And the NAFHA crew could explore the many habitats of the Ranch with the potential to collect significant herp observations at the intersection of the Coast Ranges, the San Joaquin Valley, the Tehachapi Mountains connection to the Sierra Nevada, and the Mojave Desert.

A pink-tailed, juvenile Gilbert's skink (Plestiodon gilberti) found at the black oak outcrop. Photo by Todd Battey.

This was the start of a long, productive, teaming relationship: NAFHA has visited the Ranch 34 times in the last 10 years with some exciting finds along the way.

Most herps are secretive creatures that are difficult to locate out in the open on a pre-planned date, so alternate search strategies are critical for successfully finding the resident species. Productive strategies include looking under natural cover objects, such as rocks and logs, and looking under artificial cover objects, which typically consist of strategically placed plywood boards. Reptiles and amphibians seek shelter under cover, especially in the spring, when such natural and artificial cover can provide temporary shelter for the animals. For the citizen science volunteers, such cover opens a window into the secret lives of herps. Many of NAFHA’s most significant finds were under cover, either natural or artificial.

Gathering around an artificial cover board on the north side of Bear Mountain in March 2012. From left to right, Nick Freeman, Jeff Lemm, Phil Buck, Matty Lemm, and Mike White. Photo by Todd Battey.

During this past decade, the NAFHA crew entered its herp observations into the Herpetological Education and Research Project (HERP) database and submitted them in other formats to the Conservancy staff.

Some highlights include the first photo-documented California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) at Tejon Ranch, first ever record of a northern rubber boa (Charina bottae) at the Ranch, highest elevation record of a Tehachapi slender salamander (Batrachoseps stebbinsi), high elevation records of the California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata), western-most photo-documented Mojave rattlesnake (Cortalus scutulatus), and many records of the other residents, such as yellow-blotched ensatina, Sierra gartersnake, northern Pacific rattlesnake (some NICE ones!), ring-necked snake, two species of legless lizards, long-nosed snake, glossy snake, gopher snake, Gilbert’s skink, western skink, southern alligator lizard, fence lizard, and side-blotched lizard.

The first photo-documented California mountain kingsnake (Lampropeltis zonata) at Tejon Ranch, found in April 2013 on Blue Ridge. Photo by Todd Battey.

These herp survey trips provide a lot of great data. However, another beneficial trend emerged over this decade: Young naturalists joined the NAFHA trips, inspiring them to go on to pursue higher education.

Two individuals exemplify this trend: Jonathan Mills-Anderson and Nicholas Hess. Both of these highly motivated student naturalists, at young ages, found out about the NAFHA trips to the Ranch to document reptiles and amphibians. They were supported by their families to deliver them or accompany them to the Ranch before they could even drive. Both helped find and photo-document the herpetofauna of the area. They were also inspired by the early exposure to wildlife at the Ranch, which helped them find their own unique interests.

Two California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) found at the Blue Ridge by father-son team, Phil and Mark Buck in May 2019. Photo by Chris Degroof.

Jonathan went on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from the University of New Hampshire. He’s starting a Master’s program in conservation science next month at the University of Queensland in Australia. His interest is urban ecology, specifically what factors influence the ability of species to persist in human-dominated landscapes. Also, he has a strong interest in environmental education, which is why he’s currently doing field trips and other forms of trail guiding. When I asked, he shared the following:

“My experience with citizen science programs from a young age helped orient my mind toward the public’s experience with the natural world. I was always excited to share my experiences, which contributed to my fascination with environmental education. My research interest in urban ecology allows me to focus on providing access to the environment for people who otherwise may never get the experiences I did. Of course, I also plan to utilize citizen science-gathered data as a main resource for my future projects!”

The one and only rubber boa (Charina bottae) documented at Tejon Ranch, found in May 2012 during a NAFHA trip to Blue Ridge. Photo by Todd Battey.

Nicholas is a few years younger, but shares a similar passion for biology. His early exposure to wildlife surveys at Tejon helped inspire him to pursue his own interests. He’s currently a senior in high school and has been accepted to Eckerd College in Florida to pursue a marine biology degree. He plans to take a gap year during which he will travel, volunteer abroad, and gain field experience.

The furthest west photo-documented Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) found along Contour Road, east of the Ranch's 300th Street West Gate. Photo by Todd Battey.

An accomplished young wildlife photographer, Nicholas was a category winner for the Zoological Society of London Photo Contest in 2016 for his spectacular photo of the northern Pacific rattlesnake with a backdrop of poppies in Tejon Canyon. It won the category "At Home in Their Habitat." His ring-necked snake shot won "Weird but Wonderful.” He has earned additional awards for his photos at the Exo-Terra Nactus Competition.

A northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) with spectacular a spring backdrop in Tejon Canyon. Photo by Nicholas Hess.

“My herping career practically began and developed at Tejon Ranch,” Nic says. “My first Tejon Ranch trip was on September 19 of 2010 when I was 8. It was the first time I met other herpers and herp photographers. This trip introduced me to a new community that shaped me into who I am today.”

Three young naturalists explore the San Joaquin side of Tejon Ranch during a late season NAFHA trip. Photo by Todd Battey.

We look forward to many more productive trips to the Tejon Ranch as part of our ongoing relationship with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. For more information, check out Todd Battey’s website at toddbattey.com and Nicholas Hess’ website at nicholashessphotography.com.

Young naturalists photographing a lizard in the San Joaquin Valley. Photo by Todd Battey.


By Education Program Coordinator Paula Harvey

On a spring-like day in late January, my colleague and I went out on the Ranch to scout locations for an upcoming event. We stopped at the reservoir to do a little journaling.

“What is that bird there?” she asked, pointing. “That isn’t a coot, is it? It’s not black.”

I looked at what she was pointing to and said, “Absolutely, that’s a coot. They aren’t all black. They have dark grey bodies with velvety black necks and even blacker heads with white beaks and red eyes.”

I am not a bird expert by any means, but exactly one month prior, I visited Andrée Clark Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara, enjoying an afternoon of journaling waterfowl, and studied a coot. The ubiquitous coot would not necessarily have been my first choice, as it is so common and abundant. But that was exactly why I chose to study it, as there were several of them in the water swimming by. I am a novice at drawing, so I’m slow. They were easy to study and sketch without having to hurry to capture their likeness before they disappeared.

Coots at Reservoir 2 on Tejon Ranch, January 28, 2020.

I’m keenly aware of the value of journaling in enhancing observation skills and memory, and our conversation reinforced its power. Having studied the coot in January stepped up my sense of connection with the species. I know it better now than I did before studying it. And while I’ve taken plenty of photographs of the birds, nothing compares to deep observation. In a sense, I developed a special relationship with it. Since coots were abundant at the reservoir as well, I sat down and journaled about them once again, and consequently got to know them even better.

Who Should Nature Journal? Nature journaling is an activity that absolutely anyone, at any age, can do. It is fun, rewarding, and beneficial. It improves observation skills, and thereby your sense of curiosity. As you connect with the subjects you study, your understanding and knowledge are increased, which in turn leads to a sense of caring and a conservation mindset.

How to Start Your Nature Journaling Practice: Journaling is not at all about drawing pretty pictures. Developing drawing skills can be fun and I’m always trying to improve those skills, but the sketch or diagram is only one element of the journal. Think of journaling as a three-dimensional approach. Integrate these three elements into your journal practice to maximize your experience.

1. Writing: Narrative descriptions, observations, and questions. Head each page with date, time, location, weather conditions, people you’re with. Include scientific descriptions, poetry, personal anecdotes and reflections—whatever you like. Consider including these sentence frames: • I notice…. (Observations) • I wonder… (Develop your sense of curiosity by asking questions that lead to more observations and inquiry) • This reminds me of… (Connect this experience with previous ones)

2. Metrics: Use numbers, measurements, and estimations. Include temperature, size, weight, length, population numbers, wind speed, percentage of ground cover or cloud cover.

3. Drawing: Draw sketches and diagrams of landscapes, plants, animals, rocks, whatever you’re interested in. Include labels and measurements when diagramming.

Journal page from my visit to Andrée Clark Bird Refuge in Santa Barbara in December 2019.

When I returned home, I did some research, added labels and information, and discovered a mistake in identification of the northern shoveler. Rather than erasing, I crossed it out with a single line, and made the correction. The mistake in identification was worth noting in the journal. In fact, it’s best to show your mistakes, and if you’re dissatisfied with a drawing, turn it into a diagram or write about the problems with it. Notice I mention the head is too large in the drawing? Your journal is as much a personal record as a scientific one; noticing changes in your knowledge and abilities over time is as interesting and valuable as the subjects you study.

Your journal is for YOU. Include anything you like in it. Notice I include information relative to the drawing materials I’m using?

When I go out in the field, I like to take photographs of what I’m studying, so I can refer to them later to polish or finish my journal page. Although I didn’t sketch the bald eagle, I took a picture of it and mentioned it in my journal. This might be a fun addition to my journal opposite the one pictured above. I leave the opposite page blank in my journal because the graphite smears, but also so I can add notes after I’ve finished. I could either print the photo and paste it into the journal or do an additional sketch. I would certainly learn more by doing the sketch.

Where to Nature Journal: ANYWHERE! When the weather is cold, I like to use photographs I or others have taken and practice sketching them. I enjoy going out on the Ranch to journal, but sometimes the winds are impossible in the desert or the temperature is uncomfortable. So I might start a sketch, then finish it up at home. A backyard is full of wonders. A hand lens reveals creatures you don’t even realize are there. Noticing what comes with the seasons, such as migratory birds or invertebrates in your own yard, can surprise you if you haven’t been paying attention. What’s that strange white fluffy thing crawling up the stem of your houseplant in the kitchen? Sketch it, ask some questions, engage your computer, and figure it out.

Below the final photo in this article is a cheat sheet to glue into the inside front cover of your journal to remind you of the basic elements of a three-dimensional journal entry.

What’s my one key piece of advice for successful journaling?


the infectious parlance of the cow country

A few western expressions

Compressed hay - A humorous name for dried cow chips used for fuel.

Following the tongue - During trail days, drovers set their directions by the North Star. At night, after locating the star, the wagon tongue was pointed in the direction to be traveled the next day.

Ridin' the high lines - On the scout. Said of an outlaw. Many bad men were forced to ride trails "that'd make a mountain goat nervous."

Sunned his moccasins - Often said when one is thrown from a horse, especially when they lands with their feet in the air!

From Western Words: A Dictionary of the Old West by Ramon F. Adams (Hippocrene Books, 1997). Published with permission.

Photo by Mike White

Adding Color to the World

Public Access Assistant Reema Hammad has developed a series of coloring pages for all ages. Don’t be fooled by the word “coloring.” The intricacy of some designs will challenge even experienced colorists. The pages are based on the photographs of Reema and Senior Docent Chris Gardner. You will find the entire coloring page series on the Conservancy website.

Plans for Public Access

The staff of Tejon Ranch Conservancy is planning for public access activities when the state of California okays them for our "industry." However, until that time, no Conservancy activities will involve the public or public access. When that time comes, and it is safe for us to do so, we will be ready to offer some fun and interesting Ranch outings.

It is and will continue to be our priority to ensure the safety of guests, volunteers, and staff, by establishing protocols and procedures for physical distancing. Therefore, we will not be doing vehicle tours for the foreseeable future. We will be limiting group size more than in the past. We are evaluating locations where groups can park and walk onto the Ranch for activities that may include short hikes, picnics, and classes. We may also look at short-drive locations for hikes and events. Some of the classes we may offer include nature journaling, photography, drawing, Ranch history, and botany. We are also going to start a nature journaling club, which may include meetups on the Ranch.

While we are making modifications to our public access program to ensure physical distancing for the safety of everyone, we are looking forward to offering some new outdoor adventures. When we are able to offer public access events, we will send an email to you. Then you can check our online calendar or social media posts for scheduled events. Stay tuned!

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Tejon Ranch Conservancy E-News produced by co-editors Tim Bulone and Susan Chaney. If you’d like to contribute to E-News, please let us know.

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