Tejon Ranch conservancy enews March 2018

On the Ranch

By Conservancy President & CEO Bob Reid

The greening of hills and bright blue skies over the Tejon Ranch signal the beginning of spring. Although officially marked on March 20th this year, the budding of trees and rapid growth of grasses are a clear reminder that spring is here. We’ll all be keeping a close watch on the weather as winter storms didn’t materialize and dry predictions unfortunately do not bode well for wildflowers. We’ll keep you posted though, and are ready to host wildflower viewings at the first sign of their arrival. In the meantime, Docent Naturalist Chris treats us to the life of our most iconic wildflower, the California poppy.

We expect the golden eagle released last month is doing well and has returned to her native territory (and mate) in the hills above Grapevine. You won’t want to miss Wildlife Biologist Ben’s dramatic story of her rescue, rehabilitation and release, along with interviews with the incredible wildlife medical staff behind her story. Not as large as a golden eagle, nor as small as a poppy, monarch butterflies still fascinate young and old and are yet another iconic species challenged by climate change and diminishing range. Education program coordinator and naturalist Paula helps us understand more about monarchs and their unique lifecycle. I recall the monarchs’ migration along the central coast years ago and the sound of eucalyptus branches crashing to the ground under the “weight of butterflies”.

Sharing knowledge is vitally important to conservation. Science Mgr. Ellery and Stewardship Mgr. Laura both attended the recent California Native Plant Society (CNPS) conference and shared their knowledge of Tejon’s amazing flora. If interested in learning more “on the ground” about Tejon, join Ellery for the upcoming TRESS workshops or just volunteer this spring with Laura or Chris Fabbro for their many projects on the Ranch. We also are adding a new feature this month under “Learn More”, a link to other stories and conservation organizations.

As the seasons come and go, so too is it with board members and staff. We say farewell and thank you to Joe Rentfro as a Tejon Ranch Company (TRC) board representative and welcome the Tejon Ranch Company’s Director of Environmental Permitting Diana Hurlbert as his TRC replacement on the board. We also say a fond farewell to Jennifer Brummett, Conservancy Operations Manager, who has been around Tejon since 2006, first with TRC and joining the Conservancy after its formation in 2009. We wish her well in her new position at Cal State University Northridge (a lot closer to home and her new daughter!).

Change is constant. What doesn’t change though is our commitment to the preservation and protection of the unique ecology here at the Tejon Ranch. Focusing on science, stewardship and public access/education, we continue to serve the mission and work of the Conservancy. Bolstered by your support, we strive to learn more about this amazing landscape, to advance working lands conservation, and to share the wonders of the hills, canyons, deserts, and ridges of Tejon. Appreciating and understand the nature of this land, and the nature of our relationship with it, remains the most important thing we can achieve in our time.

Great news! We’ve met our match! Thank you to everyone who helped meet the vehicle challenge grant of $65,000 from our wonderful donor. We are out shopping for our new tour van and will keep you posted!


As always…we look forward to seeing you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

President and CEO

Mercy for the Menacing: Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation

By Conservancy Wildlife Biologist Ben Teton

The patient lay lifeless on the operating table. The outlook was grim. This would be the second, and final attempt at a complex emergency surgery, the success of which would mean the difference between life and death. The surgeon’s focus was palpable throughout the sterilized operating room, silent but for the steady resonance of the cardiac monitor reporting that, despite the odds, hope endured within the patient’s all too frangible heart. As is so often the case in emergency medicine, survival would depend wholly on the judgement and precision of the attending physician, and their ability to navigate a treacherous path between multiple conflicting risk factors. On this day risk factors were popping up like jellyfish across our warming oceans, all of which were made more complicated by the patient’s hollow bones and, were the anesthesia to wear off, proclivity to tear out the good doctor’s eyes and fly away.

It was the prospect of having my own eyes torn out that occupied my attention on a blistering hot September morning last year as I headed down the Grapevine to investigate a report of a “huge eagle dying on the side of the highway.” The plan was simple enough; I would go down and see what, if anything, could be done for the bird, and if possible, transport her to our local veterinary hospital for care. As a wildlife biologist, I have a fair amount of experience handling wildlife, including large birds, but I am certainly no falconer. Wildlife rescue falls well outside the purview of my typical responsibilities with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, but after being coached-up by a former colleague and wildlife rehabilitator, I was confident I understood how to handle and contain such a large bird without injuring it. Doing so without personally being sliced to ribbons, I was less sure. This trepidation only increased as I pulled over on the side of a dusty highway to see the gilded velociraptor hissing at me expectantly, her three-inch talons tucked beneath her like so many prison shivs. The report was accurate, she was huge, and she was certainly dying as she was completely crippled from an apparent blunt-force trauma. The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), is one of the most potent creatures to have ever taken flight from the surface on this earth, ever. Its Herculean eyesight combined with a massive 6-foot wingspan allow it to target a full-grown deer at a distance of two miles, then dive upon its prey reaching speeds over 180 mph. From there, the pointy bits take care of the rest.

Even as this large female lay crumpled like old laundry in a forgotten closet, her auric gaze cast forth the eminence of the imperial overlord that she was born to be. As our eyes met, she seemed to take authority over my very soul. I had concerns. As I quietly approached, one thing became abundantly clear: somewhere nearby a striped skunk was recounting to his skeptical compatriots the legend of when he defeated the mighty eagle in one-on-one combat. The bird reeked. Her wretched state bedeviled further by an implacable sun grinding out her remaining lifeforce by the minute. My hope was to gently wrap her in a saddle blanket and transfer her to a large animal crate for transport, which, to my great relief, is exactly what happened. This proud, deadly predator had no fight left.

Wilder the eagle arrives gravely injured and severely dehydrated at Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital in Frazier Park. Photo courtesy of Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital.

While my Crocodile-Dundee moment had come to an end, the story of this bird’s recovery, and the remarkable hash of heroes who stepped forward on this creature’s behalf, was about to begin. This may come as a surprise, but many wild eagles remain uninsured, which means all of the comprehensive emergency procedures required to bring her back from the brink would be administered pro-bono. Add to that the facilities and specialized equipment necessary to care for such a large and potentially dangerous bird, it is a testament to the greatness of our civilization that I had anywhere to take her in the first place. Our tour of Southern California wildlife rescue facilities began at the Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital in Frazier Park, where the redoubtable Dr. Cosko abandoned her well-earned day-off to treat the shattered and depleted bird. Suffice it to say, Whiskers the cat was less than thrilled as I rudely interrupted her flea treatment only to present a veritable angel of death to her attending physician.

Initial exploratory x-rays performed by Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital. X-rays reveal a comminuted fracture of the right tibia/fibula(fused). Notice the small bone fragments visible around the break site. Also notice her pneumatic bones characterized by hallow air space reinforced by lightweight honeycomb-like struts. Photo courtesy of Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital.

As Dr. Cosko and her staff sprang into action, it was easy to see how she has become something of a local legend in our community. This is a woman who, in addition to quarterbacking the only vet hospital for 50 miles in any direction, decided to pick up a law degree in her spare time, for no other reason than to make her a more potent animal rights advocate. In the 45 minutes I spent trying, and mostly failing, to be of some assistance, I witnessed Dr. Cosko reach out and pull this bird from the jaws of death. An MRI confirmed she indeed had suffered a compound fracture of her fused tibia fibula, the large “drumstick” bone descending from the right side of her body. Fluids were administered, casts were molded, vitals were tracked, mice were proffered. But this eagle would require more.

Dr. Cosko and her team work to stabilize the injured eagle. The unusual size and shape of the eagle’s injured leg required a custom molded cast. Photo courtesy of Mountain Aire Veterinary Hospital.

Such a severe injury would require surgery to heal correctly, a prospect made more precarious by the multiple comminuted bone fragments present around the break site. This would necessitate an advanced surgical facility and rehabilitation center capable of handling a bird of her stature, not to mention a surgeon capable of performing the procedure. But where to find such a facility and how to get her there? It is not as if there is an animal ambulance service on-call for this type of situation. Enter Vicki Bingaman, a Frazier Park local and friend of the Conservancy. As a wildlife rehabber herself, we had facilitated the release of several of her animals over the years out on the Ranch, and she was known to be well-connected in wildlife rescue circles. After a brief explanation of what we were dealing with, Vicki too sprang into action, and in a matter of minutes had not only made arrangements with one of the best wildlife rehabilitation clinics in the region, but had volunteered to transport the bird as soon as she was able.

Wilder the eagle is prepared for surgery at the California Wildlife Center in Malibu.

Two days later the eagle was in surgery at the California Wildlife Center in Malibu, under the expert care of veterinary surgeon Dr. Duane Tom. Dr. Tom is another renowned figure in the world of wildlife medicine and like both Vicki and Dr. Cosko, he too is all in. Dr. Tom’s life revolves around his practice. I mean that literally as he intentionally bought a home only minutes away from his clinic, just to be available at a moment’s notice. His passion for wildlife medicine is based on the guiding philosophy that “wildlife injuries are too often caused by human interactions and it is our responsibility to do something about it.” In the case of this eagle, he certainly did. Only days after his first attempt to surgically repair the ruined bone, the eagle’s strength began to return and with that newfound vigor, managed to dislodge the pins fixing the bone in place. This was no small mishap, as the only remaining option was to refit the bone with larger, stronger fixing pins. If these larger pins failed, or if their increased diameter cracked the bone altogether, the bird would die. There was no third option, there was no back-up plan.

Dr. Tom uses long pins and external fixers to surgically repair the eagle’s injured leg. A similar injury to a mammalian leg would be stabilized using plates. However, since bird’s pneumatic bones do not contain marrow, plates would cut off circulation to the lower extremity as circulation occurs along the surface of the bone in birds.
A radiograph reveals long metallic pins and external fixer stabilizing the eagle’s injured leg following her initial surgery at the California Wildlife Center in Malibu. Photo courtesy of California Wildlife Center.

It is here that we began our story, and it is here, once again, that we find the steadfast determination of a few selflessly motivated individuals yank this fated bird back from the brink. Dr. Tom was successful in his second attempt at stabilizing the eagle’s leg, and after only a few short months of rehabilitation, she was ready to reign terror upon the ground squirrels of the San Joaquin Valley once again. However, successfully releasing captive eagles back into the wild is not as straightforward as it may seem, particularly when having been in captivity for an extended period. Eagles, like most raptors, are territorial predators that require an established home range to hunt, find mates, and raise young. For this reason, it was important for our eagle to be released back on Tejon close to where she was found. Not only would she be familiar with the landscape, she would have the best chance at reestablishing her former home-range and maybe even reunite with her mate. This last potentiality opens the possibility for what must be the most romantic wildlife encounter of all time:

The winged paramour dolefully holds out hope, another day atop his lonely nest- useless now. Until finally, from out of the winter gloom he sees her rise again, like a golden phoenix from the valley floor, and for the first time in his eagle life he cannot believe his biologically perfect eyeballs…

Wilder the eagle, now in the final stages of recovery, waits patiently on her favorite roost at the California Wildlife Center’s open-air flight pen. Photo courtesy of California Wildlife Center.

In anticipation of our eagle’s return to Tejon, we took the opportunity to invite all the individuals who were involved in her rescue and rehabilitation to come out and observe the release. So it was, that we were all gathered together on that drizzly January afternoon, to bid farewell to what was now an almost unrecognizably resplendent eagle. She had gained a full 3 pounds while in recovery, making her a formidable 12 pounds of death from above. It occurred to me then, that such a menacing creature does not naturally invite sympathy – respect certainly, veneration even, but eagles don't exactly call out for snuggles. Yet here she was, a soaring testament to the passionate tenacity alive within each of the selflessly motivated individuals and organizations that stepped up to save this single, intrinsically worthy lifeform. Witnessing the synchrony between these disparate groups as they came together to intercede on this animal’s behalf, there was a sense of community at work - more than that, society at work. At a time when there are so many reminders of our society's more deleterious tendencies, this group reminds us of the power of compassionate human beings working together in service to THE OTHER, whomever that may be; in this case the we-should-all-be-thanking-our-lucky-stars-it-isn't-twice-as-big bird we watched glide away home in the Tehachapi foothills of Tejon.

Wilder the eagle takes to the sky for the first time in almost five months, less than a quarter mile from where she was originally rescued along the southern border of Tejon Ranch. Photo courtesy of Felix Adamo/ Bakersfield Californian.

Learn more about Mountain Aire Veternary Hospital and California Wildlife Center. To see golden eagles in action on Tejon, check out the incredible camera trap video at the end of this newsletter.

Wildflower Update

By Conservancy Public Access Manager Chris Fabbro

Unfortunately, the lack of precipitation this winter has resulted in a poor wildflower bloom so far. There is some greenery and we will plan limited public access events for this spring, including member tours. In the meantime, we are looking at ways to build our capacity for additional public events. The Conservancy has partnered with several Audubon chapters in Southern California to offer expanded birding tours, already training about 15 new volunteers to co-lead trips. We are also recruiting volunteers to help lead existing volunteers host public access hikes a few times per month on various parts of the ranch. If you are interested in our next training, please email cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org. Our goal is to offer a wide variety of hikes and locations, from easy nature walks to adventurous daylong treks. Mark your calendar for our next wildflower host / hike co-leader training, taking place Sunday, March 11. Similar to the February 25 orientation (see photo below), we will conduct field training and walk volunteers through the process of co-hosting and supporting a variety of public access events, including tours and hikes.

We will continue to offer monthly member events, announced through Constant Contact. These fill up quickly, so if you are interested in participating, please make sure to respond when you receive the email notification. We are also hosting several volunteer days in April on the ranch—dates and registration links are posted on the web site under Public Access/Calendar. For those of you who have volunteered with the Conservancy, please mark Saturday, May 12 for the annual Volunteer Appreciation Lunch. We are excited to host the event at a new picnic site in the heart of the ranch, nestled in the conifers with views to the southern Sierra.

Volunteer training on Tejon Ranch in February.

June 9, 10, 16 & 17 is our next docent training. If you are interested in becoming a docent and eventually leading tours, these two weekends are the first steps. Concurrently, we are hosting a week-long California Naturalist certification training from June 10-17, and more information on that course will be posted in the next newsletter. For additional information or to sign up for either, please email cfabbro@tejonconservancy.org. If you have previously taken the California Naturalist training, we can work with you on completing training specific to Conservancy docent requirements.

If you are a past or present volunteer and have not been hearing from us, please make sure you are on our volunteer email list and are currently able to access your Volgistics account. If you need assistance, please contact me as I'm always happy to help. Dates for volunteer opportunities are listed on the Conservancy calendar (link in above paragraph) and on Volgistics. Also, please make sure to update your email settings to prevent Tejon Ranch Conservancy and Constant Contact emails from diverting to your spam folder.

The Life of the California Poppy

By California Naturalist Chris Gardner


Eschscholzia californica

In 1816, a naturalist aboard the Russian exploring ship “Rurick”, discovered and named the species in honor of the ship’s surgeon and entomologist, J. F. Eschscholtz (even if he accidentally left out the “t” of the name). In 1903, this poppy became the official state flower of California. It is a short-lived perennial with a long tap-root that favors open, sunny, well-drained sandy soils, and is summer-drought tolerant.

Seeds of the poppy disbursed in the spring and early summer will patiently wait for favorable, wet conditions in the fall. In the following spring, flower buds encased in a cap-like pointed green calyx, made of two fused sepals.

As the flower begins to open, the calyx lifts and falls away, revealing a furled flower sitting on a circular pink platform-like receptacle. Initially, the four-petaled flower has the shape of the calyx.

As the flower opens, it becomes more cylindrical, then unfurls the petals to become a chalis-like cup, in which are found the stamens and pistil. The flowers open in the sunlight of mid-morning and close with the fading of light or in wind. Pollination is usually by bees, beetles and flies.

After pollination, the petals fall away and reveal an elongated seed pod.

The seed pod gets longer as it ripens.

As the pod ripens, it finally bursts open with an audible “pop”, disbursing the small black seeds up to ten feet in all directions, known as an explosive dehiscence.

Seeds so disbursed will then patiently await favorable conditions to repeat the process the next year.

If you’re near the Antelope Valley, learn more about the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve!

The 2018 CNPS Conference

By C. Ellery Mayence, Senior Ecologist and Science Program Manager

Every three years the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) comes together for what amounts to an amazing three days of presentations, seminars, workshops, and storytelling. This year’s conference, held in nearby Los Angeles, was very well organized and delivered on all fronts including the highly-riveting and motivating opening plenary talk by Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and the author of Bringing Nature Home – How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, Timber Press, 2007.

Following the opening plenary and over the course of the conference, numerous scientific presentations showcased research, either conducted on Tejon Ranch or highly relevant to the Ranch and associated Conservancy activities. Relevant presenters, all of whom have spent time on the Ranch, included Nick Jensen (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) – writing a flora and making rare plant discoveries; Mitchell Coleman, Brandon Pratt, and Ana Jacobson (California State University Bakersfield) – saltbush recruitment and plant physiological ecology of California chaparral vegetation; Paul Siri Wilson (California State University Northridge) – non-vascular plant (bryophyte) ecology; Michele Hammond (East Bay Regional Park District) and Loralee Larios (University of California, Riverside) – livestock grazing as a conservation tool in California rangelands; Rachel Olliff Yang (University of California Berkeley) – variation in germination and flowering phenology of goldfields, genus Lastenia.

California Native Plant Society meetings, whether the less-frequent and larger state-level conferences or the smaller, more frequent regional gatherings, are excellent forums for people of all backgrounds to learn about California’s botanical resources, as CNPS is not simply a group of scientists, but rather a society of researchers, ethno-botanists, horticulturalists, natural resource managers, rare plant enthusiasts, and home gardeners, among others. Over the three-day course of the conference, Conservancy staff made many new contacts, reminisced with folks who are frequent visitors to the Ranch, and told the story of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and its myriad of contributions to native plant conservation in California.

Learn more about CNPS.

Meet Diana Hurlbert, New Conservancy Board Member

Diana Hurlbert

Diana is a native Californian with wide-ranging life and professional experience. She joined the Tejon Ranch Company team as Director of Environmental Permitting in 2014 after spending four years as project manager for the State’s Ballona Wetlands Restoration project in Los Angeles County. Prior to moving to southern California, Diana worked and lived in a variety of places in California, as well as the south and inter-mountain West.

Diana is a strategic planner by nature, training, and profession. She has worked as both staff and consulting planner for the State and numerous cities and counties throughout California over the past 20 years. In addition to her work on complex land use and environmental planning issues, Diana’s experience includes work in rural economic development, running a successful specialty produce farm, and owning and managing a historic flock in the only town in California that is designated as open range for sheep. She received her M.S. in Regional and Town Planning from Utah State University and her B.S. in Plant Science and Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the University of Arizona

Photo by Tracy Drake

Tejon Ranch Ecology Seminar Series (TRESS) rolls on!

Having received positive feedback after last month's TRESS (Tejon Ranch Ecology Seminar Series) - I'd like to announce a second seminar currently scheduled for Sunday, March 18. Weather permitting, we'll tour portions of the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch with topics of discussion including wetland, riparian, Central Valley grassland, and oak woodland ecology among others. If weather and/or muddy roads are problematic, we'll divert to the Mojave side of the Ranch (i.e., Antelope Valley) and cover a similar range of topics. Being mid-March, there is a possibility that wildflower viewing will be on the itinerary.

As noted in previous newsletters, TRESS events are day-long Tejon Ranch tours with somewhat in-depth scientific content, though participants need not have a science background to attend. If interested, please email Ellery Mayence, the Conservancy's Senior Ecologist, at emayence@tejonconservancy.org for registration information. Participants are expected to bring whatever they need to be comfortable for a day in the field. Fee: $20

March Monarch Migration

by Education Program Coordinator Paula Harvey

In February, I visited the Butterfly Grove at Pismo State Beach, and just in time, as the yearly spring migration has just begun. Western monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) winter along the California coast, in forested groves from September to February. The trees most commonly used are eucalyptus, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress.

There they spend their time sunning, rehydrating, and occasionally feeding on nectar. They have a unique fat-storing system that allows these overwintering monarchs to live from 6-9 months while their breeding counterparts live only 6-8 weeks.

Monarchs prefer to spend winter near the coast because they require a microclimate that includes high humidity, fresh water, some nectar-producing flowers, and absence of freezing temperatures and high winds. They cluster on tree limbs, one butterfly to each leaf or needle. Their weight keeps branches from whipping in the wind.

In February, they breed before they leave, then head east and northeast in March. Tagging monarchs has revealed that after leaving the California coast, western monarchs migrate to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada. During their migration, females will lay their eggs when they find milkweed plants. They lay up to 200 eggs, but only one egg on each milkweed plant.

The critical decline in monarch butterfly populations of 97% in the last 20 years is the result of several threats: pesticide use, climate change, logging in overwintering sites, and loss of milkweed breeding spots due to use of herbicides.

Fifteen species of milkweed are native to California. Four are found on Tejon ranch: Asclepias californica, Asclepias eriocarpa, Asclepias erosa , and Asclepias fascicularis .

Growing milkweed in your own garden is encouraged as long as you grow native milkweed, not the tropical milkweed found at hardware stores. You can buy milkweed plants and seeds from many places. Theordore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants is one of them.

Breeding pair. Note: only males have the two black spots on veins on each hind wing.

So look for monarchs this month as they begin their breeding migration.

For more information about monarchs, milkweed, and ways you can get involved in monarch conservation, go to https://www.monarchmilkweedmapper.org.

Education Update

By Education Program Coordinator Paula Harvey

Our latest professional development event took place on Valentine’s Day. Science and art teachers from six Kern High School District schools attended. We met at the Conservancy’s Sebastian campground and toured a small portion of the ranch in Conservancy vehicles. We separated into science and art groups and discussed ways teachers could use the Conservancy to support their programs. The creativity, energy and enthusiasm were contagious. During the drive, we were fortunate to see a condor fly by, then land on a nearby rock outcropping.

We returned to the campground for lunch, at which time, teachers discussed ways they could collaborate, combining their arts and science programs.

We drove to a site we have selected for school groups close to the Bakersfield National Cemetery. Teachers had an opportunity to wander and explore, talk, sketch, or just quietly enjoy the beauty of the oak woodland.

It was an inspirational day.

If you are interested in participating in one of our monthly staff development days, please contact me at pharvey@tejonconservancy.org.

Easy outdoor activity

Themed Bag

Give each student a small paper bag. Have them think of a theme and write it in their nature journals, then collect natural materials that would reflect that theme. Students pair off and share the contents of their bags. Partners guess the theme.

Reflection: Students return to their nature journals, explaining how each item supports the theme. Then they write a short descriptive poem.

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