Tejon Ranch Conservancy eNews October 2019

On the Ranch

By Education Coordinator Paula Harvey

Fall means back to school. For some students, it’s an exciting time, something to look forward to. For others, it’s a time of apprehension, even dread.

For teachers, summer has offered a break from the intensity of the school year. Many teachers have taken classes or attended seminars and training. Some have traveled or vacationed with family. Others have taught summer school or even taken on a summer job. Regardless, over summer break, teachers have been planning for the next school year.

Teachers work diligently in the classroom finding creative ways to make meaning of the curriculum. Experiential learning is the best way to do this. Tejon Ranch Conservancy’s education program is an excellent example of this. Students come to the classroom with varied experiences and most have little, if any, outdoor or wilderness experience. This becomes a great equalizer. When their teachers bring them on the Ranch, students hike, journal, and rediscover their curiosity. We provide experiences that integrate science, art, and writing. The activities are academically relevant and meaningful. And the experience lasts a lifetime. When they leave the Ranch, they’re energized and excited, asking when they will be coming back.

The Conservancy education program is tied to California language arts and art standards, and to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). So a day spent with us is not a day off.

Once, a group of art students spent a day on the Ranch. They learned how to do science journaling, did some landscape sketches, and spent some time alone, just using their senses to experience the land. After that alone time, I asked them to write a poem about anything. Some students looked at me as if I were crazy. “A poem?” one student barked. “YES!” I replied, giving him my sternest “teacher look.” After the students had a chance to share their poems and we were hiking back to the bus, that boy came to me and asked if he could read his poem to me. After he finished, he said it was the best poem he had ever written, and he now wanted to write more poetry. You can imagine the satisfied smile on my face.

To all my colleagues who are beginning their school years, I wish you the best, most fulfilling year ever. Let’s find a way to bring your students to the Ranch. If we can open the natural world to our kids, it makes a lasting difference.

Photo by Chris Fabbro

Welcome, Autumn!

Story and photos by Conservation Science Manager Mitchell Coleman

Fall foliage, primarily senescing black oak (Quercus kelloggii) overlooking Lopez Flats toward Middle Ridge, Blue Ridge, and the head of El Paso Canyon.

I recently heard a neighbor, who is originally from the East Coast, remark that California does not have much of a fall season. While it’s true that autumn in California is quite different from back east, it is nothing to shake a stick at (ha ha), a point I gently relayed to my easterly neighbor.

Fall has descended upon Tejon Ranch and the change of season can be felt, seen, heard, and smelled.

Hot summer temperatures have diminished to a pleasant cool. Daylight lengths are shorter, and angles are more subdued. Once-green hills are now burned browns, golds, and grays. Deciduous plants are beginning to change color. Some plants, interestingly, even wait until the fall season to flower, even though it is the driest time of year. Some of these flowers are quite aromatic and showy, and to me, signal that fall on Tejon has truly arrived. Let’s consider some of the ecological changes taking place right now.

A flower of California fuchsia (Epilobium canum), which blooms on Tejon starting in September. Fun fact: In California, red tubular flowers are usually pollinated by hummingbirds!

We all know the basic science behind deciduous color change. As fall days grow shorter, not as much sunlight is available for plants to carry out photosynthesis. Deciduous plants, which produce leaves afresh every season, sense this change and begin to restrict water and nutrient flow via their conductive vessels, xylem and phloem, initiating the familiar seasonal changes. The green hue of the chlorophylls begins to recede, making visible yellow and orange pigments, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, which were always present yet in smaller quantities (thus drowned out by the chlorophylls). As the season proceeds, other pigments, like the sugary and reddish anthocyanins, begin to form. Eventually, a hormonal cascade signals the plants to begin dropping leaves.

Changing leaf colors of black oaks on Winters Ridge. The greens, yellows, and oranges are a mix of chlorophyll, flavonoid, and carotenoid pigments. Photo by Laura Pavliscak.

Now, megaflora on Tejon are still mostly evergreen, albeit diverse, given the region’s mixing of four major ecoregions in the context of a Mediterranean climate. Depending on your location on the Ranch, your landscape view will be dominated by foothill pines (Pinus sabiniana), white fir (Abies concolor), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), many evergreen live oaks like canyon oak (Quercus chrysolepis), and many evergreen chaparral shrubs, like manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.). These evergreen species tend to have thick, leathery, sclerophyllous leaves, which aid in the retention of water and nutrients, among other functions. This makes sense given that such leaves are long-lived. Partly related to resource conservation, the photosynthetic mechanism of evergreen leaves occurs year-round with varying degrees of efficiency, yet in general have a lower rate than deciduous plants.

Evergreen chaparral vegetation in the fall on Bronco Ridge looking over the Antelope Valley. Visible in the frame are big berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) and chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum).

In contrast, deciduous plants have a different sort of leaf economy. Carbon assimilation for deciduous leaves must have a faster rate of return over a shorter period, since the leaves effectively have between early spring and late fall to get their job done. It is less about resource conservation and more about efficiency.

Leaves of fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), a deciduous chaparral shrub, showing off their fall colors.
Flowers of the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) in Sacatara Canyon. This is another fall bloomer. Fun fact (same for many asters, though not all): Each yellow “petal” is actually an individual flower of smaller fused petals (ray flowers), while the smaller brown pieces in the middle are also individual flowers (disc flowers). Thus, each “sunflower” is actually a composite of hundreds of smaller flowers; the old family name was Compositaceae.

There will be many opportunities to see fall foliage this season. Join us for cross-ranch tours on October 12 or November 10, or if you’re feeling adventurous (and fit), the annual 12-mile hike down El Paso Canyon! Fall foliage aside, it’s a great time of year to observe the California condors in their natural habitat. Just sayin’.

Photo by Ben Teton

A Wake-Up Call

By Operations Director Tim Bulone

Traditionally, volunteer birders have gathered in the early morning at the gates of the Tejon Ranch for trips to count birds twice per year, once for the Breeding Bird Blitz in late spring, then again in December for the Christmas Bird Count. These bird counts go on throughout the country and beyond. The data from these counts are compiled and studied by a variety of institutions like the well-known Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

But we weren’t prepared for the latest news.

Last month Audubon reported on a study that shows since 1970 nearly 3 billion birds disappeared in North America. That amounts to 29% of the 1970 high. The disappearance cannot easily be attributed to just one cause and did not affect any one region or biome, though some were hit harder than others. And the disappearance hit nearly all and even the most common species. You can probably guess that loss or disruption of habitat and pesticide use are some of the causes, but you might be surprised to learn that reflective window treatments and house cats also contributed to bird death.

For those of us who believe the richness of biodiversity in all life is something to be valued (and especially in birds), we can help halt this loss. 3BillionBirds.org offers 7 simple actions to help birds. Addressing the obvious and not-so-obvious causes around our homes seems like a relatively easy fix. If nothing else, the study shows we cannot take these wonderful creatures for granted any longer.

Photo by Laura Pavliscak

OCTOber Events on tejon

Cross-Ranch Tour October 12th - Cost $20

Join us for a driving safari exploring all of four ecosystems on Tejon Ranch. We'll start in the San Joaquin grasslands, climb into the blue oak woodlands, enjoy lunch in a conifer forest, then descend into the high desert. We might discover Rocky Mountain elk, deer, pronghorn, burrowing owls, and other interesting wildlife along the way.

The Small Print

Please register early, seats are first come, first served. Events may be canceled and access may not be granted for any reason including, but not limited to, severe weather, hazardous conditions, not enough registrants for a specific event, actions that are incompatible with with the 2008 Conservation and Land Use Agreement, etc. Event registration is mandatory and no person may be substituted for another. Those not registered will not be allowed access to the property. Pets are not allowed on the Tejon Ranch.

Photo by Ben Teton

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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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