Tejon Ranch conservancy DECEMBER 2016

On the Ranch

As the end of another year rapidly approaches, it’s a stunning reminder of how quickly time passes. While time is indeed a human construct, it is one that we have taken for granted and assumed to be universal, but of course it is not. What is real and universal (at least to our planet!) is the cycle of day and night, the phases of the moon, the changing aspect of the sun, and of course, the sometimes slight, sometimes sudden change of seasons. All very noticeable here on Tejon Ranch. Also obvious is how the seasons are different now, our climate is changing, rainfall has diminished, and sunny winter days are far more common than they used to be. Needless to say, this impacts both plants and wildlife, as well as all of us. With this in mind, the Conservancy is coordinating research on the Ranch, looking at climate change and how the living environment might adapt, or might not…a potentially sad reality for some species.

Photo by Nick Shah

Of course, along with shorter days and chilly nights, comes that seemingly endless string of year-end email appeals, and mailboxes filled with letters telling compelling stories about the need for your support, which is all very important. So we’ll join in the chorus of year-end giving and ask that you please consider including the Tejon Ranch Conservancy among your favored causes.

Bob Reid with an English barn owl.

I recently was in England, where falconry is popular, and had an opportunity to get up close and personal with several raptors at a rescue center. It was quite amazing. They are very majestic creatures. While we don’t advocate domestication of wild birds, I gained an even greater appreciation of these noble birds. At Tejon, we have several owl species, including the western burrowing owl. Once abundant from Canada to Mexico, they are now rapidly declining in California due to loss of habitat by farming and development. At the Conservancy, we are working to protect this somewhat quirky little owl through working lands management and protection of critical habitat on Tejon Ranch.

In this issue, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about our newest board member, one profile of a passionate volunteer, a budding young herpetologist, along with some plant news, wildlife camera updates, and a link to sign up for the Christmas Bird Count! And we hope you’ll join us as a member and plan some visits to this incredible place called Tejon Ranch!

From all of us, wishing you and yours a safe and loving holiday filled with family, friends and hope.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid, President & CEO, Tejon Ranch Conservancy

What Influences Vegetation Patterns?

A short course in the underlying processes.

By Ellery Mayence, Senior Ecologist

Many visitors to Tejon Ranch question what influences the patterns they see across various vegetation communities. In the simplest terms pattern is referring to the physical distribution of species in space, or in this case across the landscape. Interesting patterns exist in nearly all vegetation communities, though the extent to which they are visible to even trained eyes is not consistent across biomes. Unlike high rainfall zones where dense vegetation tends to obscure pattern, pattern on Tejon can be easily viewed owing primarily to the low rainfall, semi-arid climate. Examples of vegetation types on the Ranch with distinct patterns include valley oak and piñon-juniper woodlands, rabbitbrush and buckwheat shrublands, and native grassland. The images above show a mosaic of rabbitbrush shrubland and native grassland, oak woodland transitioning into mixed conifer forest, and juniper woodland, all in the vicinity of Cañada del Gato Montes on the Antelope Valley side of Tejon. So, what influences the pattern we see?

Drivers of pattern can be grouped into biotic and abiotic factors, with these factors generally acting collectively rather than independently to influence what we see. Biotic factors include physiological tolerances of a given species (e.g., cold and drought tolerance), competitive interactions among species, herbivory, and pathogens or disease. Abiotic factors include climate (influenced by latitude, elevation and aspect), geology, soil physical and chemical properties (e.g., texture, fertility, and pH), and disturbance driven by fire, flooding, and landslides among other processes. Disturbance, of course, can have a biological underpinning if caused by humans or cattle for example. Drivers of pattern act interactively so it is commonplace for biotic and abiotic factors to simultaneously influence what we see. For example, competitively superior non-native plants may have an easier time establishing in a landscape physically disturbed by humans. Moreover, and with respect to pattern, the introduction of non-native grasses may permanently alter the composition and density of herbaceous plants in grassland habitat, distorting the pattern historically present when such settings were dominated by native bunch grasses. Understanding vegetation pattern and its drivers is made easier by a general understanding of ecological and biogeographical processes.

On your next excursion into nature, think about what factors are driving the pattern you see – and how that pattern and even the composition of that community may change over time. Though becoming increasingly rare, the pattern present in an undisturbed plant community yet to be transformed by non-native species can take on a “planned” appearance and be awe-inspiring!

Brigid McCormack...Expanding Conservancy Board Expertise

Brigid McCormack, Tejon Ranch Conservancy Board Member

The success of an organization like the Conservancy is largely dependent on the leadership and expertise of its board of directors. We are pleased to welcome new board member Brigid McCormack, who is executive director of Audubon California and vice president of the Pacific Flyway for the National Audubon Society.

Brigid brings a range of professional and personal experience to the board, including her passion for conservation, appreciation of the landmark 2008 Ranch Wide Agreement (of which Audubon played an important role in along with other major environmental organizations) and enjoyment of the natural wonders of the Tejon Ranch and the West.

An avid birder, Brigid recently joined fellow board member Russ Faucett for an early morning trek on the Antelope Valley side of Tejon.

Brigid has visited the Ranch several times during her short tenure.

“Tejon is an amazing resource not just for California but for the nation,” said McCormack. “When you step onto this property, you find a wild California that has been lost in so many other places.”

Joel Reynolds, conservancy board chair added, “ Brigid brings helpful development and strategic expertise to the Conservancy board, she’s a natural leader and we look forward to leadership and contributions over the coming years.”

Brigid has managed the California state program since joining Audubon in 2012, and her duties recently expanded to the entire Pacific Flyway for the National Audubon Society. Previously, she served as vice president of external relations at the ClimateWorks Foundation, and worked as a fundraiser in the academic world, first at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and then at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.

Joining Brigid McCormack as a new Conservancy board member is Terry Watt, watch for her profile in our January 2017 eNews.

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake - Award Winning Photo by Nicholas Hess

Young Nicholas Hess Snags Award Winning Photo on Tejon Ranch Visit

For a number of years the North American Field Herping Association (NAFHA) has visited the Tejon Ranch to observe, document, and photograph reptiles. Nicholas Hess, a young member of the herpetology group, joined them several times on their outing to Tejon. Nicholas is a good "herper" and also a great photographer. The photo he took at Tejon of the Northern Pacific rattlesnake won top prize in the junior division (up to age 18) in the category "At Home in Their Habitat" in the international Animal Photography Competition. The competition is held annually by the London Zoological Society. This is the first time Nicholas has won a prize for his work but we suspect it won’t be the last. Congratulations Nicholas!

On more than one occasion a skunk and a fox have been captured by wildlife cams palling around together!

Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton Shares Some of His Favorite Wildlife Clips

Wildlife camera-trapping can be an exciting and creative hobby for photographers, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife trackers alike, but for the Tejon Conservancy, our use of these trap-cameras is primarily research oriented. Our trap-camera arrays are designed to generate valuable information on animal abundance and habitat use that is used to inform conservation management efforts across our conserved lands. In practice, that means translating the content of these images and videos into data that can be quantitatively analyzed. Through this formal processing, however, something of the mystery and wildness of these encounters is lost as all their color and character are reduced to numerical identifiers, coded into endless spreadsheets and complex statistical models.

This month, I would like to share with the Tejon Conservancy community some of my favorite photos and videos, capturing unusual wildlife behavior, the nature of which is particularly difficult to quantify in any formally scientific way. They are, however, fascinating in the way that only the natural world can be:

To see more wildlife camera clips from Tejon Ranch go to our YouTube channel.

Ben Teton is a Wildlife Biologist with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. Watch for more features on wildlife cameras at Tejon and our feral pig studies.

Conservancy Volunteer Chris Gardner with students on a tour of Tejon Ranch.

Chris Gardner, a Champion for Tejon

Chris Gardner

Among the many treasures of the Tejon Ranch are the Conservancy volunteers. Among these, Chris Gardner stands out. For a number of years Chris Gardner of Pine Mountain Club has been both a volunteer for and a champion of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. Chris believes that Tejon Ranch is a special place, undisturbed by time. “For the past 150 years or so, the Ranch has been jealously protected from the incursions of open access. The Ranch is a unique island in a very populous area that has not suffered the defacements of graffiti and trash found in our national forests. When on the Ranch, one is truly transported into an era of decades past.”

Chris has worn a number of hats as a volunteer and is often first in line to volunteer for assignments. “Presently, I spend most of my time for the Conservancy on what is described as citizen science: the Pronghorn survey, the acorn survey, etc.,” Chris says, describing gathering data about the numbers, gender and locations of Pronghorn in the Antelope Valley or the productivity of oaks in the field. “Previously, most of my time was involved in leading or assisting with of tours: Audubon bird outings, wildflower tours, cross ranch safaris, etc.”

These tasks are not always easy, but Chris is always eager to expand his knowledge about the Ranch and the natural world. “Personally, there is no greater joy than that of learning, and the opportunities for learning on the Ranch are limitless; from the interactions of the natural world to the exploration of that world through photography.” Chris occasionally shares his passion about the Ranch with groups using his own incredible photographs.

“I really enjoy learning about the vastness of the Ranch, the flora and fauna, and the continuous changes that occur throughout the seasons. During the tours, I take great pleasure in sharing what I have learned with the tour participants who seem to appreciate their access to this great treasure.” - Chris Gardner

“Over the past several years, I have become acquainted with the dedicated members of the staff and have been motivated by their passion for the activities of the Conservancy. I feel that whatever I can do to assist them, or free up their time, allows them to pursue the Conservancy activities. With regard to the public access (tour) activities, I really enjoy learning about the vastness of the Ranch, the flora and fauna, and the continuous changes that occur throughout the seasons. During the tours, I take great pleasure in sharing what I have learned with the tour participants, who seem to really appreciate their access to this great treasure.”

Calling All Volunteers

The Conservancy will start volunteer trainings in December and January. Please sign up now if interested in joining this team of exciting, dedicated and adventurous folk helping to preserve, study and experience Tejon Ranch. We have openings for docent naturalist tour leaders and assistants, citizen science: monitoring wildlife and weather stations, photo sorting and cataloging and help around our office in Lebec. Please call Ashley Ross at (661) 248-2400, extension 105, for more information or to sign up Tejon Ranch volunteer.

Giving to Tejon Ranch Conservancy Might Not Cost You a Dime!

Did you know that Amazon will send a percentage of your online purchases to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy when you log into your account using THIS IMPORTANT LINK?

Through the Amazon Smiles program your regular and holiday online shopping helps us! There's no additional charge for ordering this way. It's one way Amazon can give to their best customers' favorite causes. Check it out today!

Photo by Tracy Drake

Meet the Swainson’s Thrush

Catharus ustulatus, the Swainson’s Thrush, prefers the deciduous wooded areas of the Pacific Coast, especially areas with thick undergrowth near streams. It may also be found in the coniferous forests of the northern portions of the North American continent. They migrate south to Mexico and as far as Argentina. They have even turned up in Western Europe and northeast Asia.

Their Latin name refers to their muted plumage and they are known for their melodic singing. Their common name honors famed English ornithologist William Swainson known equally as well for his prolific illustrations of natural history and zoologic subjects.

The Swainson’s Thrush lives on insects, fruits and berries. During breeding, the male stakes out a territory and the female builds the nest. Breeding pairs usually produce 3 or 4 eggs. Both parents feed the nestlings which leave the nest at around 12 days from hatching.

December 17th is our Christmas Bird Count! Get more details about this activity here. Our current bird list, with many of the new records for the Ranch is available here.

“Our greatest asset, as a nonprofit, is access to the 240,000 acres of the Tejon Ranch that are conserved for the future. To continue our stewardship and restoration work, scientific research and to open the eyes of the public to this magnificent landscape absolutely would not happen without the generosity of individuals and institutions that recognize its worth. Each and every dollar helps promote the conservation and biodiversity of this largely undisturbed wilderness.” - Bob Reid, President & CEO, Tejon Ranch Conservancy


Your membership helps maintain biodiversity in this unique landscape where four major ecological ranges converge. It brings the latest in adaptive management to sensitive habitats in need of restoration and protection, and it provides researchers from around California (and even farther) a chance to study in this closely guarded majestic landscape. As a member, you'll receive a Tejon Ranch Conservancy cap and decal, and depending on your level of participation, priority registration for Tejon Ranch Conservancy events, invitations to exclusive members-only events, but, more importantly, the satisfaction of supporting a worthy organization dedicated to restoring and protecting this unique and wild landscape for all enduring time.

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