Tejon RancH Conservancy eNews April 2017

On the Ranch

The hills of Tejon remain green thanks to late winter rains, as growing splashes of color paint the landscape. The wildflower bloom is upon us. From our office, looking down Interstate 5 just past Fort Tejon, is an amazing blaze of orange California Poppies. Photographers, naturalists and others are stopping along California roadsides to witness this year’s super-bloom, and here on the Ranch we are welcoming our registered guests to select areas for the Tejon bloom, which this year is mostly on the Antelope Valley side. Heavy non-native grass cover has crowded out wildflowers on the San Joaquin side of the Ranch. In this month’s issue, you can read about non-native plants and the threats they pose to native plants.

For some, snakes, lizards and other crawlers are to be avoided, but not for Conservancy staff. We love our herps, and in this issue we share stories and pictures of these often overlooked and important species. We’ll also learn more about the geomorphology of Tejon, a fascinating history through the eons of the many forces that have shaped the Ranch and our neighboring mountains, hills and valleys. Even better, watch a rare video of an incredibly powerful mud-flow captured on a Conservancy wildlife camera. Speaking of cameras, meet Dan Potter, a volunteer citizen scientist and part of our Wildlife Camera Team, and enjoy our Naturalist at Large story.

Whether you are visiting the Ranch, watching videos on our YouTube channel or just driving by, we hope you will take a moment to remember the importance of the landmark agreement placing 240,000 acres under conservation and creating the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. Preserving this un-fragmented natural landscape in this dynamic eco-region so close to and yet so far from one of the world’s largest cities is simply amazing. We have our challenges, but with your help, we’ll do everything we can to protect and restore…so you, your children, and your children’s children can experience and explore Tejon. Please join today and help ensure the legacy.

See you on the Ranch!

Bob Reid

Photo by Conservancy Volunteer Chuck Noble

Wildflower Season

Wildflower photos by Conservancy Volunteer Chuck Noble

With websites, newspapers and magazines extolling the uncommon beauty of this spring’s wildflower displays, it’s no wonder that, by the end of this month, more than a thousand visitors will have played, hiked, strolled in, and studied the incredible variety of wildflowers Tejon Ranch offers. If you have attended or will be attending one of our sessions, please use the hashtags #tejonwildflowers and #tejoncolor to share your posts with other avid viewers on Facebook and Instagram. Wildflower viewing registration filled quickly and we do have a waiting list. Apologies if we could not accommodate you this year.

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy would certainly not be able to invite so many guests without the help of our incredible volunteers who checked people in, provided guidance and interpretation, among many other things. A special shout out to our Wildflower Sponsors who helped make this year’s viewing the best ever. Thank you!

Reptile Emergence

By Conservancy Wildlife Technician Mark Herr

A yellow pacific rattlesnake.

The warmer temperatures of spring bring out more than just the wildflowers. Tejon Ranch is home to wonderful and unique reptiles and amphibians, and spring sees them emerge from their winter slumber. Of course, as the reptiles become more active, so do the people who pursue them.

Over the last three weeks, we’ve hosted three different groups of biologist and citizen scientists. First, we had University of Connecticut biologist Andrew Frank come to study Gilbert’s skinks. Andrew’s research is focused on the juvenile tail color of Gilbert’s Skinks in California. Most species of skinks in North America have blue tails as juveniles. Young Gilbert’s skinks are an exception, they have red tails. There’s a catch, though; Gilbert’s Skinks from the Central Sierra Nevadas have the typical blue tail coloration.

An adult Gilbert’s Skink.

Andrew is interested in figuring out why. One of the first steps in his research is to nail down where along the Sierra Nevada the tails change from blue to red. He will then conduct an analysis to determine how the genetic relationships of the skinks influence their tail color.

A juvenile Gilbert’s skink with reddish tail color.

Because Tejon Ranch is located at the intersection of the Sierra Nevada and the Coast Ranges, this is a very important site for Andrew to study skinks.

Andrew came to collect skinks in Tejon’s San Joaquin foothills, where photos were taken of the skinks using a special ultraviolet camera that can quantify how reflective the tails are against a background – which may shed light on how visible the different tails might be to predators like hawks or kestrels.

The NAFHA group photographs the first gopher snake of the day!

We also hosted the North American Field Herping Association (NAFHA), a group of citizen scientists devoted to Reptile and Amphibian Conservation. We took the NAFHA group to several board arrays they helped place in the past. The arrays are sets of plywood boards that are set on the ground in promising areas. Reptiles and amphibians are frequently attracted to the moist conditions under the boards.

Andrew Frank prepares to catch any skinks uncovered from underneath a board near the Tejon Hills.

The NAFHA group visited the northern section of the Conservancy south of Bear Mountain as well as Upper Tejon Creek. We found several interesting reptiles, including gopher snakes, rattlesnakes, skinks, and alligator lizards.

A Southern California Legless Lizard (Anniella stebbinsi) found north of Tejon.

Finally, Jim Parham and Ted Papenfuss returned as part of their ongoing research into Legless Lizards on the Ranch.

The distinctive purple belly of an adult Bakersfield Legless Lizard.

We were able to collect several legless lizards to support their project! Their work is aimed at uncovering the mystery behind the odd and patchy distribution of different species in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Jim and Ted frequently visit sites for years without finding a single legless lizard, so it was very exciting when we found three in one day on the Tejon Ranch!

Mustard Madness!

By Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak

The sunny glow of the hillslope above Chanac Creek is far from a welcome site--flowering Saharan mustard densely infests this area and competes with native species.

The transition between late winter and early spring is a busy one for Conservancy staff as we prepare for guests and researchers seeking blooms, nests, and the miracle of vibrant spring biology. But long before the wildflower viewing and ranch tours are planned, Conservancy staff and volunteers are out laboring against our most nefarious invasive annual—Saharan mustard (Brassica tournefortii). While the winter rain promises verdant green wildlands, it also initiates opportunities for the well-adapted invasive plants that have taken hold in our open spaces, and Saharan mustard is an excellent example of a highly successful invader that has encroached across the open spaces of Tejon.

Clusters of showy red flowers reveals a rare population of California jewelflower surrounded by densely growing yellow-flowered Saharan mustard. This jewelflower is listed under both the Federal and State Endangered Species Acts as endangered and only a few populations are thought to exist. In 1 x 2 meter plots in this area where Saharan mustard plants were counted, almost 2500 individuals were encountered in one plot.

Invasive species can have a devastating impact on biodiversity and ecological function, and are implicated in directly contributing to the decline of over 40% of the threatened and endangered species in the United States. Saharan mustard is one of several invasive species on Tejon Ranch, but is one of our most concerning invasive plants, listed by the California Invasive Plant Council as highly invasive—their most severe ranking in impacting ecology at the state level.

Hard working and dedicated volunteer Paula Harvey, pulling Saharan mustard along Comanche Point.

From the northernmost boundary of the Ranch to Tejon Creek, Saharan mustard has steadily become a dominant presence in the San Joaquin Valley grasslands, out-competing native plants and thriving in areas with rare, arid adapted species like California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus) and Comanche Point layia (Layia Leucopappa). It is incredibly resilient—going from seed to fruiting plant in as little as six weeks with new plants emerging with every meaningful pulse of rain. An individual plant can produce thousands of seeds. It is superbly adapted to arid climates and to responding quickly to available resources, and can disperse rapidly across an open landscape if it is transported by something relatively large and quick (aka cattle and vehicles). That is why we have been focusing on treating Saharan mustard along the major roads in the area and in the rangelands adjacent to our rare plant populations.

Saharan mustard growing densely along the sandy bottom of Tejon Creek. Mature individuals can range from a few inches to over 4 feet and produce very dense populations, excluding native species.

Starting in February we have removed hundreds of thousands of plants, clearing almost 6 miles of roadside, as well as treating the vicinity of a few areas of both the aforementioned rare plants. There is so much more work to be done in constraining this aggressive invasive, but for now the plants have dried up and removing them poses the danger of more broadly spreading the seed. While the treatment season is over this year, those who care about the unique plants special to Tejon as well as the complex ecology that is supported by a mosaic of diverse species rather than the dominance of one, are welcome to join us next winter as we continue the fight! Special thanks to volunteers Paula Harvey for her persistent roadwork along Comanche Point and Reema Hammad for helping document the spread.

Removing Saharan mustard by hand along the roadsides of Comanche Point with Paula Back-of-Steel Harvey, volunteer extraordinaire.

Research Update

By C. Ellery Mayence, Conservancy Senior Ecologist

Reptiles, rocks, and yes, believe it or not, a few plant enthusiasts as well! Spring on Tejon not only ushers in wildflowers, but also teams of researchers from near and far, seasoned and newly acquainted, and academic, professional, and citizen science-based. April tends to be one of the busiest times of the year for researchers ‘getting out on the Ranch’ - and this year is shaping up to be one of the busiest in recent memory.

Brian Cypher and crew, CSU-Stanislaus, Endangered Species Recover Program, recently established a camera array targeting the elusive Buena Vista Lake Shrew – as well as assessed the condition of transplanted and naturally-recruited Bakersfield cactus (no luck observing the former but the latter are doing extremely well – even those that suffered severe burns in the 2011 grassland fire).

The North American Field Herping Association (NAFHA) also paid Tejon Ranch a visit and no doubt turned over countless logs and rocks as part of their day-long foray on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch. These folks are not only great field biologists, but have an eye for detail as evidenced in their ability to perfectly stage specimens in front of the camera. Also in the reptilian world, James Parham (CSU-Fullerton) and Ted Papenfuss (UC-Berkeley) continue to investigate the biogeography of the legendary legless lizards.

More recently, the Range Ecology Laboratory at UC Berkeley wrapped up their Phase-I spring grassland vegetation surveys which amounted to three to four teams of folks crisscrossing lower elevation rangelands of the San Joaquin Valley searching for small wooden stakes that mark the corners of permanent vegetation plots (no easy task in a season with abundant rainfall and waist-high grass – and pretty flowers that can be distracting to even the most seasoned botanist).

Redirecting our attention to Tejon’s non-vascular flora, Daniel Palmer and Paul Wilson of CSU-Northridge made their second trip afield this year as part of their ongoing efforts to describe the Ranch’s mosses and liverworts and hornworts, a taxonomic group that has gone relatively undescribed until recently.

With respect to the Ranch’s underlying geology, David Miller of CSU-Bakersfield and his team have resumed their search for conglomerates and other outcrops and exposures present on Tejon that provide clues into regional geologic processes and earth history.

Of course, any research update would not be complete without mention of Nick Jensen’s (Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) and Neal Kramer’s (Kramer Botanical, Inc.) ongoing botanical surveys, with Nick focusing on describing the vascular flora of Tejon Ranch and Neal on the quest for inconspicuous rare plants, among other field duties.

Finally, the Conservancy’s cadre of citizen scientists continue to keep up with our weather station array, weeds of special concern, as well as the two dozen or more highly mobile and at times fleeting pronghorn. In all, the Conservancy’s research partners, of which there are more than have been mentioned here, provide a wealth of information and are an invaluable asset to our mission. Many, many thanks – your efforts are much appreciated!

Your support of the Conservancy facilitates research at Tejon, a largely unexplored natural resource rich in discovery and exploration. Help advance our collective understanding of native biodiversity, western natural history and even climate change adaptation by joining the Tejon Ranch Conservancy today.

The California Naturalist Series

By Conservancy Volunteer and California Naturalist Paula Harvey

The song of the male Baja California chorus frog (Pseudacris hypochondriaca) is a cheery reminder that spring is here. This amphibian is found near ponds and wetlands all over Southern California.

There are three types of amphibians: frogs, toads and salamanders. Most amphibians live on land, in trees, or in freshwater ecosystems. They start out as larvae, completely aquatic, and breathe with gills. They undergo many changes through metamorphosis to become adults, including the development of lungs and the ability to live on land.

This small frog varies in size, from 3/4 to 2 inches long. Its coloring varies widely, but some common characteristics include a large head and eyes, small round pads on the tips of its toes, and wide stripes through the middle of each eye extending from its nostrils to its shoulders.

It is active day and night, but becomes nocturnal during dry periods. In mild climates, it may be active all year round, but where there are extreme temperatures, it will hibernate in moist shelters. It can be found from sea level to 10,000 feet.

Although it is sometimes called a tree frog, it spends most of its time on the ground where it eats a wide variety of invertebrates, especially flying insects such as mosquitoes and flies. This makes it a very desirable animal to have around.

During breeding season, the male sings as a way to demonstrate its fitness to females and competing males. On Tejon Ranch, I have heard them from late January through March. Males and females pair up in ponds and slow streams, where the female lays her eggs as the male fertilizes them externally. A female can lay up to 750 eggs, in clusters of 10 to 80 eggs attached to grasses and plants in the water. Eggs hatch in two to three weeks and tadpoles metamorphose in 2 to 2 ½ months.

Interestingly, the song of the Baja California chorus frog has been used in many Hollywood movies, even when the settings of those movies aren’t in Southern California, thus making the sound familiar to all, including those who don’t live where these animals are found.

The Greater Roadrunner

By Conservancy Volunteer and California Naturalist Chris Gardner

On the Tejon Ranch, we often encounter the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), a large, ground dwelling cuckoo. Its head has a shaggy crest; its face has a blue and red bare patch behind the eye; the bill is large and general purposed. Its diet consists of insects, lizards, snakes (including rattlesnakes), rodents, small birds, fruits and seeds.

The roadrunner is capable of flight. Its flight pattern alternates with several shallow, rapid wing beats and long glides. Its wings are rounded, well suited to its flight pattern. Clearly, the Roadrunner prefers running to flight. It can attain speeds up to 20 mph on it long legs. Unlike other birds, its tracks are a distinct X.

On cold mornings, the Roadrunner will warm itself by fluffing its feathers and exposing its black skin to the sun.

Roadrunners are monogamous and are thought to mate for life. The nest is often composed of sticks, lined with grass. The nest is commonly 3 to 6 feet above the ground in a low tree or bush.

Upon sighting a Roadrunner, the question is often asked: Is it “Beep, Beep” or “Meep, Meep”? According to Warner Bros., the holder of the cartoon trademark, it is “Beep, Beep”.

Photo by Conservancy Science Director Mike White

Meet Volunteer and California Naturalist Dan Potter

In my work as a docent at the Conservancy, I don't think I have ever met a stranger. I really like people, so working with the Conservancy’s public access program is a lot of fun. But my real passion is photography and about ten years ago I discovered wildlife camera trapping. This, along with the previous work I did with advanced technologies, allowed me to easily move from commercial cameras to high-end custom-built camera traps. So, for me it's a total end-to-end passion where I build custom cameras, scout out locations, and capture images of the diverse wildlife we have on Tejon Ranch and other conservancies in Southern California.

“I enjoy helping people access the ranch and learn about the diverse wildlife Tejon has to offer. It’s a thrill for me. If people do not know about the natural resources of Tejon, they will be less likely to protect it in the future. Wildlife cameras play an important role.”

Tejon Ranch is a wonderful place. Where else in Southern California can you find pronghorn and mountain lions, which are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Tejon Ranch is a dream location for camera trappers.

It is also a place of beauty and wonder. Countless millions of people have driven between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, seen the wondrous mountains along the route, and marveled at their beauty. I remember, maybe 50 years ago, seeing deer and possibly elk grazing along the freeway where the Conservancy office now sits. I have never forgotten this and to this day when I drive past, I still look, on the chance I might see such a wondrous sight again. Now through the actions of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, and with the support of the Tejon Ranch Company, much of this glorious landscape has been preserved and opened up to research and some public access. Truly, there is no other place like this in the world and I’m so glad to be part of it.

The Power of…Mud

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be stuck in a mudslide? Whether it’s a washed-out roadway, flooded garage, or neighborhood creek drastically transformed overnight, evidence of the awesome power contained within mudslides and flash floods is visible all around us. However, as they happen so quickly and without warning, extreme weather events like these are rarely witnessed and it is difficult to imagine what they look and sound like as they are unfolding, which is a good thing, as they are extremely dangerous; every year causing considerable damage and even claiming lives.

Flooding and the associated erosion and deposition of sediment is an important natural process that shapes the landscapes around us. This is particularly evident in our stream systems, where plants and animals have evolved to deal with periodic flooding. In fact, many of these species, especially riparian plants, rely on flooding and the disturbance produced by it to create the conditions necessary for establishment and regeneration. Erosion changes the shape of the channel and removes vegetation, whereas newly deposited sediment are sites for colonization.

This year, heavy winter storms have led to an increase in large flood events across Tejon Ranch and throughout much of California. As a result, many of our stream systems have been completely reworked by the power of water, sediment, and other debris. Here, in one of the most unusual videos ever captured by our wildlife cameras, we bring you inside a massive mudslide as millions of pounds of sediment thunder down Tejon’s Tunis Canyon.

Mud slide photos Three weeks later

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