People often ask me where my favorite place is on the Ranch? Two places that stand out are Comanche Point and the Tejon Hills. The Tejon Hills are a set of low, rolling ridges extending into the San Joaquin Valley. Comanche Point is the name of the northern end of those hills. Geologically the Tejon Hills are “alluvium” or layers of sediment that were deposited millions of years ago by rivers draining into the ocean, either into deeper water or into a more terrestrial delta environment.
Dr. David Miller of California State University Bakersfield, is conducting research with some of his undergraduate students, documenting the presence of large ancestral rivers that once drained what is now the Colorado Plateau into what is now the Tehachapi Mountains! Evidence of these rivers can be seen in the deposits of rounded cobblestones that ring the Tehachapi Foothills, and Tejon Ranch is one of the few places where this geological history can be studied and understood.
A bed of cobbles (rounded rocks) deposited by an ancient river millions of years ago.
Over time, these sedimentary layers were uplifted by faulting and weathered into unique soils that, not surprisingly, support unique plant species – one of the reasons why this area is so cool. The soils range from “badlands” of erosion-sculpted ridges to beds of heavy clay soils studded with ancient river cobbles. The soils in this area are unique in that they have a high pH (are not acidic) and concentrations of minerals such as sodium and magnesium, likely due to the nearshore marine environment where some of the sediment layers were deposited.
CSU Bakersfield geology undergraduates sampling a conglomerate bed at Tejon.
The “Chanac Badlands” formation near Comanche Point in the northern Tejon Hills. White flowers are popcorn flowers (Plagiobothrys spp.)
“Pleito Clay” soils in the southern Tejon Hills. The white flowers in the foreground are threatened California striped adobe lilies (Fritillaria striata). A patch of pig-rooted soil can be seen in the middle of the picture, and cattle in the distance.
Many rare plants have evolved in the unique environment (soils, climate, and herbivores) created by the Tejon Hills, including several species that really can’t be found anywhere else. For example, because of habitat loss in other parts of its range, Comanche Point layia (Layia leucopappa) can be found nowhere else on the planet but the Tejon Hills!
Likewise, Tejon poppy (Eschscholzia lemmonii ssp. kernensis), is almost entirely restricted to Tejon Ranch and most of the population is in the Tejon Hills. There are other rare and special status plants, and animal species found in this place, as well as unique habitats such as saltbush scrub habitat and alkali springs supporting the alkali mariposa lily (Calochortus striatus). Many of these plants are listed as rare, threatened, or endangered by the California Native Plant Society, so the Tejon Hills, conserved under the Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, are conservation strongholds for them.
Comanche Point layia (Layia leucopappa) in the northern Tejon Hills.
Tejon poppy (Eschscholzia lemmonii kernensis) in the southern Tejon Hills.
Under the Conservancy’s stewardship, the research, monitoring, and management of Tejon’s grasslands has greatly increased our understanding of this incredibly rare place and established a stewardship vision to care for its resources. We are continuing to refine grazing management prescriptions, working with the landowner and cattle leases on stewardship projects, and researching the unique resources of the Tejon Hills. We also conduct many field trips to share the remarkable floral displays and unique plants of the Tejon Hills and wildflower season is approaching fast. Your support help to properly care for these resources.
Alkali mariposa lily (Calochortus striatus) at Amarga Spring, Comanche Point.
This winter the Audubon Society marks the 117th annual Christmas Bird Count, a tradition the Tejon Ranch Conservancy has proudly participated in since our inception in 2008. Unfortunately for the dedicated community of birders who, year after year, come out to support the Conservancy in our annual CBC, were met with severely inclement weather on the night leading up to our scheduled count. I have no doubt our stalwart birders would have withstood the icy roads and howling winds to make the Tejon count a success, but we had to make the decision at the 11th hour to cancel the CBC due to concern about dangerous early morning road conditions. It is, however, difficult for us to complain about any weather event that brings precipitation to our thirsty hills during this extended drought, even if it painfully befuddles our event schedule. To those who had planned to participate but were weathered out, we truly appreciate your interest and we look forward to hosting you next year, as well as in upcoming birding tours.
Photo by Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak.
As it happened there were two partially frozen birding teams that did, in fact, make it out into the field. These indomitable naturalists were able to cobble together quite an impressive list, all things considered, and we are happy to report 65 species observed, including a least sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), the first ever recorded during a Tejon CBC. These observations will be collated with all other CBCs conducted throughout the United States and the world to produce one of the most robust and informative citizen-science based species censuses ever assembled. Bird counts like the CBC are a testament to the power and potential of community involvement in the natural sciences, and we at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy are proud to promote and extend opportunities for these collaborative projects wherever and whenever possible. To find out more about citizen-science on Tejon, sign up for a future event, or become a sustaining member of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, please visit our website at tejonconservancy.org
Photo by Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak.