Tejon Ranch conservancy February 2017

On the Ranch

The plant and animal life on the Tejon Ranch is awakening to the beckoning of spring. Heavy rains are filling Castac Lake, and the hills are green once again. On a hike yesterday we saw the first palmate leaves of lupine, subtle hints of the wildflower displays to come in just a few weeks. We hope you will join us at the upcoming Wildflower Viewing Stations. Registrations for these events will be posted soon in our Calendar and exclusive member tours start in March (to become a supporting member click here).

In this issue, you’ll read about some recently discovered secrets of the Tejon Hills, Saltbush research by a Conservancy/CSUB intern, the annual Tejon Christmas Bird Count, a popular Antelope Valley bird, and a profile of an amazing volunteer (and this eNews editor!). Of course, we love sharing wildlife videos and this month’s is a real treat!

We’ve added a new feature this month. “Research Update” is about researchers and their work on the ranch. Facilitating research is an important role of the Conservancy. Tejon Ranch is a vast and scientifically interesting ecological landscape, and because it is privately owned and closed to the public, it is a great resource for scientific exploration. Your support of the Conservancy helps our staff work with outside researchers and the Tejon Ranch Company to better understand conservation science, climate change adaptation, and the region in which we live.

As always, hope to see you on the Ranch!


President and CEO

Photo by A. Jones

Comanche Point

By Conservancy Science Director Mike White

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.

Saltbush Research Led by California State University Bakersfield Student Mitchell Coleman

By Conservancy Senior Ecologist Ellery Mayence

Mitchell Coleman, graduate student in Biology at CSU – Bakersfield and recipient of the Environmental Education Partnerships Impacting Colleges and Careers (E2PIC2 commonly known as EPIC) student research scholarship, studies saltbush (Atriplex polycarpa) ecology on Tejon Ranch.

Saltbush (Atriplex spp.) shrublands, once widespread throughout much of the southern San Joaquin Valley, have been significantly reduced in the last 200 years because of intensive agricultural and industrial land uses among other anthropogenic activities. Complicating the scene and subsequent saltbush restoration activities has been the widespread invasion of the region by ultra-competitive, ecosystem transforming non-native grasses. At the core of the issue for saltbush and other native plant community restoration are: (1) residual dry matter (RDM): the senesced shoots of the non-native grasses which forms in the dry season. This greatly subdues light, moisture penetration, and temperature at the soil surface, which adversely affects seed germination, and (2) when germination and emergence do occur, intense competition with non-native grasses for what in most years is scantly available soil moisture. Importantly, both these concepts have ecological ramifications beyond saltbush ecology and, in part, underpin the radical transformation in plant community composition that has occurred. Mitchell’s research portfolio directly assesses the before mentioned ecological processes using a combination of controlled setting and in-situ field experimentation.

With much of the necessary controlled setting research complete, this year’s efforts are heavily focused on field research with germination and seedling transplant studies currently underway. The goals of Mitchell’s field research are to: (1) empirically demonstrate the deleterious effect of non-native grasses on native plant ecology and recruitment, and (2) inform native plant conservation and restoration, and on more of a regional scale, land management activities in the southern San Joaquin Valley and associated landscapes. From the Conservancy’s perspective, Mitchell’s research will provide valuable insight that benefits ongoing grazing management activities, as well as enhance efforts to pursue, when possible, active rather than passive native plant community restoration. Mitchell started this work as an intern in the Conservancy/CSUB EPIC program partnership which helps CSUB Environmental Studies students better understand career and research pathways funded through the generosity of Bakersfield philanthropists Ben and Gayle Batey. The Conservancy is very appreciative of Mitchell’s enthusiasm and willingness to conduct quality academic research with well-defined practical implications here on the Ranch. Thank you Mitchell!

Meet Volunteer Paula Harvey

Tejon Ranch is classically Californian, both in its history and in its four distinct eco-systems; their flora, fauna, and geology, some unique to the Ranch, and some that have yet to be discovered. The size alone makes it unique—the Conservancy stewards 240,000 acres of this un-fragmented landscape, accessed by 2,000 miles of Ranch roads. It is a truly wild place—a critical habitat for the California condor and other threatened and endangered animals, that provides connectivity between the San Joaquin Valley, Antelope Valley, Coastal Ranges, and the Sierra Nevada.

I became a certified California Naturalist in the fall of 2015 and have actively volunteered for the Conservancy for a little over a year. Currently I participate in monitoring the small herd of pronghorn on the Antelope Valley side of the Ranch, assist in weather station data retrieval and ranch tours, and help edit this newsletter. I look forward to doing more citizen science and helping the Conservancy develop an outdoor education program.

Like all volunteers, my educational and professional backgrounds lend themselves to many Conservancy activities. I have a degree in Outdoor Recreation and have taught backpacking and wilderness survival through UCLA and CSUN. I also have a master’s degree in education, specializing in curriculum development and educational leadership and have taught children and adults for over thirty years.

The conservation demands of managing, restoring and protecting the biodiversity and ecosystems of Tejon Ranch are enormous and complex. The Conservancy has limited financial and human resources. My participation helps the Conservancy staff accomplish their goals. I have a positive impact on people and on the ecology, restoration, and preservation of the Ranch, and my talents, time, and efforts are needed and valued. Ultimately, my contribution will benefit future generations of Californians.

As a volunteer, I personally benefit because I feel useful, get access to the ranch, a place very few people get to see, and I get to meet and work with like-minded people. I have endless opportunities to learn about wildlife, plants, geology, anthropology, photography, the science of conservation, and much more. And one more benefit: IT’S SO MUCH FUN! Please consider bringing your talents and energy to the Conservancy as a volunteer by contacting Tim Bulone at (661) 248-2400, ext. 104, or by email at tbulone@tejonconservancy.org.

Photo by Conservancy Stewardship Manager Laura Pavliscak

Tejon CBC 2016

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

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.


Research Update

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy facilitates an extensive array of research at the Ranch. Here are this month's highlights:

Continuing our efforts to document the largely unknown invertebrate communities on Tejon Ranch, we have had the good fortune to partner with Dr. Kipling Will, Director of the Essig Museum of Entomology at University of California, Berkeley. With a specialty in ground beetles (Carabidae family), Dr. Will is researching a century of previous ground beetle collections made in our region as well as investigating what rare and common species may be present in the largely unexplored dynamic lands of Tejon. In the course of one rainy weekend we uncovered possibly nine ground beetle species in addition to dozens of other fascinating subterranean denizens. With the help of Dr. Will and passionate experts like him, we look forward to more sampling expeditions and to developing a greater understanding of invertebrates and their critical role in supporting biodiversity and ecological services on Tejon Ranch.

Using our extensive wildlife camera data to better understand feral pig social structure (for example, what is the typical size of a group or sounder of pigs on Tejon?), we have partnered with Dr. André Skupin, Co-Director of the Center for Information Convergence and Strategy at San Diego State University to develop a visualization tool for pig social networks. Under André’s supervision, his graduate student, Tim Schempp, developed an online tool that allows the Conservancy to view the spatial and temporal relationships between individual pigs—who is hanging out with whom and where and when are they hanging out—thereby advancing our ability to understand social groups of pigs. This work will support the national effort to address the growing problem of ecological damage caused by feral pigs

Join Our Email List!

Please forward this eNews to friends and family! And if you received a forwarded version please join our email list by texting the word Tejon to 22828. You will be asked to text your email. It’s really that simple!

Photo by conservancy volunteer dan potter

Meet the Western Bluebird

Photo by Greg Smith

The Western Bluebird is found in the western regions of the North America. Insects represent the larger part of the bird’s diet along with berries. The female generally lays 2 to 8 eggs in a nesting cavity, with an incubation period of 12 to 17 days. Both parents feed the young birds which fledge in two or three weeks. Audubon reports that in recent decades the numbers of Western Bluebirds is in decline, presumably due to habitat loss.

Spotting the western bluebirds in the snow in the Joshua tree woodlands on the east side of the Ranch is without a doubt, a bird watcher’s greatest thrill. And did you know that many say bluebirds aren’t “blue” at all, but it’s just the way light reflects off their grey toned feathers?

To find out more about the western blue bird, go to: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Bluebird/lifehistory

A Correction from January’s Newsletter

In last month’s story about bald eagles on Tejon Ranch, we erroneously reported that the public could view them from the Edmonston Pump Plant Road. That road is actually private and not open to the public. We regret the error and any inconvenience this may have caused.

"Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." - John Ruskin

Bobcat Predation on Tejon Ranch

By Conservancy Biologist Ben Teton

This incredible trap-camera capture not only demonstrates the deadly speed and coordination of a hungry bobcat, but the potentially life-saving cooperation of ground squirrels. A distant alarm call can be heard alerting the ground squirrel featured in-frame, giving it just enough time to scramble off as the bobcat makes its move. For the bobcat's part, she covers over 30ft in two bounds in about half a second after descending a 15ft vertical rock shelf. Clearly the squirrel here needs all the help it can get!

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!


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