ON THE RANCH
By President and CEO Bob Reid
It was a ruffling of taffeta noise coming from over my shoulder. I turned and there, hanging in the sky just a few feet overhead, were two condors, their broad wings outstretched, numbers and transmitters clearly visible.
It was a connecting moment like no other. They circled back around and now with a third, made their way overhead again, the wind whistling through outstretched wing feathers, spread like strange fingers outlined against the sky.
While this was at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it could have been in the sky above Tejon Ranch, where condors regularly forage. It takes these vast, conserved, and undisturbed lands for this protected icon, the California Condor, to recover, if not thrive. While thankful for the experience at the Grand Canyon, I’m also thankful for the conservation of Tejon, on a different scale, yet no less important.
This month our friend Lou Tucker of Audubon Los Angeles takes us along on a birding adventure at Tejon and we learn more about some exciting upcoming events the Conservancy is hosting this season on Tejon.
Fall colors have arrived, the air is noticeably cooler, and it’s a great time to be on the Ranch. So…
See you on the Ranch,
President and CEO
MEANWHILE BACK ON THE RANCH: BIRDING ON TEJON
By LA Audubon birder and longtime friend of the Tejon Conservancy Lou Tucker
This article was originally published by LA Audubon's Western Tanager Newsletter, Vol. 80, No. 6, July/August 2014
Being a birder can present family relationship problems—especially on Mother's Day. This has been a problem of mine since I became a serious birder over 35 years ago. When I lived in New York City, this was a really tough issue: My mother lives in White Plains, a mere 20 miles north of the city—a half hour train ride. Mother's Day is generally at the peak of the spring migration in the Northeast. (I have to send a lot of gifts and flowers and make sugary phone calls—I guess I could be viewed as a "bad boy!") However, either Central Park, Bashakill Marsh in New York, or the Great Swamp in New Jersey was too much of a "candy store" to ignore. Mom never took an interest in my feathered friends. Oh well…
For the last 26 years, I've been 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles. I still do the gifts, cards, and sugary phone calls. But I make an effort to ensure that everything gets to New York in a timely fashion. Sometimes the phone call may be a day early because I’m going to be in a wilderness area with no phone reception. That's what happened the year I revisited the Tejon Ranch. I'm so glad my mom is gracious!
So, the big plan was to go back to Tejon because some of us just can't get enough of that place! This was sort of an impromptu, though much-discussed, trip. The day turned out to be just stunning.
I went up with the Sieburth family: Beatrix, Derek, and Dessi. We met up with Matthew Page and Karin Kersteter. We were all meeting our intrepid guide, Scot Pipkin (formerly) of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, who brought along some wonderful folks from the area near Tejon, John and Theresa Barrios, and David and Maxine Stenstrom. The objective was to do parts of Tejon that are a bit off the beaten path and get into the high back areas of the Ranch.
We were going back to "Wonderland." We covered areas with interesting names: Antelope Canyon, but we didn't see any pronghorn that day; Cordon Ridge and the Joshua Tree forest while looking for Scott's oriole, but came up empty; the part of Cordon Ridge around the water tank; Blue Ridge, Canon del Gato Montes, and Lopez Flats. A lot of our exploration was in the Kern County part of the Ranch.
It is so fantastic to travel around in an area and not hear the noises of the city or of cars and trucks on the road, and to be so close to L.A. and feel as if you've journeyed to a far-off land.
The birdsong symphonic serenade was stupendous. Warblers singing high in trees—yellow, Townsend's, hermit, and Wilson's—or singing and foraging low in bushes—MacGillivray's or orange-crowned. The sparrow family was well-represented—white-crowned, chipping, Brewer's, lark, savannah, Lincoln's, a splattering of dark-eyed juncos, and the rattlings of both California and spotted towhees. There were spectacular splashes of color from bright Bullock's orioles, Western tanagers, black-headed grosbeaks, house finch, purple finch, lesser goldfinch, and Lawrence's goldfinch.
The ethereal sounds and brilliant color of Western bluebirds were entertaining. There was the darting around of Anna's hummingbirds and raucous acorn woodpeckers with the Northern flicker and Lewis' woodpecker making their presence known. Flycatchers also sounded their calls—ash-throated and Western wood-pewee and the omnipresent, and very dapper, tuxedoed black phoebe. In some of the wooded areas, we found house wrens and heard Bewick's wrens. And up against the rocks were some rock wrens, of course flitting about from boulder to boulder. Some birds of more muted hues showed themselves—white-breasted nuthatch, oak titmouse, flocks of mourning doves and band-tailed pigeons. Most of the horned larks had left, but there were still some around. Loggerhead shrikes made fleeting appearances on the tops of shrubs, California quail ran through the shrubs, and we got faint glimpses of and heard mountain quail. As we gained altitude, we would see Western scrub-jays and hear their cousins, Steller's jays, which were being somewhat elusive.
Crows and ravens were making us antsy. It had been reported that California condors were seen several weeks before we came and this was something that was a bit of a request—maybe more like a lively but friendly demand—even before we started our exploration. That is a tall order! I should probably say "big" order.
We continued to gain altitude and traveled along the ridgeline. I think we were up a little more than 6,000 feet, looking into the canyon below, when a golden eagle was spotted, soaring low and gaining altitude. It soared around the ridge we were on from our left into a thermal. Looking over to our right above some conifers was a bald eagle soaring toward the same thermal. I looked down on the canyon floor and noticed what would be something totally crazy. "Condor," I said. It began rising on the same thermal. And then there was another, and another, and another, and one more. Five California condors were soaring in the same thermal with the two eagles.
I don't think I can adequately describe the phenomenon that was before our eyes. I think when I said "condor," some of the people in the group nearly suffered whiplash trying to turn around fast enough to catch it. This will probably be one of biggest thrills of our birding lives, especially mine—bird of prey enthusiast that I am—three of the largest species of raptors on the North American continent, all in the same air space. It was stunning, jaw-dropping, spectacular, and insane. It was a jubilant sight.
Strangely enough, the eagles weren't being territorial toward each other. It seemed as though all these birds were just enjoying soaring and riding the thermals. The condors dwarfed the eagles. I didn't think that could be possible. Soaring in there with those big species was a red-tailed hawk, which looked almost insignificant. The bald eagle was somehow out of place because there is no big water spot on the Ranch. And I thought maybe it had drifted up from Quail Lake to the south. But that bird quickly disappeared. Wow!
The golden eagle would appear and vanish several times during the rest of the day, but for a long while, the condors just enjoyed the thermals. It's interesting to watch them do that. What makes them so huge is that their wingspan, more than 9 feet, is not only impressive in its length, but the depth front to back is really spectacular. It almost seemed as if the two wings were like bed sheets, which they would adjust according to how they rode the thermal. You would see them fully extend their wings and tuck them in just a bit; from underneath they seemed like a large ruffle. I can tell you that it was quite difficult to move away from this show. We watched them for a long time. And a few of these birds got very high in the sky. They are so big that I'm sure a few of them got higher than 10,000 feet and you could still see them.
I, personally, gave a little thanks to God for this display. I must admit these displays get me a bit metaphysical and grateful to be able to see such a fantastic show. This, to me, is a wonderful gift from on high and I relish it. (Now, don't get your undies in a bunch. I'm not a member of the "flat earth society." And I know that this planet is more than ancient. I just believe that we need to be good stewards of this beauty and be thankful as was requested in Genesis.)
Moving on… There was more. We were now pretty much on the back end of the Ranch. We could clearly see Castac Lake in Lebec. Meandering around the back end, we were seeing aerial feats of violet-green swallows. That was a bit of a prelude to seeing a small but rather vocal flock of purple martins. The martins were quite entertaining; they would fly about, then sit in a bare tree, then fly again.
However, a sort of grand finale was done all around us. We had more sightings of condors, soaring around. This time there were six in the flock. All in all, we had seven separate condor sightings that day. And so as not to be completely ignored, a male lazuli bunting was singing quite loudly at the top of a conifer. Now, if his song weren't beautiful enough, the sun hit this bird like a spotlight and it was on stage, so that the blue on the back and throat, and the cinnamon-mustard-colored breast, and the white belly and wing bars bounced off in such a way as if I were seeing this bird anew. This bunting, the martins, the condors, and, oh, a lonely turkey vulture made this a spectacular, majestic, feathered pageant.
A few people on this trip got some life birds: the condors and the martins. The jubilation and flying high which we felt was difficult to contain.
Tejon Ranch rarely disappoints, and on Mother's Day, we had a lot to celebrate. I'm not sure if seeing three of our largest birds in the same air space could ever be duplicated. I must wax exuberant over this experience, one I will never forget. I was happy to see even more of the Ranch than I had seen in all my other trips up there. There is so much to explore. We are all quite grateful that our knowledgeable guide was the perfect person to take us around.
I would be quite remiss if I didn't mention the flashes of wildflowers, which were somehow quite unexpected since there has been so little rain in Southern California that winter. There were poppies and lupine and some colorful species of buckwheat, plus a lot I can't remember. But the hills had oranges, purples, yellows, and reds in them. Not a lot, but enough to let you know that even in drought there is still some life.
Oh, by the way, a little addendum: my mom now often calls and tells me about some of the birds in her area. She tells me of boat-tailed grackles that have invaded the Northeast—these birds were strictly Southeastern historically—and about the expanding territory of black vultures in New York, going farther north and not migrating. And about how the Canada geese no longer migrate back there. She also told me and sent a newspaper clipping of a story about great blue herons setting up a nesting colony in very ritzy Bedford, Martha Stewart country, in northern Westchester County. The article said the gentry of Bedford was excited to have the birds in their area. I told her: "Yah, they're excited now, but wait until the colony expands and those birds start crapping all over the place. That will throw all the good will right out the window!" She laughed riotously. Meanwhile, she delights in seeing the first robin of spring. And, the blue jays crack her up. Maybe my Mother's Day escapes have had a bit of an effect on her after all. Now, if I could only get her interested in opera…
A COLORFUL DAY AT Via Arté WITH THE TEJON CONSERVANCY
By Public Access Assistant Reema Hammad
It was a great honor to represent and to be sponsored by the Tejon Ranch Conservancy at this year's Bakersfield Museum of Art Via Arté event. I have been participating in it for the last 11 years. As a nature and landscape photographer, having to replicate a Cezanne landscape on a 15-by-15-foot square with chalk was enjoyable and challenging; it was my first time creating a landscape of this size. I would like to thank the Conservancy and give a special thank you to Lucy Clark for her support.
Last month Conservation Science Director Ellery Mayence continued his Tejon Ranch Ecological Seminar Series (TRESS), leading a group of participants on a lively and informative hike through Lopez Flat and El Paso Creek. Here is what TRESS participant Mardi Caruso had to say about the experience:
"It is so relaxing and delightful to walk through unspoiled El Paso Canyon. And the Sandburg Cabin was so mysterious and beautiful too."
To learn more about TRESS and how you can sign up for the next seminar, please contact Ellery Mayence at Emayence@tejonconservancy.org
Tejon's not-so silent night
by Wildlife Biologist Ben Teton
Wildlife camera traps provide a virtual window into the lives of many wildlife species we might never otherwise see. And while our cameras continue to produce beautiful and dynamic imagery of these animals in the wild, they capable of collecting far more than just visuals. As camera trap technology has improved, many current models are also equipped with sophisticated microphones capable of recording remarkably high-definition sound. In some sense, the sounds of the forest are even more foreign and mysterious to many of us, as it is far easier to capture imagery at a distance than sound. Furthermore, most wild places are characterized by a general noise level that is so quiet, particularly at night, that it is often interpreted as silence by those conditioned to the eternal cacophony of combustion engines and associated urban rabble that dominates human society.
Quiet, yes, but silent, no. Whether you are looking for food or looking to avoid becoming food, quiet is a survival skill as essential as camouflage. Silence is a practice constantly tested yet never perfected and it is particularly challenging this time of year, when dry leaf litter carpets the forest floor.
This month I am sharing highlights from one of our cameras ideally positioned to capture and compare how different wildlife species navigate this treacherous autumnal groundcover. I invite you all to close your eyes and consider the sounds, as opposed to the sites, of these creatures as they move about Tejon. If after watching you’re still not impressed, consider the ~140 pound female mountain lion at the end of the clip is almost 5300 times the size of the ~12 gram pocket mouse making about the same amount of noise.
tejon trivia: name that critter!
Submit your answer along with the contact email of two friends who would like to join our E-News for your chance to win a free Tejon Conservancy swag bag!
what species can be heard vocalizing in this video?
Submit your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to check back next month to find out the correct answer!
congratulations to our October tejon trivia winner colin rambo!