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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WILDLIFE WEDNESDAY: Guest Blog- Susan Gilliland of Pasadena Audubon

“There is no other place like Tejon Ranch in California….and perhaps in the world.”

That’s the leading line in the Tejon Ranch Conversancy website page. (Be sure to check it out for yourselves. On April 12, 2014 about twenty lucky members of Pasadena Audubon Society visited Tejon Ranch and can absolutely vouch that statement is true. At over 422 contiguous square miles, or 270,000 acres, Tejon Ranch is the largest piece of privately held property in California. Tejon Ranch Conservancy is the result of a 2008 agreement reached by Tejon Ranch Company, Audubon California, Endangered Habitats League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League and the Sierra Club to preserve and protect this hotspot of biological diversity. In fact, the Ranch lies at the confluence of four major biogeographic regions.

 Our day started with a visit to a Burrowing Owl colony in the open grasslands. As we headed west toward Los Alamos Canyon we encountered a group of Pronghorn Antelope – including a male and his three females. As we drove through the Ranch we were delighted to see so many species of wildflowers in bloom– even in this severe drought. We saw California poppies, bush lupine, phacelia, tidy tips, coreopsis, blue diks, and fiddlenecks – and later that’s where we saw (and heard) the Lawrence’s Goldfinches. (Photos of Burrowing Owl and wildflowers by F. Gilliland)

We hiked in Los Alamos Canyon, which has oak woodland and riparian habitat, and we were treated to a Gray Flycatcher, the first of the season for the Ranch. The Ranch is home to 11 varieties of Oak and is a genuine “Disneyland” for Oak researchers. Although they have scales, and not feathers, we got up close looks at an adult Gilbert’s Skink.

 As we moved east to Little Sycamore Canyon (although the Sycamores are huge today) we went for a short hike and had an adult Golden Eagle fly from his perch in the canyon and disappear over the ridges. During our hike we heard and had good views of a pair of Rock Wrens and a very large Gopher Snake sunning on the path. Our group enjoyed a short hike up to Tunnel Springs, where we were rewarded with a singing Rock Wren, and several Anna’s, and Selasphorus type (likely Rufous in that location?) Hummingbirds. We also had a pair of Costa’s Hummingbirds with the male displaying and making his very high pitched thin call. There were a few migrating warblers, including a beautiful Black-throated Gray and Nashville.

The Joshua tree forest provided good habitat for a lone female Scott’s Oriole. Later while driving through more Joshua tree habitat we had a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a distant view of a pair of Cactus Wrens plus a Sage Thrasher and Brewer’s, Lark and Chipping Sparrows. As we continued up to the crest of the Tehachapi, through Bronco Canyon, we observed a second Golden Eagle, this one an immature, who provided great views while he walked on the hillside before lifting his wings and soaring off. (Photo by F. Gilliland) On the way to our fantastic lunch stop at Eagle’s Roost, some of the group stopped for a flyover Lewis’ Woodpecker and while searching for the woodpecker, they heard a Mountain Quail. While the rest of the group birded while waiting for others to catch up, we heard Scot yell over the FRS radios, ‘CONDORS!” Wow! Three California Condors soaring over the ridges.

It was an incredible sight. We really enjoyed watching them and as they drifted off over the mountains, we considered ourselves very lucky to have seen even one. As we settled in for lunch and we were enjoying the hallowed views of the mountains at an old Native American site, the Condors returned again and provided more great looks at as they soared over the landscape. (Photo on left by F. Gilliland and photo below right by P. Richardson)

 We watched as a Common Raven harassed one of the Condors. The contrast in size was truly impressive. The Condors disappeared from view all too soon. As we relished our second sighting, and the last of our lunch, a large shadow crossed over us. “Huh? What was that?!” “Look up! The Condors! Right over our heads!” Wow! Where did they come from? They are huge birds (they weigh in at an average of 23 pounds and have about a 9 foot wing span!) and yet they were able to soar in silently and fly right over our heads. Well, needless to say, there was a lot of shutter snapping and mouths agape. We didn’t even need binoculars to read the wing tag on number 57. The pair that flew directly over our heads were definitely checking us out. (Tip: Always remember to keep moving when amongst Condors.) We were among the truly fortunate to have fabulous views of a total of four individual California Condors! What a gift. (Photo of Common Raven and Condor by F. Gilliland. Photo of #57 by P. Richardson)

At Ray’s Perch we had spectacular views of the future Pacific Crest Trail route. From here we could see the San Joaquin Valley, the Tehachapi’s to the north and Blue Ridge to the east that forms the boundary with the Antelope Valley. To the west we could see Mount Pinos. (Photo below by S. Gilliland) The wind was kicking up most of the day and likely kept some birds down and hidden from our view and it certainly made it hard to hear, but all in all we saw and/or heard about 60 species. Thanks so much to the Tejon Conservancy for working so hard to preserve and protect this true gem. A special thank you to Scot Pipkin, a great birder, naturalist,
educator and public access coordinator, and all the docent/volunteers, who competently and patiently answered our endless questions and drove us safely around the Ranch in 4WD vehicles. It was one of the best days of birding we’ve ever had. (Photo by F. Gilliland)