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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teton Tuseday: a lesson in humility...


This week marks my six-month anniversary working out on Tejon and I would like to honor this occasion by briefly commenting on what a truly humbling experience it has been for me to learn from and interact with such a wild and complex natural system on a daily basis. Since I started with the Conservancy in February, it has been my responsibility and pleasure to learn the intricacies of the ranch and its inhabitants. I was hired to help develop and administer a pilot study on the major animal populations of Tejon, with a special emphasis on wild pigs and their impact on the landscape. I often chuckle at my own naiveté, as I recall my first meeting in which the details of this survey were described, and how I thought to myself that it sounded like a walk in the park. Now, almost exactly 6 months later, let me be abundantly clear in saying that a walk on the ranch is not, in any manner of speaking, a walk in the park. In the last half year I have been chewed up and spit out by the rugged terrain, deceptively treacherous vegetation and unforgiving climate of Tejon more times than I can count.
I remember there was a moment nearing the end of my first month, where, during an evening survey, I had managed to bury myself so deeply into a vast thicket of impenetrable Brewer’s oak, that I was forced to crawl on hands and knees in order to move through the aggressively tangled mass of branches. After more than twenty minutes of this pathetic exercise, with the rapidly fading daylight only increasing the comic inefficiency of my efforts, my hand found purchase, not as I expected on the sharp, sticker-filled gravel I had been accustomed to, but instead squished wrist deep into a warm meatloaf sized cow pie neatly camouflaged by the twilight shadows. In this singular moment of my abasement by the natural world, what occurred to me was not how completely I had underestimated the challenges presented by navigating such hostile terrain, nor was it how utterly ridiculous, disgusting and potentially dangerous my current situation was. The thought that thundered through my mind as I lamely attempted to wipe my wretched hand off on the side of my boots was how in the hell did a bovine, capable of expelling such a tremendous sedimentary deposit, manage to get into this abyss of godforsaken scrub?! To this day I consider the presence of that behemoth cow-pie in such an inaccessible location a true natural phenomenon and a mystery of science.
Despite it all, however, your trusty wildlife tech persevered, eventually made his way out of the Brewer’s-oak-of-death and on to a much greater appreciation of what it takes to survive and thrive out in the wilds of Tejon. As the months went on and my understanding of the ranch grew, I became more comfortable with how to get around and more importantly how the animals I’m tasked with surveying get around. We have improved our survey protocols and have begun to get a real feeling for the patterns of animal behavior that characterize wildlife activity out on the ranch. Still, just as I begin to get a feeling for the who/what/where/when/why of Tejon wildlife, the seasons transition and I once again find myself playing catch up as new patterns of behavior emerge along with the changing landscape. If my first six months on the ranch have taught me anything, it is that you must engage these wildlands as a student would approach a grand-master, and that without due respect you will be on your knees covered in it before the sun goes down… 

This week I am sharing a mix of my favorite photos and videos that showcase  some of what I have learned to love out here on the ranch over the last half year…  
Anna's Hummingbird (female)

 At the very moment this video is being recorded Dr. White and I are walking up this same tributary and must have unknowingly disturbed out friend's bath. We reached the camera 3 minutes after this was recorded!
A lioness and her cub taking a morning stroll along Blue Ridge. Coincidentally, the dense vegetation in the top right of this frame is some of what I got stuck in five months ago!
I wonder what got these boys so riled up?
 
The Sandberg cabin, lost in time amongst the cedars