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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Breeding Bird Blitz, by Dr. Phoebe Prather, Senior Biologist

 (photo courtesy of Chuck Noble)

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy is dedicated to the citizen science movement that was pioneered by Audubon more than a century ago.  We have two long-running annual citizen science bird counts that we conduct on Tejon Ranch, the Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Blitz.  The Christmas Bird Count provides information on bird species wintering on Tejon Ranch, whereas the Breeding Bird Blitz is intended to provide information on breeding species, although we often see many migrants as well.  The Conservancy’s Breeding Bird Blitz is conducted during the late spring in mid to late May.  We use the same 15-mile diameter count circle established for the Christmas Bird Count.  This allows us to collect data in the same locations throughout the year.  Teams are sent to both the San Joaquin Valley and Antelope Valley sides of the Ranch.  Both counts provide vital information about bird populations and trends during the winter and breeding seasons.     

     Photo 1:  Adult long-eared owl captured through the binoculars of our Conservation 
Science Director, Dr. Mike White.

The inaugural Breeding Bird Blitz was conducted in 2009 and it has been conducted every year since.  We counted 112 species that first year (Table 1).  Even though we have never reached that magic number of 112 again, we have continued to add new species to our overall Breeding Bird Blitz species list (Table 2).  Some of these species have also been new to our overall Tejon Ranch bird species list.  Since 2009 we have detected a total of 171 species during the Breeding Bird Blitz.  Please visit our website to view the species lists for each year the count has been conducted.

         Table 1.  Total number of species counted each year during the Tejon Ranch 
Conservancy Breeding Bird Blitz.

Table 2.  Number of species new to the Breeding Bird Blitz species list for each count year.

As our dataset increases each year, we can begin to pull out patterns from the data.  We are beginning to see that in the spring we often find more species in the canyons of the Antelope Valley, rather than on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch (Table 3).  This is an expected trend as both spring migrants and breeding birds are coming from the south and funneling into the resource rich canyons after crossing the desert.  Spring migrants feed and rest before making their way over the Tehachapi Mountains and continuing northward to their breeding grounds.  After refueling in the desert canyons it is easy for birds to zoom over the mountains without needing to settle into the canyons on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch.  Breeding birds find in these canyons the resources they need to settle in and establish territories to nest.  But even though these trends are expected, it is exciting to see them displayed in the data, validating both our hypotheses and the importance of these canyons for both migrating and breeding birds.

          Table 3.  The number of bird species observed during the Breeding Bird Blitz in the 
Antelope Valley versus the San Joaquin Valley.

We conducted our 7th Breeding Bird Blitz on May 16.  Thirteen volunteers joined us for a beautiful day of birding.  Three teams tallied a total of 99 species, adding 4 new species to the overall Breeding Bird Blitz species list.  New species included: long-eared owl, Western screech-owl, Virginia’s warbler, and black-throated sparrow.  Owl families were the theme of the day as one team watched a nesting pair of adult long-eared owls and their two fledgling owlets, and observed an adult burrowing owl feeding a chick.  Another team observed a group of the Sage Sparrows (Mojave race) in a location where we have never seen them before.  The team found it interesting that the sparrows were in a group, rather than separated into breeding pairs.  Perhaps they were a group that was just passing through, on their way to other breeding grounds.  Virginia’s Warbler was just added to the Ranch bird species list the weekend before the Breeding Bird Blitz.  It is simple observations such as these that make birding such a fun activity.  What are these birds up to?  Why have we only just found the Virginia’s warbler?  Do they often pass through undetected or have a few strayed off path this year?  Do the long-eared owls always nest in this spot and we have only just stumbled upon them this year?  Are the sage sparrows starting to breed on the Ranch or are they passing through on their way to some other far off place?  So much mystery is encompassed in such small beings.  Let’s keep questioning and learning!

Photo 2:  Adult long-eared owl and one of its owlets (photos courtesy of Chris Gardner).

Friday, May 22, 2015

BioBlitz, Baby! By Scot Pipkin, Public Access Coordinator

Not a bad way to start the day!

On May 8th, Tejon Ranch Conservancy staff gathered with expert volunteers across Tejon Ranch to commence our first-ever BioBlitz on the property.  The BioBlitz at Tejon was part of a large coordinated BioBlitz  in the greater Tehachapi Mountains region.  This effort involved cataloging every plant, bird, reptile, amphibian, mammal, and insect the teams encountered and uploading those observations onto the iNaturalist social media site. 
An American badger (Taxidea taxus) playing peek-a-boo with the San Joaquin team. Photo courtesy of Ben Teton

So wait, what’s a BioBlitz? According to National Geographic, who has been sponsoring BioBlitzes throughout the US:
“A BioBlitz can happen in most any geography—urban, rural, or suburban—in as large an area as a national park or small as a schoolyard. Biologists often measure the population of particular species or study an environment’s biodiversity, but a BioBlitz brings together the expertise of multiple scientists and naturalists with the power of citizens, including students, willing to take a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity in about 24 hours.”, accessed 5/22/2015

Chuck Noble lines up the right shot. Photo courtesy of Read Howarth

For our part, the idea behind the BioBlitz is to increase our understanding of biodiversity and species
ranges between the San Emigdio, Tehachapi, and Southern Sierra mountains. We often tout the significance of this region for its biodiversity and importance as a wildlife movement corridor, but little has been done to capture these features at a regional scale. In order to capture this broad snapshot, Tejon Ranch Conservancy teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California Kern River Preserve, Southern Sierra Research Station, multiple private landowners, and numerous volunteer citizen scientists in the Tehachapi Mountains to conduct a coordinated regional BioBlitz.
In addition to producing a snapshot of this incredible area, our hope is to strengthen collaborative ties between the myriad land managers, researchers, and landowners in this complex region. There’s no telling what we can accomplish if we share information and work together! Another goal of the 2015 San Emigdio/Tehachapi/Southern Sierra BioBlitz was to provide an opportunity for naturalists with various interests and expertise to get together and observe nature in a beautiful and under-studied area.

The area we tried to cover for the 2015 BioBlitz is highlighted in yellow.

I’m proud to report that for a first attempt, we did a great job of approaching the three above goals. To see how the BioBlitz did overall, check out the iNaturalist project page You will notice that 22 observers recorded over 1500 observations of 525 species. We’ve heard tell that the most organized BioBlitzes with hundreds of observers will struggle to break 1,000 species. Not bad for a first effort!
Peirson's lupine (Lupinus peirsonii), a new species to Tejon Ranch
Eyelash cup fungus
Across Tejon Ranch, 35 volunteers worked in 6 teams. Five of those teams were led by Conservancy staff and one team of botanists from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden was led by Nick Jensen, who is creating a flora of Tejon Ranch ( Several discoveries were either made or confirmed which add significantly to our understanding of Tejon Ranch. For instance, the botany team was able to confirm a sighting of Peirson’s lupine (Lupinus peirsonii), a plant identified as “Rare, Threatened and Endangered in California and elsewhere” by the California Native Plant Society. This sighting in Sacatara Canyon on the Antelope Valley side of the ranch also represents a significant range extension for this species. Observers also spotted a long-eared owl (Asio otus) nest with chicks and the fascinating eyelash cup fungus (Scutellinia scutellata).

Long-eared owl (Asio otus) and chicks
The Tejon Ranch BioBlitz also recorded species of interest such as sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), purple martin (Progne subis), and migrating birds such as warblers. Of course a few condors (Gymnogyps californianus) were in the mix as well.  Perhaps the most exciting observations came from the handful of entomologists that participated. Although the conditions were a bit windy for seeing massive numbers of insects, the information provided by these observers represents a giant leap in our understanding of the invertebrates of Tejon Ranch. Hopefully, this BioBlitz will lead to future insect surveys and perhaps a few new discoveries on Tejon!

All in all, the 2015 BioBlitz was a major success and the Conservancy looks forward to collaborating with a broader coalition of partners and observers in 2016. If you are interested in helping with future BioBlitzes, feel free to contact Scot Pipkin, the Conservancy’s Public Access Coordinator at

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). Photo courtesy of Ben Teton

Observers take a much-needed break to get some refreshments. Photo courtesy of Read Howarth.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Teton Tuesday: big news from a familiar face

My apologies to the entire TR community for my lack of recent Tuesday contributions. I have not forsaken the blogosphere, but rather have been giving the majority of our trap cameras some much needed TLC in anticipation of our newly reinvented wildlife survey. As this field season gets under way, our cameras will again begin to capture the hidden world of Tejon wildlife and I look forward to sharing the highlights with you all in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, I am currently running a limited number of test cameras around a very isolated spring nestled into the southern folds of Winters Ridge. It is with great parental tenderness and Springtime zest that I reintroduce you all to a friend of mine that I first described in a Teton Tuesday post from October of last year (
I have been both confounded and enamored with this particular female black bear for almost a year now, as her clearly identifiable two-tone coat combined with her insatiable appetite to investigate and destroy my trap cameras has made her a minor celebrity among Conservancy staff. Over the last few months she appeared to be off the grid entirely, until last month when she reappeared on my test cameras with two tiny cubs! I am happy to report that both cubs appear healthy and curious, and except for a nasty little scar on her nose, so does mom. 



and in case you were wondering, yes, she succeeded in dismantling all three of the cameras used in these recordings…         

Friday, May 15, 2015

Saying Goodbye To One Of Our Family, By Dr. Mike White, Conservation Science Director

Tejon Ranch Conservancy Executive Director, Tom Maloney showing his classic serious side

It is with very mixed emotions that we say goodbye to Tejon Ranch Conservancy Executive Director, Tom Maloney.  Tom and his wife Andrea are starting a new chapter of their lives in the San Francisco Bay area, with Tom taking a position with National Audubon, and we sincerely wish them the best.  But to me Tom’s departure feels like losing one of the family. 

Tom signing the Conservancy's first conservation easements (and clearly enjoying himself).

Tom was hired in 2009 as the first Executive Director of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and oversaw the development of the organization from the ground-up.  This meant everything from working with our Board of Directors, hiring Conservancy staff, deciding on the Conservancy logo, buying office furniture, etc.  But ultimately his challenge was to build an organization to conduct science-based stewardship and public access on 240,000 acres of conserved lands at Tejon Ranch, while the landowner, the Tejon Ranch Company, had the right to use those lands for hunting and ranching.  So this also meant he had to help forge a new relationship between the Conservancy and the Tejon Ranch Company, and I think the Conservancy’s successes under Tom’s leadership attest to his success in both these regards.

While all of our staff members have contributed to our success, all of the Conservancy’s “firsts” came under Tom’s leadership, including:
·         The Conservancy’s successful application to the IRS for nonprofit status;
·         Acquiring over $15 million in funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board to purchase the Conservancy’s first 62,000 acres of conservation easements at Tejon Ranch;
·         Acquiring almost another 50,000 acres of donated conservation easements;
·         Receiving a donation of the Conservancy’s first piece of property in fee-title (we own the dirt!);
·         Receiving Land Trust Alliance (LTA) accreditation for adhering to high corporate governance standards;
·         The Conservancy’s first Ranch-wide Management Plan and Public Access Plan;
·         Development of a robust public access program;
·         Development of a volunteer docent program;
·          The Conservancy’s first on-the-ground stewardship activities;
·         The first graduate student research projects conducted on Tejon Ranch;
·         Initiation of inaugural citizen science events like the BioBlitz, Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Blitz, and Purple Martin Surveys; and
·         New discoveries, such as several endangered plant species found for the first time on the Ranch.

Tom at the Conservancy's first Christmas Bird Count
Did I mention Tom likes to watch birds?
But on a more personal note- Tom is an interesting guy and set a unique style in the office. He is quite a comic (he's got a million of 'em) and I think I can safely speak for the staff when I say we know most of his jokes and stories by now! Tom has an eclectic taste in music, with interests way too long to list here, and he enjoys movies. I can also tell you he is quite particular about his coffee (maybe that's why he moved to the Bay Area!) and sometimes a little ice cream in the afternoon. But seriously, he has been a great Director. He has given me latitude to do my job as I think best and the support to do it the best I can. In my experience that is a rare leadership skill, and I and other Conservancy staff feel fortunate to have such a great Director to work with.

Did I mention Tom is a birdwatcher?  I guess that’s actually an understatement.  Tom is a serious birder.  No, Tom is darn near a bird “whisperer!” Tom not only identifies birds when he sees them, he knows their calls and songs, behaviors, timing of migration, when they winter and where they breed – you get the picture.  He’s the only person I have ever heard use the expression “birder’s Tourettes Syndrome” (the propensity to shout out the names of birds passing by in the middle of a conversation in the field) to characterize his behavior. For Tom, birding is not a hobby, it’s a way of life.

The Conservancy is off to a strong start not only because of his leadership but because of his skills as a fundraiser, which for a nonprofit is just as important.  Tom helped raise well over $2 million in donations, grants, and contracts from individuals and private and public organizations.  The Conservancy is fiscally sound, and due to Tom’s organizational skills, will continue to run smoothly in his absence.
Tom in Sacatara Canyon. He also obtained private funding to install fences that restrict cattle access to these riparian habitats

Most of you don’t know that Tom and I lived together in the Conservancy’s rental house in Lebec after he was hired, so Tom and I got to know each other pretty well.  We got to spend a lot of time together, ended up having a lot in common (listened to a lot of Grateful Dead), and became friends.  So for me Tom’s leaving is more than just changing Directors.  I have learned so much from him and can thank him for helping create my dream job. At the end of the day, Tom has helped build and lead an organization that does great conservation work, in a fantastic landscape, in cooperation with a willing partner, and that’s a legacy any of us would aspire to leave.
Because of Tom’s leadership, the team he built will all carry on implementing the mission of the Conservancy.  We look forward to working with our new Executive Director, and all of you, to protect, enhance and restore the native biodiversity and ecosystem values of Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Range for the benefit of future generations.

Ground control to Major Tom (sorry, I had to say it)