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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.