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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spring has sprung! by Dr. Mike White, Conservation Science Director

Although spring is officially three weeks away, I can assure you that it is already “spring” on parts of Tejon Ranch. Spring in the sense that many plants and animals have already started their annual growth and reproductive cycles, although you can rest assured that parts of the Ranch are still experiencing winter.  The timing of the events (germination, flowering) in a plant’s (and animal's of course) life cycle is often tied to weather patterns (e.g., amount and timing of rainfall, number of nights freezing, etc.). Since plants and animals at higher elevations experience different weather than those at lower elevations, the timing of their life cycles can be different.

Round-leaved filaree (California macrophyllum) seedling in clay soil in the Antelope Valley, one of our rare plants.
Joshua tree flowering on the Antelope Valley side of Tejon.
 Because of the relatively warm winter months that we have had in the region this year, “spring” has started a little early, particularly at the lower elevations of the San Joaquin Valley-side of the Ranch. Remember that the lowest elevations of the Antelope Valley side of Tejon are about 3,000 feet higher than the lowest elevations on the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch.  Therefore the rule of thumb is the Antelope Valley generally blooms about a month later than the San Joaquin Valley side of the Ranch. You can see above that things are starting to happen on the Antelope Valley side of the Ranch, but the real action is on the San Joaquin side.  Here are some examples of what was blooming today.

California poppies and popcorn flowers.
Bird's eye gilia and blue dics.
Sky lupine
Popcorn flowers and blue dics.
California poppies, bird's eye gilia, and sky lupines.
We have started to note migrating birds, such as swallows and turkey vultures, moving across the Ranch, and resident birds are starting to build nests.  Reptiles and amphibians (the fancy term for them is herpetofauna) on the Ranch are also starting to become more active and start their breeding cycles.

Baja chorus frog mating chorus, lower Tejon Creek, February 2016 (Turn up your volume!!)

Western toad egg masses in an Antelope Valley pond.
 One of the very cool things that this spring has produced for us is a show of the California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus), a rare and endangered annual plant species that grows in a heavy clay soil type on Tejon Ranch.  You may recall that we reported finding this plant on the Ranch last spring but only a very small number of individuals were detected.  This year there are several patches with hundreds of individuals! This speaks not only to the variability that these landscapes can experience, but how resilient they can be (this part of Tejon Ranch has been grazed first by sheep, then by cattle continuously since the mid-1800s).

California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus) a "rare" species very abundant on Tejon this year. Photo by S.Pipkin
Spring is off to a good start and we hope that it will continue (a little more rain would help!).  We also hope that you will join us to experience the beauty and majesty of Tejon Ranch.  As you can see, it is truly like no other place!
A pair of fiddlenecks strike a pose.

Monday, February 8, 2016

TEJON RANCH CONSERVANCY’S NEW SENIOR ECOLOGIST by Dr. C. Ellery Mayence (the Conservancy's new Senior Ecologist!!)

Here's a big hello to everyone out there!  I am super excited about this new opportunity and looking forward to telling you a bit about myself.  Originally, I hail from the northern Florida Gulf Coast (yes, I know, the other sunshine state that has much higher humidity) but have spent the majority of the past 20 years studying and working in other states, regions and countries.  Interestingly, and perhaps not by chance, California, is a place to which I keep returning over and over again.  I suppose there are many reasons really, but I attribute these returns largely to my deep fascination with the state’s physiography, climate, and ecology (I’m sure my fondness for a nice drop of local vino is a non-factor).  This, combined with a keen desire to play an integral role in the protection, sustainable management, rehabilitation, and restoration of our natural resources, has lead me to the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  I look forward to getting down and dirty with the Ranch’s ecology and taking on the challenges that accompany the type of on-the-ground natural resource management and conservation science practiced here, all this while reveling in the unparalleled and amazing landscape of Tejon Ranch.
It’s nice to share a name with a lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, CA.

My professional background is natural resource ecology and management with a focus in restoration ecology.  My initial interests were in wet biomes, but I made the switch to Mediterranean and other dryland systems several years ago and have been hooked ever since.  One of the experiences that brought about this switch was a several month-long road trip to desert portions of California and southern Arizona in what was a booming wildflower season.  Stunning scenery!  Providing further encouragement for the switch was getting to know the nearby Carrizo Plain in each of the four seasons (and having many lunches sitting atop the San Andres fault).  To make the switch rightly inevitable was spending the better part of seven years in dry portions of Australia, with the last three dedicated to developing restoration techniques in coastal desert shrubland along the Indian Ocean.  I am amazed by what life a mere 4-6 inches of precipitation per annum can support, an attribute all the before-mentioned locales share.

Digging and sampling from a soil pit on the Carrizo Plain, CA.

Asked to describe one amazing nature moment I’ve experienced, I initially wanted to describe in great detail one of the many stunning Shark Bay, Western Australia sunrises and sunsets I’ve witnessed.  But since I know a lot of avid birders will read this blog post, I’d like to describe a moment during a stint of field work in saltmarsh habitat near where the Petaluma River enters San Pablo Bay.  I was positioned along a tidal creek at a point where it merged with an extensive mudflat.  The tide was ebbing and flock upon flock of shore and wading birds were rocketing toward the mudflat to forage.  What made the experience most memorable was that many of the birds were at eye level and not much more than a few arm lengths away, which allowed me to hear and in some cases feel their wingbeats.
Incoming wading birds looking for a place to forage, Sonoma County, CA.

Outside of the professional ranks you may find me eager to head off on a cross-country hike, a mountain bike trip, or any other outdoor activity and not just those that involve a ball or disc.  A dual-sport motorcycle tour along a meandering scenic California backroad would be fun, as would visiting a good farmer’s market or organic farm.  I enjoy growing food, like to do a bit of home brewing, and enjoy most water sports, especially free diving.
Rewards of a shore dive after a long work week, Western Australia.

As for Tejon Ranch and whether there is any one feature I am most excited about, I must say that I’m looking forward to developing an understanding of how the underlying geology and precipitation patterns collectively influence plant community composition and seasonal vegetation dynamics.  Oh yea, I’m also jazzed about seeing my first condor, at close range hopefully! 

Note from the rest of the Conservancy Staff:  Welcome Ellery!!  We are excited to have a new member of the team.