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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.