|Encompassing aspen groves, Bishop tuff cliffs, a riparian corridor and meadows, and vast expanses of sagebrush, Adobe Ranch--east of the Sierra Nevada and 50 miles from Mammoth Lakes--is the setting for a promising conservation experiment. During its 150 years as a working ranch, the value of its diverse habitats to wildlife has been compromised by excessive livestock grazing and water diversions for irrigation, yet Adobe Ranch is still an important refuge for birds and other wildlife. It has become a test case for Greenbridges, a company that aims to merge the sometimes opposing worlds of land conservation and profitable real estate investment. At the same time, Adobe Ranch has become a new example of the power of an "all-bird" approach (see Observer 139, winter 2005). Greenbridges intends to restore the area's riparian, wetland, meadow, and upland habitats while operating a working ranch and a recreational retreat for fishing and hunting. Through conservation easements and National Forest private in-holding land exchanges, much of the ranch's 3,750 acres are protected from future development, and restoration is slated for this fall. PRBO is providing the scientific basis for adaptively managing the restoration by conducting all-bird monitoring before and after the restoration and by actively engaging in restoration design and implementation with Greenbridges, Natural Resources Conservation Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and Bureau of Land Management. Our study includes riparian songbird point counts, Willow Flycatcher surveys, waterbird counts, Greater Sage-Grouse lek counts, and raptor surveys as reported in this field note.--Sacha Heath, Director, PRBO Eastern Sierra Program|
Finally I hear the sharp cackling call I've been waiting for: a male Prairie Falcon comes into view, and the larger and browner female calls back to him. The pair is claiming a sheer red cliff marked with thick whitewash streaks. The male flies to her, and they copulate on the top of a large boulder, blending in perfectly with the rock face.
It's exactly what I hoped to see, because my job here is to determine what birds are using the nine kilometers of cliff habitat on this Eastern Sierra ranch. The commotion activates other cliff residents; White-throated Swifts pour out of the cracks and circle at a safe distance. An American Kestrel pair also calls and behaves nervously at their larger falcon cousins' presence. The copulation means this Prairie Falcon pair will likely use the cliff face for nesting, picking a secure ledge where the female will lay four or five eggs directly on the bare rock. Their high perch allows them a clear view of any approaching predators--and of potential meals, Horned Larks and ground squirrels.
When I return a month later, the female sits low on her nest, brooding the small falcon nestlings. The male kestrel is busy bringing a constant stream of lizards for the female to deliver to their hungry kids. Two other cliffs on the ranch are occupied by nesting Common Raven pairs. We have also seen Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, and Swainson's Hawks using Adobe Ranch. A pair of Long-eared Owls nesting head-high in a willow tree in the narrow riparian strip along Adobe Creek hisses and claps their bills when I check their progress.
Raptors are high on the food chain, and this diversity of species can indicate abundant food and relatively healthy habitat conditions. In addition to raptors and their prey, a wide variety of bird species will be managed for at Adobe Ranch--highlighting the importance of an all-bird monitoring approach to adaptive restoration.