Wildlife seen in the Tehachapi Mountains in 1905
Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi
April 15, 2023
C. Hart Merriam was an amazing naturalist and anthropologist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He came through Tehachapi in 1905 because he was interested in the flora, fauna and Native culture. He kept careful notebooks of his observations, and these are some excerpts that focus on wildlife he saw in the Tehachapi Mountains.
Merriam recorded these observations: "In Tehachapi Valley saw many Ravens everywhere, some meadowlarks, 2 Says Phoebe, 2 Northern Shrike, several Mountain Bluebirds & 1 American Kestrel. . . Ground squirrels are fairly common in the valley. Ground squirrels are abundant throughout the county traversed from Tehachapi to the desert – in Tehachapi, Brite, & Cummings Valleys & all through the oak foothills.
"In the hills saw 2 coyotes – large & dark in full fresh winter pelage. One was only a few miles from Cummings Valley; the other about 4 miles from the edge of Kern plain [San Joaquin Valley]. Both were unwary & trotted along within easy rifle shot for some distance. In Brite Valley I saw a Ferruginous Hawk, a splendid adult with whitish head & tail & very rusty (ferrugineus) body & wings which sat on a fence post & let me drive by. He was a beauty."
Merriam's most treasured sighting took place midday on November 9, 1905, as he and a hired driver were taking a buggy and team of horses from Tehachapi to the Tejon Ranch, apparently using the Sheep Trail (Comanche Point Road): "Near the Kern plains side of the hills, just where the blue oaks & gray pines fail before the hot arid atmosphere that rises from the sun-baked desert [San Joaquin Valley], is a narrow rocky canyon. It is only a short distance above a bunch of watering troughs at a little lone-willow spring.
"As we were about to cross this canyon & only a few rods above the road I saw two magnificent California Condors sitting upright on the rocks. The nearest one slowly spread his great wings & sailed away, and the other soon followed. They were not frightened & kept in sight for nearly an hour – for we stopped & watered the horses at the troughs (had to unhook & lead them down as the water is on a steep slope below the road) & then, on the promontory overlooking the desert a little below, fed the horses & ate our lunch. During all this time the condors sailed & soared about. Once they went out over the plains, then returned & rose higher & soared up over the highest of the hills & circled together. It was a superb sight – one of the lucky events of the season for me.
"These birds (the pair seen today) were both adults. Both had yellow heads (one seemed to incline to pinkish) and both had two long triangular patches of white under the wings – the underwing coverts being white. One showed a patch of pale color on the upper side of his wings as he tipped in soaring. There were Ravens about where the condors started & by contrast they looked like blackbirds. The time of day when we surprised the condors was just before noon (exactly 11:45)."