The Paicines Ranch landscape encompasses a diverse ecosystem from oak forests to lush riparian to sage chaparral to incredible cliffs formed from geologic shifting. Within these habitats, a bounty of organisms thrives from the microscopic bacteria and fungi to the bloom of native grasses to the mammals grazing this grass to the owls hunting these mammals. All of the life and land are intricately tied together and balance in natural cycles.
Because of our different habitats, our plant variety is quite large. We are still in the process of identifying our wetland plants, but we do have large stands of creeping wildrye (leymus tritichoides), usually near water. In the uplands we have increasing numbers of purple needlegrass (nasella pulchra), the state grass, along with poa secunda, fdestuca idahoensis, and melica. Some years we have extensive displays of wildflowers, including three types of lupine, poppies, and shooting stars. The upland habitats include open grasslands, blue oak savanah, and sage chaparral.
One of the things that makes the Paicines Ranch unique is the variety of water features, each of which creates different habitat and management challenges. They include the San Benito River, the Paicines Reservoir, the Teal Pond, and the Walnut Cienega
The largest feature is the San Benito River, which runs approximately 7 mi north-to-south down the middle of the ranch. The river is dammed approximately 60 miles upstream at Hernandez Dam, built in the 1930s to provide flood protection. The river is silt-laden and despite the dam does experience large spring flows, which contribute to the sand banks and numerous meanders found on the ranch. The river is bordered by a riparian area, which varies in width from about half a mile to 100 yards. The river is grazed at least once each year for a limited amount of time. Our management goals include providing enough rest from grazing for the understory plants to grow, keeping the river shaded, and encouraging growth of willows, sedges, rushes, and grass that can slow the river when it is high and promote the deposition of silt, along with providing much-needed habitat. It is estimated that approximately 95% of the riparian habitat in California has been lost, so we aim to maximize this type of habitat on the ranch.
The best-known water feature on the ranch is the Paicines Reservoir, a well-known birding location. The reservoir is filled through a ditch from the San Benito River and is used to move water into the Tres Pinos Creek to percolate and recharge the local aquifer. The current reservoir was built around 1913; it usually peaks in size in April or May, and shrinks until the following winter, occasionally going completely dry. It is home to many water birds and many migrating birds, especially during the fall. The reservoir can be seen from a pull-out on Hwy 25 in Paicines.
There is a small pond, known as the Teal Pond just below headquarters fed by a perennial spring. The pond is home to several different varieties of ducks and other water birds. The resident muskrats do most of the work of managing the pond, including keeping some bare sand bars to go along with patches of open water and large patches of rushes.
There are several perennial springs on the ranch, most of which are associated with wetland areas or cienegas. A cienega is a wetland formed by a slow, shallow flow of water over a valley floor. The flow is fed by a perennial spring in a location with a year-round growing season. These generally occur only in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Our most prominent cienega, the Walnut Cienega, was created in 2009 and continues to grow and evolve.
The ranch is home to a wide variety of wildlife, along with our cattle, sheep, turkeys, chickens, and domesticated pigs. It is not unusual to see bobcats, black-tailed deer, coyotes, feral pigs, and wild turkeys. Mountain lion sightings are rare, but the big cats' tracks are occasionally spotted. There is a massive population of ground squirrels, a keystone species of California grasslands. They support our large populations of hawks and eagles, create burrows for a variety of other animals, and turn over huge amounts of soil and bury tons of organic matter each year. Muskrats are busily at work managing the pond and wetlands, and you can occasionally see badgers and weasels.
Because of the wide range of habitats and the variety of water features, the ranch is home to many bird species. In the uplands, it is common to see Red-tailed hawks, Golden eagles, White-tailed Kites, and magpies. The Paicines Reservoir and the Walnut Cienega host large numbers of migrating water birds, especially in the fall during migration. The riparian areas are home to large numbers of songbirds.
We invite you to enjoy our diversity of birds in areas such as the Teal Pond, Oak Forest, vineyard, and the reservoir when you visit. We have printed bird guides available upon request.