DSC 7962
Ponds Teem with Life at Rocks Ranch
Wildlife, Properties, Projects, Environment
by Traci Filous
on September 27, 2023

Amidst Rocks Ranch, a sprawling property in San Benito County, lies a haven for wildlife. This unique property boasts numerous ponds, two miles of streams, wetlands, woodlands, savannas, and grasslands. It is a biodiversity hotspot and a sanctuary for a variety of species.

Rocks Ranch serves as a critical landscape linkage, a bridge between the Santa Cruz and Gabilan mountain ranges. The open rangelands make it highly permeable for animal movement, but this vast area is also home to a wide variety of species including the federally listed California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), a striking amphibian native to California.

These frogs are known for the distinctive reddish coloring on their hind legs and thighs, which gives them their name. They have a robust body with smooth skin, and their coloration can vary from reddish-brown to olive-green, often with irregular markings. They inhabit a variety of aquatic environments, including ponds, streams, and marshes, and are skilled swimmers. These frogs have a significant place in California's natural history, and their conservation is of foremost importance due to their status as a threatened species.

Land Trust staff conducted a study on August 25th, capturing a snapshot of late summer amphibian life. Through the unobtrusive use of dipnets in the ponds, staff gathered vital data about our frog populations. This gentle technique involves carefully sweeping fine-mesh nets through the water to capture frogs and tadpoles temporarily. Once captured, these amphibians are quickly identified, recorded, and then released back into their watery homes unharmed. By repeating this process at various locations and times, we can gain insights into the presence, distribution, and health of these amphibious neighbors.

At three of the five ponds surveyed, juvenile California red-legged frogs were discovered, which is evidence of successful breeding. The ponds teem with life, including Western Pond Turtles, thousands of newt larvae and adults, tree frog tadpoles and juveniles, and California toads. The ponds harbor various invertebrates, each playing a role in the ecosystem.

These observations are threads in the tapestry of biodiversity that the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County strives to protect. The presence of juvenile California red-legged frogs offers insight into the health of this ecosystem and highlights their successful breeding. By understanding the ebb and flow of these species, we can tailor our conservation strategies accordingly.

Aquatic Wildlife Monitoring at Rocks Ranch