One of the signs that you truly know a place is when you are in tune with the rhythms of each changing season. When you learn the natural progression of things, and what each succeeding month will bring. Those who know the Tehachapi Mountains well are aware that autumn brings two dependable natural phenomena: the blooming of Rabbitbrush and the migration of Turkey Vultures.
These two annual events happen simultaneously, year after year after year. If you live in the Tehachapi Mountains long enough, and you pay attention, you will know that certain things happen as summer ends: the nights get cooler, and Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) turns from nondescript, pale green shrubs that are easily overlooked into brilliant clumps of bright golden yellow, alight with glow of late afternoon sunlight.
As more and more Rabbitbrush bursts into bloom, their normally drab foliage is suddenly festooned with small flowers the color of melted butter. But how could Rabbitbrush flower now? It hasn't rained in five or six months. The summers are long and dry. . . Yet bloom they do, in profusion.
Bees, butterflies and other pollinators bless unlikely appearance of Rabbitbrush flowers in all their fall abundance. The blooming of Rabbitbrush is one of the most significant flowering events of the year in the Tehachapi Mountains, and incredibly it happens after months of drought.
At this same time every year, huge black birds make their annual appearance as more than 35,000 Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) migrate through Tehachapi Pass following the sun as it moves to the south.
The Turkey Vultures come from as far north as Canada, and they flow south down the Central Valley, staying mostly in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range, which forms the eastern boundary of the Central Valley.
The vultures finally get a chance to cross over the Sierra Nevada — the famed "Great Green Wall" — through gaps formed by Walker Pass and Tehachapi Pass. Successive Turkey Vulture counts in the past revealed that more than 35,000 of these graceful soaring birds glide through Walkers Pass and about the same number through Tehachapi Pass.
You can see them as they move through our area, circling upwards as though on a spiral staircase as they ride thermals up to gain altitude. This circling behavior is known as "kettling," since the birds look as though they were in a giant invisible kettle being stirred with a circular motion.
Turkey Vultures don't eat while migrating, but unlike many migrating birds, they do stop flying and rest every night. If they can't make out of the Tehachapi Valley to the southeast towards the Mojave Desert by about 3:30 in the afternoon, they'll roost overnight locally in large trees to await rising temperatures and the return of thermals the following day.
So every year in the Tehachapi Mountains, late September and October brings deep blue skies, bright yellow Rabbitbrush flowers and big black Turkey Vultures headed south. Enjoy these dependable signs of the changing seasons.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.