After a roaring start to our winter with the biggest one-day snowstorm in 30 years (more than 20 inches of snow) on Dec. 26, just four days into the official start of the season, things have been pretty dry and quiet since then.
The grass is starting to green up and I've noticed that some of our wildflowers have germinated and their little seedlings are visible, but we're going to need more rain or snow to have much blooming this year.
I'm outside every day and I look for the seasonal changes that mark the rhythm of life in the Tehachapi Mountains. I was walking in the mountains this week alongside little Tehachapi Creek, where it comes to life from springs and snowmelt, and I noticed large clusters and crawling swarms of Convergent Ladybeetles (Hippodamia convergens).
These reddish-orange insects with black polka dots, the familiar "ladybugs" of our childhoods, gather to spend winter en masse, typically alongside creeks and in meadowy areas with higher humidity. This dormant state is called diapause, and in another couple of months the assembled ladybugs will respond to the longer, warmer days by dispersing.
Once this happens, you can see their shiny open carapaces glinting in the sun as they descend down Water Canyon, usually staying under 15 feet high or so, in a trickle of flying ladybugs that lasts for weeks.
As dusk arrived and civil twilight began on Sunday, Feb. 16, the sun illuminated some interesting lenticulars over our valleys. Occasionally we'll see dramatic, epic lenticular clouds that have local residents and visitors reaching for their phone cameras to take photos, but even the less breathtaking lenticular formations can still be stunning and beautiful, as these images reveal. Strange, unusually-shaped clouds glowing in the fading light of a colorful sunset? Just the end of another winter day in the Tehachapis — this truly is a mountain range of lenticulars.
My friend Toshimi Kristof and her husband Les of Bear Valley Springs take a nature walk every day, and they encountered what Toshimi thought at first was a bobcat, judging by the ears sticking up. As she looked through her telephoto lens, however, she saw the unexpected sight of a Great Horned Owl sitting on the ground during daylight hours.
The owl had its eyes open and was looking at Toshimi, but it didn't move. Worried that the owl might be injured, Toshimi went back later and it appeared that the owl had flown away. Great Horned Owls are one of the earliest birds to nest in the Tehachapi Mountains, and some Great Horned females are probably already sitting on eggs. These nocturnal predators apparently start nesting early so that their chicks, when they fledge, will have the young of assorted prey animals to feed on, thus reducing the likelihood of starvation for the fledgling owlets.
A few of our days have been warm enough to bring Western Fence Lizards ("Bluebellies") out of their winter hiding places, and with a string of predicted 60-degree days this week, they will be sunning themselves again. Longer, warmer days means that California Ground Squirrels have already out in force — not that many locals have actually missed them during their winter absence.
I've been hearing male Pacific Chorus Frogs on the warmer nights this week, as they gather in ponds and pools and sing to attract female frogs. Females lay strings of gelatinous eggs and the males fertilize them, which quickly develop into tadpoles ("polliwogs") and the next generation of Chorus Frogs.
I wouldn't mind some more snow and definitely would love several inches of rain, so hopefully that might happen in the next few weeks. With warmer temperatures, the natural world around us is already begin to look towards the onset of spring. . .
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.