We are experiencing the last days of spring 2022, and life in the Tehachapi Mountains has begun to shift into the rhythms of summer.
June is typically a busy month in the natural world, and the warming temperatures lead to lots of activity. Reptiles, which are totally absent during the cold months, are frequently seen now. Spend any time outdoors in the country, and you will encounter the ubiquitous Western Fence Lizards, known as “Bluebellies” (Sceloporus occidentalis) as well as their less widespread and smaller, but also common relatives, the Side-Blotch Lizards (Uta stansburiana).
Bluebellies sun themselves, as well as look for invertebrates to feed upon, from vantage points that include boulders, fallen logs, stumps and upright trees, wooden fenceposts, walls, and more. Side-blotch Lizards, on the other hand, spend most of their time at ground level, particularly in sandy soil with sparse vegetation that isn’t too dense.
All native species of snakes are also active, from California Kingsnakes to the venomous snakes they prey upon: Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes. The Snake Guys in Bear Valley Springs, a group of helpful volunteers who assist with people with unwanted snakes on their property, have relocated more than 60 rattlesnakes this year already.
Other harmless species of snakes like gophersnakes, racers, gartersnakes, and others are also going about their daily snake business, trying to catch small creatures while avoiding becoming prey themselves, to predators like hawks, roadrunners, coyotes, etc. They do this while attempting to evade the most pointless destroyer of snakes: road traffic, which kills so many healthy, beautiful snakes for no reason at all.
The insect world is also abuzz, if you’ll forgive the phrase, with small creatures that walk or crawl or fly as they look to feed, grow, mate and produce the next generation of their kind during the warm months.
Insects get scarce during the cold months in the Tehachapi Mountains, but they bounce back in force when the days get hot and the nights are warm. Spend a little time quietly observing a shrub or perennial in full flower, particularly one favored by pollinators, like Salvia clevelandii, and you can see a host of different winged species visiting the plant to nectar-feed. Blooming plants such as these function like watering holes in the Serengeti, and you can watch a diverse assortment of honeybees, butterflies, wild bees, wasps, hoverflies and other flying insects visit to feed on nectar and pollen.
Other insects, like grasshoppers and many kinds of larvae, are more interested in leaves than flowers, and they can be found lower on the plant, feeding on the foliage.
The annual grasses are dried out or drying, as anyone who has to run a weedeater to cut foxtail and ripgut brome can attest, but some plants are still blooming. I’m always delighted to encounter one of the species of Mariposa Lily or Calochortus that grow in Kern County, as I did last week.
There are at least 10 species of these gorgeous, delicate members of the lily family found growing in different parts of Kern’s more than 8,000 square miles. They come up each year from bulbs, which are edible and were eaten by the Nuwä people of the Tehachapi Mountains. Mariposa Lilies typically have three large petals and three small flower structures which may go unnoticed. All six are often referred to as tepals, which is a term that combines the words “petal” and “sepal” when it is unclear which they actually are.
As spring passes the warm weather baton on to summer, take a little time to notice the seasonal changes in the natural world around you. Your life will be more interesting if you do. . .
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 40 years. Send email to email@example.com.