Spring doesn't officially start until March 20, but there are already signs that the seasons will be changing soon in the Tehachapi Mountains.
For one thing, the days have started to get noticeably longer. Back on Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year, the sun rose at 6:51 a.m. and set at 4:46 p.m., and the days were only about 10 hours long. Now the sun rises earlier, at about 6:30 a.m. and sets about a full hour later at 5:44 p.m. So the days are lengthening.
Wildlife is starting to react as well — I have seen different species of birds, from House Sparrows to Ravens, carrying nesting materials on the warmer sunny days. This activity seems to stop abruptly when we have cold days (the high on Saturday, Feb. 20 was only 39 degrees Fahrenheit), but it shows that birds are already preparing for the spring onset of nesting season.
With some added recent moisture, green grass is finally beginning to emerge and become visible. We are way behind in precipitation so far, with only a little over three inches of our average total of 11 to 12 inches, but recent rain and some snow have started to awaken the plant kingdom.
We sure could use a March Miracle, as some have referred to rainy March months in past years, since we're running out of time: the majority of our rain and snow comes in December, January, February and March, so March is typically the last month to provide significant moisture. Occasional storms arrive in April and May, and this is a year when we could certainly use that.
With cold temperatures, what little snowfall we have received this winter has lasted longer in the higher mountains, which is a plus. I took a photo near Tehachapi Mountain Park showing the melting effect that Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) leaves can have when they are laying on top of snow. While white snow reflects sunlight and stays cooler, the dark leaves absorb more sunlight and become warmer. The result is little shallow depressions or dimples of melted snow beneath the oak leaves.
Out in Sand Canyon, I took a photo of a Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris) nestled in snow. While cactus species are more associated with hot, dry weather, most of them in the West grow in areas that experience wide temperature swings, since they lack the moderating effect of a nearby ocean.
As a result, although they can and do tolerate high heat and little moisture, but they must also survive very cold winter temperatures. The cactus in Sand Canyon was unharmed by snow, and no doubt benefited from the slow-release moisture that snow provides.
Cattle and other grazing animals are finally beginning to have access to some fresh feed since the grass is starting to grow. Parts of the ranchland surrounding Highway 58 on the drive to Bakersfield has been looking like a lunar landscape, since the feed had long since been grazed off and no new grass had taken its place. The palette of color had been limited to brown, gray and tan, but now there is starting to be the welcome flush of green in places.
We're approaching the most volatile months of the year, in terms of our weather — late March and April can easily vary from balmy warm days to freezing cold and snow. And then back again in a few days' time. Hopefully things don't warm up too fast and cause fruit blossoms to open and then get hit with a late April killing frost, which is what happened last year.
The seasons are getting ready to change again in the Tehachapi Mountains. Goodbye winter, hello spring. But winter, can you please give us some more snow or at least rain before you leave? The plants, animals and people of this area would really appreciate it. Thanks in advance.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.