Thursday, January 15, 2015

Subtle Impacts of Drought & Climate Change in Southern California

It's 66˚F outside at 2:30 pm on a January day. The sky is clear, the day is beautiful. Our mid-winter in southern California is mild and lovely.

Unfortunately, people have difficulty seeing incremental local climate changes if those changes do not have a concrete negative impact on themselves. In addition, most people who have relocated to Los Angeles from places with snowy or harsh winters do not even notice our subtle seasons.

toyon berries, 1/15/15
Today however I came face-to-face with an impact from drought and climate change that is having a direct impact on my neighbors and their migratory relatives. The toyon or California holly should be filled with red berries (what toyon should look like in December/January). Because of the drought the two bushes in the front of the house did not fruit at all this year and the toyon at the top of the hill has fruit that look like this...small and unripe.

The northern mockingbird that only occasionally visits our yard was here this morning hunting for fruit, it found none. The hermit thrush who visits annually was also searching for toyon fruit. Unlike the mockingbird, it has come here from the north to spend the winter in a location that should offer winter fruit. Both are having to supplement their diets with more insects. 

High in the eucalyptus tree the mewing cries of a small flock of cedar waxwings caught my attention. Twenty-seven of these fruit-eating birds sat pondering their next move. They too were here looking for the toyon berries that they expected to find on our hillside. When they found nothing, they went hungry. They regathered and flew on.

For these birds, drought means smaller, less nutritious food. But subtle changes in our climate are also altering when the fruit ripens. Imagine driving across the Mojave desert with the plan to stop at that favorite restaurant only to find that the town is closed up and the next place to find food is 100s of miles away.

Subtle changes in our local climate are impacting wild species that are tied to the fruiting or flowering of specific plants. We need to increase our awareness. 

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