Naturalist Notes

Allen's Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird
With numbers declining, sightings of this once common hummer are becoming increasingly rare. A well-tended hummingbird feeder might improve your chances. Look for the male’s distinctive red-orange throat and darker orange belly. They return from Mexican wintering grounds as early as January, then males put on an acrobatic show to impress females. Swinging, climbing, and diving through the air, they make a sharp squeal with their tails. After mating, pairs prefer to live apart. Females head off to wooded thickets, build a nest, and raise their  young. Add observations of Selasphorus sasin to iNaturalist

Banded Owl's Clover

Banded Owl's Clover

Look for this annual March through May in grasslands or along the sunny edges of woodland and chaparral. After a good rainy season, shaggy pink-purple flowers tipped in white can lay out a carpet of color. Meanwhile, a lot is happening underground. To give itself a boost, Owl’s Clover will pull water and nutrients from neighboring plants, quickly interconnecting root systems. A butterfly host plant, it also will draw toxins from other plants to shield its leaves from hungry larvae. These toxins are held only in the greenery, allowing pollinators to safely enjoy the clover nectar. Add observations of Castilleja densiflora to iNaturalist.

Bitterroot

Pink Bitterroot flowers

This perennial grows in gravelly soil across the west. Native Americans consumed the thick, edible roots, as did European explorers like Lewis and Clark (hence the Lewisii). Due to a unique type of photosynthesis the leaves contain bitter acids early in the day, giving it it’s common name. During early spring in California, pink to white flowers appear on its low-growing, leafless stems. The species name rediviva derives from Latin suggesting revival from the dead. The plant can come back to life when replanted, even after months of being dug up, dried, and stored.  Add observations of Lewisia rediviva to iNaturalist.

Blue-eyed Grass

Blooming blue-eyed grass

This native perennial of the iris family grows throughout California, in sand or clay soils, from coastal bluffs to interior grasslands. Small, purple-blue flowers proliferate in spring, and blooming can begin earlier during a mild winter. The plant goes dormant in summer, storing nutrients in an underground rhizome from which it regenerates the following spring. Use it to add a pop of color to a firewise garden. Add observations of Sisyrinchium bellum to iNaturalist.

Brush Rabbit

Brush Rabbit

If you are seeking an Easter bunny, look no farther than California's adorable cottontail. They hide in dense cover, rarely leaving the protection of the brush where they build runways, tunnels, and burrows to escape from predators. The best chance to see these bunnies is at twilight, when they nervously emerge to eat grass and other plants. But if they sense your presence, they can take off and run to safety at a speed of up to 25 miles an hour. Add your sighting to iNaturalist.

Bullock's Oriole

Bullock's oriole perching

In spring, flocks of Bullock’s Oriole migrate north. Don’t be surprised if you spot this colorful songbird hanging upside down from a tree branch. They are nimble gymnasts while foraging for fruit or insects. During mating season males hop between branches, bowing, singing loudly, and flashing plumage to impress females. In canopies 10 to 25 feet high they weave gourd-shaped, pendulous nests, which they line with soft, cozy natural materials. Listen for their hoarse, chattering calls in the vicinity of streamside and open woodlands amidst oaks and madrones. Add observations of Icterus bullockii to iNaturalist.

Coyote

Coyote standing on a trail

Native Americans called coyotes song dogs. The name we know them by today comes from the Aztec word coyotl. Coyotes vocalize to greet each other, define territories, or communicate across a distance. A single coyote can vocalize in a way that sounds like more than one! Coyotes in natural areas are typically crepuscular–active from dawn and dusk. But when living closer to developed areas, they often become nocturnal, adapting based on availability of food, and the instinct to minimize human contact. These canines are omnivores and will eat plants as well as animal prey, including mice and rats, which aids in controlling rodent populations. Add observations to iNaturalist

Lace Lichen

Lace lichen hanging from tree branches

Strikingly beautiful, “fishnet lichen” is easy to recognize. Soft grayish-green, it drapes net-like over the branches of oaks, conifers, and broadleaf trees across California. When pieces of the lichen drop to the ground, they enrich the soil with essential nutrients. Lace lichen is a food source for deer as well as a favorite nesting material for birds. In 2016, Ramalina menziesii became the California state lichen, joining the California poppy and the grizzly bear as an official state symbol. Add sightings to iNaturalist.

Lazuli Bunting

Lazuli bunting perching and singing

Returning from Mexico to the Bay Area in spring, a male lazuli bunting has a brilliant blue head, orange belly, and white wing bars. He sings boldly to impress a mate and mark his territory. Young males mimic the songs of elders, creating “song neighborhoods” where calls among individuals are similar. These stocky little songbirds perch amidst low trees and shrubs, hopping to the ground to feed on insects or seeds. Females are a less conspicuous brown color, blending with the brush where they nest. Create bird friendly habitat in your yard by planting native shrubs to provide foraging and nesting spots for the Lazuli Bunting. Add observations of Passerina amoena to iNaturalist.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged blackbird perching

Abundant and widespread across North America, adaptable red-wings roost in large flocks. When a big group takes off, you can’t miss the flash of red on the males’ glossy black wings. Males welcome spring by perching and singing strongly. One can attract as many as 15 different mates. Consequently, up to one half of a female’s nestlings may not be sired by the dominant male in the territory. Come fall, red-winged blackbirds brave cold weather by joining forces with other species, such as grackles and starlings, to form flocks of thousands or even millions of individuals. Add observations of Agelaius phoeniceus to iNaturalist.

Snakefly

Snakefly on a green leaf

Scientists consider this insect a living fossil. Snakeflies today are very much the same as those that lived 140 million years ago, during the Jurassic era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Easy to confuse with lacewings, the snakefly has a more stretched, snake-like thorax. They can take two to three years to complete one life cycle. Territorial and carnivorous, snakeflies are beneficial garden and orchard predators, hunting aphids and mites. In turn, insect-eating birds enjoy snacking on snakeflies. Add observations to iNaturalist.

Western Bluebird

Western bluebird perching

Look for brightly hued Western Bluebirds on low woodland perches, or atop nearby fence posts. They are scanning the ground for insects. Social creatures, they can form flocks as large as 100, sometimes integrating with other species like robins and warblers. During mating season, they pair up to raise their young, sometimes assisted by helpers like a single adult male or a chickless couple. Their preferred family domicile is a pre-existing tree cavity, but you can invite these adaptable birds to a partially wooded yard by installing a bluebird nesting box. Add observations of Sialia mexicana to iNaturalist.