Naturalist Notes

Flora and fauna to watch for this spring.

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

Baby Blue Eyes

Field of Baby Blue Eyes in bloom

A hardy annual native, these delicate, sky blue flowers are also easy to grow in backyard gardens. Look for fields blooming when weather warms after a rainy season, before summer brings too much heat. They attract large numbers of native bees, helping pollinators thrive. Add your sightings 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.

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.

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.

California Poppy

Close-up of California poppies in bloom

The state flower of California, native Eschscholzia californica carpets the hills in spring, opening its blooms to the sun. These hardy souls thrive from coastal dunes to the edge of redwood forests. Pollen-rich, they are part of a diverse wild plant community that boosts the food web in spring for insects and small mammals. Add your sighting to iNaturalist.

Great Blue Heron

Great blue heron wading in a marsh

These statuesque waders stand motionless, but special neck vertebrae allow them to strike like lightning when they spot a fish or rodent, stabbing it with their impressive beak. Due to enhanced night vision, they even hunt in the dark. In spite of their large size, they only weigh about six pounds, because of hollow bird bones. Look for colonies of their bulky stick nests high in trees. Learn more at All About Birds.

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.

Milkmaids

milkmaids

Milkmaids (Cardamine californica) are one of the first wildflowers to bloom in early spring. These blushing white and sweetly scented perennials grow in dappled shade and are a host plant for the veined white butterfly. Add your Milkmaid sightings to iNaturalist.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk in flight

Distinctively marked, Buteo lineatus can be spotted wheeling over forests near a stream or pond. Couples return to the same nesting area every year; you will see them circling over their territory in spring. Epic battles over food can take place between a hawk and a mob of crows, but these opponents will join forces to fight against a Great Horned Owl muscling in on their turf. Learn more at All About Birds.

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.

Tidy Tips

Tidy Tips wildflower

These sunny yellow, white-tipped flowers bloom March to June, welcoming spring. Look nearby for Checkerspot butterflies, which feed on Tidy Tip nectar. Found from valley floor to higher elevations, they are an easy-going native annual, also popular in backyard habitat gardens. Add your sighting to iNaturalist.