Naturalist Notes

Flora and fauna to watch for this spring.

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.

California Buckeye

California Buckeye tree against the sky

Also called the California horse-chestnut, this multi-trunked deciduous tree can live as long as 300 years. Aesculus californica has adapted well to summer dry conditions, thriving from the central coast to the Sierra Nevada foothills. Striking white flower spikes appear in spring. The show continues when they go to seed–the largest seeds of any non-tropical plant species. But take care, because bark, leaves, fruits, and seeds contain a neurotoxic chemical. Add your sighting 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.

Gray Fox

Gray Fox

This peppery gray and gold omnivorous mammal has adapted to living among human settlements. But they are not often seen due to their reclusive and nocturnal nature. Be thankful if you have one in your area–they are effective rodent eradicators. Don't use rodenticides; you can kill the foxes, especially youngsters. Mating takes place in spring, and males bring kills back to the nest to feed pups. Add your sighting 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.



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.

Sky Lupine

Close-up of sky lupine in bloom

These fragrant beauties light up during early spring in chaparral clearings and grassy slopes. The blue-violet blooms are especially striking in a field mixed with bright orange poppies.There are over 200 wild species of lupine across North America; bee pollinators love them. Add your sighting 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.