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Latest Cal Nat Blog

Not All Invasive Species Are Equal

“As one grows older one should grow more expert at finding beauty in unexpected places, in deserts and even in towns, in ordinary human faces and among wild weeds.” — C. C. Vyvyan “But what attracted me to weeds was not their beauty, but their resilience. I mean, despite being so widely despised, so unloved...

Ravens and environmental change

"Cruel birds, ravens, but wise. And creatures should be loved for their wisdom if they cannot be loved for kindness." — Hannah Kent “Raven?? Yes?? What do you believe in?? I believe in – finding out!” — Ellen Schreiber Early desert naturalists rarely saw ravens. Their field notebooks recorded ravens maybe once in a week...

Mountain Flora

"Mountains know secrets we need to learn. That it might take time, it might be hard, but if you just hold on long enough, you will find strength to rise up" – Tyler Knott Escaping the ebb and flow of ice sheets during the Pleistocene, our desert sky islands are populated by vagabonds from the...

Sky island forests

"I found far more answers in the woods than I ever did in the city." — Mary Davis Being a naturalist is at its core a sense of place. It is a walk in a forest, across a desert dune, or exploring a tide pool, acquainting yourself or reacquainting yourself with new and old friends...

Saving the River

For Southern Californians it is simply “the river." The Colorado River is one of North America’s great rivers in terms of the size of the watershed it drains, roughly 250,000 square miles. However, based on the average volume of water it carries within its banks, it is merely modest. The Columbia River, separating the states...

The Sonoran Desert

By any standard saguaro cacti are majestic plants, living as long as 200 years and typically growing to 40-50 feet high (the height record is 78 feet). Saguaros can grow as many as 50 or more arms, though usually 10 or fewer. The presence of naturally growing Saguaros defines the boundaries of the Sonoran Desert...

Wildlife gardening as a naturalist

“To a naturalist nothing is indifferent; the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain.” — James Hutton Being a naturalist opens our eyes to the world beyond the infrastructure of human constructs. No hike in nature is dull; every...

Surviving the Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us ... The latter half of July through the first half of August are typically the hottest days of summer in the northern hemisphere. They correspond with the days when the star Sirius, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, sets below the Earth’s horizon with...

Deep Time

“A million years is a short time — the shortest worth messing with for most problems. You begin tuning your mind to a time scale that is the planet's time scale. For me, it is almost unconscious now and is a kind of companionship with the earth.” ― John McPhee Understanding deep history, how geology...

Thinking in Deep Time

“Biodiversity starts in the distant past and it points toward the future.” — Frans Lanting The earliest vertebrates, our distant ancestors, animals with backbones or backbone-like structures were aquatic fish-like creatures, dating back to the Cambrian, some 500 million years ago. True fish came a bit later. The Silurian period, some 400 million years ago...

Connecting the dots

“Some people feel the rain, other people just get wet.” — Bob Marley Rainfall is the fuel catalyzing desert plant growth and, through connectivity among all living things, explains the growth or decline of all desert life. The ebb and flow of a population of fringe-toed lizards one year can be predicted by the amount...

Indicator species

“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for – the whole thing – rather than just one or two stars.” — David Attenborough A unifying theme of the natural world is connectivity. No species stands alone (for very long); they and we are all connected through predation, pollination, food, nutrients, and water...

The nature of monsoons

“Why are the desert blooms that spring to life after a monsoon so magnificent? The answer is – their impermanence …” — Alaric Hutchinson Summer rains, monsoons, in the California deserts are persnickety at best. Some years they stick around for weeks and months at a time, while other years (and seeming increasingly so) they...

The connections that tie species together

"What happens to other species also happens to us." — Bill Nye The multitude of species that we share this planet with is challenging to comprehend. We have guesses of how many other species exist, but they are just (educated) guesses. In 2008 there were 5,079 described species of lizards, but by March of 2022...

Water: The Driving Force of Nature

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” — Loren Eiseley “Water is the driving force of all nature.” — Leonardo da Vinci As far as we know, water is essential for life throughout the universe. Scientists searching for life beyond Earth and beyond our solar system search for planets that...

The Scientific Method

"I conclude that, while it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods, and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know." — Bertraind Russell We...

Natural History Notes

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a commodity to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” – Aldo Leopold While the truth of Leopold’s quote applies almost anywhere, it appears to be especially true for deserts. Deserts...

Are Joshua trees important?

“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” — E.O. Wilson “Important” is a word we use to indicate something has value. The problem with “important” as an adjective within a context of science or natural history is that...

Little things make a big difference

“Little things make a big difference.” — Yogi Berra Lumping all the North American Deserts together as a single ecological landscape would make no more sense than combining redwoods and pinyons to define the conifer forests. They are different. Organisms that live in deserts are different and the conditions that either support or constrain life...

Roadtrip

“Nothing can be more improving to a young naturalist than a journey to a distant country.” — Charles Darwin Darwin wrote that line soon after returning from his five-year voyage on the Beagle, a voyage that provided insights that eventually led to the development of his theory on “The Origin of Species by Means of...