|Looking east toward the High Sierra, from the top of Clouds' Rest in Yosemite National Park|
I enjoy the High Sierra as much as I enjoy the rocky coast, and redwood forests dripping with fog are just as enticing as deserts blooming in spring.
|Rocky intertidal zone around Asilomar State Beach|
Conveniently, the varied forests, coasts and deserts are all within a few hours' drive of the Central Valley, and I have been blessed with many opportunities to explore these rich and diverse ecosystems.
|Mojave National Preserve after a spring storm, near Banshee Canyon|
But, where do I go on an average day, when I only have time for a short walk?
Thankfully, I can still practice my naturalist skills close to home. The campus of California State University Stanislaus (my alma mater, I am proud to say) is very nearby, and dotted with several lovely water features which attract a surprising number of birds. The trees and shrubs that landscape the campus (some of which are native to California) provide food and shelter for resident, migratory and over-wintering birds.
|"Willow Lake," a miniature wetland habitat near the science buildings at CSU Stanislaus|
During the winter, cedar waxwings feast on the berries of hawthorn and Chinese pistashe (both non-native) as well as toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), one of our native shrubs. In the spring, cliff swallows nest underneath one of the campus's prominent bridges. Year-round, a number of songbirds and a few raptors can be spotted in the trees, and a good handful of waterfowl species can be seen along the edges of the ponds. During the winter, I've seen Double-crested Cormorants and a few Common Mergansers as they were passing through.
|Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) visiting CSU Stanislaus in December|
The valuable green spaces in our towns, such as parks, college campuses and even backyard gardens and front yards (kept free of pesticides, of course!), provide valuable mini-habitats for a surprisingly wide variety of wildlife. And adding some native plants and water always makes a mini-habitat enticing to a greater number of species - including naturalists!
|Willow Lake at sunset|
When I can't go anywhere else, I can almost always walk over to the campus, sit beside my favorite pond and watch the birds.