Friday, September 9, 2016

Favorite Places : From the High Sierra to… Stanislaus State University?

I have so many favorite places to explore, it's impossible to choose just one.  California offers a wealth of treasures for the naturalist, from alpine peaks to below-sea-level deserts and everything in between. 

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.

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