California Wildlife and Nature: Pictures and Stories

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Welcome to the California wildlife section. It’s filled with pictures and stories covering all things California wildlife such as the land animals, the ocean animals, the birds, the flowers, well you get the picture.

California’s 3000 miles (plus some) coastal region is home to over 25,000,000 people. Coastal California also hosts a wide array of California wildlife from inter-tidal animals such as sea stars and Sea anemones to the larger marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals and sea lions.

Whale watching along the coast remains a popular tourist attraction. The Gray Whale is the official state marine mammal.

In total, six different seals and sea lions use the California beaches during some part of the year. While most beach goers care little about differences between seals and sealions, for clarity sake, California’s seals and sealions divide into two families that can easily be distinguished by the presence or absence of earflaps.

California Sea Lions, Stellar Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals and Guadalupe Fur Seals represent the eared family. The video clip shows each of the species in the order that they are presented here. The audio consists only of California Sea Lions barking.

California Sea Lions breed along coastal areas from San Diego in the south to Crescent City in the north. These are the most prominent sea lions seen by tourists and residents. Social animals, they often congregate in large groups.

Stellar sea lions are the larger and more inconspicuous of the two species. They tend to breed in isolated area.

While Northern Fur Seal populations are recovering, they spend most of the year out at sea. Breeding grounds such as the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, means that boaters rather than beach goers are more likely to see them.

Guadalupe Fur Seals are even less conspicuous. They can sometimes be seen in limited numbers on the Channel Islands off the coast of Los Angeles.

Earless seals formally fit into the family Phocidae, and are considered top notch swimmers. In California, earless seal often means Harbor seal. It’s the most common species seen by residents and tourists because of their propensity to hang out at the beach.

Central California beaches, particularly Piedras Blancas, is the place to see the largest of the earless seals, Northern Elephant seals. While size may partially account for their name, the male’s extended nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk, better explains the elephant name. Breeding takes place December through February and is the best time to see males, females and pups.

Over two hundred and fifty areas along the coast have the designation of beach. Many of these beaches are associated with the state park system. Looking for a California beach during your travels? Check out the nearby state parks.

California Flowers

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California’s large land mass and multiple climates make is a fun flora state. In round numbers over 6,000 flowering plants have been identified. Of those over 2,000 are endemic to the state. Visit California just to see the flowers.

Unofficially the Anza Borrego bloom kicks off the California wildflower season in February and it moves from south to north as the months progress. Nevertheless, starting in February and/or March, up to three dozen flowering plants and shrubs begin showing their colorful petals in the Redwoods.

Milkmaids (pictured) are a traditional forest flower, and they are one of the first of the spring bloomers.

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It takes a whole lot of rain to keep the Redwoods growing tall. That’s perfect conditions for the Swamp Lantern or Skunk Cabbage. The plant’s large leaves can grow a couple of feet in length with a larger yellow flower, lantern looking, growing from the stem.

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Redwood Sorrel covers many a Redwood forest ground. During the spring a dainty flower blooms. Redwood sorrel is also a popular ground cover for homeowners with cool and shady areas of the yard.

California Old Growth Forests

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Certainly the Redwoods forests and Sequoia forests get categorized as old growth forests. Two fun facts.
  • According to the National Park Service: The giant sequoia is found growing singly or in groups scattered for a distance of 250 miles along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in central California at elevations of 4,000 to 8,000 feet. The redwood grows near the Pacific Ocean along the northern California coast in a more or less continuous belt about 450 miles long and 15 miles wide.
  • Which is the bigger tree, the California Redwood or California Sequoia? Depends on how big is defined. Redwoods are the world’s tallest trees. Currently a tree called Hyperion is labeled as the tallest (about 380 feet). Sequoias generally are celebrated as the largest trees because of their height and girth.
Considering that California’s coastal Redwoods and Giant Sequoias can live between two thousand and three thousand years, the concept of old growth takes on a pretty conventional meaning. Including the most famous Redwoods and Sequoias, California counts over two dozen such forest areas.

Still, the phrase Old Growth Forest carries a bit of a fuzzy definition. Typically it refers to stands of a forest that have not been altered by logging and human development activities for a prescribed period of time. Usually the time frame for such forests falls in the one hundred to one hundred and fifty year

Some of California’s old growth forests are so called National Forests covering hundreds of thousands of acres. Others are smaller stands covering a hundred or so acres. Basically the phrase implies that old growth forests are ecosystems in and of themselves. The biodiversity contained within the ecosystem can be studied from the forest floors up to the tops of the forest canopies.

In California, for example, the forest soils and forest floors need time to develop the mycelium that are both beneficial to tree growth (mycorrhizal fungus), and those that aid with the decomposition of trees.

As the forest ecosystem matures other living flora such as the Monotropoideae interact with the trees and mycelim. The picture for example shows the red and white striped stem of the flowering Sugarstick or Candy-stick (Allotropa virgata). When spotted on the forest floor of older growth coniferous forests, mushroom enthusiasts often take notice because the plant grows in association with Matsutake mushrooms.

The individual ecosystem stories of old growth forests continue to the tops of the canopies. In addition to flora and mushrooms, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles all depends on old growth forests.

California Wildlife: More Fun Facts

  • California hosts around fifty different Audubon chapters in the state. They help all residents and tourists meet their daily birding needs.
  • Two mountains, Mount Shasta and Mount Whitney get most of the alpine attention in the state. Mount Whitney ranks as California’s tallest mountain.
  • According to a recent University of California study, “Of about 4,000 bee species known in the entire United States, about 1,600 have been recorded in California.” Not only can you be seen in California, you can also see bees.
  • The National Park Service manages thirty four separate parks, memorials, monuments and trails in California. Yosemite National Park is the most popular visitor destination in the state.

Discover more fun facts about California wildlife by pressing any of the buttons.