Illustrated guide to species to look for in spring 2022
Text and research by Bay Nature staff.
Spring life. In the Bay Area, humans like to congregate outdoors, sometimes with a cocktail in a garden or with a water bladder along a trail, when warmer weather and longer days set in. They also like to talk about nature and the most remarkable local species. . Here’s some of what they could be discussing this season.
For all the fecundity associated with coastal holm oaks (Quercus agrifolia) – bountiful acorn crops, home to hundreds of them, the definition of ecosystems – their reproductive organs are quite inconspicuous. Warm weather triggers clusters of drooping yellow-green male flowers with anthers and spiny red female flowers with pistils to grow on the same tree. The flowers often release their yellow pollen in April, spreading it and receiving it on the wind. At the same time, the stems of the oak complete their growth and photosynthesis kicks into high gear. All of this essential exchange and growth, fundamental to our Bay Area identity, is happening quietly without notice. (Unless, of course, the pollen makes you sneeze.)
Any bunnies you might encounter this spring at the edge of the trail or on the grassy verge are most likely brush rabbits (Bachmani silvage), the Bay Area’s consumed rabbit. They don’t like to stray from their particular groves of coyote brush, poison oak, willows, and other brambles. Generally solitary, each rabbit inhabits a maze of vegetation tunnels and hiding places that can extend up to an acre. An individual can live there for years. When you spot a brush rabbit, you have found its home.
Bee teddy bear
The male carpenter bee (sonorin xylocopa) is among the biggest, loudest, flashiest, and possibly fuzziest bees in California. However, it has no stinger and is too large to fit in tube-shaped flowers to collect pollen – think Winnie the Pooh stuck down the rabbit hole. These golden males have a goal in the spring and spend a lot of time releasing female-attracting pheromones to achieve it. Keep a watchful eye and ear for these beautiful, busy bees in urban and suburban gardens.
The Blainville horned lizard (Phrynosoma blainvillii) probably isn’t the first species that comes to mind when you joke about cool Bay Area wildlife (as we do), but it probably should be. It is endemic to California and Baja, eats mostly native harvester ants and, as a last resort, squirts blood from its eyes. Projected through the pores, the blood can reach up to six feet forward or backward, scaring off predators. Compounds in the blood also irritate canines such as coyotes, foxes and dogs. Horned lizards will be looking for mates this spring during the warm weather in South and East Bay counties.
Pink star. Butterfly. Splendid. Pussy ears. Cedars. And superb. All the names of the 20 beloved mariposa lily species (Calochortus) that brighten up the Bay Area spring. The bulbs sprout, bloom and wither more or less between March and July and are a seasonal treat. How many species of these flashy flowers with their six petal-like structures can you find? Research the genus on iNaturalist.com for ideas on where to look. Our favourite: the pink starry tulip (Calochortus uniflorus) has been observed around the lands of Mount Tamalpais and the Municipal Water District of Marin, as well as nearby Ring Mountain.
From the spring explosion of hatching insects follows an influx of migratory swallow species eager to eat them. Large groups of shimmering purple-green swallows (Tachycineta thalassina) and sapphire swallows (Bicolor Tachycineta) swoop and dive after airborne insects around fresh water, which helps fatten swallow nestlings for the eventual flight south to Mexico and Central America in the fall. Both species feast on flies, real insects, bees, winged ants and, interestingly, spiders that presumably fly in the spring wind.