River otter in Fountaingrove Lake

I was surprised to see a river otter swimming in Fountaingrove Lake on January 24, 2022 at 8:15AM. The lake, more a city reservoir, as beautiful as it is for what it is, doesn’t seem a really robust, flowing, naturalistic water system given it’s placement in the middle of a golf course. I know it is fed from the east by Piner Creek which discharges to Santa Rosa Creek which in turn joins the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

But, it was really exciting given that I was just on a walk and not expecting to see one.

I managed to get two video snippets that don’t seem like much until the animal dives under the water and showing the hump of the back and the tail.

Some interesting information about otters in Sonoma County

From the Santa Rosa Press Democrat: River otters populations rebounding in Sonoma

The River Otter Ecology Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to the welfare of river otters and our watershed, is doing fantastic work studying and cataloguing the otter population in Northern California.

Toast and Jelly…fish?

No, I’m not eating jellyfish, but I’m not accustomed to seeing them during my morning walk with my dog on the Embarcadero as I did this morning. I know that there are jellyfish along the coast and in (and out) of the bay, but I didn’t expect to see them gently drifting up and down in the tides so close to the piers along the sidewalk.

I still experience a thrill when I see wildlife at an unexpected time or in an unexpected place. I’ve done this particular walk, extending out onto the vacant Pier 32, many times and have seen numerous sea birds and seals, but this is the first time I’ve seen jellyfish drifting along. At first, I was drawn to areas of bubbles emerging to the surface–i’m not sure what was producing them. [I know that jellyfish absorb oxygen and expell carbon dioxide through diffusion, but I didn’t think that produced many bubbles. Were the jellyfish feeding (slowly)? Was something feeding on the jellyfish?]

Anyway, the naturalist in me compelled me to stay and watch, which is what ultimately lead to me observing the jellyfish (and the above video). I’m thinking it was a sea nettle?

Here are some great resources to learn a bit more about jellyfish:

A short but captivating experience reming me of the power of nature to calm and relax! Be sure to check out the Jelly Cam link!


Sometimes you visit nature, and sometimes nature visits you…This sphinx moth showed up about 9PM. Sorry for the video quality as I had to RUN and get the camera. I was surprised it was still there when I returned.

I found an amazing article on the White-lined sphinx at BayNature.org. I think it will answer all of your questions. (The photo below is from the article.)

The photo from What Is This Moth That’s Almost as Big as a Hummingbird?
by Tony Iwane at BayNature.org.

Oh, The Gall of it…

I just splurged on the online purchase of an out-of-print book from an independent used bookstore.  You see, I became obsessed with a particular field guide once I started more closely observing the many galls abundant in my area.

the gall

the gall that started it all–California Gall Wasp

Our native oaks are abundant hosts to an amazing variety of galls—they host more gall insects than any other native tree or plant in the western United States[1].  Looking into an oak tree in California, it might be easy to mistake some of the types for fruit—the variety produced by the California gall wasp are often referred to as “oak apples,” though I wouldn’t take a bite out of one.

Galls can be considered a nursery for insect larva that the tree is forced to produce in response to the activity of the larva—chemical secretions produced by the larva after emerging from their egg causes the host plant to produce material that eventually forms the gall specific to that plant and insect combination.

There is nothing I (or anyone really) can write about galls that hasn’t been better and more exhaustively covered by Ron Russo; the article I linked above gives just a taste (here it is in its original publication).gall book

His extensive and renowned guide on the topic is now “out of print” at UC Press but available at some online sites for a bit of an investment (a hard cover copy is available for just over $1,000). Hence my obsession. I managed to find a used paperback (for much less that the price of the hardcover I mentioned) that is in remarkable shape.

Field guides are a treasure—the cumulation of dedicated research and observation by an enthusiastic, committed individual (or team). The thrill of a well-researched, well-written, well-documented and well-illustrated field guide is difficult to explain to someone who isn’t inclined to the natural world.

This 340-page tome by Mr. Russo is no exception—a thorough and beautiful guide to the amazing diversity and variety of plant galls in California (and other western states).  He worked as a naturalist for the East Bay Regional Park District for 37 years, retiring as the chief naturalist in 2003. He has discovered over sixty-five new species of gall-inducing organisms (including bacteria, fungi, aphids, moths, midges, and wasps).

In most instances, such a collection of concentrated knowledge on a narrow subject would be considered an obsession…well, actually, often the best field guides are indeed an obsession—so be it!

As “social progress” seems to favor the extremes of general, homogenized, mass media or niche, targeted, “tribal,” self-interested content, I’m more content to regularly connect with in-depth, specialized material, especially those intended for sharing knowledge.  True field guides often represent years and years of study, research and careful compilation. Much to enjoy.

Take a few moments to find something like this in an area that interests you…

[1] Oaks of California by Bruce M. Pavlik, Pamela C. Muick, Sharon G. Johnson, and Marjorie Popper; Cachuma Press.

Not sprung yet…


According to calendars and the threshold we’ve set, spring doesn’t begin until March 20. However, nature, as is typical, proceeds as its own pace as we seek to make it fit our arbitrary measures. The reality is all around us. Already plants are producing new leaves and flowers, responding to the subtle changes in light and temperature, proceeding on cycles we are evermore losing touch with. We’d do well to notice more how life is a process–evolving and unfolding, shifting and growing–and much less a rigid, static happenstance. Stop, look, listen, smell–use your senses to notice more; take in the perspective that can be gained from that which surrounds you. Seek out places that engage you.

For more details on the March equinox: All you need to know.

Hungry birds in the rain

I could NOT take my eyes off the bird activity in the backyard during the recent heavy rains—mostly a few dozen robins (& others) enthusiastically devouring berries from what might be a Sambucus or Elder (the smooth leaf margins are confusing my efforts to id it). Of course, robins are known for sometimes foraging en masse like this. This day, it was in the middle of the heaviest downpour.

All that rain

It rained…a lot. Not as much as in a big, multi-day storm a couple of Februarys ago, but a pretty good hit. My rain gauge registered a good 7 inches over a few days.  (Of course, it’s only the 15th, so the month can still find a good robustness.)

According to press reports, most Bay Area cities are at 100% of average annual rainfall for the rain year that starts measuring on October 1 and doesn’t end until for a couple more months as well as for the calendar year.  It’s good to not be in a drought.

Of course, it’s difficult not to juxtapose all the water falling form the sky with the previous two smoke-filled Autumns. Nature is a study of contrast, chaos and balance.


Showing the scale of my rain gauge.


The inner tube captures an inch of measured rain; then the water in the outter tube is poured into the inner to determine the amount.

There was quite a bit of news leading up to the rain, much of it catastrophizing the potential impact. Overall, even though it was a relatively strong storm, it was not out of range for out typical seasonal rain events.  As I mentioned, my rain gauge here showed about 7 inches over a few days; I’ve included a chart of rainfall totals provided by the National Weather Service Bay Area office.  (Which, of course, I can do because they aren’t in shutdown mode; though they kept activities in motion during the last one, there were detrimental effects and limitations in the robustness of their data.)  A nearby weather station measured just over 8.25 inches over the past 7 days.

While I really, truly understand the need to warn people in advance about potential hazards and urge caution (some people need a lot of warning to be cautious), I’m concerned that the tone of much of the coverage has gotten more catastrophic and hyperbolic, inducing and stocking fear about the weather and natural occurrences.  I’m troubled that this invokes anxiety and unnerves some people about nature. With all the evidence pointing to a disconnect from nature, and the unfavorable impacts on health and well-being, I think we need to realign how we communicate about natural phenomena—and in this case I mean the media, and, to some extent, people at the National Weather Service providing information and interviews TO the media.


AND, just to really address a current peeve of mine: We have always had “atmospheric river” phenomena influencing weather on the west coast—always—it’s not a new thing. The atmosphere drives weather to us, and sometimes, periodically during the rainy season, conditions align to drive a great deal of warm, moist air to us.  In fact, our ability to maintain water supplies is linked to having several large storms each season. My perspective is that media reporting jumped on the phrasing a few years ago and has used it relentlessly and to sensationalize—clickbait mentality wins again!

So, always be safe, but don’t get over-wrought about headlines or stories in the regular media concerning the day-to-day weather—context is everything.

Not rolling stones do gather moss

When we moved in to our current place 2 years ago (in March!); I added a few moderate-sized boulders to the yard—they are a lovely hardscape addition to our more “natural” yard landscape, but I really delight in the moss that grow on them.  In fact, when I was at the, um, rock yard, to pick them out, I was particularly focused on the amount of existing (at that time of the year very dry) moss clumps, to the great amusement of the guy driving the tractor to move the rock.

Moss 2Moss 1

Rosy Winter’s Day

These roses were blooming last week between storms. Roses are a lovely forerunner of seasonality!

winter rose


Although not a botany lesson, I love the use of imagery in the Bette Midler song*. Not pertinent to our area where nothing is beneath any snows, but…:

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long.
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.

*Yes, as far as I am concerned it’s her song…and her movie…but kudos to the song writer, Amanda McBroom.

And remember! Valentine’s Day is a good reminder to start fertilizing your roses! (Because OF COURSE you’ve already pruned them…) I have found great success with these options. (With the stakes, you can poke them in and forget them for several months.)