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Celebrate Nature is on my calendar as we enjoy late spring and the arrival of summer. This time of year, I want to hang out in my garden where I keep ears and eyes open for birds, butterflies, and any other life forms that present themselves. I hit “pause” whenever I observe something new, so I’m taking breaks from the gardening at regular intervals. Obviously, the bird life is one of my great joys, but other animals are also unique and amazing in their own ways.

Our garden block wall and compost pile is home to Western Fence Lizards. They sun themselves and eat insects with vigor. They don’t seem bothered by my activities and we watch each other. We also see Western Skinks with the blue tails, but they are less tolerant if I approach them. One of our raised garden boxes has a Northern Alligator Lizard that lingers in a morning sunny spot nearby. We have seen them at other parts of the property, and they are avid bug eaters as well. We actually keep small rock piles near fence posts to provide habitat for these reptiles. They feed on many insects and invertebrates, and we are happy to have them in our small ecosystem.

One May day a few years ago, we came across a Western Pond Turtle traversing our hillside on a mowed path. We watched her make her way down the hill toward a small pool along Fox Hollow Creek. She had come from an adjoining property with a small watercourse and seemed to know exactly where she wanted to end up. It was an annual trek to her summer pool.

giant salamanderOnce, we found a Pacific Giant Salamander near this same creek. It was an impressive 9 inches long, out in the open, which we thought unusual. We soon realized it was dying, we don’t know why, but were hoping it had been able to reproduce abundantly during its life. We have seen several of the smaller Rough-skinned Newts in the early spring.

We also have three snake species at our property: Rubber Boa (who feeds on lizards), Garter (eats slugs), and Gopher Snakes are around. Any summer day we walk the property we find Garter Snakes, and my husband is careful to avoid them when he mows. Good thing we are retired now, as our work efficiency drops with so many animals to watch! To close with bird sightings, it is amazing how many times I see a Red-tailed Hawk carrying a dangling snake up to feed the nestlings on a summer afternoon. These are all part of the natural balance of things. We are happy to be able to enjoy them all and celebrate nature at this beautiful time of year!

If you want to learn more about some of the non-bird species you see, try using the iNaturalist app:

With this app you can enter a sighting of any species and it will help identify the species of plant or animal! iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, as they share your findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data.

Similar to eBird, you can record your encounters with other organisms and maintain life lists, all in The Cloud. It utilizes crowdsource identifications that connect you with experts who can identify the organisms you observe. Your observations create useful data that helps scientists and resource managers understand when and where organisms occur. It is a great learning tool and a research resource that gives nature observers a chance to participate in science and discovery of the natural world around them!