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  • September 28, 2020

Please join our next Conservation Lecture Series talk that focuses on natural history training. As natural history training has declined in formal education, it has increased among lay audiences. While it continues to address traditional practices and topics such as field observations of organisms and their behavior, it’s increasingly tackling a wider range of issues and topics including conservation and restoration, climate change, traditional ecological knowledge, and even the environmental justice. In addition, the rise in participatory science has dramatically increased the number of ways in which the public can meaningfully engage in science, yet significant challenges remain including large gaps in participation from black and indigenous people and a perennial lack of funding. This lecture describes the unique collaborative approach the California Naturalist program uses to deliver natural history training in this complex milieu and answers the questions: Why are people interested in natural history training? and How does it relate to the work of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife?

Gregory “Greg” Ira is the Director of the UC California Naturalist program based at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources office in Davis, California. After completing his Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from Prescott College in Arizona, and Master’s in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii (through the East-West Center’s Environment and Policy Institute), he worked for six years in the Philippines integrating conservation into the context of rural development. From 2000-2015 he served as the Director of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Education, where he established a statewide environmental education program (Learning in Florida’s Environment) for middle school students in Florida’s State Parks.

Science Institute logoDate: Tuesday, September 29, 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Register to view online.

Questions? Contact:

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  • September 22, 2020

Douglas contributed a great photo for the upcoming second edition of the Atlas of the Biodiversity of California. We wanted to find out more about his connection to nature photography.

A field filled with wildflowers.

Your CalPhotos bio mentions that you are a volunteer and photographer with the Solano Land Trust. Can you tell us a little bit more about the work you do for them?

Since joining the Solano Land Trust as a volunteer I’ve hiked and photographed roughly 12,000 acres of nature preserves. I’m also certified as a docent and lead tours at Jepson Prairie Preserve.

Your wildlife and plant photos are incredible! How did you learn this skill, and come into this line of work?

I purchased my first digital camera after retirement as we planned a trip to Arizona for spring training. While in Scottsdale I began photographing the Sonoran Desert flora. When we returned home I researched and began photographing the Jepson Prairie Preserve, 1566 acres of remnant vernal pool habitat. From the first visit I found the diminutive yet colorful flora a fascinating subject.

After a spring hiking season, shooting only in the public area and remaining on the trail, I approached the land trust with an interest in accessing the complete preserve. Once they met me and saw prints of my photos, they granted access with two provisos. The first was to attend docent training instruction and the second was a request to photograph all their preserves, to which I immediately agreed.

Do you have any favorite plants or animals you’ve encountered in your explorations?

The most common species of vernal pool flora, and my favorite, are the Downingia. There are 19 rare flora and invertebrates at Jepson Prairie. The most significant of these is the Delta green ground beetle (Elaphrus viridis) which was first observed in 1878. After ‘disappearing’ it was presumed extinct but was rediscovered in 1974 by a UC Davis student.

A small and shiny green beetle on wet soil.

What is your most indispensable tool or piece of gear when taking photos out in the field?

My camera backpack weighs about 16 pounds with just about anything I need. If I had to choose, it would actually be two items: a decent-quality, digital SLR camera body; and a good-quality lens. There are a lot of specialty lenses, some quite expensive, but you can take some remarkable pictures with practically any lens. One of the best bird photos I’ll likely ever record was taken with a 60 mm macro lens when the subject was close at hand, but a more appropriate lens was 100 feet away.

Can you give any words of advice or encouragement to aspiring nature photographers?

Becoming a photographer requires a camera and the operator. Most every photographer begins with an inexpensive camera and a desire to take great pictures. Don’t expect to be an expert when you begin. My best advice would be to start shooting a lot of photos. If you see something you find interesting take more than a single photo. The beauty of digital photography is that you can see your shot instantly, adjust, and retake until you get your settings right.

The underside of an egret soaring through the sky with its wings outstretched.

Want to practice your photo skills? Submit your sightings of rare plants and animals on our Online Field Survey Form. Your photos could be featured as our next Photo of the Month!

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  • September 14, 2020

A closeup of the mountain lady's slipper which has long purple petals that surround a white, slipper-shaped pouch that functions to help pollination.

Cypripedium montanum – mountain lady’s-slipper
Submitted by Jacob Smith

This amazing little orchid was found by Jacob Smith in Madera county. This picture shows the characteristic slipper-shaped pouch that temporarily traps pollinators and forces them to crawl under the anther, causing pollen to be deposited on their backs and resulting in pollen being spread from one flower to the next as the pollinator works. Cypripedium montanum was originally listed in 1980 as a California Native Plant Society List 2 (rare or endangered) and is currently considered a California Rare Plant Rank 4.2 (limited distribution and moderately threatened in California). It ranges across northern California as well as several other northern states and into Canada. Cypripedium montanum is found in broadleafed upland forests, cismontane woodlands, lower montane coniferous forests, and North Coast coniferous forests. These little mountain lady's-slippers can be seen blooming from March through August. Thank you Jacob for this striking photo and the amazing work you share with us!

Top-down view of a California red-legged frog immersed in a pond amongst duckweed.

Rana draytonii – California red-legged frog
Submitted by Gary Kittleson of Kittleson Environmental Consulting

Gary discovered this California red-legged frog taking refuge in some freshwater foliage near Watsonville in Santa Cruz county. These amphibians can be hard to detect because of their immaculate ability to hide and blend in with their surroundings. This frog species can be seen in many colors but will have distinct red coloring on its legs and belly, giving it its name. California red-legged frogs have long back legs which give them the ability to leap far distances and to climb. Both are used to avoid and escape predators. Their diet consists of mainly small invertebrates and they use their long sticky tongue to grab their prey and bring it close to them. California red-legged frogs are endemic to the state, inhabiting the Coast Ranges as well as the Foothills and Sierra Nevada. They are a California Species of Special Concern and are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Currently, CNDDB has over 1500 California red-legged frog occurrences throughout its range. Thank you, Gary, for this great shot!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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  • September 8, 2020

Collage of various wildlife over a topographic map.

What is the CNDDB? What species does the CNDDB track? How does one access CNDDB information? What is the best way to submit data to the CNDDB? These are some of the most common questions that CNDDB staff are asked. We have taken the answers to these questions, along with other important topics, and combined them into a single convenient resource: the link opens in new windowCNDDB Management Framework (PDF). This document gives a general overview of the CNDDB including information on its background, products, and proper use. CNDDB staff can always be contacted for any questions but this document is a great place to start when it comes to understanding the CNDDB!

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  • September 2, 2020

September 7th marks the second annual celebration of California Biodiversity Day, an event set to celebrate our beautiful and species-rich state. Biodiversity refers to the variety of life at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level, and as the state with the most species of plants and animals in the U.S., we have a lot to celebrate!

Biodiversity Day is not only about celebrating our wildlife; it is also about protecting it. On September 7th, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown launched the California Biodiversity Initiative to integrate biodiversity protection into the state’s environmental and economic efforts in order to keep species secure and protect them from climate change and other threats. This initiative was the origin of California Biodiversity Day.

An American black bear with a fish in its mouth.
American black bear (Ursus americanus). Photo by Jan Dawson.

Along with being the state with the highest number of species, California is also one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and is classified by Conservation International as one of 36 Global Diversity Hotspots. California is home to over 30,000 species of insects, 6,500 plants, 650 birds, 220 mammals, 100 reptiles, 75 amphibians, and 170 species of fish and marine mammals. This species richness is likely due to our rich Mediterranean climate as well as our state’s complex geology and geography, allowing for the existence of many different habitats and biomes for a variety of different species to live in.

A field of California poppies and lupines at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve.
California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Photo by Laura Shaskey.

This year, several partners will be hosting both virtual and in-person events from September 5th through September 13th in celebration of California Biodiversity Day 2020. These events include bioblitzes on iNaturalist, lectures highlighting various California species, and online arts and crafts activities for kids. For more information about this year’s events, please see the California Biodiversity Day 2020 web page.

We encourage you to get outside and celebrate the wonderful biodiversity that our state has to offer! If you happen to find a rare California plant or animal, be sure to submit your sighting through our Online Field Survey Form.

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  • August 28, 2020

It’s back-to-school season, and this year parents are faced with new challenges around distance learning and COVID-19. Thankfully, Nature’s classroom is always open! We spoke with Le’a Gleason and Meg Seifert from Headwaters Science Institute to get some inspiration on how to take advantage of this moment and incorporate more environmental education into family life.

Meg created Headwaters with the aim to bring more hands-on-learning to students in science classes through field research, which was one of her favorite parts of her academic journey to earn her PhD. Headwaters programs have been built around students designing their own original research projects and conducting data collection in the field. When Coronavirus became a threat to in-person learning, Headwaters aimed to help students stay mentally engaged in learning by creating online programs that still encourage interaction with the environment. The goal of their link opens in new windowonline learning programs is to still inspire students to complete activities on their own outside, but through lessons that are delivered digitally.

Screenshot of a video on Nature Journaling by Headwaters Science Institute

You can visit link opens in new windowHeadwaters Science Institute’s website for more info on their Fall 2020 online offerings, including programs designed to engage high school-age students in extracurricular scientific research.

Now more than ever, it’s important to keep kids engaged in the outdoors. Seifert hopes that by fostering curiosity through science, programs like these are educating the problem solvers of tomorrow.

Some of Meg’s favorite online-accessible offerings include link opens in new windowScience Friday and link opens in new windowSierra Nevada Journeys.

Here are some other top picks for kids of all ages:


  • Sharing Nature with Children, Joseph Cornell
  • The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, link opens in new windowJohn Muir Laws (who also has nature journaling resources on his website)
  • Atlas of the Biodiversity of California, CDFW (new edition coming soon!)

Do you have a favorite environmental education resource you’d like to share with our readers? Email us and we’ll include it in a follow-up blog!

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  • August 3, 2020

Two tiny white flowers with leaves growing on the sandy ground

Lewisia kelloggii ssp. kelloggii – Kellogg’s lewisia
Submitted by Ellen Sampson and Randy Roig

This inconspicuous flower was found by Ellen Sampson and Randy Roig in Sierra County. Lewisia kelloggii ssp. kelloggii was listed in 2013 as Rank 3.2 (more information needed, but moderately threatened in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking System. Plants listed as Rank 3 all lack enough information available to consider them rare (Rank 1B or 2B) or of limited distribution (Rank 4), but the information that is available indicates that they are in need of conservation. Once a plant has been determined to be Rank 3, the hope is that new information will be generated from additional surveys, which will allow for a reevaluation of the rank at a later time. Lewisia kelloggii ssp. kelloggii is found in openings and ridgetops of upper montane coniferous forest often in slate or sometimes in rhyolite tuff along the Sierras. It blooms from May through August with the occasional early bloom in April. Keep an eye out for this little gem when taking those summer hikes through the Sierras. Thank you, Ellen and Randy, for finding this amazing flower and adding to what we know about it!

A stellar sea lion looking off to the distance while resting on a large rock

Eumetopias jubatus – Steller (northern) sea lion
Submitted by Ryan Elliott of the California Natural Diversity Database

CNDDB’s very own Ryan Elliott was able to snap this awesome profile shot of a Steller sea lion at Cape Mendocino. Cape Mendocino is home to one of California’s largest breeding rookeries and has been active for over a century. The Steller sea lion was first described in 1741 by Georg Wilhelm Steller and therefore named after him. Steller sea lions spend most of their time in the water feeding, but haul-out onto rocks and shores to rest, reproduce, and raise their young. Their range spans from Japan to California and are split into two distinct population segments, eastern and western, at Cape Suckling in Alaska. California is home to the Eastern DPS which has seen major population declines due to intentional culling and commercial harvests. Currently, Steller sea lions are protected under both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and are considered a California Species of Special Concern. The California Natural Diversity Database has 38 rookery and haul-out occurrences along the coast. Many thanks to Ryan for submitting this stellar observation!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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  • July 23, 2020

A closeup of the tip of prairie false oat.
Photo credit: Margie Mulligan
(link opens in new windowCC BY-NC 4.0) link opens in new windowvia iNaturalist

Earlier this year, a grass species thought to be extinct was rediscovered. Prairie false oat (Sphenopholis interrupta ssp. californica) was previously only known from two locations in Baja California, Mexico from the 1880s. It was rediscovered near Carlsbad, California by Jessie Vinje (with the Conservation Biology Institute) and Margie Mulligan (with the San Diego Natural History Museum) while doing population monitoring for San Diego thorn-mint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia). See link opens in new windowthis news article from the Conservation Biology Institute for additional information about this exciting discovery!

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  • July 13, 2020

CNDDB is proud to maintain a comprehensive, robustly-catalogued archive of field survey forms, articles, reports, maps and other documents containing biogeographical data on species of special concern in California. But when we start digging into historical species locations, we often turn to other archives for additional information. Below is a short list of a few of our favorite resources. Some may be already familiar, but hopefully a few await your exploration. Happy hunting!

California State Library
The California State Library is housed in a beautiful neoclassical building adjacent to the State Capitol in Sacramento. In-person services are currently suspended during COVID-19, but meanwhile you can link opens in new windowbrowse the State Library website. CSL has voluminous archives of scientific literature, making it a great resource to track down historical articles and books, and their online Ask-A-Librarian service is top notch. We’ve also been told they have a collection of over 5,000 historic maps. Though only state employees can check items out, anyone is welcome to browse on-site (or online).

Puppy-in-training at the California State Library
Added bonus of visiting CSL in person—you might get to meet library service-dog-in-training Florence V!

MVZ Archives Field Notes collection
Sometimes you need more information about a historical specimen. Maybe you just want a glimpse into the epic history of scientific collecting. The Museum of Vertebrate Zoology keeps an link opens in new windowonline archive of digitized field notes from some of its most legendary curators and field biologists.

USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection
USGS’ Topo View link opens in new windowonline map viewer allows you to navigate and view all versions of topo maps available for any given location in the US, dating back to the 1800s. You can even download georeferenced images of the maps. It’s an essential tool for georeferencing historical specimens.

Biodiversity Heritage Library
BHL is link opens in new windowan open-access digital archive of historical biodiversity literature, with contributors from around the globe. If you are tracing back the taxonomic history of a certain species, this is your go-to resource for finding articles across the centuries.

If the above resources don’t scratch your historical itch, here are some more CNDDB staff favorites:

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  • July 1, 2020

Tiny Castle Crags harebell flowers growing in rock crevices.

Campanula shetleri – Castle Crags harebell
Submitted by Steve Matson

This California endemic was found by Steve Matson in Siskiyou County. Campanula shetleri was originally listed in 1974 and was considered to occur in small numbers or in restricted populations. It is currently ranked as 1B.3 (rare or endangered in California and everywhere else, but not very endangered in California) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. It is found in rock crevices in Lower montane coniferous forests within the Klamath Ranges. It blooms from June through September bringing some color into the late summer. The flower can range in color from a pale blue to completely white, with the one pictured here falling on the blue end of the scale. Thank you, Steve, for sharing this amazing find, and everything you do to protect our California rare plants!

Yosemite toad resting in a grassy meadow.

Anaxyrus canorus – Yosemite toad
Submitted by Noah Morales

Noah came upon a large group of Yosemite toads and was able to catch this one relaxing in a grassy area near Sardine Meadow in Mono county. Yosemite toads are one of four true toad species the CNDDB tracks. They are endemic to California and reside in high elevations throughout the Sierra Nevada in forest borders and moist mountain meadows. The Yosemite toad takes on the classic toad appearance with its stocky body and warty skin. They are slow moving with motions limited to crawls and short hops. Because of this less than ideal movement efficiency, Yosemite toads secrete poison from their parotoid glands and warts to defend themselves! These toads have faced many factors contributing to their decline such as habitat degradation, invasive fishes, drought, and disease. Studies show Yosemite toads are no longer present in about half of their native range and populations are declining. In 2016, the USFWS designated almost 1.8 million acres of protected critical habitat for the Yosemite toad and other high elevation amphibians in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Currently, the CNDDB has 223 mapped occurrences for Yosemite toad spanning through the Sierra Nevada. A big thank you to Noah for snapping a photo of this tiny, but mighty species!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

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