California, longer than Italy, is really at least two countries masquerading as one state – to the south of San Francisco old Spanish California, to the north old Russian California, each divided within itself as well to present state-wide some 9 big natural regions of coast and valley and desert and mountain, with bio-regions (such as watersheds) in turn within each of them. Besides its famous extremes – the highest and (remarkably nearby) the lowest points in the contiguous states – California boasts a staggering array of natural habitats: the largest mountain mass (Cascade-Sierra) in the U.S., 5,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of river and stream, 40 million acres of forest, the huge Mohave Desert, 1340 miles of coastline, the superlatives go on.
Almost half the state’s 158,000 square miles are publicly owned. As Arnold Small (1994) notes, California includes 8 national parks, a national seashore, 4 national recreation areas, 7 national monuments, 21 national forests, 3 national marine sanctuaries, federally protected wilderness areas, desert conservation areas, and national wildlife refuges, as well as state parks, state refuges, and wildlife management areas.
Raven Corvus corax ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
The great majority of California’s 33 million human inhabitants jam into just two coastal agglomerations – San Diego to Los Angeles in the south, and the San Francisco Bay area at the state’s waist. (SF may claim to lie in northern California, but it barely does: half the state still lies north of it.) There are other big cities – Santa Barbara on the coast between SF and LA, Sacramento (the state’s capitol) in the vast Central Valley, agricultural centres, tourist attraction concentrations, and towns all over, of course; but beyond the reach of the coastal San San corridor (itself spottily if intensively settled); one senses one is in the provinces of this immense (and, to be honest, immensely provincial) state.
Because of its diversity it is also rich in wildlife. In fact the fauna of the State of California may be the most diverse in the United States of America. Of the Lower 48 conterminous states, California has the greatest diversity in climate, terrain and geology in general.
Palms & Peaks of California ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
The state’s six life zones are the lower Sonoran (desert); upper Sonoran (foothill regions and some coastal lands); transition (coastal areas and moist northeastern counties); and the Canadian, Hudsonian, and Arctic zones, comprising California’s highest elevations. California’s diverse geography gives rise to dozens of different ecosystems, each of which has its own unique native plants and animals.
Joshua Trees in southern California ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
As the 3rd largest state scientists typically divide it into eleven distinct geomorphic provinces with clearly defined boundaries. They are, from north to south, the Klamath Mountains, the Cascade Range, the Modoc Plateau, the Basin and Range, the Coast Ranges, the Central Valley, the Sierra Nevada, the Transverse Ranges, the Mojave Desert, the Peninsular Ranges, and the Colorado Desert. Here, the Los Angeles Basin, the Channel Islands, and the Pacific Ocean are treated as distinct regions.
Mojave Desert ©Peg Abbott Naturalist Journeys
Common mammals that live throughout all the Golden State include raccoons, possum, weasels, foxes, otter, beaver, coyotes, skunk, cougar, bobcat, black bear, deer, squirrels and whales with many bats, rodents, rabbits, mustelids, seals and even wild boar.
Death Valley ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
There are around fifty species of lizards, twelve snakes and eleven tutles and tortoises. Amphibians include thirty one frogs and toads, forty one salamanders and four newts.
Spiders include Arizona Recluse, Baja Recluse, Chilean Recluse, Desert Recluse, Martha’s Recluse, Russell’s Recluse, Brown Widow and Western Black Widow.
There are over three thousand, five hundred species of plant with as many as 61% endemic to California making it a botanists dream destination.
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana ©Greg Smith Naturalist Journeys
634 bird species had been officially recorded in California. Several counties have lists of over 450 species and growing numbers of birders in their own 400 Clubs. Two counties, LA and San Diego have topped the 500 mark! The state Big Day record stands at 231 species! In some places one can encounter over 100 species in a day of vigorous birding anytime in the year.
Major Source: Fatbirder
Map Source: Googlemaps™
Photo Source: © Naturalist Journeys