Marin County and Beyond! What this naturalist got up to in April

For the month of April we lived in a quiet nook of Mill Valley tucked into the branches of a Bay Laurel, Coast Live Oak and Coast Redwood trees.  So we continued our pattern of exploring nearby our temporary abode during the week and camping or short road trips during the weekend. We were so lucky to have Mt. Tamalpais in our backyard and only a short drive up to the Rock Springs area. But the trail right outside our door to the Homestead Valley trail system was incredible. It’s one thing to have a trail a short drive or walk away but to have a trail we could instantly access is a real treat for the Bay Area.

So in this post I’ve broken up this blog by weekends, and highlighting the flowers seen on those dates. Then I go over our mothing and insect finds throughout the whole month, as well as some other highlights. Hope you enjoy, some more educational posts are on the horizon!

First Weekend: Bloom Bloom Bloom!

Taking no time to rest after coming from Joshua Tree the weekend before we headed out to the Chico area to explore Upper Bidwell Canyon and North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve. Both sites were INCREDIBLE! We ended the weekend with a stop at Jepson Prairie Preserve to check out the vernal pools. I attempted to go here last year but Covid had just arrived and the gates were locked! Boo! So it was wonderful to finally get onto the trails. Some crawling on hands and knees was required, but well worth it! Maybe next year we’ll get there early enough to see water in the pools and find the fairy shrimp. But overall this first weekend in April had incredible blooms everywhere. What lucky ducks we were!

I am working on a blog looking into the relationship between cattle grazing on public land in order to reduce non-native grasses therefore helping support native wildflower diversity. So stay tuned.

Second Weekend: A Total Hodgepodge

Saturday was kinda a total mixed bag of stops but was overall filled with frustrations unfortunately. It started off with waking up two hours late. When we finally got to our first stop we were blocked by construction crews clearing hazardous trees from last summer’s fires. The kicker was that it was their last day, so if we had come the next day we would have been fine. But we drove two hours to this area, and we weren’t going to do the trip again the next day. No no no. So until the afternoon we bombed around the countryside getting stopped by private property, and fence lines, and unwelcoming signs. Only trespassing a few times and once sauntering into a seemingly open preserve only to spend about two minutes before turning around and exiting quietly. Woops. So after doing loopie-doops all around the countryside we ended up at Robert Louis Stevenson State Park which was basically on the other side of the area we tried to access in the morning for a 12 mile blitz hike to search for the Purdy’s Fritillary. We struck out. While we didn’t find the flower here, we did another weekend but not in full bloom, she was a bit crispy.

On Sunday we checked off multiple rarities on Mt. Diablo, but the king of them all was probably the Mount Diablo Jewelflower. We were tuckered out from our hiking and overall busy day prior so hiking up to the top of Mt. Diablo was abnormally exhausting. Thank goodness it wasn’t too hot and we even chatted with a few fellow naturalists on the trails which was lovely.

Third Weekend: Botanical Surprises

Our third weekend (April 17, 18th) was spent back in the same-ish area as the weekend before, in some instances the same preserves/BLM land in order to fill some holes in our list and find any new bloomers. 

We camped at Digger Pine Campground which was a perfect location (nice choice Trevor) as we botanized the whole way to the campground which was down a narrow valley. The only other campers there were dirt bike riders. We were even approached by a fellow camper who was curious what the heck we were doing out there. Looking for rare plants wasn’t the answer he was expecting. It usually isn’t by most people that are curious to ask what we are up to. One day we’ll run into a fellow plant nut in the backwoods.

Fourth Weekend: Rarities and Fire Followers

Our fourth weekend (April 24, 25th) included a lot of roadside botany within Santa Clara and San Benito County for another weekend of searching for fire followers and rarities. 

On Saturday we explored Coalinga Road. Most of the day was spent exploring along the roadside or scampering up hillsides for previously researched spots. We finished the day by hiking the Short Fence Trailhead to search for a few more rarities. It was a great little trail, but we took a wrong turn and end up on an even narrower trail which basically vaporized. So instead of walking down and back up the correct trail which parallel the one week took we of course when bushwacking up and over a ridge to the correct trail. From there we hiked uphill  following the creek to our desired plant, the San Benito Jewelflower, what a cool fella. 

While we had circled around multiple free campsites throughout the day of course we waited until we were totally plant-ed out before searching for a spot to set up our tent. Stagg chilli and Lentil Vegetable soup was on the menu. Well a small pullout along the roadside worked just for our needs. Trevor violently took a stick to a dirt patch in order to level it out in order to reduce our risk of sliding down the mountain in the middle of the night. I still roped up the higher side of the tent to our tire, just in case. Probably totally useless, and now I wish I would have taken a proper photo of the set up, but darkness fell quickly, and we had a busy next day so off to bed we went.

On Sunday we drove up to Mount Hamilton from San Jose down the other side and onto Del Puerto Canyon on Highway 130. But our first destination was getting gas in Hollister and treated ourselves to Shell Gas Station instant coffee instead of heating up water on our stove like we normally do. Both options produce sub par results. Bleh. 

Our first time to Del Puerto Canyon was in 2020 when the pandemic regulations were starting to be talked about and no one really knew what was going on still (at least in California). But there was still a weird feeling in the air as we explored the canyon. When the August fire complex struck the Bay Area in 2020 this area was smack dab in the middle of a huge fire. So to come back in 2021 and botanize the same slopes that most of which were touched by the fire was really interesting. Even with only about eight months since the fire there was so much growth and greenery juxtaposed against the standing charred trees and shrubs. Unlike many parts of North America, California has a natural fire regime which benefits many plant species.

Bug Life

As always we were on the hunt for bugs. As we strive to keep up with our iNaturalist rate of observing species from last year we know one big way how we are going to do that is through documenting insects. Even though we were nestled at the base of a forest the Bay Area in general just doesn’t have the bug diversity and quantity like more remote areas. It’s understandable but we were hoping for a little better showing both at our UV light and on the trails. BUT we had some beauties show up, as you can see below.

Following 2020 Fires for Flowers

We visited many sites that burned in 2020 for fire following plants. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park was one of them, which was named such because RLS spent his honeymoon in a cabin there. Even Though it was quite the blitz of a hike as our day was so jimble jambled up it was a really neat hike as the trails traverse rough terrain and the north south facing slopes show the classic corresponding evergreen forest and chaparral divide.

California Native Plant Society has an ongoing project to document Fire Followers to document biodiversity and aid in conservation. I plan to do a whole blog about what fire followers we’ve seen. But simply, fire both in smoke and heat signals seeds to grow, ash can provide minerals to the soil. It’s not all doom and gloom, its natural, its beautiful, it’s life!

Hike, work, repeat

But there were many flowers to find beyond our immediate backyard perfect for a short day trip. So during the week I solo hiked to Mt. Burdell in Novato, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma County, and Abbotts Lagoon in Point Reyes National Park. But thankfully not all my week day excursions were by myself. I went out three times with fellow California Naturalists coursemates which was amazing. It was soooo nice to finally go on naturalist walks with fellow CalNat-ers who most of I’d only interacted with via Zoom. We went to Foothills Park in Los Altos Hills, Edgewood Preserve in Redwood City, and explored from Rock Springs on Mt.Tamalpais.

I also really enjoyed going on the trails in Homestead Valley with a neighbor who has been stewarding the land for about 30 years. We munched on many edible plants and I learned so much about the history of the small valley that I wouldn’t have looked up on my own. April was the most socializing I’ve done in many months! It was so refreshing to interact with fellow naturalists and digest what they had to share.


Overall we posted 1,085 observations to iNaturalist, documenting about 670 species which span roughly 300 miles from the northern most spot to the southern most.

Hope you enjoyed my little summary of our time in Mill Valley and explorations beyond. Now that I have a little lul in projects I can turn my attention back to the blog!

Finally, much thanks to our hosts who were incredible, and I look forward to future nature walks and Kombucha chats.

Here are a few final shots of us, not as pretty as the flowers we were documenting.

Happy Bugging and Botanizing!

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