I'm hopping around a bit now, because to be honest realizing how many states are east of the Mississippi made the East Coast feel daunting, and I wanted to block off some large chunks of space with some West Coast states. So California, California, here we come.
To be honest I wasn't as excited to start California because having already done the field guide to the Pacific Crest Trail I felt like I had a lot of it covered, but once I got started I realized that I had only covered a small part of California's habitat by focusing on the Sierras and Cascades. There were so many drawings that I didn't get to include on here that I was really hoping to, if I eventually get around to doing a full field note book I'll try to include some of the illustrations that I just couldn't make work in the layout but found fascinating.
Joshua Tree - I've only been to California once, to the San Diego area, but when I think of California I think of two things off the bat - chubby sea lions lolling about on rocky coasts, and silhouetted Joshua trees under desert stars. Joshuas are a yucca plant generally found in the Mojave Desert, whose seeds were spread by a bear sized ice age sloth called the Shasta ground sloth. They can live for hundreds to thousands of years, though there is concern about their range being reduced because of climate change and the lack of a migratory system like the now extinct Shasta sloth.
Island Fox - One of the most interesting parts of this project is learning about area distinct subspecies, like Maryland's Delmarva squirrel, or in California's case, the Island Fox. The Island fox is particularly fascinating because it's a series of six subspecies, each unique to the particular Channel Island it inhabits. They are in the genus of the gray fox, but significantly smaller, weighing between 2 and 6 pounds.
Sierra Redwood - This is probably one of those Very Basic Botany facts everyone except me knows, but I learned there is a difference between Sequoias and what are commonly called Redwoods. Both are species of redwoods, but the Sequoias (which are also called Sierra Redwoods) grow on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. The California Coastal Redwood grows along the coast of California, usually growing taller, but not larger, than the Sequoias. For scale, the Sequoia can grow up to 40 feet and diameter with 31 inch thick bark, where the Coastal Redwood grows up to 22 feet in diameter with 12 inch bark.
Pacific Fisher - This might be the first type of animal that I didn't know even existed. Fishers are a particularly adorable member of the weasel family (if I had to describe them I'd say a cat-sized bear-otter), who are one of the only predators of the porcupine. Despite their name, they're forest dwelling creatures who favor old growth forests with high canopy cover.
There might be some of you who are wondering why I didn't include a bear on this guide, and when I started I was fully planning on making them the centerpiece (I. LOVE. BEARS.). Whether it's the flag or the Golden Bear mascots, grizzlies are one of the first things I think of when I think of California, so I was taken aback when I realized that California's unique subspecies of brown bear, the California Grizzly, was hunted to extinction less than 75 years after the discovery of gold in 1848. Maybe this is more common knowledge than I believed and I was just in the dark on it, but I was genuinely shocked and saddened.
So once again, I'm inadvertently ending on what feels like a kind of distressing note, but it's so difficult to focus on species in localized habitats without getting into the extremely delicate balance that each ecosystem provides. We worry a lot about the arctic melting (which is important!), but don't think quite as much about maintaining a wetland that supports a snail that supports the food chain for an ecosystem. In better news, from my research on California's species, the state's public and private groups have been doing so much work to maintain and protect their habitats and species, and there was quite a bit of good news on their preservation efforts.
I've got several states I'm wrapping up at once right now (West Virginia, Texas, and South Carolina), which I think puts me up to seven states down! (and forty-three to go, what am I doing....)