Silver Bush Lupine

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While exploring Mount Hamilton in north-central California, it was hard not to notice this colorful purple wildflower.

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This plant grows in the hills and valleys of the Golden State. It requires good drainage and needs little water once the roots are established.

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When Silver Bush Lupine blooms, its flower is light blue to purple on three- to twelve-inch stalks. Its foliage is silver with a feathery texture.

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Not only is it beautiful, but this plant performs a valuable function. It is a member of the Legume Family and has nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots.

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As a result, they are important for soils, as they can take nitrogen from the air and “fix” it into the ground for the purposes of plant growth and prosperity.

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Like other perennial shrubs, Silver Bush Lupine can live for many years.

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Western Painted Turtle

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This reptile is not native to Ohio, but I do see it occasionally in Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Summit County Metroparks. These turtles are probably released pets. I have also found it on my visits to California, where it is also not native.

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This is the largest of the four subspecies of Painted Turtles and attains a carapace length of up to 10 inches. Like others in its species, it is brightly marked.

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The Western Painted Turtle is native to the midwestern states of Oklahoma northward to the Dakotas and extends as far as Saskatchewan, Canada. It reaches the eastern portion of its range in upper Michigan and Ontario.

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These turtles feed mainly on plants and small animals, such as fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects. Turtles don’t have teeth, but instead have horny ridges that are serrated and sharp on their upper and lower jaws.

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The Western Painted Turtle is rather adaptable and is known to occur in prairie pothole wetlands as well as river floodplains and oxbows. It and its relatives, the Eastern, Midland and Southern Painted Turtles, are the most widespread turtles in North America.

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Brush Rabbit

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While hiking in a park in California last weekend, I saw a few examples of this mammal foraging for food in the morning hours. Also known as the Western Brush Rabbit or Californian Brush Rabbit – it is a species of cottontail rabbit found in western coastal regions of North America.

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The Brush Rabbit is a small rabbit that weighs 1-2 pounds and has short legs and a short tail. It is dark gray on the sides and back, and pale gray on the belly. Its range is confined to the Pacific coast, from the Columbia river in the north to the tip of Baja, Mexico in the south.

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These mammals require dense bramble clumps or other thick brushy habitat. These bramble clumps often have extensive networks of trails and runways. The species will occasionally use burrows made by other species, but does not dig its own.

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Brush Rabbits forage alone or in small groups. They can be seen sunning in the mid-morning, but are otherwise secretive and wary. They thump the ground with their back feet when startled. They feed mainly on grasses and are not hunted by humans, due to their small size.

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They are smaller than a number of the other cottontails, and unlike most of them, they have a grey underside to their tail instead of white (which possibly is why they do not have “cottontail” in their common name). It was neat to encounter this cool creature while visiting the Golden State.

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Spotted Towhee

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I have seen this fine bird in the Cerbat Mountains of Arizona as well as in California at Point Reyes National Seashore. It favors habitats of chaparral and brushy mountain slopes.

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The Spotted Towhee differs from the Eastern Tohwee found in my home state of Ohio in that it has heavy white spotting on its upperparts and harsher, more variable callnotes in its song.

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Like its eastern relative, it has a dark hood, rufous sides and a white belly – in addition to a dark, conical bill and red eyes.

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This large New World sparrow is roughly the same size as an American Robin. These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation and have a habit of noisily rummaging through dry leaves while searching for food.

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Spotted Towhees feed mainly on insects, spiders and other arthropods in Spring and Summer and then switch to seeds, grain and berries in the Autumn and Winter.

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This is a handsome and conspicuous bird that I enjoy seeing on my trips out west.

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Santa Cruz Black Salamander

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I found this cool creature while herping the Golden State. They can measure up to 5-1/2 inches in total length. As their name implies, they are often solid black, though they sometimes sport a few fine white specks.

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This amphibian belongs to a large group known as Lungless Salamanders; they do not breathe through lungs, instead they conduct respiration through their skin and the tissues lining their mouth. This requires them to live in damp environments on land and travel only during times of high humidity.

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The Santa Cruz Black Salamander lives in forested areas and grasslands, where it uses rock slides, rotten logs and surface debris for cover. Like most salamanders, it feeds on small invertebrates such as spiders, beetles, ants and termites.

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This is a terrestrial amphibian that does not need standing or flowing water for breeding or any other part of its life cycle, although it may be found close to creeks or seeps. There is direct development of eggs into juveniles that resemble miniature adults, except with some color variation.

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It was enjoyable to make my acquaintance with this animal, which only lives within a very limited range and is endemic to California.

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