Maybe you grew up in Southern California and wonder if you’ve ever truly experienced “autumn.” Palm tree fronds don’t change colors, after all. The truth is that there is a lot more to seasonal change than a palette shift. And although we may not have a white holiday approaching, there is a lot to look for as fall turns to winter.
In our Golden Gate National Parks, we see many signs of seasonal change. As autumn winds down and winter settles in, rain allows us to start planting. These showers and our generally frost-free winters make this time of year perfect for taking plants from our nurseries and settling them into the wild outdoors. In our parks, from November to January, you may spot staff and volunteers putting new plants in the ground. This year, orange flags will often mark newly planted plants.
This time of year also marks the beginning of the California red-legged frog breeding season. During this time, males congregate in groups and “croak” to try to attract females. These sounds are described as a series of grunts followed by a growl. For the best stereophonic experience, head to Mori Point in San Mateo County and listen for these mating calls!
Up in Marin, we see signs of the season as well. You may be just lucky enough to see coho salmon, as they return from the ocean to spawn in their freshwater home streams! The eggs they lay during this time will hatch later in winter. Head to Redwood Creek at Muir Woods this December to January to welcome the salmon back from their sojourn in the sea.
At Lands End in San Francisco, look to the shore for the ancient murrelet. These birds spend most of their time along the Canadian coast, but during the coldest months some migrate south—as far as the southern border of California! Murrelets belong to the Alcidae family, which also includes puffins. They are the only species in this family that raises its offspring entirely in the water!
On land, you may see a merlin, which breeds in Canada during the summer but can be found in local bayland, grassland, and even urban forests during the winter months. These adaptable falcons can make use of many different winter habitats as long as there are flocks of sparrows or shorebirds nearby.
Though we cannot expect snow during the holiday months here in the Bay Area, there are an abundance of signs of the season. Put on your raincoat and head to the Golden Gate National Parks to see what nature is doing this time of year!
By Hope Freije
Park Stewardship Community Programs Intern