• |
  • October 21, 2019

Closeup of the white ghost plant - © Keir Morse, all rights reserved

In the “spirit” of the season, we wanted to highlight one of CNDDB’s spookiest species. Imagine wandering along a dark and secluded trail in the forest, a dense canopy of trees above you. You see a white patch on the ground out of the corner of your eye – is it a ghost? Sort of! Monotropa uniflora, a member of the Ericaceae family, is known by the common names ghost pipe, ghost plant, or Indian pipe.

As one might suspect from its ghostly pallor, these plants do not contain chlorophyll and therefore cannot produce their own nutrients. M. uniflora is a mycoheterotroph; they are parasites on underground fungi. In turn, these fungi obtain their nutrients by forming mycorrhizal relationships with tree roots, which means that there is a mutually beneficial exchange of resources between the fungi and tree roots. Therefore, M. uniflora plants are indirectly taking their nutrients from the nearby trees by stealing them from the fungi they are parasitizing. Since M. uniflora does not require direct sunlight and is closely associated with trees, it can be found in dark areas of the forest understory.

Although M. uniflora is widespread through much of Northern America, it is considered rare in California with a California Rare Plant Rank of 2B.2. Currently there are 100 occurrences of this species in CNDDB, all of which are restricted to the far northern coast of California in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. While M. uniflora populations tend to occur in remote and unpopulated areas, this does not mean they are immune to human-caused threats and disturbances. Due to the preference for forested habitats, the primary threat to M. uniflora in California is timber harvest operations.

If you happen to catch a glimpse of this elusive specter in California, don’t forget to submit your observation using the Online Field Survey Form!

Photo credit: Keir Morse

  • |
  • October 16, 2019

The quarterly update of the Barred Owl Observations Database is available in the BIOS Viewer for CNDDB subscribers. The barred owl database includes barred owl (Strix varia), Strix hybrid, and unknown Strix detections.

Many of the records represent incidental detections made during spotted owl surveys; therefore, this dataset may not accurately represent the current distribution of barred owls in California. Furthermore, this dataset is only available to CNDDB subscribers because it contains references to sensitive spotted owl locations. A public version will be available in the future.

For a copy of the geodatabase or for site-specific inquiries, contact the database manager at

Screenshot of BIOS mapping application displaying the barred owl dataset

  • |
  • October 10, 2019

Fall is officially here! The California heat is dying down and the fall transition is starting, which means many native species are preparing for the winter months to come. This transition period can create photo and observation opportunities that aren’t available year-round. Here are our favorite photos from September!

Smith's blue butterfly on seaside buckwheat - © Patrick Scott, all rights reserved

Euphilotes enoptes smithi – Smith’s blue butterfly

Submitted by Patrick Scott – California Department of Transportation

This male Smith’s blue butterfly was spotted posing on some seaside buckwheat on the coast of Monterey County. Smith’s blue butterflies start to emerge in the late summer and early fall to mate specifically on two buckwheat species, seaside buckwheat and seacliff buckwheat. They carry out their entire lives within a couple hundred yards of these buckwheat species! This butterfly has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1976. A large reason for their decline is habitat loss due to development, invasive plants, and livestock grazing. We always enjoy seeing endangered species such as the Smith’s blue butterfly fighting against all odds and reproducing in their native habitats. Thank you, Patrick, for this beautiful photo!

White bear poppy - © Kristin Forgrave , all rights reserved

Arctomecon merriamii – white bear poppy

Submited by Kristin Forgrave

This delightful perennial was found along the Tetracoccus Ridge in Death Valley National Park. It is listed as a 2B.2 (rare or endangered in California, common elsewhere) in the California Rare Plant Ranking system. Arctomecon merriamii can also be found in Nevada where it is considered vulnerable. In California, it is commonly found in rocky areas of chenopod scrub, or Mojavean desert scrub. Having missed the April to May flowering period, it is no surprise we see the fruiting bodies on this individual. Thank you, Kristin, for the hard work you do and the amazing photos you provide!

Do you have some great photos of rare plants or wildlife detections? Submit them along with your findings through our Online Field Survey Form and see if your photos get showcased!

  • |
  • October 7, 2019

Number of Element Occurrences in Current Distribution: 93,915
Number of Element Occurrences Added Since Last Distribution: 224
Number of Element Occurrences Updated Since Last Distribution: 262
Number of Source Documents Added: 2,608

Species we’ve been working on:


  • Caulanthus lemmonii (Lemmon’s jewelflower)
  • Ceanothus cyaneus (Lakeside ceanothus)
  • Chloropyron maritimum ssp. palustre (Point Reyes salty bird's-beak)
  • Chorizanthe aphanantha (Irish Hills spineflower)
  • Cirsium fontinale var. obispoense (Chorro Creek bog thistle)
  • Crossosoma californicum (Catalina crossosoma)
  • Delphinium bakeri (Baker’s larkspur)
  • Erythronium revolutum (coast fawn lily)
  • Horkelia hispidula (White Mountains horkelia)
  • Isocoma menziesii var. decumbens (decumbent goldenbush)
  • Silene serpentinicola (serpentine catchfly)


  • Ambystoma californiense (California tiger salamander)
  • Athene cunicularia (burrowing owl)
  • Buteo swainsoni (Swainsons hawk)
  • Emys marmorata (Western pond turtle)
  • Erethizon dorsatum (porcupine)
  • Gambelia sila (blunt-nosed leopard lizard)
  • Gopherus agassizii (desert tortoise)
  • Pekania pennantii (fisher)
  • Phrynosoma blainvillii (coast horned lizard)
  • Polioptila californica californica (California gnatcatcher)
  • Rana aurora (northern red-legged frog)
  • Rana draytonii (CA red-legged frog)
  • Spea hammondii (western spadefoot)

  • |
  • October 6, 2019

Badger at a burrow

October 6 marks National Badger Day! Well, technically, this is only an official event in Britain. CNDDB decided the celebration should be extended 120° to the west.

Fuzzy creatures snuggled up in warm burrows? Bumbling traffic hazards? Cunning predators? Yes, Taxidea taxus, the American badger, can be seen as any of these things.

Badgers are found throughout much of North America and are known from every county in California. They are most commonly found in treeless habitats with sandy soil suitable for burrowing. Badgers need large areas for foraging. An individual’s home range may extend over hundreds of acres.

A flexible predator, the badger is most often nocturnal but may also be active in the daytime. While rodents are their primary prey, they also hunt reptiles, birds, and insects. Badgers don't always hunt alone; pairs of badgers and coyotes have been documented cooperating as a hunting party. That’s a tag team of intelligent predators with complementary skill sets.

The American badger is a California Species of Special Concern because habitat conversion has significantly reduced California's badger population. The CNDDB includes over 500 badger occurrences across the state. Since they are most active during dark hours, sadly many of California’s badger records are based on roadkills. While a highway doesn’t provide ideal habitat for a badger, it is still important to document their presence within a landscape. We encourage you to report any badger detections (alive or dead) through our Online Field Survey Form.

Badger with young

  • |
  • September 26, 2019

by Brian Acord

Vesper sparrow, likely affinis, photographed by Chris Conard at Folsom Point, Folsom Lake, Sacramento County, September 22, 2014
Vesper sparrow, likely affinis, photographed by Chris Conard at Folsom Point, Folsom Lake, Sacramento County, 9/2014
Vesper sparrow, likely affinis, photographed by Chris Conard along Meiss Road, Sacramento County, November 11, 2014
Vesper sparrow, likely affinis, photographed by Chris Conard along Meiss Road, Sacramento County, 11/2014

The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are gradually decreasing. Most biologists are wrapping up their field seasons and getting ready to compile their data and draft their reports. I’m sure some folks welcome the change of season and the change of pace, yet others long for the pursuit of discovering that rare species. Whereas most species tracked by CNDDB are targeted during the spring and summer months, there are some feathered friends who make California their winter retreat. One such species is the Oregon vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus affinis): a California Bird Species of Special Concern (BSSC) and a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in the current State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). These rankings may offer potential opportunities for funding under the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program for research and monitoring.

Vesper sparrows are a medium to large sparrow with a complete white eye-ring, white outer tail feathers, and a rufous shoulder patch (lesser wing coverts). Its scientific name should be familiar to botanists, taken directly from its habit: Pooecetes is Latin from the Greek poa, oiketes, meaning grass dweller and gramineus is Latin referring to grass (Terres 1995). Vesper sparrows are often found skulking around, foraging for invertebrates and seeds in open lowland areas with short grass, or stubble fields with sparse shrubs for retreat.

One of the challenges of monitoring Oregon vesper sparrows is differentiating them from all the other “little brown jobs” overwintering in California, and especially from the other vesper sparrow subspecies, the Great Basin vesper sparrow (P. g. confinis). The Oregon vesper sparrow breeds primarily in Washington and Oregon west of the Cascade Mountains, and winters in the Central Valley. The Great Basin vesper sparrow breeds in California on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but also winters in the Central Valley as well as portions of southern California. Yes, it’s probably close to impossible to reliably separate these two subspecies by sight alone. This is acknowledged in the Bird Species of Special Concern research recommendations, which identified the need to better define the wintering range of the affinis subspecies. It’s possible this might be achieved by combining standardized winter grassland surveys with a method such as banding that allows for subspecies differentiation. According to Pyle (1997), affinis is generally smaller than confinis and can be separated morphometrically. In order to ensure appropriate winter habitat is preserved, it first must be accurately identified though systematic surveys. This, combined with mark and recapture studies, may help identify the degree of site fidelity on both the wintering and breeding grounds, and pave the way for further physiological, behavioral, and genetic studies.

Comparison of wing and tail size (mm) between the smaller P. g. affinis and larger P. g. confinis (Pyle 1997)
Subspecies Wing Tail
P. g. affinis, Oregon - Male 73-81 52-62
P. g. affinis, Oregon - Female 71-77 51-59
P. g. confinis, Great Basin - Male 78-87 62-70
P. g. confinis, Great Basin - Female 75-84 58-67

The Oregon vesper sparrow has been listed as Endangered in Canada since 2006 (link opens in new windowCOSEWIC 2006). Despite targeted surveys, no breeding attempts have been confirmed in Canada since 2014 (link opens in new windowCOSEWIC 2018). The subspecies is in danger of being extirpated from Washington due to habitat loss and degradation (link opens in new windowWDFW 2015). In Oregon, the Oregon vesper sparrow is classified as “Sensitive – Critical” meaning that if immediate conservation actions are not taken, listing as Threatened or Endangered would be appropriate (link opens in new windowODFW 2016). In the late 1970s a breeding population of the Oregon vesper sparrow was discovered in the far northern coastal dune system in Del Norte County, California (link opens in new windowErickson 2008). However, no vesper sparrows were found in this area during surveys conducted in 2016 (link opens in new windowAmerican Bird Conservancy 2017).

Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to list the Oregon vesper sparrow as Threatened or Endangered (link opens in new windowAmerican Bird Conservancy 2017). The Service agreed that the petitioned action may be warranted citing the following threats: habitat loss primarily from development, conversion to agriculture and vineyards, and grazing; habitat degradation from invasive shrubs; and establishment of non-native grasses replacing short-statured grasses and forbs (link opens in new windowUSFWS 2018a, link opens in new windowUSFWS 2018b).

Map of possible vesper sparrow distribution by species - click to enlarge in new window
Map of possible vesper sparrow distribution by species

One might wonder, what does all of this have to do with California? While the core breeding areas of the Oregon vesper sparrow include the western portions of Washington and Oregon, it is thought to overwinter almost entirely in California (link opens in new windowAOU 1957 [the last AOU list to include subspecies], link opens in new windowKing 1968, link opens in new windowErickson 2008 (PDF)). For this unique subspecies to persist it needs safe and appropriate overwintering habitat in addition to its northern breeding grounds. Within California, its overwintering areas are subject to the same threats as its breeding grounds: loss of relatively open, flat ground at low elevations due to development and conversion to agriculture (link opens in new windowErickson 2008 (PDF)).

In short, if you’re seeking a challenging winter project, look no further than the Oregon vesper sparrow in California. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are interested in your sightings of overwintering Oregon vesper sparrows, and the best way to document your detections is through the link opens in new windowCNDDB Online Field Survey web application.

References and Resources

Photo credit: Chris Conard is a Natural Resource Specialist for the County of Sacramento, Coordinator & compiler for the Folsom Christmas Bird Count, Board member of the Central Valley Bird Club, eBird Regional Reviewer and Hotspot Editor for Sacramento County, and influential member of Sacramento Audubon Society.

  • |
  • September 23, 2019

Creekside Science staff monitoring San Mateo thorn-mint
Photo Credit: Christal Niederer. Caption: Creekside Science staff monitoring San Mateo thorn-mint.

Field biologist Christal Niederer is proof that many paths lead to careers in conservation science. Christal’s first career and degree were in journalism. She recalls: “I was working in book publishing at a beautiful building that backed up to open space. Bobcats, deer, and brush rabbits would come right up to the window. I finally realized I wanted to be outside where they were! I made the switch and never regretted it.”

Christal has worked at Bay Area-based environmental consulting firm Creekside Science since 2005. She helped the firm’s founder and chief scientist, Dr. Stuart Weiss, grow the business to where it soon supported full time staff. Creekside Science’s five scientists work on projects ranging from rare plant surveys to restoration. Bay checkerspot butterfly reintroduction and monitoring are key components of the firm's work.

Currently, Christal is most proud of Creekside Science’s San Mateo thorn-mint (Acanthomintha duttonii) recovery project. “When I started working on this project in 2007, there was only one known location of this tiny annual forb, which dipped down to 249 individuals in 2008. It could have so easily blinked out, but with help from a huge host of partners (USFWS, CDFW, San Mateo County Parks, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Friends of Edgewood, UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, Yerba Bioadvocacy, and many others) there are now six extant locations, with about 25,000 wild individuals counted this year. I truly believe if nobody had taken this on, the plant would soon be extinct. Passive recruitment at some of my sites is really high and it’s just so exciting to watch these plants thrive in the right spot.”

Christal contributes regularly to the CNDDB, especially in association with Creekside Science’s reintroduction projects. “It feels good to know you’re the current expert on a particular occurrence, especially if you’ve led a project to reestablish that taxon. Having your report change the occurrence from ‘presumed extirpated’ to ‘extant’ feels really good. I’m always amazed how much information is in the CNDDB when I need to look something up. We’re all so lucky to have this resource, and we need to take the time to keep it current.”

Don’t wait—take time today to link opens in new windowsubmit your field data to CNDDB and help us keep this resource up-to-date!

  • |
  • September 16, 2019

left: western spadefoot adult; right: closeup of the back foot
Left: Western spadefoot (Spea hammondii) adult; Right: The “spade” on its back foot.

Today we explore the spadefoot an amorphously shaped creature with bulging eyes and catlike vertical pupils. California is home to three species of spadefoot toads: Couch's spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchii), western spadefoot (Spea hammondii), and Great Basin spadefoot (Spea intermontana). Though commonly referred to as toads, spadefoots are not considered “true toads” since they lack parotoid glands behind their eyes. Spadefoots are named after the harden black "spade” on their back feet used for digging burrows in the soil. They typically spend most of their lives underground and emerge to breed in ponds.

The CNDDB tracks two of the species, Couch’s and western, and both are a California species of special concern. Western spadefoots are found in the Central Valley and along the south coast. They frequently breed in temporary ponds, such as vernal pools, that are formed by winter rains. Couch’s spadefoot ranges in the desert throughout the southwestern United States and occur in the southeastern corner of California. They are triggered by summer monsoon rain events to emerge and breed in rain-filled pools. This species is adapted to extremely dry conditions, and tadpoles are known to metamorphose within 8 days in a race against evaporation!

These squishy and soft friends protect themselves by secreting toxins that make them unpalatable to predators. There have been accounts that adult western spadefoot secretions smell like peanut butter, but don’t spread them on toast! Spadefoot secretions are known to cause eye irritation and runny noses in humans, so keep that in mind if you come across one. If it is a western spadefoot or Couch's spadefoot, be sure to share your findings with us through our Online Field Survey Form.

  • |
  • September 9, 2019

Number of Element Occurrences in Current Distribution: 93,733
Number of New Element Occurrences Added Since Last Distribution: 233
Number of Element Occurrences Updated Since Last Distribution: 220
Number of Source Documents Added: 1,363

Taxa we've been working on:


  • Caulanthus californicus (California jewelflower)
  • Ceanothus cyaneus (Lakeside ceanothus)
  • Ceanothus impressus var. impressus (Santa Barbara ceanothus)
  • Chlorogalum purpureum var. reductum (Camatta Canyon amole)
  • Clarkia jolonensis (Jolon clarkia)
  • Eremalche parryi ssp. kernensis (Kern mallow)
  • Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii (San Diego button-celery)
  • Isocoma menziesii var. decumbens (decumbent goldenbush)
  • Monardella stoneana (Jennifer's monardella)
  • Monolopia congdonii (San Joaquin woollythreads)
  • Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei (Bakersfield cactus)
  • Piperia candida (white-flowered rein orchid)
  • Sidalcea keckii (Keck’s checkerbloom)
  • Sidalcea malviflora ssp. patula (Siskiyou checkerbloom)


  • Ambystoma californiense (California tiger salamander)
  • Callophrys mossii marinensis (Marin elfin butterfly)
  • Erethizon dorsatum (porcupine)
  • Gambelia sila (blunt-nosed leopard lizard)
  • Pandion haliaetus (osprey)
  • Polioptila californica californica (coastal California gnatcatcher)
  • Prosopium williamsoni (mountain whitefish)
  • Rana boylii (foothill yellow-legged frog)
  • Rana draytonii (red-legged frog)
  • Spea hammondii (western spadefoot)

  • |
  • September 5, 2019

Collage of California's biodiversity
CDFW photos by Annie Chang, Tammy Dong, Katie Ferguson, and Rachel Powell

September 7, 2019 is the first official California Biodiversity Day! This day was created to celebrate the unique biodiversity of California, as well as promoting ways to protect it. Are you interested in participating in this celebration? There are several events that are taking place over the weekend that you can join. Go out and explore the wilderness! If you find any link opens in new windowplants (PDF) or link opens in new windowanimals (PDF) that we track, let us know via our Online Field Survey Form.

CNDDB logo

Sign up to receive CNDDB News updates by email.