Science and Nature

Connect With Nature from Your Home

A social distancing-approved reading list and other indoor nature activities

March 18, 2020

The world seems to be moving awfully fast right now. It’s hard to believe that beyond the headlines the natural world continues around us, more or less unaware of the human challenges unfolding. The wildflowers bloom and the birds sing. The creeks flow again with much-needed rain.

While you can still visit many nature parks, we wanted to offer some ways to stay connected to nature without leaving your home.

Help Identify Species on iNaturalist. Or Better Learn the Species You Live With.

With park closures and social distancing restrictions, it’s harder than usual to be a citizen scientist in the outdoors. But iNaturalist has literally thousands of photo observations from the Bay Area alone that could use identification, and you can often learn as much from the identifying as you can from the observing. Go to and add a filter for “Location: Greater Bay Area” and you can see everything that needs an ID in our region. 

There’s also a great project on iNaturalist called Never Home Alone, which asks people to document the wild creatures living with them in their houses — the “great indoors,” as the project puts it. You can add observations here. What’s sharing your home? 

Track the Weather

atmospheric river visualization
A visualization created with shows an atmospheric river stretching across the Pacific Ocean to land in California in February 2015.

There’s almost no better way to understand the vast physical processes that connect our world than to follow the daily changes in the weather. Ditch your phone’s default weather app — they’re inaccurate at best — and plug into the big picture: the ebb and flow of the hemisphere-spanning atmospheric patterns and trans-oceanic moisture rivers that determine what the sky looks like out your window. For the Bay Area a great place to start is the technical discussion published 4-5 times daily by the National Weather Service office in Monterey. It’s accessible reading and comes with highlighted explanations for technical terms.

Or read the latest on the California Weather Blog, and check in with the lively comment section for the latest in what’s happening in the long-term “fantasyland.” 

Count Birds out the Window

If you’re lucky enough to have a window on the outdoors, make time to watch the birds. There are numerous free phone apps that will help you ID what you see. The Merlin app from Cornell asks simple questions about size, color, and behavior, then generates a list of likely candidates based on your location. If you have a camera, add your observations to a citizen science platform like eBird or iNaturalist. (Or both.)

Browse the Bay Nature Archives

moonglow anemone
(Photo by Jerry Kirkhart, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0)

Our motto here is “understand everything better.” We really believe that a better understanding of the natural world means a better understanding of everything around us. To that end, we’ve curated a list here of some of our favorite stories from the archive — distractions, explanations, or just amusements — that we hope will leave you just a little more engaged with, inspired by, or just amazed by the world around you:

Identifying with Lichen

This is the lichen world’s version of Theseus’s paradox: Is an object that has had every part removed and replaced the same object?

How People Saved the Seabirds of the California Current

The birds of upwelling current systems around the world are in danger. Except in California. How did that come to be?

The Eye of the Sea Star

We’re used to bodies having front and back, top and bottom, left and right. But as some common California tidepool creatures show, there’s a totally different way of living.

Discover the Rare Blooms of Huckleberry Preserve in the East Bay Hills

Photo by Stephanie Penn

To examine the white bud pads of the western leatherwood plant, Iowa State professor of horticulture William Graves once wrote, is “almost like staring into a starry night sky.” See them with photographer Stephanie Penn’s innovative work.

Meet a Butterfly Illustrator and His Three-Year Project to Paint the Gossamer Wings

Bay Area lepidopterist and artist Liam O’Brien explains the world of butterflies in the “gossamer wings” family.

There are So Many Scorpions

And the Bay Area’s most common species is smaller than your pinkie, has a sting milder than a honeybee’s, is so shy it only hunts on moonless nights and even then is most often seen running away.

Meet the Urban Osprey

It’s a little bit punk. A little bit geeky. … And then it goes hunting.

At a Snail’s Place

Illustration by Rachel Diaz-Bastin

How the range of a common sea snail explains the underlying logic of the universe.

Ant Wars

How do you win a land war in Woodside?

Acorn Woodpeckers in Five Acts

A tragicomedy of avian proportions.

Disrupt the Street Tree

Why does everything in Silicon Valley look the same? Maybe it’s not the architecture but the landscaping.

Orcas of the Pacific Coast

Our growing understanding of orca “ecotypes” — bolstered by recent advances in research  — has been a major key to unlocking the mystery of the killer whales of the eastern North Pacific.

Urban Tree Camping: A Bed of Boughs in a City of Lights

Illustration by Nicole Wong

“I’d wander San Francisco, neighborhood to neighborhood, park to park, paying attention to trees. I’d pay attention to ants and squirrels and clouds and my own shifting thoughts as well, but mostly I’d focus on the trees. When I found one I liked, probably a big one, I’d climb it, string the hammock as high as I could, and lose myself in the dreamy sway and drifty weave of green smells, green sounds, green moods.”

How to Meet a Flower

Looking to learn more about wildflowers this spring? Consider introducing yourself first.

They Can’t Stand Air or Water. They Live Exposed to Both. How do Tidepool Creatures Survive?

The tiniest advantage allows intertidal organisms to thrive despite the apparent paradox of their living arrangement.

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