Bay Nature

Bay Nature in 2020

December 21, 2020

In just a few days, we’ll print our 80th issue of Bay Nature magazine, marking 20 years of publishing one of the country’s only regional nature magazines. If we ever worried about running out of stories to cover, 2020 has disabused us of the notion. From San Francisco’s first fully dry February since 1864 to pandemic park closures to long-overdue social justice reckonings in environmental organizations to lightning-sparked megafires to the announcement in December of the near extinction of the western migratory monarch butterfly, it has been a year of nonstop nature news. We also found nature moments to celebrate: elephant seals returning from the brink, the rugged terrain of the remote Diablo Range, blue whales gathering in record numbers at the Farallon Islands, salmon returning to the Guadalupe River, the beautiful geometry of short-eared owls, neighborhood birders forming new connections and powering through 2020 with binoculars in hand.

We published more than 130 articles in print and online this year, and before we recap a few of our top stories, we want to also take a moment to appreciate you, the reader. This has been as challenging a year as we’ve ever faced at Bay Nature, and paradoxically, it’s also been our most successful year ever. Our web traffic, magazine subscriptions, and social media reach are all the highest they’ve ever been. None of that happens without people who read, share our stories, and tell their friends about Bay Nature. As we officially mark our 20th year of publication in January, thank you for being part of this community.

Here are some of the top stories we published in 2020. We hope they’ll stick with you still, and into the new year:

Meet The Deep-Diving, Ear-Splitting 4,500-Pound Rock Star of Año Nuevo

male elephant seals
Photo by Sally Rae Kimmel

Elephant seals nearly went extinct, and then, as they recovered, became among the most-studied of all marine mammals. Now, reporter Kat McGown found, scientists know that elephant seals are among the most extreme animals on earth. What we don’t know is whether that will be enough to help them survive the extreme change that’s headed their way.

The Beautiful Geometry of Short-Eared Owls

owls at play
Photo by Steve Lefkovits

Nature photographer Steve Lefkovits spent three months last winter in pursuit of the right angle on the short-eared owls of the San Francisco Bay. This beautiful photo essay only makes it look easy.

Tending the Wild at Skyline Gardens

cobwebby thistle
Photo by Ken Hickman

The 25-year restoration of Skyline Gardens, a mile-long connector trail in the East Bay hills, has been a resounding success. Naturalist and writer Ken-ichi Ueda wonders: what do you call a place when you can’t tell anymore what’s wild and what’s planted?

Dolphins and Porpoises Return to the Bay

dolphins in the Bay
Photo by Bill Keener, The Marine Mammal Center

Michael Ellis has written his Ask the Naturalist column in every single issue of Bay Nature. This summer he answered a question about dolphins and porpoises in the San Francisco Bay — one of the region’s many good-news nature stories.

Lord of the Flies

Graphic and fly photos by Eric Simons

Bay Nature digital editor Eric Simons sheltered in place this spring in his garden, along with a great many flies. Over time he learned to coax predatory tiger flies onto his finger, thence to carry them around looking for flying prey. And he came to see why fly researchers call their subjects “the most amazing things in the universe.”

Y tú, de dónde eres?

Ciudad Juarez
Photo by Jorge Ramos

This beautiful short essay, based on a talk environmental scientist Jorge Ramos gave at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, maps out a journey familiar to anyone who’s ever learned something about nature and then seen the entire world through new eyes.

What I Carry on an Outdoor Adventure

girlventures in castle rock
Photo by Eileen Roche, courtesy Girl Ventures

Outdoor educator Narinda Heng writes about what people bring with them when they go outdoors. As she’s learned over the years, it’s not about gear. “I’ve come to see my work as an act toward healing the inherited trauma of war,” she says, “and toward participating in further healing and solidarity across identities.”

Wildfire, Like Lightning, Can Strike Twice

Photo by Steve Pye

When Lisa Micheli, the president and CEO of Pepperwood Preserve, woke up to the flash of lightning in mid-August, she thought: but lightning doesn’t happen here. As lightning-sparked fires burned across the Bay Area, Micheli wrote about what good our old understanding of “normal” does us now, and what we’ll need to do to find some measure of resilience in the future.

“Now is a Good Time to Hold Up a Mirror”

Photo by Inga Gezalian on Unsplash

While some Bay Area conservation groups have made strides in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion goals, many organizations, especially larger ones, continue to be overwhelmingly white. Writer Tamara Sherman reports on what people of color working in conservation say needs to change.

Birding Through 2020

Amani Dunham
Photo by Robert Houser

As legions of birders old and new found in 2020, and as Marissa Ortega-Welch writes in our fall magazine, “paying attention to birds has gotten me through this pandemic.” Meet some of the people who’ve bonded over birds to make it through a tough year.

Flying in for the Crow Funeral

Photo by ouzel, iNaturalist CC-BY

Crows hold distinct funerals for their dead, gathering around the deceased bird, alternating between cawing and quiet, and then dispersing. Journalist Anne Marshall-Chalmers reports on the scientists who say crow funerals are more than just fascinating animal behavior — and might tell us more about ourselves.

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