Pliny 2.0

Natural History Encyclopedia 2.0

Skilton's Skink

The brilliant blue tail of a Skilton's Skink has baffled many a hiker and cyclist. Photo by Gary Nafis.

You’re walking along the tranquil trails of a pristine state park, deciding whether to partake of a Clif bar or a banana, when it happens. Rustling leaves catch you off guard. First thought: rattlesnake? A flash of electric blue, just within your peripheral, is all the more confusing.

Brandt's Cormorants

A sleek black bird with a long neck and a dark, hooked bill, the Brandt's cormorant spruces up during breeding season with brilliant turquoise eyes, a cobalt-blue throat pouch trimmed in yellow and thin, white plumes on its face and back.

Acorn Woodpeckers

Acorn woodpeckers: industrious hoarders, group breeders. Photo by Linda Tanner on Creative Commons.

A splash of red or a flurry of black and white accompanied by a riotous, medium-pitched waka-waka call in a western oak forest between Oregon and Central Mexico likely means that you have happened upon the astonishing acorn woodpecker.

Brown Pelicans

brown pelican

Spotting fish from 10, 30, even 100 feet in the air, a pelican will angle its head left (to protect the trachea and esophagus) and plummet, protected from harm by internal air sacs. Hitting the water with frightening percussion, it stuns small fish like menhaden, mullet, and anchovies swimming as far as 6 feet beneath the surface.

Coast Redwoods

Photo credit: Paul Hamilton/Creative Commons.

If you were to strap on climbing gear and make your way up the tallest tree in the world, it would be like scaling a 35-story building. Seasoned window washers on skyscrapers might not think the 370-plus-foot coast redwood so high, but they may be surprised at what they’d find near its crown: soil, huckleberry, crickets, salamanders, seabirds and flying squirrels.

Sea Otters

A sea otter nurses a pup. Photo by Mike Baird/Creative Commons.

The quintessential fuzzy-faced marine mammals, sea otters give humanity more than just a photographic souvenir. They’re like canaries in the proverbial coal mine—harbingers of ocean health.

Risso's Dolphins

The characteristic blunt head and body scars of a Risso's dolphin are on display in this specimen. Photo by Mike Baird.

Snubnose, Gray porpoise, Whitehead Grampus, Bean Pot. These monikers all describe the same whitish-gray dolphin found off continental shelves worldwide, the Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus).

Harbor Seal

Closeup of a spotted harbor seal on a rock. Photo credit: Marcel Burkhard/Creative Commons.

Curious harbor seals are sociable in the ocean, where their grace and speed shines. These friendly overtures belie their shy nature ashore, where their mobility is limited to an undulating belly-flop.

California Sea Lion

A sea lion sunning herself on a rock with the pacific ocean in the background. Photo credit: Lisa Andres/Creative Commons.

Whether waddling about the beach or leaping in aerial displays, California sea lions are expert entertainers. Unlike seals, sea lions have long, strong foreflippers and can rotate their rear flippers forward to stroll along on land.

Humpback Whale

Humpbacks are the acrobats of the cetacean world. Photo by Doug Perrine.

Real-life sirens of the sea, humpback whales boast some of the longest and most rhythmically diverse songs in the animal kingdom, surpassing the vocal ranges of any other whale in haunting performances that can be heard 20 miles away.