Salamanders in California

It’s supposed to rain across much of California on Sunday, meaning it’s a perfect time to break out the rain gear and start looking for newts and salamanders. Unfortunately, the places where I would normally go in San Mateo Co. are under a flash flood watch this weekend (they were all part of the CZU complex burn area, and the burned area is particularly vulnerable to washing out at the moment, so it’s probably not a good idea to go there during heavy rain until it’s had more time to recover). I’ve already looked at observation clusters on the map to try to find other areas where I might find some salamanders, but if anyone’s got some personal experience or suggestions on specific places to look, I’d love to hear it.

Here in Sonoma County, the property of the closed Sonoma Developmental Center has great salamanders and much of it is always open to the public.

For Sonoma County, in the Austin Creek area I’ve often come across mating balls of orange bellied newts, and when the oyster mushrooms are fruiting I’ve found large numbers of them near older mushrooms eating larvae and insects.

Schoolhouse Creek before it meets with Gilliam Creek is especially good for that in my experience.

Unfortunately, I think the Austin Creek area is still closed due to damage incurred in the LNU Lightning Complex Fire.

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Hmmm, I see quite a few observations at the Sonoma Valley Regional Park nearby and the Sonoma Ecology Center as well.

Edit: Oh, I found a map of the SDC land. It looks like there are adjoining trails between it and the SV Regional Park, and Jack London SHP. This does look like a good area to explore. Thanks so much for the tip!

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While I’d love to explore there at some point, it is indeed closed. I think the flash flood risk is probably fairly high there as well.

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How far would you go? Sanborn County Park, 2 miles above Saratoga village, used to be a pretty good place to find newts and other salamanders. There are two ponds next to the Rangers quarters and old YSI Nature Center (which is most likely closed now). Also, a small lake further up the road, following Lake Ranch Trail, that used to have lots of amphibian activity. And, a pond next to Walden West Outdoor school. There are any number of small creeks throughout Sanborn Park, though many went pretty dry last year.

I’m used to driving quite a distance, even just for day trips, and Sanborn Co. Park is actually slightly closer than the places I’d normally go in San Mateo Co. (Butano State Park is one of my favorite spots, but it was hit quite hard in the fires and it’s one of the areas under flash flood watches for this weekend). It looks like a good suggestion, too. Thanks!


This shows iNat’s last 2 years of salamander history in Sanborn. Even though it doesn’t show much around Lake Ranch, I’ve seen mating masses in the water there in years past. But, the existence of the Lake Ranch Trail was kind of not known to many. If one drives farther up Sanborn Road (passed the park entrance) there is a small parking area when the road ends and a trailhead leading to Lake Ranch on the right side of the road. It is steep in places, but that’s a bit of a shortcut to get to the lake. OTOH, there are easy-to reach creeks and ponds around the park headquarters, camp grounds, and Walden West outdoor school. They used to be teaming with newts and some salamanders back when I worked there from 2006-2011. Not sure what it may be like now.

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Thanks for the suggestions, but the rain’s a little more intense than I was hoping today. News reports are warning of flooding and damages and not just in the burn scar areas, so it looks like I’ll be staying home. Here’s a picture from the last time I went hiking in the rain, though. Found this little California slender salamander along the tall trees grove trail in Redwoods Nat’l Park. Named him/her ‘slim smiley’

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Yes, salamanders have the sweetest little smile faces. I love newts very much. Sanborn is getting just drenched (as we all are). WunderMap shows the rain there as 1.78 inches and it’s not even noon yet.

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