Nineteen people met at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation Headquarters to celebrate World Wetlands Day by paddling on the Laguna de Santa Rosa on February 2, 2016.
Led by Laguna Foundation staff including Anita Smith, Wendy Trowbridge, Hattie Brown and Maggie Hart we paddled out on the seasonal lake that floods over agricultural fields adjacent to the Laguna’s main channel just north of Sebastopol.
The 22 mile long Laguna de Santa Rosa is the Russian River’s largest tributary. The Laguna, as locals call it, is the main artery of a 254 square mile watershed that encompasses most of the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati, Rohnert Park, and Windsor.
For people who live in Sonoma County, the Laguna is an important region of “nearby nature.” Sadly, most of the Laguna is held in private ownership instead of the public commons, where, frankly, it belongs.
Public access points to the Laguna are hard to find. Even public views of it are scarce. For these reasons far too few people are aware of its rich diversity of plant and animal life. The mission of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is to to restore and conserve the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and to inspire public appreciation of this Wetland of International Importance.
Usually, the best way to see wildlife is to go solo, slowly, and quietly (the Estuarian’s usual way) so I was surprised by how much we saw and pleased to share a few of the photographs taken that morning.
On this trip, however, our group was joined by dignitaries including the Mayor of Sebastopol, several Sebastopol City Planning Commissioners, and other people of note.
Among the first notable birds we saw was a highlight, albeit distant. Although we were quite far away, Anita spotted this lone bald eagle perched atop an oak tree along the southern edge of Delta Pond. We got a better look at it when, a few moments later, it flew off to the northwest towards the Russian River.
Swimming in the water below the eagle was a lone white pelican. Several paddlers noted that it’s not common to see a white pelican by itself. They’re usually seen in groups and they fish cooperatively.
We paddled north towards the Russian River into the narrowing main channel. With the water level at approximately 57 feet above sea level willows crowded the banks of the channel forcing us to thread our boats between low overhanging branches.
We passed by almost a dozen vultures assembled in a tree awaiting their turn at whatever it was they were eating on the ground below.
A little farther downstream, a kingfisher perched nearby in the tangle of branches.
We had hoped to paddle to the confluence of Santa Rosa Creek, but Anita determined it would be too difficult on this day. We paddled south, back upstream through the channel and back into the “lake” where we started. We made our return trip along the western shore of this seasonal lake near Sebastopol. A group of great egrets were walking along the shore near the Gallo Wetlands area, presumably feeding on small land animals (worms, insects, isopods) displaced by the floodwaters.
Some of the first laws to protect birds were enacted to protect the Great Egret which had been hunted nearly to extinction more than 100 years ago. People killed them for their white feathers which in the nineteenth century were popular adornments for hats.
No trip on wetlands would be complete without a seeing a heron or two. This great blue heron obligingly posed for the camera.
A black crowned night heron was a lot less obliging. In fact he or she was so hard to see that I don’t know for sure it was, in fact, a black crowned night heron.
As the excursion came near an end, an interesting sky appeared overhead.
Two hours passed quickly on the water. A little before noon we paddled back to the field from which we launched our splendid trip.
Link for more information about the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation
Link to water gauge that indicates: How much water is in the Laguna for paddling. A reading of more than 60 feet is ideal.