Ninth Street Rookery

One of the members in the California Certified Naturalist class told us of a rookery on West Ninth Street in Santa Rosa. She said that it was one of her favorite places to watch birds in Santa Rosa.

Early this afternoon I hopped on my trusty bike and pedaled east across the Laguna to West Santa Rosa to have a look.

Biking to the Rookery 6:6:16

One would not expect to see much wildlife in an ordinary, modest suburban neighborhood like this one—particularly not in the median strip of a busier-than-ordinary residential street. But, sure enough, right in the middle of west Santa Rosa were two eucalyptus trees just jammed with nests of large wading birds—Common Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-Crowned Night Herons.

Three Egrets 6:6:16

The birds seemed to inhabit a world apart from the human activity below them, and for the most part, humans seemed oblivious to their arboreal activities.

The Egret Has Landed 6:6:16

It was surprisingly easy to get close to the birds, who seemed accustomed to humans. This juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron let me approach within about 15 meters.

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron 6:6:16

If you happen to be in Santa Rosa, it might be worth a few minutes of your time to stop by. The rookery is on West Ninth Street between Simpson and West Eighth Streets, a short distance west of Lincoln Elementary School. To keep people from venturing under the trees, the two trees where most of the birds nest are cordoned off with orange traffic cones and plastic mesh.

I wonder why the birds use these trees for their rookery. It’s not near any obvious food source (Santa Rosa Creek is not teeming with fish as far as I know) and this site is awfully close to scads of humans. Perhaps one of my readers knows.

A Bellyful of Plastic

Today was the first sunny morning after a rainy weekend in this part of northern California. The USGS  Water Resources Gauge indicated that the Laguna’s flood waters stood below 63′ and were receding about 1′ per day. I had been wanting to paddle on high water south towards Sebastopol from the launch site on Occidental Road. There was no time to delay.

It was a chilly 38°F as I launched the SS Estuarian in the Laguna de Santa Rosa this morning just before 8:00. The wind was calm, the waters empty.

Almost immediately a number of Black-crowned Night Herons took flight from the trees in front of my boat. Most of them flew, out of camera range, but this fellow alighted not far off and hid among the branches of the tree. He kept a watchful red eye, but stayed put in his tree.

Night Heron 3:15:16

Black crowned Night Heron

Horse Farm

Horses on the Laguna

Paddling towards Sebastopol, the Laguna passes the back of farms and dairies before continuing into Sebastopol’s Laguna Wetlands Preserve.

Teen Center & Dairy

Dei Dairy pasture in foreground; Sebastopol Community Center Annex (green roof).

Even at 62′ the water level is barely high enough to get into Sebastopol. As you can see in the photo above, you have to be careful to paddle around fencing that extends into the floodwaters.

In this part of the Laguna there was a lot of trash: discarded single-use plastic bottles, dog-chewed tennis balls, assorted aluminum beer cans, plastic vodka flasks, bits of styrofoam, and even a large shiny Christmas globe. I was able to stow most everything in my kayak (more about that later) as I paddled back to the launch area.

A hawk perched on a pole watched as I passed by.

Hawk 3:15:16

Juvenile Red Tail, maybe. Not sure.

An organized group of paddlers was getting ready to launch when I returned to the car to unload the accumulation of trash plucked from the Laguna during the first half of this outing.

Tour group 3:15:16

I hustled to stay ahead of them. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to be alone.

My hustle was immediately rewarded by some white birds in the northern part of the Laguna. The first, a couple of Snowy Egrets perched high in a snag.

Snowy Egret 3:15:16

Snowy Egret with one leg drawn up

Snowy Egret 2 3:15:16

A flock of American White Pelicans had gathered in a pasture on the eastern shore. During breeding season adults grow projections you see on their upper mandibles near the tip of the bill.

White Pelicans 3:15:16

As I approached some of them got up and began to walk away up the bank. Not wanting to bother them, I backed up and they settled back down. All was calm. Then something spooked a trio of geese near the pelicans. The geese honked noisily and the pelicans took to the air.

American White Pelicans in Flight 3:15:16

They flew off towards the Russian River.

American White Pelicans with St. Helena in Background

American White Pelicans in flight. Mt. St. Helena in background

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Website, All About Birds, American White Pelicans and Double crested Cormorants are often found together. That was true in this case. The Cormorant nests were as just as active (and noisy) as they had been on March 8, the last time I was here.

Double crested Cormorant 3:15:16

Double crested Cormorant March 15, 2016

I wanted to stretch so I paddled over to the west shore towards Georgetown, a quirky treasure trove of some 38 vintage cars and assorted Hollywood movie memorabilia from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s all housed in about two dozen buildings. Georgetown is named after George Smith who started it all and is cared for now by his son, Guy Smith.

Georgetown 3:15:16

One of the buildings in Georgetown

Near Georgetown is a vineyard with a secluded waterfront. That’s where I got out.

SS Estuarian 3:15:16

SS Estuarian

A Bellyful of Plastic

When I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about a puzzle I need to solve: how to pluck a bag full of soggy dog logs out of the water and carry it to a proper disposal site.

You see, I left the neatly tied blue bag of dog doo in the water because, well, you know: it would be mighty unpleasant to have the bag burst and leak all over my boat. (Similar things have happened!)

As it is, that smelly blue bag might possibly float downstream into the Russian River and out into the Eastern Pacific Ocean where baleen whales (Humpbacks, Pacific Grays) swim and feed.

Baleen whales take mouthfuls of water and sieve whatever is in it swallowing that material into their esophagus and on down the hatch into their three-chambered stomach.

Whales don’t have fingers or toothpicks to remove a plastic bag (or a single-use plastic bottle, for that matter) from their baleens before swallowing.

I’ll figure something out. Meanwhile, at least none of the stuff in the photo below is going to find its way downstream. It’s in my garbage can.

The Haul 3:15:16

The standing canister in back was 1/3 full of liquid plant food. My shrubs will be happy. I wonder how it found its way into the Laguna.

If anyone out there has an idea to offer about the blue bags, please share it in the comments.



San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

If you’ve ever driven California State Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo, you’ve been by the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and they are making efforts to restore this area to a vibrant wetland it once was. They’ve put up interpretive signs at the entrance that provide a good introduction to the area.

It’s wonderful to imagine the abundant bird and animal life that once called this area home.

Interprative Sign SPBBWR 2:20:16

Click on this picture to read the display.

People say that the best way to get people to care about the natural world is to get the public outdoors where they can enjoy and learn about it. To that end, the USFWS have opened hiking trails in the region.

Better still, not too long ago, the Service installed facility for launching canoes and kayaks. It is approximately 3 miles west of the bridge that spans the Napa River. (You can enter the launch area only from the westbound lanes, so if you’re coming from Marin or Sonoma County, you have to drive beyond the facility, travel east all the way to Wilson Ave. exit, and then circle back.)

Jono invited me to explore this area, new to both of us.

We were the first visitors to arrive this morning.

Jono & Dan SPBNWR 2:20:16

9:00 AM in the parking lot

A great egret was working the shallows in the pond west of the parking lot.

Great Egret SPBNWR 2:20:16 Great Egret 2 SPBNWR 2:20:16The new launching facilities are well-designed—with paddlers in mind. The slips are just right for canoes and kayaks. The docks float just above the surface of the water.

Jono gets in 2:20:16

It is easy to get into and out of the boats, even for aging paddlers with bionic body parts and rickety joints.

Dock SPBNWR 2:20:16

Fog made it hard to approach birds with the camera. By the time birds came into view, our nearness spooked them, and they took off. This black-crowned night heron stayed long enough for one through-the-mist picture.

Black Crowned Night Heron 2:20:16

He took off the instant after the shutter closed.

Jono brought his canoe, a good choice for this paddle, as canoes are easier to get into and out of than kayaks.

Jono in Wenonah 2:20:16

The fog lifted by 10:30. Our quiet gray world turned blue.

The Slough 2:20:16

South Slough

With a little bit of searching we found a place to get out of our boats. A short walk across crackly marsh brush led us to a levee thickly covered with luxuriant ice plant. We sat ourselves down and each enjoyed a thermos of hot tea.

Calm waters and wide open spaces provided a good setting for conversation. We had hoped to see a lot more migratory bird life than we actually did, and just at the end of our trip a large murmuration of sandpipers put on quite a show. No pictures, sadly.

For more information about the refuge, visit San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s a map of our visit that makes it appear that we were paddling our boat across dry land, which of course ain’t so.