Stalking the Wild Egrets in Santa Rosa with Michael – 15 May 2017

What better way to treat a beautiful spring day than a visit with Michael on his home turf in Santa Rosa. Having just returned from leading two trips in Bhutan, he was still fresh from his Himalayan adventures. The prospect of spotting egrets on a median in the middle of a Santa Rosa street was curious, not our usual approach to bird watching. It would be easy to be just the least bit skeptical.


Taking a stroll around Michael’s back yard I began to think that perhaps we’d already achieved our goal with this exotic creature. Had we found our answer already, was the treasure hunt over so soon?

Michael shared his customs return while we were gathering for the hike. He was the lucky one, two, three, four, FIVE to be taken aside for the full luggage search.
He opened up his suitcase and the inspectors laid out some curious objects: a number of large, wooden fertility symbols that are hung outside houses in Bhutan to keep away evil spirits and to “be fruitful and multiply” – all done in bright red. These were a gift of Michael’s long time friend and guide on these Bhutan forays.
Next came out the flaming hula hoop though not flaming at the moment but a part of Michael’s hula hoop diplomacy when he takes trips to many parts of the world.
And finally, there was the can of bird’s nest soup which he brought back for his son Hunter who has enjoyed previous exotic foods on Michael’s other trips. By this time the other customs inspectors were coming over to have a look at this exotic assemblage – nothing like something to break up the day. It was all passed except for the bird’s nest soup so that will have to be another time and an another place for Hunter. The bird’s nest soup was a bridge too far.

Wondering about egrets lurking in the shrubbery we pass our first traffic circle which should get a prize for cuteness, well-cared for gardens and for outsized directional signs..

We stopped beside a picket fence and Michael talked about some of the plantings. The one in the corner is a Virgin’s Bower vine, Clematis ligusticifolia, “called ‘pepper vine’ by early travelers and pioneers in the American Old West. They used it as a pepper substitute to spice up food since real black pepper (Piper nigrum) was a costly and rarely obtainable spice.”’s-Bower) I was reminded that I’ve avoided vines in my garden and that they add a context and transition to the plantings.
Further down, Michael talked about the white Foxglove blooms, Digitalis purpurea. The wiki entry mentions “it is not clear why the flower should be called foxglove, other etymologies have been offered. Henry Fox Talbot (1847) proposed folks’ glove where folk means fairy. Similarly, R.C. A. Prior (1863) suggested an etymology of foxes-glew, meaning ‘fairy music’. However, neither of these suggestions account for the Old english form foxes glofa.” Michael mentioned the medicines that are extracted from the foxglove plants called digitalis. Used for patients with heart conditions – it is prescribed for those who have atrial fibrillation.
Lastly, he talked about the name of the yellow blooms, Yarrow (Achillea milleforium) which is white or in this Moonshine variation a vibrant yellow. Michael who loves words and their origins asked what hero was remembered in the name? It’s Greek mythology’s Achilles. The wiki entry for Achillea mentions that his soldiers used yarrow to treat their wounds i.e. the names allheal and bloodwort. The Achillea millefolium wiki adds some other common names for it. “..called
plumajillo (Spanish for ‘little feather’) from its leaf shape and texture. In antiquity yarrow was known as herbal militaries, for its use in staunching the flow of blood from wounds. Other common names for this species include gordalado, nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf, and thousand-seal.”

Santa Rosa has a tradition of marking and investing in many historical districts but no Egret Historical District as yet.

We continue in the West End neighborhood and immediately come across a remarkable building both historic and architecturally significant, the Issac De Turk Barn located in the park of the same name. The building is completely round as compared with other historic “round” barns which have corners with octagonal or other shapes. De Turk was born in 1834 in Berks County, Pennsylvania but his parents made their way west moving first to Indiana (1838-59). Both he and his father were horticulturalists. DeTurk moved out west to Santa Rosa, California planting a small vineyard in 1859. This was followed by a continuously expanding winery business with size of vineyards and scope of wine production increasing exponentially. He purchased a 1200 acre vineyard in what is now the Sonoma Valley and in the early 1880s produced 400 thousand gallons. He is described as “the Gallo of his time.” Here in his obituary they note that he was a member of the Sonoma County Horsebreeder’s Association and the owner of the “celebrated stallion” Anteeo. It was for this very valuable horse that he build his barn. Be sure to click on the orange image of the camera for a wonderful video of the barn’s reconstruction, reclamation and fascinating history.
In the spirit of Achilles as we walked past, there was a fellow focused on his Yoga exercises. Some of us remember another man meditating on a bench in our Haight-Ashbury hike-log.

We walk past more history with project, classic automobiles along the way. Matt continues to look for passing or roosting egrets not forgetting our mission in life.
Larry mentioned to me that Rod used to own one of these and that they were designated “Fairlady” or Datsun Fairlady 1500. The racing version of this car is pictured as # 6 in the following series.

Inge is taking some close-ups of Matilija Poppy bush, gorgeous delicate blooms on a native bush that needs lots of room.’s-Matilija-Poppy) Mary Elizabeth Parsons in her book “The Wild Flowers of California” (1897) writes, “ The Matilija poppy must be conceded the queen of all our flowers. It is not a plant for small gardens, but the fitting adornment of a large park, where it can have space and light to rear its imperial stems and shake out its diaphanous flowers. It is justly far-famed, and by English gardeners, who now grow it successfully, it is regarded as a priceless treasure, an people go from many miles around to see it when it blooms. It is to be regretted that our flowers must go abroad to find their warmest admirers.” P. 66 Named for the famous Irish astronomer, Dr. Romney Robinson, the Matillija poppy (Romneya coulteri) was named because of its abundance in Matilija Canyon which is above Ventura in the mountains. On a more mundane note, some call it the Fried Egg Plant.

As we continue to walk through the neighborhood, we quickly pass a fellow who had a cautionary rock in his garden noting there was an “attack tortoise” but it was inside the house cooling down from the sunshine so no one came to undue harm. The owner said it was being cared for by his daughter. I wondered how such a slow motion confrontation might proceed. Cave Testudo
But as we moved down the street past Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, we began to see small white specs in the trees. Our hearts beat faster realizing that we were not just tilting at windmills after all . We spot some nesting birds in the Live Oak in the foreground, the Sycamore behind and in the distance a Great Egret landing in a Eucalyptus. The neighborhood has been very tolerant and protective of this unique phenomenon that began in the 1990s. This article speaks of 216 nests in 2016. This year a volunteer in the neighborhood said that 350 had been logged.

This gentleman, Steven, is one of many volunteers who keep track of the rookery and save baby birds who have fallen out of their nests and are unable to return. The Madrone Audubon Society puts down rice straw at the base of many nesting trees to facilitate a safe landing. Steven said that there were four main types of nesting birds this year: Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons.

Steven had left with a previously fallen Snowy egret when this bird tried unsuccessfully to claw back to its nest. Fortunately, Steven had left his phone number and Kit called him about the newly fallen bird. He returned and was able to carefully corral it after some hide and seek around the eucalyptus. Here he checks up into the foliage for other possible customers and then carefully shows the bird to some of our group across the street. He took the birds to the International Bird Rescue facility in Fairfield, CA on 4369 Cordelia Road, Fairfield, CA. 94534 Phone 707-207-0380, or 707-207-0395

Earlier in the day, Steve had saved another fallen egret which he’d put in a rescue box. He kindly brought it over to show us.

Looking up in a sycamore tree we see a nesting Great Egret.
The Great White Egrets get the top floor and the pent house suites.

Looking up at the main rookery area in a eucalyptus tree. It was binocular kind of day. Background and history of the rookery Splendid action photos A quiet ballet, the rookery is actually filled with calls, clicks and cries – quite a vibrant cacophony. Sound on this from the rookery, passing cars and a musical background.

P.S. An enjoyable bird watcher website that goes back to 2006 and is current, this particular entry is about when to CAPITALIZE the names of birds.

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