The Egrets of Ninth Street

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

I just completed the drawing above, as an impressionistic depiction of Egrets in flight.

In the thirty-plus years that I’ve lived in California, I’ve become accustomed to seeing brilliant white egrets flying gracefully overhead, or else wading in pools and on moist ground. Before emigrating from England, I’d never seen any species of egret in the wild. Now, egrets are increasingly common in Britain, but when I was young, they were such rare visitors as to be included only in the “Rarest on Record” appendix of the Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds (which was our family’s major reference on the topic).

Shortly after my wife and I moved to Santa Rosa in 2005, we discovered a remarkable natural event that occurs annually in a built-up part of the city. Every year at around this time, significant numbers of wading birds start building nests in a few pine and eucalyptus trees in the center median of West Ninth Street, Santa Rosa. There are several species nesting in close proximity in this heronry: Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, plus Black-crowned Night Herons. Although they don’t nest there, Green Herons and Great Blue Herons can also be seen in the vicinity. None of these species are rare in California, but it’s their proximity to human habitation in such large numbers that is unusual in this case.

My short video below shows both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets in the treetops at West Ninth Street, then gives a brief general impression of the scene. The trees are surrounded by houses and apartments, and cars cruise by on either side of the street.

 

Volunteers from the Madrone Audubon Society have assumed responsibility for looking after the heronry. Every year they fence off a portion of the road and put down straw beneath the trees, to protect any baby birds that may fall from the nests.

As you can hear in the video, the birds are quite noisy, and can also create quite a smell on hot days, so I imagine that the local residents are less than enthusiastic about their presence!

Nonetheless, it’s an impressive and fascinating sight for visitors. The photo below is a closeup of a nesting Great Egret, which I took during our visit in 2007.

Great Egret in the Treetops

Great Egret in the Treetops

Egrets in the Park

As I mentioned above, I often see flocks of egrets flying in formation over our house, but they usually don’t land anywhere that’s visible to us. Occasionally, however, a flock decides to feed in the park in front of our house, as shown below in a through-the-window photo, taken one foggy morning in 2016.

Egrets Feeding in our Local Park

Egrets Feeding in our Local Park

Herons At Large

In a previous blog post, I featured a photo of a Black-crowned Night Heron that appeared unexpectedly by the swimming pool of the Z Hotel in Oakland while we were staying there.

My photo below shows a Great Blue Heron wading in the Napa River a few years ago, alongside a gull.

Great Blue Heron, Napa River

Great Blue Heron, Napa River

Technical Note

Incidentally, I’m already aware that the egrets in my drawing display features from several different species. I chose features for their artistic impact, rather than for technical accuracy.

A Visit to the Bird Rescue Center

PeregrineCright

Peregrine Falcon Kiri, at the Bird Rescue Center

This Peregrine Falcon, called Kiri, is a resident of the Santa Rosa Bird Rescue Center. I visited the Center yesterday, during their once-a-month open house. I’m already a supporter of this local charity, via eScrip donations that are made by local merchants when I shop there.

Fortunately, the Rescue Center escaped damage from last October’s wildfires, although I believe that it had to be evacuated for a while. As I described in a previous post, the nearby Fountaingrove and Hidden Valley Estates were almost completely destroyed.

The Center’s role is to accept injured wild birds and rehabilitate them for release back into the wild. However, the Peregrine Kiri cannot be released back into the wild, because her right wing is damaged so she cannot fly well. Nonetheless, she’s still doing better than the resident Osprey shown below, which cannot fly at all, and so has to have perches and feeding stations at ground level.

A Flightless Osprey at the Bird Rescue Center

A Flightless Osprey at the Bird Rescue Center

The view below shows the entrance to the Rescue Center. Needless to say, Woodstock is not one of their rescues, but is another of about 70 Peanuts statues that can be found all over Santa Rosa! (My previous post showed another of those, in front of the former REA building in Railroad Square.)

Woodstock at the Entrance to the Bird Rescue Center

Woodstock at the Entrance to the Bird Rescue Center

I had visited the Rescue Center on a previous occasion, with an actual “bird emergency”, when Mary and I found a baby House Finch that seemed to be sick. We were going to take it to the Humane Society, but they advised us instead to take it to the Bird Rescue Center.

Another current permanent resident of the Center is the Red-Tailed Hawk shown below, whose disability is a missing right eye.

Red-Tailed Hawk at the Bird Rescue Center

Red-Tailed Hawk at the Bird Rescue Center

Just to prove that he really is “red tailed”, here’s a close-up:

The Red Tail

The Red Tail

After being on public display for a few minutes, courtesy of one of the Center’s volunteers, the hawk was returned to his cage for lunch (a frozen mouse), as shown below, where you can just about see the missing right eye.

RedTailedHawk2Cright

Red-Tailed Hawk going indoors for Lunch

In its reception area, the Center has some educational displays relating to local bird life. Those include the display of eggs shown below, which features the eggs of the two species that I painted for our greeting cards last Christmas (Cedar Waxwing and American Robin).

The Eggs of some Local Wild Birds

The Eggs of some Local Wild Birds

The Bird Rescue Center’s premises stand in the county-owned Chanate Complex, which also housed the former Sutter Hospital. The hospital was built during the 1930s, and closed in 2014, having been deemed seismically unsafe. The former hospital buildings will soon be demolished, and the entire site is due for redevelopment. For this reason, the Center may be forced to move to alternative premises in future, although, as one of the volunteers told me today, they hope that it will be possible to retain their current location in the park-like surroundings of the Chanate Complex.

Perhaps its buildings (as below) could benefit from some renovation, but I do hope that the Bird Rescue Center can continue its good work in its current location!

BirdRescueCenter2Cright

Bird Rescue Center: General View

Easter Blossoms in Railroad Square

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

We’re enjoying perfect Easter weather in Santa Rosa, and yesterday afternoon I visited Railroad Square, where the trees are blossoming. I took several photos, including this one of the former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad depot (which is now Chevy’s restaurant).

As you can see, the depot’s name is still visible (although usually unnoticed by passers-by) in the wrought ironwork of the balcony, which is above what was the main entrance of the Spanish-Colonial-style depot when it was built in 1927. Its survival is quite remarkable, given that passenger services on the P&SRRR ceased in 1932. The building’s appearance has recently been improved by new paintwork. The photo below shows the full façade of the building. On the other side of the blocked door is the restaurant’s bar.

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Those familiar with Railroad Square may be surprised that I didn’t start with a photo of the more familiar North Western Pacific railroad depot. That building also is currently surrounded by blossoming trees, as shown below:

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

The reason that I didn’t choose that as my header picture was because, as you can see, it’s impossible to get a composition without its being spoiled by all the cars parked around it!

This railroad depot achieved fame by being featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt. There’s a well-known photo of the entire cast and crew in front of the depot. Perhaps the building’s more impressive achievement, prior to that, was that, along with most of the other stone buildings in Railroad Square, it survived the 1906 earthquake, which did far more damage per capita in Santa Rosa than it did in San Francisco.

It’s heartening to be able to report that passenger trains are once again stopping at this depot, for the first time since 1958. Yesterday, as I arrived at Railroad Square, a northbound train was paused at the station, as shown below.

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

The Snoopy statue on the right in the photo above, which stands in front of the former Railroad Express Agency building (now a coffee/ice-cream shop), is painted as a SMART conductor, shown in close-up below.

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Immediately beyond the railroad depot stands the La Rose Hotel, which is visible in the photo below, behind the huge monkey puzzle tree.

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

The Real Significance of Easter

In my Easter-time post of last year, I mentioned that I’m very glad to be free of the macabre, ignorant religious nonsense that afflicted this time of year during my youth, in nominally-Christian Britain.

Instead, I’m now able to enjoy the real significance of Easter, which is the seasonal regrowth of life in Northern climes.

Of course, I’m aware that the festival occurs at this time of year because it originated in cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it makes no sense at all, a simple fact that seems to have been completely unknown to the supposedly-omniscient gods!

Rain Arrives to Quench the Fires

Penny Contemplates the Rain

Penny Contemplates the Rain

The photo above shows one of our cats, Penny, sitting in the window alcove of our bedroom yesterday afternoon, contemplating the rain that had just begun to fall.

The rain intensified yesterday evening, having been forecast the previous week. We’d been anxiously awaiting its arrival, because, despite the extraordinary efforts of firefighters from all over the US, the wildfires were still not fully contained. Even after a fire has been quelled, it can sometimes continue to smolder and can then flare up again later. Falling rain should extinguish any remaining embers and prevent further flare-ups.

The Rain Begins

The Rain Begins

Contrast the photo above, taken yesterday afternoon looking over the park from our balcony, with the same view in my earlier post. At least this time, the gray skies are due to rain and not to smoke!

Having grown up somewhere it rains year-round (Britain), and now living where it rarely rains during the summer (California), I sometimes find that, by the end of summer here, I’m missing the rain, and look forward to the first shower of the season. Nonetheless, I’ve never welcomed the first rain as much as I did this year, because it will hopefully put an end to the local wildfires!

Smoky Sunsets

Although the smoke has gradually cleared during the past week, we’ve still been having smoky sunsets, with unusually red skies, as shown below, looking west from in front of our house.

Smoky Sunset

Smoky Sunset

Oakmont Fire

Last weekend, a new wildfire erupted in the hills above Oakmont, which is a large retirement complex to the East of Santa Rosa. This led to further closure of Highway 12, and the evacuation of the Sky Hawk and Mountain Hawk neighborhoods.

I took the photo below last Saturday, looking East along Highway 12. In the distance, you can see smoke billowing from the Oakmont fire.

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

Smoke from the Oakmont Fire, from Highway 12

A little further along Highway 12, the road was closed. People were being let out of the evacuated zone, but not into it. The photo below shows a police roadblock across Highway 12, at the junction with Calistoga Road.

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Highway 12 Closed at Calistoga Road

Fountaingrove Still Evacuated

At the time of writing, although most evacuation orders have been lifted, and people are being allowed back in to some fire-damaged areas, the Fountaingrove neighborhood remains evacuated.

The offices of my employer, Keysight, are in Fountaingrove, and are closed. Fortunately, the main buildings were not destroyed, but they were damaged by efforts to fight the surrounding fire. Details are shown in this fire damage map.

It’s also fortunate for me that I’m able to do my work from home (although I wasn’t doing that prior to the fire), and that’s what I’ve been doing since the area was evacuated. Keysight has been very supportive of us all, having made immense efforts to locate and ascertain the safety of all its employees, and to provide special assistance to those who need it. Many thanks are due to Keysight for looking after its staff.

I’m aware that many people have lost jobs or businesses as a result of the fires, and how lucky I’ve been to have avoided that.

The New Normal

The process of trying to get back to normal life is now just beginning. Even for those of us who were lucky enough to avoid any serious loss, things will never be quite the same again.

In one respect at least, I hope that things will be different, in that the lessons of the fire will be learned, leading to wiser land development and better protections in future.

Santa Rosa’s Surviving Round Barn

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

Amid all the tragic news from Wine Country during the past few days, I’m happy to report that the De Turk Round Barn in Santa Rosa, shown above, was not affected by the Tubbs Fire this week.

The Round Barn that did burn down this week was the Fountaingrove Round Barn. However, that barn was actually polygonal or multangular, rather than truly round. As you can see in my photo above, the De Turk barn is clad with curved planking, whereas the Fountaingrove barn had walls of flat planking.

The De Turk barn was built in 1891 by Isaac De Turk, as a stable for his racehorses (hence the horse weather vane visible in the photo above). It was recently restored by the City of Santa Rosa, and can be rented by the public for special events.

The red brick building visible in the distance on the right in my photo was the De Turk Winery, which is currently awaiting refurbishment as an apartment complex.

Here’s a link to the location of the De Turk Barn on Google Streetview, and here’s a link to the location of the destroyed Fountaingrove Barn.

Interactive Fire Damage Map

In my previous post, I mentioned that fire had consumed Cricklewood restaurant, close to the house that we lived in from 2011-13, but I didn’t know whether the house itself had survived. According to the latest interactive map of the Santa Rosa fire damage, the house does appear to have survived, although it was right on the edge of the burned area.

This was the house when we lived there, during the Fall of 2012:

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Wildfires Will Always Happen

There have already been some claims in the media that the fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric company’s (PG&E’s) power lines coming into contact with trees during Sunday night’s high winds.

Whether or not those claims turn out to have any foundation at all, playing this “blame game” will never solve the problem of wildfires. In a dry climate like that of the California Wine Country, there have always been wildfires and there always will be. Such fires can be started naturally by lightning strikes, or by somebody dropping a cigarette, or by a vehicle driving along with something scraping the road surface, creating sparks. There are many ways that such fires can start, and it will never be possible to eliminate all the possible causes.

What is needed instead are better building techniques, so that buildings are more effectively fireproofed. (For example, in the latest fires, flat-roofed buildings seem to have been particularly prone to burning. This is probably because flammable material can accumulate on the roofs for many years, just waiting for a falling ember to set it off.)

I can only hope that this disaster will lead to new ideas and laws for better building practices in future.

Fire in Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 8am yesterday morning, when I was getting ready to go to work. Unfortunately, the “threatening clouds” in the distance are not rain, but smoke. I was to discover a few moments later that I wasn’t going to be able to go to work, because my employer’s offices are within the evacuation zone of the fire causing the smoke.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, we have had serious fires in the Wine Country since Sunday night, and some are still burning. Shockingly, fire even spread into some parts of urban Santa Rosa, destroying many homes, shops and hotels within the city.

It is ironic that, in my previous post, I mentioned how, during the week of my return to the UK from my first visit to California, thirty years ago, there was a hurricane-force storm in Southern England. Now, thirty years later, these fires in Wine Country were fanned by hurricane-force winds that blew in this region on Sunday night.

I usually get up on workdays at 7am, but on Monday when I woke up it was so dark that I checked the clock several times, thinking that I must somehow have got up too early. It was only later, as I was preparing to go to work, that I discovered why the sky was so unusually dark.

Parts of Santa Rosa Still Evacuated

Much of the northern half of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation orders since early Monday, and thousands of people are in temporary shelters as far away as Marin county. Most of the evacuation orders are still in force tonight (Tuesday).

Fortunately, our house is not (currently) in the evacuation zone, so we’re still at home. The only inconvenience for us at present is that I cannot get to my employer’s workplace.

Only the media and emergency services are being allowed into the evacuation zones, so I cannot get close to devastated areas (and nor do I want to). Therefore, the only photos I can obtain currently are from a safe distance.

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

I took the photo above from the West side of the US101 freeway. It shows smoke still rising from the Hilton Hotel, on the hill in the center background. The tall building just visible across the freeway on the right is the Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated and is still closed.

Smoky Sun

Later in the day on Monday, I drove my normal work commute route, to see how close I could get to my employer’s offices. The photo below shows the closest I could get, Chanate Road near Hidden Valley Road. The sun is so shrouded by smoke that it looks like a hazy sunset, but in fact it was only about 3pm.

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Destruction in Larkfield

From 2011-13, we lived in Larkfield, a community just north of Santa Rosa, and outside the city limits. Parts of Larkfield were burned by the Tubbs Fire on Sunday night, and unfortunately that included our favorite restaurant in that area, Cricklewood.

Cricklewood Restaurant was named after the suburb of London, having been founded by a British expatriate. As shown below in my 2015 photo, above the bar was one of the name signs from the BR railway station, in its original London Midland maroon color.

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

Sadly, I doubt that the owners had time to save the sign when the building burned, and that probably was not their top priority anyway.

We don’t yet know whether the house we lived in in Larkfield was destroyed, but we hope not.

Status Updates

For updates on the constantly-changing situation, the best source seems to be the Santa Rosa City Emergency web site.

The Speeders of August

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Speeders in Santa Rosa, 2007

Ten years ago, my wife Mary and I spent an enjoyable afternoon traveling on a short stretch of what at that time was the disused North Western Pacific Railroad line in Santa Rosa. The small “Speeder” in which we rode the rails is the dark green vehicle shown in the photo above.

At that time, a group of enthusiasts used to bring their rail speeders to Santa Rosa annually, to ride the derelict line one day per year. The event took place at Santa Rosa’s North Western Pacific Railroad Depot, which, amazingly, has survived from its construction in 1904 (just before the major earthquake of 1906) to this day, as shown below.

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

Santa Rosa NWP Depot, 2007

The depot building also featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie Shadow of a Doubt, which I described in a previous post.

Although the last regular passenger service on the line ended in 1958, freight service continued after that, and the counties bought the track and right-of-way during the 1990s (via the North Coast Railroad Authority). In contrast to the fate of many railway lines abandoned and lost forever as part of the “Beeching Cuts” in Britain, this fortunate act saved the railroad’s right-of-way for its modern renaissance.

That day in 2007, the Speeder owners were offering free rides to the public, so Mary and I hopped aboard. As shown in the picture above, we chose a green Speeder that had custom bodywork to make it resemble a San Francisco cable car. Given that the Speeders have only 4 wheels, the ride is quite bumpy, but it was a fun experience, and one that we will never get the opportunity to try again, at least on that line.

Below is a short video viewed from the Speeder as we were riding in it:

Railroad Renaissance

The good news is that this line is no longer disused, because it now forms part of the SMART line from San Rafael to Santa Rosa Airport. Test trains are already running on the line, and full passenger service is expected to start some time this summer.

The bad news about that is that, because the line is now occupied, we’ll never again be able to ride a Speeder on it as we did ten years ago!