The Laguna de Santa Rosa – part of the larger Laguna watershed, just minutes from where B. and I live – provides habitat for a huge number of species in Sonoma County (the second most biodiverse county in California, after San Diego). These include endangered salmon and steelhead trout, salamanders, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, mink, badger, and river otters; and more than 200 avian species. Migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway stop here en route to their northern summer and southern winter homes. Great blue herons stay in winter, both sexes growing their spectacular mating plumage. Also at that time of year, beautiful hooded merganser and wood duck nest in tree hollows – some 50 feet high – and select mates. We often see impressive red-shouldered hawks and smaller white-tailed kites, the paler raptors fluttering high overhead, hovering over prey like voles. Visitors might listen to the sweetly melodic brown song sparrow, and revel in the colorful pink Anna’s and unusual orange Allen’s hummingbirds – who fly up from Mexico and put on an intricate mating display. In high summer you may hear the rich trill of the red-winged blackbird, or spot a flash of the western bluebird’s azure feathers.
This largest tributary of the Russian River drains a watershed of over 250 miles encompassing Santa Rosa, Windsor, Cotati, Sebastopol, Forestville, and much of the Santa Rosa Plain. The Laguna’s 30,000-acre ecosystem comprises creeks, wetlands, riparian forests, oak woodlands, and grasslands. It’s a source of food, shelter, and travel corridor for wildlife; filter for agricultural and urban runoff; and water temperature regulator for aquatic life. During wet seasons it’s a holding basin, flood control, and kayaking wonderland. And in dry seasons, its trails beckon long or short walks that allow hikers to observe wildlife from the very heart of the Laguna.
But sadly, due to increased urban development and agricultural encroachment into its floodplain, it is listed as the most impaired water body on California’s North Coast. The Laguna’s Environmental Center strongly emphasizes conservation, offering classes, open houses, and science lectures for all ages. Care to come explore?