Santa Rosa school’s festival celebrates birds’ urban nesting site

Much to the delight of 10-year-old Pablo Flores, the trees near his west Santa Rosa elementary school Friday morning were aflutter with hundreds of egrets and herons, some leaving their nests to soar over nearby homes, creating a cacophony in an otherwise quiet neighborhood.

Flores, an Abraham Lincoln Elementary School fourth grader, pressed his eye to a scope, relishing close-up views of two tall eucalyptus trees in the median of West Ninth Street. The trees and surrounding grove are a unique urban nesting site that teems each spring and summer with four species of birds.

“I like seeing the birds because they're part of nature and nature is beautiful,” he said.

Flores was one of 130 kids taking part in the school's annual bird festival, where students visit the rookery near their school, meet “bird ambassadors” from the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County, play “bird bingo” and partake in several other educational programs.

For fourth grader Luz Camarillo, 9, the highlight was spotting young egrets.

“I saw three babies, and the mom … the babies are so adorable,” she said excitedly as her peers pointed out bird's spindly, black legs and orange beaks, some of which held nesting material.

As of late April, there were 259 nests in the rookery, with about 600 adult great egrets, snowy egrets, cattle egrets and black-crowned night herons and as many as 300 babies, said Emiko Condeso, an ecologist and GIS specialist with Audubon Canyon Ranch. The final count from her organization, which has monitored the site since 1998, won't be available until July.

It's not clear why the birds chose the urban location as a home, Condeso said, but the various species come in waves beginning in March. Birds leave in July to disperse across the Bay Area.

The ground below the trees is lined with straw to protect fallen chicks while access to the median is restricted by bright orange mesh, both courtesy of the Madrone Audubon Society she said.

Teaching students about the importance of protecting the bird's habitat is a focus of the 8-year-old event.

Education has led to a shift in perception, Condeso said. Instead of inquires about the noise and smell associated with the nesting spot, residents now ask about how and why the nesting areas in the median and several nearby trees came to be.

“It's a wonderful education opportunity for these kids that nobody else is going to get. These kids live in this community and they're bringing back to their families information about the natural world around them that they might not have the opportunity to get,” she said.

The student population at Abraham Lincoln Elementary is predominately Latino.

Local volunteers and the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County are integral to safeguarding the habitat, Condeso said. So far this year, about 40 young birds have been brought to the Santa Rosa nonprofit for treatment, said Clinical Shift Supervisor Mario Balitbit. Many have fallen from nests.

After the birds are admitted in Santa Rosa, volunteers bring them to the International Bird Rescue in Fairfield before they are released into the wetlands of Laguna de Santa Rosa, he said.

This year's festival will be the first without retired second grade teacher Kathie Noguchi, who died Dec. 19 after a battle with cancer. Noguchi, 69, was integral to founding the festival and was passionate about teaching, said Naohiko Noguchi, her husband of 45 years.

Speech therapist Tina Boaz and members of the Madrone Audubon Society organized this year's festival. About 20 volunteers from Madrone Audubon Society, Audubon Canyon Ranch, Laguna de Santa Rosa and the Bird Rescue Center helped with the activities, former Madrone Audubon Society president Janeann Erickson said.

As Naohiko Noguchi has done for several years, he walked students through the fastidious process of creating origami birds from brightly-colored pieces of paper.

“It's very nice the school continues Kathie's legacy,” he said. “It was important for Kathie to teach children the importance of nature.”

For the students, viewing birds through the magnifying scopes is a treat, said Jeanine Wilson, Abraham Lincoln's principal.

“They're very excited. As a child looking from afar it's ‘OK, that's a bird in a tree' but looking through these scopes it's much more like ‘Wow, I see what that really is,' and it's not just a picture in a book,” Wilson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or On Twitter @hannahbeausang.

Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct the spelling of Kathie Noguchi's first name.

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