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Educational Events

Inside/Outside Nature Education Series

This community education program includes both “inside” presentations and “outside” guided walks, field trips, and bike rides, featuring local experts.

The goals are

  • to learn more about nature here in our own backyard;
  • to develop a sense of place;
  • to understand how our daily actions impact the environment around us.

Cotati Creek Critters has a monthly column in the Community Voice, the newspaper which covers Cotati, Rohnert Park, and Penngrove. Learn more about past events and topics! Visit our Press & Media page for related articles!

Past Events:
NOTE: read the related articles in our "Press & Media" section of the web site.




Monday, December 7, 7 pm: "Helping Birds At Home"
Hundreds of species of birds, including many once-common songbirds, are declining in the United States. These declines can largely be attributed to loss or degradation of habitat.  From landscaping for birds to keeping cats indoors, PRBO can offer many practical tips on helping to protect birds and their habitats.  Join PRBO Conservation Educator Lishka Arata to learn more.  Lishka is a biologist turned educator in PRBO’s education and outreach program. She came to PRBO in 2004 after earning a B.S. in biology from Humboldt State University.  During her time with PRBO she has worked on bird research projects in several habitats and is currently developing and delivering science-based bird education programs to school groups and the public.  PRBO is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving birds, other wildlife and ecosystems through innovative scientific research and outreach, from Alaska to Antarctica, on land and at sea.

Monday, November 2, 7 pm: "Discover California Grasslands"
In a state with towering redwoods, majestic oaks, vernal pools and other more "charismatic" plant communities, grasslands are often overlooked. In this fascinating presentation you will learn that, in fact, grasslands are very productive and diverse biologically, and provide numerous ecosystem services that benefit humans and natural systems alike. Yet today, less than 2% of our native grassland heritage remains. Five topics included in this presentation are: California grasslands and grassland diversity, what are grasses?, ecosystem values and services, restoration and landscaping with native grasses, and the important work of the California Native Grasslands Association.
Presenter Wade Belew is Stewardship Coordinator for the Cotati Creek Critters and President-Elect of the California Native Grasslands Association (CNGA). Several years ago Cotati Creek Critters wanted to plant a native understory of grasses and Wade joined CNGA to learn more. Wade quickly became a "grass-hugger" when he learned the great importance of grasslands, coupled with historic loss of native grasses. He was asked to join the Board, and will be CNGA President in 2010.

Saturday, August 1, 10 a.m. - 12 noon "Gardening to Conserve Water and Protect Creeks"
The choices we make every day at home, at places of work, and in our backyards, have a significant impact on the environment around us. Laurel Marcus, restoration ecologist, is author of The House & Garden Audit: Protecting Your Family's Health and Improving the Environment, an invaluable guide to what we can all do to take care of the environment around us, starting at home. She will discuss everything from cleaning and pest control to gardening and creek care. Everyone who attends this workshop will receive a free copy of this wonderfully informative and useful book to take home! Sierra Cantor, Watershed Biologist with the Sotoyome Resource Conservation District, will present the findings of the Russian River First Flush, an annual citizens' water quality monitoring event, and explain how the health of our creeks reflects the health of the entire watershed. Suggested donation $5-10. Refreshments provided.
At: Ray Miller Community Center, 216 E. School St., Cotati, behind Cotati City Hall.

Saturday, June 6, 10 – 11:30 a.m. "Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue"
Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wildlife and to promote understanding and appreciation of wildlife. Sick, injured or orphaned wildlife that could not survive in the wild are given a second chance at the center. Current residents include coyote, a red fox, a gray fox, a squirrel, raccoons, a skunk, and two mountain lion cubs. Join us for a presentation and tour of the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue center with Cassidy Slater, Education Outreach Director. A good opportunity for a family outing!
Donations to SCWR requested to help cover costs.
Contact Jenny Blaker or 792 4422 to register and to arrange carpooling.

New Date: Sunday, May 10, 9 a.m. – 12 noon "Birds of California Grasslands"
California grasslands are "powerhouses" of biological productivity and critical habitat for a remarkable array of birds, including raptors such as red-tail hawks, northern harriers, white-tail kites and golden eagles. Join Lishka Arata, a biologist-turned-educator in PRBO Conservation Science’s Education and Outreach program and Wade Belew, Vice-President of the California Native Grasslands Association at Tolay Lake Regional Park, as we scan the skies for birds and examine the grass at our feet, and make the ecological connection between the two. This is a collaborative event with Cotati Creek Critters, PRBO Conservation Science and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Service. Donations welcome. Numbers are limited.
Contact Jenny Blaker or 792 4422 to register and for details and directions.

Saturday, April 4, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. "Exploring the Byways, Bikeways and Habitat of the Southern Laguna Watershed"
A gentle bike ride to explore parts of the southern Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed around Cotati, with choices of route length (approximately 6-20 miles) and stops to enjoy the countryside. Kate Symonds, a biologist who works in a habitat restoration program with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, will give us an overview of the vernal pool landscapes and valley oaks we pass along the way.
SCBC logo Helmets and bikes in good working order are essential, and you are responsible for your own bicycle safety. This ride is a part of Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's "Spandex-Free Rides" series.
Contact Jenny Blaker or 792 4422 to register and for details and directions.

Monday, March 2, 7:00 p.m. "Down in the Murky Depths of Water Policy"
Jake Mackenzie will guide the audience through the murky depths of governance of water supply, waste water treatment, and storm water runoff. The examples will come from our own watershed - The Russian River. Jake Mackenzie describes himself as a local policy wonk and retired federal employee with 30 years in US EPA. He has been involved with water issues in the Russian River watershed for the past decade.
This event will be held at the Ray Miller Community Center, 216 E. School St., behind Cotati City Hall which is at 201 W. Sierra Ave. Refreshments provided.
Suggested donation $5-10. Registration not required

Monday, February 2, 7:00 p.m. "Sonoma County Oaks"
Oak woodlands are diverse, dynamic, ecosystems that have sustained human cultures for thousands of years. More than 300 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, as well as thousands of insects and other species, depend on oaks for their survival. Steve Barnhart, retired SRJC plant ecologist, will guide us through the identification, biology, ecology, and management of Sonoma County's oaks, with reference to the impacts of agriculture, urbanization and disease. Steve Barnhart has developed research projects and published about north coast oaks for over 30 years. He is currently the Education Director for the Pepperwood Foundation which owns and manages the 3100 acre Pepperwood Preserve in NE Sonoma County.

Monday, January 5, 7:00 p.m. "Rethinking Plastics, Rethinking Our Lives"
Plastics are cheap and convenient and we have come to rely on them for everything from packaging materials to furniture to toys. Now the Earth is drowning in non-biodegradable plastics that litter our streets and parks, clog drainage systems, pollute our oceans and water supplies, clutter our beaches, create many severe health disorders, kill millions of sea birds and animals, and contribute to global warming.  Come to this timely, interactive presentation to learn about the problems and explore practical solutions for yourself, your loved ones, and future generations. Together, we can end the plague of plastic pollution!

Stuart Moody, MA, is on the Executive Committee of Green Sangha, a non-profit organization that integrates spiritual practice with environmental action. Green Sangha has taken the lead on the response to the plastics problem in Marin County.


Monday, December 1, 7:00 p.m. "Urban Streams: Balancing Humans and Habitat"
In step with European colonization in California, natural creeks in the Cotati-Rohnert Park area were radically altered, wetlands drained, and meandering creeks were straightened for agricultural and urban development.  In the 1960's and 1970's larger comprehensive flood control projects were implemented to move water out of the urban area as quickly as possible.  These practices led to denuded riparian zones, poor water quality, reduced groundwater infiltration, and poor habitat quality.  Keenan Foster will present Sonoma County Water Agency's new approach to balancing the human need for flood protection with environmental needs for quality habitats. 

Keenan Foster is a senior Environmental Specialist for the Natural Resources Section at the Sonoma County Water Agency. 

Monday, November 3, 7:00 p.m. "History, Ecology & Restoration of California Grasslands"
Grasslands are among the most biologically diverse, yet threatened ecosystems in California. Having undergone a dramatic transformation by exotic invasive plant species, understanding how to restore the remaining grasslands in the state poses numerous challenges. Starting with a historical context, Caroline Christian will provide an overview of the threats facing California's diverse grasslands and discuss options for restoring them, including livestock grazing, prescribed fire, and active restoration efforts.

Caroline Christian is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Planning at Sonoma State University, where she teaches courses on conservation biology and restoration ecology.

Sunday, October 5, 9:00 a.m. "Fall Bird Walk"
Get to know nature in your own backyard! Discover how to identify birds from their songs, silhouettes, and flight patterns. This will be a gentle, easy-going walk along the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Cotati with John Dell’Osso, Chief of Interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore and long-time resident of Cotati.
Meet by the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park, Old Redwood Hwy & W. Sierra Ave.

Tuesday, September 23, 10:00 a.m. "Nature Tots"
Cotati Creek Critters has teamed up with Nature Tots - Nature Discovery classes for preschoolers - to help our youngest naturalists explore thier own backyard! This class will teach two to five-year olds (with parents attending) about bees and their importance in pollinating our crops and wild plants. Class will include bee stories, songs and crafts as well as an easy-going walk along the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Cotati to look for bees and other pollinators. There will be an
8-child maximum in this class, so please register with Stephanie Derammelaere of Nature Tots at 707-333-1331 or stephanie at naturetots.com.

Monday, September 8, 5:30 p.m. "Getting to Know the Laguna de Santa Rosa" with Denise Cadman
The City of Santa Rosa is restoring wetlands in farms in the Laguna watershed downstream from Cotati. Denise Cadman, Natural Resource Specialist for the City of Santa Rosa, will lead us on a hike in a 90-acre natural area on Alpha Farm, which includes Roseland Creek, a beautiful stretch of the Laguna channel, seasonal wetlands, and an oak regeneration project. Dress for hiking with appropriate footwear, hat, water, etc. Meet at the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park to carpool. RSVP to jenny@creeks.cotati.info or 792 4422.

Saturday, August 2, 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. "The Pepperwood Preserve: Plant Communities of Sonoma County "
Between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the majestic Mayacamas Mountains rise above San Francisco Bay and strech northward past Calistoga to the east and Santa Rosa to the west. Here, near the divide of the wetersheds of the Napa and Russian rivers, Pepperwood Preserve protects a 3117-acre zone of stunning landscape and rich biodiversity. Join us on a field trip to experiene one of the more pristine areas of Sonoma County. Meet by the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park at 9 a.m.. RSVP to Jenny Blaker or 707-792 4422. We'll be at Pepperwood at 10 a.m.

Monday, June 2, 6 p.m. "Creeks Bike Ride"
Explore the creeks of Cotati and Rohnert Park by bike with Wade Belew of the Cotati Creek Critters. We'll make several stops along the way to examine how the energy of flowing water shapes the land and influences the plants and animals of riparian (creekside) communities. In exchange for months of abundant water for the growing season, these organisms are adapted to endure the periodic violent intensity of water flowing at thousands of cubic feet per second. Relaxed, 6-8 mile ride at 8-10 mph.
Meet by the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park. Helmets mandatory. Bike safety is your responsibility.

Sunday, May 4, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. "Putting the Grass in "Grass-roots" Restoration" with Wade Belew.
Cotati Creek Critters is restoring a native riparian plant community to a previously denuded flood-control channel. The current grant-funded project focuses on integrating understory plantings of native grasses, sedges, rushes and forbs beneath previously planted trees and shrubs. Topics include:

  • Tools of the trade - Overview of restoration hand tools, including selecting, using, sharpening and repairing. 
  • Grow your own - Plant selection, basic propagation techniques, nursery tour
  • Dig it - Tour of restoration site including a planting demonstration featuring biodegradable, recycled materials.

Saturday, April 26, 10 a.m. to 12 Noon "Getting to know the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed: Fairfield Osborn Preserve"
A real treat is in store for us today - a special Cotati Creek Critters' tour of Fairfield Osborn Preserve, Sonoma State University's 400+ acre biological field station used for education and research. Located on the northwestern slope of Sonoma Mountain just 7.5 miles from the campus, the Preserve contains the upper reach of Copeland Creek. With wildflowers peaking and neotropical migratory nesting bird activity in late April and early May, this tour promises to be memorable.

  • Group size is limited to 12 participants. Call the Preserve office at 707-795-5069 to make reservations.
  • What to bring: Bring drinking water and dress in long pants and sturdy hiking shoes. All participants must be able to walk 3 to 5 miles on narrow trails over uneven terrain.
  • Meeting locations: La Plaza Park at 9:15 a.m. to arrange carpooling.

For more information about Fairfield Osborn Preserve visit their website.

Sunday, April 6, 9 a.m. "Spring Bird Walk with John Dell’Osso"
What birds can we see and hear along the Laguna in Cotati in the spring time? Learn how to identify some of our local birds by flight patterns, movement, and song, from long-time Cotati resident and bird watcher John Dell’Osso. John Dell’Osso is Chief of Interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore. He’s been recording the birds he has seen in Cotati for over 20 years. Meet by the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park, 9 a.m.

March 3, Monday, 7 p.m.  "Water, Power, and Politics"
Water is essential to life.  Humans depend on it for circulation, digestion, metabolism, and muscle movements.  In dry climates, control over water is also one basic source of political power.  How has the relationship between water and power shaped human life in California?  Dr. Andy Roth will address this question by considering three different modes of water control, and their social consequences for California's history.  This comparative, historical perspective helps us better respond to current dilemmas regarding water use here in Sonoma County.  Dr. Roth is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University where he teaches classes in environmental sociology, sociological theory, language & society, sociology of religion, and documentary film.  Free. Refreshments provided. 7 p.m., Cotati Community Center.

*Stony Point Room, Ray Miller Community Center, 216 E. School St., Cotati
(behind Cotati City Hall which is at 201 W. Sierra Ave.)

February 4, Monday, 7 p.m. "Geology of the North Bay"
The present and past geology of the North Bay area will be discussed.  Topics include earthquake and volcanic hazards, past animal life of the Bay area, and major events in the local geologic past.  Some discussion of the geologic future will also take place.  The instructor, Dr. Rolfe Erickson, is a retired professor of Geology from Sonoma State University, with special interests in these topics.  He is presently researching possible local meteorite falls and unusual metamorphic rock units around the town of Cazadero.  Free. Refreshments provided. 7 p.m., Cotati Community Center.

*Stony Point Room, Ray Miller Community Center, 216 E. School St., Cotati
(behind Cotati City Hall which is at 201 W. Sierra Ave.)

January 6, Sunday, 9 a.m. "Birds of Cotati - a Winter Bird Walk"
This is a great opportunity to observe birds along the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Cotati and to learn about our local resident and migratory birds from a local expert. John DellOsso has worked for the National Park Service for over 20 years and is Chief of Interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore. A long-time resident of Cotati, he has been keeping records of the birds he has spotted along the Laguna in Cotati for years. Meet at the statue of the accordion player in La Plaza Park at 9 a.m.
(take a look at the list of birds we saw on our outing!)


December 3, Monday, 7 p.m. "The Plight of the Pond Turtle"
The western pond turtle is our only native local turtle species. Once common from the Mexican border all the way to Canada along the West Coast, these turtles are teetering on the edge of extinction in many areas of their former range. The main cause is loss of habitat, as urban and agricultural development has accelerated.

Right now Dr. Nick Geist, Associate Professor of Biology at Sonoma State University, is working with a group of SSU students and collaborators from county, state, and federal agencies to try to turn this situation around. His research aims to increase turtle populations in Sonoma County through captive breeding and elimination of introduced turtle predators like bullfrogs, as well as through habitat restoration. Dr. Geist has been working on the reproductive and metabolic physiology of dinosaurs, birds, crocodiles, and turtles for about the last 15 years, and has written numerous papers and articles on these subjects in a number of scientific journals. Free. Refreshments provided. 7 p.m., Cotati Community Center*.

*Stony Point Room, Ray Miller Community Center, 216 E. School St., Cotati
(behind Cotati City Hall which is at 201 W. Sierra Ave.)

November 5, Monday, 7 p.m. "Habitat Gardening with Native Plants"
Fall is the ideal time to plant native plants, so come and learn how to make your garden a welcome refuge for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Phil Van Soelen will share a wealth of knowledge and experience about gardening for wildlife habitat.  He is co-owner of the California Flora Nursery, a small, unconventional nursery in Santa Rosa which specializes in native and Mediterranean plants.  The nursery received the California Horticultural Society’s 2002 Annual Award for its contributions to California horticulture, and the Sonoma County Water Agency’s Xeriscape Award of Excellence in 1988.  Phil Van Soelen is also a past president of the Milo Baker (Sonoma County) Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.  Free. Refreshments provided.
7 p.m., Cotati Community Center.

October 1, Monday, 7 p.m. " Native Grasses - the Misunderstood, Undervalued, Understory"
Cotati Creek Critters will begin a new project this Fall, to plant native grasses underneath existing trees and shrubs.  Come and learn about the history and value of California native grasses, from Jeanne Wirka, resident biologist at the Bouverie Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch, located in Glen Ellen.  As a member and former president of the California Native Grass Association, she has taught courses in the restoration of California native grassland since 1999 and led numerous field trips in Sonoma, Solano, and Yolo Counties.  Free. Refreshments provided. 7 p.m., Cotati Community Center.

September 8, Saturday, 2 p.m. "The Incredible World of Insects"
with Frederique Lavoipierre.

Prepare to change your view of bugs and creepy crawlies! Did you know that 95% of all animal species on earth are insects, that less than 1% of insects are pests, and that without pollinating insects, there would be no apples, silk, oranges, berries, cotton or chocolate, among other things? Meet at 2 p.m. at the accordion player in La Plaza Park for a guided walk along the Laguna in Cotati, discovering intriguing insect life along the way.


Frederique Lavoipierre is a garden and nature freelance writer whose work has been published in Pacific Horticulture, Bay Nature, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and San Francisco Chronicle.

She offers lectures and workshops on biological and horticultural topics throughout Sonoma County and the Bay Area. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in biology at Sonoma State University, with an emphasis on garden ecology and entomology.

August 6, Monday, 5.30 p.m. "What happens to Wastewater?"
with Denise Cadman
A tour of the Laguna Treatment Plant with Denise Cadman, Natural Resource Specialist for the City of Santa Rosa. Meet at the accordion player in La Plaza Park to carpool to the Treatment Plant.

Please contact jenny@creeks.cotati.info or 707-792 4422 if you plan to come.

July 7, Saturday, 9 a.m. "Explore the Laguna Trails west of Hwy 101" with Joe Honton.
Join Joe Honton, Data Manager for the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, for an exploratory walk to investigate possibilities for a future trail from Cotati along the Laguna to Sebastopol and beyond. Wear sturdy footwear, a hat, sunscreen, and bring water and a brown bag lunch. We’ll meet at 9 a.m. by the accordion player in La Plaza Park in Cotati to carpool to the starting point west of Hwy 101. Please contact jenny@creeks.cotati.info or 707-792 4422 if you plan to come.

Joe is co-author of “Enhancing and Caring for the Laguna,” a recently published plan and resource guide for restoring and managing the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
June 4, Monday, 6 p.m. "Creeks Bike Ride"
Bring your bike for a ride along the creeks of Cotati and Rohnert Park . We’ll get glimpses of the hydrology and geology of the Southern Laguna with Cotati Creek Critters’ Stewardship Coordinator, Wade Belew, and retired SSU Geology professor, Rolfe Erickson. You are responsible for your own bicycle safety. Helmets required. Meet at 6 p.m. by the accordion player in La Plaza Park.
Read the related Community Voice article here.

May 6, Sunday, 9 a.m. "Birds of Cotati" with John Dell’Osso
John Dell’Osso has worked for the National Park Service for over 20 years, and is Chief of Interpretation & Resource Education at Point Reyes National Seashore. A long-time resident of Cotati, he has been keeping records of the birds he has spotted along the Laguna in Cotati for years. This is a great opportunity to learn about our local resident and migratory birds from a local expert. Meet at 9 a.m. by the accordion player in La Plaza Park.
Read the related Community Voice article here.

Special Thanks to the City of Cotati, Sonoma Mountain Village, and the California Native Plant Society Milo Baker Chapter for their past funding in support of this series.

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Updated 2013 by Lucy Kenyon