Michael Ellis: The Wonders of Home

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Michael Ellis travels the globe in search of natural wonders but during the pandemic he’s focusing on the natural wonders in his own backyard.

For many years I've imagined a future scenario where I can no longer travel. I am confined to my home, too infirm or just plain too old to get out. But I knew when that day came I could find enough excitement in my own backyard to keep myself amused for the balance of my life. Well, what do you know? That day is here and much sooner than I expected.

Though I live in downtown Santa Rosa I have a relatively big yard with some magnificent native trees. I was an early shelter-at-home person so I have been home now for a month, rarely leaving. And since I'm a naturalist I have binoculars, a spotting scope and a microscope. This enables my view to expand or become incredibly focused.

I've been watching avian and mammalian drama unfold daily. The other day a new western gray squirrel showed up in the oaks and now three of them are chasing each other around, acting duh —  squirrelly. Females are very territorial and aggressive, so maybe the new arrival is an unwanted female. Stay tuned to As the Oak Tree Turns.

My poor California towhees get beat up every day by the dominate scrub jays. But the crows whomp up on the jays- a literal pecking order! On the telephone pole out front every morning a Nuttall’s woodpecker drums. Drumming is done by both male and female woodpeckers to attract mates. They find a nice resonate tree trunk or a telephone pole and pound on it rhythmically. I wish them luck finding a mate.


But the most exciting bird news is the arrival of rufous hummingbirds to my feeder. These golden jewels are flying from Mexico to Alaska and are cruising through the Bay area fueling up. These diminutive travelers migrate 4000 miles!

I suppose like many of us in a more privileged position (and believe me I count my blessings daily) the gift of this most trying period has been to slow down and just witness the natural wonders that surround us. And this time around at least, my backyard adventures will soon be over.

This is Michael Ellis, with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist and lives in Santa Rosa.