Sonoma County Naturalist Michael Ellis
For many years I've enjoyed listening to Sonoma County resident and Bay Area naturalist Michael Ellis discuss the wonders and oddities of local and far-flung flora and fauna. With a B.S. in Botany and a Masters in Marine Biology, he brings a deep scientific knowledge to his talks--but what makes them so enjoyable is his obvious joy in nature, along with a hefty dose of dry wit.
I've mostly caught Ellis on KQED-FM, where he appears regularly on Forum with Michael Krasny; he also gives a short nature talk called "Where We Live" on the third Friday of each month as part of the station's Perspectives series (recent topics have ranged from the practical "Weeds" to the philosophical musings of "Labyrinths"). I also read his "Ask the Naturalist" column in Bay Nature Magazine.
When I recently discovered that Ellis lives in the Sonoma County town of Sebastopol, I got in touch with him to talk about the county's ecological landscape.
"Sonoma County is blessed with so many cultural opportunities,” he said. “Concerts, painting, outdoor sculpture--but we also need access to the wild things. Parks and open space are vital to our psyche and spiritual well being. Going out in nature rejuvenates us. That’s why it’s of paramount importance to maintain the county's urban boundary zones so that we don't end up with a huge sprawl running from one city to another. We need to maintain the integrity of our towns so that we actually know, when we go to Sebastopol, say, that we're not in the western part of Santa Rosa."
Ellis is on the Board of LandPaths, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit conservation organization that preserves and protects properties in Sonoma County. He's enthused a program the organization is developing, TrekSonoma, which will allow for multi-day walks/rolls/paddles across inter-connected open landscapes.
"We're in the process of developing it," he said, "and it's really exciting. The treks will highlight agriculture, natural history, local food."
Among Ellis’s favorite Sonoma County destinations for hiking or biking on his own are Trione-Annadel State Park. "I mountain bike there all the time,” he said. “Sugarloaf, too. And anyplace along the coast--I like Pomo Canyon, Shell Beach, Willow Creek."
If you’d like to hike with Michael Ellis, there are a couple of ways to do so.
Keep a lookout for one of his local, guided nature trips given through organizations such as Sonoma Land Trust, the California Native Plant Society, LandPaths, and the Madrone Audubon Society. "They're fundraising hikes for the organizations," he said. "If I can, I'll lead hikes for any kind of civic organization. If there's a stipend involved, I donate it."
And, since 1983, Ellis has led naturalist trips each year to exotic international destinations--Serengeti, Palau, Bhutan, The Pantanal and the Amazon, and more--through his own ecotourism company, Footloose Forays. You can read about upcoming trips here.
One last thing you need to know about Michael Ellis: he's a champion hula hooper. Not long ago, after ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro, he broke out his hula hoop in celebration atop the mountain ("Nobody's ever hooped that high up," he notes). Here's a link to Ellis hooping on his 2013 birthday, accompanied by Lena Horne singing "I Want a Little Doggie" (a remix from DJ Maksy).
Find more fun outdoor activities to do in Sonoma County.