Monitoring Estero Americano/Storm Waves

Here’s a report on a quick trip out to the Estero Americano before the imminent three-day onslaught of rain begins.

I was curious to see if the heavy surf associated with recent storms might have closed the mouth of the Estero which would allow its waters to rise again. Sure enough, this appears to have happened.

Water is high enough to top the channel


Seeing the high water made me want to visit the coast to have a look at the big waves implied by the Estero’s high waters.

Big breakers on Doran Beach

Big combers thundered on Doran Beach. Despite the fact that it was low tide when these photos were taken waves washed so far up the beach that they almost reached the dunes.

This beach usually has small waves that are safe enough for youngsters to play in. Not today!

Even from the vantage point of standing on the dunes behind the beach the waves felt threatening. Out in Bodega Bay proper, huge Mavericks-like waves were rising and breaking in places I have never seen waves break before. Jackie Sones over at Natural History of Bodega Head reports the waves reached 26 feet at the buoys. Her blog reports on these waves, too.

After 30 minutes of mesmerizing wave-watching I retreated to the relative calm of the old sewage ponds adjacent to the Bodega Bay water treatment facility nestled between Highway 1 and Bodega Harbor.

I heard some quacking and walked around looking for the ducks. There they were, swimming in the bottom of this normally dry abandoned pond

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard

With a Great Blue Heron in the bargain.

Stand still for the camera!

Quick Trip on Lake Sebastopol

Yesterday morning, as I checked the weather forecast an intense downpour fell. Fat raindrops beat an angry and loud drumroll on our skylight.

Despite this, the forecast called for a brief respite from the rains that had fallen overnight. It promised a brief window of sunshine that would begin in an hour. So I donned a raincoat and loaded my kayak on the car. I drove, windshield wipers slapping away the last of the rain shower to “Lake Sebastopol,” our seasonally flooded pastureland along our eastern border.

Launch at Occidental Road

The sun came out, just as forecast, but so suddenly it seemed like magic. Our lake refilled.

Muddy waters

Paddling away from Occidental Road I could hear a group of about eight Acorn Woodpeckers working the oak trees standing in the lake. They had a lot to say to one another. They seemed unconcerned by the guy in the orange boat on the water below them.

The holes in the trunk serve as acorn storage spots

Acorn Woodpeckers have a complex social systems. The Acorn Woodpecker story is beautifully told by Kate Marianchild in her book, Secrets of the Oak Woodlands.

Not sure why, but several birds took this pose, with their backs to sun—perhaps to warm themselves? Note acorns in storage.

Farther south, towards Sebastopol, waters had flooded the dairy pastures.

Also flooded was the field east of the Laguna’s main channel. A favorite walking trail, open most of the year, lays beneath these waters.

Laguna Park’s pasture

This is the gate through which hikers pass from the pasture to the main trail.

Please close the gate behind you….

At the southern end of this trail is a gap in the fence leading to Sebastopol’s Meadowlark field. You have to be careful not to touch the poison oak vines that grow on both sides of this portal. At this time of year the poison oak has no leaves or even buds, just the bare vines wrapping themselves on the tree trunk. Hard to see in this photo, (unless you click on the photo to enlarge the image) but those vines are there. If you don’t know what poison oak looks like without leaves and you’re as allergic to it as I am, maybe clicking on the photo below is worth doing. 🙂

South entrance to the County pedestrian trail

Clouds gathered and dispersed.

Thunderheads make you think about… lightning.

The Laguna Foundation’s headquarters were visible from the Laguna.

The new building is mostly hidden beneath the palm trees and between the original farmhouse and the rusty-roofed barn building at the right of this photo

Laguna shoreline.

Toward the end of the paddle a Great Egret stood on the western shore of Lake Sebastopol.

These are the birds whose beautiful feathers were coveted by hat wearers back in the day. The Great Egret’s survival was threatened. Efforts to save these birds (and other waders like them) led to the founding of the Audubon Society in 1896.

So I’m thankful to the people who organized themselves to protect these birds so that 121 years later I can enjoy seeing them enjoy a day out on the Laguna. May their example inspire us to do our part to protect wildlife now and in the coming years.

A map of the trip:

January 17, 2017

Northern California has been drying out since last week’s big storms.

As I write this entry Tuesday evening, an atmospheric river of rainwater stretches halfway across the Pacific and is taking aim at this part of North America. We’re in for more drenching rains. At least 2 inches—and perhaps more—is forecast to begin falling tomorrow.

This morning I drove out to Estero Americano to see how high the water level is. The mouth is open and the Estero’s water level has fallen dramatically. Runoff from the coming storms will be able to rush down the Estero’s channels and drain out into Bodega Bay. The bad smell that had been pervading the place has diminished.

I decided to paddle at Jenner today. Wildlife enthusiasts would have been rewarded by the sight of many animal residents present in the Russian River’s estuary today. People watchers, however, would have had to settle for seeing only one specimen floating on the estuary today—the Estuarian.

Small flocks of Bufflehead Ducks were scattered about.

Two male Bufflehead Ducks. Note the iridescence on their heads and necks.

Just downstream of the launch ramp a River Otter climbed up on a rock. It didn’t see me at first, but once it did, it quickly dove back into the river to swim upstream past the interpretive building and out of sight.

River Otter on its way upstream from Jenner

Many Gulls and Seals gathered near the mouth. I stayed well back so as not to disturb them and, just as important to me, to keep myself out of the strong currents running downriver and out into the Pacific.

Gulls and Seals

As I made my way back to Penny Island some Goldeneye Ducks swam by. Two types of Goldeneyes are common on the west coast, Common Goldeneyes and Barrow’s Goldeneyes. The fellow on the right, I believe, is a Common Goldeneye. The bird on the left in this photo is one I cannot identify. My best guess: immature female Common Goldeneye.

Goldeneye on the right side of this photo

A mature female Common Goldeneye Duck swam by.

Female Common Goldeneye

A pair of Western Gulls joined my solo tea party on a gravelly beach on the western end of Penny Island. They each got a little bit of a RyVita cracker as compensation for posing.

One of a pair of Western Gulls

Further upstream a Great Blue Heron stood among rocks along the river’s north shore.

Great Blue Heron

Several pairs of Merganser Ducks commandeered the gravel bar in the lee of Paddy’s Rock. The males are in their black-and-white breeding plumage.

Mergansers on Paddy’s Rock’s gravel bar

Three hours after starting out it was time to head home. Some Western Grebes ventured near enough to get some photos.

Western Grebe soon to be in breeding plumage

In a few weeks these birds will develop breeding plumage that will improve their looks. The whites will be whiter, the darks darker. The line down the neck where the white feathers meet the dark feathers will sharpen.



Laguna Paddle January 12, 2017

A little more than eight inches of rain has fallen in Sebastopol in 2017—enough to keep this paddler off the estuaries—until today. The rain has filled the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It’s brimming with water now.

A paddling friend (and fellow photgrapher), Lyrinda Snyderman, has wanted to go out on the Laguna since last year. The other day she asked if I’d be willing to take her out. Mais oui! Today—the first real break in the rain since the Laguna has filled—was our chance.

We started a little past 8:00 am. There was a chill in the air, and snow on the Mayacama mountains east of here. The water had flooded enough to swamp Sanford Road. It was our boat ramp.

Not a good place for cars or trucks, even macho ones. Sanford Road is now the final resting place of this big pickup truck.

Someone drove a jacked up Hummer into the drink a few days ago. He needed to be rescued by helicopter.

So much water filled the Laguna that we were able to paddle much farther north and east than usual. This cute little cabin wasn’t too far from the water’s edge.

We made our way past dairy on Hall Road. These cows normally have much more pasture land on which to roam. They took a curious interest in the funny boats floating by.

We hoped to see Bald Eagles which have been visiting the Laguna of late. When we saw this raptor both of us wanted it to be a juvenile eagle, but, it turned out to be a hawk.

We got far enough north (downstream) to come within easy earshot of Guerneville Road, though it was not visible through the brush growing between us and the cars and trucks making all the noise.

We had a nice chat with Guy Smith of Georgetown who was standing by the shore of the Laguna and very near the barn closest to the water. He told tales of the mountain lions who have come through his place over the years. Guy is a collector of interesting things. His place is chock full of interesting stuff. Click that link above to find out more.

Here’s Lyrinda as we paddled away from Guy’s place.

Paddling in California’s wintertime is really fun. The winds are usually much better for kayaking than in the warmer summer months. All you need is a sit-inside kayak and the proper clothing to have a great outing.

Lyrinda and I enjoyed an after-paddle lunch at Sebastopol’s new fish place, Handline. We both enjoyed the food we got. I suggested this place because it’s a beautifully repurposed Foster’s Freeze restaurant, designed by architect Steve Sheldon. Lyrinda, a retired architect, appreciated the renovation, the good food, and the complimentary sparkling water.

We paddled almost eight miles in the flood waters covering the pastures and vineyards below. Here is a map of our morning.