Dawn Paddle, Russian River: River Otter Attacks Heron

At dawn the usual gray overcast from the coast was absent. Camp was still and quiet. I got dressed and wheeled the canoe down to the river directly—without stopping for coffee.

Dawn Paddle 7:20:16

The River was glassy and warm enough to send mists curling aloft from the surface and toward the sky. Dawn is magical.

A female Mallard was breakfasting in algae growing on near the island downriver not far from camp.

Female Mallard, DMCC 7:20:16

A Great Blue Heron worked the nearby shallows .

Heron in Mist

It was watching me carefully as I took its photo. I got too close, and it flew away downriver. We encountered each other repeatedly—like the Heron, I was making my way downriver, too.

GBH 7:20:16

The Heron posed again and again.

GBH 7:20:16-2

Near the end of Freezeout Road the Heron stood along a heavily wooded section of the river bank. Suddenly, out from the cover of the brushy woods, a River Otter sprang out at the Heron and came within it whisker-length of biting its legs. The Heron leapt straight into the sky, as Herons do, and flew upriver, squawking loudly and repeatedly in its hoarse, raspy voice. It had had enough of me.

The River Otter’s attack happened suddenly and was over so quickly that I was not able to capture it on film.

Cute as they may be, River Otters are ferocious creatures. This was the first time I saw a River Otter attack a bird. I have read that they sometimes hunt together and take Brown Pelicans. There is video from the River Otter Ecology Project of a River Otter in a standoff with a Coyote on Tomales Bay.

As I returned to the beach in late morning, a bird not seen that often flew overhead and landed on the island near camp: a Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle 7:20:16

The rewards of paddling early in the day are well worth the extra effort.

And, after a brisk morning’s paddle on the Russian River, the coffee tasted especially good.

A Trip to Estero Americano, Part Three, Birds & a Baby Deer

Part Two, I talked a bit about the fish I saw in the Estero Americano on the most recent trip.

With fish you’ll usually see critters that eat them, especially birds:

Great Blue Herons,

GBH @ EA 7:11:16

White Pelicans,

White Pelicans EA

Several Osprey (which have recently been absent from Estero Americano as far as I know)

Osprey with Lunch 7:11:16

One of the medium sized fish about to become an early lunch.

Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and Great Egrets as well, none of which posed close enough for a good photo.

A Black-necked Stilt was hanging out with White Pelicans near Whale’s Tail. This one was a solo operator.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts have long pink legs to allow wading in estuaries. They eat invertebrates living in the muddy/sandy bottom

A Red-Tailed Hawk landed on a bush on the Sonoma County shore a little more than halfway to the coast.

Red Tailed Hawk

As I took this photo I wasn’t sure of what it was, so I leaned on the experts at iNaturalist to help with the bird ID.

A young deer got separated from its mother and ran back and forth along the Marin County shore making plaintive cries to call her back.

Deer, EA, 7:11:16

With all the fish in the Estero, I had hoped to see a River Otter or two or three, but none showed themselves that day.


A Trip to Estero Americano, Part Two, Fish!

Before launching at the Estero Americano a large fish swam past the launch pad. My camera was still in the car, so I was not able to get a photograph of it, but my best guess is that it was more than two feet long. It looked like a steelhead.

How did such a large fish get into the Estero? The mouth is closed. Was this fish there to spawn?

The whole way out to the ocean I saw schools of very small—smaller than a kid’s little finger—fish roil the water. They often took short silvery leaps into the air. It’s hard to get a photo of this behavior. Here’s the best:

Jumping Fingerlings

They are smaller than you might guess from this photo. Maybe 1 to 2 inches long.

Are these offspring of the likes of the larger fish I saw swimming at the launch?

I also saw medium-sized fish, bigger than the schooling fry fish. These ranged from about four to ten inches long. Near a group of White Pelicans I found a half dozen dead ones floating on the sides. According to fellow naturalists on iNaturalist, this is an Anchovy.

Dead Smolt 7:11:16

Out at the beach, there was plenty of evidence that at high tide waves wash over the sandbar and spill into the Estero. The northern part of the beach was covered in seaweed carried out of the ocean and deposited on the sand. Seaweed covered the bottom of the lagoon near the closed mouth.

Washed Beach EA 7:11:16

Looking east into Estero Americano from the north end of the EA beach on Bodega Bay

I’ve seen videos of anadromous fish swimming in water only two inches deep washing across roads in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen harbor seals swim/crawl in waves barely washing over sandbars on the Northern California coast.

So I guess that the Anchovies and larger fish (steelhead, probably) swam through water washing over the bar to get into the Estero Americano. But how would they know to swim on the waves washing across this particular beach?

Nearby was some hardware installed on the beach, a well for a hatchery about which I know very little.

Hatchery Well 7:11:16

Anyone know about a hatchery here?

This is something to learn more about!

On the paddle back I enjoyed the company of fellow Estuarians, birds that eat fish, that is: Great Blue Herons, American White Pelicans, Cormorants, Osprey, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets. I’ll save pictures of them for a future post.

San Francisco Bay/Estuary Getting Healthier?

Paddling buddies from the Petaluma Paddlers were out last Sunday on a trip around Angel Island. They were treated to a display of Humpback Whales feeding in the bay between Angel Island and Alcatraz.

Both Dick Mallory and Lyrinda Synderman—both of them readers of this blog—were able to capture video of what they saw. Lyrinda’s video has been featured on the local TV news stations.

It’s very encouraging to see efforts to restore this ecosystem result in the return of whales. I’ve not seen Humpbacks in the Bay, but in early in May I watched Gray Whales feeding in almost the same location.

Channel 4 has the best edit I’ve seen so far. The kayaker you see is Dick Mallory; the lovely musical voice and the cogent commentary is Lyrinda’s. Great video made by great paddling companions. Don’t miss it! Click below.

VIDEO: Close encounter with whales in SF Bay