Bodega Dunes & Salmon Creek Beach

I took a hike today with my wife at Bodega Dunes. We hiked about six miles in a little more than two hours.

Low clouds and fog played tag with us, sometimes blowing in from the sea to make our early afternoon outing cold and dark.

Salmon Creek Beach

Near the southern end of Salmon Creek Beach

 

At other times the fog retreated back over the ocean revealing a blue sky. In those moments, the sun shone warmly on us.

The Dunes

Bodega Dunes, looking north toward the Russian River from whence this sand came.

 

As I walked on the wide expanse of sand I wondered whether most of it flowed out of the Russian River estuary, a few miles north of where I stood as I took this photo. Most of it, I suppose.

I wondered, too, how many eons it would take an estuary to build dunes like these.

 

More About Elkhorn Slough

There’s a lot more to see at Elkhorn Slough than Sea Lions. While I was paddling there I saw a lot of Harbor Seals, Brown Pelicans, and Sea Otters. Getting close to these animals was easy to do, especially in the Moss Landing Harbor area where they seem to have gotten quite used to people nearby.

I am usually quite careful to keep my distance from wildlife so as  not to disturb them. Here at Moss Landing I (and many others) got within a few feet of them. Here’s a photo—taken with my waterproof camera at very close range—of a whole bunch of seals who didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that I was so near to them.

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Snoozing!

 

There were gulls and Brown Pelicans sunning and resting on the same sandbar which was quite close to the launching area maintained by the Moss Landing Harbor District near Kayak Connection and Moss Landing Yacht Club on Highway One.

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I believe those are males in that colorful plumage.

 

Sea Otters and Cormorants were shyer than the Sea Lions, Pelicans and Harbor Seals. For them, I had to pull out my point-and-shoot with a telephoto lens.

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The fellow in the water is a sea otter. They’re members of the weasel family, have no blubber, and stay warm thanks to a very thick undercoat of fur.

 

If, like me, all you knew about Elkhorn Slough is what you might know from driving by on California Highway 1, you might think it’s pretty unspectacular. I mean there is a large two-stack power plant placed prominently at the end of the slough. Accompanied by the transmission towers leading away from it, Moss Landing looks pretty industrial. Not much of a place for nature lovers, you’d think.

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But take a few minutes to paddle east, under the busy Highway 1 bridge and soon you’ll find yourself in a fairly large estuary a quarter of a mile wide in places and stretching back five miles or so into an oak grassland savanna. It can be quite easy on the eyes.

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And you’ll have the company of seals, pelicans, cormorants, and sea otters as you paddle.

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Those are Brandt’s Cormorants if I’m reading my Silby’s Bird Book right

And not too many people. That’s the way I like it.

Birds, Harbor Seals, and a Gray Whale

I got out to Jenner for a paddle today on the lower Russian River. When I arrived the river was very quiet, just a couple of paddlers in rental kayaks taking their boats back to the launch area.

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Great Blue Heron

 

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Double Crested Cormorants

 

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Red-breasted Mergansers

 

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In the fog, the Brown Pelicans looked gray

Several harbor seals at the mouth were leaving the river to crawl over the sand dam on their way back to the Pacific on the other side.

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Great camouflage at least on a foggy morning.

There was a lot of seal activity as I made my way up the river to my lunch spot. I got some video of it, but I do not know how to upload video into this blog yet. I’ll learn, I hope.

I ate lunch at my usual place across from the camping sites along the river at Willow Creek Campground. At lunch the sky cleared a little bit. I packed an almond butter sandwich and an apple.

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Lunch spot looking downriver

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Estuarian’s paddle craft

After lunch I packed up my kayak and headed back towards the launching ramp.

A large school group from Los Angeles were paddling aluminum canoes from Duncans Mills to the mouth. For a good while after they passed, I could hear the kids’ voices and the CLANG! of plastic paddle blades banging on the canoes.

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Charter school field trip

But good for them to get outdoors to see a beautiful part of this world.

As I was getting ready to go home, a launch from the Sonoma County Water Agency was taken out of the water. I had seen this boat three times earlier in the day tending to the buoys in the river (there are 10 buoys in all, I think). I learned that the SCWA maintains buoys to track salinity, temperature, bacteria levels and more the better to know how to manage water flow for the benefit of the Steelhead Trout and Chinook Salmon fisheries.

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Sonoma County Water Agency’s launch for tending the buoys on the Russian River

I learned that salt water from the ocean gets as far upstream as Duncans Mills (about 5 miles). That’s the part of the river system that is officially deemed to be estuarine. However ocean waves can build up the beach sand enough to make the river rise more than 7 feet (2 meters) above sea level. At that height the SCWA official told me that the river backs up all the way to the summer crossing below Vacation Beach, about halfway between Monte Rio and Guerneville. He said it’s basically a pond that far up the river.

He also explained “layering” of salt and fresh water in the estuary, something Bob Noble (of Bob’s Eyes Blog) has told me about before. Salt water sinks to the bottom of the river while fresh water floats above. This is another thing that the SCWA is monitoring.

Just before driving away, I stopped in at the Visitor’s Center at Jenner to talk with the volunteer. She told me that a Pacific Gray Whale had washed ashore at Blind Beach. I was intending to take a short walk on my way home, so now I had my trail. I drove the short distance to the Blind Beach parking lot and walked down the short trail to the beach. Biologists had dissected the carcass to investigate the cause of death (I was not able to learn if they had come to any conclusions. The carcass was quite a sight.

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Gray whale carcass, about 8 meters long

Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough

I am just back from my first visit to Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing. There was much to see. I was most impressed by the sea lions. Seen from the cockpit of my small recreational kayak, they seem large and powerful, especially the males.

Sea lions far outnumbered the people yesterday in the Moss Landing harbor area. As I paddled my kayak (I was the only kayak in the harbor then) I saw more sea lions than I could count (maybe 100?).

Most were in the water, either swimming to and fro, or floating in groups with fins held in the air.

Others had hauled themselves out on the jetties.

And a few of them were trying to make themselves home in the marina.

This rather large male gave me a look to let me know that it was his intention to stay right where he was. He turned towards me as if to say, “If you get any closer to me then I’m going to swim at you and make you wish you hadn’t.” Maybe that was mostly in my head, but I didn’t want to find out by coming any closer.

 

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Others found the swim decks of boats on which to sun themselves.

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This one hauled out on a boat called Easy Rider. Somehow, I don’t think that the owner of the boat had a sea lion in mind when naming the boat.

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There was lots more to see in the harbor and in the slough. I’ll add more on another post.