Day After Thanksgiving Paddle

My friend, David, and I went for an afternoon paddle at the mouth of the Russian River on Friday, November 27. We were hoping to see and photograph the bald eagles that have been visiting the mouth in recent days. We didn’t.

When we arrived the launching area was surprisingly busy. It was hard to find a place to park, even in the 10-minute loading zone. There were ideal conditions for paddling, just a mild breeze blowing in from the ocean and the sun shining brightly. A number of kayaks plied the waters. With crowds of people like this, getting a good photo of a bald eagle seemed unlikely. That turned out to be true; we saw no eagles on this outing.

We paddled out to the mouth of the river, still open from the breaching work that was completed Monday.

Out to the Mouth

When the river’s mouth is open, fish swim back and forth between the river and the ocean through a narrow channel which makes for relatively easy fishing for seals, pelicans, cormorants, and other pescatarians.

A whole bunch of rather well-fed seals gathered at the mouth after feeding to rest. The seals seem to have enjoyed their own fishy version of a Thanksgiving feast.

Resting at the Mouth

You guys shouldn’t have taken seconds of pumpkin pie….

Apart from keeping an eye on human gawkers, the seals will occasionally groom themselves. In the photo below one seal is scratching his mussel with his fore foot. Look at those fingers!

Seal Scratching


We stayed near the mouth for a while being careful not to get too close to the area where the current begins to run swiftly into the ocean.


Almost straight across from the open mouth a kingfisher flew by and alighted on a stick along the right bank. He was a good distance away and flew off before I could approach any nearer.

Kingfisher at Mouth

Kingfisher at the mouth of the Russian River

We paddled down the back channel of Penny Island, hoping to see some birds, but a lot of the wildlife had departed because of the many people who had visitied this part of the river.

We landed on the eastern point of Penny Island, beaching our kayaks on a gravel bar that gets submerged when the mouth is closed.

We opened our hatches and grabbed sandwiches and hot tea in thermoses for our late lunch.



We got back aboard in the last hour of sunlight to paddle upstream in the hope of seeing an eagle, now that most of the other river kayakers had gone in.

No eagles, but a kingfisher tantalized me, flitting in and out of sight at the far edge of my camera’s range.

Kingfisher Upstream

In low lighting conditions, the camera makes the kingfisher appear bluer than it really is.

As darkness began to fall, we paddled back to the launch ramp, loaded our boats in the fading light, and drove back to Sebastopol.

King Tides at Marconi Cove and Bag o’ Litter

The first of this season’s king tides along the California Coast occur this week.

This is how Marconi Cove on Tomales Bay looked with the 6.1 ft high tide which crested a little before 11:00. Thermal expansion of the ocean due to global warming is supposed to give the king tides a little bit of a boost. What do you think?

Marconi Cove, King Tide

Taken at the peak high tide. There’s usually a beach here.

California State Parks, which currently owns the property that used to be the Marconi Cove Campground and Boat Launch just south of this beach, has taken down the fencing that used to surround it.

Grabbing a boat tote from my car I entered the mostly picked up area and filled it with more than 100 bits of assorted litter.

You can see how high the tide is by looking closely at the photo of the top of the old boat ramp. Waves lapped over its top edge.

Marconi Launch Ramp, High Tide

Flooding like this didn’t happen 30 years ago. The cable in the foreground is the biggest piece of litter collected on this trip.


Thanks to others who’ve been picking up litter in this area, it took more than one hour to find 100 pieces of litter.

Larger items like the tires, pipes and iron float car, pictured below are still there. They wouldn’t fit into the litter bag.

Tires on Marconi Pipes at Marconi Iron Float Car

After 90 minutes of trash collecting, it was time to head home. The tide had receded enough to reveal the top edge of the launch ramp.

Marconi Launch Ramp, Off High Tide


The top edge of beach returned, too.

Bag of Litter

The van seat is still on the beach. 

And I went home as happy as a kid on an Easter Egg hunt.

There’s another king high tide will occur today—Thanksgiving day, 2015—at 11:15 AM.

Duncans Mills

I have been out hiking and paddling a couple of times since my last post, but was not able to get any blog-worthy photographs.

Today, in the hope of getting some good photos, I decided to launch from Duncans Mills, a few miles upriver from the river’s mouth at Jenner. Avoiding Jenner on Sundays makes sense to me because the kayak rental operation there puts a lot of people out on the water.

Mazda & Delta


The day seemed to start off propitiously. Quiet water, with almost no wind, and no other humans to share the river with. When humans, including me, are out on the river, wildlife skedaddle.


Looking Downriver from Duncans Mills

Calm waters, no birds in view

As time went by birds did appear, but they kept their distance. I passed beneath an osprey nest that I smelled before I saw it.

Osprey Nest between DM & Willowcreek


There actually were plenty of birds out today: kingfishers, bufflehead ducks, coots, golden eyes, hawks, ravens, merganser ducks. There was a harbor seal, too. All of them moved away when I approached within 70 meters or so. In my camera were nothing but grainy pictures of birds.

I was able to take a photograph of an interesting growth on the trunk of a decaying tree along the shoreline.

Growth on Tree Trunk, Duncans Mills

Here’s a closeup.

Growth Close up

Wildlife photography can be frustrating sometimes.

Learning Something New about Harbor Seals

After spending more than two weeks visiting my brother (who is a famous artist and blogger) and my two adult children back east, I was eager to get back out on the Russian River estuary. I had planned to paddle at Jenner to see some seals, but I got a late start. When I arrived at the Jenner launch ramp it was 1:30 and the wind was up. “Forget about the seals,” I thought, “I’ll launch upstream, to get out of the wind and try to take some bird photos instead.” Monte Rio is only about 9 miles upstream, and it’s on the way home—no extra driving. “Maybe I’ll get a good photo of a kingfisher.”

River Scenic 1

It was a good choice to go to Monte Rio. There was little wind and kingfishers aplenty. I hoped to get my first good photo of one of these elusive birds, and  nearly did. But each time, just before I clicked the shutter, the bird would fly away, letting out that noise halfway between laughing or scolding. Here’s the best I could do.

Kingfisher 2

He seems to be laughing at me.

All was not lost, however. Great Blue Herons are much more willing to pose for my camera.

GBH - 4


GBH - 3


I made my way up past Bohemian Grove, and then farther upstream behind the Northwood Golf Course until I was near the western edge of Guerneville where Vacation Beach Road and Summer Bridge Road are joined by a seasonal bridge/dam in the summer months.

Just where the water got shallow and it got hard to paddle further upstream, there was activity in the water and some unusual waves similar to waves made by harbor seals chasing fish down near the mouth. But could seals be twelve miles upstream, almost in Guerneville?

Sure enough: Harbor seals.

The seals at the mouth of Jenner seem shy. They avoid humans. These seals didn’t seem shy. At first I thought they didn’t see me. I paddled closer to get a good photo.


Mean Seal 1

Oddly, they swam closer to me. For a few moments I wondered, if for some odd reason, the seals were so busy hunting that they were just not aware of my presence.

Mean Seal - 5

But, as you can see from these photos, they DEFINITELY saw me. Eyes narrowed.

One seal came up right next to my kayak and looked directly at me. Another surfaced a few feet behind my kayak and let out a loud exhalation. I was puzzled by these behaviors because I had never encountered harbor seals that were willing to be so close to humans.

Then I felt a sharp THUNK! on the bottom of my kayak, right under the seat of my kayak. No way that was an accidental collision. That seal gave me a clear message: “GET OUT OF OUR DINING ROOM!”

They may not speak English, but their point was clear. And fair enough, too, if you think about it.

As much as I like seals, I would  not want any one of them hanging around my dining room watching me eat. I paddled off downstream and away from their part of the river.

On the return trip to the launch ramp in Monte Rio, I encountered a solo canoeist—the only other paddler that I saw on this outing. I told her about my encounter with the seals. She replied that she once had her canoe overturned by a seal when she approached too close to their feeding zone. She went for an unexpected swim.

So the lesson I was given was not as emphatic as it might have been.



More Estuarine Tidal Marshland in San Pablo Bay

What news is more welcome than good news about the environment?

On October 25, 2015, a day with a 5.6 foot high tide just before noon, the Sonoma Land Trust breached a levee along the San Pablo Bay near Sears Point.

For 140 years that levee had diked off about 1,000 acres of tidal marshland.

That day water from the San Pablo Bay estuary rushed back over those 1,000 acres.

The video below shows the very moment of the breach. This video gives me a thrill of joy.

(Click the full screen icon on the bottom right corner of the window for best viewing.)

For more: Press Democrat Article on the Breach