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