Female Goldeneye

Yesterday I took this photo of the Western Grebe, a bird I know, the larger of the two in the image. The other bird, the little one with the brown hood was photo-bombing the picture as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know what it was.

Barrow's Goldeneye 1:27:16

Not a great photo, but a first for this beginner.

That’s her on the left, a female in breeding plumage, swimming behind the larger Western Grebe. A look in the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America got me to thinking it was a Barrow’s Goldeneye.  I got excited thinking this was a new member of the estuarine community. Now, thanks to the vast readership of Estuarian.org, I’ve amended my initial identification.*

Common Goldeneyes are long-lived for ducks. The oldest known goldeneye reached an age of 20 years, 5 months. It’s not uncommon for them to reach the age of 15 years. They eat small animals: fish, insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates. They nest in cavities and take well to homes made of wood by people. They are not endangered and range all over North America in winter.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning about birds online, Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology called AllAboutBirds.org  is a very good resource. It’s where the material in the paragraph above came from.

*In the comments, Ray, says it’s more likely a female common golden eye in breeding plumage, due to the yellow tip on the bill. He’s right.

Cameras

I’m often asked about the camera I use on Estuarian ventures. I have three cameras that often go out with me: the camera in my iPhone, an old Canon D-10 waterproof/underwater camera, and a Canon Powershot SX60HS.

Canon SX60HS

The Canon Powershot SX60HS, pictured above, is the camera I use the most. It’s basically a “point-and-shoot” camera (or so camera buffs tell me). Other photographers, more kindly, refer to it as a “bridge” camera, bridging the gap between DSLRs and point-and-shoot models. This camera has a small sensor, typical of the breed.

But it has many compensating virtues. It has a zoom lens with lots of reach, 65X. I like photographing birds and marine mammals, creatures who don’t like people approaching too near. The zoom lens helps me take their portraits without disturbing them. Powerful zoom lenses mean getting less light that you need in low light situations. Since I mostly take pictures outdoors in bright conditions (estuaries are like that!) the smaller f-stop capacities don’t bother me.

The SX60HS is very easy to use. An intuitive interface helps me use more than its auto mode. For me, ease-of-use is decisive advantage. I cannot allow too much of my attention to be absorbed by the camera as I’ve got a boat to handle.

This camera is not remotely waterproof, splash proof, or even mist proof. That’s its biggest problem for me. I have to be careful and keep it in a dry bag whenever it might accidentally take a swim, like when I’m entering or exiting my boat.

I’m a beginner in photography so I am unqualified to give it an informed review. For more information about this camera, go here.

Boats

The kayak I usually use for Estuarian excursions is a Delta 12.10 recreational kayak. I choose this kayak because it is:

The Delta 12.10 is 42 pounds light.

Delta on Roof

Being easy to lift and carry means a lot—the difference between using this kayak and the others I might have picked.

The Delta 12.10 is easy to handle out of the water. It weighs 42 pounds. I can swing it up onto the car by myself without straining. (I’m in my mid sixties.) I have no need for a kayak cart once I arrive at the launching area. Storage ashore is easy, too.

I have two other kayaks. They weigh 49 and 56 pounds. Those extra pounds are the decisive difference when it comes to choosing which kayak to use. The heavier kayaks usually stay home.

Excellent Handling on the Water

The Delta 12.10 is classified as a recreational kayak because its wide beam and hard chines give it a lot of stability. It is a good, stable platform for photography—important for an Estuarian.

At less than 13 feet, I had expected it to be dog-slow, but it surprised me. I paddle as fast (as measured by GPS) in this recreational kayak as I do in my supposedly much faster and elegant 15.5 foot Eddyline Journey, my “fastest” kayak. In the 12.10 Delta, I can keep pace with my paddling friends in their 17 to 18 foot kevlar Neckys.

This kayak has a fine bow and stern which, together with the hard chines, act like keels to keep the boat going straight when it is plumb upright. It goes straight when you want it to.

Still, turning is no problem. Its short length make it easy to steer. Lean a little to one side or the other and those fine entries loosen their grip and the boat’s wide beam induces “helm.” The boat veers easily when “edged.” (Lean left to turn right and vice versa.) It has no need for a rudder or a skeg.

Delta on River

Well-Designed Throughout

The Delta 12.10 has comfortable accommodations for the paddler. Its seat is adjustable and it is as comfortable as they come—and I’ve tried a lot of kayaks. I’ve owned eleven kayaks including some made by the big names: Eddyline, Current Designs, Old Town, Ocean Kayak, and others.

The Delta 12.10 has three easy-to-use hatches: a good sized hatch in the bow; a jumbo storage locker in the stern, and a handy small compartment on deck immediately in front of the cockpit for items you want at hand: sunscreen, sunglasses, an energy bar, a water bottle.

Durable

Delta kayaks are made of thermoformed ABS plastic—much tougher than the more expensive kevlar layup composites and much lighter than the roto-molded kayaks.

Two Kayaks

The Delta 15.5 is the blue kayak on the left

On Big Water

The Delta 12.10 is a recreational boat. When I’m paddling on big open water, I prefer the security of a larger kayak with a rudder. On those days, you’ll see me paddling my 56-pound Delta 15.5 Expedition Touring Kayak.

Pack Canoe

IMG_5038

Light, easy to enter and exit, and easy to load with beach trash.

The other boat I use from time to time is my Old Town Pack Canoe. Like the Delta 12.10, the Pack is light at only 33 pounds. If my mission is to pick up litter, this little canoe is just the ticket. It is rated to carry up to 500 pounds of gear, it’s easy to enter and to exit, and it handles the calm conditions on estuaries with aplomb.

Sunny Midweek Paddle on the Russian River Estuary

Although it was foggy inland this morning, sunny blue skies shone on Jenner this morning. About a dozen harbor seals swam in the waters between Penny Island and the mouth. Four or five of them took a keen interest in my kayak and swam over to have a close look. Two of them followed close behind me.

Harbor Seal 1:27:16

This one popped up for a good look.

 

 

The tide was flooding until about half past noon. Waves from the Pacific rolled into the mouth with enough energy to gently rock my kayak. Larger waves had enough energy to create little wavelets that broke on the western shore of Penny Island.

Waves on Penny Island 1:27:16

Surf’s up on Penny Island!

Farther up the river, towards Eagle’s Landing, I ran into Ray who had launched about an hour before me. He’d been down to the mouth as well. We talked for a while and watched seals and a sea lion fishing in the hole across from Paddy’s Rock. A group of river otters played nearby.

Otters 1:27:16

River Otters on their way to the mouth

About 1:00 it was time for lunch. Ray headed off towards Eagle’s Landing. I continued upriver to a shady riverside shore and enjoyed a sandwich and a thermos of hot tea.

Lunch Grotto 1:27:16

Lunch stop

A great blue heron sunned himself on the edge of the river by the pasture.

Great Blue Heron 1:27:16

GBH by the river

The river’s mouth is now just south of haystack rock. The Pacific was comparatively calm today. This photo was taken after paddling, about an hour before sunset.

River Mouth 1:27:16

River’s End January 27, 2016

It was a fine day on the river.

 
A map of the trip:

Estero Americano Breached; Placid Tomales Bay

Estero Americano Breached

Estero Americano is back within its banks. Two days ago waters rose so high here that it flooded nearby roadways. More than an inch of rainfall fell yesterday—enough to burst the sand dam at its mouth in Bodega Bay. It would have been fun to witness all that water rushing out into the Pacific.

EA 1:20:16

Estero Americano looking west from Franklin School Road

More than a dozen common egrets were dining in the mudflats exposed by the receding waters. One snowy egret (the smaller bird in the photo below) joined the common egrets.

Great and Snowy Egrets 1:20:16

The larger common egrets squawked at the snowy egret and made it keep its distance.

Here is a photo of the driveway to the launch ramp under the Franklin School Road Bridge. Two days ago this driveway was under water.

EA Launchwau 1:20:16

Estero launch ramp driveway

On Whitaker Bluff Road, south of the Estero Americano, four sheepdogs stood guard over a flock of sheep and lambs.

Sheepdogs on Fallon Road 1:20:16

Two of the four dogs guarding the sheep—protection from coyotes perhaps?

Biologist, Estuarian reader, and fellow paddler, Dick, writes that these dogs are Great Pyrenees.

He goes on to say, “I do believe there was a government program that encouraged local ranchers to use the dogs to guard the sheep from coyotes, and stop putting out poisons and traps. Those that participated in the program saw a dramatic drop in sheep killed by coyotes. The other problem was that indiscriminate killing of coyotes can trigger a population boom.  Normally only the Alpha female in a pack breeds, but if she dies, then all the surviving female give birth to a litter of pups.”

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay 1:20:16

View looking northwest from Millerton Point

Tomales Bay was placid today. The only boat other than my kayak were noisy oyster farm skiffs and the quiet cutter-rigged yacht, Will o’ the Wisp, out of Pebble Beach, north of Inverness. A subtle wind barely filled its sails. Quiet conversation shared by two men in the cockpit carried halfway across the bay.

Will o' the Wisp bigger?

Cutter-rigged Will o’ the Wisp ghosts down Tomales Bay

Boats sat quietly on their moorings.

Vivian 1:20:16

Fishing vessel Vivian on her mooring

Back at Marconi Cove a model airplane pilot prepared his radio controlled seaplane for a flight in the almost still atmosphere.

Model Flying Boat Tomales 1:20:16

This aviator had no boat to retrieve his plane in the event of a “landing” away from shore.

The electric motor was quiet—as model plane power plants go. Thank goodness the internal combustion engines in model aircraft have largely disappeared.

Airborne Tomales 1:20:16

Airborne! This plane’s wingspan was less than 1 meter.

The amphibious aircraft was not so loud as to scare away the amphibious waterfowl, the eared grebes and bufflehead ducks that were out on Tomales today.

Grebe Tomales 1:20:16

Eared grebes dive with alacrity for insects and crustaceans.

Buffleheads Tomales 1:20:16

Three male buffleheads