Although it was rather cold and gray out at the Sonoma County coast this morning, it was refreshing to slip the kayak back into the relatively clean, clear, and healthy waters of the Russian River Estuary at Jenner.
The mouth of the river is open. There is still enough downstream flow that during a flooding tide the river is flowing out, emptying into the Pacific. Later in the year, the river carries almost no runoff—just a trickle of waters released from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. In summer the river runs both ways when its mouth is open: upstream on flooding tides and downstream on ebbing tides.
I was paddling solo today, solo with plenty of company from birds and marine mammals.
Gulls, cormorants, and harbor seals gathered near the mouth. Everyone was trying to absorb what meager warmth the sun provided as it shone weakly through a layer of coastal overcast.
As I paddled along the shore straight across from the river’s mouth, a turkey vulture landed surprisingly close by. At first he or she seemed to be looking with great interest at me—or rather the bow of my kayak. The vulture’s interest in my kayak’s bow allowed me to get many close-range photos.
After drifting to within about eight feet of this bird, I remembered that vultures are capable of spewing their vomit at whoever might dare to venture too close. I put the camera down and began to move away. I was started to see what actually had been capturing the vulture’s keen interest: a seal’s carcass hidden (in plain sight) among the driftwood.
Hoping that river otters might be active in the fishing hole near Paddy’s Rock, I made my way up the narrow channel along the south side of Penny Island and upstream along the left bank.
An osprey called from somewhere further upstream, hidden somewhere among the trees. I followed its call, paddling slowly and quietly to avoid spooking it. Something stirred in a tree high above me and there it was: the osprey watching me pass. In the moment it takes to get the camera out of its case—and before I could frame it in the viewfinder— the bird decided to fly.
I set down the camera and picked up the binoculars and followed its flight some distance upstream where it landed in a cypress tree. Fifteen minutes later, we repeated our little dance, but this time I was able to get a picture of it perching overhead.
At lunch the wind began to blow. The layer of overcast thickened. It turned colder as the afternoon arrived, or it seemed to. I rummaged through the front hatch of the kayak, retrieved a windbreaker from a dry bag and donned it.
The birds seemed to take to their homes in the trees or rocks along the shore. The time to call it a day and return to the Jenner launch ramp had come. I paddled in.