Lunch at Jono’s

Today, on Superbowl Sunday, seventeen Petaluma Paddlers enjoyed Jono’s warm hospitality at his creekside home on Gallinas Creek in San Rafael, California.

China Camp 2:7:16

More than 130 years ago, this beach was a Chinese shrimp fishing village. Today, the hiking trails at China Camp State Park have become popular with mountain bike riders.

To start the day, most of us met at China Camp State Park. The park’s eastern boundary is along the shores of San Pablo Bay, and a beach here offers pleasant access for kayaking. We paddled northwest along the shore towards nearby Gallinas Creek.

Just beyond the historic pier at the northern edge of the beach is Rat Rock, a remarkable little island, oddly familiar.

Rat Rock, San Pablo Bay 2:7:16

Rat Rock Island. John Wayne and Lauren Bacall starred in a 1955 movie made here. Rat Rock Island looks much the same today as it did 61 years ago!

Jono knows about this island. He said it had been where the 1955 Hollywood film, Blood Alley, was made. (Jono kindly lent me his copy of the Blood Alley on DVD.)

Jono and I talked almost the whole way to his house. Jono is a good story teller. Along the way, we passed some beautiful homes and yachts. But there was a mix of yachts, not all beautiful, including some whose glory days have long since passed.

Derelict 2:7:16

Derelict Cabin Cruiser on Gallinas Creek. In the background, note Mount Tamalpais, the birthplace of mountain biking.

Jono has impressive credentials as a paddler-racer. These days he’s not racing paddlecraft anymore. He now has a strong appreciation for the Petaluma Paddlers who go out most Sundays on estuaries north of San Francisco.  The club’s success is due largely to Ray. Jono knows that few people have Ray’s ability to interpret weather reports and tide books.  Like very few others can, Ray is able to call the most enjoyable and safest paddle in the Northbay area each Sunday.

This day was no exception. Conditions for our paddle were ideal, or as Ray would say, ab fab. Here’s Ray paddling towards lunch in calm waters and warm sun.

Ray, Gallinas Creek 2:7:16

Petaluma Paddler, & preeminent weather predictor, Ray

Any outing on an estuary around here is likely to bring the paddler by some interesting birds to see. An American Avocet and two Black-Necked Stilts stood on a dock and posed for the camera.

Avocet Gallinas Creek, 2:7:16

American Avocet

The Black Necked Stilt has long, thin pinkish red legs.

Black Necked Stilt 2:7:16

Legs so long they didn’t fit in the frame!

After a little bit of bird watching, it was late morning and time to think about a midday meal. A smaller group of paddlers had launched their kayaks at Buck’s Launch at the mouth of Gallinas Creek. They joined us at Jono’s for lunch. We all pulled our boats into his back yard and fired up the barbecue.

Lunchtime at Jono's 2:7:16

Seventeen boats; eighteen paddlers

Mike and I made a stout table by laying a stout piece of plywood across a pair of sawhorses. As always, abundant good food and drink were hauled out of the hatches and spread out to share. Ray brought sausages and buns as a main course; Dick brought a big pasta salad and there were salads, desserts, and plenty of red wine.

Lunch on Table

Most times, a potluck always has a good balance of food to eat.

On the way home, a hawk perched atop a power pole near the mouth of the creek.

Raptor on Power Pole 2:7:16

Anyone know what sort of hawk this is?

Edit: after some discussion over at the Petaluma Paddler Yahoo Group site, conjectures about this hawk’s identity seem to be leaning towards a juvenile red tail hawk. Below is another photo of the same bird.

If you click on the photo it should enlarge. Look at those tail feathers. Is that the right edge of a red tail?

Red Tail?

The pleasures of the sun and fresh air, the comfort of good food, the invigoration of upper body exercise, the cheer of easy conversation—these are the hallmarks of a Petaluma Paddle and all were in abundance on this day.


Photos of this event by Lyrinda Snyderman

China Camp State Park

Blood Alley Movie

Rain, Rain, Come I Say

Weather forecasts called for rain on the Sonoma County coast late this afternoon, and they were right.

That meant a whole morning and the first part of the afternoon for paddling. A forecast for rain is tantamount to a forecast for fewer people—and more wildlife—on the river. So today it’s off to the Russian River!

I started with a tour towards the mouth of the river, but it didn’t turn up much to see, so it was time to head upstream.

A young deer was on Penny Island this morning. It foraged near a large redwood tree stump washed up on the southern shore.

Deer on Penny Island 2:3:16

Deer must have to swim to reach Penny Island.

An immature bald eagle had been perched on Paddy’s Rock, but it quickly took to the skies.

Immature Bald Eagle 2:3:16

Longer, slower wing beats make it easy to tell an eagle from a hawk in flight.

Farther upstream, near the grotto on the southern shore, a group of vultures gathered on a rocky shoreline.

TV's near the Grotto 2:3:16

They were eating something small, too small to identify even with binoculars.

Lunch was on the gravel bar in the lee of Paddy’s Rock. Unbeknownst to me as I was enjoying my sandwich and hot tea, a trio of river otters had gathered on the far side of Paddy’s Rock.

Russian River Otters 2:3:16

The tail in the foreground belongs to another otter. That tail is about 1/3 the length of the whole animal.

They were surprised to see me—the surprise was mutual—but they went about their business of catching small fish and bringing them to the surface to eat. River otters have few predators in the water. On land, however, they need to watch out for large breeds of domesticated dogs, coyotes, and mountain lions all of which are known to prey on river otters. Humans are their biggest threat.

About halfway between Paddy’s Rock and Penny Island a western grebe surfaced right in front of my kayak.

Western Grebe 2:3:16

Such a red eye!

A great blue heron walked along the northern shore of Penny Island.

GBH 2:3:16


To complete the day’s paddle, I returned to the mouth area. Rain began to fall, gently at first and then increasing in intensity.

I came across a sea lion holding one flipper out of the water. That flipper held high like that has an uncanny resemblance to the dorsal fin of a shark.

Because of the rain, the camera was stowed safe beneath the splash deck. There’s no photo of the sea lion to share—sorry.

The rain came in on a southerly wind. Along with the rain came the warm and friendly aroma of coffee beans roasting at Cafe Aquatica.

Rain 2:3:16

If you’ve never kayaked in the rain, add it to your bucket list. It’s a pleasure.

Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Nineteen people met at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation Headquarters to celebrate World Wetlands Day by paddling on the Laguna de Santa Rosa on February 2, 2016.

Anita 2:2:16

Anita Smith led the group that paddled north, usually downstream, toward the Russian River.

Led by Laguna Foundation staff including Anita Smith, Wendy Trowbridge, Hattie Brown and Maggie Hart we paddled out on the seasonal lake that floods over agricultural fields adjacent to the Laguna’s main channel just north of Sebastopol.

The 22 mile long Laguna de Santa Rosa is the Russian River’s largest tributary. The Laguna, as locals call it, is the main artery of a 254 square mile watershed that encompasses most of the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati, Rohnert Park, and Windsor.

Laguna Map

For people who live in Sonoma County, the Laguna is an important region of “nearby nature.” Sadly, most of the Laguna is held in private ownership instead of the public commons, where, frankly, it belongs.

Public access points to the Laguna are hard to find. Even public views of it are scarce. For these reasons far too few people are aware of its rich diversity of plant and animal life. The mission of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is to to restore and conserve the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and to inspire public appreciation of this Wetland of International Importance.

Usually, the best way to see wildlife is to go solo, slowly, and quietly (the Estuarian’s usual way) so I was surprised by how much we saw and pleased to share a few of the photographs taken that morning.

On this trip, however, our group was joined by dignitaries including the Mayor of Sebastopol, several Sebastopol City Planning Commissioners, and other people of note.

Sarah. Laguna, 2:2:16

The Mayor of Sebastopol, Sarah Gurney

Among the first notable birds we saw was a highlight, albeit distant. Although we were quite far away, Anita spotted this lone bald eagle perched atop an oak tree along the southern edge of Delta Pond. We got a  better look at it when, a few moments later, it flew off to the northwest towards the Russian River.

Bald Eagle 2:2:16

Bald Eagles are returning to Sebastopol’s Laguna!

Swimming in the water below the eagle was a lone white pelican. Several paddlers noted that it’s not common to see a white pelican by itself. They’re usually seen in groups and they fish cooperatively.

Solo White Pelican

Solo White Pelican

We paddled north towards the Russian River into the narrowing main channel. With the water level at approximately 57 feet above sea level willows crowded the banks of the channel forcing us to thread our boats between low overhanging branches.

We passed by almost a dozen vultures assembled in a tree awaiting their turn at whatever it was they were eating on the ground below.

TV 2:2:16

Ever patient, always quiet, and happy to clean up the messes it finds. An admirable bird.

A little farther downstream, a kingfisher perched nearby in the tangle of branches.

King Fisher 2:2:16

As usual, this little bird almost eludes my camera!

We had hoped to paddle to the confluence of Santa Rosa Creek, but Anita determined it would be too difficult on this day. We paddled south, back upstream through the channel and back into the “lake” where we started. We made our return trip along the western shore of this seasonal lake near Sebastopol. A group of great egrets were walking along the shore near the Gallo Wetlands area, presumably feeding on small land animals (worms, insects, isopods) displaced by the floodwaters.

Egret.2 2:2:16

The Great Egret is the symbol of the Audubon Society

Some of the first laws to protect birds were enacted to protect the Great Egret which had been hunted nearly to extinction more than 100 years ago. People killed them for their white feathers which in the nineteenth century were popular adornments for hats.

Egret 2:2:16

Yankee Doodle’s macaroni was often a white feather taken from these noble birds.

No trip on wetlands would be complete without a seeing a heron or two. This great blue heron obligingly posed for the camera.

GBH 2:2:16 Laguna Wetlands

A black crowned night heron was a lot less obliging. In fact he or she was so hard to see that I don’t know for sure it was, in fact, a black crowned night heron.

As the excursion came near an end, an interesting sky appeared overhead.

Wetlands Group on Laguna 2:2:16

The rain forecast to fall on our wetlands outing never materialized.

Two hours passed quickly on the water. A little before noon we paddled back to the field from which we launched our splendid trip.

Pull out 2:2:16 Laguna WWD

100% returned!

Link for more information about the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation

Link to photos & video on Facebook taken by Anita Smith

Link to water gauge that indicates: How much water is in the Laguna for paddling. A reading of more than 60 feet is ideal.