Russian River’s Mouth, March 30, 2016

Earlier in March heavy rains swelled the Russian River and all its tributaries. A recent spell of dry weather has quieted the flow in the brooks and streams where I live. I wanted to visit to see what the river’s mouth looks like.

The kayak was on the roof of the car, but there was enough wind and current to convince me to have a landlocked look from above at the turnout just north of Jenner on California State Highway One.

The mouth of the river is much narrower, maybe a quarter of the width during its maximum flow earlier this month. Still, there is a plenty of current running into the Pacific. The current accelerates in places where the river narrows as it does here at the mouth.

RiverMouthatJenner3:30:16Though barely visible in the photo above, a large number of harbor seals are hauled out on the sand here, resting between easy meals of hatchery-bred anadromous fish. (Those poor fish swim from the river’s mouth into the seal’s mouth.)

It’s pupping season. Harbor seals give birth and suckle their pups on land. With binoculars it’s easy to spot the little ones from the overlook.

Pup at Jenner 3:30:16

You just want to think, Dad, Mom, and Baby. A better guess: Random guy, Mom, and Baby.

According to Wikipedia, harbor seal courtship and mating occur underwater. They are though to be polygamous, though that’s not certain.

The gestation period for harbor seals lasts nine months, just like humans. And, like humans, they give birth to one pup at a time.

Unlike human babies, harbor seal pups are well developed at birth, weighing in at about 16 km (35 pounds). Hours after being born, pups are in the water swimming and diving.

After only one month of suckling on their mom’s rich milk, pups double their weight to more than 30 kilograms (70 pounds). At that point, mom quits suckling her pups. She’s got other things on her mind….

Pup at Jenner-2 3:30:16

Sunning themselves on the sand next to their moms, they bring to mind corpulent vacationers on Waikiki.

Soon after her milk dries up, Mommy Seal is back in the mating game. Wikipedia is silent about how much time is spent mating—probably because what goes on under the waves stays under the waves.

When mating is done, it’s time for mom’s make-over: she molts. During the molting season, seals like to rest frequently on land. Birthing, suckling, and molting, all done while on land, are the reasons why seals need protection from human disturbances on the California coast from March 1 through June 30.

Here at the beach across from Jenner, the needed protection is provided, hopefully, by a three-strand yellow polypropylene rope. When they can, volunteers from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods are there to talk to visitors in an effort to keep human disturbance to a minimum.

Still, even on a weekday there are plenty of bipeds about.

Beach Bipeds

Bipeds looking out to sea. Note yellow rope in foreground.

Skillful Aviators

The highway turnout is also a good place to watch soaring birds fly past on the onshore winds that blow up and over the coastal bluff.

Just as I arrived—and before I could extract my camera from its bag—a pair of Ravens gracefully plied the sky before me. A Red-Tailed Hawk hung in the air above the hill behind me, studying the ground below, perhaps looking at a scrumptious rodent? This beautiful bird was almost beyond the reach of my camera’s lens.

Red Tail 3:30:16

Seagulls and Turkey Vultures floated past at regular intervals.Without flapping, they make their way on their coastal journeys north and south, skillfully and without any apparent physical effort. It is difficult to get a photograph that suggests how skillful and beautiful these aviators are.

TV by the Sea 3:30:16

It was hard to leave the overlook, but it was time to get back to Camp Estuarian, 5 miles upriver, in Duncans Mills, for supper.

Camp Estuarian 3:30:16

Solo Lake Sonoma

I ventured a few miles upstream of the Russian River estuary today to paddle out of Lake Sonoma’s Yorty Creek launch area near Cloverdale.

Yorty Creek 3:24:16

On weekdays it’s quiet and peaceful there. Except at the launch area, I saw only one other boater on the Lake the whole day in more than 10 miles of paddling.

Ospreys were about. This one was occupying a nest built on top of a tree standing about 8 feet above the lake.

Osprey on Nest 3:24:16

Another was trying to catch a fish.

Osprey in Flight 3:24:16

There was enough ambient noise from brooks tumbling into the lake and from wind in the trees that it was possible to approach turtles without them hearing the kayak. This one dove into the water soon after the camera shutter clicked.

Sunning Turtle 3:24:16

A killdeer stood on a rock near and let me drift in quite close for this picture.

Killdeer 3:24:16

Acorn Woodpeckers were busy in their pantries doing what they do best: storing acorns.

Sideview Woodpecker 3:24:16

Acorns stored in the holes

Woodpecker at Work 3:24:16

Cormorants were working the lake today too.

Cormorant 3:24:16

After years of drought, it was good to visit Lake Sonoma again and see it so full of water, and so empty of noisy boaters. Friends in the Petaluma Paddlers may go up to another part of the lake on Sunday. They’re in for a treat.

Map of the trip:

Bolinas Lagoon

Weather forecasters have been calling for a spell of sunny weather.

Favorable weather together with midday high tides prompted Jono and me to venture out on waters we’ve never paddled before: Bolinas Lagoon.

Bolinas Map

Bolinas (at the bottom of this map) sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault at the southern end of Point Reyes National Seashore. Note how it is aligned along the fault with Tomales Bay to the north.

The only other time I came here to paddle a boat was about twenty years ago. I had just bought a sit-on-top kayak. Donning a wetsuit, I went out into the ocean. There were medium small waves breaking on the beach. I thought it would be easy to surf them.

45 minutes later I dragged my boat, my sorry sandy self, and my bruised body back on the beach. I never returned.

The thrashing taught me nothing about the placid lagoon behind the sandbar.

I could see that it looked pretty shallow. The satellite image below reveals just how shallow Bolinas Lagoon is.

JPEG sat

Knowing this we launched this morning a couple of hours before high tide. We started off just inside the mouth of the lagoon and, carried by the flooding current set off on a north northwesterly course along the western shore. First we passed the row of quaint cottages along the Bolinas waterfront.

Bolinas 3:23:16

The flooding tide carried us towards Bolinas County Park and into a maze of channels that steadily got narrower and shallower. We hoped that the current would carry us far enough to join the main channel that parallels Highway One on the east shore of the lagoon.

Bolinas West Channel 3:23:16

That turned out to be wishful thinking.

Instead, we wended our way to the almost the end and got stuck fast in gooey mud. The fact that the tide was still flooding was reassuring.

It was not easy to turn around. My boat is a little less than 13 feet long and still it took me a quarter of an hour to get turned around and headed back to where we came from.

Jono, in his 17 foot canoe, had more difficulty.

But we finally managed to extract ourselves from our predicament and find our way out into open, but very shallow, water.

Along the way we passed by large sandpipers with long downward curving bills. I think they’re Long-billed Curlews.

Curlew 3:23:16

This bird’s body is about the size of a sea gull.

Just a bit father along we saw these bright-orange billed shore birds, Caspian Terns, I believe.

Caspian Tern 3:23:16


We made our way south over open water in the middle of the lagoon so shallow that our paddles often struck the sandy bottom.

We were able to find a meandering channel that skirted south of Kent Island and back towards an exclusive housing development. Jono said it’s called Seadrift, a gated enclave for people with money.

One medium sized tsunami would sure change Seadrift property values. Have these guys heard about climate change and rising sea levels?

We passed by many harbor seals hauled out, sunning on sandbars. We didn’t get too near to them.

Without realizing it, I captured a photo of a mother seal with her pup. It’s that time of year in seal land.

Harbor Seals w: Pup 3:23:16

Note the pup on the left

We made out way back to our starting point, but the beach we started at had pretty much disappeared under the high tide waters.

Jono Homeward Bound 3:23:16

Jono heading home

We opted to pull our boats out of the water at the dock for the Bolinas Marine Station run by the College of Marin.

A Bellyful of Plastic

Today was the first sunny morning after a rainy weekend in this part of northern California. The USGS  Water Resources Gauge indicated that the Laguna’s flood waters stood below 63′ and were receding about 1′ per day. I had been wanting to paddle on high water south towards Sebastopol from the launch site on Occidental Road. There was no time to delay.

It was a chilly 38°F as I launched the SS Estuarian in the Laguna de Santa Rosa this morning just before 8:00. The wind was calm, the waters empty.

Almost immediately a number of Black-crowned Night Herons took flight from the trees in front of my boat. Most of them flew, out of camera range, but this fellow alighted not far off and hid among the branches of the tree. He kept a watchful red eye, but stayed put in his tree.

Night Heron 3:15:16

Black crowned Night Heron

Horse Farm

Horses on the Laguna

Paddling towards Sebastopol, the Laguna passes the back of farms and dairies before continuing into Sebastopol’s Laguna Wetlands Preserve.

Teen Center & Dairy

Dei Dairy pasture in foreground; Sebastopol Community Center Annex (green roof).

Even at 62′ the water level is barely high enough to get into Sebastopol. As you can see in the photo above, you have to be careful to paddle around fencing that extends into the floodwaters.

In this part of the Laguna there was a lot of trash: discarded single-use plastic bottles, dog-chewed tennis balls, assorted aluminum beer cans, plastic vodka flasks, bits of styrofoam, and even a large shiny Christmas globe. I was able to stow most everything in my kayak (more about that later) as I paddled back to the launch area.

A hawk perched on a pole watched as I passed by.

Hawk 3:15:16

Juvenile Red Tail, maybe. Not sure.

An organized group of paddlers was getting ready to launch when I returned to the car to unload the accumulation of trash plucked from the Laguna during the first half of this outing.

Tour group 3:15:16

I hustled to stay ahead of them. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to be alone.

My hustle was immediately rewarded by some white birds in the northern part of the Laguna. The first, a couple of Snowy Egrets perched high in a snag.

Snowy Egret 3:15:16

Snowy Egret with one leg drawn up

Snowy Egret 2 3:15:16

A flock of American White Pelicans had gathered in a pasture on the eastern shore. During breeding season adults grow projections you see on their upper mandibles near the tip of the bill.

White Pelicans 3:15:16

As I approached some of them got up and began to walk away up the bank. Not wanting to bother them, I backed up and they settled back down. All was calm. Then something spooked a trio of geese near the pelicans. The geese honked noisily and the pelicans took to the air.

American White Pelicans in Flight 3:15:16

They flew off towards the Russian River.

American White Pelicans with St. Helena in Background

American White Pelicans in flight. Mt. St. Helena in background

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Website, All About Birds, American White Pelicans and Double crested Cormorants are often found together. That was true in this case. The Cormorant nests were as just as active (and noisy) as they had been on March 8, the last time I was here.

Double crested Cormorant 3:15:16

Double crested Cormorant March 15, 2016

I wanted to stretch so I paddled over to the west shore towards Georgetown, a quirky treasure trove of some 38 vintage cars and assorted Hollywood movie memorabilia from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s all housed in about two dozen buildings. Georgetown is named after George Smith who started it all and is cared for now by his son, Guy Smith.

Georgetown 3:15:16

One of the buildings in Georgetown

Near Georgetown is a vineyard with a secluded waterfront. That’s where I got out.

SS Estuarian 3:15:16

SS Estuarian

A Bellyful of Plastic

When I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about a puzzle I need to solve: how to pluck a bag full of soggy dog logs out of the water and carry it to a proper disposal site.

You see, I left the neatly tied blue bag of dog doo in the water because, well, you know: it would be mighty unpleasant to have the bag burst and leak all over my boat. (Similar things have happened!)

As it is, that smelly blue bag might possibly float downstream into the Russian River and out into the Eastern Pacific Ocean where baleen whales (Humpbacks, Pacific Grays) swim and feed.

Baleen whales take mouthfuls of water and sieve whatever is in it swallowing that material into their esophagus and on down the hatch into their three-chambered stomach.

Whales don’t have fingers or toothpicks to remove a plastic bag (or a single-use plastic bottle, for that matter) from their baleens before swallowing.

I’ll figure something out. Meanwhile, at least none of the stuff in the photo below is going to find its way downstream. It’s in my garbage can.

The Haul 3:15:16

The standing canister in back was 1/3 full of liquid plant food. My shrubs will be happy. I wonder how it found its way into the Laguna.

If anyone out there has an idea to offer about the blue bags, please share it in the comments.



Coffee with Richard and Darris

Yesterday it rained.

Instead of going out for a cold and rainy paddle, bike or hike, I opted to meet friends Richard and Darris for a warm cup of coffee in a cozy independent coffeehouse in Bodega Bay.

For almost four hours we swapped stories about our enjoyment of the California coast, our appreciation for the way it contributes to our health and well-being, and our efforts to give something back.

Richard told of other people who share these thoughts and feelings and who are doing similar things to take care of the sea. From time to time in coming posts, you’ll learn of a few of these people.

Today: Richard and Judith Lang from Forest Knolls in Marin County, artists who regularly pick up trash that has washed up on Kehoe Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. They sort the trash they collect and use it as materials to make art.

Here’s an inspiring video about making a sculpture called “The Ghost Below” for the California Marine Mammal Center.

Here’s another video about their work.

One Plastic Beach from High Beam Media on Vimeo.

Link to the Lang’s website.

Their work is inspiring.