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.
Though 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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.