Estero de San Antonio

I’ve only paddled the Estero de San Antonio (ESA) once before—more than 32 years ago.

ESA is the little brother of the better-but-still-little-known Estero Americano immediately to the north. There is no public access point for the Estero de San Antonio; it is almost unknown to the paddling public.

Peddalin' Paddlin' Home 7:26:16

To paddle ESA you’ve got to know someone who knows someone who owns land out here to get permission to drive on a ranch to launch your boat.

George Curtis at Launch 7:26:16

George at our launch site on Cornett’s ranch.

Recently I met George Curtis, a semi-retired pharmacist who was born in nearby Santa Rosa. George knows a lot of people, among them one of the sheep ranchers in West Marin County, Chris Cornett. Cornett is a fifth generation sheep rancher running 1400 sheep on more than 800 acres along the Estero de San Antonio.

George invited me to paddle from Chris’s ranch to the coast. At first the going was tough, especially for George’s Mirage Drive-powered Hobie kayak. Algae growing in ESA fouled the propulsion fins on the keel making it inoperable. For the first stretch, George had to resort to paddling.

Gamely Paddling thru Algae 7:26:16

George gamely powered through the first couple of miles of the trip out to the coast.

Half an hour into the trip we made it to the Middle Road bridge where, soon, an algae-free path began to open in the middle of the channel.

The bridge at Middle Road 7:26:16

We passed the remnants of the railroad bridge that once spanned ESA on its way from Sausalito to Duncans Mills.

Railroad Bridge Ruins 7:26:16

There was wildlife to see along the way including this Great Horned Owl, one of three family members living in eucalyptus trees.

Great Horned Owl 7:26:16

Whitaker Bluff loomed above us as we neared the halfway point in our journey to the coast.

Whittaker Bluff 7:26:16

About halfway out to the coast we passed under the last bridge, the Valley Ford-Franklin School Road bridge.

Franklin School Road Bridge 7:26:16

From this point on, the hills got bigger and steeper making the paddle both more dramatic and more mysterious.

Coastal Hills 7:26:16

At times it seemed impossible that this small splendid ribbon of water could wind its way through such steep hills and find its way to the coast.

Way Home 7:26:16

Then, suddenly it air chilled and we knew we were close to our goal. We paddled past an abandoned seaside farm, just a few yards inland from the ocean.

Derelict Ranch Building near Coast 7:26:16

And made our way into the coastal fog,

Fog at Coast 7:26:16

and onto the beach. We shared a sandwich. We didn’t linger there long as it took us more time to make it out the the beach than either of us had anticipated.

At Bodega Bay Beach 7:26:16

The trip back was pleasant. A friendly breeze blew in from the coast. I had remembered to bring my sail which made some sections of the estuary effortless. George spotted a TV watching us from atop a post.

TV Watching Us! 7:26:16

We cut short the trip to avoid the algae-clogged last mile or so and pulled our kayaks out under the watchful eye of a Holstein bull.

Homestretch 7:26:16

Luckily, the bull didn’t seem perturbed by our activity and we got home in time to enjoy a beer at George’s place with his lovely wife, Shannon and her visiting parents. Our paddle took us almost four hours on the water and covered just a little more than 11 miles.

Here is a map of our adventure:


Dawn Paddle, Russian River: River Otter Attacks Heron

At dawn the usual gray overcast from the coast was absent. Camp was still and quiet. I got dressed and wheeled the canoe down to the river directly—without stopping for coffee.

Dawn Paddle 7:20:16

The River was glassy and warm enough to send mists curling aloft from the surface and toward the sky. Dawn is magical.

A female Mallard was breakfasting in algae growing on near the island downriver not far from camp.

Female Mallard, DMCC 7:20:16

A Great Blue Heron worked the nearby shallows .

Heron in Mist

It was watching me carefully as I took its photo. I got too close, and it flew away downriver. We encountered each other repeatedly—like the Heron, I was making my way downriver, too.

GBH 7:20:16

The Heron posed again and again.

GBH 7:20:16-2

Near the end of Freezeout Road the Heron stood along a heavily wooded section of the river bank. Suddenly, out from the cover of the brushy woods, a River Otter sprang out at the Heron and came within it whisker-length of biting its legs. The Heron leapt straight into the sky, as Herons do, and flew upriver, squawking loudly and repeatedly in its hoarse, raspy voice. It had had enough of me.

The River Otter’s attack happened suddenly and was over so quickly that I was not able to capture it on film.

Cute as they may be, River Otters are ferocious creatures. This was the first time I saw a River Otter attack a bird. I have read that they sometimes hunt together and take Brown Pelicans. There is video from the River Otter Ecology Project of a River Otter in a standoff with a Coyote on Tomales Bay.

As I returned to the beach in late morning, a bird not seen that often flew overhead and landed on the island near camp: a Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle 7:20:16

The rewards of paddling early in the day are well worth the extra effort.

And, after a brisk morning’s paddle on the Russian River, the coffee tasted especially good.

A Trip to Estero Americano, Part Three, Birds & a Baby Deer

Part Two, I talked a bit about the fish I saw in the Estero Americano on the most recent trip.

With fish you’ll usually see critters that eat them, especially birds:

Great Blue Herons,

GBH @ EA 7:11:16

White Pelicans,

White Pelicans EA

Several Osprey (which have recently been absent from Estero Americano as far as I know)

Osprey with Lunch 7:11:16

One of the medium sized fish about to become an early lunch.

Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and Great Egrets as well, none of which posed close enough for a good photo.

A Black-necked Stilt was hanging out with White Pelicans near Whale’s Tail. This one was a solo operator.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts have long pink legs to allow wading in estuaries. They eat invertebrates living in the muddy/sandy bottom

A Red-Tailed Hawk landed on a bush on the Sonoma County shore a little more than halfway to the coast.

Red Tailed Hawk

As I took this photo I wasn’t sure of what it was, so I leaned on the experts at iNaturalist to help with the bird ID.

A young deer got separated from its mother and ran back and forth along the Marin County shore making plaintive cries to call her back.

Deer, EA, 7:11:16

With all the fish in the Estero, I had hoped to see a River Otter or two or three, but none showed themselves that day.


A Trip to Estero Americano, Part Two, Fish!

Before launching at the Estero Americano a large fish swam past the launch pad. My camera was still in the car, so I was not able to get a photograph of it, but my best guess is that it was more than two feet long. It looked like a steelhead.

How did such a large fish get into the Estero? The mouth is closed. Was this fish there to spawn?

The whole way out to the ocean I saw schools of very small—smaller than a kid’s little finger—fish roil the water. They often took short silvery leaps into the air. It’s hard to get a photo of this behavior. Here’s the best:

Jumping Fingerlings

They are smaller than you might guess from this photo. Maybe 1 to 2 inches long.

Are these offspring of the likes of the larger fish I saw swimming at the launch?

I also saw medium-sized fish, bigger than the schooling fry fish. These ranged from about four to ten inches long. Near a group of White Pelicans I found a half dozen dead ones floating on the sides. According to fellow naturalists on iNaturalist, this is an Anchovy.

Dead Smolt 7:11:16

Out at the beach, there was plenty of evidence that at high tide waves wash over the sandbar and spill into the Estero. The northern part of the beach was covered in seaweed carried out of the ocean and deposited on the sand. Seaweed covered the bottom of the lagoon near the closed mouth.

Washed Beach EA 7:11:16

Looking east into Estero Americano from the north end of the EA beach on Bodega Bay

I’ve seen videos of anadromous fish swimming in water only two inches deep washing across roads in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve seen harbor seals swim/crawl in waves barely washing over sandbars on the Northern California coast.

So I guess that the Anchovies and larger fish (steelhead, probably) swam through water washing over the bar to get into the Estero Americano. But how would they know to swim on the waves washing across this particular beach?

Nearby was some hardware installed on the beach, a well for a hatchery about which I know very little.

Hatchery Well 7:11:16

Anyone know about a hatchery here?

This is something to learn more about!

On the paddle back I enjoyed the company of fellow Estuarians, birds that eat fish, that is: Great Blue Herons, American White Pelicans, Cormorants, Osprey, Great Egrets, and Snowy Egrets. I’ll save pictures of them for a future post.