San Francisco Bay/Estuary Getting Healthier?

Paddling buddies from the Petaluma Paddlers were out last Sunday on a trip around Angel Island. They were treated to a display of Humpback Whales feeding in the bay between Angel Island and Alcatraz.

Both Dick Mallory and Lyrinda Synderman—both of them readers of this blog—were able to capture video of what they saw. Lyrinda’s video has been featured on the local TV news stations.

It’s very encouraging to see efforts to restore this ecosystem result in the return of whales. I’ve not seen Humpbacks in the Bay, but in early in May I watched Gray Whales feeding in almost the same location.

Channel 4 has the best edit I’ve seen so far. The kayaker you see is Dick Mallory; the lovely musical voice and the cogent commentary is Lyrinda’s. Great video made by great paddling companions. Don’t miss it! Click below.

VIDEO: Close encounter with whales in SF Bay

John Muir Laws Nature Journaling Workshop

John Muir Laws teaches nature journaling workshops around the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to his North bay workshop this morning in Tiburon/Belvedere.

Jack inspired a breakthrough by saying (paraphrasing here), “To quell you inner critic, don’t try to make a pretty picture. Instead make a drawing in your nature journal for other reasons:

  1. to notice more
  2. to remember details you’d otherwise forget
  3. to stoke your curiosity, and
  4. to fall in love with the world

What great advice! As soon as the workshop was over, I hopped on my bicycle, rode out to Raccoon Strait, and pulled out my Nature Journal to make this drawing of the scene before me. It may not be much of a picture, but making this drawing did help me achieve those four aims, and it felt really good doing it.

Drawing-Racoon Strait

A RARE attempt at a landscape

The inner critic thus muzzled, that nature journal that’s been languishing in the bottom of my backpack might get out more often!

A Trip to Estero Americano, Part One, Owls

Last Saturday I volunteered at the Laguna Foundation’s presentation by the Hungry Owl Project, “Owls Rule the Night” and it whetted my appetite to visit a pair of Barn Owls who nest in the Hanging Gardens on Estero Americano.

I visited them today. Some internet sources will tell you that Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal, I had a hunch that that ain’t so. Get an early enough start, and there’s a good chance of seeing one.

Before 8:00 I had paddled out to their cave in the cliff. Sure enough, one of them was up in his (I’ll call it a he, but I’m not sure of that) looking out at the world.

Chez Barn Owl, EA 7:11:16

Look, the owl is up there.

Zooming in, he looks like he’s been out all night and has just finished his day’s-ending meal—supper for him—and ready to snooze the day away.

Dozing Owl 7:11:16

Barn Owls like to live in cavities. They line their cavity homes with torn-apart owl pellets, which are the regurgitated balls fur and bones of their prey, mostly small rodents which they usually swallow whole.

It’s fun to pick apart an owl pellet should you ever come across one. They’re little balls of fur about the size of a ping pong ball. As you pull apart the fur, little rodent bones are revealed.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, females are more colorful than the males, so this one is probably the female of the pair.

Barn Owl, Leggy 7:11:16

How do you like those legs? All the better to catch mice in long grass at night!

The two of them flew out of their nest cavity and watched me from perches on the cliff.

Barn Owl on Cliff 7:11:16

Barn Owls are small and light birds with a lot of wing area and a light weight body. Light wing loading along with special soft-edged feathers make for buoyant, nearly silent flight. As they flew nearby I listened to see if I could hear their wing beats—to no avail. (Many other birds make quite a lot of noise as they fly. Hummingbirds are famous for that!)

Here’s a video by the BBC that shows Barn Owls flying over sensitive microphones, and making almost no sound at all.

In this video by the Barn Owl Trust they make the point that Barn Owls are an indicator species, meaning that the presence of Barn Owls indicates the overall health of the ecosystem.

Another encouraging sign of the health of the Estero is the fact that it’s got a lot of fish in it this year. That’s the subject of a future post.


Albion River

A trip to the Albion River can be a pleasant estuarine outing.

The Albion River is in Mendocino County a little north of the Navarro River (which California Highway 128 follows out to the Pacific).

The Albion stays open to the Pacificn in contrast to the Navarro, Gualala, and the Russian Rivers to the south—all of which have a tendency to close their mouths and become lagoons in the summer.

The Albion feels alive, as if it inhales and exhales briny water from the Eastern Pacific twice each day with the flooding and ebbing tidal currents.

Albion River Bridge

Highway One bridge over the Albion River

The Albion is home to familiar denizens of Northern California’s estuaries: Harbor Seals, Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, Osprey, Great Egrets, and Kingfishers, among much else.

It is the quiet that makes the Albion River so special.

An old road, unused since the area was logged off long ago, follows the north bank of the river. Remnants of the loggers’ docks and piers rot along the southern bank. Forests have grown back along the banks of the Albion.

As far as human noises go, all is quiet now save for the occasional drone of small aircraft passing overhead. You hear mostly birds: winds whistling in Cormorants’ wings; Ospreys whistling their delight in finding fish (and their splashing plunges into the river); Kingfishers scolding.

Soon after paddling upstream you leave modern human activity behind, save for a few empty houseboats moored quietly upstream.

Houseboat in Albion

The largest of the houseboats

When planning your paddling adventure on the Albion, here are some guidelines to keep ensure your trip is a success.

  1. Plan your trip to ride a flooding current upstream from the coastal launching area at the mouth.
  2. The Albion paddles best with about 3.5′ of water in it. (Less water than that and mudflats line the banks.) Don’t leave too early, and avoid launching after a minus tide.
  3. Remember that ebbing currents get going approximately 2 hours AFTER high tide. If you want to ride in on a flood, have lunch, and then ride the ebb back, look for a 5′ or better high tide that crests at about 10:00 to 10:30 AM.

Albion River, afternoon

Here’s the sign at the Albion Campground and Marina office:

Albion Signage

The current parking/kayak launching fee is $5.00 per adult. There is another campground a little further upstream along the northern bank, Schooner Landing.

Map of today’s trip: