Richardson Bay, January 31, 2017

Weather forecasts predict rainy weather soon. I was hoping to get one more estuarine outing in January.

Lyrinda emailed me to suggest a Richardson Bay outing on today’s midday high tide and in light northeast winds. I had not visited Richardson Bay since my trip with nephew John back in August, 2016.

Soon after starting we passed a snoozing Pelican.

Pelican on Piling

Many animals rest near the yachts and houseboats along Sausalito’s shore. They are accustomed to human spectators and learn to tolerate curiosity and cameras.

Lyrinda approaching a flotilla of Harbor Seals

Many harbor seals haul out on docks and logs and rafts.

Just a few of many scores of seals

North of here, where I usually paddle, hunting is common. Birds won’t let a paddler get within 200 feet.

Here, near the marinas, it’s a different story. This Western Grebe didn’t seem alarmed even though it was within about 30 feet of the camera.

Western Grebe

Cormorants were abundant.

Cormorant looking for herring, probably.

Eight or more Great Blue Herons stood watch under the Highway 101 bridge that crosses over Richardson Bay. The last of the flooding current carried us slowly toward them. Paddles resting across cockpits, cameras busy, we floated by, very near them.

Great Blue Heron under the 101 bridge

We paddled toward Mill Valley to E. Blithedale Ave. In the marshes of Bayfront Park we saw many shorebirds.

Aptly named Greater Yellowlegs

Least Sandpipers (I think.)

Least Sandpiper? This bird bobbed its tail in a distinctive way.

And many other birds as well—Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Canada Geese, and others.

On the way back we picked our way among the many houseboats of Waldo Point. We paddled for three hours and covered a little more than nine miles.

Great Blue at Waldo Point, Sausalito

If you need to escape the dizzying dismay of your daily newsfeed—as I do—I recommend getting outside in nature and looking into the eyes of wild things.

A map of our journey:

Petaluma Marsh Cabins

I had the pleasure of visiting the Petaluma Marsh Cabins yesterday with fellow paddler and nature photographer Lyrinda Snyderman.

It was a perfect day for a trip out to the cabins: sunny and surprisingly warm for January with a noon high tide accompanied by calm winds. Before we had paddled a mile, the sun burned off the fog that had socked in the marina as we launched.

A pair of swans flew overhead as we arrived.

A hawk stood on a cabin roof.

Only the MARSH MELLOW cabin appears to be in active use and good repair.

Others are in various stages of disrepair.

Some of the cabins are not much more than piles of used lumber ready for recycling.

Lyrinda wanted to paddle around the area before stopping for lunch.

We spent some time with a herd of curious and friendly cows.

The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) tracks run along the western edge of the cabin area. The SMART trains go by regularly, running empty on trial runs. They plan to begin service late spring 2017, though the date of opening for passenger service has not yet been set.

Paddling out to the cabins used to be a little tricky. The channels can be narrow and intertwine in confusing ways. If the tide goes out too much, you lose the ability to see beyond the banks to the channel and enter into a labyrinth which can become impassible in the falling tide and disappearing water.

Thanks to iPhones and the Stava app, I was able to see where I was on the map and avoid taking some wrong turns on the way back to the marina where we arrived safe and sound for lunch.

Here is a map of our outing.

A link to Lyrinda’s excellent photos of our trip:

LYRINDA’S PHOTOS

More about the Petaluma Marsh Cabins.

Estero Americano Now Open

As I was packing my lunch and thermos of hot tea into my kayak I noticed the water in the Estero Americano running urgently toward the sea. Little eddies swirled quickly past the launch. A fallen Poplar tree had been pushed by the current up against the bridge. The current held it tight against the bridge pilings. The trunk almost blocked the channel.

I had never seen water flow so quickly through the Estero. I expected to find its mouth open when I got out to Bodega Bay.

The winds were calm. The sun shone strongly enough to take the chill out of the morning air. Without much effort I floated down the channel through the pastures and out beyond the dairy. Soon I found myself surrounded by Estero Americano’s calm beauty.

Estero Americano Serenity

Bufflehead ducks, one of the smallest ducks we see, spend winter all across the southern United States. They winter as far south as Mexico and spend summers in Canada. In January they are a common wintertime sight in Northern California. Yesterday was no exception. They were everywhere in couples or small flocks, often groups of two to four couples.

Bufflehead Duck Couple

As I paddled past the hanging gardens I was cheered to see Barney and Betty Barn Owl watching over the middle reach of the Estero.

We see each other regularly.

When paddling solo I usually see River Otters in the Estero. They often seem curious about a quiet human in a bright orange boat.

Who’s that?

This otter had a long look before deciding to vamoose. The camera scared him.

Had I not been upwind of this fellow, I think I’d have gotten closer. I could hear it sniffing me.

Rounding the final bend in the Estero, I could hear the roaring ocean. By now the current carried my boat at a good clip toward the breakers. It would be a bad time to lose my paddle! This is why I tie my paddle to my boat. Otherwise I would risk losing it while handling my camera.

This scene put some butterflies in the stomach.

The Estero’s mouth was open.

A beach swept clean by storm waves

The beach had been washed clean by huge waves from the recent storms. My bootprints were the only human footprints in the sand.

Looking south, toward Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore

I had lunch and tea in the dunes. A peaceful interlude.

Lunch spot in the dunes.

Here is a 24-second video of the water running out of the Estero.

At least two harbor seals were working the mouth of the Estero. Having seen Steelhead Trout in the Estero last year, my hunch is that at least a few Steelheads try their luck at spawning in the Estero watershed. That would explain the Harbor Seals, who don’t often come into the Estero these days. This one seems to have already enjoyed a midday meal.

I could be reading too much into that facial expression.

A curious River Otter visited my kayak while I was exploring the beach. He or she left muddy footprints on the foredeck. Perhaps it was the same one that I saw on the way out.

Foredeck footprints of a curious otter

The way home against the current was a real slog. The current strengthened in the afternoon, perhaps with the falling tide at the ocean. I got a workout bigger than I bargained for.

Despite my weary arms I saw things I had not noticed on the way out.

Nine deer.

Deer? What deer?

Zoomed in, you can see them.

They kept their distance from me.

A picnic table belonging to Sonoma Land Trust lodged high in the rocks. (I’ll call to let them know where it is—I’m guessing they don’t know what had happened to it.) The Land Trust has preserved 547 acres of land near the mouth. These acres will eventually be open it to the public.

Sonoma Land Trust’s picnic table

A Turkey Vulture sunned itself on a fencepost.

TV worth watching!

The paddle back to the launch against the current took nearly three hours. I estimate that the current added the equivalent almost three miles’ worth of distance to the already five-and-a-half mile long return journey.

Note fallen poplar tree in channel under bridge

It felt good to get home, tuckered out, hungry, and thirsty for a big cuppa hot black tea.

Monitoring Estero Americano/Storm Waves

Here’s a report on a quick trip out to the Estero Americano before the imminent three-day onslaught of rain begins.

I was curious to see if the heavy surf associated with recent storms might have closed the mouth of the Estero which would allow its waters to rise again. Sure enough, this appears to have happened.

Water is high enough to top the channel

 

Seeing the high water made me want to visit the coast to have a look at the big waves implied by the Estero’s high waters.

Big breakers on Doran Beach

Big combers thundered on Doran Beach. Despite the fact that it was low tide when these photos were taken waves washed so far up the beach that they almost reached the dunes.

This beach usually has small waves that are safe enough for youngsters to play in. Not today!

Even from the vantage point of standing on the dunes behind the beach the waves felt threatening. Out in Bodega Bay proper, huge Mavericks-like waves were rising and breaking in places I have never seen waves break before. Jackie Sones over at Natural History of Bodega Head reports the waves reached 26 feet at the buoys. Her blog reports on these waves, too.

After 30 minutes of mesmerizing wave-watching I retreated to the relative calm of the old sewage ponds adjacent to the Bodega Bay water treatment facility nestled between Highway 1 and Bodega Harbor.

I heard some quacking and walked around looking for the ducks. There they were, swimming in the bottom of this normally dry abandoned pond

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard

With a Great Blue Heron in the bargain.

Stand still for the camera!

Quick Trip on Lake Sebastopol

Yesterday morning, as I checked the weather forecast an intense downpour fell. Fat raindrops beat an angry and loud drumroll on our skylight.

Despite this, the forecast called for a brief respite from the rains that had fallen overnight. It promised a brief window of sunshine that would begin in an hour. So I donned a raincoat and loaded my kayak on the car. I drove, windshield wipers slapping away the last of the rain shower to “Lake Sebastopol,” our seasonally flooded pastureland along our eastern border.

Launch at Occidental Road

The sun came out, just as forecast, but so suddenly it seemed like magic. Our lake refilled.

Muddy waters

Paddling away from Occidental Road I could hear a group of about eight Acorn Woodpeckers working the oak trees standing in the lake. They had a lot to say to one another. They seemed unconcerned by the guy in the orange boat on the water below them.

The holes in the trunk serve as acorn storage spots

Acorn Woodpeckers have a complex social systems. The Acorn Woodpecker story is beautifully told by Kate Marianchild in her book, Secrets of the Oak Woodlands.

Not sure why, but several birds took this pose, with their backs to sun—perhaps to warm themselves? Note acorns in storage.

Farther south, towards Sebastopol, waters had flooded the dairy pastures.

Also flooded was the field east of the Laguna’s main channel. A favorite walking trail, open most of the year, lays beneath these waters.

Laguna Park’s pasture

This is the gate through which hikers pass from the pasture to the main trail.

Please close the gate behind you….

At the southern end of this trail is a gap in the fence leading to Sebastopol’s Meadowlark field. You have to be careful not to touch the poison oak vines that grow on both sides of this portal. At this time of year the poison oak has no leaves or even buds, just the bare vines wrapping themselves on the tree trunk. Hard to see in this photo, (unless you click on the photo to enlarge the image) but those vines are there. If you don’t know what poison oak looks like without leaves and you’re as allergic to it as I am, maybe clicking on the photo below is worth doing. 🙂

South entrance to the County pedestrian trail

Clouds gathered and dispersed.

Thunderheads make you think about… lightning.

The Laguna Foundation’s headquarters were visible from the Laguna.

The new building is mostly hidden beneath the palm trees and between the original farmhouse and the rusty-roofed barn building at the right of this photo

Laguna shoreline.

Toward the end of the paddle a Great Egret stood on the western shore of Lake Sebastopol.

These are the birds whose beautiful feathers were coveted by hat wearers back in the day. The Great Egret’s survival was threatened. Efforts to save these birds (and other waders like them) led to the founding of the Audubon Society in 1896.

So I’m thankful to the people who organized themselves to protect these birds so that 121 years later I can enjoy seeing them enjoy a day out on the Laguna. May their example inspire us to do our part to protect wildlife now and in the coming years.

A map of the trip: