January 17, 2017

Northern California has been drying out since last week’s big storms.

As I write this entry Tuesday evening, an atmospheric river of rainwater stretches halfway across the Pacific and is taking aim at this part of North America. We’re in for more drenching rains. At least 2 inches—and perhaps more—is forecast to begin falling tomorrow.

This morning I drove out to Estero Americano to see how high the water level is. The mouth is open and the Estero’s water level has fallen dramatically. Runoff from the coming storms will be able to rush down the Estero’s channels and drain out into Bodega Bay. The bad smell that had been pervading the place has diminished.

I decided to paddle at Jenner today. Wildlife enthusiasts would have been rewarded by the sight of many animal residents present in the Russian River’s estuary today. People watchers, however, would have had to settle for seeing only one specimen floating on the estuary today—the Estuarian.

Small flocks of Bufflehead Ducks were scattered about.

Two male Bufflehead Ducks. Note the iridescence on their heads and necks.

Just downstream of the launch ramp a River Otter climbed up on a rock. It didn’t see me at first, but once it did, it quickly dove back into the river to swim upstream past the interpretive building and out of sight.

River Otter on its way upstream from Jenner

Many Gulls and Seals gathered near the mouth. I stayed well back so as not to disturb them and, just as important to me, to keep myself out of the strong currents running downriver and out into the Pacific.

Gulls and Seals

As I made my way back to Penny Island some Goldeneye Ducks swam by. Two types of Goldeneyes are common on the west coast, Common Goldeneyes and Barrow’s Goldeneyes. The fellow on the right, I believe, is a Common Goldeneye. The bird on the left in this photo is one I cannot identify. My best guess: immature female Common Goldeneye.

Goldeneye on the right side of this photo

A mature female Common Goldeneye Duck swam by.

Female Common Goldeneye

A pair of Western Gulls joined my solo tea party on a gravelly beach on the western end of Penny Island. They each got a little bit of a RyVita cracker as compensation for posing.

One of a pair of Western Gulls

Further upstream a Great Blue Heron stood among rocks along the river’s north shore.

Great Blue Heron

Several pairs of Merganser Ducks commandeered the gravel bar in the lee of Paddy’s Rock. The males are in their black-and-white breeding plumage.

Mergansers on Paddy’s Rock’s gravel bar

Three hours after starting out it was time to head home. Some Western Grebes ventured near enough to get some photos.

Western Grebe soon to be in breeding plumage

In a few weeks these birds will develop breeding plumage that will improve their looks. The whites will be whiter, the darks darker. The line down the neck where the white feathers meet the dark feathers will sharpen.



Laguna Paddle January 12, 2017

A little more than eight inches of rain has fallen in Sebastopol in 2017—enough to keep this paddler off the estuaries—until today. The rain has filled the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It’s brimming with water now.

A paddling friend (and fellow photgrapher), Lyrinda Snyderman, has wanted to go out on the Laguna since last year. The other day she asked if I’d be willing to take her out. Mais oui! Today—the first real break in the rain since the Laguna has filled—was our chance.

We started a little past 8:00 am. There was a chill in the air, and snow on the Mayacama mountains east of here. The water had flooded enough to swamp Sanford Road. It was our boat ramp.

Not a good place for cars or trucks, even macho ones. Sanford Road is now the final resting place of this big pickup truck.

Someone drove a jacked up Hummer into the drink a few days ago. He needed to be rescued by helicopter.

So much water filled the Laguna that we were able to paddle much farther north and east than usual. This cute little cabin wasn’t too far from the water’s edge.

We made our way past dairy on Hall Road. These cows normally have much more pasture land on which to roam. They took a curious interest in the funny boats floating by.

We hoped to see Bald Eagles which have been visiting the Laguna of late. When we saw this raptor both of us wanted it to be a juvenile eagle, but, it turned out to be a hawk.

We got far enough north (downstream) to come within easy earshot of Guerneville Road, though it was not visible through the brush growing between us and the cars and trucks making all the noise.

We had a nice chat with Guy Smith of Georgetown who was standing by the shore of the Laguna and very near the barn closest to the water. He told tales of the mountain lions who have come through his place over the years. Guy is a collector of interesting things. His place is chock full of interesting stuff. Click that link above to find out more.

Here’s Lyrinda as we paddled away from Guy’s place.

Paddling in California’s wintertime is really fun. The winds are usually much better for kayaking than in the warmer summer months. All you need is a sit-inside kayak and the proper clothing to have a great outing.

Lyrinda and I enjoyed an after-paddle lunch at Sebastopol’s new fish place, Handline. We both enjoyed the food we got. I suggested this place because it’s a beautifully repurposed Foster’s Freeze restaurant, designed by architect Steve Sheldon. Lyrinda, a retired architect, appreciated the renovation, the good food, and the complimentary sparkling water.

We paddled almost eight miles in the flood waters covering the pastures and vineyards below. Here is a map of our morning.

Estero Americano, Emptied

The Estero’s rain-swollen waters had recently risen high enough to flood Marsh Road and inundate the launch area.

Now the sandbar that had been blocking the mouth of Estero Americano is breached. Gone is the water that had risen out of the channel and flooded adjacent pastures.

The water level is back to normal with the channel wending its way through the fields. The pastures, recently at the bottom of “Lake Valley Ford” are brown with muck. The air stinks of dairy and poultry waste.

Estero Americano, January 5, 2017

There’s a noticeable current flowing under the bridge, out towards Bodega Bay. Perhaps a strong Pacific swell will soon reseal the mouth of the Estero.

Hopefully the rains forecast for the coming week will wash some of the muck off the pasture grasses and perhaps begin to fill the Estero up again.