Big River

With a lunar eclipse and a “Supermoon” the moon and sun are aligned with the earth in a way that produces an unusually high midday tide. These are ideal conditions to paddle the estuaries open to the ocean along the coast of Northern California.

I took myself out on a solo trip to Big River near the quaint town of Mendocino. My idea was to arrive at the mouth in time for last of the flood tide, ride it upstream a few miles, have lunch, and then ride the ebbing current back to the coast. But I overslept and when I finally arrived at the launch ramp a bit past 10:00 AM the tide was 7.3’ high and the current was slack. Not a problem, really, just a little more exercise than planned to get upstream.

Solo paddling starts out feeling a bit lonely. Loneliness is keened weekdays on this quiet, wild coast. I encountered only one other human the whole day—a paddler who was finishing his trip as I was beginning my own.

When out on an estuary, the absence of human companionship almost guarantees the presence of mammalian and avian company. There was plenty to see:

Great Blue Herons

Harbor Seals

Western Grebes

River Otters





And much else that I was unable to photograph well enough for here: Red Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Bufflehead Ducks, Mallards, Kingfishers,


Mendocino Land Trust has done much to protect, preserve, and enhance the Big River Estuary. It’s wonderful to see so many signs of recovery of the ecosystem here. You can learn more about their efforts—and see a great trail map of the multi use path that follows the northern shore of this wonderful estuary at their website:


Estero Tops Its Banks

Today the waters of the Estero Americano are above the banks of the channel and have flooded the adjacent pasturelands. It’s a seasonal inland lagoon. With more rain in tomorrow’s forecast, today’s sunny weather made for ideal conditions for a patrol of the Estero.

At the start, just under the bridge

Flooded pastures. Cows walk;humans paddle.

In flood stage, paddling conditions improve in three ways. Instead of having the follow the looping, sinuous channel, a paddler can beeline from pond to pond, thus trimming the trip out to the coast by more than a mile.

The views from a seated kayaker’s cockpit are better, too. Instead of putting up with hemmed in views of the channel walls, a paddler can see out across the flooded pastures to hills in the distance.

Near Buckeye Bend

Its much easier to launch a kayak from the Marsh Road launch spot because instead of having to negotiate a steep channel wall, you can simply step into your boat as it floats in a few inches of water above the pasture grass.

As is often the case, I am the only paddler on the Estero.

Just me and the

Buffleheads Duck



And the shorebirds at the beach.

I missed seeing my owlish friends again today.

A map of my outing:



Estero Americano Full!

Nearly a year ago, the 2017 spring rains that had filled the Estero Americano quit abruptly right after a downpour that breached the sand dam at the mouth. The Estero drained out fully and became tidal.

April 24, 2017

Spring, summer, and fall water levels remained low enough to discourage me from paddling there for the rest of 2017.

Happily, rain* has returned to California. The Estero has filled up and pleasant paddling levels are here for now. Yesterday I was able to paddle out to the mouth for the first time in ten months.

In many places, water has flooded above the channel walls and spilled into the adjacent fields to form wide and shallow ponds. It’s easy to accidentally veer out of the channel and temporarily lose the “path” through the pastures. If the upcoming rains add two more feet of depth to the Estero’s waters, the channel will become unnecessary and the Estero will become a vast and navigable inland lake.

Looking back at the launch area

Halfway out to the beach at the Hanging Gardens I noticed that the hole in the wall where the barn owls once lived does not have the telltale guano at the entrance that suggests it to be in active use, but perhaps it is.

I was happy yesterday to see a barn owl nearby on a tree in the hanging garden. I had not seen either of the resident owls in the spring of 2017 and had been concerned about them.

Barn Owl, January 2018

Near to the beach a Great Blue Heron stood on the shore.

GBH near mouth

I enjoyed a thermos of hot black tea, a can of kipper snacks, and a mozzarella cheese stick as I watched big waves roar into shore against a strong offshore wind.


Lunch spot

Getting outdoors in January feels like quite a privilege after spending a good chunk of winter back east with my grandson and their family. It got pretty cold back there.

On the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia



*Rain has returned, but we are behind seasonal averages so far this season and may be headed back into a drought.