About Dan

A retired teacher who enjoys being outdoors, especially hiking and paddling along the California coast.

A Beach Without Footprints

Estero Americano is, again, a lovely place to paddle. On my last visit on February 13 the mouth had been open and the Estero’s tidally-influenced waters were too low to paddle to the coast.

But when I arrived at the launch this morning the calm water was nearly to the top of the channel.

The paddle out to the dairy in the warm morning sun was invigorating.

I caught up with and paddled past a couple in a canoe who had arrived ahead of me and were motoring halfway out to the coast. They told me that the mouth was open and the Estero was influenced by tides; I was almost certain that the mouth was closed.

Above us was a large variety of birds: hawks, vultures, ravens, crows, geese, ducks among others. This hawk, which was kiting, defies my ability to identify it. Maybe Larry will know.


Canada Geese are migrating north and stopping here to rest along their journey.

It took less than two hours to paddle the five and a half miles out to the ocean beach which was shrouded in a coastal peasouper.

Not many people find their way to this part of he Pacific Coast. The only human footprints on the beach today were the ones my feet made.

The sandbar at the mouth has indeed sealed the Estero up in all but the highest tides.

And the Estero should slowly fill up with the water running into it from its tributaries. This makes for a pretty place to paddle indeed.

On the return trip I saw

Great Blue Heron

A solitary Western Grebe, who kept well away from me.

Ravens gathered in a group of a dozen birds and put on a show of amazing aerobics. The ravens harassed any hawks and vultures who flew too nearby. It’s usually crows, not Ravens who gather in flocks, but these birds were definitely Ravens.

A breeding pair of Mergansers

And lots of cows from the dairy, including these  heifers.

Gotta love them!

Paddling in the Estero Americano is a great way to enjoy some animal-enriched solitude.

A map of the journey:

Spring Lake

My plans to paddle Lake Sonoma today were foiled by the fact that the road to the boat launch at Yorty Creek was closed. I decided to paddle on the much smaller Spring Lake instead. Fellow blogger and birder Loren Webster visits Spring Lake when he is in the area and has taken many great photos there.

Spring Lake is a Sonoma County Water Agency flood control reservoir built in 1964 to help Santa Rosa avoid floods downtown in heavy rains. In 1986 and 2014 it fulfilled its intended purpose and saved Santa Rosa from significant flooding.

The Sonoma County Regional Parks Department manages recreational uses of the lake. It’s a very popular walking, jogging, dog walking and picnicking park.

The water agency produced a series of seldom-seen short videos about Spring Lake. I’m not exactly sure what audience the producers had in mind, perhaps people walking around the lake and watching YouTube videos about the lake as they go from sign to sign. Their videos won’t win any awards, but they might be worth a look if you’re really interested in this sort of thing. Here’s one of them:

I launched my kayak and immediately encountered a Black-crowned Night Heron.

All around the lake I saw a variety of birds, none of them too shy. Green Herons on the Russian River are much more skittish than the one here along the northeast shore of the lake.

These are secretive birds, so I was happy to get some good photos of this fellow.

Nearby a Mute Swan was taking a midday snooze. It did crack it’s eye open from time to time to keep tabs on me.

I saw only one Pied-billed Grebe. It surfaced very near my kayak and dove back underwater soon after the shutter closed.

Double-crested Cormorants were everywhere on the lake.

Common Mergansers usually hang out in small groups or mating pairs. This female, though, was all by herself on Spring Lake today.

Canada Geese are talkative birds. The only species at the lake that come close in noisiness are the humans.

As I unloaded my kayak, a Mute Swan came over to see if I might have a treat to offer for a snack.

Spring Lake might not be the most adventurous venue for kayaking, but as Loren’s blog has taught me, it is a good place to go bird watching.

Red Hill Hike

One of the best hikes in Western Sonoma County is the four mIle loop to the top of Red Hill. It begins on the coastal bluff above Shell Beach and climbs, steeply at first, then gradually, to the 860′ summit.

My wife and I enjoyed watching the aerobatic antics of a pair of ravens, the purposeful and deliberate manoevers of birds of prey, and the turkey vultures’majestic slope soaring and thermaling.

On a clear day you can see north to Fort Ross, south to Point Reyes, east to Mount St. Helena, and more than 35 nautical miles out to the Pacific Ocean’s horizon.

The views are long and the scenery is varied–forests, rangeland, ocean, the lower Russian River Estuary, and the tiny seaside hamlet of Jenner.

Looking south from Jenner you can see Red Hill in the distance.

If you’re able to get away for a half day in natural splendor, this is a great place to visit.

Sears Point Paddle #2

I had the pleasure of paddling at Sears Point again today, helping Corby Hines lead a small group out on the water. Our trip was under the auspices of Sonoma Land Trust.

We met at 9:00, about an hour before high tide. Looking south down San Pablo Bay we could see the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

Following Corby’s lead we paddled south across the water in a freshening breeze.

We stopped to take a short break on the old levee along Tolay Creek where iceplant grew green and lush. We stood in the lee of a wind-whipped eucalyptus shrub.

Before us lay Tolay Creek, smooth and inviting, especially compared to the breezy and choppy open water in the wetland. We elected to haul our kayaks over the levee and into the Creek. It was a good idea. The creek was peaceful.

We paddled east and north until we found a spot to stop for lunch. As we enjoyed our meals the wind dropped and the sun felt warmer. The view we enjoyed was of the marshland before us and of the distant Contra Costa County shore across the bay.

Mount Diablo in the distance

On the paddle back I enjoyed talking with George as we paddled back to our cars with Mount Tamalpais watching over us.

We paddled a little more than 5 miles in about four hours time, half of that paddling in the boats.

Here is a map of our day:

Farming Below Sea Level, Sears Point

Yesterday my wife joined me for a bicycle tour of Sears Point National Wildlife Refuge.

A cold westerly breeze swept across the land carrying gray clouds toward the Sierras.

From the levee we could see that the agricultural fields on the northern shore were several feet below sea level. Because it had rained the previous night, water was ponding in the field. Automatic pumps sent water up over the levee and into the bay.

I stopped to take a short video of the pumping station.

We toured west to the now defunct Port Sonoma. It’s falling into magnificent decrepitude.

Voyaging through time

This boat won’t pull any more fish from the sea, nor spew CO2 into the atmosphere through its exhaust pipes.

We pedaled for nearly two hours, enjoying the bracing wind and expansive skies. Here’s a map: