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:

Sears Point by Bicycle

Two days after touring Sears Point Marsh by kayak with Sonoma Land Trust, I decided to return to tour it by bicycle.

There are nearly ten miles of dirt roads along the tops of levees along the north shore of San Pablo Bay.

Less than a half dozen other people were out for walks, but no other bicyclists, and no paddlers. Just some American Avocets, Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Red Tailed Hawks, Bufflehead Ducks Sandpipers, and Turkey Vultures.

American Avocets

Sears Point Wetlands with Sonoma Land Trust

On Valentine’s Day, 2017 I had the pleasure of touring the Sears Point Wetland, part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This wetland was acquired and restored by Sonoma Land Trust (SLT). In late October, 2015 SLT breached a levee and let the San Pablo Bay flood into formerly agricultural land that had been “reclaimed” 140 years ago. The breach was a dramatic event covered here.

For 14 decades, farmers grew oat hay on this land. Today it is tidal wetland. It is silting up and turning back into a fertile Marsh wetland. It’s home to many forms of wildlife now.

Corby Hines, outings guide for SLT, led today’s tour.

Right off the bat we saw sandpipers. Sibley’s field guide says sandpipers can be challenging to identify. I think these are these Least Sandpipers.

These larger sandpipers are, I think, Marbled Godwits.

Because it was so calm we were able to paddle out of the salt marsh and into San Pablo Bay. It’s a huge estuary.

In the distance, Carquinez Bridge

We returned to to the restored salt marsh by riding the flood tide up Tolay Creek.

We enjoyed a lunch with Julian Meisler, SLT’s Baylands Manager. He told us the story of reclaiming this landscape from agricultural use, and helping it revert to its more natural and productive identity as a wetland.

Julian managed this restoration effort. These people are doing critically important work for the health of the ecosytem.

After lunch on an old levee, we paddled back to our cars.

More about Sonoma Land Trust.

Map of our tour:

The Sears Point Wetland Public Use Area is open daily to the public for walking, biking, paddling and birding. Access is via Reclamation Road. Here are directions from SLT on how to get there.

Directions to Sears Point Ranch Reclamation Road parking:

FROM NORTH/PETALUMA: (Drive time from Santa Rosa approx. 45 minutes)

  • Travel South on Hwy 101 to Petaluma.  Exit at Hwy 116/Lakeville Hwy.  Continue South on Lakeville until you arrive at the stoplight at Hwy 37.
  • Proceed straight through the light onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.

FROM EAST/VALLEJO: (Drive time from Vallejo approx. 20 minutes)

  • Proceed west on Highway 37 past the juncture of Hwy 121 and continue to the stop light at Lakeville Highway.
  • Take a left at the stop light onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.

FROM WEST/MARIN: (Drive time from San Rafael approx. 25 minutes)

  • Exit U.S. 101 onto Highway 37, east toward Vallejo.
  • The first stop light you encounter is at Lakeville Highway. Take a right here onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.


Low Water in the Estero

I hoped to get out to the mouth of Estero Americano today. My plan was to bring a load of trash out of the Estero where it has been accumulating in the past few weeks.

I got an early start. Unfortunately the water level was very low.

Soon after starting out twice the electric outboard’s prop churned the muddy/gravelly bottom. Knowing that it gets even shallower out at Whale’s Tail, I decided to postpone this trip until later.

So it was a short outing today. 😐

Laguna de Santa Rosa & Hike at Armstrong Woods

The Laguna de Santa Rosa currently has plenty of water for paddling. I got an early start. A local couple who had never paddled here before were already there, busy inflating their canoe/kayak. I told them to keep an eye out for submerged barbed wire fencing as they went.

Lake Sebastopol was peaceful under a bright blue cloudless sky.

Cormorants have begun to appear in the rookery tree near Delta Pond for the 2017 spring breeding season. They appeared to have just arrived recently.

Doublecrested Cormorant

I was able to paddle north almost to Guerneville Road, which is about as far as you can get before impenetrable thickets of brush block further progress. There is abundant peaceful pastoral scenery surrounding this seasonal lake.

When I returned at least a dozen fellow paddlers had arrived to explore these ephemeral waters.

A dozen cars or more

I was home in time for lunch and an afternoon hike in Armstrong Woods.

It was good to see and hear so much water in the creeks. The Redwoods, Firs, Tanoaks, and other tree and plants seemed to have had their thirst slaked and are feeling good as California’s long drought has relented for now.