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:

Eagles and Ospreys on Lake Sonoma, April 1, 2016

What a difference eight days can make.

Eight days ago when I came to Lake Sonoma, the lake was several feet higher and almost empty of other users. (40,000 acre feet have been released in the past 3 weeks. One wonders why.)

Eight days ago, I had been alone on my way up the Dry Creek arm of the lake. That was on a Thursday and it was cooler.

Today when I returned to explore the Cherry Creek arm of the lake with my wife, it was a Friday and at a little more than 70°F, noticeably warmer.

There were many other people on the lake today—mostly men fishing all by themselves, and some guys fishing with a buddy.

There was plenty for us non-fisherfolk to see.

Near the launch ramp at Yorty Creek is a snag where this pair of Double-crested Cormorants perched 3 meters above the lake.

Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants

Soon after entering the Cherry Creek arm, my wife pointed out a Bald Eagle circling high overhead. It gained altitude rapidly in a very strong thermal. In less than two minutes it was beyond the reach of my camera. (I took 5 photos at full zoom of this bird in 100 seconds. It gets discernibly smaller and more pixellated in each photo.)

Bald Eagle 4:1:16

Bald Eagle high in sky and climbing quickly

By far the most abundant bird was the voluble, but elusive Acorn Woodpecker. They prefer to work the back side of a limb or trunk so they can stay out of sight. They also flit from tree to tree often and chasing and scolding one another through the trees. Like Kingfishers, Acorn Woodpeckers are very hard to catch on film, er, in pixels.

Acorn Woodpecker Again 4:1:16

The elusive, garrulous, Acorn Woodpecker

Turtles were plopping into the water, too. A week ago there was much more noise from wind whistling through the trees and from streams tumbling into the lake. Today the calmer conditions allowed the turtles to hear our approach and take cover fast. One guy, though, was either braver than the rest, or, perhaps hard-of-hearing. I got his picture.

Tortuga 4:1:16

Turtle in the Sun

Osprey Sex and Sashimi

A pair of Ospreys provided the best birdwatching of the day.

On our way to our lunch stop we passed this couple. They had spent some time studying a nest from a perch on a tree that was nearby and above it.

Mama Osprey 4:1:16

Mama Osprey overlooking her nest

After we passed by they both flew down into the nest to make sure it will be a suitable place to raise their young.

Osprey Couple 4:1:16

Mr. and Mrs. Osprey, an Amorous Couple

We went on our way to find a place to have our picnic lunch. About an hour later, having finished our own lunch we came upon the nest again. As we paddled by, the male mounted the female and they mated.

It was a quickie. He finished before I could wrest my camera from its case.

That done, he flew off, winging his way down the main arm of Cherry Creek. He returned minutes later with a sashimi lunch.

Papa Osprey 4:1:16

Osprey with fish 4/1/16 He sought more privacy for eating than for sex. And his meal took a lot more time.

This bird caught in a few minutes a fish that weighed, perhaps as much as a quarter of his own weight, a full meal for him and his sweetie. Although every human fisherman I asked told me he’d had a good day fishing today, I don’t think anyone had a better afternoon on the lake than this Osprey.

It will be fun to visit again later this spring to see their nest with hatchlings in it.


 Map of Friday’s Trip:





Solo Lake Sonoma

I ventured a few miles upstream of the Russian River estuary today to paddle out of Lake Sonoma’s Yorty Creek launch area near Cloverdale.

Yorty Creek 3:24:16

On weekdays it’s quiet and peaceful there. Except at the launch area, I saw only one other boater on the Lake the whole day in more than 10 miles of paddling.

Ospreys were about. This one was occupying a nest built on top of a tree standing about 8 feet above the lake.

Osprey on Nest 3:24:16

Another was trying to catch a fish.

Osprey in Flight 3:24:16

There was enough ambient noise from brooks tumbling into the lake and from wind in the trees that it was possible to approach turtles without them hearing the kayak. This one dove into the water soon after the camera shutter clicked.

Sunning Turtle 3:24:16

A killdeer stood on a rock near and let me drift in quite close for this picture.

Killdeer 3:24:16

Acorn Woodpeckers were busy in their pantries doing what they do best: storing acorns.

Sideview Woodpecker 3:24:16

Acorns stored in the holes

Woodpecker at Work 3:24:16

Cormorants were working the lake today too.

Cormorant 3:24:16

After years of drought, it was good to visit Lake Sonoma again and see it so full of water, and so empty of noisy boaters. Friends in the Petaluma Paddlers may go up to another part of the lake on Sunday. They’re in for a treat.

Map of the trip: