Jenner December 29, 2016

This morning I took my son-in-law paddling on the Russian River Estuary in fine winter weather. We saw the pair of Bald Eagles who are often there.

It’s good to have binoculars when kayaking.

We saw Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, Cormorants, a Great Blue Heron, a few Mallards, flocks of Buffleheads, and a half dozen Mergansers.

We visited with Bob Noble, the only other paddler we saw. More at Bob at Bob’s Eyes.

The mouth of the river is open.

 

Waqqas enjoyed his first paddle.

 

 

Jenner, 12 December

A brown Russian River is rushing into the Pacific. From the Highway One overlook at Jenner the river’s waters are turning the normally clear blue Pacific an opaque brown for about a mile out to sea.

That brown water signals the steelhead to swim upstream. The steelhead in turn, attract others.

A Bald Eagle stood for a time on Haystack Rock at the mouth. Here is a closer look:

Many seals swam near the mouth.

More trash than usual is washing downstream. Among the usual alcohol and energy-drink bottles, tennis balls and beach toys, was this inflatable dolphin-shaped pool toy.

Mouth is Closed

The mouth of the Russian River is closed again two days after the Sonoma County Water Agency breached it. Large waves washed sand into the channel dug by the Agency’s track hoe.

mouth-closed-nov-12

Water level in the estuary stands at 5′ at the Jenner Visitor’s Center. That’s about a foot below the level it was when I paddled there last Wednesday.

A pair of Bald Eagles have been visiting this area. They were there this morning, sitting on Haystack Rock just before I took this photo.

I enjoyed talking with fellow naturalist Larry Tiller who was at the overlook with his camera.

Dawn Paddle, Russian River: River Otter Attacks Heron

At dawn the usual gray overcast from the coast was absent. Camp was still and quiet. I got dressed and wheeled the canoe down to the river directly—without stopping for coffee.

Dawn Paddle 7:20:16

The River was glassy and warm enough to send mists curling aloft from the surface and toward the sky. Dawn is magical.

A female Mallard was breakfasting in algae growing on near the island downriver not far from camp.

Female Mallard, DMCC 7:20:16

A Great Blue Heron worked the nearby shallows .

Heron in Mist

It was watching me carefully as I took its photo. I got too close, and it flew away downriver. We encountered each other repeatedly—like the Heron, I was making my way downriver, too.

GBH 7:20:16

The Heron posed again and again.

GBH 7:20:16-2

Near the end of Freezeout Road the Heron stood along a heavily wooded section of the river bank. Suddenly, out from the cover of the brushy woods, a River Otter sprang out at the Heron and came within it whisker-length of biting its legs. The Heron leapt straight into the sky, as Herons do, and flew upriver, squawking loudly and repeatedly in its hoarse, raspy voice. It had had enough of me.

The River Otter’s attack happened suddenly and was over so quickly that I was not able to capture it on film.

Cute as they may be, River Otters are ferocious creatures. This was the first time I saw a River Otter attack a bird. I have read that they sometimes hunt together and take Brown Pelicans. There is video from the River Otter Ecology Project of a River Otter in a standoff with a Coyote on Tomales Bay.

As I returned to the beach in late morning, a bird not seen that often flew overhead and landed on the island near camp: a Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle 7:20:16

The rewards of paddling early in the day are well worth the extra effort.

And, after a brisk morning’s paddle on the Russian River, the coffee tasted especially good.

Biologists on the Estuary

To celebrate the 2016 summer solstice, I twice paddled the middle reach* of the Russian River Estuary—Tuesday evening at sunset, and, Wednesday morning soon after sunup.

Six biologists from the California State Fish and Wildlife gathered fish population data.

Biologists at Work 6:22:16

June 22, 2016 10:00 AM Approximately halfway between Willow Creek and Duncans Mills (They release the fish back into the river.)

I spoke to them briefly and learned that they were netting fewer fish this morning than usual, especially steelhead trout. Steelhead, an anadromous form of rainbow trout, are of particular interest because they are a game fish and a good measure of the biotic health of the Russian River and Estuary. Steelhead trout are doing much better compared to other anadromous fish who call the Russian River home, Coho and Chinook Salmon.

Steelhead trout begin their lives in the Russian River watershed—some near my home in the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed. After spending one to three years in the river/estuary, they make their way to the ocean, and return to their natal stream beds to spawn, sometimes spawning more than once.

The biologists were netting flounder fry which developed in the estuary before spending the rest of their lives in the ocean.

I thanked them for the work they were doing.

BaEa 6:22:16 Duncans Mills

BaEa June 22, 2016 about 1 kilometer downstream from Duncans Mills on the Russian River

This toward the end of the paddle this morning, a Bald Eagle flew overhead. My wife and I saw perhaps this same individual in this same reach of the estuary on Sunday, June 19 on a Father’s Day paddle. It’s always a treat to see a Bald Eagle in the Estuary because they are still comparatively rare here.

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*The Estuary’s middle reach extends from Willow Creek Campground to the Moscow Road bridge at Duncans Mills.