Estero Americano Now Open

As I was packing my lunch and thermos of hot tea into my kayak I noticed the water in the Estero Americano running urgently toward the sea. Little eddies swirled quickly past the launch. A fallen Poplar tree had been pushed by the current up against the bridge. The current held it tight against the bridge pilings. The trunk almost blocked the channel.

I had never seen water flow so quickly through the Estero. I expected to find its mouth open when I got out to Bodega Bay.

The winds were calm. The sun shone strongly enough to take the chill out of the morning air. Without much effort I floated down the channel through the pastures and out beyond the dairy. Soon I found myself surrounded by Estero Americano’s calm beauty.

Estero Americano Serenity

Bufflehead ducks, one of the smallest ducks we see, spend winter all across the southern United States. They winter as far south as Mexico and spend summers in Canada. In January they are a common wintertime sight in Northern California. Yesterday was no exception. They were everywhere in couples or small flocks, often groups of two to four couples.

Bufflehead Duck Couple

As I paddled past the hanging gardens I was cheered to see Barney and Betty Barn Owl watching over the middle reach of the Estero.

We see each other regularly.

When paddling solo I usually see River Otters in the Estero. They often seem curious about a quiet human in a bright orange boat.

Who’s that?

This otter had a long look before deciding to vamoose. The camera scared him.

Had I not been upwind of this fellow, I think I’d have gotten closer. I could hear it sniffing me.

Rounding the final bend in the Estero, I could hear the roaring ocean. By now the current carried my boat at a good clip toward the breakers. It would be a bad time to lose my paddle! This is why I tie my paddle to my boat. Otherwise I would risk losing it while handling my camera.

This scene put some butterflies in the stomach.

The Estero’s mouth was open.

A beach swept clean by storm waves

The beach had been washed clean by huge waves from the recent storms. My bootprints were the only human footprints in the sand.

Looking south, toward Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore

I had lunch and tea in the dunes. A peaceful interlude.

Lunch spot in the dunes.

Here is a 24-second video of the water running out of the Estero.

At least two harbor seals were working the mouth of the Estero. Having seen Steelhead Trout in the Estero last year, my hunch is that at least a few Steelheads try their luck at spawning in the Estero watershed. That would explain the Harbor Seals, who don’t often come into the Estero these days. This one seems to have already enjoyed a midday meal.

I could be reading too much into that facial expression.

A curious River Otter visited my kayak while I was exploring the beach. He or she left muddy footprints on the foredeck. Perhaps it was the same one that I saw on the way out.

Foredeck footprints of a curious otter

The way home against the current was a real slog. The current strengthened in the afternoon, perhaps with the falling tide at the ocean. I got a workout bigger than I bargained for.

Despite my weary arms I saw things I had not noticed on the way out.

Nine deer.

Deer? What deer?

Zoomed in, you can see them.

They kept their distance from me.

A picnic table belonging to Sonoma Land Trust lodged high in the rocks. (I’ll call to let them know where it is—I’m guessing they don’t know what had happened to it.) The Land Trust has preserved 547 acres of land near the mouth. These acres will eventually be open it to the public.

Sonoma Land Trust’s picnic table

A Turkey Vulture sunned itself on a fencepost.

TV worth watching!

The paddle back to the launch against the current took nearly three hours. I estimate that the current added the equivalent almost three miles’ worth of distance to the already five-and-a-half mile long return journey.

Note fallen poplar tree in channel under bridge

It felt good to get home, tuckered out, hungry, and thirsty for a big cuppa hot black tea.

Estero Americano Dec 5, 2016

The rains have added enough water to the Estero Americano to swell the channel near its banks.

high-water-ea-dec-5

Being able to see over the banks of the channel allows for a much more pleasant trip away from the parking lot through the dairy pasturelands.

I saw a number of birds and otters on the way out, but I couldn’t approach them as closely as usual. The wild animals scattered before they came within the reach of my camera.

I did manage to get this photo a couple of dogs who were out on an unsupervised romp through the Estero.

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The beagle brayed.

Squeaky neoprene cold-weather gloves were the reason why wildlife was so elusive. They squawked with each paddle stroke.

squeaky-gloves-ea-dec-5

Once I took them off I was able to do get better photos. Here’s a Great Blue Heron.

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All the usual residents were in attendance and accounted for today, among them: Cormorants, Buffleheads, Coots, River Otters, Barn Owls, Vultures,Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, smaller hawks I could not identify and, in the surf near the beach, California Sea Lions.

A map of the outing:

Estero Americano Breached; Placid Tomales Bay

Estero Americano Breached

Estero Americano is back within its banks. Two days ago waters rose so high here that it flooded nearby roadways. More than an inch of rainfall fell yesterday—enough to burst the sand dam at its mouth in Bodega Bay. It would have been fun to witness all that water rushing out into the Pacific.

EA 1:20:16

Estero Americano looking west from Franklin School Road

More than a dozen common egrets were dining in the mudflats exposed by the receding waters. One snowy egret (the smaller bird in the photo below) joined the common egrets.

Great and Snowy Egrets 1:20:16

The larger common egrets squawked at the snowy egret and made it keep its distance.

Here is a photo of the driveway to the launch ramp under the Franklin School Road Bridge. Two days ago this driveway was under water.

EA Launchwau 1:20:16

Estero launch ramp driveway

On Whitaker Bluff Road, south of the Estero Americano, four sheepdogs stood guard over a flock of sheep and lambs.

Sheepdogs on Fallon Road 1:20:16

Two of the four dogs guarding the sheep—protection from coyotes perhaps?

Biologist, Estuarian reader, and fellow paddler, Dick, writes that these dogs are Great Pyrenees.

He goes on to say, “I do believe there was a government program that encouraged local ranchers to use the dogs to guard the sheep from coyotes, and stop putting out poisons and traps. Those that participated in the program saw a dramatic drop in sheep killed by coyotes. The other problem was that indiscriminate killing of coyotes can trigger a population boom.  Normally only the Alpha female in a pack breeds, but if she dies, then all the surviving female give birth to a litter of pups.”

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay 1:20:16

View looking northwest from Millerton Point

Tomales Bay was placid today. The only boat other than my kayak were noisy oyster farm skiffs and the quiet cutter-rigged yacht, Will o’ the Wisp, out of Pebble Beach, north of Inverness. A subtle wind barely filled its sails. Quiet conversation shared by two men in the cockpit carried halfway across the bay.

Will o' the Wisp bigger?

Cutter-rigged Will o’ the Wisp ghosts down Tomales Bay

Boats sat quietly on their moorings.

Vivian 1:20:16

Fishing vessel Vivian on her mooring

Back at Marconi Cove a model airplane pilot prepared his radio controlled seaplane for a flight in the almost still atmosphere.

Model Flying Boat Tomales 1:20:16

This aviator had no boat to retrieve his plane in the event of a “landing” away from shore.

The electric motor was quiet—as model plane power plants go. Thank goodness the internal combustion engines in model aircraft have largely disappeared.

Airborne Tomales 1:20:16

Airborne! This plane’s wingspan was less than 1 meter.

The amphibious aircraft was not so loud as to scare away the amphibious waterfowl, the eared grebes and bufflehead ducks that were out on Tomales today.

Grebe Tomales 1:20:16

Eared grebes dive with alacrity for insects and crustaceans.

Buffleheads Tomales 1:20:16

Three male buffleheads