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:





A Bellyful of Plastic

Today was the first sunny morning after a rainy weekend in this part of northern California. The USGS  Water Resources Gauge indicated that the Laguna’s flood waters stood below 63′ and were receding about 1′ per day. I had been wanting to paddle on high water south towards Sebastopol from the launch site on Occidental Road. There was no time to delay.

It was a chilly 38°F as I launched the SS Estuarian in the Laguna de Santa Rosa this morning just before 8:00. The wind was calm, the waters empty.

Almost immediately a number of Black-crowned Night Herons took flight from the trees in front of my boat. Most of them flew, out of camera range, but this fellow alighted not far off and hid among the branches of the tree. He kept a watchful red eye, but stayed put in his tree.

Night Heron 3:15:16

Black crowned Night Heron

Horse Farm

Horses on the Laguna

Paddling towards Sebastopol, the Laguna passes the back of farms and dairies before continuing into Sebastopol’s Laguna Wetlands Preserve.

Teen Center & Dairy

Dei Dairy pasture in foreground; Sebastopol Community Center Annex (green roof).

Even at 62′ the water level is barely high enough to get into Sebastopol. As you can see in the photo above, you have to be careful to paddle around fencing that extends into the floodwaters.

In this part of the Laguna there was a lot of trash: discarded single-use plastic bottles, dog-chewed tennis balls, assorted aluminum beer cans, plastic vodka flasks, bits of styrofoam, and even a large shiny Christmas globe. I was able to stow most everything in my kayak (more about that later) as I paddled back to the launch area.

A hawk perched on a pole watched as I passed by.

Hawk 3:15:16

Juvenile Red Tail, maybe. Not sure.

An organized group of paddlers was getting ready to launch when I returned to the car to unload the accumulation of trash plucked from the Laguna during the first half of this outing.

Tour group 3:15:16

I hustled to stay ahead of them. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to be alone.

My hustle was immediately rewarded by some white birds in the northern part of the Laguna. The first, a couple of Snowy Egrets perched high in a snag.

Snowy Egret 3:15:16

Snowy Egret with one leg drawn up

Snowy Egret 2 3:15:16

A flock of American White Pelicans had gathered in a pasture on the eastern shore. During breeding season adults grow projections you see on their upper mandibles near the tip of the bill.

White Pelicans 3:15:16

As I approached some of them got up and began to walk away up the bank. Not wanting to bother them, I backed up and they settled back down. All was calm. Then something spooked a trio of geese near the pelicans. The geese honked noisily and the pelicans took to the air.

American White Pelicans in Flight 3:15:16

They flew off towards the Russian River.

American White Pelicans with St. Helena in Background

American White Pelicans in flight. Mt. St. Helena in background

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Website, All About Birds, American White Pelicans and Double crested Cormorants are often found together. That was true in this case. The Cormorant nests were as just as active (and noisy) as they had been on March 8, the last time I was here.

Double crested Cormorant 3:15:16

Double crested Cormorant March 15, 2016

I wanted to stretch so I paddled over to the west shore towards Georgetown, a quirky treasure trove of some 38 vintage cars and assorted Hollywood movie memorabilia from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s all housed in about two dozen buildings. Georgetown is named after George Smith who started it all and is cared for now by his son, Guy Smith.

Georgetown 3:15:16

One of the buildings in Georgetown

Near Georgetown is a vineyard with a secluded waterfront. That’s where I got out.

SS Estuarian 3:15:16

SS Estuarian

A Bellyful of Plastic

When I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about a puzzle I need to solve: how to pluck a bag full of soggy dog logs out of the water and carry it to a proper disposal site.

You see, I left the neatly tied blue bag of dog doo in the water because, well, you know: it would be mighty unpleasant to have the bag burst and leak all over my boat. (Similar things have happened!)

As it is, that smelly blue bag might possibly float downstream into the Russian River and out into the Eastern Pacific Ocean where baleen whales (Humpbacks, Pacific Grays) swim and feed.

Baleen whales take mouthfuls of water and sieve whatever is in it swallowing that material into their esophagus and on down the hatch into their three-chambered stomach.

Whales don’t have fingers or toothpicks to remove a plastic bag (or a single-use plastic bottle, for that matter) from their baleens before swallowing.

I’ll figure something out. Meanwhile, at least none of the stuff in the photo below is going to find its way downstream. It’s in my garbage can.

The Haul 3:15:16

The standing canister in back was 1/3 full of liquid plant food. My shrubs will be happy. I wonder how it found its way into the Laguna.

If anyone out there has an idea to offer about the blue bags, please share it in the comments.



Laguna de Santa Rosa March 8, 2016

The Laguna de Santa Rosa stands at a little more than 60 feet above sea level today. Enough water for good paddling over the flooded farm fields north of Sebastopol. When the outing began it was 48° F  with partly cloudy skies and very little wind.

The Laguna 3:8:16

There was not much activity on the Laguna this morning. It was quiet at first. Then some bird activity from afar caught my attention.

At the north end of the Laguna pond about 30 pairs of Double crested Cormorants are nesting in two trees at the northeast corner of the largest pool of water in the Laguna near Delta Pond.

Cormorant Rookery 3:8:16

They were active. One bird of each pair sat on the nest while its mate went out into the reedy areas nearby to retrieve materials…..

Cormorant Tree zoomed in 3:8:16

to make the nest just a little more comfortable.

Cormorant Nest 3:8:16

Roosting Double crested Cormorants make low croaking noises reminiscent of bullfrog song—a Cormorant choir concerto that went on and on. You can hear a recording of their roosting sounds here. Click on the button labelled “Various calls by adults at roost.”

Double crested Cormorant 3:8:16

The double crest can be seen plainly here.

By late morning, a dark cloud blew in from the Pacific and delivered a vigorous rain shower It was wet enough to chase the camera below deck and bring the outing to an end.

The map below shows no water because this area is dry land in summer. But it is navigable in winter and spring after good rains.