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.

two-dogs-ea-dec-5

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.

gbhe-ea-dec-5

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:

A Trip to Estero Americano, Part One, Owls

Last Saturday I volunteered at the Laguna Foundation’s presentation by the Hungry Owl Project, “Owls Rule the Night” and it whetted my appetite to visit a pair of Barn Owls who nest in the Hanging Gardens on Estero Americano.

I visited them today. Some internet sources will tell you that Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal, I had a hunch that that ain’t so. Get an early enough start, and there’s a good chance of seeing one.

Before 8:00 I had paddled out to their cave in the cliff. Sure enough, one of them was up in his (I’ll call it a he, but I’m not sure of that) looking out at the world.

Chez Barn Owl, EA 7:11:16

Look, the owl is up there.

Zooming in, he looks like he’s been out all night and has just finished his day’s-ending meal—supper for him—and ready to snooze the day away.

Dozing Owl 7:11:16

Barn Owls like to live in cavities. They line their cavity homes with torn-apart owl pellets, which are the regurgitated balls fur and bones of their prey, mostly small rodents which they usually swallow whole.

It’s fun to pick apart an owl pellet should you ever come across one. They’re little balls of fur about the size of a ping pong ball. As you pull apart the fur, little rodent bones are revealed.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, females are more colorful than the males, so this one is probably the female of the pair.

Barn Owl, Leggy 7:11:16

How do you like those legs? All the better to catch mice in long grass at night!

The two of them flew out of their nest cavity and watched me from perches on the cliff.

Barn Owl on Cliff 7:11:16

Barn Owls are small and light birds with a lot of wing area and a light weight body. Light wing loading along with special soft-edged feathers make for buoyant, nearly silent flight. As they flew nearby I listened to see if I could hear their wing beats—to no avail. (Many other birds make quite a lot of noise as they fly. Hummingbirds are famous for that!)

Here’s a video by the BBC that shows Barn Owls flying over sensitive microphones, and making almost no sound at all.

In this video by the Barn Owl Trust they make the point that Barn Owls are an indicator species, meaning that the presence of Barn Owls indicates the overall health of the ecosystem.

Another encouraging sign of the health of the Estero is the fact that it’s got a lot of fish in it this year. That’s the subject of a future post.

 

Canoeing the Estero

My wife and I enjoyed a day out on the Estero Americano today. We paddled canoeful of beach gear and food out to the beach. We enjoyed a tasty lunch and a nice long conversation on a beautiful warm spring day.

We had the beach all to ourselves all day. It was just the two of us. Sorry, no photos.

We saw lots of wonderful wildlife. The highlight was visiting (again!) the pair of the nesting owls at the hanging gardens.

Several Estuarian readers have asked about paddling on the Estero Americano. Here is a map of our outing. It’ll give you enough information to figure out how to take your own trip. Just click on the bolded words EA Paddle with da Mayor in the title of the map below, and you’ll see a map with a lot more detail.

It’s about 11 miles paddling all together and you’ll want to get an early start so as to avoid paddling against the westerlies that blow in off the ocean most afternoons on your way out to the beach. Pack a lunch and let those winds blow you back to your car.

Coyotes & Cows

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 was another splendid day on the Estero Americano.

Starting to Clear 5:25:16

The coastal low clouds spread quite far inland overnight and did not clear along the coast until a little past noon. I got a late start which often results in having to struggle upwind to make it out to the ocean. Luckily, the first four miles of the trip out to the coast were paddled under an overcast sky and in very light westerly winds.

Song birds along the shore on both sides sang loudly, brightening my mood.

Sparrow? 5:25:16

The sun came out just as I approached the beach. By then, I had seen many of the regular denizens of the Estero: cormorants, American White Pelicans, Great Egrets, deer, Red Tailed Hawks, and many Turkey Vultures. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed that I had not seen any unusual animals when I rounded the the last bend before the beach and saw….

Coyote 5:25:16

This Coyote! Last Tuesday, I had seen a coyote as well. This one was on the Sonoma County bank of the Estero and a couple of miles further west of the individual I saw last week. It also appeared to be a larger animal.

Alone at the Beach 5:25:16

Soon I was on the beach enjoying a can of kipper snacks and a thermos of black tea and looking for whales. I saw no whales, but a southbound sailboat passed by a mile or so offshore.

Sailboat 5:25:16

By 1:00 a pleasant breeze came up out the the west.

Sailing Home 5:25:16

I was glad to have my sail along. A refreshing breeze blew me back to Valley Ford.

Deer 5:25:16

Near the end, I furled the sail and paddled. I passed a deer browsing in a wooded spot near the dairy.

Most of the cattle and dairy ranchers allow their livestock direct access to the Estero’s waters.

Cows 5:25:16

This is nice for the cattle. I’m sure they like to get their feet wet and walk in the mud.

But they don’t just come down for drinks. They also urinate and defecate in it. The Estero’s waters, held back by the sandbar at the beach, gradually get more and more funky as California’s dry spring, summer and fall months go by. These waters probably won’t flush until next winter.

Cows Urinating 5:25:16

I’ve talked with Santa Rosa City biologist Denise Cadman about this problem in the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa. She told me that many area ranchers are reluctant to make changes to traditional practices. They don’t welcome outsider’s ideas about how to manage their ranches.

But progress is being made. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District has a Estero Americano Dairy Enhancement Program underway.

In June 2010 they published a Nutrient Management Planning Guidance for Small Coastal Dairies, a document running more than 60 pages.

Back in March I toured an exemplary dairy on the Estero, just upstream from the navigable parts of the Estero in Valley Ford, the 1500 acre Leveroni-Moody Dairy, a Clover Organic Dairy. Steve Moody showed us the fencing he’s installed on his dairy to keep his cows away from the Estero’s waters.

Because of his efforts to improve the water quality in the Estero he’s earned loyal customers from this household.

 

 

Laguna de Santa Rosa, Estero Americano.

Runoff from the recent rains have filled the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It is now a little above 60 feet above sea level. That’s the threshold for good paddling there.

Laguna 3:7:16

The access to the Laguna de Santa Rosa today. Very limited parking, about 6 cars, max

I’m planning to paddle there tomorrow morning, leaving from this spot on the eastern edge of the Occidental Road bridge that crosses the Laguna just north of Sebastopol. The aim is to get some wildlife photos, especially of a bald eagle pair that is said to be nesting about a mile north of this launching site. On the water by 8:55.

Estero Americano

Rain also filled up the Estero Americano again. It was windy there this afternoon. There is enough water near the launch site to flood the field on both sides, east and west.

Estero 3:7:16

Launch site, looking east, towards Petaluma.

EA-2 3:7:16IMG_2840

Looking northwest from Franklin School Road, now a causeway, a few yards north of the bridge.

If you like paddling (or sailing) a kayak in strong wind, you missed a good day out there. Otherwise, this was not the day to be out on Estero Americano.

EA 3:7:16

View of the bridge from the launch spot.

It’s up to you to speculate how long the water will stay this high.

More rain is forecast to fall here later this week.

There’s a good chance these brown waters will soon breach the sand dam at the mouth—where Jono fixed an Estuarian hot toddy on his backpacking stove on February 25. If it does, the scenery at the Estero launch site will change dramatically.