Estero Americano February 25, 2016

With the Cow Patty Pageant just around the corner, Jono and I decided to paddle Estero Americano at an unhurried pace today.

Jono at EA 2:25:16

Warm sun and almost no wind made for placid paddling. Just past halfway to the beach we passed the low cliffs along the southern shore, pausing to look at the ferns and trees growing on the north-face of the cliff.

Hanging Gardens EA 2:25:16

Right at the edge of the water at the foot of the cliff we found the body of a raptor that had died recently.

Dead Raptor 2:25:16

Trying to identify a dead bird is surprisingly difficult. Yes, it is easier to get close and take detailed pictures. But pictures are only part of the story. The way birds animate themselves is often what distinguishes them. It’s much harder to identify a bird without seeing its behavior, hearing its voice, watching it fly.

Talons 2:25:16

The Sibley Field Guide shows that most raptors have yellow feet and hooked bills that are yellow at the base and dark at the tip. This one had a white breast, and died in open marshland, perhaps a Northern Harrier?

Though we had hoped to see lots of birds and maybe a river otter or two, there was not a lot a wildlife activity in the Estero today. A few snowy egrets.

Snowy Egret EA 2:25:16

A solitary deer ranged along the south shore.

Deer 2:25:16

Up near the launching area a cow relaxed on the bank.


Large herds of dairy cows graze right up to the edge of the Estero. Because of them, the water smells.

Makes me wonder…. are the dairying operations (and nearby poultry farms) adjacent to the Estero polluting it to the point that wildlife avoids the area?

Lunch at Jono’s

Today, on Superbowl Sunday, seventeen Petaluma Paddlers enjoyed Jono’s warm hospitality at his creekside home on Gallinas Creek in San Rafael, California.

China Camp 2:7:16

More than 130 years ago, this beach was a Chinese shrimp fishing village. Today, the hiking trails at China Camp State Park have become popular with mountain bike riders.

To start the day, most of us met at China Camp State Park. The park’s eastern boundary is along the shores of San Pablo Bay, and a beach here offers pleasant access for kayaking. We paddled northwest along the shore towards nearby Gallinas Creek.

Just beyond the historic pier at the northern edge of the beach is Rat Rock, a remarkable little island, oddly familiar.

Rat Rock, San Pablo Bay 2:7:16

Rat Rock Island. John Wayne and Lauren Bacall starred in a 1955 movie made here. Rat Rock Island looks much the same today as it did 61 years ago!

Jono knows about this island. He said it had been where the 1955 Hollywood film, Blood Alley, was made. (Jono kindly lent me his copy of the Blood Alley on DVD.)

Jono and I talked almost the whole way to his house. Jono is a good story teller. Along the way, we passed some beautiful homes and yachts. But there was a mix of yachts, not all beautiful, including some whose glory days have long since passed.

Derelict 2:7:16

Derelict Cabin Cruiser on Gallinas Creek. In the background, note Mount Tamalpais, the birthplace of mountain biking.

Jono has impressive credentials as a paddler-racer. These days he’s not racing paddlecraft anymore. He now has a strong appreciation for the Petaluma Paddlers who go out most Sundays on estuaries north of San Francisco.  The club’s success is due largely to Ray. Jono knows that few people have Ray’s ability to interpret weather reports and tide books.  Like very few others can, Ray is able to call the most enjoyable and safest paddle in the Northbay area each Sunday.

This day was no exception. Conditions for our paddle were ideal, or as Ray would say, ab fab. Here’s Ray paddling towards lunch in calm waters and warm sun.

Ray, Gallinas Creek 2:7:16

Petaluma Paddler, & preeminent weather predictor, Ray

Any outing on an estuary around here is likely to bring the paddler by some interesting birds to see. An American Avocet and two Black-Necked Stilts stood on a dock and posed for the camera.

Avocet Gallinas Creek, 2:7:16

American Avocet

The Black Necked Stilt has long, thin pinkish red legs.

Black Necked Stilt 2:7:16

Legs so long they didn’t fit in the frame!

After a little bit of bird watching, it was late morning and time to think about a midday meal. A smaller group of paddlers had launched their kayaks at Buck’s Launch at the mouth of Gallinas Creek. They joined us at Jono’s for lunch. We all pulled our boats into his back yard and fired up the barbecue.

Lunchtime at Jono's 2:7:16

Seventeen boats; eighteen paddlers

Mike and I made a stout table by laying a stout piece of plywood across a pair of sawhorses. As always, abundant good food and drink were hauled out of the hatches and spread out to share. Ray brought sausages and buns as a main course; Dick brought a big pasta salad and there were salads, desserts, and plenty of red wine.

Lunch on Table

Most times, a potluck always has a good balance of food to eat.

On the way home, a hawk perched atop a power pole near the mouth of the creek.

Raptor on Power Pole 2:7:16

Anyone know what sort of hawk this is?

Edit: after some discussion over at the Petaluma Paddler Yahoo Group site, conjectures about this hawk’s identity seem to be leaning towards a juvenile red tail hawk. Below is another photo of the same bird.

If you click on the photo it should enlarge. Look at those tail feathers. Is that the right edge of a red tail?

Red Tail?

The pleasures of the sun and fresh air, the comfort of good food, the invigoration of upper body exercise, the cheer of easy conversation—these are the hallmarks of a Petaluma Paddle and all were in abundance on this day.


Photos of this event by Lyrinda Snyderman

China Camp State Park

Blood Alley Movie