Quick Trip on Lake Sebastopol

Yesterday morning, as I checked the weather forecast an intense downpour fell. Fat raindrops beat an angry and loud drumroll on our skylight.

Despite this, the forecast called for a brief respite from the rains that had fallen overnight. It promised a brief window of sunshine that would begin in an hour. So I donned a raincoat and loaded my kayak on the car. I drove, windshield wipers slapping away the last of the rain shower to “Lake Sebastopol,” our seasonally flooded pastureland along our eastern border.

Launch at Occidental Road

The sun came out, just as forecast, but so suddenly it seemed like magic. Our lake refilled.

Muddy waters

Paddling away from Occidental Road I could hear a group of about eight Acorn Woodpeckers working the oak trees standing in the lake. They had a lot to say to one another. They seemed unconcerned by the guy in the orange boat on the water below them.

The holes in the trunk serve as acorn storage spots

Acorn Woodpeckers have a complex social systems. The Acorn Woodpecker story is beautifully told by Kate Marianchild in her book, Secrets of the Oak Woodlands.

Not sure why, but several birds took this pose, with their backs to sun—perhaps to warm themselves? Note acorns in storage.

Farther south, towards Sebastopol, waters had flooded the dairy pastures.

Also flooded was the field east of the Laguna’s main channel. A favorite walking trail, open most of the year, lays beneath these waters.

Laguna Park’s pasture

This is the gate through which hikers pass from the pasture to the main trail.

Please close the gate behind you….

At the southern end of this trail is a gap in the fence leading to Sebastopol’s Meadowlark field. You have to be careful not to touch the poison oak vines that grow on both sides of this portal. At this time of year the poison oak has no leaves or even buds, just the bare vines wrapping themselves on the tree trunk. Hard to see in this photo, (unless you click on the photo to enlarge the image) but those vines are there. If you don’t know what poison oak looks like without leaves and you’re as allergic to it as I am, maybe clicking on the photo below is worth doing. 🙂

South entrance to the County pedestrian trail

Clouds gathered and dispersed.

Thunderheads make you think about… lightning.

The Laguna Foundation’s headquarters were visible from the Laguna.

The new building is mostly hidden beneath the palm trees and between the original farmhouse and the rusty-roofed barn building at the right of this photo

Laguna shoreline.

Toward the end of the paddle a Great Egret stood on the western shore of Lake Sebastopol.

These are the birds whose beautiful feathers were coveted by hat wearers back in the day. The Great Egret’s survival was threatened. Efforts to save these birds (and other waders like them) led to the founding of the Audubon Society in 1896.

So I’m thankful to the people who organized themselves to protect these birds so that 121 years later I can enjoy seeing them enjoy a day out on the Laguna. May their example inspire us to do our part to protect wildlife now and in the coming years.

A map of the 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.



Monitoring the Laguna de Santa Rosa

The rains that have fallen in California are not nearly as intense as the historic flooding rains now inundating low lying areas in Lousiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and surrounding parts of the south.

Laguna 3:11:16

That said, it’s been unusually wet in the Russian River watershed. After a morning of solid rain, midday brought thinning clouds and even little bits of blue sky.

Eager to get outside after being cooped up yesterday, I mounted my trusty yellow bicycle and rode off amidst intermittent showers. The mission was to monitor the nearby the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

In the summer months visitors to the Laguna might look out upon it and reasonably ask, “Where is it?”

Most of the year the Laguna is dry: parkland, pasture, vineyards, and farm fields planted in a variety of crops including blueberries, corn, and vegetables. Running through all this is a thin ribbon of water choked by invasive weeds. During the summer you cannot see water in the Laguna except by looking straight down from the bridges that cross it.

Today there’s no way to miss seeing the Laguna de Santa Rosa. It’s swelled so much that it covers Sanders Road which runs along its eastern side.

Sanford Road Closed 3:11:16

Santa Rosa Creek, which feeds into the Laguna a little ways north of where this photo was taken is full as well.

Santa Rosa Creek 3:11:16

The water in Santa Rosa Creek is a mere trickle in the summer. Today it’s running fast, about 7 miles per hour at this point, into the Laguna on its way to the Russian River and eventually the Pacific Ocean.


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.

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.