Green Herons, Killdeer, Kingfisher, Otter, Osprey & Mergansers

This morning a strong northwesterly wind swept down the Sonoma County coastline and pushed its way into the lower Russian River estuary. Strong winds tend to keep wildlife hunkered down out of sight. I decided to alter the plan to paddle near the mouth in favor of paddling the upper reaches of the estuary near Monte Rio where the wind would be more manageable and the bird life more abundant.

It was a good choice. There was a lot to see.

Green Herons waded along the shore in the water primrose (Ludwigia peploides, an invasive species) which flourishes in the Russian River anywhere the water is fresh, warm, shallow, and slow moving. Whatever those smaller herons were eating was down the hatch before I could see what it was.

Whole Green Heron 6:14:16

When approached Green Herons freeze in place to avoid being noticed, a strategy that works pretty well. This behavior also makes them ideal subjects for the amateur photographer.

Green Heron Face 6:14:16

Many of the birds today were in out pairs. A couple of killdeer patrolled Sheridan Beach where I stopped to quaff a thermos of hot black tea.

Killdeer Couple 6:14:16

A little further down the estuary a female Kingfisher alighted in a tree close by. These birds usually fly off long before they get within range of my kayak-born camera. On this occasion she was paying so much attention to a nearby male that she didn’t mind my close approach.

Kingfisher Female 6:14:16

Kingfisher Pair

Male is on the left, female on the right

A river otter did its best to stay out of sight.

River Otter 6:14:16

I paddled as far as the pole-mounted osprey nest installed on Ryan’s Beach. A pair of Osprey kept watch from above. I saw Ospreys nesting on a trip to Lake Sonoma earlier this spring in March I wondered how long the nesting season is for Osprey.

Nesting Osprey 6:14:16

The paddle back to Monte Rio was both with the wind and against the current. The two fluid currents nearly cancelled themselves out, providing a pleasant journey back to the launch ramp in Monte Rio.

A Mama Merganser was teaching her offspring how to get a midday meal out of the river. I got a little bit of video of it that you can see on Youtube.

May 3 on the Lower Russian River Estuary

4:26:16 Windy!

Gulls across from Jenner on April 26, 2016

Last week’s windy weather at the Russian River Estuary made many birds seek shelter and kept many paddlers off the water. It was possible to observe Harbor Seals hauled out at the mouth of the river. Pups nursed.

4:23:16 Pup Nursing

April 23, 2016 Pup nursing at Russian River Mouth

Today’s weather, though overcast, proved much more favorable for observing the animals out at the mouth.

5:3:16 Western Grebes

A kayaker passes a pair of Western Grebes

Three groups of Harbor Seals numbering about 200 individuals in all rested onshore at the mouth. The largest group,116 animals, were hauled out just inside the mouth of the river; two smaller groups were a few meters upstream and included most of the pups.

5:3:16 One of 116 HS resting at the Mouth

Some of the 116 seals in the larger group

 

A pair of Sea Lions frolicked in the current flowing out into the Pacific. These Sea Lions swam with greater vigor than any of their seal cousins.

5:3:16 Sea Lion

Sea Lions have a more pronounced snout than seals.

My friend and fellow naturalist, Bob Noble, saw a single Surf Scoter near the mouth.

5:3:16 Surf Scoter?

Bob and I caught up since the last time we’d been out. We talked about Beavers. Like me, Bob feels that Beavers would do the Russian River watershed a lot of good.

5:3:16 Naturalist Bob Noble

Check out Bob’s blog. (Link on the right of this blog.)

When Bob paddled off I got out to have lunch on the beach. A group of Caspian Terns stood on the sand on the beach just north of the river’s mouth.

5:3:16 Caspian Terns

After lunch it was time to pick up trash on the beach. I’m happy to report that there was not a whole lot of trash to pick up. Still it’s a good bet you’ll find tennis balls to pick up. I found one to bring to my Naturalist class tonight.

I had thought that tennis balls got into the river when people throw them into the river for their dog to retrieve. But paddling upstream I found this tree across from Penny Island. Does anyone know its species name?

5:3:16 Tennis Ball Tree

Going further upstream I saw an assortment of birds.

Canadian Geese,

5:3:16 Canadian Geese

Female Mergansers and Cormorants,

5:3:16 Female Merganser with Cormorant

A male Merganser,

5:3:16 Male Merganser

and even a Great Blue Heron.

5:3:16 GBH at Eagle's Landing

In the sky I saw an Eagle. Large dark feathered raptor with a long, strong neck. I’m pretty sure was immature Bald Eagle. It was too far away to photograph, but it showed up pretty plainly in my binoculars.