Best time to begin a paddle?
Before the sun gets up.
Beach at Duncans Mills Camping Club September 26, 2016 just past 7:00.
The mouth of the Russian River is closed, sealed shut by a sandbar. Waters in the lagoon have risen to about 6 feet at the visitors center launch area.
Most of the Harbor Seals have left. Only a few remain near the mouth. In their place are hundreds of migrating Brown Pelicans and Gulls.
Waves crashed against the rocks near the jetty. Some of the bigger waves shot grand plumes of spray into the air.
Signs posted on the shores around Penny Island asked the public NOT to remove trash or debris from the shore.
As a retired educator I complied with the request stated on the sign.
It was surprisingly hard to leave the trash where it was. Picking up trash in the river is sort of habit forming.
At about 9:00 this morning the Sonoma County Water Agency opened a channel in the sandbar at the mouth of the Russian River Estuary to avoid flooding waterfront properties in the lower Russian River.
The work was accomplished using this big excavator, called a track hoe, because of the tracks it rides on and the big boom and bucket similar to what is found on a backhoe. (I guess it’s not coincidental that “track hoe” rhymes with “backhoe.”)
A survey crew was on hand to help manage the depth of the channel. The elusive goal is to let just a little of the water out, down to 7 feet as measured at the visitors center in Jenner. By keeping the lagoon almost full they make conditions ideal for young salmonids to feed and grow. The warm lagoon waters are full of little creatures, mostly invertebrates, that the salmonoid fry like to eat.
Last time the water agency excavated a channel in the mouth, the water running out scoured an ever-deeper channel and the level of the river receded down to just above the level at low tide, about two feet or so. The fast-emptying lagoon washed the fish fry out into the ocean before they were ready for the presumably greater challenges of life in the ocean.
About two hours before the 0.5′ low tide they opened the channel and water began running gently out of the lagoon making the lagoon an estuary once more. Within 30 minutes harbor seals were using the new channel to transit between estuary and ocean.
About a dozen or so of interested onlookers watched from the turnout above the mouth. Several spectators—equipped with expensive camera gear trained on a small group of seals sunning on the beach about 50 meters north of the excavation—watched after the welfare of these pinnipeds. Others observers were from the Water Agency providing oversight to be sure everything would proceed according to plan.
Here’s a video of the first moments of the opening of the mouth.
Here is another video showing the harbor seals swimming through it taken about a half hour later.
The Russian River Estuary is filling up now that the mouth has closed. My wife and I got up early this morning to take our canoe out to see the wildlife out there and to pick up whatever garbage we could find.
It was calm when we arrived.
We paddled out to the mouth and then upriver stopping at a pasture for a break. We saw about 70 Harbor Seals at the (now closed) mouth, Cormorants, Great Blue Herons, Loons, Mallard Ducks, Caspian Terns, Pelicans, Canadian Geese, and Turkey Vultures. Although we hoped to see something a bit more unusual, specifically River Otter or perhaps, a Bald Eagle, none showed themselves to us.
All along the way, we found flotsam and jetsam to pluck out of the river and take to the garbage receptacle at Jenner launch site.
We stopped by the visitor center to buy a gift for our daughter’s best friends newborn baby girl.
A wonderful morning followed by a fantastic creekside lunch we enjoyed on our way home at Fork’s restaurant.
Map of today’s outing:
Tomorrow morning at 8:30 I will go to the Jenner Visitor Center to join with other volunteers in a River clean-up in observance of Earth Day 2016.
By way of warming up for tomorrow’s festivities, I canoed today out of Monte Rio, some 13 km (8 miles) upstream from Jenner, in search of recreation, birds, and garbage. There were no other boats out today and little human activity apart from an attractive young couple sunbathing on the Villa Grande beach.
Many birds were out in the 70° F sunny weather: Great Blue Herons, Ospreys, Ravens, Crows, Kingfishers, Turkey Vultures, Stellar’s Jays, Tree Swallows, gulls, sparrows, and many other small birds I’ve yet to learn. A turtle sunned high on a log. A river otter swam quickly upstream.
I picked up the usual assortment of garbage (plastic single-use beverage bottles, aluminum beer cans, lost shoes, tennis balls that got away from the retriever, and, the prize recovery: a ride-on motorized Jeep. That thing weighed more than 50 pounds and made my canoe tippy. Weight wise, it was my biggest clean-up day ever.
If you’re interested in joining tomorrow’s event, come on down. Organizers say that they can accommodate walk-ups.
A map of this outing.