Sears Point Paddle #2

I had the pleasure of paddling at Sears Point again today, helping Corby Hines lead a small group out on the water. Our trip was under the auspices of Sonoma Land Trust.

We met at 9:00, about an hour before high tide. Looking south down San Pablo Bay we could see the San Francisco skyline in the distance.

Following Corby’s lead we paddled south across the water in a freshening breeze.

We stopped to take a short break on the old levee along Tolay Creek where iceplant grew green and lush. We stood in the lee of a wind-whipped eucalyptus shrub.

Before us lay Tolay Creek, smooth and inviting, especially compared to the breezy and choppy open water in the wetland. We elected to haul our kayaks over the levee and into the Creek. It was a good idea. The creek was peaceful.

We paddled east and north until we found a spot to stop for lunch. As we enjoyed our meals the wind dropped and the sun felt warmer. The view we enjoyed was of the marshland before us and of the distant Contra Costa County shore across the bay.

Mount Diablo in the distance

On the paddle back I enjoyed talking with George as we paddled back to our cars with Mount Tamalpais watching over us.

We paddled a little more than 5 miles in about four hours time, half of that paddling in the boats.

Here is a map of our day:

Sears Point Wetlands with Sonoma Land Trust

On Valentine’s Day, 2017 I had the pleasure of touring the Sears Point Wetland, part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

This wetland was acquired and restored by Sonoma Land Trust (SLT). In late October, 2015 SLT breached a levee and let the San Pablo Bay flood into formerly agricultural land that had been “reclaimed” 140 years ago. The breach was a dramatic event covered here.

For 14 decades, farmers grew oat hay on this land. Today it is tidal wetland. It is silting up and turning back into a fertile Marsh wetland. It’s home to many forms of wildlife now.

Corby Hines, outings guide for SLT, led today’s tour.

Right off the bat we saw sandpipers. Sibley’s field guide says sandpipers can be challenging to identify. I think these are these Least Sandpipers.

These larger sandpipers are, I think, Marbled Godwits.

Because it was so calm we were able to paddle out of the salt marsh and into San Pablo Bay. It’s a huge estuary.

In the distance, Carquinez Bridge

We returned to to the restored salt marsh by riding the flood tide up Tolay Creek.

We enjoyed a lunch with Julian Meisler, SLT’s Baylands Manager. He told us the story of reclaiming this landscape from agricultural use, and helping it revert to its more natural and productive identity as a wetland.

Julian managed this restoration effort. These people are doing critically important work for the health of the ecosytem.

After lunch on an old levee, we paddled back to our cars.

More about Sonoma Land Trust.

Map of our tour:

The Sears Point Wetland Public Use Area is open daily to the public for walking, biking, paddling and birding. Access is via Reclamation Road. Here are directions from SLT on how to get there.

Directions to Sears Point Ranch Reclamation Road parking:

FROM NORTH/PETALUMA: (Drive time from Santa Rosa approx. 45 minutes)

  • Travel South on Hwy 101 to Petaluma.  Exit at Hwy 116/Lakeville Hwy.  Continue South on Lakeville until you arrive at the stoplight at Hwy 37.
  • Proceed straight through the light onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.

FROM EAST/VALLEJO: (Drive time from Vallejo approx. 20 minutes)

  • Proceed west on Highway 37 past the juncture of Hwy 121 and continue to the stop light at Lakeville Highway.
  • Take a left at the stop light onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.

FROM WEST/MARIN: (Drive time from San Rafael approx. 25 minutes)

  • Exit U.S. 101 onto Highway 37, east toward Vallejo.
  • The first stop light you encounter is at Lakeville Highway. Take a right here onto Reclamation Road. The parking lot will be on your left.


San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge

If you’ve ever driven California State Highway 37 between Novato and Vallejo, you’ve been by the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and they are making efforts to restore this area to a vibrant wetland it once was. They’ve put up interpretive signs at the entrance that provide a good introduction to the area.

It’s wonderful to imagine the abundant bird and animal life that once called this area home.

Interprative Sign SPBBWR 2:20:16

Click on this picture to read the display.

People say that the best way to get people to care about the natural world is to get the public outdoors where they can enjoy and learn about it. To that end, the USFWS have opened hiking trails in the region.

Better still, not too long ago, the Service installed facility for launching canoes and kayaks. It is approximately 3 miles west of the bridge that spans the Napa River. (You can enter the launch area only from the westbound lanes, so if you’re coming from Marin or Sonoma County, you have to drive beyond the facility, travel east all the way to Wilson Ave. exit, and then circle back.)

Jono invited me to explore this area, new to both of us.

We were the first visitors to arrive this morning.

Jono & Dan SPBNWR 2:20:16

9:00 AM in the parking lot

A great egret was working the shallows in the pond west of the parking lot.

Great Egret SPBNWR 2:20:16 Great Egret 2 SPBNWR 2:20:16The new launching facilities are well-designed—with paddlers in mind. The slips are just right for canoes and kayaks. The docks float just above the surface of the water.

Jono gets in 2:20:16

It is easy to get into and out of the boats, even for aging paddlers with bionic body parts and rickety joints.

Dock SPBNWR 2:20:16

Fog made it hard to approach birds with the camera. By the time birds came into view, our nearness spooked them, and they took off. This black-crowned night heron stayed long enough for one through-the-mist picture.

Black Crowned Night Heron 2:20:16

He took off the instant after the shutter closed.

Jono brought his canoe, a good choice for this paddle, as canoes are easier to get into and out of than kayaks.

Jono in Wenonah 2:20:16

The fog lifted by 10:30. Our quiet gray world turned blue.

The Slough 2:20:16

South Slough

With a little bit of searching we found a place to get out of our boats. A short walk across crackly marsh brush led us to a levee thickly covered with luxuriant ice plant. We sat ourselves down and each enjoyed a thermos of hot tea.

Calm waters and wide open spaces provided a good setting for conversation. We had hoped to see a lot more migratory bird life than we actually did, and just at the end of our trip a large murmuration of sandpipers put on quite a show. No pictures, sadly.

For more information about the refuge, visit San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s a map of our visit that makes it appear that we were paddling our boat across dry land, which of course ain’t so.

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