Estero Americano Dec 5, 2016

The rains have added enough water to the Estero Americano to swell the channel near its banks.

high-water-ea-dec-5

Being able to see over the banks of the channel allows for a much more pleasant trip away from the parking lot through the dairy pasturelands.

I saw a number of birds and otters on the way out, but I couldn’t approach them as closely as usual. The wild animals scattered before they came within the reach of my camera.

I did manage to get this photo a couple of dogs who were out on an unsupervised romp through the Estero.

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The beagle brayed.

Squeaky neoprene cold-weather gloves were the reason why wildlife was so elusive. They squawked with each paddle stroke.

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Once I took them off I was able to do get better photos. Here’s a Great Blue Heron.

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All the usual residents were in attendance and accounted for today, among them: Cormorants, Buffleheads, Coots, River Otters, Barn Owls, Vultures,Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, smaller hawks I could not identify and, in the surf near the beach, California Sea Lions.

A map of the outing:

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.

At the Mouth—Whales!

Canoe on Penny Island

The Russian River Estuary is an excellent place for anyone interested in seeing a variety of wildlife. Today’s canoe outing started out slowly, but finished spectacularly.

A lone Great Egret waded along the north shore of Penny Island catching small fish to eat for a midday meal.

Great Egret 1130  4:20:16

About a half dozen harbor seals swam just inside the mouth where more than 200 seals were hauled out on the sand and resting. Among them were many pups. Some were nursing.

Nursing Harbor Seal Pup

Mama seal nursing her pup. I took this picture from the overlook after the paddle. I saw similar scenes from the boat, but to avoid disturbing them, I didn’t approach close enough for a good photo.

Among the harbor seal colony there was a group of about a dozen Cormorants and several times that many gulls. A couple of sea lions barked in the surf zone just outside the mouth.

Paddling back towards Penny Island, a pair of Common Goldeneyes took note of my boat’s approach. They swam off to keep a comfortable distance away.

Goldeneye Couple 4:20:16

When lunchtime came, I pulled the canoe out onto the gravel bar along the eastern (upstream) shore of Penny Island. A group of Buffleheads didn’t notice me right away and came close enough for me to make a move for my camera. My movement caught their attention and they started to swim away.

Better Buffleheads 4:20:16

The one furthest from the camera is an adult male. Not sure if the others are his harem or what.

There were only a few other paddlers out today. When the river’s practically empty of boats, the deer feel it’s safe to come out to browse on the grasses along the shore of the island. This deer didn’t hear the very slow and quiet approach of my canoe. There was time to take its picture. As soon as it saw me it tip toed back into the brush and out of sight.

Deer on Penny Island

Along the way I also saw gulls, Crows, Turkey Vultures, Mallards, and Red-winged Blackbirds, but didn’t get photos of any of them worthy sharing here.

At about 3:00 I decided to return to the launch ramp and rack the canoe on the car. As an afterthought, I decided to drive up to the Highway One turn-out that overlooks the mouth. From that vantage point, using binoculars, I could accurately count the harbor seals in the colony. There were 234 seals, not including the dozen (or more) in the river and ocean.

Ken Sund drove into the turnout and we talked a little bit when he saw a Gray Whale spout in the waves just outside the mouth of the river. There was a mother and her calf, I think perhaps more: two mothers and two calves, perhaps?

Ken explained that the Russian River’s outflow is significantly warmer than the ocean water. Calves enjoy lingering in these warm Russian bath waters, a bit of wine country luxury on their 8,000 kilometer journey to their feeding grounds in the frigid Arctic seas.

Gray Whales at the Mouth

These whales were right along the beach, the closest to shore I’ve ever seen Grays approach.

 

Ken and I told others visitors who had stopped at this overlook about the whales. Most people stopped there to look at the seal colony. A few had stopped simply for the view of the ocean.

Everyone was pleased to see the whales who put on a good show, spouting and holding up an occasional pectoral fin. A calf spy hopped, but, alas, this photographer wasn’t quick enough to get pixels on the memory chip.

Gray Whale Spouting Off

Eventually Ken took off to launch his kayak, paddle to the beach at my feet and then walk out on to the beach for a closer look.

Ken on Beach

Ken photographing a marine mammal in the waves. Not sure if its a seal, sea lion, or whale.

I stayed up on the overlook for 90 minutes. I told everyone who came to look for the whales and pretty soon quite a crowd gathered, intently watching the whales.

 

Roving Docent 2 Roving Docent Work

It was fun acting as a Roving Docent.

Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough

I am just back from my first visit to Elkhorn Slough and Moss Landing. There was much to see. I was most impressed by the sea lions. Seen from the cockpit of my small recreational kayak, they seem large and powerful, especially the males.

Sea lions far outnumbered the people yesterday in the Moss Landing harbor area. As I paddled my kayak (I was the only kayak in the harbor then) I saw more sea lions than I could count (maybe 100?).

Most were in the water, either swimming to and fro, or floating in groups with fins held in the air.

Others had hauled themselves out on the jetties.

And a few of them were trying to make themselves home in the marina.

This rather large male gave me a look to let me know that it was his intention to stay right where he was. He turned towards me as if to say, “If you get any closer to me then I’m going to swim at you and make you wish you hadn’t.” Maybe that was mostly in my head, but I didn’t want to find out by coming any closer.

 

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Others found the swim decks of boats on which to sun themselves.

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This one hauled out on a boat called Easy Rider. Somehow, I don’t think that the owner of the boat had a sea lion in mind when naming the boat.

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There was lots more to see in the harbor and in the slough. I’ll add more on another post.