Dining on Heart’s Desire Beach

Sonoma County is in the midst of a record-setting heat wave for early May. It’s always cooler at the coast—a good place to escape the hottest weather.

Trimaran sailing past Heart’s Desire Beach

Because my favorite estuary, the Estero Americano, has so little water in it, I decided to try to paddle on Tomales Bay, my second-favorite estuary. In the spring, though, it’s often unpleasantly windy on Tomales. Heat spells sometimes attenuate the winds and I hoped that would happen yesterday.

When I arrived in the morning the wind was already up enough to keep me ashore.

Heart’s Desire, though, is about as nice a beach as one might wish for. A dozen families, most with preschool children, set up for a midday sojourn along the shore near the parking lot and bathrooms.

I ventured a short way south the better to see what wild animals might be up to.

Soon a turkey vulture flew over head.

The ebbing tide revealed a dead leopard shark.

The vulture had become aware of the carcass before me. Turkey Vultures can detect ethyl mercaptan, a gas emitted by decaying flesh, from the air.

Soon it landed on the beach and began to disembowel the leopard shark.

It concentrated on a slit in the underside of the (female?) shark.

The turkey vulture stayed for some time and was eventually joined by other TVs. Taking turns, they worked for about an hour on the carcass, but didn’t get a whole lot of entrails out of the body cavity. Their efforts were interrupted from time to time by humans walking by. They finally flew away leaving the carcass pretty much as they had found it.

Later a seagull flew in for a look at what the vultures had abandoned. It went right to work.

I didn’t expect the seagull, who worked alone, to pull much out of the shark. It was surprisingly successful.

The seagull managed to pull a great deal of food from the leopard shark’s belly.

Such was the show on Heart’s Desire Beach on May 2, 2017.


Russian River Estuary, February 28, 2016

Although it was rather cold and gray out at the Sonoma County coast this morning, it was refreshing to slip the kayak back into the relatively clean, clear, and healthy waters of the Russian River Estuary at Jenner.

The mouth of the river is open. There is still enough downstream flow that during a flooding tide the river is flowing out, emptying into the Pacific. Later in the year, the river carries almost no runoff—just a trickle of waters released from Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma. In summer the river runs both ways when its mouth is open: upstream on flooding tides and downstream on ebbing tides.

Mouth & Gull

I was paddling solo today, solo with plenty of company from birds and marine mammals.

Gulls, cormorants, and harbor seals gathered near the mouth.  Everyone was trying to absorb what meager warmth the sun provided as it shone weakly through a layer of coastal overcast.

Lounging Seal

As I paddled along the shore straight across from the river’s mouth, a turkey vulture landed surprisingly close by. At first he or she seemed to be looking with great interest at me—or rather the bow of my kayak. The vulture’s interest in my kayak’s bow allowed me to get many close-range photos.

Vulture studying shore

After drifting to within about eight feet of this bird, I remembered that vultures are capable of spewing their vomit at whoever might dare to venture too close. I put the camera down and began to move away. I was started to see what actually had been capturing the vulture’s keen interest: a seal’s carcass hidden (in plain sight) among the driftwood.

Seal Carcass

Hoping that river otters might be active in the fishing hole near Paddy’s Rock, I made my way up the narrow channel along the south side of Penny Island and upstream along the left bank.

An osprey called from somewhere further upstream, hidden somewhere among the trees. I followed its call, paddling slowly and quietly to avoid spooking it. Something stirred in a tree high above me and there it was: the osprey watching me pass. In the moment it takes to get the camera out of its case—and before I could frame it in the viewfinder— the bird decided to fly.

Osprey Taking OffI set down the camera and picked up the binoculars and followed its flight some distance upstream where it landed in a cypress tree. Fifteen minutes later, we repeated our little dance, but this time I was able to get a picture of it perching overhead.

Osprey in Cypress

At lunch the wind began to blow. The layer of overcast thickened. It turned colder as the afternoon arrived, or it seemed to. I rummaged through the front hatch of the kayak, retrieved a windbreaker from a dry bag and donned it.

The birds seemed to take to their homes in the trees or rocks along the shore. The time to call it a day and return to the Jenner launch ramp had come. I paddled in.

Today’s map;