Estero Americano Dec 5, 2016

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


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.


The beagle brayed.

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


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


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:

Ninth Street Rookery

One of the members in the California Certified Naturalist class told us of a rookery on West Ninth Street in Santa Rosa. She said that it was one of her favorite places to watch birds in Santa Rosa.

Early this afternoon I hopped on my trusty bike and pedaled east across the Laguna to West Santa Rosa to have a look.

Biking to the Rookery 6:6:16

One would not expect to see much wildlife in an ordinary, modest suburban neighborhood like this one—particularly not in the median strip of a busier-than-ordinary residential street. But, sure enough, right in the middle of west Santa Rosa were two eucalyptus trees just jammed with nests of large wading birds—Common Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Black-Crowned Night Herons.

Three Egrets 6:6:16

The birds seemed to inhabit a world apart from the human activity below them, and for the most part, humans seemed oblivious to their arboreal activities.

The Egret Has Landed 6:6:16

It was surprisingly easy to get close to the birds, who seemed accustomed to humans. This juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron let me approach within about 15 meters.

Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron 6:6:16

If you happen to be in Santa Rosa, it might be worth a few minutes of your time to stop by. The rookery is on West Ninth Street between Simpson and West Eighth Streets, a short distance west of Lincoln Elementary School. To keep people from venturing under the trees, the two trees where most of the birds nest are cordoned off with orange traffic cones and plastic mesh.

I wonder why the birds use these trees for their rookery. It’s not near any obvious food source (Santa Rosa Creek is not teeming with fish as far as I know) and this site is awfully close to scads of humans. Perhaps one of my readers knows.

A Bellyful of Plastic

Today was the first sunny morning after a rainy weekend in this part of northern California. The USGS  Water Resources Gauge indicated that the Laguna’s flood waters stood below 63′ and were receding about 1′ per day. I had been wanting to paddle on high water south towards Sebastopol from the launch site on Occidental Road. There was no time to delay.

It was a chilly 38°F as I launched the SS Estuarian in the Laguna de Santa Rosa this morning just before 8:00. The wind was calm, the waters empty.

Almost immediately a number of Black-crowned Night Herons took flight from the trees in front of my boat. Most of them flew, out of camera range, but this fellow alighted not far off and hid among the branches of the tree. He kept a watchful red eye, but stayed put in his tree.

Night Heron 3:15:16

Black crowned Night Heron

Horse Farm

Horses on the Laguna

Paddling towards Sebastopol, the Laguna passes the back of farms and dairies before continuing into Sebastopol’s Laguna Wetlands Preserve.

Teen Center & Dairy

Dei Dairy pasture in foreground; Sebastopol Community Center Annex (green roof).

Even at 62′ the water level is barely high enough to get into Sebastopol. As you can see in the photo above, you have to be careful to paddle around fencing that extends into the floodwaters.

In this part of the Laguna there was a lot of trash: discarded single-use plastic bottles, dog-chewed tennis balls, assorted aluminum beer cans, plastic vodka flasks, bits of styrofoam, and even a large shiny Christmas globe. I was able to stow most everything in my kayak (more about that later) as I paddled back to the launch area.

A hawk perched on a pole watched as I passed by.

Hawk 3:15:16

Juvenile Red Tail, maybe. Not sure.

An organized group of paddlers was getting ready to launch when I returned to the car to unload the accumulation of trash plucked from the Laguna during the first half of this outing.

Tour group 3:15:16

I hustled to stay ahead of them. If you want to see wildlife, it’s best to be alone.

My hustle was immediately rewarded by some white birds in the northern part of the Laguna. The first, a couple of Snowy Egrets perched high in a snag.

Snowy Egret 3:15:16

Snowy Egret with one leg drawn up

Snowy Egret 2 3:15:16

A flock of American White Pelicans had gathered in a pasture on the eastern shore. During breeding season adults grow projections you see on their upper mandibles near the tip of the bill.

White Pelicans 3:15:16

As I approached some of them got up and began to walk away up the bank. Not wanting to bother them, I backed up and they settled back down. All was calm. Then something spooked a trio of geese near the pelicans. The geese honked noisily and the pelicans took to the air.

American White Pelicans in Flight 3:15:16

They flew off towards the Russian River.

American White Pelicans with St. Helena in Background

American White Pelicans in flight. Mt. St. Helena in background

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Website, All About Birds, American White Pelicans and Double crested Cormorants are often found together. That was true in this case. The Cormorant nests were as just as active (and noisy) as they had been on March 8, the last time I was here.

Double crested Cormorant 3:15:16

Double crested Cormorant March 15, 2016

I wanted to stretch so I paddled over to the west shore towards Georgetown, a quirky treasure trove of some 38 vintage cars and assorted Hollywood movie memorabilia from the 1930’s and 1940’s. It’s all housed in about two dozen buildings. Georgetown is named after George Smith who started it all and is cared for now by his son, Guy Smith.

Georgetown 3:15:16

One of the buildings in Georgetown

Near Georgetown is a vineyard with a secluded waterfront. That’s where I got out.

SS Estuarian 3:15:16

SS Estuarian

A Bellyful of Plastic

When I got home I couldn’t stop thinking about a puzzle I need to solve: how to pluck a bag full of soggy dog logs out of the water and carry it to a proper disposal site.

You see, I left the neatly tied blue bag of dog doo in the water because, well, you know: it would be mighty unpleasant to have the bag burst and leak all over my boat. (Similar things have happened!)

As it is, that smelly blue bag might possibly float downstream into the Russian River and out into the Eastern Pacific Ocean where baleen whales (Humpbacks, Pacific Grays) swim and feed.

Baleen whales take mouthfuls of water and sieve whatever is in it swallowing that material into their esophagus and on down the hatch into their three-chambered stomach.

Whales don’t have fingers or toothpicks to remove a plastic bag (or a single-use plastic bottle, for that matter) from their baleens before swallowing.

I’ll figure something out. Meanwhile, at least none of the stuff in the photo below is going to find its way downstream. It’s in my garbage can.

The Haul 3:15:16

The standing canister in back was 1/3 full of liquid plant food. My shrubs will be happy. I wonder how it found its way into the Laguna.

If anyone out there has an idea to offer about the blue bags, please share it in the comments.



Estero Americano February 25, 2016

With the Cow Patty Pageant just around the corner, Jono and I decided to paddle Estero Americano at an unhurried pace today.

Jono at EA 2:25:16

Warm sun and almost no wind made for placid paddling. Just past halfway to the beach we passed the low cliffs along the southern shore, pausing to look at the ferns and trees growing on the north-face of the cliff.

Hanging Gardens EA 2:25:16

Right at the edge of the water at the foot of the cliff we found the body of a raptor that had died recently.

Dead Raptor 2:25:16

Trying to identify a dead bird is surprisingly difficult. Yes, it is easier to get close and take detailed pictures. But pictures are only part of the story. The way birds animate themselves is often what distinguishes them. It’s much harder to identify a bird without seeing its behavior, hearing its voice, watching it fly.

Talons 2:25:16

The Sibley Field Guide shows that most raptors have yellow feet and hooked bills that are yellow at the base and dark at the tip. This one had a white breast, and died in open marshland, perhaps a Northern Harrier?

Though we had hoped to see lots of birds and maybe a river otter or two, there was not a lot a wildlife activity in the Estero today. A few snowy egrets.

Snowy Egret EA 2:25:16

A solitary deer ranged along the south shore.

Deer 2:25:16

Up near the launching area a cow relaxed on the bank.


Large herds of dairy cows graze right up to the edge of the Estero. Because of them, the water smells.

Makes me wonder…. are the dairying operations (and nearby poultry farms) adjacent to the Estero polluting it to the point that wildlife avoids the area?

Harbor Seal Voices

At 11:00 this morning the wind was up from the east. Ray and his daughter Anna got to the launch ramp a couple of minutes after I did, but slow is me—they launched ahead and headed down to the mouth of the river. Anna is a mountain climber, so I reckon kayaking is a pretty tame activity for her.

Ray and Anna 2:9:16

Ray and Anna

It was high tide and the waves outside the mouth looked pretty intimidating.

Waves at the Mouth

A strong offshore wind was blowing off the tops of the waves.

We were at the mouth for only for a few minutes before heading upwind and upstream. Along the shore of the cow pasture above Jenner, a snowy egret was actively catching small animals (probably small fish) in the water.

Snowy Egret 2:9:16

The yellow feet are underwater here. This one intermittently ran along the shore, wings out, in pursuit of lunch.

Upriver from the bridge I heard a distant and strange growling noise, something I’d never heard before. I had no idea what it was, but the sound was clearly coming from from upriver. Looking through binoculars I could see that the “logs” about 1/4 mile upriver were actually seals hauled out on a shoal. I paddled towards them until I was as near as I could get without disturbing them, about 150′ away. Using the zoom lens to the max. I started taking pictures.

drooling seal 2:9:16

Both animals vocalized. The one on the right of this picture (with the drool) was doing most of the talking.

The spotted one had quite a lot of drool running out of its mouth. Was it sick? Does anyone know if harbor seals make more noise when they’re sick?

Drool Closeup 2:9:16

Unlike their sea lion cousins, harbor seals don’t use their voices often. But harbor seals do have vocal chords and they can use them. Here’s what their growling sounded like today.

The growling was louder than you might imagine from watching this video. The camera’s microphone really isn’t optimized for long-distance sound recording like this.

Farther upstream by the Willow Creek Campground the wind that had been blowing so hard at the mouth an hour before turned off and the river went calm

Up by Willow Creek Camp 2:9:16

There is a gravel bar on the right bank of the river across from Willow Creek that makes a good place to get out for lunch, thus avoiding muddy boots mucking up the inside of the kayak on the way home.

Time for Lunch 2:9:16


On the way home the same family of otters that have been hanging out in the river near Paddy’s Rock were at it again, playing and fishing and looking like they were having fun. There were three in this group today. I watched them for a little while, but—alas!—they spooked as I began fumbling with my camera and they turned tail and climbed up into the wooded river bank.

Otter Tail 2:9:16

See ya later, estuarian!

The otter’s tail ends today’s estuarian tale.

A map of this paddle: