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.

 

Estero Americano Now Open

As I was packing my lunch and thermos of hot tea into my kayak I noticed the water in the Estero Americano running urgently toward the sea. Little eddies swirled quickly past the launch. A fallen Poplar tree had been pushed by the current up against the bridge. The current held it tight against the bridge pilings. The trunk almost blocked the channel.

I had never seen water flow so quickly through the Estero. I expected to find its mouth open when I got out to Bodega Bay.

The winds were calm. The sun shone strongly enough to take the chill out of the morning air. Without much effort I floated down the channel through the pastures and out beyond the dairy. Soon I found myself surrounded by Estero Americano’s calm beauty.

Estero Americano Serenity

Bufflehead ducks, one of the smallest ducks we see, spend winter all across the southern United States. They winter as far south as Mexico and spend summers in Canada. In January they are a common wintertime sight in Northern California. Yesterday was no exception. They were everywhere in couples or small flocks, often groups of two to four couples.

Bufflehead Duck Couple

As I paddled past the hanging gardens I was cheered to see Barney and Betty Barn Owl watching over the middle reach of the Estero.

We see each other regularly.

When paddling solo I usually see River Otters in the Estero. They often seem curious about a quiet human in a bright orange boat.

Who’s that?

This otter had a long look before deciding to vamoose. The camera scared him.

Had I not been upwind of this fellow, I think I’d have gotten closer. I could hear it sniffing me.

Rounding the final bend in the Estero, I could hear the roaring ocean. By now the current carried my boat at a good clip toward the breakers. It would be a bad time to lose my paddle! This is why I tie my paddle to my boat. Otherwise I would risk losing it while handling my camera.

This scene put some butterflies in the stomach.

The Estero’s mouth was open.

A beach swept clean by storm waves

The beach had been washed clean by huge waves from the recent storms. My bootprints were the only human footprints in the sand.

Looking south, toward Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore

I had lunch and tea in the dunes. A peaceful interlude.

Lunch spot in the dunes.

Here is a 24-second video of the water running out of the Estero.

At least two harbor seals were working the mouth of the Estero. Having seen Steelhead Trout in the Estero last year, my hunch is that at least a few Steelheads try their luck at spawning in the Estero watershed. That would explain the Harbor Seals, who don’t often come into the Estero these days. This one seems to have already enjoyed a midday meal.

I could be reading too much into that facial expression.

A curious River Otter visited my kayak while I was exploring the beach. He or she left muddy footprints on the foredeck. Perhaps it was the same one that I saw on the way out.

Foredeck footprints of a curious otter

The way home against the current was a real slog. The current strengthened in the afternoon, perhaps with the falling tide at the ocean. I got a workout bigger than I bargained for.

Despite my weary arms I saw things I had not noticed on the way out.

Nine deer.

Deer? What deer?

Zoomed in, you can see them.

They kept their distance from me.

A picnic table belonging to Sonoma Land Trust lodged high in the rocks. (I’ll call to let them know where it is—I’m guessing they don’t know what had happened to it.) The Land Trust has preserved 547 acres of land near the mouth. These acres will eventually be open it to the public.

Sonoma Land Trust’s picnic table

A Turkey Vulture sunned itself on a fencepost.

TV worth watching!

The paddle back to the launch against the current took nearly three hours. I estimate that the current added the equivalent almost three miles’ worth of distance to the already five-and-a-half mile long return journey.

Note fallen poplar tree in channel under bridge

It felt good to get home, tuckered out, hungry, and thirsty for a big cuppa hot black tea.