Mid Tomales Bay Tour Two

Serene memories of a kayak tour of Tomales Bay I took five days earlier have reverberated in my mind all week long.

By Saturday a compelling impulse to return became irresistible. The opportunity arose this morning—so I went.

Marconi Cove in fog

When I arrived the bay was smooth as glass. All was quiet. Fog limited visibility to about 1/8 mile.

I made my way up the eastern shore of the bay.

As I passed alongside a 29’ sailboat moored in the cove south of Marshall Boat Works, I came, unknowingly, within ten feet of large, probably male, sea lion who had been resting at the surface on the other side of the sailboat. He became aware of me before I knew of him. He startled, let out a surprised sea lion bark, and hurriedly dove underwater with a splash. Half a minute later he resurfaced and watched me as I paddled away.

I made my way along the eastern shore past the little hamlet of Marshall to Audubon Canyon Ranch before heading west into the fog to cross the bay.

For about ten minutes I could see nothing but fog. With no compass to point the way, I kept an eye out for Laird’s Landing on the National Seahore side of the bay. Soon it appeared. I veered over to Marshall Beach and stopped for a break.

Marshall Beach

As I enjoyed my tea on the beach I had a moment to consider: Paddling solo is so pleasant. The solo paddler can fully immerse in the natural world. No effort to engage socially with companions is required. The natural world is sufficient company. Pelicans, gulls, cormorants, loons, grebes, harbor seals, bat rays, and even startled sea lions are welcome companions on a Saturday morning like this.

After tea on Marshall Beach, I paddled a mile further north to Tomales Beach before turning around and going several miles south. The fog began to melt away.

With the sun, Saturday morning paddlers began to appear everywhere on the bay. I passed Tomales Bay State Park’s popular Heart’s Desire Beach and continued along just a bit further to Pebble Beach where I stopped once again to stretch my legs.

On weekdays Pebble Beach—accessible only by foot or boat—usually offers solitude, but even there midday Saturday can be busy. A group of hikers and two groups of kayakers were enjoying the beach with me.

Pebble Beach

I didn’t pack much of a lunch—just a can of kippered herring. Somehow canned fish seems appropriate food on a saltwater beach.

The fog had burned off completely by the time I finished the fillet. A pleasant northwesterly breeze sprang up, just enough to put some texture on the water. Sailboats, a reefed O’Day Daysailer and a Laser with Power Head Radial sail (new to me), appeared on the bay. Somehow sailboats make the bay prettier.

I had promised to be home by early afternoon, so it was time for me to venture back across the bay to Marconi Cove where my days adventure had begun.

A map of my journey:

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.


Ten Miles on Tomales Bay 4

Rains blew in today from the eastern Pacific.

The change in weather has made last week’s placid sunny autumnal outing on Tomales Bay seem a long-ago memory. A seagull sunned himself on a piling.


Another gull had crab for breakfast.


The western shore still has quaint housing built before Tomales Bay became part of Point Reyes National Seashore, like this red cabin with its own beach.


The old Spenger’s place .


Spenger Place. I believe this is the same family that had a fish restaurant in Berkeley when I was a college student there.

And the remnants of Clayton Lewis’s assemblage of structures at Laird’s Landing.



I enjoyed lunch at Clayton Lewis’s place and spent about a half hour working on a sketch of one of his buildings.


I had the whole place to myself.

Estero Americano Breached; Placid Tomales Bay

Estero Americano Breached

Estero Americano is back within its banks. Two days ago waters rose so high here that it flooded nearby roadways. More than an inch of rainfall fell yesterday—enough to burst the sand dam at its mouth in Bodega Bay. It would have been fun to witness all that water rushing out into the Pacific.

EA 1:20:16

Estero Americano looking west from Franklin School Road

More than a dozen common egrets were dining in the mudflats exposed by the receding waters. One snowy egret (the smaller bird in the photo below) joined the common egrets.

Great and Snowy Egrets 1:20:16

The larger common egrets squawked at the snowy egret and made it keep its distance.

Here is a photo of the driveway to the launch ramp under the Franklin School Road Bridge. Two days ago this driveway was under water.

EA Launchwau 1:20:16

Estero launch ramp driveway

On Whitaker Bluff Road, south of the Estero Americano, four sheepdogs stood guard over a flock of sheep and lambs.

Sheepdogs on Fallon Road 1:20:16

Two of the four dogs guarding the sheep—protection from coyotes perhaps?

Biologist, Estuarian reader, and fellow paddler, Dick, writes that these dogs are Great Pyrenees.

He goes on to say, “I do believe there was a government program that encouraged local ranchers to use the dogs to guard the sheep from coyotes, and stop putting out poisons and traps. Those that participated in the program saw a dramatic drop in sheep killed by coyotes. The other problem was that indiscriminate killing of coyotes can trigger a population boom.  Normally only the Alpha female in a pack breeds, but if she dies, then all the surviving female give birth to a litter of pups.”

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay 1:20:16

View looking northwest from Millerton Point

Tomales Bay was placid today. The only boat other than my kayak were noisy oyster farm skiffs and the quiet cutter-rigged yacht, Will o’ the Wisp, out of Pebble Beach, north of Inverness. A subtle wind barely filled its sails. Quiet conversation shared by two men in the cockpit carried halfway across the bay.

Will o' the Wisp bigger?

Cutter-rigged Will o’ the Wisp ghosts down Tomales Bay

Boats sat quietly on their moorings.

Vivian 1:20:16

Fishing vessel Vivian on her mooring

Back at Marconi Cove a model airplane pilot prepared his radio controlled seaplane for a flight in the almost still atmosphere.

Model Flying Boat Tomales 1:20:16

This aviator had no boat to retrieve his plane in the event of a “landing” away from shore.

The electric motor was quiet—as model plane power plants go. Thank goodness the internal combustion engines in model aircraft have largely disappeared.

Airborne Tomales 1:20:16

Airborne! This plane’s wingspan was less than 1 meter.

The amphibious aircraft was not so loud as to scare away the amphibious waterfowl, the eared grebes and bufflehead ducks that were out on Tomales today.

Grebe Tomales 1:20:16

Eared grebes dive with alacrity for insects and crustaceans.

Buffleheads Tomales 1:20:16

Three male buffleheads