A Trip to Estero Americano, Part Three, Birds & a Baby Deer

Part Two, I talked a bit about the fish I saw in the Estero Americano on the most recent trip.

With fish you’ll usually see critters that eat them, especially birds:

Great Blue Herons,

GBH @ EA 7:11:16

White Pelicans,

White Pelicans EA

Several Osprey (which have recently been absent from Estero Americano as far as I know)

Osprey with Lunch 7:11:16

One of the medium sized fish about to become an early lunch.

Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, and Great Egrets as well, none of which posed close enough for a good photo.

A Black-necked Stilt was hanging out with White Pelicans near Whale’s Tail. This one was a solo operator.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilts have long pink legs to allow wading in estuaries. They eat invertebrates living in the muddy/sandy bottom

A Red-Tailed Hawk landed on a bush on the Sonoma County shore a little more than halfway to the coast.

Red Tailed Hawk

As I took this photo I wasn’t sure of what it was, so I leaned on the experts at iNaturalist to help with the bird ID.

A young deer got separated from its mother and ran back and forth along the Marin County shore making plaintive cries to call her back.

Deer, EA, 7:11:16

With all the fish in the Estero, I had hoped to see a River Otter or two or three, but none showed themselves that day.


Coyotes & Cows

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 was another splendid day on the Estero Americano.

Starting to Clear 5:25:16

The coastal low clouds spread quite far inland overnight and did not clear along the coast until a little past noon. I got a late start which often results in having to struggle upwind to make it out to the ocean. Luckily, the first four miles of the trip out to the coast were paddled under an overcast sky and in very light westerly winds.

Song birds along the shore on both sides sang loudly, brightening my mood.

Sparrow? 5:25:16

The sun came out just as I approached the beach. By then, I had seen many of the regular denizens of the Estero: cormorants, American White Pelicans, Great Egrets, deer, Red Tailed Hawks, and many Turkey Vultures. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed that I had not seen any unusual animals when I rounded the the last bend before the beach and saw….

Coyote 5:25:16

This Coyote! Last Tuesday, I had seen a coyote as well. This one was on the Sonoma County bank of the Estero and a couple of miles further west of the individual I saw last week. It also appeared to be a larger animal.

Alone at the Beach 5:25:16

Soon I was on the beach enjoying a can of kipper snacks and a thermos of black tea and looking for whales. I saw no whales, but a southbound sailboat passed by a mile or so offshore.

Sailboat 5:25:16

By 1:00 a pleasant breeze came up out the the west.

Sailing Home 5:25:16

I was glad to have my sail along. A refreshing breeze blew me back to Valley Ford.

Deer 5:25:16

Near the end, I furled the sail and paddled. I passed a deer browsing in a wooded spot near the dairy.

Most of the cattle and dairy ranchers allow their livestock direct access to the Estero’s waters.

Cows 5:25:16

This is nice for the cattle. I’m sure they like to get their feet wet and walk in the mud.

But they don’t just come down for drinks. They also urinate and defecate in it. The Estero’s waters, held back by the sandbar at the beach, gradually get more and more funky as California’s dry spring, summer and fall months go by. These waters probably won’t flush until next winter.

Cows Urinating 5:25:16

I’ve talked with Santa Rosa City biologist Denise Cadman about this problem in the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa. She told me that many area ranchers are reluctant to make changes to traditional practices. They don’t welcome outsider’s ideas about how to manage their ranches.

But progress is being made. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District has a Estero Americano Dairy Enhancement Program underway.

In June 2010 they published a Nutrient Management Planning Guidance for Small Coastal Dairies, a document running more than 60 pages.

Back in March I toured an exemplary dairy on the Estero, just upstream from the navigable parts of the Estero in Valley Ford, the 1500 acre Leveroni-Moody Dairy, a Clover Organic Dairy. Steve Moody showed us the fencing he’s installed on his dairy to keep his cows away from the Estero’s waters.

Because of his efforts to improve the water quality in the Estero he’s earned loyal customers from this household.



Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Nineteen people met at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation Headquarters to celebrate World Wetlands Day by paddling on the Laguna de Santa Rosa on February 2, 2016.

Anita 2:2:16

Anita Smith led the group that paddled north, usually downstream, toward the Russian River.

Led by Laguna Foundation staff including Anita Smith, Wendy Trowbridge, Hattie Brown and Maggie Hart we paddled out on the seasonal lake that floods over agricultural fields adjacent to the Laguna’s main channel just north of Sebastopol.

The 22 mile long Laguna de Santa Rosa is the Russian River’s largest tributary. The Laguna, as locals call it, is the main artery of a 254 square mile watershed that encompasses most of the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Cotati, Rohnert Park, and Windsor.

Laguna Map

For people who live in Sonoma County, the Laguna is an important region of “nearby nature.” Sadly, most of the Laguna is held in private ownership instead of the public commons, where, frankly, it belongs.

Public access points to the Laguna are hard to find. Even public views of it are scarce. For these reasons far too few people are aware of its rich diversity of plant and animal life. The mission of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation is to to restore and conserve the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and to inspire public appreciation of this Wetland of International Importance.

Usually, the best way to see wildlife is to go solo, slowly, and quietly (the Estuarian’s usual way) so I was surprised by how much we saw and pleased to share a few of the photographs taken that morning.

On this trip, however, our group was joined by dignitaries including the Mayor of Sebastopol, several Sebastopol City Planning Commissioners, and other people of note.

Sarah. Laguna, 2:2:16

The Mayor of Sebastopol, Sarah Gurney

Among the first notable birds we saw was a highlight, albeit distant. Although we were quite far away, Anita spotted this lone bald eagle perched atop an oak tree along the southern edge of Delta Pond. We got a  better look at it when, a few moments later, it flew off to the northwest towards the Russian River.

Bald Eagle 2:2:16

Bald Eagles are returning to Sebastopol’s Laguna!

Swimming in the water below the eagle was a lone white pelican. Several paddlers noted that it’s not common to see a white pelican by itself. They’re usually seen in groups and they fish cooperatively.

Solo White Pelican

Solo White Pelican

We paddled north towards the Russian River into the narrowing main channel. With the water level at approximately 57 feet above sea level willows crowded the banks of the channel forcing us to thread our boats between low overhanging branches.

We passed by almost a dozen vultures assembled in a tree awaiting their turn at whatever it was they were eating on the ground below.

TV 2:2:16

Ever patient, always quiet, and happy to clean up the messes it finds. An admirable bird.

A little farther downstream, a kingfisher perched nearby in the tangle of branches.

King Fisher 2:2:16

As usual, this little bird almost eludes my camera!

We had hoped to paddle to the confluence of Santa Rosa Creek, but Anita determined it would be too difficult on this day. We paddled south, back upstream through the channel and back into the “lake” where we started. We made our return trip along the western shore of this seasonal lake near Sebastopol. A group of great egrets were walking along the shore near the Gallo Wetlands area, presumably feeding on small land animals (worms, insects, isopods) displaced by the floodwaters.

Egret.2 2:2:16

The Great Egret is the symbol of the Audubon Society

Some of the first laws to protect birds were enacted to protect the Great Egret which had been hunted nearly to extinction more than 100 years ago. People killed them for their white feathers which in the nineteenth century were popular adornments for hats.

Egret 2:2:16

Yankee Doodle’s macaroni was often a white feather taken from these noble birds.

No trip on wetlands would be complete without a seeing a heron or two. This great blue heron obligingly posed for the camera.

GBH 2:2:16 Laguna Wetlands

A black crowned night heron was a lot less obliging. In fact he or she was so hard to see that I don’t know for sure it was, in fact, a black crowned night heron.

As the excursion came near an end, an interesting sky appeared overhead.

Wetlands Group on Laguna 2:2:16

The rain forecast to fall on our wetlands outing never materialized.

Two hours passed quickly on the water. A little before noon we paddled back to the field from which we launched our splendid trip.

Pull out 2:2:16 Laguna WWD

100% returned!

Link for more information about the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation

Link to photos & video on Facebook taken by Anita Smith

Link to water gauge that indicates: How much water is in the Laguna for paddling. A reading of more than 60 feet is ideal.