Sunday, October 11, 2015

Estuaryist's Visit to the Russian River October 10, 2015

Ever since heart surgery last December, I've wanted to make every day count. I resolved to be outdoors at least an hour each day. I've done that.

I have been strongly drawn to nearby estuaries—places where fresh water flows from streams and rivers to mingle with the sea. Estuaries are places rich with life and energy. The estuaries I'll write about most are near where I live, specifically,

Tomales Bay
The Estero Americano
The mouth of the Russian River
Drakes Estero
The San Francisco Bay and Delta

I want to visit these places more regularly and with added purpose:

to learn about estuaries, 
to help protect them, and 
to share what I've learned.

This blog is meant to help me accomplish all of these things.

I decided to call this blog Estuaryist because it is my aspiration to approach the estuary in a manner similar to the way an artist approaches art and a scientist approaches science: with humility, curiosity, imagination, and wonder. I will not be surprised if in the end I have more questions than answers.

So, to begin: Today I visited the Russian River's mouth by kayak.

The wind was calm when I arrived at the Jenner launch area,and the air was filled with the sound of waves exploding on the beach.

The river's mouth had been open the past few days, and I knew that the tide was soon to ebb so I paddled out carefully, not wanting to get caught in an ebbing current and swept into a turbulent on-shore wave break. Soon I could see the waves breaking and I approached the area cautiously.

To my surprise I found that the mouth had closed again despite clearly seeing ocean shore break from my kayak.

I got closer and watched for a while and observed many harbor seals belly-crawling out of the river, over the sandbar, and back into the Pacific Ocean.

You can see the seals on the right making their way to the ocean
As they leave the relative safety of the river, I wonder whether the harbor seals worry about the Great White Sharks that swim in those waters.

I had not had any breakfast, so I stopped at about 11:00 to have my sandwich on the shore opposite Jenner on the south side of Penny Island.

Estuaryist's vessel
I paddled further upriver beyond the Highway One bridge to a favorite harbor seal haul-out. I was careful not to approach so close as to bother them. They watched me as closely as I watched them.


  1. Dan, you look fit and well and as slim as a Norwegian Racing Sardine! (American version). I like your T-Shirt, I feel confidently qualified to wear one of those myself.
    Great Blog based on an interesting and worthwhile purpose. I look forward to reading your subsequent postings.

  2. Thanks you, Alden. I feel a lot better. That photo was taken two weeks after the surgery. I think I looked better than I actually felt at that point. I do feel much better these days.

  3. Hi Dan,
    Good start on this new blog. Question. Are the harbor seals just going out to sea, or are they hunting for the big salmon coming in to spawn on those high waves? You don't need to answer that, just keep watching. Big fish can still get into the river when the mouth is closed by coming in those high waves that still come over the sand. I've observed the seals doing this. It's something to watch for.

    1. Hi, Bob—

      Interesting. I cannot say for sure if they were hunting or not. I did not see any seals with salmon in the mouths. The seals I watched would crawl out of the river, over the sandbar and disappear on the ocean side. I was pretty far away and its possible they were eating something, or looking for something to eat. I wasn't there for very long, so not sure.

      I did definitely see seals dining on large fish in the estuary.

  4. Enjoyed this first hand account of what you discovered. I never quite realized how complex the interaction is between a river and the ocean, with all the dynamics of water flow, tide, and wave action—plus how that affects the wildlife. Looking forward to your future posts.

  5. Welcome, James! I am glad you came by more to come in a week or so.