Marty was up this weekend, so we planned an outing on the Russian River. It was a very hot weekend, getting almost to 90 degrees under our redwoods! So we planned to hit the river at around 6:00pm and come back after sunset. At 6:00pm, it looked like the wind was picking up, but when we put the kevlar canoe in the river, it was just a cooing breeze from off the ocean.
From the Jenner boat ramp, we chose to go around the east end of Penny Island, and head towards the ocean on the far side of the island. On the east shore of the river, we saw our first Great Blue Heron of the evening. As we were watching this bird, an Osprey with a fish flew by and landed on the south shore to eat. We saw a kingfisher fly across the river west of us, splashing into the water three times as he crossed from the island to a branch on the south shore. When we got near the ocean, we saw waves much farther up-river than we expected, and the harbor seals were all hauled out on the north shore, instead of their usual place behind the spit. We landed near the old concrete breakwater and walked across the spit to look at the ocean and get a better view of the seals. The beach normally sweeps up from Goat Rock, across the last rock in the old breakwater, and continues in the same curve across the mouth of the river to the beach on the other side. But this time, the ocean came across the beach in a big V with waves breaking 200 meters farther up- river than normal. The waves we saw breaking from Penny Island were actually breaking on the north side of the V, where the beach was running inland instead of being perpendicular to the ocean as usual. The tide was coming in strongly, and we could see the current running up the middle of the V. The waves came in, split in two, and broke on both sides of the V, leaving the center free of breakers. I of course was looking at it with an eye to how easy it would be to kayak out to, or in from, the sea here.
We paddled across the incoming current to the north side of the river, staying far enough up-river so we didn't disturb the harbor seals. The sun still had an hour to go, so we headed up-river again. We saw a dear right down under the Rivers End restaurant. She watched us for a minute, and then decided that we were not dangerous, (probably just some form of mutated large, green, two-headed duck), and wandered farther up the side of the river. We saw another Kingfisher over on this side of the river. As we paddled around a bend on the north side, we frightened one of our favorite and rare birds: A Green Heron. It flew a few hundred meters away from us and landed on a rock. We were able to paddle past it within binocular distance before it flew back towards where we first saw it. Heading farther upriver, we went up the north side of Penny Island and back down the south side again. As we came around the east point the second time, we saw a different Blue Heron on the south bank of the Russian River. After we passed it, another one flew up over the island and called out. Our heron flew up to join the new one, and they flew up-river calling to each other. Then when we got back to the place where we saw the first blue heron, it was still there! A confirmed sighting of 3 different blue herons on one trip! Of course, the air was full of swallows and we saw the usual number of cormorants, sea gulls, and a few brown pelicans.
We drifted through the shadow of the dunes for a while to rest our eyes from the evening sun, and then headed home before actual sunset. Half way back to the boat ramp in Jenner, the sun went down behind the cliffs, so we stopped to watch this and declared it sunset. When we got back to the boat ramp, while I was moving the bus into position to load the canoe, Marty saw a head pop up out of the water close to shore. We had seen harbor seal heads in the water the whole trip, even up-river from Penny Island, but this head looked too small to Marty. We watched it through the brush on the side of the boat ramp, only 20 meters away, and realized we were watching a river otter! A very rare sight on the Russian River! This otter looked like he wanted to get to something up on the shore, but could not build up the nerve. Several times he seemed to give up and turn away only to pop back up and look longingly up the bank. Finally, he swam north past the visitors center building and disappeared. We walked down the bank to see if we could find what it was the otter wanted, but found nothing.