Monday, May 9, 2011

The Winds of May - Finally Laying Down. Come on out!

It has been SOOO WINDY out here the past few days, which has been trying to everyone's nervous systems.  What not everyone knows is that the coastal Northwest weather flow that we get in this area is seasonal, predominating in the month of May.  And this flow is CRUCIAL to the sea life in this area.  Why?  Because the NW winds blow the warmer surface waters away, causing an UP-WELLING, which brings up colder, nutrient-rich waters from the depths.  This allows for a PLANKTON BLOOM which is the basis of the food chain.  In short, the NW wind blows, and everybody eats.

Thankfully, we now have a break through at least the end of the week.  So, come on out to Inverness or Marshall, enjoy the calm waters this week, and let's do some kayaking.

We're hoping the calm will hold through the weekend.  Lots of Moonlight this weekend, too, with a full moon on Monday night, May 16.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kayaking is fun! Top 3 Reasons to Kayak in May

Kayaking is fun. If you haven't tried it, May is a great month to start, here on Tomales Bay in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Top 3 Reasons to Kayak in May:
1. The weather is Perfect! - right now it not too hot, nor too cold.
2. The wildflowers are still out and, are beautiful!
3. There are so many great wildlife viewing opportunities: from Harbor Seals, to jellyfish. And birds galore! 

Kayaking gives you a fun way to explore the area and see wildlife. I see parents come with their children to learn about all the wonderful things you can see, touch, hear, and smell in nature.  It is really fun to see the kids get excited when they see the wildlife out here.

These are just one of the reasons why I love it out here!
Check out some guided trips here

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Nick's Cove on a Frosty Clear Morning, January 4, 2009

It was the Sunday after New Years, and the Point Reyes landscape was white with a thick layer of frost that morning.  We had a group of six participants, a Blue Waters guide, Colin Crispin.  I was along to chronicle and photograph.  And enjoy a morning of paddling, of course.

We launched at 10 am at the boat ramp at Miller Park.  It was an ebbing tide, with low at around 11:30.  The morning fog was lifting and the wind was absolutely still.  I could see rafts of birds scattered across the bay, and flocks of Brandt's geese were flying low over Hog Island, searching for foraging grounds.

The plan was to paddle over to Hog Island and then head north on the outgoing tide  through the tide channels and down to Tom's Point.  These channels are verdant with eel grass and are known to be rife with marine life and sea birds.  On the way to Hog Island at least 10 Harbor Seals popped up to greet us.  Passing Hog, only a few birds were roosting on the point.  Everybody was out eating.

We passed huge rafts of Buffleheads, mixed with a good number of Black and Surf Scoters.  The Brandt's Geese continues to pass overhead, going North to the mouth for low tidal forage.  Far in the distance, by Tom's Point, we could see White Pelicans on the water and on sand bars.  The air was so clear we could see them easily without binoculars, and their reflections on the glassy calm water created optical illusions -- from that distance they looked like sailboats.

So that became our goal -- visit the White Pelicans.  A leisurely paddle on the outgoing current, looking at birds the whole way, and we were there in about an hour.  We took our time and I got some good shots.  I had hoped to get a push back in with the tide change but the water stayed still.  We had a long way to paddle back to see the elk herd at White's Gulch and no help from the tide.  We got a little workout and made it back there in about 45 minutes,  took a well deserved break, got out the glasses,and viewed the elk peppering the hillside.  We got back to the ramp about 15 minutes late, but no one was perturbed.  We had had a stellar morning of paddling, seen some great wildlife, and all felt great!  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 28, 2008: Kayak Tour at Nick's Cove

What an unbelievable day!  There was light mist/rain off and on, but the air temp was pleasant (50's).  Not a breath wind, glassy calm all day.  Tomales Bay was absolutely ALIVE with bird and marine life.  Birds were literally covering the surface of the bay, from the Miller park boat ramp to Hog island, and beyond.  Just off the ramp was a large flock of Brandt's Geese,  making a lot of noise.  I love these small geese, with their white markings and neck ring.  Hunting season is open at Tom's Point, just two miles to the north.  These Brandt's are happily swimming in the protected zone.  Smart Geese!

As we launched and paddled away from
the ramp it was obvious from the bird activity that the Pacific Herring were in the bay full-on.  Large rafts of cormorants and Western Grebe's were stalking the herring schools.  Quite a few Common Loons were popping up with fish in their beaks.

When we got to Hog Island I was thrilled to see a group of White Pelicans sitting with the usual Browns.  These largest of the Pelican family are strikingly beautiful birds.  I explained to the group that, as opposed to the Brown's who make their living diving on fish, the Whites are surface feeders.  They circle up and herd the fish, then scoop them up with their huge beaks.  The ubiquitous Western and California sea gulls follow the Whites to get a fish that falls out of the beaks.  They will harass the Whites as well to get a better chance.  

Just as we past Hog Is sure enough the Whites flew off a hundred yards or so, sea gulls in tow, circled up and took their positions.   Paddling by I saw a few Bonaparte Gulls, very beautiful with white and black wing markings.  The Bonapartes are surface feeders and dive on fish  like terns do.  

The cormorants were chasing herring schools and making quite a commotion, as they like to do.

Quite a few seals popped up to look at us as we made our crossing, 
we saw at least a dozen. They were swimming lazily along, 
seemingly well fed, and lifted their heads up to view 
us as we paddled by.

We got to White's Gulch for a break, landed the boats, and got out the binoculars.  The elk were pretty high up on the hillsides, but there were lots of them.  It's amazing how the more you look the more you see, there must have been at least 50 visible on the slopes and gully's.

We did not have a lot of time, plus the kids were getting 
a little cold out of the kayaks, so
after about 15 - 20 minutes and some snacks we re-launched.  The tide was ebbing hard, so we paddled down to Pelican point, and let the current drift us back to Hog Is, then crossed to the boat ramp.

All in all a stellar day on the bay!

NOTE: Elk photo is by Chris Smith.  Hog Island photo is by Charlie Chen.  All other photos are by John Granatir

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tomales Bay Wetlands Hike with David Wimpfheimer

Sunday December 14 Pamalah and I  hiked to the Tomales Bay Wetlands from the Coastal Access Trail just north of Pt Reyes.  The group outing was organized by noted naturalist David Wimpfheimer of Inverness.   Also accompanying us was David Hurlocker, who is a naturalist with the Marin County Open Space.  There were about 8 of us in the group all together.   

Having just
 paddled the
 wetlands the day before we were thrilled to be revisiting the area with these "heavy hitter" naturalists to get a more in-depth perspective on the restoration project, the wildlife, and the ecological issues involved.

The hike over to Tomales Bay from the Trail Access is only a little over a mile so we had little ground to cover and lot's of time.  On
 the way we checked out the local birds.  David is an incredible birder - he can id every bird and knows it's call as well.  I was pretty impressed when he "called out" the sparrows from a stand of chaparelle.  He stood in front of the bushes, mad some bird calls, and they all just popped up to see what was up.  

We proceeded down to a small irrigation pond that the ranchers had built by damming up 
a creek and saw an egret and a lone Bufflehead (we all speculated on why he was ostracized from the rest of his buddies)

When we hiked over the hill we got the same breathtaking, pretty much the same vantage we had the day before, and watched the flooding by the rapidly incoming tide.

In the not-yet flooded higher portions  we could see stands of egrets, lots of them maybe 20 in a group.  David explained that the flooding of the pasture land had displaced thousands of rodents, mice, voles and gophers, and that had brought in "apex predators" in large numbers - egrets, herons, hawks.

One issue that has come up with this scenario is that a  small bird called the Black Rail which lives in the brush is being taken by the same apex predators, and the Black Rail is a threatened species.  To address this the Park Service has constructed special berms called "Rail Ref
uges".  These are above the flood level, and the park has planted a ground cover for them to hide in.  These berms are highly visible by the bright green plantings.

We saw huge rafts of ducks in the flooded portions, mostly Pin-Tails and Widgeons.  Interestingly they were all south of the hunting demarcation of the State park game refuge.  Smart ducks!

Two Peregrine Falcons circled high overhead eyeing the duck.  We saw one do a swooping dive in an impressive aerial display.

On our way back to the trailhead we stopped to watch a Northeren Harrier feeding on top os a piling.  We were so close we could clearly observe his yellow eyes and markings, and the huge tail.  A very impressive bird!  We also saw a pair of river otters swimming behind him in the marsh.

All in all this was a successful hike.  We say a lot of wildlife and felt more connected to the land.  More to Come!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Paddling the Tomales Bay Marsh, Sat Dec 13

The Giacomini Ranch was established 60 years ago at the head of Tomales Bay near Point Reyes Station.  In order to create pastureland from existing salt marsh, rancher Waldo Giacomini built a series of levees tidal gates to manage tidal incursion.  The levees significantly altered the patterns of estuarine circulation and sediment deposition in the area.  In 2000 the Point Reyes National Seashore purchased 563 acres of the Giacomini farmland in order to begin the long delicate process of restoring the wetlands.  The project rook 8.5 years to finish.  AS of November 2008 the levees have been removed.  This project added approximately 4% to existing California salt marshes.

This past weekend Pamalah and I took an opportunity to experience this project first hand.  Saturday we joined a Blue Waters Kayaking tour and paddled the wetlands.  Sunday we hiked the same area with renowned naturalist David Wimpfheimer (see next blog).

Saturday AM the paddling group met at White House Pool, which is about a mile west of Point Reyes Station on the tidal slough of Lagunitas Creek.  It was a blustery day - a cold front had set in the night before.  Showers had been predicted, but so far the day was bright and sunny.  The bay was windy, but we felt protected up in the slough, and the sun was warm, even now just a week from winter solstice (thank you California). 

Our guide, Emil Kempf led and intro circle and then everybody geared up.  
Our first challenge was to launch the kayaks, as the high tide had covered our mud flat. we had only a narrow steep trail for launch access.  We launched "seal style" with no problems.

We paddled north heading into the wind.  On entering the wetlands, I was thrilled to see Black Mountain standing majestically over the now completely flooded pasture land.
 We saw lots of birds: Red Tailed and Red Shouldered Hawks hovered overhead, and there were a great number of egrets and a few Great Blue Herons.

We saw a large flock of birds plucking fish from the surface of the water which I incorrectly thought were terns.  I later ID'd them as Bonaparte Gulls.

We stopped for a break by a tidal gate and hiked up a knoll to get a good look.   I was very moved to experience the changes in values
of what had been viewed for centuries as "progress" now turned on it's head - Pastures to Wetlands!

On our way back to the put-in we saw a large flock of night herons in the willows.  

This was a great day and back at the put-in we were all glad to have been able to experience this historic restoration.    We will be back to document the changes to this land which we expect to 
dramatic and swift. STAY TUNED!