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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

There's no otter place quite like Elkhorn Slough


A relaxed resident of Elkhorn Slough studies passersby (Click on photos to enlarge)

 This might be my No. 1 choice for a paddling trip….

…during the “Other Season,” and it’s easy to make that case with generally mild winter weather, beautiful scenery and some of the best wildlife viewing anywhere in California. But on my most recent trip to Monterey County, I noticed that the entertainment worked both ways – while kayakers were watching sea otters and harbor seals in Elkhorn Slough, those critters were gawking at us too.
 
Two wild and crazy young guys
Which sort of complicates things, marine mammal protection-wise. Sea otters are classified as a threatened species and protected by law. Simply put, humans should always keep their distance, especially during the pupping season in late winter and early spring. (All photos with this blog post were taken with a telephoto lens.)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Winter paddler finds a bird storm on Tomales Bay

Waterfowl fill the sky over Tomales Bay (click on photos to enlarge)

A billowing black cloud of feathers rose above as I paddled on an ebb tide....

...in Tomales Bay one recent morning. Hundreds of birds – probably thousands – filled the sky in a spectacular aerial display.

Until that moment, it had been a disappointing kayak exploration of back bay marshes in search of waterfowl. Though it seemed a perfect winter morning for birdwatching, as temps quickly warmed into the low 60s under sunny skies and light breezes. The unruffled water was quiet with almost no other boat traffic.  But overwintering waterfowl were scarce and skittish. Only scavenging gulls – chickens of the sea – and cormorants were evident in any numbers.

Comorants, the railbirds of Tomales Bay, with a couple of "chickens of the sea"
Then, as the tide turned and the wind picked up, the black cloud appeared from nowhere.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

That other, more peaceful paddling season

Holiday decorations adorn trees over a Lake Natoma bayou

If you missed Winter Solstice, it occurred here at 8:19 p.m. on Dec. 21...

...and it’s easy to overlook the shortest daylight period of the year. Yet it’s auspicious for several reasons, not the least of which is that it officially kicks off my Other Paddling Season. No big sales at Macy’s or one-hour specials on Amazon to commemorate this season, but it's special all the same. 

By December, many kayakers have packed away their paddles, but they are missing a great opportunity to discover peace and quiet on the water. (Or salt water thrills, more on that later.) Northern California has dozens of lakes that are just right for gentle winter paddling. Mine happens to be Lake Natoma, near the town of Folsom.

"Is that mallard crashing our holiday party again this year?" (Click on photo to spot the culprit more easily)
And so I made the pilgrimage to Natoma last Saturday to usher in the Winter Solstice.  It was a gray day with mild temps and no rain – a perfect Solstice paddle. No crowds on the