Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Bird Count

For 112 years, bird enthusiasts have been participating in the Audubon's Christmas Bird Count. Last year was our first year participating as the Mendocino Coast Audubon Society organized a preliminary Fort Bragg Count. Of course we volunteered to count birds on the Noyo River which is only birdable by kayak. It was a fun challenge (link to our tale of last year's count).

This year our inland neighbors of Ukiah's Peregrine Audubon Society recruited us to kayak and count birds on the Russian River. We recruited our whitewater boating buddy and birder Jerry to join us as well as Geoff - a Ukiah area birder who helped us count on the Noyo last year.

Getting in the spirit of the season, we loaded up red and green whitewater kayaks. The red was an Eskimo Topo Duo which is a tandem whitewater kayak which Jeff would be paddling with Geoff in the front seat tallying the birds that we saw. The green was my Eskimo Kendo.

Of course, we truly felt the spirit of the season with frosty temperatures and ice in our boats as we met at the put-in at 7am.

We had never paddled this stretch of the Russian River and enjoyed the opportunity to enjoy its beauty. It was not an easy trip. It was a long day with 7 hours on the water which included picking our way through mazes of willows and strainers and portaging shallow areas to complete the 15.4 mile run. The water flow was only 167 cfs which was not particularly swift but the deeper water channels tended to be where the willows and alders grew and hung over the river making it potentially treacherous. Jeff of course makes it look easy as he maneuvers to avoid a strainer.

We were happy with our whitewater kayaks. Their flat bottoms take very little water to float, they are very maneuverable, and are narrow and low enough to squeeze through tight spots. In this photo, Jerry smiles for the camera as I squeeze through a tunnel of willows.

This wrapped raft shows the potential hazard of the willows and strainers of the run.

The character of the Russian River has changed over the years due to man's attempt to control her flow and meandering ways. In addition to identifying the birds that we saw, we tried to identify the hundreds of classic automobiles that form the banks of Russian.

We enjoyed the warmth of the sun but its position in the southern sky impeded our vision as we scanned for birds.

We didn't see any rare or unusual birds but enjoyed many of the common birds of the river including pairs of colorful wood ducks and lots of chattering kingfishers. The tandem kayak was key as it allowed Geoff to use his binoculars to get a good look at birds while Jeff held the boat in place. Jerry and I had a difficult time keeping our binoculars focused on a particular bird as the current pushed and spun our single kayaks.

It was fun to join up with the rest of the Ukiah area CBC participants at their evening compilation dinner. It was fun to share our results and tales of the day with the rest of the birders. It also made us a little bit bummed out that we will have to miss our local Fort Bragg CBC this year.


  1. Boy howdy it was a long day of fun on the Russian River as part of the Ukiah Peregrine Audubon Society bird count. We had ice on our kayaks till about 9 AM when it warmed up to almost 39 degrees. Thanks Jeff and Cate for the invite. Jer

  2. Good fun!!! So glad that you could join us on the adventure!!! C