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Steam from coffee fogs the windshield and rain pelts down, we are making our way to the put in. On this day, we are searching for the Holy Grail. Wait, wait, wait, not really the Holy Grail. We are on a search for birds, yep that’s right birds. Today is the 115th Audubon Society   Christmas Bird Count (CBC).   The river is running high, so it will be just Cate and I in kayaks this year on the Noyo River in Fort Bragg, California. Our kayak of choice for this adventure is the Jackson Kayak Karma RG.

First our group of six traipses along the railroad tracks looking high, looking low, searching the area for movement, color change, songs/calls/alerts that give us clues to what species hide in the thick coniferous forest or tucked among the alders and other riparian flora and fauna. Our main purpose for this walk is to search out the American Dipper which will be down on and in the river. The Dipper is a fun little bird that feeds by walking or running along subsurface looking for food. No such luck this day, so we wait another year in hopes of adding this bird to our Mendocino Coast Audubon Society CBC list.


After our walk in the woods along the river, it is time to get on the water. We are quickly into the current and heading down stream. We have two major constrictions coming up that are notorious for holding on to logs. We are on our toes, not only looking for hazards such as wood and strainers, but for birds.


On the water our kayaks spin freely in the current as we scan and listen. We catch a glimpse of movement.  It is a couple of Double Crested Cormorants blended in with the dark shore and wood-fall.  A Red Shouldered Hawk’s call alerts us to look up for a moment.  We spin back down river just in time to glimpse a handful of Bufflehead Ducks as they disappear in unison subsurface only to pop back up in random order and locations. Along the shoreline and into the trees many small birds bounce, hop, flutter, call, and fly.


The temperature drops rapidly and so does the bird activity and then we are engulfed by a deluge of heavy rain. With great surprise a Harbor Seal pops up with a large Salmon in its mouth. As fast as the rain hits it is gone. We are left with  mystical sounds as the river ignites into a symphony of bird sounds. We just float and enjoy.  We have traveled about two and a half miles and are now past any major river constrictions. We enter into where the river becomes an estuary. We are now more likely to spot a variety of larger birds in the air, hunting among the shallows, and diving for food. “Hey Cate can you glass (look with binoculars) that area near the Tan Oaks?” The cascading white poop line is a good sign and draws us in for a closer look. There we spy our holy grail of the day. Perched high and hidden up in the trees, the Black Crowed Night Heron gets added to our list. A few more birds checked off as we slide up to the take out. One more CBC gone by, 41 bird species counted by kayak with a tally of 137 total for the day.


“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence – that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.”

                                                 -Lynn Thomson

Have a Happy New Year,

Jeff Laxier