I don’t have an easy way to “shrink” pictures enough so that they’ll load easily, but I hope to add some later. In the meantime, I do want to write about my guided kayak tour.
Liquid Fusion Kayaks is located in the Dolphin Isle Marina, on the south side of the Noyo River. I didn’t even know Dolphin Isle Marina was there. According to Jeff, one of the two partners of Liquid Fusion, I wasn’t alone in that. He finds locals or forty-year residents who have only just discovered it. The marina is about two miles upriver from the mouth of the harbor. Take Highway 20 east (right at the stoplight if you’re heading north), then left on South Harbor Drive. Before South Harbor drive dead-ends, you’ll see a road heading off the right. Take it, and drive past the marina. And drive some more. And some more. It will seem longer because you will be going about ten miles an hour, and because it will be very quiet. Tall evergreens shade the road, and vegetation grows right down to the edge; feathery wild dill, ferns and blackberries. To your left, the river will undulate jade green and silky. You will think you’ve come too far, and then you’ll see the second little marina and RV park. Liquid Fusion is around the first corner to your right, tucked into a triangle of space overlooking the river.
How We Start:
“Upriver or down?” Jeff asked me. I shrugged. Wherever I’d see the most birds, I guess.
“Downriver,” he said. “We’ll go out to the mouth of the harbor and back.”
He brought out the release for me to sign; I promised I wouldn’t sue them, and if I sued them it would be in a California court. “I’m confused,” I said.
“Me, too,” Jeff said. “It’s what our lawyers told us to put on there.”
He swiped my credit card. He also asked quickly about any medical conditions; diabetes? High blood pressure? Back problems? All of which makes sense if you’re going to embark on a river journey with a stranger. I locked my purse in the trunk of my car and clambered into the “splash-pants” he gave me, light-weight plastic pants that fit over what I was wearing. A splash top was optional and I declined it; the life vest was not optional and I put that on. This was the individual guided tour, so it was going to be Jeff and me in a double kayak with him doing all the work. He set the foot braces for me and showed me how to climb in.
The Twilight River
After I had cavalierly left the choice of direction up to him, I remembered my hope of seeing river otters. I asked. Jeff said he hadn’t seen otters for several days, so that didn’t change much of anything. He pushed off and paddled us almost straight across the river to a grove of trees where a colony of night herons often roosted. The kayak glided silently under the low hanging branches. He directed me to look almost straight up and I could see a juvenile night heron silhouetted in the branches. It was too dark for a good picture.
We glided down river. There were some spotted sandpipers on a dead log sticking up above the water. They would run up and down the log and then stop and make a butt-bouncing motion that looked like a risqué dance move. This, Jeff told me, is so they can see between their feet and find any grubs or worms they startled to the surface with their running.
The Things We Saw
No otters, but it was definitely osprey evening. He pointed out one nest with a female standing guard. I could see her clearly with my binoculars but could not get a good picture. There are three varieties of cormorants on the river and we saw all three; pelagic, double crested and Brant’s. And lots of gulls. A harbor seal surfaced and slipped along parallel to us for quite a while, and a few brown pelicans perched on the breakwater looked at us as if they were trying to figure out if we had food.
There were lots of brown pelicans. They have learned to follow the boats into the harbor and haunt the cleaning stations. I’m used to seeing them flying at a distance, and I was surprised at how big they are.
Jeff not only has studied the wildlife but like any good tour guide he has read up on local history, so he talked a bit about the life of Dolphin Isle during the heyday of the timber business. Dolphin Isle Marina was badly hit during the tsunami, and he took me into the sheltered marina where you can see a broad expanse of glass-smooth water where docks used to be.
As we got closer to Noyo Harbor we saw more shore-birds. I had never known the name of the white-bellied birds with the black backs; black turnstones, it turns out, and among the kelp covered shore rocks they are nearly invisible. We went under the bridge, where ravens, pigeons, and occasionally a peregrine falcon hangs out, and to our left, perched in a tree was the second osprey of the night, a male, patiently waiting for the tide to change and bring dinner. Outside the breakwater, on a conical rock, a colony of Brant’s cormorants were settling in.
The Trip Back
Jeff gave me a rundown on some of the boats in Noyo Harbor and in Dolphin Isle. On the way back he detoured us into the little marina by the RV park, and he found me an adult night heron. They have bluish-green backs, yellow legs and eyes as red as those glowing red fish eggs that bait shops used to sell. They are harassed by other herons, my field guide says. Before you start to feel too bad for them, it goes on to say that they steal food from other herons. Night herons, bad neighbors of heron world.
Jeff said he had seen a clapper rail in there once, about a week ago. I asked him what it was and he said, “It’s a brown bird. It’s just a brown bird. But, if you clap, it will answer you.” I looked clapper rails up in my field guide later and they are much prettier than just “a brown bird.” I found out that they show up at the botanical garden now and then.
A flotilla of mallards escorted us back to shore. The whole tour was just under two hours. Even with the adjusted foot braces, my legs were pretty stiff. If it had been a three hour ride, they would have had to turn the kayak upside down and shake me out, but at two I was able to climb out under my own power.
Liquid Fusion Kayaks gives longer kayak trips, with groups, and for the daring and physically fit (I am only one of those two things) they do a sea-kayak trip that explores some of the coast’s many sea-caves. They also teach kayaking and swift-water rescue.
I had to do nothing strenuous for this trip – in fact it was almost embarrassing how little I had to do. Basically; 1) show up; 2) pay money; 3) look where Jeff told me to. The river was calm, the lap of the water against the banks blending with the soughing of the trees. A cool sweet breeze drifted off the water. As we got closer to the main harbor, we had a little bit of wake from some of the boats – that just made it more fun. This wasn’t a wild adventure but two hours of peace and beauty. They can give you a wild adventure if you want one, though. Check out their website, and think about a kayak trip the next time you’re in Fort Bragg.