Kakaying flat water on a beautiful day to watch birds can be super cool!

Kakaying flat water on a beautiful day to watch birds can be super cool!

I recently paddled around Princeton Harbor for the first time. I know it sounds crazy, but even after living and kayaking there for 12 years I never did that. I was always en route to the outside, to the swells along the jetty, to the surf in and around the lagoon, to Mushroom Rock, to Flat Rock, to Ross’s Cove. Never had I just lazied around the harbor. When I lived in El Granada across the highway I always wanted to take a bird book and some binoculars and go over to the harbor and the marsh at the mouth of the creek and bird watch. Never did. This spring I finally got my chance, and boy, am I glad I did!

Rotted pilings make this pier unsafe

Rotted pilings make this pier unsafe

I met my friend Barbara Kossy at the yacht club and we launched about 9 am. It was a perfect day, sunny and calm. We headed toward the pier. I wanted to go under it, but Barbara and TR John Lull, who joined us for a few minutes before heading outside, warned me it was unstable. How bad was it? The photo tells it all. Wow. That old pier, scheduled for demolition. I used to practice paddling through the piles to refine my skills but I guess those days are gone for good. I also wanted to photograph all the marine life that lived on the piles, particularly the orange and purple starfish, but apparently the starfish are gone, victims of the disease that killed them off in recent years.

This grove of Monterey cypress is a nesting and roosting spot for herons and other birds.

This grove of Monterey cypress is a nesting and roosting spot for herons and other birds.

We did spot a Canada goose resting on the roof of one of the shacks on the pier and then paddled on in search of more birds. It was a banner day. We sighted 22 types of birds and found all kinds of other cool stuff to check out. Here are the birds we saw: a swallow (cliff or barn); a surf scoter; Canada geese; a Brant’s goose; a couple of snowy egrets; many Western gulls including 2 mating pairs; a horned grebe, an eared grebe, and a Western grebe; a common loon in beautiful breeding plumage; a flock of Caspian terns; some buffleheads (a kind of duck); some pigeon guillemots including 2 couples, one of which was singing to each other (or arguing); many Brown pelicans; a Red-breasted merganser (another type of duck); an American coot; some little sandpipers; lots of cormorants of which Barbara says there were 3 types including double-crested, Brandt’s, and pelagic; a belted kingfisher; and a black turnstone.

On the island breakwater inside the harbor we saw a lot of birds. Here are brown pelicans, a Western gull, and at least 2 types of cormorant. You can see the double crests of the cormorants.

On the island breakwater inside the harbor we saw a lot of birds. Here are brown pelicans, a Western gull, and at least 2 types of cormorant. You can see the double crests of one of the cormorants.

Occasionally, rarities such as the Ross’s gull from Siberia, the Northern gannet, and the brown booby are sighted here. These three species all showed up this last winter to the excitement of local birders. Some of the birds we didn’t see were the great blue herons, the black-crowned night herons, the peregrine hawks and the red-tailed hawks we know are there because we‘ve seen them in the past. We also saw a lea lion porpoising around, but only one which is surprising as they are often lounging on the floating docks along with the harbor seals near the yacht club. We did see red bat stars, tons of crabs, and mating olive snails. We poked around the inside of the jetty and saw tons of shells, anenomes, hermit crabs, chitons, and many kinds of seaweed, some of which was beautifully iridescent and shone like jewels in the sun. Also fun to see are the leopard sharks and the bat rays which sometimes enter the harbor, but which were unfortunately absent this trip.

Common loon in breeding plumage

Common loon in breeding plumage

I ‘m so glad I finally slowed down enough to mosey around the harbor. It was a very rewarding day. I got to connect with Barbara, something that happens all too rarely, and see a rich bounty of wildlife. After about 2 hours or so we had circumnavigated the entire harbor and after a quick trip home to shower and change we met again at Barbara’s Fish Trap on the water for an awesome lunch of fish, calamari, chips, coleslaw, and beer. What a great adventure!

Ah, Spring! Gull porn for your viewing pleasure.

Ah, Spring! Gull porn for your viewing pleasure.

For those who are interested, here are the best times to see birds in breeding plumage in North America. This information was gleaned from Audubon, Spring 2017. Warblers: March through August. Sandpipers: Mid-April through early August. Ducks: Mid-October through mid-June. Loons: March through mid-October. Terns: April through early September. Wading Birds: December through May. For more advice on spring plumage, go to audubon.org/photography.

We hope you have enjoyed this post! Please share below any thoughts you have on wildlife, particularly birds, and kayaking. Thanks!


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At 76 Michael Powers is the oldest Tsunami Ranger. He became a Ranger in 1990. For almost 30 years he has been the unofficial Tsunami Ranger photojournalist, filming and photographing the Rangers and their adventures all over the world. He’s had his own share of adventures as well. Michael enhances many of his photos using various techniques, but my favorite is the captions he chooses for so many shots.

Sometimes silly, sometimes sublime, Michael’s captions are always entertaining. For this post, I decided to showcase some of Michael’s best captioned photos. Most of these photos were taken by Michael himself, but some were taken by friends or associates. I included the others because they illustrate Michael, the Rangers, and their ethos so well. The captions are all his own. Enjoy!

In the foreground of the selfie below we have Michael yukking it up on the Northern California coast. Behind him is Tsunami Ranger Dave Whalen. The thing I love about this photo is that it shows how the ocean and the Tsunami Rangers can bring together two very different people in a kayak as a team and still everyone has a good time. Or at least the fuzzy-headed liberal is happy. Hey, can’t we all just get along? 

Michael and TR Dave Whalen - Can't we all just get along?

This next selfie is a great action photo and was taken by a camera mounted on Michael’s deck. He uses this photo on some of his business cards for Ocean Studios, an alliance of adventure writers, photographers, filmmakers, and composers who in their own words are working together to nurture a deeper understanding and empathy for the natural world.

Michael in whitewater action

Michael took this photo of TR Tim Sullivan by a sea arch on the Tsunami retreat led by TR Deb Volturno at Cape Flattery in 2008. 

TR Tim Sullivan at Cape Flattery

Every year at Christmas, Michael sends out his beautifully photographed cards to friends and family. Here he is with his lovely wife Nani Venegas, celebrating on the beach outside their amazing hand-crafted home in Half Moon Bay.  

Here is Michael and his friend, Mark Fraser, an adventure filmmaker and member of Ocean Studios (check him out at www.thegoodfightthe movie.com) on an expedition to the Svalbard Islands in 2008.   

Michael often captions his photos with quotes from famous writers. This is one of my favorite stanzas from Rumi, the Sufi poet. Pictured are from left to right, Tsunami Rangers Steve El Rey King, Captain Jim Kakuk, Dandy Don Kiesling, Commander Eric Soares, Scott Becklund, and Dave Whalen.  

Tsunami Dancers

This next photo is from a trek in Chilean Patagonia in 2007. Michael and his companions filmed the trip to raise awareness for Patagonia’s wilderness areas to help protect the environment and promote the great opportunities for ecotourism in that region. This trip was in fact the first multi-sport traverse of Chilean Patagonia.

Michael has made many trips to Norway, one of his favorite adventure kayaking destinations. He is also a huge Viking enthusiast.

This is one of my favorite photographs, captioned or not. The shot illustrates the kind of vision you can experience when you get away from it all with a small group of trusted friends on a beach on a coastline inaccessible to all but those in small boats. Amazing!

Here’s Michael on yet another of his adventures, this time in Nepal. He and his group hiked to Base Camp on Mt. Everest on this trip. Love those mountains!

Here’s a great shot of Michael after his knee surgery, kayaking on the reef at Pillar Point near the infamous Big Wave at Maverick’s. Michael got both knees done and was out messing around in boats 30 days later. That’s a Tsunami Ranger for you!

The photo below was taken at the after party at one of the Tsunami Ranger Extreme Sea Kayaking Races. People are encouraged to dress up as pirates, Vikings, or sea gypsies for the party, and Michael and Nani always have great costumes. The A-frame in the back is one of the buildings constructed by Michael himself at his compound on the beach. Over the years Michael has created an amazing space, much of it using a chainsaw, including the A-frame, a dome, a small guest house made out of a fishing boat, offices for Ocean Studios, and of course, Michael and Nani’s private residence. 

Here are the Tsunami Rangers getting really ridiculous on retreat. If anyone can match the names with the butts, I will personally come up with a prize. 

This is another great photo Michael took off Miramar Beach in front of his house: a lone surfer against a brilliant sunset. I love the caption.

Michael isn’t always running around in far off corners of the world or sea kayaking with the Rangers. He’s a whitewater kayaker as well. Here is a photo he took on the south fork of the American River in Northern California before shooting the Whitewater Hall of Fame Event in 2011. 

I wish I had a nickel for every shot of Michael striking the pose below. I’d be a rich woman. Here he is lovin’ it at 17,000 feet in Nepal. Nothing can even throw a shadow on this man’s spirit. 

Check out the caption below. Well, would you? As those who have paddled with him know, Michael has had many, many “interesting” experiences in kayaks, not least getting lost in the fog on the Northern California coast because he insisted on leaving a Tsunami retreat early since he had promised his wife he’d get back at a certain time. But Michael’s never say die spirit always manages to prevail. The man leads a charmed life, and we’re all in awe. Like the Energizer Bunny he just keeps going, and thank God for that!

We love Michael so much. Without his photographs and videography much of what the Tsunami Rangers have accomplished over the years would be lost to history. To contact Michael or Ocean Studios, please go to www.oceanstudios.net. We hope you have enjoyed these images.

Please add your comments below! 

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Inside: One Woman’s Journey Through the Inside Passage by Susan Marie Conrad

March 6, 2017

ShareReview by Nancy Soares Editor’s note: Susan is an adventurer, writer, educator, and speaker. Her tenacious exploration by sea kayak has fueled her stories and images of the natural world for decades. Her articles and photographs have appeared in Sea Kayaker, Canoe and Kayak, Adventures Northwest, and Figure magazines. Magic and gratitude. That’s what comes […]

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In Memorium Eric Soares August 1, 1953 – February 1, 2012

February 1, 2017

ShareEditor’s note: This is our annual tribute to one of the founders of the Tsunami Rangers. This year we reflect on how we do nothing of ourselves alone; without the earth, air, and water to support our physical bodies and the people we encounter in our lives who support our souls we could not be.  […]

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A New Year, a New Tsunami Ranger – Cate Hawthorne’s Test Debrief

January 2, 2017

ShareEditor’s note: This year’s retreat was brief but packed with action, so we decided to cover it in two posts, the first which came out in October, and this second debrief in order to give Cate her due.   Deb: We agreed on the rendezvous location, “Thunder Cove”, one of the Tsunami Rangers’ favorite secret destinations on […]

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The Seal and Me

December 5, 2016

Shareby Maya King Editor’s note: Maya King is the daughter of Tsunami Ranger Steve “El Rey” King. We decided to make her essay our December post because we believe that seeing the world through the eyes of children is a valuable experience. Young minds are less conditioned and in many ways see more clearly than […]

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THE ORDEAL – Tsunami Retreat 2016

November 7, 2016

ShareHowling wind. Choppy waves. Funky swells. Boomers. Contrary currents. This year the Tsunami Ranger retreat had it all. But we’re a team and we made it! Once again, Rangers and friends overcame all obstacles and had a great time on the annual gathering. Capt. Jim Kakuk and guest Nancy Soares share the story. Nancy: Jim […]

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October 3, 2016

Share To me, it’s all about connection and compassion…Once we lose one or the other, or both, the world becomes a much less pleasant place, and a more dangerous place, to live in. – Jon Turk After reading this book the first thing I thought was Wow. This book should be read. Why? For one […]

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Baleen, Bruises, and Beer; or The Whale That Mistook my X-15 for a Large White Sardine

September 5, 2016

ShareBy Tsunami Ranger Steve El Rey King  Near the end of June and during the first few weeks of July this summer large numbers of humpback whales were seen on a daily basis south of the Golden Gate Bridge, especially close to shore in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, California. National and local television stations […]

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Sport Taping for Sea Kayakers

August 1, 2016

ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to Taylor Furry for taping my shoulder with Kinesio Tape and taking the pictures. Thanks also to Robert Kendall for photographing the wrist wrap and helping me with that and thanks to Holly Hutchinson for the RockTape. Sport taping has been around for a long time but lately people have taken it […]

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