Bird Watching From a Kayak: Princeton Harbor in Spring

by Nancy Soares on May 1, 2017

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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