If you’ve kayaked Tomales Bay, you have not kayaked Drake’s Estero. The Estero is unlike anywhere else I know of, especially if you are strong of mind and body and decide to kayak a little farther. An amazing astounding place. I have not kayaked Drake’s Estero to nearly the extent that I have paddled Tomales Bay (it would be hard for me to ever kayak anywhere that extensively), but I know it well.
It is necessary to time any kayak outing into the Estero based upon the tides. For the most part, it is a shallow body of water with some deeper sloughs coursing through what are extensive mudflats at low tide. Time the tide wrong and you could get stuck high and muddy, either waiting for the incoming tide or slogging through mud that can reach to your knees. Pass near the mouth, where the estero flows out into Drake’s Bay when the tide is dropping from an especially high to tide to a lower one, and you will have heavy current to deal with, trying to suck you into more open waters. The rewards however are legion and great.
The mudflats create a rich habitat of invertebrates which are a food source for fish, crabs, bat rays, leopard sharks, and of course birds. Through out the seasons the birds and marine life will vary to some extent- ducks and geese will winter there, but in different parts of the estero. Brant Geese will often be on the mudflats more towards the mouth, while the ducks prefer the more sheltered areas of the old quarry and places like Home Bay. Grebes and shorebirds abound during most seasons as do cormorants (mostly Double-cresteds).
As one paddles through the Estero, it becomes apparent that it is rich in agriculture, with cattle grazing the grassy hills that surround it. The waters itself are home to an extensive aquaculture business, where thousands of oysters are harvested each day, the mudflats being an ideal environment. There is also more minor farming of clams. You can see signs of the oyster farms extensively through two of the fingers of the Estero- Home Bay and Schooner.
There is a healthy population of Harbor Seals to be found in Drake’s Estero, its protected waters giving good protection from marine and terrestrial predators, while allowing quick and easy access to Drake’s Bay and the open ocean. During the spring it is one of the major breeding and pupping grounds in California, although this does necessitate a boating (and kayaking) closure from March 1 through June 30, so that the seals can raise their families in peace. I have never kayaked in the Estero without seeing many, many seals either swimming or hauled out on the sand bars.
Egads! There is so much to say and show about Drake’s Estero. So much to see and photograph as one kayaks around, that one post could never be enough. There are trails along the outside edges of the estero. Beaches to wander dreamily along. Ocean to view on one side and the Estero teeming with life on the other.
As there is way too much to pass on I will finish with this-“Estero” is essentially the spanish word for “estuary.” Drake’s is an especially special estuary and bay in European American history, because it is likely the landing spot of Sir Francis Drake, when he had to make repairs to his ship after plundering many Spansih ships. The area was then later settled by Mexico before becoming part of the California and the United States. It has a long agricultural history since it fell into the hands of people of European descent. Before that it was a rich land for the Coast Miwok Indians, the tribe native to this stretch of Northern California.
For more views of some of the birds and happenings that you can see on the Estero you can try these posts-
The Pigeon Guillemot
Bizarre photos of gulls eating starfish
Bubble Jelly in Drake’s Estero
Great Egret fishing the oyster racks
Three Willets in pickleweed