It’s a hazy gray day. We’re waiting on a storm that should arrive later this afternoon or tonight. There’s a high, dark line of clouds that’s been hanging out at sea for most of the day, yet still hasn’t made its move toward the shoreline. The haze settled after lunch after a morning that was simply overcast. The sun tries to shine through but just can’t penetrate the silvery haze.
The ocean is loud today as the bottom of low tide approaches. It’s difficult to make out the sound of individual waves. Simply a continuous grumbling rumble. The waves are constant, moving, jumbled, anticipating their upslope return trip with the rising tide. Beyond the breaking waves, the ocean matches the silver of the sky, and Redding Rock slowly disappears behind a thin gray veil.
In the distance there’s a huge gathering of gulls at the mouth of Redwood Creek, bigger than I’ve seen in months. To say several hundred gulls is not an exaggeration. They mass on the wet, oval sandbar sitting at the mouth of the creek and on both its north and south shores. They float in the rushing channel of the creek and fly over the churning foam around Little Girl Rock and the two sisters.
On the south shore, 40 to 50 harbor seals have beached themselves. They rest on their bellies, some on their backs, and one reddish fellow leans on his left flipper like he’s waiting at the bar for his girlfriend to come back from the restroom.
They are of all sizes, male and female (and young’uns) though I don’t know how to tell apart from this distance other than relative size. Their colors range from very near white with dark spots, to cream and chocolate brown, as well as the aforementioned ruddy haired gent. They all have the same black-eyed face though, and each pair of dark eyes follow me as I saunter past, making sure I give them adequate personal space. I’m enjoying watching them and don’t want my presence to force them into the chilly rushing waters on this calm afternoon.
The estuary is all but gone. Where two weeks ago there was a placid, near circular pool of fresh water, today there is only Redwood Creek, wider than it was a fortnight ago, rushing straight to the Pacific. The path to the ocean is a broad avenue with no narrowing or tapering at its terminus. No ocean waves push their way into the channel this afternoon. The force of the creek stops the Pacific at the sand bar.
I’ve had this beach to myself on most of my walks in recent months. Today, a solitary birder has joined me here. He kneels on the sand, motionless, keenly focused, his eye pressed into a large spotting scope that almost certainly costs what would take me a couple weeks to earn. What is he looking at? I scan the horizon yet see only gulls. Perhaps he’s peering through the haze to one of the rocks, to something beyond the range of my 20 year old binoculars. Though I’d be well within the expectations of my paid duties to stroll over and chat with him, perhaps inquire as to what he’s found, I’m not willing to interrupt his afternoon simply to satisfy my curiosity.
In the south estuary, some new birds appear for me this afternoon. A black-headed bird with a dark back and striking white patch at the base of the chest, with reddish eyes and a hint of white on the bill - male ring-necked ducks - dot the calm waters. Lesser scaups, so similar to the ring-necked ducks but with a silvery-white back, plod along nearby. Buffleheads and a few coots, both of which have been here before join the throng. And, perhaps a few ruddy ducks, small diving birds with a dark head cap, buff body and grayish-buff back. (I’ll need to check on that last one.)
Hard to believe sometimes that your government pays me to wander around on the beach doing not much of nothin’. On days like this, it’s harder still to wonder why I have the gall to whine about it on occasion. As we enter a new year, I’ll try to remember this task is better than quality counting the elastic threads on a pair of BVD’s in Russell County, Kentucky, cuz it’s really not all that bad, huh?