Kayaking Upper Newport Bay

While losing the ability to train for this year’s Angeles Crest 100 has been upsetting to me, I am enjoying the time that has suddenly become available to me to do other things. Some of these things are things that I have wanted to do for quite some time, but never really found the time because of the many hours spent running in the mountains. One of these things is kayaking, especially where birding and photography opportunities abound.

One of my favorite parts of my two years living in Belize was guiding tour clients on canoe trips along the New River Lagoon and its tributaries. Canoes and kayaks are an enjoyable way to see the natural world from a different perspective than what can be achieved on foot. The water is calming. The wildlife often doesn’t recognize you as a threat, so close viewing opportunities are often easy to come by. I’m also always up for exercise outdoors, and the workout from paddling is quite a bit different than what I get in my normal excursions.

On Saturday at 7am, I rented a kayak from Newport Aquatic Center along Upper Newport Bay in Orange County. I have birded there via the road and trails on the east side for many years. This is the first I have paddled around the area in a kayak.

It took me awhile to get safely situated with my gear, making sure that none of it would get drenched. I kept track of bird observations using the eBird app on my iPhone, nearly drifting out of the main channel into the reeds (an absolute no-no) as I input my initial flurry of observations. There were Common Yellowthroats, Savannah Sparrows (Belding’s), Ospreys, Scrub-Jays, swallows… I was concerned I would spend more time recording species than paddling around. One of the Ospreys, who breed on a platform nearby, was cooperative.

An Osprey tries to determine if I’m a threat.

As I paddled the main channel, trying to keep close to the edge without going too shallow, I observed a lot of land birds flying over this oasis in the middle of urbanized Orange County.

Saltwater marshes, bikers, and suburbia.

I was surprised by the hundreds of stingrays in the shallows beneath my kayak. I tried, and failed, to get photographs.

You’ll just have to believe me that this is a stingray. Should I take credit for the picture?

I’ve learned from years of birding this area that you never know how productive a given day might be. This day was not, relatively speaking, and I was becoming frustrated because I badly wanted to photograph a Black Skimmer skimming the water, but the only one flying around always approached me from behind, so I was never ready with the camera. As I made my way back to the Aquatic Center two hours later, an Eared Grebe and a Snowy Egret partially made up for it.

My wife thought this Eared Grebe looked like an angry devil.
A Snowy Egret feeding in the shallows.

I ended the day with 35 species of birds, which is well below what I typically expect to get there. I will definitely do this again, at this location, as I enjoy kayaking and places to do that are few and far between in southern California. Before then, though, I will follow through on some long-sought time in the White Mountains just east of the Sierra Nevada.

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