Kayak trips on the Napa River have an “aww” factor now, as babies are being born right and left. Mallards and Canadian Geese seem to be the most prolific parents, and their parenting skills couldn’t be different. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my kayak:
Monogamous, Mallard couples are almost always together. But once the kids show up, dad is nowhere to be seen. Mom is with the young guns, of which there can be a dozen. The size of a small fist, they travel in an unorganized clump, speeding ahead, falling behind, and fluttering their not-yet developed wings in the water: very cute to watch. Those large broods get smaller and smaller quickly though, as the babies disappear quickly, probably to predators. Today’s dozen can be down to three within a week.
Also monogamous, Canadian Geese, on the other hand, are model parents. Indistinguishable from each other, their broods are smaller, three to eight in number, and both parents are with them all the time. Anytime they hit the water, one parent is in front, with the babies in single file behind it, and the other parent brings up the rear. Whatever the original size of the broods, it rarely changes. The Geese stay together until their off-spring are almost too big to distinguish from their parents.
Birthing season started a month ago, and still has several weeks left.
The Napa River, which is a tidal river, flows from St. Helena to the San Pablo Bay. At high tide, kayakers can usually make it as far upriver as the bridge over Trancas Street; and, in theory at least, down river as far as China. It’s usually a gentle flowing river – the perfect river for the beginner kayaker, as well as seasoned vets.
Kayaking allows you to virtually sit on top of the water and move at your own pace. It is safer than bicycling and takes about ten minutes to learn, which you could do by trial and error on your own. The six or so mile stretch from Trancas Street in Napa to American Canyon offers amazing changes of scenery and wildlife (mostly birds, jumping fish and an occasional otter). Pre-planning can make it practically effortless – by checking a tidal chart, you can set it up so that you move with the tide in both directions. May 5th, which besides being Cinco De Mayo, was the brightest full moon of the year; My wife and I put in at the public dock at the Yacht Club, a mile and a half south of the Hyatt Building on River Drive. We went out with the tide to just south of the Butler Bridge (the tall one over Hwy. 29 as you come into Napa). There is a groove of Eucalyptus trees there, and it is a roost for Egrets, those large, white cranes. We watched 50 or so of them land for the night as the sun went down. The moon came up and the tide changed directions, and we easily paddled back. Even though it was 10 p.m. when we arrived back at the dock, the moon provided all the light we needed.
Rent your kayaks the first time you go out, and you’ll get paddling instructions and a ride to and from a launch site. Call Getaway Adventures or Napa River Adventures in downtown Napa, dip an oar in the water, and start smiling.
301 Post Street, Napa, CA 94559
Napa River Adventures
816 Third st, Napa, CA 94559
Craig Smith is the executive director for the Downtown Napa Association.