Great Blue Heron Stands Guard

Friday November 11, 2016   2pm

Riding my bike this afternoon, the grass along the American River Parkway bike trail is as green as shining emeralds. Everywhere I look, soft and fresh green grass lines the trails and blankets the open grass, American River Parkway, jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, bike trail, cyclist, bike path, trees, oak woodland

I cross Jim’s bridge, the pedestrian/bicycle bridge that leads to the bike trail and see a Great Blue Heron stationed on a rock. It is still there on my return an hour later, unmoved and silent. Salmon are silently swimming just below the surface of the water. Life is over for at least one, floating on its side downstream.

Great Blue Heron, American River, Fair Oaks
Courtesy of Gerald Ward – we both watch the heron and share our interest in observing wildlife on the American River.

The water is as still as can be without a boater in sight. As I ride the trail several miles west, I see one floating kayaker drifting downstream. The air is fresh and warm. Today is Veteran’s Day. Parents are cycling with young children. Uniformed cyclists are out in groups. Few people are walking the trails or strolling the shore. The noise and excitement of summer when hundreds of rafters floating with radios blasting down the river is long past. Land moving equipment to reshape the gravel beds of the river is also gone. Today is as quiet as it can be on this fall day.

Active Day for Wildlife

Saturday, November 12, 2016, 730 am 54 degrees

I love to hear roosters sing in the morning as I drive into Fair Oaks Village! No better wake up call.

Arriving at 730 is still early. Yet with Pacific Standard Time, I still feel like the morning activities are an hour later. I doubt the roosters know the difference. The sun is far above the horizon. The temperature is still 54 degrees and feels warm.

The little bird that used to greet me each morning with “ti too, ti too” has returned for a brief good morning greeting – it stays two minutes and flies away.

The sun shines brightly on the bridge deck already this morning. I  always watch the changing shadows on the bridge as the sun moves over.  Air feels fresh and crisp. Today, unlike other days, the bridge deck and rails are completely dry. Not a drop of moisture anywhere.

Canada Goose, ducks, swim, American River, Fair Oaks Bridge,morning
Diving for breakfast at the American River

River is still as can be. A few ducks swim slowly through the water. I find random spider webs attached to the bridge rails. Occasionally a salmon leaps high to form a series of ever expanding concentric circles, as if a pebble dropped into the river. Seagulls call in the distance. Ducks fly in and land as if they are on water skis. Canada Geese fly in from the east and fly under the bridge honking until they glide in for a landing. A Great Blue Heron flies in to sit on a rock at the edge of the water.

The buzz of a motorcycle carries for a mile in the wind. When cyclists cross the bridge, it sounds the same as a car’s flat tire, bump, bump, bumping over the deck. The morning has warmed to 58 degrees by the time I return to my car at 820. The roosters have flown into the streets and the park to sing their good morning songs.

Salmon Watch

Sunday November 13, 2016, 2 pm

Today I ride along the bike trail to watch the salmon traveling upstream. I stand watching them for half an hour, seeing a series of splashes beginning 100 yards away and getting closer. This shallow part of the river presents the richest experience for watching salmon, seagulls and turkey vultures overhead. As I stop to watch a dozen other cyclists and walkers also stop to enjoy the salmon navigating the river and the seagulls looking for their next meals.

salmon, Chinook Salmon, turkey vulture, seagull, American River, water
Claiming the salmon
seagull, Chinook salmon, eating, American River, water
A delicious catch








Hundreds of seagulls line the river, some walk into the rapids, stand, shout and wait. Thirty turkey vultures fly overhead – more than I have ever seen in one place at one time. I watch as a dozen salmon leap, swim, gather, rest and move on through the rapids to still water.

One dead salmon rests on rocks in the center of the rapids. One at a time, a seagull approaches. It pokes his beak around, pondering what to do and then nibbles on parts of salmon’s underside. One seagull sits in the water near the shore where I stand, open its beak wide and calls to the others, whoever will listen. I watch and I listen as the seagulls stretch their wings before returning to settle in the water. A few ducks swim in the quiet pool of water, apparently unconcerned about the activity.

This narrow section of the river is the same where I watched ducks station themselves to search for food in the water a few weeks ago. Now this is dominated by the salmon and the gulls. The coming of the salmon quickly changed the interaction of wildlife at the river.

seagull, Chinook Salmon, American River
Salmon swim in the foreground while seagulls watch and wait.

I ride east to another overlook where hundreds more gulls line up and wait. This section of the river is far wider and the only sound is the water moving downstream. Seagulls are silent. No turkey vultures fly overhead. The only clue that this river winds through a suburban community is the houses located on the Fair Oaks Bluffs above.

The tip of the thin island where the fisherman used to stand is now even smaller because with increased river flows, the island is thin enough to almost disappear. The gulls have overtaken this space as they wait.