Flight of Seagulls

Sunday, October 22, 2017 1:15 pm

A warm afternoon and ideal weather for a bike ride.

One of the best viewing spots to see seagulls waiting and salmon jumping is about a mile east of Fair Oaks Bridge, where the American River Parkway bicycle trail meets a paved road leading to a picnic area overlooking the river. I often visit here to watch the fishermen, the seagulls and ducks at play. As I arrived, I saw a fisherman walked toward me carrying a large salmon laying in his net that I estimated weighed between 25-30 pounds.

seagulls, fly, salmon, American RiverThirty seagulls were gathered on the island in the center of the river. All waiting and watching for a tasty salmon meal. Last year when I visited this spot during prime season, I counted 100 seagulls gathered at the island. Today a dozen turkey vultures circle over my head. I only see vultures flying overhead during the fall run of salmon.

Suddenly all of them flapped their wings and lifted into the sky. The seagulls flew so high, they looked like glittering white stars, blended in with a few black dots that were the vultures.

The seagulls flew in circles for two minutes until the entire flock flew west and vanished from sight. A dozen of them returned minutes later. A dozen Canada Geese flew in, honking loudly as they arrived and landed with a loud splash all at once close to the north shore.

seagulls fly, American River, fishermen, salmon, boatA single fishing boat floats leisurely in the water. Men periodically check their lines Occasionally, I hear a “plop” as a stray salmon lifts is head above the water and quickly falls back down. More seagulls arrive at the island.

I rode back towards home looking for more gulls flying around the river.  Salmon remain hiding underwater.



Geese on Patrol

Friday October 27, 2017,     730 am 54 degrees

Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, mornings, Great Blue HeronIt was a beautiful morning and relatively warm. I often see Fair Oaks Bridge reflected in the river. Today it was especially vibrant and clear. My first sight as I walk on to Fair Oaks Bridge is a Great Blue Heron eating at the end of the boat launch ramp. Since sightings are rare, I walk to the boat launch ramp to see it more closely. I snap a great photo just before an intruder rushes toward it as if in a trance.


Great Blue Heron, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River The Great Blue Heron heard the snapping sound of his noisy “flip flops” and  responds with a chortle that could be,“I am getting away from this disturbance” and flies to the opposite river bank.

Standing at the end of the boat ramp where the heron has been, the intruder stares out into the distance for only a minute. Then he walks to the left, stares again, walks away and back into his car. Looking for something?

Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, mornings, Fair Oaks Bridge, American RiverImmediately after this intruder  left the boat launch ramp, Canada Geese flew in. They walked up the ramp, beaks to the ground and then marched across the driveway in formation. They looked like “the geese patrol.”  in search of breakfast.




Moment to Moment Experiences

Saturday, October 28, 2017       720 am 52 degrees

When I arrive on the bridge, I see seven boats lined up on the American River (running from east to west). I find it curious the boats are always in a straight line on the eastern side of Fair Oaks Bridge. Boats always stay on the north side of the river. I am guessing the water level is deeper to support the boats. The south side where the boat launch ramp is located tends to be shallow almost half way out.

boats, fishermen, Fair Oaks Bridge, morning, American River, salmon

Two walkers pass. An older man calls out to me, “It is cheaper to buy salmon at the store than to go fishing in the cold. It is freezing out there on the water.”  I turned and replied, “Then you miss the experience. You cannot buy the experience.”

I rarely have the opportunity to ask fishermen why they venture into the cold river before dawn to catch salmon. For devoted fishermen, catching a wild salmon, watching it jump and wriggle and try in vain to escape is the culmination of both joyful anticipation and planning. Some salmon get away. Their struggle to escape is stronger than the fishing line. At the  final moment when the salmon is caught, skillful hands cannot hold on. The salmon wins the game to fight another day. Watching the sunrise, eating breakfast on portable grills on the boat are experiences no one can buy in a store.

morning, Fair Oaks Bridge, moments, American River, salmon, duck,
Breakfast on the boat launch ramp

I watch the fishermen as they find the best spot, cast their lines and share fish stories between boats. I come outside to experience the chill in morning air, listen for a distant, yet unseen “quack, quack, quack,” and honks from Canada Geese, the graceful flight of seagulls and their calls to each other from the river.

Even after visiting this bridge more than 100 times, I continue to marvel at the beauty of this place.

Arriving at Fair Oaks Bridge, I always do a spider web check. This morning I marvel at two empty spider webs. These webs are meticulously attached to the Truss frame of the bridge. I watch the ripples in the water as ducks swim past me. Next I watch a circle of pigeons flying above the bridge. Canada Geese swim under the bridge. An egret flies and lands on the boat launch ramp. Ducks are busy finding breakfast on the boat launch ramp and under the water. I remain in awe how various species of birds take flight and land, using their wings and feet in different, yet very precise ways. Many waterfowl gather to feed on salmon. I don’t smell the scent of their decaying bodies as much as I have in the past. Two dead salmon lay at the river bottom below the bridge.

morning, Fair Oaks, American River
Ducks dunk and swim as they search for nibbles underwater

I stand and watch a series of circles in the water created by Canada Geese who rise and flap their wings in the air for 20 yards before ever lifting out of the water and rise into the sky. I listen to the sound of a tiny bird, “Ti Too. Ti too.” These birds return regularly to rest on the overhead truss of the bridge.







Feast at the American River

Tuesday October 31, 2017,  130 pm   70s

Today is the last day of fishing for the year.

After this the salmon are protected from fisherman and so they can continue to swim undisturbed up the American River to their spawning grounds. All of them will stop when they reach the weir at Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Some will lay eggs in the river. Many will climb the fish ladder into the hatchery for spawning.

It is late in the day, so the morning fisherman have long ago left the river. Only two boaters are sitting in the river. Seagulls patrol the sky. I see a dead salmon laying the shallow bottom of the river. I am surprised to see a Great Blue Heron walking along the riverbank on the west side of the bridge. Usually 630 am is the prime time to search for nibbles.

seagull, feast, mornings, Fair Oaks Bridge, salmon, Egret, Great Blue Heron, American River, fishermen
Seagull feasts on salmon lying in American River

I walk along the American River Parkway to a shallow, rocky area and see a seagull eating his catch. Twenty seagulls sit and wait.

I wonder, why are so few salmon jumping? Were there more salmon a year ago?

I struggled to observe so many things happening at once – writing, observing, photographing. Four turkey vultures circle, dozens of seagulls call, and other waterfowl swim peacefully. I see so few salmon jumping. As I stand watching the water, I see two salmon swim and then another. The easiest way to spot them is to watch for the flip of their tails as they propel themselves forward.

Water splashes and one salmon surfaces; barely visible because the colors blend into the water. Each one that passes navigates the surface of the water for only a second before its swims down below again to continue on this last part of its long journey from the Pacific Ocean. I see a third salmon flipping its tail and disappear. This pattern continues. In 45 minutes, I see at least six salmon swim past and likely many more that I missed.

Egret, salmon, Fair Oaks Bridge, feast, morning, American River
Egret vigorously shakes the salmon, thinking it would break apart and become easier to swallow

An Egret stands tall in the distance making serious efforts to swallow a whole salmon.

Using its beak to shake it and break up the salmon into pieces is not working, so the Egret throws the salmon to the ground to dunk it under the water. It remains intact. The next strategy is to shake it apart and that does not work either. Finally the Egret stands and decides to chew on it a little more. After a few minutes, the Egret tires of tearing up the dead salmon flies to the opposite shore to escape the crowds.

I notice each day when I visit the river that all the larger birds – Egret, Great Blue Heron and even the Turkey Vultures tend to stay in the background, waiting their turn. They go on patrol individually. The Turkey Vultures cast off their competition with a spreading of their wings, warning others of their kind this is their territory and/or their catch, “Get outta here!”

American River, Fair Oaks, feast, morning, Great Blue Heron, Egret, seagulls, salmon
Egret (left), seagulls and Great Blue Heron (right) join at the American River to feast on dead salmon

Some seagulls stand alone while others prefer to stay in groups. A rare opportunity to see the Egret, Great Blue Heron and 20 gulls stand together on shallow parts of the river looking for food. Vultures continue their sky patrol. One daring salmon passes quickly in front of the gulls and keeps on going. I wonder what those gulls could be thinking? “Oh darn. Another one got away!”



Gulls Call and Ducks Squabble

November 3, 2017,  750 am 57 degrees

Soft rain falls on the ground. I see a random pattern of drops on streets, sidewalks and the deck of Fair Oaks Bridge.

morning, speak duck, Fair Oaks Bridge, Fair Oaks, salmon, fishermen, seagulls, Canada Geese, ducks, Mallards, sunrise, walk, rain, clouds
Dramatic cloud cover blankets the sky and sends a gentle rain down to the American River

All fishing is over until January. No fishermen here to disturb river wildlife. Spawning salmon and other creatures of the American River are left at peace. On this very quiet morning, white clouds blanket the sky, in thick round rolls covering the pale blue early morning sky. A gentle breeze blows as I stand and watch leaves of gold, red and orange fall from nearby trees into the river and lazily float under the bridge.

Mallards gather at the boat launch ramp for a morning meeting. I hear the chortle of a Great Blue Heron from the ramp. It rises up and flies in to sit about 30 yards from me. Although I hear it clearly, the pale blue colors blend in with the landscape and the heron remains unseen. A Turkey Vulture flies over my head, scans the river and continues to fly west. Four more Mallards fly in with fluttering wings and a splash – their legs stretched out straight ready for a “ski in” landing.

seagull, duck speakTwo seagulls call out to each other. I wonder what they are saying. Could it be, Where is the food?” “Where is the flock?” “I am hungry. Get your breakfast here.” I watch each gull open its mouth wide and tilt their head back. The sound of their voices come from deep down in their throat.

morning, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, dunk ducks, Canada Geese, Mallards, falling leaves
Morning meeting over, feeding time begins

I wish I could speak duck! What do they chatter about? I am sure sometimes one is telling off another, “You don’t belong here, so scram!” Or “Stop taking all the food!” Morning meeting complete, they slowly swim away. Canada Geese stand at the end of the boat ramp, whispering to themselves.

Gentle Rain

November 9, 2017, 7:15 am 55 degrees

Last night’s rain washed the air clean. I see sharp clear lines on the trees, landscapes and structures.

spider web, Fair Oaks Bridge, mornings, rain, American River, salmon, seagulls, ducks,
Spider webs cling to wet bridge rails after a soft rain.

Even after the rain has come and gone, I still see spider webs clinging to the rails of the bridge. Today is a crisp and warm morning. White billowy clouds cover the sky. River is still and seems empty.

As I stand on Fair Oaks Bridge, the small bird that favors its observation post at the top of the frame calls out a good morning greeting. An usual morning because so far, I see no ducks swimming, no seagulls flying overhead and no Canada Geese honking or approaching from any direction.

By this time of year, I expected to see many salmon jumping out of the water. Instead, see very few.

I imagine them swimming slowly and intently beneath the visible surface. Are they swimming deeper, so I miss them? Salmon are easier to spot at the shallow, rocky area about a mile upriver to the east. I wonder how many salmon stop to spawn in the waters of the American River before they reach Fair Oaks Bridge?

I hear many people remember, as do I, the years when salmon lined the weir at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. So many, they formed their own solid bridge. No more. Their numbers are far fewer these days. It is common to see a handful jumping at the weir (gate on the American River).

Egret, salmon, seagulls, morning, rain, visitors, Fair Oaks Bridge, Fair Oaks, American River, quiet
Egret stands on the opposite shore far away from other shore birds and waterfowl.

Later in the morning, a dozen ducks swim in from about 100 yards away upriver. A few walkers pass and a solo cyclist. I hear one splash down at the river. I walk to the “shallows,” pictured here, where salmon spawn. As many as 30 seagulls float in the water looking for salmon treats to nibble on. Canada Geese fly in here to check status on a variety of tasty food sources.

I wonder why the Egret and the Great Blue Heron always arrive alone and stand apart from other wildlife. They always keep their distance from each other and stand on the opposite side of the river from the gulls, geese and ducks. Both are easily disturbed.

It seems that November is one of the “stillest” months for mornings on the American River. Leaving the wildlife alone to find food at their leisure without boaters getting in their way. During the week, driving down city streets, as seagulls fly overhead, I wonder are they headed to the American River looking for salmon.

seagulls, flight, mornings, rain, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, salmon

Do seagulls carry maps in their head, in a way similar to salmon use their powerful sense of smell to find their home river from hundreds of miles away? I imagine this a seasonal migratory habit leading them to find salmon year after year.

When a dozen ducks finally arrive they “own” the river, swimming down its center of the empty water, leaving a wake behind each of them. Sun has finally risen over the wide cloud cover with a brightness that hurts my eyes. Today I hear a new bird call, in addition to the others I hear regularly each morning visit. This one is a shrill whistle – Whoo – oo—oo. We ee uu.

Every morning a different experience visiting Fair Oaks Bridge.


Wrapped in Fog

Saturday November 11, 2017, 49 degrees 645 am

fog, morning, American River, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge,
Entering the bridge from north side

Thick fog wraps everything with a soft, white, layer of chilled air and moisture.

The American River is barely visible standing on Fair Oaks Bridge. Shoreline on both the east and west sides have disappeared. Dew attached to spider webs sparkles like jewels. Sounds are muffled in thick fog. The bridge  drips with moisture. A single runner emerges through the fog and crosses the bridge.

spider web, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River,fog
Morning dew illuminates the details of spider webs

I wonder why there are always more spider webs on the east side of the bridge then the west? The position of the sun, direction of the wind or that spiders favor the east side for another reason? I photograph a dozen webs – these miracles of geometry illuminated by drops of dew clinging to the strands.

The resident chickens on Bridge Street are out early scavenging for food. One pearly white seagull flies gracefully over the bridge. More gulls call out and cross an invisible river. One hour later, the intensity of the fog decreased by least half. A heavy mist continues to bathe the river and landscape until after noon.

morning fog, fair oaks bridge, fog
View from the boat launch ramp








Rain Softens the Landscape

Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 7 am   56 degrees

Despite the gentle rain, Fair Oaks chickens are on patrol again this morning.

When I first arrive, the rain feels more like a drizzle – drops sprinkle here and there in no special pattern. The air is fairly warm and the rain is a refreshing morning wake up. Even in rain, this bridge is a peaceful place to escape and watch the river move down in a smooth, elegance. The ripples, the shallow places in the river, change as the raindrops fall more evenly and increase in number.soft landscapes, morning, rain, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, Fair Oaks, nature, outdoor writing,

A few people pass by. Raindrops are marking the bridge deck with huge spots. Water drips down in tiny streams from the Truss structure and the side rails.

Some people think rain makes for a dark and gloomy day. I see landscapes that are fresh, crisp, clean and bright.

Soft, consistent drumming is the heartbeat of rain. The sound of rain is a gentle lullaby. The mist softens the edges of the landscape and the trees. Through the mist, they resemble mirror images of themselves.

So much to observe and listen to out in the rain for those who choose to take the time – those who appreciate the gifts of our outdoor world.

Leaves change color from green to red, orange and gold. Yet, trees along the American River are always green and gold. I watch leaves gently fall into the river and see many others lining the bridge deck. I believe the sound when leaves hit the ground is so gentle, it is overrun by the drumming of the rain.

An Egret scavenges the riverbank. Finding nothing of interest, it flies away. A seagull flies in and I stand to watch its snowy white wings fly gracefully over the bridge.

Ducks flap wildly to rise and fly away. They leave a wake behind them, accentuated by the patterns of raindrops falling into the river. Rain increases and ducks of the river ignore the event as if there was no rain at all.

Puddles form in low spots of the bridge deck. More seagulls arrive, flying through the center of the river channel, flying in the opposite direction of ribbons of water flowing downstream created by the rain.

ducks, water, American River, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, rainOn this particular morning, the river belongs to those few waterfowl that call this place home. I am a guest who finds a sense of joy when I overhear their squabbles, their calls and their complaints.