During one of my most recent visits to the American River, I discovered something very curious and imagined the possibilities of what this could be. At first I thought it was two crocodiles crawling into the river. Then I looked again and saw a rowboat with two oars. The next time I saw a huge heart with arrows piercing it. What do you see?
Sunday, January 7, 2018, 735 am 40 degrees
This morning is the day for dueling chickens. One chicken calls and another answers.
One more calls and others answer, one at a time. “Are you awake?” “Is anyone up yet?” I hear them calling from many different sites around Fair Oaks Village and neighboring streets. None of them are out on patrol. It seems far too early and cold.
On this frosty January morning, the soft yellow sun hides behind a heavy curtain of gray clouds. The American River and Fair Oaks Bluffs are lost in the fog. We have had many foggy mornings, yet little rain so far in December and the early days of this month. This time last year we were already in the midst of heavy, pounding rain that flooded the river and lasted all through winter. Where does that foghorn sound come from, I wonder?
Today, two fishermen sit waiting in their boat. No movement on their fishing lines.
A seagull interrupts the quiet of the river as it calls while soaring over me across the bridge to land softly on the water. Until that moment, the American River was calm and still – a mirror reflecting trees on the bluffs. I hear distant voices and see several people walking at the edge of the bluffs. What can they see of the panoramic view through fog? Three seagulls and three ducks swim quietly through the river near the boat launch ramp.
I meet and greet many walkers who visit this iconic bridge. I learn as much about the people of this bridge as the wildlife who live here.
Some walkers visit because they want to capture scenic photos or display the river as a backdrop for their family or wedding photos. Some come everyday to walk, some visit several times a week. People walk in pairs and bundle in jackets, hats and gloves. This morning I pass a group of more than a dozen women walking swiftly across the bridge. I bid two women good morning and ask if they are an organized group. They walk across the bridge every weekend to train for a 3-day, 60-mile walk to raise funds for Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer walk.
Cyclists whiz by – sometimes alone, often in groups. For most of them, the bridge is only a place to pass through to get somewhere else as fast as possible. They are the ones who miss the unique sense of place on this bridge. As one fisherman advised me last fall, “The best things in life are the ones you do slowly.”
In January, when most ducks are hiding in the riverbanks and winter chill and rain are reason for individuals to stay indoors, this is the most peaceful time of year.
Sunday, January 14, 2018 740 am, 47 degrees
As I approach Fair Oaks Bridge this morning, the only sounds I hear are my own footsteps, a few random chicken greetings and songs from birds still hidden from view.
Given the degree of mist hanging in the air and the chilly temperature, I expected to see fog covering all views on the bridge. High clouds and distant fog hung suspended over the hills. The American River was clear and without any of the characteristic mist rolling downstream I have seen so many other mornings.
Two men launch a fishing boat. I hear Canada Geese honking approach from the east. They are invisible until within 20 yards of the bridge. Then they fly over so fast there is no time to capture them in a photo. All four of them land softly in the river on the west side of the bridge at precisely the same moment and glide downstream. Loud honking continues as others join the chorus. The sounds carry half mile in the still air.
On the east side of the bridge, near the boat launch ramp, one duck begins to complain. “Quack! Quack! Quack!” The chatter goes on and on without end. I am barraged by sounds of wildlife as I stand on the bridge. See video below.
Canada Geese are honking on the west side of Fair Oaks Bridge and ducks are quacking at the boat launch ramp on the east side. Morning pandemonium!
I notice two dead salmon lay still in the river. No birds approach to eat them. I walk to the boat launch ramp intent on seeing the very agitated duck. Forty runners training for a marathon cross in front of me on the American River bike trail. Several cyclists quickly approaching from behind followed runners. A busy morning!
Two male Mallards and two females swim in the river near the boat launch ramp. One female is very upset and starts quacking again. She does not stop. Two minutes later, she has not taken a breath. She continues. As she swims, she is close enough that I can watch her beak open and close, open and close. The three males swimming nearby pay no attention. I wonder what could have upset her to prompt such a one-sided conversation?
I stay and listen and watch. She continues her casual swim and squawks for another 10 minutes without stopping for more than a few seconds. I still hear the distant call of Canada Geese. As the four Mallards swim away, the only visible duck left is a Bufflehead in the center of the river, diving for breakfast. Staying underwater for a half minute before surfacing – and then doing it all again.
Today is a bitter cold, wet and very noisy morning!
Thursday, January 18, 2018, 705 am 49 degrees
Fair Oaks Village parks and neighboring streets become the daily setting for a rousing morning symphony led and conducted by resident chickens – all still in hiding for the night. I stood beneath one “singing tree” for several minutes listening to their good morning songs. I see a chicken standing in the shadows of darkness, tangled in tree branches, adding its voice to the chorus.
Heavy fog this morning and biting cold. Two Canada Geese zoom in from the east over Fair Oaks Bridge, loudly honking and honking. I hear them coming in the distance and they suddenly appear out of the fog. I catch a quick photo as they fly over.
Two more Canada Geese zoom in from the east honking loudly, as if they are engaged in an intense conversation. I wish I understood “goose speak.”
Maybe they are discussing directions or where to land. They make a quick U-turn, fly under the bridge and land with a splash near the boat launch ramp.
Ducks hide in shadows of reeds near the shore. Sun is hiding behind a thick curtain of fog. The air is bitter cold. A Bufflehead appears in the middle of the river, dunking and reappearing as it searches for breakfast in the deepest part of the American River. Four Canada Geese swim quietly. As runners, cyclists and walkers pass by I hear a “tap, tap, tap” on the bridge and then it stops. The rumble of traffic on the Sunrise Boulevard bridge carries in the wind. I look to the shoreline and notice many trees bent over so far, they are brushing the river, yet the remains of their roots are still attached.
I wonder where are the turtles? Haven’t seen any in months.
I must be too late or looking in the wrong sites for the beavers and the otters. The Mallards are always here. No spider webs today on the bridge rails. No spiders anywhere. Where are they hiding?
Today I brought a few slices of bread to feed the ducks and they rush over anxious to eat. The Muscovy duck stands alone. All waterfowl keep a 10-foot distance. When I move quickly or walk closer to them, everyone flaps their wings in unison, flies up and heads for the safety of the river. More Canada Geese fly over the river. A lonely seagull flies in squealing. After a soft landing, the gull looks around. “Where is the food?”
As I begin walking back up the ramp to the parking lot, I hear the distinctive chortle of a Great Blue Heron as it flies along the opposite shore and then disappears into the fog. Even on clear day, the Heron is difficult to follow because its blue gray colors blend seamlessly into the hillside. An Egret makes its occasional appearance and flies past the boat ramp to hide in bushes upstream.
I marvel at every sighting of these impressive birds – especially intrigued at how much the Egret avoids contact with the Great Blue Heron and all other shorebirds.
Many days I have watched ducks dunking for food and swimming leisurely in the river in front of me. I look to the opposite shore and see the Egret perched on a rock alone patrolling for its own snacks.
Sunday, January 21, 2018 710 am 36 degrees
It’s freezing out here. This morning’s chill is not the day for being curious, even though I can find so many things to imagine and wonder about at the river.
Two chickens are awake in Fair Oaks Village calling “Good Morning” to anyone who will listen. Clouds reflecting the pinks of sunrise scatter across the sky as the sun slowly rises in the east. Today thick fog on the American River is suspended in midair on both sides of the bridge, reminding me of thin strands of pink cotton candy. I watched from Fair Oaks Bridge as the mist gradually moved along the surface of the river under the bridge to its western side.
The bridge deck is solid white with frost and slippery. My shoes leave footprints on the deck. Several people dressed in jackets, gloves and hats brave the cold to walk, run and cycle. Two Canada Geese fly over in silence. One Bufflehead swims in the frigid water searching for breakfast in the river – preferring the deepest section in the center. It dives underwater and floats back up like a buoy several times over and over.
As the sun rises, the clouds scatter even farther apart, revealing a pale blue sky beneath. The sun peeks over the horizon and casts a bright light on the bridge. Ice crystals on the bridge’s side rails and deck sparkle like diamonds reflecting the sunlight.
The air is still cold! Before leaving the bridge I watch a seagull preening its feathers sitting on a tree branch bent so far down, it nearly touches the water — this is the same branch where turtles sunbathe during the summer.
Saturday, January 27, 2018, 655 am 44 degrees
I continue to be amazed at how each day’s sunrise can display such a diverse palette of vibrant colors. Some sunrises dazzle the sky for 45 minutes as the spectacle of light spreads through layers of scattered clouds. On dense gray cloudy days, the brilliant colors of sunrise hide in 10 minutes.
Thursday morning’s sunrise was a palette of pinks. Clouds held shades of pink from the early morning sunrise and reflected them like a mirror in the stillness of the American River. The colors are magnificent and well worth an early morning visit.
Today I arrived at Fair Oaks Bridge too late to catch the vibrant colors of sunrise. Morning air is still with no breeze and smells damp. This is not the fresh, clean smell after a refreshing rain. This air smells like wet and stale carpet. Where could that scent be coming from? I hear the sound of a foghorn (once again) and wonder where is it coming from?
I quickly learned the morning wake up patterns of Fair Oaks Village chickens and wildlife of the river during my morning visits. At least two or three chickens are always awake by 6:30 am – all still tucked away in their sleeping posts in trees and shrubs. Some mornings, so many chickens wake early, I hear a symphony across the Village and neighboring streets. When I walk on to Fair Oaks Bridge, I always spot the Buffleheads diving in the middle of the river first. They come out in all weather to dive and search in the center of the river channel. A few resident Mallards emerge from hiding next. As morning temperatures grow warmer, pairs of Canada Geese fly over me standing on Fair Oaks Bridge, honking and giving directions.
Today’s stay is brief – long enough to see the sun peek over the horizon and begin to warm the bridge. With a parting glance at the sparkling water, I walk off the bridge to return home.