Wildlife Avoid the Crowds

Sunday, January 28, 2018 210 pm 54 degrees

Dozens of people are enjoying the beautiful weather on Jim’s Bridge. Scattered white clouds are barely visible. A year ago, this bridge was under at least six feet of water as a result of our relentless January rainstorms.

Today 50 seagulls circle a small island in a “flying frenzy.” They squeak, land and settle down. Others fly, land and fly off to circle the river and return. I see a few ducks walking the riverbank snatching crumbs of food. One Egret is tiptoeing along the bank away from the crowds.

seagulls, Jims Bridge, Fair Oaks, ducks, American River
Seagulls and ducks roam the shore looking for food. The Egret is just beyond the photo’s left edge.

Riding my bike today, I visit the spot where the bike trail overlooks a sandy beach area – a popular picnic spot for families and summer rafters. Another 20 seagulls rest here. Water moves swiftly over a wide expanse of smooth boulders and sandbars that shape the character of this part of the river – given the name San Juan Rapids. I have seen rafts and ice chests overturn more than once here. Today, the river is so low a father and his son stand in ankle deep water where sandbars and boulders are showing line one-third of the way across the river channel.

When I reach Fair Oaks Bridge, I feel overwhelmed by the number of people I see. The entire area surrounding Fair Oaks Bridge and the boat launch ramp is filled with individuals and families enjoying the afternoon. Inside of five minutes, 50 people have crossed the bridge. Cyclists take group photos. Others arrive with fishing poles. Ducks swim toward the center of the river, avoiding the people.

I do my best to ignore the people and focus on a complex spider web attached to the bridge rails. I watch the graceful flight of a seagull and notice how far its wings extend. My visit here is short.

I return to Jim’s Bridge to ride home. Seagulls are still flying in huge circles from the island to the Sunrise Blvd. Bridge and back again. I wonder if this a daily physical activity? Similar to when people walk, run or cycle? Ducks sitting on one side of the river rise into the air, flapping their wings as quickly as possible and land on the opposite shore. Usually that means they spotted a person to feed them. When two take flight, all the others soon follow.

A frantic day on the American River – I saw at least 200 people in 90 minutes on two bridges, the boat launch ramp and during my ride on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Bike Trail within the American River Parkway.



Moments of Peace

Wednesday, January 31, 2018   56 degrees, 11 am

Today’s temperature warmed up quickly considering that it was 38 degrees at 7 am. I wonder why the morning is so warm?

This is the quiet season on the American River. January days at Fair Oaks Bridge have alternated between dense fog, rain and bright sunshine. No telling what the day will look like until dawn. I have noticed on some evenings the clouds that gathered at night are blown away by morning – or the other way around.

seagull, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, mornings, American River, boat launch rampI walk to the boat launch ramp and watch a seagull standing still atop a rock just beneath the water. Another one stands at the end of the ramp. Both stare intently at me.

After several minutes of quiet contemplation, both seagulls decide to investigate another part of the river. They leave without making a sound.

A group of six Bufflehead dive in the center of the river ignoring everything else. Buffleheads skim the top of the water when they take flight, leaving a large wake behind them. Their wings flap so quickly, they remind me of hummingbirds. All I can see a blur of flapping wings crossing the river.

A dozen pigeons arrive. They circle the bridge a dozen times before separating. Only a few remain to settle on Fair Oaks Bridge. I watch them from a distance walking on the top of the Truss framework as if it were a flat sidewalk.

Such a peaceful day, it is hard to imagine this was a raging river one year ago today. The boat ramp was invisible under five feet or more of water. So many waterfowl moved to shallow waters, where they could find food and safer shelter. The riverbank homes were washed out.



I Wonder Why?

Thursday, February 1, 2018    740 am 46 degrees

This morning I sit and wonder why does that happen? 

I have watched wildlife morning wake up rituals, morning cloud formations and brilliantly colored sunrises for nearly 18 months at Fair Oaks Bridge. This morning I sit with questions and no answers. As soon as I think of one question, that leads me to wonder about something else.

clouds, wonder, mornings, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, writing, nature, outdoors, woven, basketDense clouds overhead remind me of a tightly woven basket, a fan or bubbles forming in the sky. As the sun emerges behind a blanket of clouds farther east, the clouds seem to magnify its yellow brilliance.

Looking at clouds always leads me to wonder how they can become so many shapes and change so quickly.

I imagine the wind moving clouds and stretching them until all that is left are faint wisps or fantastic creatures that walk across the sky. I imagine the wind pushes clouds together, so they are more dense, dark and filled with rain. I wonder if winds are different from one place to another, does that make the clouds different too? Are two clouds ever the same? How can we ever find out?

seagull, ducks, Bufflehead, American river, fair oaks bridge, water, river, flight,I wonder why Buffleheads dive for food in the center of the river channel? Is the deep center the best place to find breakfast? How deep do they dive? What treats do they find?  Buffleheads swim calmly up and down the center of the river, diving in one spot and reappearing a dozen feet or more away.

I see the graceful flight of an Egret and wonder how many miles it travels and how many places does it stop in a day? Where does it sleep? Why does it stand far away from ducks, seagulls and especially the Great Blue Heron? I see a pair of Egrets fly over and wonder why they always fly low and close the water?

Why do pigeons circle Fair Oaks Bridge six, eight or a dozen times before settling on the bridge to rest. I imagine this to be their morning “warm up” exercise. They are warm-blooded and I imagine their rapid flights keep them warm to sustain their body temperature. The history of these humble birds dates back thousands of years.

Canada Geese, mornings, Fair Oaks Bridge, writing, nature, wonder, questions When Canada Geese honk as they fly are they giving directions? I know the honking unifies the flock and actually helps them fly faster and farther.

My last question of the morning is wondering, where is the rain?

Last year at this time, our rivers were raging torrents. Jim’s Bridge (for bikes and pedestrians) was submerged under six feet or more of water. The fence on one side twisted and broke off during the storms. I stood on Fair Oaks Bridge a year ago today and watched the water underneath it swirl and churn. I was dizzy watching. The riverbanks, the boat ramp, the parking lot and the bike trail even further back, were all submerged under several feet of water.

I saw people lined up on Fair Oaks Bridge to take pictures of the wild river…Who has returned to see the river at peace? Was it just the drama of a raging river that attracted so many people to snap photos using their mobile phones?


Morning Wake Up Songs

Saturday, February 3, 2018   720 am 46 degrees

Moments after I walk onto the bridge, I hear the chortle of a Great Blue Heron beneath me. It flies east under the bridge and settles on a nearby riverbank out of sight. Often arriving at 630 am, by 730, The Great Blue Heron has already surveyed one section of riverbank. I hear it chortle as it raises up to move to another site.

wake up, Fair Oaks Village, Fair Oaks Park, Fair Oaks Bridge, Canada Geese, Egret, Great Blue Heron, American River, water, mornings, chickens, roosters,
Good morning Fair Oaks!

Chicken call from the neighborhood, “Time to wake up everyone!” A group of six Canada Geese fly over the bridge from the east in traditional V formation, all honking in unison. They fly about 100 yards farther, make a U-turn to fly back over my head, fly east and vanish. A single bird is perched on the bridge frame over my head. It is quietly watching. Far too large to be tiny bird I used to hear every morning singing, “Ti Too! Ti Too!” A chorus of hidden birds begins. I hear the bird that sounds like a calliope and many other bird calls I cannot identify.

Standing on the bridge I hear the female Mallard quacking once again in the distance. (See video posted in “Morning Pandemonium” on January 14)  She quacks as she swims. I continue to wonder what she is saying? Is she paddling in rhythm to her own voice? Since I cannot speak duck, I may never know. An Egret flies in from the west. A short time later, another flies in and they resume their low and elegant flight over the river to the east as a pair.

turtles, wake up, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, water, turtles
Sunbathing turtles on a wayward tree branch

Arriving at the boat launch ramp, I see the female duck leading a line of ducks swimming upriver. Her quacking continues and I continue to hear the sound of her voice until it fades away in the distance. I walk back up to Fair Oaks Bridge. As I leave the river for the morning, I nearly miss two turtles out sunbathing.


Spider Spins, Seal Swims

Friday, February 9, 2018 8 am 46 degrees

Warm day, sun high, birds are twittering from nearby trees. The level of water at the American River is so low and still, an island has formed around the branch where turtles sunbathe. The Egret takes it usual place on the riverbank. The pigeons are absent.

spider, spider web, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, monrings, A collection of spider webs are attached to bridge rails. I wonder does a spider have a map in its head to create such complex webs?  As I listen to the call of a single seagull call, I think of the 100 gulls crowded on a small island at Jim’s Bridge. Most have left this part of the river. Everyday I listen for the quacks of the female Mallard raising her voice on the river. Buffleheads skim the water as they take off flying. They move far too quickly to capture in a photo.

As I walk to the boat launch ramp, a hiker atop the Fair Oaks Bluffs calls to me, “Hey. There is a seal in the river!” I see its head just above the water. The seal dives and comes out of the water much too far away to see clearly. Where did the seal come from? What wrong turn led it so far from the coast?

Moon over Fair Oaks Bridge

Saturday, February 10, 2018   630 am 46 degrees

moon, morning, darkness, light, wildlife, dawn, Fair Oaks Bridge,


I arrive at Fair Oaks Bridge and daylight is hiding in shadows. Chicken call out through the neighborhood as they break the silence of dawn. In the chilly stillness of morning air, birds chatter unseen. Two runners pass wearing headlamps.

An Egret walks the riverbank searching for early morning breakfast.  A crescent moon shines above Fair Oaks Bridge.  Canada Geese fly quietly over the bridge as darkness fades to light.

Mist on the river rolls in slow moving waves across the surface of the water.

These Beautiful Days

February 16, 2018, 7 am, 36 degrees

I enjoy many early morning experiences on Fair Oaks Bridge, the boat launch ramp and areas nearby along the American River Parkway this month. My backpack, journal and camera are constant companions.

Sometimes I don’t have words to express the joy and delight of these experiences. The beauty of these quiet mornings is a far deeper experience than that act of writing words on a page or taking photos can express. I sit and listen. I watch and wonder.

Fair Oaks Bridge, beautiful, John Muir, days, mornings, write, nature, outdoors words, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, clouds, expression Quoting from John Muir – one of America’s most respected naturalists – reflects my own experience .

 “These beautiful days must enrich all my life. They do not exist as mere pictures. . . but they saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always.”   John Muir

My mornings usually begin with greetings from Fair Oaks Village chickens – some still hiding in bushes or trees. Others roam the streets of the neighborhood on a search for breakfast. As I approach Fair Oaks Bridge, I wonder what colors will be painted across the sky today when clouds reflect the sunrise – shades of pink, fiery orange or gold? Will I see a curtain or a blanket of fog reflecting the colored sunlight that rolls slowly downriver?

spider web, experience, beauty, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, Fair Oaks Bluffs
Spider waits to capture unsuspecting prey
experiences, mornings, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, beauty, water, wildlife, spider webs, writing, photographs, John Muir
A thin sheet of ice that covers the bridge deck melts away in strips in the heat of morning sun.
quack, duck, Mallard, voice, morning, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, swim, experience, joy
She greets each morning with a series of quacks.

I listen for the daily quacks this determined duck as she patrols the American River. She is relentless; quacking for 10 minutes and hardly stopping long enough to take a breath. I can hear her voice far off in the distance as she swims away. I listen for the calls of seagulls and watch them soar high above me. Birds sing unseen in trees – a calliope, a whistle, and other chirps and calls I cannot describe. I often hear the chortle of the Great Blue Heron and honk of Canada Geese long before I see them. The Egret and Great Blue Heron always position themselves at different locations on the riverbank – staying far away from each other.

I see soft ripples widen in the water as the ducks and Canada Geese swim through the quiet river. I watch the graceful flights of snow white Egrets as they extend their long, soft wings and glide under Fair Oaks Bridge. Buffleheads dive in the center of the river channel and rise to the surface many yards away.

Photographs and written narratives record memories of these magical experiences – and create an understanding that wildlife undisturbed live by their own rhythms as we silently watch and wonder.