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.

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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!”

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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!”

 

 

Where is Breakfast?

Friday, December 1, 2017, 7 am   39 degrees

As we move closer to winter, morning temperatures are low enough each day to bring a heavy layer of fog into our neighborhoods and watch the mist as it rolls across the American River.

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Where do I search for breakfast today?

Yet, the boat launch ramp and the riverbanks are clear today. A single seagull circles the bridge and flies west. The salmon run is nearly over and soon all the seagulls will be leaving for the season.

I will miss the morning calls of seagulls and the joy of watching them circle slowly and gracefully over the American River.

My fingers are chilled from the breeze. I wear gloves and a heavy jacket to stay warm on this frigid morning! Ripples in the river trace where ducks swim through the center of the channel. Low laying fog rolls slowly along the river, moving underneath Fair Oaks Bridge. Fog continues to roll under the bridge as if they were billows of steam rising and falling in a huge simmering pot.

On one October day when visiting wildlife at the boat launch ramp, a fisherman who was preparing to drive away with his boat saw me walking towards him. He paused long enough to call out from inside his vehicle, “The best things in life are those that you do slowly.” I smiled back and thanked him. How else can we truly be “in the moment of experience”?

His words keep coming back to me during the past few weeks. Setting aside dancing and running, I cannot think of anything else I want to do in fast motion.  Pausing to observe morning wildlife rituals, their focused efforts to search for a meal, seeing how they relate to their own kind and other wildlife, and the waiting game to catch a single fish needs time and patience.

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Muscovy duck is uncommon at Fair Oaks Bridge. Native to Mexico, Central and South America.

I am amazed to see resident ducks and Canada Geese come out from their evening hiding places to swim in the river, even in the coolest, wettest weather. They seem to talk less in colder temperatures. Today, as every morning, I hear a soft quack of at least one duck, swimming out in the unseen distance. One swims alone, dunking for breakfast and speaks to no one when it comes back up. (See video below) Fair Oaks Bridge rumbles as a dozen cyclists race across the bridge on their way uphill to Fair Oaks Village.

Two walkers stroll by and ask, “How is your journaling going?”  We have met several times on the bridge. Depending on the day, I meet the same walkers and the same cyclists. Walking down to the boat launch ramp, resident waterfowl come to greet me – especially if they think I might have a quick snack.

The Egret stands in its usual place on the north side of the river away from all other wildlife, to enjoy morning breakfast without company or interruption. When the Great Blue Heron shows up 10 yards downstream, the Egret flies away to escape the intruder. As the sun rises well above the horizon, the magic of morning at Fair Oaks Bridge lingers on for a few precious moments longer.

Dabbling for Breakfast

Saturday, October 13, 2018             730 am 56 degrees

       Fourteen fishing boats line the American River near the Fair Oaks Bridge. Twelve boats extend all the way around the river bend. The other two sit on the west side of the bridge. The deep green water is so still, there is hardly a ripple. In this cloudless deep blue sky, the sun glows like a brilliant yellow ball. I smell a faint, yet pungent odor.

So many fishermen and I have not seen any salmon jumping yet. Only two more weeks before fishing is banned until the end of the year. Have the salmon arrived yet?  I see one small fish floating next to the boat launch ramp this morning.

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Mallard morning meeting

     Birds are busy greeting the morning from their station at the highest point of the bridge. “Ti Too! Ti Too!” From another direction, I hear a bird singing like a calliope in short, shrill bursts. I hear only one duck quack yet this morning. Where is everyone?

  A dozen ducks were busy with their morning rituals in the river alongside the boat ramp. One was splashing itself to take a bath, another bobbing for breakfast. The others gathered in a morning meeting to quack, confer and squabble. “Where to eat?” I imagined them asking. A single seagull landed in the water alongside the Mallard. The gull looked frustrated “So where is the food hiding this year?”

A dabbling duck works hard for its breakfast.