Sunday, December 10, 2017, 820 am 37 degrees
In their customary morning ritual, chickens wake early to call from the trees where they hide and sleep at night. As morning temperature warms up, chickens fly down to patrol the streets and park.
Clouds dust the sky in the same way powdered sugar falls on cookies through a strainer. The bridge deck and rails are heavy with moisture. No spider webs today. A beautiful morning. River is still. Runners, walkers with dogs and cyclists pass by. Everyone dresses in hats, gloves and jackets. Each breath comes out as small clouds forming in front of their faces.
I hear the whistle of a different bird this morning and it reminds me of a circus calliope playing a tune. A seagull calls from a distance. Pigeons circle the bridge in their daily morning dance.
Diving ducks are out searching for breakfast. I watch a Goldeneye dive underwater and disappear four times in rapid succession. It stays underwater 30 seconds before rising back to the surface again.
Several weeks have passed since I last saw turtles sunbathing on their favorite branch at the riverbank. That branch is slowly sinking into the American River.
Arriving at the boat launch ramp, a dozen ducks fly in all at once and approach me thinking I have food. Ducks slowly waddle up the ramp, shaking their tails from left to right. Pigeons arrive. Everyone is frustrated because I brought no food. Pigeons rise up in unison and fly toward Fair Oaks Bridge and circle twice. They settle back down on the ramp, but not for long. Pigeons are collectively so “nervous,” they repeat this morning ritual every time they sense slight movement or a sound. Meanwhile, a seagull out of sight continues its wailing.
I notice a newly installed memorial bench at top of the boat launch ramp – one of many benches along the American River Parkway to celebrate the life of a treasured friend or family member. The ground beneath it is fresh and smooth.
I wonder who was this person and what was their relationship to this place?
Walking farther east on the American River Parkway to a wide and shallow place, I watch salmon as they swim upstream through the current. They rise above the water just long enough to see the gray and white colors of their badly deteriorated bodies. Within ten minutes I see five salmon swishing and splashing through the shallow waters. Their short lives (three to four years) and several month journey from the Pacific Ocean is coming to an end.
A group of salmon circle near the surface of the water. Only their fins and top edge of their bodies are visible. Salmon splash and stir up whirlpools in three separate places. Not a single seagull is waiting here to grab a meal. Some will stop here to spawn. Others will search for another shallow area along the river. Many more will swim another mile until their passage is blocked by huge gates (called a weir) at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Salmon will spawn along the riverbanks here or climb the fish ladder into the hatchery.
Turkey vultures search a small nearby island for remains of a dead salmon. The vulture pictured guards his salmon and chases another away from the catch.
With flapping wings and a snap of its head, the competing vulture withdraws and leaves to find food somewhere else.
When I return to the boat launch ramp a cyclist has arrived with a bag filled with food for the ducks. The pounce on it and the feeding frenzy begins. I watch two ducks struggle to bite off large chunks of bread. The lone seagull stands at the end of the boat ramp feeling left out. When most of the food is eaten, ducks quack all their way down the boat ramp and swim away. Pigeons are today’s clean up crew, snatching any tiny leftover bites.