I look forward to the magic moments of morning on Fair Oaks Bridge and American River Parkway to discover and celebrate the gifts of the outdoor world. I often arrive at dawn before the sun rises over the trees and stay for an hour or more to observe, listen, write and photograph.
“I don’t know where it is possible to love the planet or not, but I do know that it is possible to love the places we can see, touch, smell and experience.”
David Orr, Earth in Mind
The American River Parkway is “The Jewel of Sacramento.” Fair Oaks Bluff is the “Crown Jewel.” Fair Oaks Bridge was completed in 1909. It is a “Truss” bridge and a treasured icon for the adjacent community of Fair Oaks. The community of Fair Oaks is located about 15 miles northeast of the city of Sacramento. Fair Oaks Village is widely known for its chickens, whose wake up calls provide music each morning and continue throughout the day. Readers will find chickens featured throughout blog posts in photos and video.
The bridge connects Fair Oaks Village with the American River Parkway, a greenbelt that stretches 37 miles through suburban communities of Sacramento and into the city. The bridge sits alongside Fair Oaks Bluff – also displayed in many photographs within blog posts. The setting is a beautiful place to see, touch, smell and experience!
By the time I park the car, daylight has filled the sky and clouds are gone – all except a few random patches and streaks. Have not seen the moon from the bridge for many days. Each morning there is so much cloud cover. There is no moon today.
It is cool and misty outside. I wear a warm, hooded sweatshirt. My car windows are fogged – as they are every morning. I wipe the windows before leaving home and turn on the defroster.
On my walk to the bridge, I am welcomed by the morning concert from roosters in their usual places – hiding in trees. For the unaware visitor, it appears that trees talk. Without shaking a leaf, the roosters perch on a branch and sing. One lonely and very scrawny chicken emerges from a side street and sings a scratchy song for anyone to hear.Read more
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.
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.
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!”
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!”
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.
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.
On 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.
So cold this morning, the chickens are still sleeping in the Village. They have yet to utter a sound.
I hear no shouts good morning walking past the park and the trees that provide nighttime shelters for so many Village chickens. Three chickens scratch and complain searching for breakfast a few yards from the bridge entrance – their favorite hangout.
The bridge deck is covered with white, slippery frost. Clouds above me resemble spun sugar in shades of gray and soft white. As the wind blows, they stretch into thin wisps of white. Fog washes over the eastern section of the American River. As with other days, I watch as the mist rolls down the river channel and under the bridge. On this particular chilly morning, mist is still sitting on the river well beyond 9 am when I prepare to return home.
Visiting the American River at Fair Oaks Bridge is a gift to enjoy and share. The most impressive days of winter for me are the peaceful mornings listening to seagulls call and seeing them soar gracefully through the sky, following fiery orange sunrises, and watching the fog as it blankets the river and reflects golden sunlight through the trees.
Each day brings a new cloud formation, each day a new way the wind blows them apart to create a kaleidoscope of color at dawn to announce the new day. I love watching fog blow slowly down the river. I stand watching in amazement at the way fog bathes and nourishes the Fair Oaks Bluffs and the sun’s yellow light shining through the trees along the American River Parkway. When I walk to the boat launch ramp, I see how the fog surrounds the Fair Oaks Bridge and drifts slowly west beneath the deck.
Seeing Fair Oaks Bluffs shrouded in fog reminds me of “Brigadoon,” that magical, mysterious place that emerges out of the fog once every few years.
I think of Peter Pan’s Neverland where fairies and other magic is commonplace. This is a place of peace where you can hear the distant call of seagull and see birds emerging slowly out of the fog. Two ducks swim in the center of the river. All others are still in hiding and come out much later when the temperature warms to 45 instead of 36 degrees. Many walkers are out this morning. First two, then two more, then two more all bundled up and enjoying the morning. A speeding cyclist passes by pedaling as quickly as possible.
An Egret flies in and lands in its preferred spot on the riverbank beneath the Fair Oaks Bluffs. Soon there are two flying together and move on further downriver. I always marvel at its graceful flight and sleek, straight body.
Most of the seagulls, ducks and the Canada Geese have moved on farther downriver where food is more plentiful. I see more than 50 seagulls on the riverbank at Jim’s Bridge crossing and farther downriver. Canada Geese roamed the shoreline at Rossmoor Bar, an overlook and rocky beach two miles from Fair Oaks Bridge, popular for rafters and picnics.
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 thenight. 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.
Under partially cloudy skies, I hear the female Mallard quacking without end.I hear her voice every time I visit Fair Oaks Bridge.
Two men launch a rowboat into the American River at the boat ramp and float under the bridge and downriver to the west. The air feels warm outside at first, until I begin to feel the chill on my fingers.
Today the American River looks like a wildlife flyway. So many are flying in and away.
Usually I see one Egret flying in. Today I see a pair!
The Egrets fly under the bridge just above the surface of the water, land on the riverbank at the foot of Fair Oaks Bluffs (the north, sunny side of the river) and quickly fly back in the direction where they had come. I hear the chortle of an unseen Great Blue Heron. A dozen seagulls fly west – high for the long run – and three Mallards soar under the bridge.
I hear the female Mallard still quacking in the distance. Canada Geese fly in full animated with their loud honking to the boat launch ramp and then fly under the bridge. One settles on a concrete pillar supporting the bridge directly in front of me. It looks at me and whispers. More ducks arrive. The Egrets fly off again.
Brilliant pink clouds blanket the sky creating this morning’s dramatic sunrise.
The soft call of a Morning Dove greets me as I enter Fair Oaks Bridge. Ooooo weee ooo. Ooooo weeee ooo. After so many days of lingering daytime temperatures over 100 degrees, I feel refreshed as a cool breeze blows across my face this morning. The calm water of the American River shimmers in the early light of dawn.
The fresh scent of morning, the drama, beauty and character of this setting is a remarkable experience. I think of John Muir’s words, “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.”
Two boaters prepare to leave the boat ramp. A cyclist rumbles past me, shaking the bridge. A line of Canada Geese swim quietly past the boat launch ramp. Then four more geese fly in from the East breaking the silence as sounds of their honking carries in the wind. They fly by quickly at such a high altitude, I am imagining they have a distant destination in mind.
Eight pigeons arrive for their morning rotations over the bridge. A single bird perched on the bridge truss frame sings its good morning song, Ti Too, Ti Too. I see this bird often. The frame is one of its favorite morning spots.
Dense clouds remain unchanged as the sky brightens. When the sun appears, I watch a pale yellow glow fade behind the dense cloud cover. As I watch the sky, an Egret comes into view, extending its long, silky wings to fly under Fair Oaks Bridge and land on the south shore about 100 yards west. It patrols the riverbank a few minutes and then disappears as it flies further downriver. Egrets always fly low under the bridge. Rare when I see an Egret fly over at a higher elevation as the ducks and geese.
Two fishing boats sit waiting in the water on this chilly first day of the year.An Egret flies in from the west and settles briefly on the riverbank before flying to its next stop upriver. A few Buffleheads swim in the center of the river corridor. The resident Mallards stay close to shore.
The true highlight of this New Year’s morning is the resident chickens celebrating with songs and a small parade to greet the day.
I hear their loud chorus on Bridge Street from the middle of Fair Oaks Bridge. Two fluffy chickens roam the street. A rooster is perched high in tree branches and another sings loudly while completely unseen. Their chorus goes on and on all the time I stand at the bridge.
I am the only one on Fair Oaks Bridge to enjoy this glowing sunrise in shades of pink and yellow, and scattered clouds reflected in the water. Mist rises above the surface of the water far off around the bend as I look east. I feel the air heavy with moisture. Both the river and the air are still.
One cyclist speeds past me, focused straight ahead, One chicken repeatedly calls out on Bridge Street. Many birds greet the morning with songs. I hear chirps, some of them sound like rattling – zzzzzzz. A woman arrives walking her dog. She focuses straight ahead and says nothing as she passes.
I always wonder why so many people walk, run or cycle across this bridge without looking left or right. Some focus on their conversations, others intently hold back their dogs. Very few stop and watch the scene. Some share a quiet good morning greeting as they pass.
A group of ducks emerge from their evening hiding place to swim quietly across the river, each leaving small ripples in the water behind them as they swim. No pigeons are out this morning. I have not seen pigeons in many days. No tiny bird lands to call out its good morning song on the bridge truss over my head.
I hear the loud honk of Canada Geese from a long distance away. Then six geese appear, reminding me of arrowheads shooting across the sky. They are followed shortly by two more geese In seconds, they vanish. Their sound continues to carry through the still air. An Egret soars quietly under the bridge and continues flying around the bend. One more cyclist passes by wearing shorts – I wonder why shorts?
As I stand on the bridge watching the sky, the glowing colors of sunrise reflected through dense clouds fade to a pale pastel orange visible at the horizon. I hear birds continue greeting the morning with their songs.
I walk to the boat launch ramp to enjoy a different view of the river. A large group of cyclists cross the bridge talking so loudly, I hear their voices on the boat ramp. Seagulls have left this part of the river. The fall salmon run ended weeks ago. The few seagulls that have stayed spend their days upriver where they are more likely to find a plentiful supply of food.
Several ducks emerge from the riverbank. Canada Geese are already out. Three dunk into the water, quietly searching for breakfast. I watch them paddle their webbed feet to help keep them afloat.
As I watch the geese and ducks during their morning rituals, I hear the sound of a single duck quack. And quack and quack. She is relentless. I wonder is she the same one I heard last January and February that kept up her calls without stopping as long as she was swimming? Long after she is out of sight, she continues to swim upriver calling without stopping. What is she saying?
(Even when she was one out of two pairs of ducks a year ago, she quacked while the others were silent.) As soon as the Canada Geese begin honking, her voice is barely audible. The geese quiet down. She keeps on quacking. I hear her calls continue as she swims upriver 50 yards and more. I listen intently as she continues her quacks until her voice fades into the distance.