When I looked through a telescope at a local science museum at 915 am…
The moon appeared as a bite out of the lower left hand part of the sun at the early stage of 915 am. By the time I reached Fair Oaks Bridge at 1015 am and looked again through a pair of borrowed safety glasses, the sun looked like a sliver – a crescent moon shape. Sacramento’s eclipse reached 77 percent maximum coverage at 1020 am.
A dozen people gathered outside their offices on Bridge Street. Another dozen people stood on the bridge, watching the sky. At least as many people gathered on the edge of the Fair Oaks Bluffs hundreds of feet above the American River. – a popular destination for panoramic view of the river and nearby community.
River photos of the during the eclipse may illustrate the odd lighting. This was an event you had to be there to get the impact. I also caught a photo of a very speedy duck. It was swimming nearly as fast as the boat that was following close behind.
When the moon passed over the sun, the river was visibly brighter. People stored away their dark glasses and began walking off the bridge. Cyclists started arriving and passing by. Soon the bridge was empty and office workers went back to their desks. Visitors on the bluffs stayed to see the view.
My excitement over seeing the “cool” eclipse was mixed with wonder and sadness – the anticipation of seeing the sun as a sliver and the shock of learning of a tragic fall all at the same time.
I arrived on Bridge Street to see two fire engines – one a special operations unit – idling on the street. There was another fire engine in the parking area alongside the boat launch ramp. When I asked, “What happened? Why are these fire trucks here?” I was told a spectator on the bluffs fell off the cliff. Firemen picked up the person in a boat.
I look west from my front door and WOW! A rare sunrise glowing orange through clouds at 620 am.
I leave the house quickly and drive toward the sunrise. The dark sky is a blanket of deep gray clouds and shades of orange. I hurry to the Fair Oaks Bridge to catch the sunrise and hear the lone chicken singing from its tree on Bridge Street.
Village chickens greet me with a rousing symphony this morning. So many awake and singing early.
I shoot a dozen pictures to capture the changing light as the sky brightens. I stand and watch the sky change as the sun slowly rises over distant trees. The clouds turn to gray and then white as vibrant colors shift and fade. Two women cross the bridge quietly holding flashlights. Then I am alone to treasure the colors of morning light with the fisherman below. Three boats sit on the east side and two on the west. The sun I still rising and hidden by long blankets of heavy, dense clouds.Read more
Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017, 9 am 57 degrees
People of all ages enjoy a morning outdoors on Fair Oaks Bridge.
Families are out walking, joggers shake the bridge as they pass and I hear cyclists on the American River Parkway less than 100 yards away. The air is warm, with no breeze, yet filled with the calls of birds hidden in trees that hug the riverbanks. With heavy cloud cover, the sun barely shines through.
People climb the Fair Oaks Bluffs to enjoy the panoramic views, cross the bridge, stop to enjoy the river and see the wildlife at play and at work.
Seagulls call as they fly over the river, some landing in the water to call again. One bird song reminds me of a calliope with its high pitched whoop. Buffleheads skirt the water, leaving ripples as they rise out of the water and fly low across the river. Watching the river all year long, I only see these daring little ducks in fall and early winter. I presume they live somewhere else during other parts of the year.
Do birds know today is a holiday for people because we show up in larger numbers than other days?
This looks like one more workday for them in their ongoing search to find breakfast. A woman arrives on the boat launch ramp to throw seeds. Nearly 20 birds and waterfowl rush to get their share. Seagulls call out to each other. One gull lands in the river to nibble at a dead salmon floating slowly downriver. A very busy day on the American River.
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.
I arrive at dawn to catch the sunrise, dressing snugly in my hooded jacket, long pants, long socks and gloves. Today’s icy wind is just enough to keep frost off car windows and grass. Frost coats the bridge deck and I feel its slippery surface beneath my feet. One duck braves the cold for an early swim back and forth across the river.
Why is the sun bright yellow when looking at it in daylight; yet at sunrise and sunset, we see shades of orange from pale pastel to dark and fiery?
Every morning brings a new set of cloud formations and different ways to diffuse and reflect the sun’s brilliance. Today clouds are woven as if they were a heavy gray blanket hanging over the river. Patterns of light change and spread as the sun edges closer to the horizon, painting the sky at dawn with brilliant colored light a full 30-40 minutes before the sun shows itself.
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.
My last stop is the boat launch ramp to check for morning wildlife activity. I find a partially eaten salmon lying at the end of the ramp. How did it get here? How long has it been here? Why did everyone wait until I arrive to eat it?
With plenty of meat left, the salmon captures the attention of two seagulls and two ducks. They take turns tearing at the salmon. Their strategies to tear apart the remains differ from gentle poking to serious ripping. In the end, they all get something to eat – except one seagull. The ducks eat first, then the seagull drags the salmon into the river while the other gull wails and complains.
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.
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.
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.
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?