When I arrive at Fair Oaks bridge, the sun has yet to rise over distant trees on the opposite shore of the American River. I focus my attention on the river landscape and notice so many different habitats for wildlife here. The roosters are the most obvious – they are always the loudest! I have seen Great Blue Herons on the river, Egrets, Canada Geese and a wide variety of ducks. I saw an owl one time and river otters occasionally. Trees, fallen logs, shrubs, and the island farther upstream are excellent hiding places. The river itself, now more shallow than it has been in a long while, creates homes too. The bridge is also home to bats hidden underneath in specially formed concrete slots.Read more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quoting fromJohn 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?
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.
The chickens roamed quietly on Bridge Street as I approached Fair Oaks Bridge. I heard a chorus of birds singing in the trees to my left, as the chilly air blew against my face. The sun was just emerging over the horizon through white and gray clouds. I saw two ducks swimming from shore. A few people walking past quietly on this peaceful morning. I walked across the bridge enjoying the sunrise, while my son kept his eyes on the resident rabbit munching on its breakfast.
Another short day…enjoying a few moments outdoors.
Have you ever seen a chicken that looks like this one?
I found this one scratching at the dirt looking for breakfast during one of my morning walks to Fair Oaks Bridge.
Three days later. . .
I returned to Fair Oaks Bridge and saw a river otter enjoying a morning swim.
Later that morning … I saw three turtles had found a fallen log at the riverbank just beneath the bridge to enjoy morning meditation in the sun.
And the next day...
Mama duck and her six new ducklings out for a swim. They were surrounded by a dozen Canada Geese aggressively searching for food. She led them carefully – as they peeped and followed in a line – to a safer hiding spot in the middle of nearby reeds.
A few minutes walk from Fair Oaks Village down Bridge Street – The American River and Fair Oaks Bridge crossing feature abundant opportunities to enjoy incredible scenic views and diverse wildlife. Great walks and bicycle rides for miles in either direction.
Fair Oaks Village chickens are beloved and celebrated by many and scorned by some. Their squabbles, persistent calls to each other, and continuous patrols of Village streets and its two parks add character to the fabric of our community.
Residents and visitors take photos of chickens, feed them, and watch their antics while sitting at the park, an outdoor cafe or the Fair Oaks Deli. The Deli is one of the Village favorites for great food, company and entertainment. Cars driving through Fair Oaks Village stop and wait for chickens to meander across streets. Drivers wait, honk their horn and wait some more. Groups of two, three or four chickens often choose to linger in the middle of the street before crossing. They gather for conferences in parking lots and streets. These chickens tend to hang out in pairs or in a group – unless one has been chased away after a noisy squabble. When a chicken is alone, it crows even more.
During hot summer days, I see them resting in the shade of a tree in a park. They squabble, chase and call to each other. The biggest roosters have the longest and deepest calls. OO…OO…OO…OO…OOOO. The smallest chickens sound more like they are coughing with a scratchy throat. eh..eh..eh..eh..ehhhh…Even thin and scrawny, the smallest chickens behave as if they were the big roosters.
A chicken family lives on Bridge Street – a short street leading from the Village that ends at Fair Oaks Bridge. On one side of the street the rooster hides deep in bushes with mother hen and her five growing chicks. On the other side, two hens mingle with a small gray rabbit. The three of them emerge from the hillside lined with trees and dense shrubs at dawn and usually retreat into the hills by 730 am.
Almost every day I stand on Fair Oaks Bridge, one lone chicken calls good morning from Bridge Street, deeply hidden in bushes.