Watching Wildlife Wake Up

Sunday, September 18, 2016   635 am

American River, American River Parkway, Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, water, Sacramento, Sacramento County, American River Parkway, scenic, trails, waterWhen 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

Some Bridge Visitors Show No Respect

Sunday, September 25, 2016, 7 am, 55 degrees

This is a quiet Sunday morning when the neighborhood sleeps late. Roosters are awake. My first impressions when I approach the bridge is how bright it is so early in the day. I wonder how the shadows change as the sun moves through the sky? I will return to the bridge before sunset and find out.

Today instead of seeing scenic beauty first in the morning, I see remnants of a dozen burnt out sparklers and fountains saved from the fourth of July left in the center of the bridge.

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Two Turtles Sunbathe at the American River

Thursday, July 20, 2017, 715 am   68 degrees

Fair Oaks chickens, chickens, morning, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, water, I begin the day by listening to the chicken’s morning calls in Fair Oaks Village. I stop and enjoy their morning concert.

Today a pale blue, cloudless sky is tinged with gray at the horizon. A gentle breeze blows on Fair Oaks Bridge as sunlight glares on the water. I meet a couple looking over the side of the bridge and ask what they are looking at. They are looking for the beaver that was eating a salmon whole by stripping the meat right off the bones. They showed me where to look on the shoreline to find its home. I also found out they sighted two river otters and a seal that wandered far from its home turf into the American River one day.Read more

Peaceful Morning

Thursday August 10, 2017   715 am  68 degrees

Arrived at Jim’s Bridge by bike – no waterfowl. The water glistens, yet feels empty.

My next stop is the boat launch ramp where I see a dozen Mallards on patrol searching for breakfast on the ramp. They look up and see me and begin to walk toward me. Since I don’t make any throwing motions with food in my hand, they turn around and retreat back down the ramp into the water.

American River, fishing, Fair Oaks Bridge, ducks, morningA solo fishing boat carries two people, waiting. The river is especially beautiful this morning. Many weeks since I saw the water shimmer with various shades of greens and gold, reflecting the trees and the sunlight.

Ahhh! The magic of morning.

Six pigeons fly to their place on the Fair Oaks Bridge frame. The air is chilled. A gentle and cool breeze blows against my skin. When I left this morning, my arms were chilled and the car windshield was moist. I have noticed that sunrise is much closer to 6 am than 5, as it was for so many weeks during the summer.

I missed many evening bike rides because of so many 105 degree days that did not cool enough in the evening to make it possible for me to enjoy the long hours of daylight.

No clouds in the sky. A pale white moon hangs in the pale, western sky tinged with gray. Pigeons feast on remains of a biscuit left on the bridge. At the slightest movement or sound, they flap their wings unison and fly away and return a minute later to continue their meal. Off again and back until they have eaten every crumb they can find.

200 yards to the east, a single fisherman stands at the river’s edge waiting. Canada Geese have yet to arrive. They tend to be the late sleepers and the grumpiest when it comes to getting their share of breakfast. Ducks went back into hiding. Where are the otter? The turtles? P

American River, salmon, seagulls, Fair Oaks, fishing, morniingFor now, the American River is a quiet place.

In little more than a month, salmon will begin their arrival and fishing boats will multiply by at least five. The river will be standing room only for fisherman standing hip deep in water. I hope seagulls return to feast on the salmon. Maybe the Egret and the Great Blue Heron will return. Salmon provides food for many wildlife here.

I miss the Egrets and Great Blue Heron.

What a delight to see them fly in, walking gingerly at the shoreline looking food and do their best to avoid each other! Not since the flood. They have moved somewhere else along the American River.

What of the snowmelt from the Sierra? When will it come? And how much, how fast? I wonder how the American River will be challenged this fall. Too soon to think of another winter. Standing on the Fair Oaks Bridge, a few runners pass, an occasional cyclist. Today is a slow and peaceful morning on the river. The hum of traffic on Sunrise Blvd. bridge is all I hear.

Riding to the San Juan Rapids overlook I see the water level has receded so the sandbars are visible, and the rapids mild. No rafters come by on this early weekday. No waterfowl are spending a leisurely morning on the sandbar. The Cormorant I spotted several times before is absent – as are all the wildlife of the river.

Canada Geese, riverbank, American River, morningI return to Jim’s Bridge on my ride home and see two women feeding dozens of resident geese and ducks. With very quacks or honks, they quickly gobbled up the seeds, still scavenging long after the women had left. The feeding time, as always, is filled with scratch, hiss, race, waddle, and wait.

Fair Oaks Bridge and Jim’s Bridge sit less than a mile apart to provide access to the American River Parkway. Both are quiet hideaways to escape the rush of the city and enjoy the peacefulness of the river.

 

Rocky Remnants of a Fisherman’s Island

Friday, August 11, 2017     845 am   68 degrees

Six Canada Geese greet me with a chorus of characteristic honks as I arrive at Jim’s Bridge by bike.
squirrel, American River, American River Parkway, trees, Fair Oaks Bridge, mornings
Searching for breakfast

They join a dozen other ducks already scouting breakfast on the rocky shoreline. True to their nature the geese are late arrivals for the morning ritual. Squirrels are busy finding their breakfast in the trees.

American River, rocks, marker, Fair Oaks Bridge, monrings
Other ways to mark a place at the American River.

During a quick trip to the boat launch ramp, I see no waterfowl anywhere. No fishing boats sitting in the American River. Today I continue my ride east toward the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. This is the prime salmon spawning area come late September through early December. I used to see a dozen ducks bobbing in shallow rapids for food as I ride by. None today.

cormorant, American river, Fair Oaks Bridge, monrings, wings
Sitting on the rocky remnants of the fisherman’s island in the center of the American River corridor.

I arrive at the picnic area at the river’s edge, far off the bike trail, where last fall I saw 100 seagulls feasting on dead salmon. The small island located in the middle of the river channel that was big enough for fisherman to anchor their boats and stand alongside them in hip deep water is now two thin and barely visible stretches of rocks.

Cormorant, American River, Fair Oaks Bridge, monring, wingsI spy a cormorant sitting on a rocky island hanging its wings to dry in the early morning air. It stands motionless for 10 minutes before flying away. I see ducks hide alongside green shrubbery of a nearby island jutting out from the western riverbank.

Except for an occasional distant quack from a lone duck, this area is quiet today. Here I am far away from homes hanging on the Fair Oaks Bluffs, traffic and people congregating on shorelines. I hear a distant hum from another roadway bridge alongside the fish hatchery, less than a mile and completely out of sight.

With no homes on the opposite shore, I see a mix of oaks, shrubs and grasslands. I could say they are in a natural and undisturbed state. Little along the river channel was left untouched during winter floods. Remnants are still visible everywhere along the river.

underwater tree, American River, debris
Remains of trees swept and underwater during winter flooding. These rest alongside the shoreline in shallow water.
sign underwater, American River, flood, debris
A fallen sign loosened during the winter flooding rests in shallow water near the shoreline.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evening Shadows

August 30, 2017, 730 pm, 95 degrees

Heat still hangs heavy in the air. A gentle breeze passes by offering a sense of relief.

boater, fisherman, fishing boat, American River, Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, salmon, shadows, sunset, darkness, river, ducks, swimmingShadows lengthen on both sides of the river. Sun is below the riverbank. The sky is ringed with a pale pink panorama. Is it smoke filled air or the varied pinks of the sunset?

Four Mallards swim at twlight, sharing the river with the two fisherman.

A boater sits, casting his line into the shadows. A few walkers cross Fair Oaks Bridge, glowing red with sunburn. Others out for an evening stroll. An exuberant cyclist proclaims “descent” on his way across the bridge. The white Pekin duck joins his friends for a float trip. Likely abandoned by its human family, the Pekin has found a new home.

A dog barks. The next sound I hear is a faint and distant chorus of quacks. A group of six ducks float under the bridge as the sun sets below the horizon and shadows turn into darkness.

What Sounds Go Unheard?

September 8, 2017, 635 am    64 degrees

Mist covers my car windshield. I wonder if this morning chill will continue in mornings to come.

My mornings of wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals are certainly to become less frequent. Chickens that provide daily wake up calls in Fair Oaks Village are still slumbering. I see three cars as I walk through the village streets. Hot Yoga parking lot is double stacked with cars – located on the street about 100 steps from Fair Oaks Bridge.

chickens, morning, sounds, greet, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River
Okay, take the photo so I can finish crossing the street.

Today is a cloudy morning. By the time I wake up, any color in the sky from the sunrise has vanished. A trio of chickens wake up and stand in the street on the way to the bridge. Only one greets me with a good morning crow. The others are far too busy scratching the dirt to find breakfast. On my walk to Fair Oaks Bridge, one small chicken is raising a panic. Instead of crowing to greet the day, this chicken sounds more like it is complaining over and over again.

What other sounds does the morning air hold that I am not hearing?

American River, Fair Oaks Bridge, water, sounds, erosion, fisherman, river, morning, salmon
Fisherman sit beneath the Fair Oaks Bluffs and alongside trees uprooted during flooding early this year.

Three boats sit a few yards away on the east side of the bridge. The fishermen wait. Everyone prefers the east side. They are so intensely committed to catching fish, they arrive before dawn and wait for hours. I often see men in each boat talk to each other, swapping stories of who caught what and where, what bait they use and other conversation as they wait. Two more boats sit 100 yards farther east.

For a moment, the same tiny bird that greeted me each morning last fall with “too, too” returned to its post at the top of the bridge. Not intending to stay for long, it took a look around and flew away. The glowing yellow sun emerges in the eastern sky over the heads of trees lining the American River  No waterfowl are out yet this morning. Not even one. As I sit and listen in the still air, I hear a distant call of a Canada Goose, and then a quack and then silence. I wonder how far away are the geese?

After nearly a year of observation, I have a baseline of observing what happened each month. Yet, as the fifth year of drought concluded with heavy rain and flooding, I wonder what is usual and customary on the river? How will activity on the river change this coming fall? Will the waterfowl return? How many salmon will come? Will other wildlife return to feed on the salmon as they did last fall?

American River, trees, erosion, ducks, morning, Fair Oaks Bridge
One of several trees with exposed roots clinging to eroded riverbank.
chicken, ducks, erosion, morning, Fair Oaks Bridge
Scavenging the shallow water to find breakfast

Four ducks emerges from their evening hiding places and swim under the bridge heading west. They swim past fallen trees laying on the river bottom visible in the clear, shallow water. They pass trees with exposed roots along the eroded riverbank. These prominent features are a few of many ways flooding and erosion over time has shaped and scarred the integrity of this river channel.

The fisherman continue to sit and wait and I see nothing jumping in the water. The water is as still as it can be in this flat section of the American River. Birds are twittering unseen. I do my regular spider web check and see no evidence. I look for the fallen tree that was once an ideal sunbathing spot for turtles. It has fallen farther into the river. Where have the turtles gone? Another visitor to Fair Oaks Bridge remarked there were a dozen turtles or more. I saw only two. Now they have moved somewhere else.

 

Reflections on Wildlife

Sunday September 10, 2017, 630 am   68 degrees

From my front porch, I watch the orange glow of sunrise above towering trees and behind scattered clouds. 

sunrise, morning, American River, Fair Oaks Bridge, ducks, fishermen, boatsA tiny bird greeted me this morning, with ‘Ti Too.”

I ride to Jim’s Bridge hoping to see a crowd of Canada Geese and ducks engaged in morning rituals and scavenging for breakfast. They hang out on the south side of the riverbank first. Often women come to feed them seeds. When alone, they poke at the rocky shore and swim in shallow water, looking for worms, insects and other morning nibbles.

So few waterfowl are swimming near the Fair Oaks Bridge and nearby boat launch ramp. It is disappointing to visit the bridge and see only boaters. The river today is home to no life beyond that. I remember the Egrets that sat on the north riverbank each morning and the Great Blue Heron that came for an occasional visit. I remember the Egret flying farther east to avoid the Heron as it arrived. I think back to when the Canada Geese and the Mallards fight over food and fight among themselves. Geese hiss and bite. Mallards quack and complain, then chase away who they don’t like.

I arrive at Jim’s Bridge and all the waterfowl are here! The abandoned Pekin duck has joined the Mallard families. Quack! Quack! Quack! The ducks are quietly waking up, swimming, cleaning, quietly poking their head into the water searching for a morning meal. Occasionally one duck will rant, Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! and no one pays attention. The geese and the ducks are expecting a morning handout.

Mallards are so unlike chickens that call out to each other all day long, and call when no one is there to hear. When I hear ducks voice their opinions, no others respond.

In a moment, three ducks rise and fly quietly to the opposite shore. They are too far away and too fast to photograph. Watching them gives me a chance to take a big breath in, feel the chill on my skin. I look up in time to see 20 birds sitting on power lines above the Sunrise Blvd. bridge.

Temperatures are getting warmer already. I ride on to Fair Oaks Bridge. The parking lot for the boat launch ramp is filled with pickup trucks and utility vehicles equipped to tow their boats. I count seven boats in the river, all on the east side of the bridge. I see nearly as many fishermen on the American River as there are ducks.

ducks, American River, swim, ducklings, waterA mother duck leaders the way for her two young ducks. They casually swim by boats, leaning trees and those uprooted and fallen into the river. They pause their morning a few moments before moving on. So many birds twitter, unseen. So many times, I see feathers on the ground. I pick them up and wonder how did the birds or the chickens or even an owl lose their feathers? Was it a battle or an argument? Or was losing a feather a natural part of their growth? How do birds lose their feathers?

I believe that ducks, geese and birds exercise far more patience than people. People are often in a rush to get anywhere –  pack in as much into the day as possible before  dropping off to sleep or not even sleep. Waterfowl take their time to swim, to play, and to clean their feathers…and of course, finding food. A duck’s days are for sunning, sleeping, eating, relating to other ducks.

I sit here and wonder what is my role in helping to preserve this peaceful spot where wildlife can thrive?

If more of us sat down to wonder about the miracles of the natural world, would we enjoy more forward thinking environmental concerns and actions? Would more collaborative actions and few disagreements make a bigger difference? I am surprised at how many are just passing through, not noticing the scope of what is here. Envisioning a positive future is rarely a casual visitor’s first thought.

 

 

 

 

Beavers Swim at Daybreak

Monday, September 18, 625 am 60 degrees

Some mornings hold more “magic”  than others. Today is one of those magic mornings.

sunrise, mornings, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, American River Parkway, nature, writing, wildlife, walkers

The air is laden with chill instead of heat. Dense morning clouds hold the bold, vibrant colors of sunrise at the break of dawn. For nearly an hour I watch the colors change as the sun emerges from the horizon. My view from the Fair Oaks Bridge is a full circle of color. The intense, burning oranges and grays in the east spread north and south, fading to white and pale blue in the western sky.

I imagine that walkers, cyclists and fishermen are the ones who seize this opportunity to enjoy this daily display of one of nature’s miracles. Do wildlife enjoy this morning spectacle?

Fair Oaks, Fair Oaks Bridge, chickens, skinny, morning, American River, Bridge Street, breakfast, beaver, river, wildlifeMy favorite mornings are those when I listen to a choir of chickens sing still hidden in the trees where they sleep. Without any visible conductor, they call out their good morning songs to one another in rapid succession. As dawn breaks and the day brightens, chickens patrol the park and village streets crowing loudly where ever they go. Some chickens are robust with loud strong “ERR, ERR, ERR, ERR!” The skinnier, smaller chickens sound hoarse. “Er…Er…Er…Er.”  It is the smaller chickens that roam Bridge Street trees, plants and curbs scratching for breakfast and repeatedly calling out to no one for about 30 minutes after I arrive on any morning.

One this day, six bicyclists have crossed Fair Oaks Bridge shortly after I arrive.  630 am and the bridge is crowded with people! Morning temperatures are dropping into the 50s and 60s. I wear blue jeans, and a lightweight denim jacket and sneakers. A light breeze blows and I feel the air heavy with chill instead of the heat that roasted the air all summer long.

Three fishing boats are sitting in the river quietly waiting. I have seen one person catch a fish. The salmon are coming. Fisherman catch the early arrivals.  Water level of the American River is the lowest I have seen it all year. Could this be because the salmon need the shallow water to spawn?

Pigeons take their stations on the overhead frame. Two of them perch on the outside edge of the bridge, watching the river. None stay for long. The slightest movement, the faintest sound, they fly up and away in an instant. A tiny bird greets me with “Ti Too! Ti Too!” from its place at the top of the bridge.

Where is the Great Blue Heron this morning? I may be too late to see its patrol from the boat launch ramp to the north side and back with a chortle to the south riverbank. Canada Geese are flying high overhead. I imagine they are flying a distance without stopping. Another boat arrives and backs down the ramp. Mallards are still sleeping.

beaver, morning, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, wildlifeMy first time seeing a beaver swimming in the river! I walk to the north side of the bridge to follow it and and see two more! My two photographer friends are here this morning. They point out a man climbing down the near vertical slope of Fair Oaks Bluffs. Why? How? We have no idea.

Two more groups of Canada Geese fly over. Then 30 runners cross the bridge together out for an early morning sprint. The sun finally emerges over the clouds, but the sky remains a flat gray.

shadow, morning, Fair Oaks Bridge, American River, sunrise,

 

As I walk off the bridge, I see my shadow moving through the trees on the north riverbank. This unexpected shadow play lasted about two minutes before the sun changed position and vanished.

Morning temperature rose to 66 degrees. Chickens are still calling “Good morning!”

 

Morning Rituals of Fall

Friday, September 22, 2017            635 am   55 degrees

Not a single chicken in sight when drive into Fair Oaks Village. Yet the morning symphony is as loud and as long as ever.

morning, rituals, Fair Oaks, chickens, Fair Oaks Bridge

The songs of Fair Oaks Chickens are my favorite way to start the day – far better than a wake me up beverage!

Today is a cool morning! It is only 55 degrees. I wonder if the cool temperatures wake them earlier and inspire them to begin calling each other.

The brutal 100-degree days of summer are behind us. What a change from two weeks ago when morning temperature had not dropped below 72 degrees at 630 am. I wear a light jacket and jeans. For the first time, my hands feel chilled in the moist morning air.

Loosely scattered clouds define this morning’s sunrise. I missed yesterday’s fiery orange sunrise behind a dense cloud cover and hoped for a repeat. Not today. I watched yesterday’s sunrise from afar as the brilliant yellow ball emerged from the clouds a full 45 minutes after the first glow rose from the horizon.

Fair Oaks Bridge is one of few places where I can find joy when my days are filled with too much drama. I always hope others can find peace in sharing these morning walks on the bridge and the river’s edge.

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