Walking from the Fair Oaks Clubhouse, I hear chickens call their good morning song. Met a photographer on my way to Fair Oaks Bridge taking photos of bunnies hiding under bushes. We think someone left them here to live in the wild, instead of a home.
Two ducks swim in the American River to the boat launch ramp. A group of a dozen young women out for a morning run. A lone boater casts his line. Walkers stroll by. The water under the bridge is so clear, I can see the stones lining the river bottom.
As soon as I arrive at the bridge, a cyclist begins chatting on his phone with a friend about politics. Speaking loudly, pacing back and forth, I begin my daily observations and try to ignore him. Other people walk on the bridge and cross without stopping to look at the view. They remain engaged in conversation. Occasionally I point out intricate spider webs to people who say, “Good morning.” A group of three women walk past me and admire my colorful socks.Read more
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
Clouds sit way off on the distant eastern shore. The pink glow of sunrise reaches the bottom edge of the clouds.
These low lying pink strips of clouds surround me from every viewpoint as I stand on the Bridge.
Chickens near the bridge are calling from trees where they hid for the night. I listen closely to the voice of each chicken. Each one has a different volume and pitch. Some chickens have deep voices. I never thought of chickens being either Altos or Tenors. Others in the crowd sing with very high pitched, fragmented voices – a chicken singing soprano?
Some crow with more syllables than others. Others start strong and loud, then their voices fade at the end. I hear another voice that reminds me of an engine that grinds before it starts. “Er, Er…Er, Er…Er, Er, ooooo roooo.” Every day 2, 3 or 6 chickens are wandering the dirt alongside the street scratching for food, chattering among themselves.
Boat lights twinkle in the darkness in the slowly brightening dawn.
As the sun rises In the shadowy light of dawn, I see a fog bank and a line of boats near the shore. An Egret glides under the bridge from the east, flapping long pearly white wings. I follow its flight path and lose sight 100 yards to the west. I see two splashes just below the bridge. Salmon are coming in greater numbers. I have yet to see one jump! Another boat launches.
At 730, two dozen pigeons arrive and circle 30 times around Fair Oaks Bridge flapping wildly. Their circles grow wider and wider the entire group of birds vanish in the western sky. Three mallards fly in and settle down quickly. As the day brightens, I can more easily see the line of boaters and a kayak. Suddenly a dozen cyclists race by.
The sun emerges as a bright yellow fireball. Four pigeons return to the bridge and a tiny bird sings its traditional chorus, “Ti Too!” “Ti Too” from the top of the bridge truss work.
A warm afternoon and ideal weather for a bike ride.
One of the best viewing spots to see seagulls waiting and salmon jumping is about a mile east of Fair Oaks Bridge, where the American River Parkway bicycle trail meets a paved road leading to a picnic area overlooking the river. I often visit here to watch the fishermen, the seagulls and ducks at play. As I arrived, I saw a fisherman walked toward me carrying a large salmon laying in his net that I estimated weighed between 25-30 pounds.
Thirty seagulls were gathered on the island in the center of the river. All waiting and watching for a tasty salmon meal. Last year when I visited this spot during prime season, I counted 100 seagulls gathered at the island. Today a dozen turkey vultures circle over my head. I only see vultures flying overhead during the fall run of salmon.
Suddenly all of them flapped their wings and lifted into the sky. The seagulls flew so high, they looked like glittering white stars, blended in with a few black dots that were the vultures.
The seagulls flew in circles for two minutes until the entire flock flew west and vanished from sight. A dozen of them returned minutes later. A dozen Canada Geese flew in, honking loudly as they arrived and landed with a loud splash all at once close to the north shore.
A single fishing boat floats leisurely in the water. Men periodically check their lines Occasionally, I hear a “plop” as a stray salmon lifts is head above the water and quickly falls back down. More seagulls arrive at the island.
I rode back towards home looking for more gulls flying around the river. Salmon remain hiding underwater.
Last night’s rain washed the air clean. I see sharp clear lines on the trees, landscapes and structures.
Even after the rain has come and gone, I still see spider webs clinging to the rails of the bridge. Today is a crisp and warm morning. White billowy clouds cover the sky. River is still and seems empty.
As I stand on Fair Oaks Bridge, the small bird that favors its observation post at the top of the frame calls out a good morning greeting. An usual morning because so far, I see no ducks swimming, no seagulls flying overhead and no Canada Geese honking or approaching from any direction.
By this time of year, I expected to see many salmon jumping out of the water. Instead, see very few.
I imagine them swimming slowly and intently beneath the visible surface. Are they swimming deeper, so I miss them? Salmon are easier to spot at the shallow, rocky area about a mile upriver to the east. I wonder how many salmon stop to spawn in the waters of the American River before they reach Fair Oaks Bridge?
I hear many people remember, as do I, the years when salmon lined the weir at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. So many, they formed their own solid bridge. No more. Their numbers are far fewer these days. It is common to see a handful jumping at the weir (gate on the American River).
Later in the morning, a dozen ducks swim in from about 100 yards away upriver. A few walkers pass and a solo cyclist. I hear one splash down at the river. I walk to the “shallows,” pictured here, where salmon spawn. As many as 30 seagulls float in the water looking for salmon treats to nibble on. Canada Geese fly in here to check status on a variety of tasty food sources.
I wonder why the Egret and the Great Blue Heron always arrive alone and stand apart from other wildlife. They always keep their distance from each other and stand on the opposite side of the river from the gulls, geese and ducks. Both are easily disturbed.
It seems that November is one of the “stillest” months for mornings on the American River. Leaving the wildlife alone to find food at their leisure without boaters getting in their way. During the week, driving down city streets, as seagulls fly overhead, I wonder are they headed to the American River looking for salmon.
Do seagulls carry maps in their head, in a way similar to salmon use their powerful sense of smell to find their home river from hundreds of miles away? I imagine this a seasonal migratory habit leading them to find salmon year after year.
When a dozen ducks finally arrive they “own” the river, swimming down its center of the empty water, leaving a wake behind each of them. Sun has finally risen over the wide cloud cover with a brightness that hurts my eyes. Today I hear a new bird call, in addition to the others I hear regularly each morning visit. This one is a shrill whistle – Whoo – oo—oo. We ee uu.
Every morning a different experience visiting Fair Oaks Bridge.
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.
I arrive at Fair Oaks Bridge to see the Muscovy duck resting on top of the bridge frame.Not sure if it is admiring the view or escaping other ducks. After a short time of observation, it flies off the bridge to circle underneath several times before leaving the area.
The Muscovy is difficult to figure out. It is native to Mexico, Central and South America and somehow it arrived here alone and became a permanent resident of the American River in Fair Oaks.
Birds chatter. Honking Canada Geese appear and fly over the bridge and out of sight. I hear the distant quack of a duck that I suspect is the same whose persistence kept up day after day on each of my visits earlier in the year. What was she complaining about so vocally? Quacking and swimming without stopping for 10-15 minutes. I could hear her tiny voice more than 100 yards up or down river on any morning.
I see a group of Mallards arrive and land with a splash. They swim near the riverbank. The Buffleheads head for the center, diving where it is deepest to scout for breakfast. The Muscovy duck flies in and joins the Mallards for a swim.
Birds twitter in the cool morning air. A gentle breeze blows against my face.
Riding my bike today, I stop briefly on Fair Oaks Bridge to check for wildlife and spider webs. I continue on the American River Parkway trail, stopping at a shallow, narrow place on the American River. This short part of the river is lined with a thick blanket of gravel. The river’s resident Mallards come here to find food. Salmon arrive in the fall to spawn here.
Many salmon swim further upriver to another shallow place, or finish their long journey to Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I chat with several walkers who have also stopped to enjoy the view.
A Cormorant stands on a small island in the middle of the river channel. I hear a distant quack from an unseen duck once, and then again and again, as if it is calling ‘Where is everyone?’ This rocky island is a fraction of its former size before the winter 2017 flooding. Fishermen used to dock their boats here, set up a chair with their ice chest alongside, and spend a few hours fishing.
My next stop is a picnic area on the riverbank, a short distance from the bike path. I listen to the sounds of the soft breeze and hear the water gently moving downstream. The river is moving more quickly today than recent visits. Small white peaks form on the other side of the river about 100 yards downstream. Could this be where rocks hide underneath and create rapids in the river?
I ride back to the boat launch ramp to watch Mallards searching the water for bugs or seeds or something to nibble on. I sit and watch them paddle through the water and dive head first into the water searching for food. If I had food to give them, two dozen ducks would fly in from anywhere, sensing feeding activity on the river.
The Great Blue Heron poses like a statue in the American River. It stood on the stub of a branch before I arrived and continued to pose and study the river long after I walked off Fair Oaks Bridge. Water is still. The sky pale blue and clear. Not a wisp of a cloud. A dozen ducks swim by, creating their own wake. Pigeons fly in dancing over the bridge and quickly depart.
I walk to the boat launch ramp and see the ducks gather at the end of the ramp, looking at me with curiosity. They are likely wondering, Do you have food for us? I have no food to share. I hear an unseen woodpecker softly drumming on a nearby tree.
This peaceful place is an escape from other crises of the day. As I stand here and enjoy its beauty, catastrophic wildfires consume other areas of California – places of peace, joy and beauty where people and wildlife have lived and loved for years.