A beautiful fall morning of 52 degrees – a chilly wind greets me and I am glad to be wearing a sweatshirt as I ride to the Fair Oaks Bridge and along the bike trail. Only one fishing boat is left in the river. The shadows are changing and the sun bright. Ducks swim leisurely in the river. I pass by several scenic picnic areas that face the river. This overlook is a walk to river. Always crowded with fishermen. Even the pigeons know its fall and salmon are coming.
I ride to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery to see the weir that blocks the river so salmon are forced up into the fish ladder. By November, thousands of salmon will be leaping up the ladder. Soon hundreds of students and families will have line the fish ladder watching the spectacle, with their chorus of “oohs” and “aaah” and “wow!”
As a former tour guide, I asked students, “How high does a salmon jump?” “Why do we have dams?” and “How can we help keep the river a healthy place for salmon and other fish and wildlife to live?”
“Will this year be a good Chinook Salmon run?” is what CA Dept of Wildlife staff may be wondering. “What impact will the drought have on this year’s salmon run?” “Is the water too shallow?” “Too warm?” “Too acidic?” “Will enough eggs survive to continue the species?”
As I stand looking at the river, I see a man that could be a grandfather walking with his young grandson. My mind instantly wanders. I wonder what lies ahead for salmon in this boy’s lifetime? What is the future for all wildlife that depends on the health of the American River – and rivers everywhere when the morning begins as a new day.
I see cyclists crossing the Hazel Avenue Bridge – a newly expanded and modernized bridge to accommodate additional cars. I see a complex network of structures – a bridge for cars and bicycle trails, the dam on one side and the weir on the other. Looking at this network reminds me that I am still in an urban area congested with traffic, people, businesses, retailers and a host of other community services and amenities. This place is less than 20 miles from city, county and state government leaders who make long term decisions that affect the health of this river and all other California rivers.
These intersections on the river where salmon come home, cyclists ride, and people drive, is part of the larger story of our environmental challenges – water supply, climate change, urbanization, noise and sustaining healthy habitats. Yet, here where the salmon come home presents so many opportunities to inform, educate and inspire positive change.
Leaving my house in clouded darkness, the air is filled with moisture. Water drips down my car’s windows and continues to collect after wiping them dry. Fog fills the windows as I drive in the emerging dawn toward the bridge this morning. This is my coolest morning so far. Roosters hide in their nighttime roosts, begin their morning music and suddenly stop.
I pass a large tub covered with a blanket left out on the street near the bridge. Where did this come from? As I approach the bridge in the darkness, I see a large shape settled on the bridge. As I get closer, this shape is a person bundled in a sleeping bag with suitcases and other belongings in a pile. In all my mornings on the bridge, this is the first time to see anyone sleeping on it.Read more
As I arrive on my bike this afternoon, I notice the sun has flipped to the opposite side of the bridge this afternoon as the sun travels to the western sky. The river is quiet and weather is a warm 80 degrees – a warm day for fall. Resident ducks are enjoying a lazy day at the river. Birds are gone. After their morning flyover, I see birds spending their days gathered on the river scouting for food.
A gentle breeze carries the sound of rap music from visitors gathering on the riverbank to the east side of the bridge. This large open spot on the riverbank is among the most popular “hangouts” for groups to gather for parties on the river.
Years ago, when I first started visiting the Fair Oaks Bridge. Nearly every evening for months on end, I heard the beat of bongo drums from the riverbank.
Drizzle rain stops and starts again. Still very few people outside at 11 am. A warm rain. River is very quiet with cloudy skies and no rain. Ducks search the river for food, wings flap. Faint quacks. Canada geese change position and fly away. A cloudy sky and all is quiet. Boaters sit calmly in the water. The gentle, nourishing rain is a refreshing and welcome change.
Earlier boaters in their rain jackets have sped away heading east toward the weir positioned at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery where the salmon converge to spawn – either in the river or inside the hatchery. Birds patrol the sky. Turkey vultures wait patiently, ready to pounce on whatever has died. I find salmon heads cast off into the rocks. Soon these remains will be consumed by hungry turkey vultures, seagull or other wildlife that find them first.
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
The sky is still dark with only a hint of the approaching dawn. Roosters crow limply this morning. I walk shining a flashlight all the way to the bridge. A very misty morning! Looking at the sky with a few streaks of gray clouds, the dawn seems darker this morning. The orange glow from the rising sun begins to spread across the sky. Two ducks fly east. The river is still. Hardly a ripple. Mist hangs over the river like a canopy in the distance. The coldest morning yet – a chilly 48 degrees.
The American River closed to fishing November 1 through the end of the year. This is my first visit without fisherman lining the river before dawn.
Next week, hundreds of salmon will begin their leap into the fish ladder as spawning begins at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery less than two miles upstream to the east.
As I arrive on my bike at the Fair Oaks Bridge, I see a flock of 50 seagulls gather on the north side of the river. More fly in to join them.
Seagulls gather at two prime locations along the river waiting for their chance to nibble on remnants of salmon after spawning. Turkey vultures circle overhead. All looking for salmon.
The river’s resident egret flies in, squawks and lands on the smooth riverbank searching for food. The wildlife living at the American River are left alone with no fishing allowed. A few salmon jump and splash down. A warm day for riding, despite the cloud cover.
I wonder is the fish ladder open yet? I ride to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery to find out. Yes! Salmon have returned home. Salmon are leaping into the ladder from the open gate. A group of salmon all already crowding the holding tank at the top of the fish ladder – the last stop before salmon move into the hatchery for spawning. Crowds of people line the fish ladder to watch each salmon leap each one level upward and capture the moments in photos.Read more
Sunday November 6, 2016 715 am PDT 615 am PST 55 degrees
I see an orange stripe rising in the sky on the east side of my front porch. I drive through Fair Oaks Village and park at the curb a few yards from the bridge entrance so I don’t miss the coming sunrise. Colors last at most 20 minutes before fading to gray.
I miss the rooster’s morning concert and run to the bridge in time to see the sunrise in its full glory of orange glowing behind the clouds – gray streaks woven with bright orange.
This is a very warm morning by comparison with last Thursday. Today is a warm 55 degrees. Now I am fully awake. Two women walkers pass me and we all enjoy the warm weather and glow of the sunrise together. Our reward for rising early. Moments later a man dressed in tattered clothes walks past me asking for change.Read more
I love to hear roosters sing in the morning as I drive into Fair Oaks Village! No better wake up call.
Arriving at 730 is still early. Yet with Pacific Standard Time, I still feel like the morning activities are an hour later. I doubt the roosters know the difference. The sun is far above the horizon. The temperature is still 54 degrees and feels warm.
The little bird that used to greet me each morning with “ti too, ti too” has returned for a brief good morning greeting – it stays two minutes and flies away.
The sun shines brightly on the bridge deck already this morning. I always watch the changing shadows on the bridge as the sun moves over. Air feels fresh and crisp. Today, unlike other days, the bridge deck and rails are completely dry. Not a drop of moisture anywhere.
River is still as can be. A few ducks swim slowly through the water. I find random spider webs attached to the bridge rails. Occasionally a salmon leaps high to form a series of ever expanding concentric circles, as if a pebble dropped into the river. Seagulls call in the distance. Ducks fly in and land as if they are on water skis. Canada Geese fly in from the east and fly under the bridge honking until they glide in for a landing. A Great Blue Heron flies in to sit on a rock at the edge of the water.
The buzz of a motorcycle carries for a mile in the wind. When cyclists cross the bridge, it sounds the same as a car’s flat tire, bump, bump, bumping over the deck. The morning has warmed to 58 degrees by the time I return to my car at 820. The roosters have flown into the streets and the park to sing their good morning songs.