The Boat launch ramp near Fair Oaks Bridge is an ideal site to watch Mallards and Canada Geese begin their mornings – eating and socializing. Are bobbing heads the way to say “Good Morning” in duck speak?
Some mornings are far busier than others. Other visitors tell me they have seen a beaver busily stripping the meat from a salmon, an otter family on a leisurely early morning swim and a wayward seal found its way up river.
Who is Paying Attention and Who is Passing Through?
Seeing so many walkers and cyclists cross the bridge everyday, I find myself wondering why so few people ever stop to see the activity happening on the bridge. I have seen a lot of sleepy walkers cross the bridge. Very few people ever stop to watch activity from the bridge in the morning. Afternoon visitors are far more like to wander, watch and stop, if at all.
I believe the act of walking or cycling is far more interesting if it includes paying attention to what is happening where you are. When crossing the bridge, I wonder who is making a choice to “be where you are” or “be diverted with conversation or random thoughts until you are where you are going?”
Cyclists arrive by 630 am on any given day. Most of them race by at top speed as if this were their personal raceway, inattentive that anyone else uses the bridge. They look straight ahead, neither to the left or the right.Appears they are also focused on passing through – that the destination or a resting spot when they can ride no further is the only place where they will notice?
Decaying salmon provide food for seagulls on the American River.
When riding my bike along the American River Parkway bicycle trail, I walked down to the sandy shore of the American River at the San Juan Rapids. I watched two seagulls perched on an island sits at the edge of the. One seagull fiercely guards a dead salmon. Occasionally, the gull pulls a nibble of meat off the badly decayed fish. Five yards away sits another gull, alone, watching without food. I wonder what this second one could be thinking, knowing the other seagull is guarding a feast enough to feed half dozen gulls.
The winds shift suddenly and the air carries the smell of rotting salmon. The familiar scent has brought vultures to check out the scene. Two circle in the pale blue sky, set against of background of blue and gray puffy clouds.
I see a flock of Canada Geese fly in 100 yards downriver and take their places along the riverbank. Two Mallards swim by me. More seagulls arrive to float on the water. How could there be so much salmon and almost none of them jump out of the water? This is my puzzle for today as I leave the American River Parkway and return home.
As I gaze into the sky today standing on the bridge, I wonder about the clouds, their constant motion and beautiful palettes of color. Clouds continue to fascinate me. How exactly do they move and change shape?
Are clouds held in the sky by currents of air in the same way an airplane flies?
What is the air temperature inside a cloud? I have often heard, “Cloudy skies today, so our air temperature is low.” Or, “The clouds held in the heat overnight to keep away the frost.” Are clouds one of nature’s mysteries?
I stand in awe at how the shape and density of clouds create the brilliant colored lights and shadows of sunrise. The golden glows of deep orange, and varying shades of pinks and grays filter the sunlight. I have seen long strips of clouds and barely visible wisps. They look like unraveled skeins of yarn, finely woven baskets, and rounded puffs reminding me of spun cotton or cotton candy.
Each cloud formation changes every minute. Everyday brings a new landscape and new shapes in the sky. We see rainbows after a rain storm. We can find animals, dragons, giants and scenes playing in the sky.
Each cloud formation changes every minute. Everyday brings a new landscape and new shapes in the sky. We see rainbows after a rain storm. and can find animals, dragons, giants and scenes featured in the sky. What about the days when there are no clouds in the morning and by evening the sky is covered by a heavy blanket of white?
How do we know if clouds move as the earth moves, stay in one place or move on their own at the mercy of the winds?
Yesterday morning the ground was covered in mist. The sun never shined through the clouds until the evening. The sunset was a single strip of pink lasting five minutes and then faded into gray. Besides learning their different names – cumulus, nimbus, stratus – to describe a cloud’s characteristic shape, moisture content and elevation, what else can we learn about them?
Brilliant pink clouds blanket the sky creating this morning’s dramatic sunrise.
The soft call of a Morning Dove greets me as I enter Fair Oaks Bridge. Ooooo weee ooo. Ooooo weeee ooo. After so many days of lingering daytime temperatures over 100 degrees, I feel refreshed as a cool breeze blows across my face this morning. The calm water of the American River shimmers in the early light of dawn.
The fresh scent of morning, the drama, beauty and character of this setting is a remarkable experience. I think of John Muir’s words, “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.”
Two boaters prepare to leave the boat ramp. A cyclist rumbles past me, shaking the bridge. A line of Canada Geese swim quietly past the boat launch ramp. Then four more geese fly in from the East breaking the silence as sounds of their honking carries in the wind. They fly by quickly at such a high altitude, I am imagining they have a distant destination in mind.
Eight pigeons arrive for their morning rotations over the bridge. A single bird perched on the bridge truss frame sings its good morning song, Ti Too, Ti Too. I see this bird often. The frame is one of its favorite morning spots.
Dense clouds remain unchanged as the sky brightens. When the sun appears, I watch a pale yellow glow fade behind the dense cloud cover. As I watch the sky, an Egret comes into view, extending its long, silky wings to fly under Fair Oaks Bridge and land on the south shore about 100 yards west. It patrols the riverbank a few minutes and then disappears as it flies further downriver. Egrets always fly low under the bridge. Rare when I see an Egret fly over at a higher elevation as the ducks and geese.
As we moved farther into September, we are getting close to the arrival of our fall run of Chinook Salmon.
The river runs especially low as the weir is being installed in the river at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The normally shallow area, I have often described as “the narrows” in previous blogs, is more rocks than water today. The rocky area pictured is a short walk from Fair Oaks Bridge.
How things will change in a month! Salmon will be swimming upriver to spawn, jumping and splashing through the narrow area.
Visitors are likely to see a dozen salmon swim through in less than an hour. Seagulls, Turkey Vultures, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, Cormorants and ducks will all be watching for their turn to enjoy a salmon lunch or dinner.
I continue my bike ride on the Parkway until I reach the long paved path that veers off the bike trail and ends at the river. The island pictured attracts 100 seagulls and a dozen Turkey Vultures during the peak of salmon spawning.
I have often seen people wandering on the other side of the river with no idea how they get there. I recently walked with a Meetup group to Sailor’s Bar. For the first time, I saw the river from the other side. Sailor’s Bar is another beautiful series of easy walks around a large pond with access to the river.
Twenty seagulls are already waiting anxiously for salmon to arrive. For now, they float lazily on the water. Some fly to change their position. Turkey vultures patrol the island. I see these large birds flying across the sky and settling in trees on every walk along the river.
Water is completely still. The mist seems to have absorbed some of the smoke. Scattered bright white cloud cover resembles strands of spun gold reflected in the emerging sunlight. Clouds of mist begin around the bend to the east and roll slowly west across the surface of the river. In my full hour out here, I see one walker and one cyclist. Fair Oaks Bridge deck does not look frosty, yet it is still slippery in places. I wear my hooded jacket and wear warm gloves.
I walk down to the boat launch ramp to watch the mist as it rolls under the bridge. A lone seagull flies overhead. One Mallard swims along the ramp calling good morning with a few quiet Quack, Quack! Likely wondering if I brought breakfast. One year ago I took similar photos at this place on the ramp – now one of them is the front cover of Mornings on Fair Oaks Bridge: Watching Wildlife at the Lower American River .
This is the season to experience the most beautiful and peaceful mornings on the American River.
As I stand and watch the mist roll across the river and rise as it goes under the bridge, a Great Blue Heron arrives. It sounds its characteristic good morning chortle and continues its flight east.
The pale blue sky covered by strips of white clouds gives no hint of the smoke that blanketed skies across the region through the week. Another seagull flies over. Four ducks emerge from the riverbank. I hear a bird call from a distance. Early morning mist continues to roll slowly across the surface of the river, enveloping the corridor in a blanket of white.
Salmon completed their fall run this month. Most finished their journey home before Christmas.
This group of salmon swim through the narrow, shallow river channel. I watched them swim in the morning and sunset. Their journey continues. Some stop here to spawn, while others keep swimming. The weir (fence) at the Nimbus Dam blocks further passage up the American River. Salmon find their way to and up the fish ladder at Nimbus Fish Hatchery about 2 miles upriver from Fair Oaks Bridge.
Sitting in the rocky area near the small island in the center of the river, these seagulls patrol the water instead of standing at the shoreline wondering where is the food.
Two fishing boats sit waiting in the water on this chilly first day of the year.An Egret flies in from the west and settles briefly on the riverbank before flying to its next stop upriver. A few Buffleheads swim in the center of the river corridor. The resident Mallards stay close to shore.
The true highlight of this New Year’s morning is the resident chickens celebrating with songs and a small parade to greet the day.
I hear their loud chorus on Bridge Street from the middle of Fair Oaks Bridge. Two fluffy chickens roam the street. A rooster is perched high in tree branches and another sings loudly while completely unseen. Their chorus goes on and on all the time I stand at the bridge.
I am the only one on Fair Oaks Bridge to enjoy this glowing sunrise in shades of pink and yellow, and scattered clouds reflected in the water. Mist rises above the surface of the water far off around the bend as I look east. I feel the air heavy with moisture. Both the river and the air are still.
One cyclist speeds past me, focused straight ahead, One chicken repeatedly calls out on Bridge Street. Many birds greet the morning with songs. I hear chirps, some of them sound like rattling – zzzzzzz. A woman arrives walking her dog. She focuses straight ahead and says nothing as she passes.
I always wonder why so many people walk, run or cycle across this bridge without looking left or right. Some focus on their conversations, others intently hold back their dogs. Very few stop and watch the scene. Some share a quiet good morning greeting as they pass.
A group of ducks emerge from their evening hiding place to swim quietly across the river, each leaving small ripples in the water behind them as they swim. No pigeons are out this morning. I have not seen pigeons in many days. No tiny bird lands to call out its good morning song on the bridge truss over my head.
I hear the loud honk of Canada Geese from a long distance away. Then six geese appear, reminding me of arrowheads shooting across the sky. They are followed shortly by two more geese In seconds, they vanish. Their sound continues to carry through the still air. An Egret soars quietly under the bridge and continues flying around the bend. One more cyclist passes by wearing shorts – I wonder why shorts?
As I stand on the bridge watching the sky, the glowing colors of sunrise reflected through dense clouds fade to a pale pastel orange visible at the horizon. I hear birds continue greeting the morning with their songs.
I walk to the boat launch ramp to enjoy a different view of the river. A large group of cyclists cross the bridge talking so loudly, I hear their voices on the boat ramp. Seagulls have left this part of the river. The fall salmon run ended weeks ago. The few seagulls that have stayed spend their days upriver where they are more likely to find a plentiful supply of food.
Several ducks emerge from the riverbank. Canada Geese are already out. Three dunk into the water, quietly searching for breakfast. I watch them paddle their webbed feet to help keep them afloat.
As I watch the geese and ducks during their morning rituals, I hear the sound of a single duck quack. And quack and quack. She is relentless. I wonder is she the same one I heard last January and February that kept up her calls without stopping as long as she was swimming? Long after she is out of sight, she continues to swim upriver calling without stopping. What is she saying?
(Even when she was one out of two pairs of ducks a year ago, she quacked while the others were silent.) As soon as the Canada Geese begin honking, her voice is barely audible. The geese quiet down. She keeps on quacking. I hear her calls continue as she swims upriver 50 yards and more. I listen intently as she continues her quacks until her voice fades into the distance.