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.
Six Canada Geese greet me with a chorus of characteristic honks as I arrive at Jim’s Bridge by bike.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
Heat still hangs heavy in the air. A gentle breeze passes by offering a sense of relief.
Shadows 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.
Not a single chicken in sight when drive into Fair Oaks Village. Yet the morning symphony is as loud and as long as ever.
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.
After this the salmon are protected from fisherman and so they can continue to swim undisturbed up the American River to their spawning grounds. All of them will stop when they reach the weir at Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Some will lay eggs in the river. Many will climb the fish ladder into the hatchery for spawning.
It is late in the day, so the morning fisherman have long ago left the river. Only two boaters are sitting in the river. Seagulls patrol the sky. I see a dead salmon laying the shallow bottom of the river. I am surprised to see a Great Blue Heron walking along the riverbank on the west side of the bridge. Usually 630 am is the prime time to search for nibbles.
I walk along the American River Parkway to a shallow, rocky area and see a seagull eating his catch. Twenty seagulls sit and wait.
I wonder, why are so few salmon jumping? Were there more salmon a year ago?
I struggled to observe so many things happening at once – writing, observing, photographing. Four turkey vultures circle, dozens of seagulls call, and other waterfowl swim peacefully. I see so few salmon jumping. As I stand watching the water, I see two salmon swim and then another. The easiest way to spot them is to watch for the flip of their tails as they propel themselves forward.
Water splashes and one salmon surfaces; barely visible because the colors blend into the water. Each one that passes navigates the surface of the water for only a second before its swims down below again to continue on this last part of its long journey from the Pacific Ocean. I see a third salmon flipping its tail and disappear. This pattern continues. In 45 minutes, I see at least six salmon swim past and likely many more that I missed.
An Egret stands tall in the distance making serious efforts to swallow a whole salmon.
Using its beak to shake it and break up the salmon into pieces is not working, so the Egret throws the salmon to the ground to dunk it under the water. It remains intact. The next strategy is to shake it apart and that does not work either. Finally the Egret stands and decides to chew on it a little more. After a few minutes, the Egret tires of tearing up the dead salmon flies to the opposite shore to escape the crowds.
I notice each day when I visit the river that all the larger birds – Egret, Great Blue Heron and even the Turkey Vultures tend to stay in the background, waiting their turn. They go on patrol individually. The Turkey Vultures cast off their competition with a spreading of their wings, warning others of their kind this is their territory and/or their catch, “Get outta here!”
Some seagulls stand alone while others prefer to stay in groups. A rare opportunity to see the Egret, Great Blue Heron and 20 gulls stand together on shallow parts of the river looking for food. Vultures continue their sky patrol. One daring salmon passes quickly in front of the gulls and keeps on going. I wonder what those gulls could be thinking? “Oh darn. Another one got away!”
The day is peaceful and quiet. I sit alone on the boat launch ramp with the seagull, the Canada Geese and ducks paddling around the river on this sparkling, clear and cloudless blue sky.
One very unhappy seagull calls out over and over again while standing one the end of the boat launch ramp. Fifteen ducks swim and fly in shortly after I appear on the boat ramp thinking I have food. I throw a mandarin orange segment on the ground that was quickly rejected by several ducks. Pigeons and seagulls arrive waiting for their handouts.
While the ducks are busy scavenging the boat ramp, the seagull bends its head backward and screams out in frustration. I can only imagine the meaning of its calls, “Where is everyone? Where is the food? Why am I alone out here?” A few more gulls fly in to swim all looking for a meal.
Pigeons fly off the ramp and circle overhead before returning to boat ramp three separate times before they finally settle again. Ducks waddle down the ramp, returning to the river. The gulls make a quick exit, soaring through the air with wings extended to catch air currents. The lonely gull stays standing on the ramp, contemplating and calls out again. Two Canada Geese arrive and wander the boat ramp looking for something to eat.
Of the many dead and discarded salmon I have seen floating in the river or left at the riverbank, this is the first salmon skull I have seen. Finding this on the boat ramp, I wonder what creatures feasted on this and how did it get here?
All is quiet this morning. Boats are gone. Phoebe calls from the top of Fair Oaks Bridge. I finally identified the bird that greets me with Ti Too! Ti Too! I stand in the cool, moist air with no breeze. My hands are chilled. White clouds scatter across the sky reminding me of spilled milk. Clouds reflect in the American River. My camera’s eye sees the reflections more clearly than mine. Occasionally I hear a splash and look to see the concentric circles in the river – the sign of a salmon leap.
Where are the Buffleheads? I have yet to see even one swim through the center of the river channel, diving for breakfast.
A few ducks and a single Canada Goose swim downriver. Their wake extends half way across the river. Five Canada Geese fly silently overhead heading west. Then the Phoebe calls again. It is the only sound this morning besides the hum of Sunrise Blvd. traffic about half mile to the west.
Walking along the American River near Fair Oaks Bridge to write, take photos and share these experiences is as much as a healing journey and a reconnection to nature, as it is a time of quiet observation. The river is my place of peace and joy to share as a gift.
This special place at the river…
I believe this sense of peace is a shared feeling for many other visitors who stop on Fair Oaks Bridge to look, reflect and photograph. I see cars park on the road leading to the boat ramp. I see the drivers sit inside and enjoy the scenic views. I see visitors resting on the bench alongside that road facing Fair Oaks Bluff to admire the view.
I am fascinated by the changing patterns of clouds in the sky, and how they filter the sunlight to create vibrant colors of pinks, blues, gold and flaming orange.
I find joyin watching the rhythm of a duck’s webbed feet paddle underwater. I love watching its body sway back and forth as it walks up the boat ramp.
I breathe easily and breathe in deeply. I listen to the sounds of birds, embrace the sweet scent of flowers in bloom, and feel a cool breeze against my skin.
I think of the salmon’s enduring struggle as they swim upstream to spawn. I watch the antics of wildlife as they try to catch a salmon as it swims past them, They guard their dead salmon as a treasure to assure no one steals their feast.
I reflect on its history – a critical resource close to the heart of California’s Gold Rush. To remember the history of seasonal flooding long before Folsom Dam was ever built. To remember the earliest settlers who established Fair Oaks Agricultural Colony by purchasing small farms. Fair Oaks was one of many emerging farm communities in outlying areas of the City of Sacramento.
I recognize all the people who work tirelessly to manage a wild river so it can remain a stable habitat for wildlife who make their home here. This river is also a place for anyone to ride, walk, enjoy and become connected with the outdoor world – and Sacramento’s past, present and future prosperity.
This exhibit presented in the Gallery of California History at the Oakland Museum of California highlighted the critical partnership between Sacramento and the two major rivers that run through its cities and outlying suburbs – the American RiverandSacramento River.
Janice was part of an interpretive writing team. Each writer focused on a single topic to research and write. What’s Happening Sacramento? highlighted the impact of the two rivers on area history, wildlife and ecology, agriculture, economy, recreation and lifestyle, and flooding.
Janice’s role was to research and write about the American River Parkway – a 25-mile greenbelt and bicycle trail that envelops the American River as it winds through the City of Sacramento and neighboring suburbs; and alongside a fish hatchery, parks, an urban farm, CA State University Sacramento and many other assets and facilities. The American River merges with the Sacramento River at the city’s waterfront.
photographs are courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California.
This project engaged residents in one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods – where homes are 100 years old or more. Neighbors participated in a series of “how to” writing and art workshops. They gathered to learn how to research the history of their homes and how to write their own family stories.
The culminating event featured signs displayed in resident front yards sharing stories in images and short narratives.
Other workshop topics included the changing role of kitchens, mapping the assets of your neighborhood,identifying architectural styles and how to become a “house detective,” by researching archival records of homes and neighborhoods. Janicereceived a National Storytelling Network Member Grant to support this project.
Did you know?
The invention of the stove and access to indoor plumbing transformed kitchens beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries. In larger homes, kitchens were built in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main building free from smoke.