Bright light reflects on the water. A cool breeze blows across my face. Today, unlike yesterday, a loud hum echoes from the Sunrise Blvd. bridge crossing as early risers drive to and from Highway 50.
The roosters have already finished their morning wake up calls. A few stragglers are still crowing. Two men float in their boats with fishing lines cast. More cyclists ride by than the same time yesterday. Walkers are out with their dogs. As I walk onto the bridge, an egret flies in on the west side and quickly hides in the shrubbery at the shore. Ducks swim in pairs, searching for breakfast nibbles on insects. Tomorrow I will bring bread to feed them down at the boat launch ramp.Read more
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.
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 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.
Despite the gentle rain, roosters are conducting their morning concert. They are still singing when I arrive. They crow hiding in trees from a distance of several blocks.
Pigeons circle the bridge. An egret begins its usual lone morning walk along the shore beginning at the boat ramp. While standing at the boat launch ramp, my daughter and I see a goose with a cocked feather. We have seen this one before. We know these geese call this part of the river their home.
Ducks arrive quietly for their leisurely morning swim. Turkey vultures are sitting on the edge of branches at the tops of trees. Geese are busy eating the remains of a salmon. More Canada geese fly in. None of the waterfowl appear to notice the gentle rain as it falls on their backs and drops into the river.Read more
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.
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
Today I ride along the bike trail to watch the salmon traveling upstream. I stand watching them for half an hour, seeing a series of splashes beginning 100 yards away and getting closer. This shallow part of the river presents the richest experience for watching salmon, seagulls and turkey vultures overhead. As I stop to watch a dozen other cyclists and walkers also stop to enjoy the salmon navigating the river and the seagulls looking for their next meals.
Hundreds of seagulls line the river, some walk into the rapids, stand, shout and wait. Thirty turkey vultures fly overhead – more than I have ever seen in one place at one time. I watch as a dozen salmon leap, swim, gather, rest and move on through the rapids to still water.
One dead salmon rests on rocks in the center of the rapids. One at a time, a seagull approaches. It pokes his beak around, pondering what to do and then nibbles on parts of salmon’s underside. One seagull sits in the water near the shore where I stand, open its beak wide and calls to the others, whoever will listen. I watch and I listen as the seagulls stretch their wings before returning to settle in the water. A few ducks swim in the quiet pool of water, apparently unconcerned about the activity.
This narrow section of the river is the same where I watched ducks station themselves to search for food in the water a few weeks ago. Now this is dominated by the salmon and the gulls. The coming of the salmon quickly changed the interaction of wildlife at the river.
I ride east to another overlook where hundreds more gulls line up and wait. This section of the river is far wider and the only sound is the water moving downstream. Seagulls are silent. No turkey vultures fly overhead. The only clue that this river winds through a suburban community is the houses located on the Fair Oaks Bluffs above.
The tip of the thin island where the fisherman used to stand is now even smaller because with increased river flows, the island is thin enough to almost disappear. The gulls have overtaken this space as they wait.
I look to the sky and see a long, black line flying quietly in the sky. Wondering if I am looking at bats flying out from the bridge? Looks like 100s of them are flying above me.
Roosters are active this morning, singing their song from the trees. I am the first one out. I see no one on the way to the bridge. The air is icy cold. A runner jogs past me dressed in his warm ups, jacket and cap. Read more