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.
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.
Thick fog wraps everything with a soft, white, layer of chilled air and moisture.
The American River is barely visible standing on Fair Oaks Bridge. Shoreline on both the east and west sides have disappeared. Dew attached to spider webs sparkles like jewels. Sounds are muffled in thick fog. The bridge drips with moisture. A single runner emerges through the fog and crosses the bridge.
I wonder why there are always more spider webs on the east side of the bridge then the west? The position of the sun, direction of the wind or that spiders favor the east side for another reason? I photograph a dozen webs – these miracles of geometry illuminated by drops of dew clinging to the strands.
The resident chickens on Bridge Street are out early scavenging for food. One pearly white seagull flies gracefully over the bridge. More gulls call out and cross an invisible river. One hour later, the intensity of the fog decreased by least half. A heavy mist continues to bathe the river and landscape until after noon.
Fog on Fair Oaks Bridge. Fog lays on the water. Fog hovers in the air. Fog hugs the riverbanks and hides the boat launch ramp.
The sun is just now emerging on the horizon, seen as golden ball in the sky. Fog surrounds the trees, as a soft white light fills the background. A circle of light shines down through the trees as if it were a spotlight on stage. Long, thin trees stand erect in dense fog.
I continue my walk to the boat launch ramp and see the bridge surrounded by dense fog and reflected shadows the water. My hands are chilled, feeling the cool, moist air against my skin. A few ducks swim to the boat ramp. One seagull swims alone. Even in the fog, these birds engage in their morning rituals – seeking crumbs, seeds, bugs or worms for breakfast.
All wildlife swim quietly through the fog as if they did not notice the dew settled everywhere.
A quack breaks the silence from a distance, followed by the shrill call of birds. A Mallard arrives with a series of quacks. It swims and dives, swims and dives again, speaking of the experience in between dunks. A seagull lets out a desperate call to any creature who is listening.
As we move closer to winter, morning temperatures are low enough each day to bring a heavy layer of fog into our neighborhoods and watch the mist as it rolls across the American River.
Yet, the boat launch ramp and the riverbanks are clear today. A single seagull circles the bridge and flies west. The salmon run is nearly over and soon all the seagulls will be leaving for the season.
I will miss the morning calls of seagulls and the joy of watching them circle slowly and gracefully over the American River.
My fingers are chilled from the breeze. I wear gloves and a heavy jacket to stay warm on this frigid morning! Ripples in the river trace where ducks swim through the center of the channel. Low laying fog rolls slowly along the river, moving underneath Fair Oaks Bridge. Fog continues to roll under the bridge as if they were billows of steam rising and falling in a huge simmering pot.
On one October day when visiting wildlife at the boat launch ramp, a fisherman who was preparing to drive away with his boat saw me walking towards him. He paused long enough to call out from inside his vehicle, “The best things in life are those that you do slowly.” I smiled back and thanked him. How else can we truly be “in the moment of experience”?
His words keep coming back to me during the past few weeks. Setting aside dancing and running, I cannot think of anything else I want to do in fast motion. Pausing to observe morning wildlife rituals, their focused efforts to search for a meal, seeing how they relate to their own kind and other wildlife, and the waiting game to catch a single fish needs time and patience.
I am amazed to see resident ducks and Canada Geese come out from their evening hiding places to swim in the river, even in the coolest, wettest weather. They seem to talk less in colder temperatures. Today, as every morning, I hear a soft quack of at least one duck, swimming out in the unseen distance. One swims alone, dunking for breakfast and speaks to no one when it comes back up. (See video below) Fair Oaks Bridge rumbles as a dozen cyclists race across the bridge on their way uphill to Fair Oaks Village.
Two walkers stroll by and ask, “How is your journaling going?” We have met several times on the bridge. Depending on the day, I meet the same walkers and the same cyclists. Walking down to the boat launch ramp, resident waterfowl come to greet me – especially if they think I might have a quick snack.
The Egret stands in its usual place on the north side of the river away from all other wildlife, to enjoy morning breakfast without company or interruption. When the Great Blue Heron shows up 10 yards downstream, the Egret flies away to escape the intruder. As the sun rises well above the horizon, the magic of morning at Fair Oaks Bridge lingers on for a few precious moments longer.
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?
My last stop is the boat launch ramp to check for morning wildlife activity. I find a partially eaten salmon lying at the end of the ramp. How did it get here? How long has it been here? Why did everyone wait until I arrive to eat it?
With plenty of meat left, the salmon captures the attention of two seagulls and two ducks. They take turns tearing at the salmon. Their strategies to tear apart the remains differ from gentle poking to serious ripping. In the end, they all get something to eat – except one seagull. The ducks eat first, then the seagull drags the salmon into the river while the other gull wails and complains.
Fair Oaks Village parks and neighboring streets become the daily setting for a rousing morning symphony led and conducted by resident chickens– all still in hiding for thenight. I stood beneath one “singing tree” for several minutes listening to their good morning songs. I see a chicken standing in the shadows of darkness, tangled in tree branches, adding its voice to the chorus.
Heavy fog this morning and biting cold. Two Canada Geese zoom in from the east over Fair Oaks Bridge, loudly honking and honking. I hear them coming in the distance and they suddenly appear out of the fog. I catch a quick photo as they fly over.
Two more Canada Geese zoom in from the east honking loudly, as if they are engaged in an intense conversation. I wish I understood “goose speak.”
Maybe they are discussing directions or where to land. They make a quick U-turn, fly under the bridge and land with a splash near the boat launch ramp.
Ducks hide in shadows of reeds near the shore. Sun is hiding behind a thick curtain of fog. The air is bitter cold. A Bufflehead appears in the middle of the river, dunking and reappearing as it searches for breakfast in the deepest part of the American River. Four Canada Geese swim quietly. As runners, cyclists and walkers pass by I hear a “tap, tap, tap” on the bridge and then it stops. The rumble of traffic on the Sunrise Boulevard bridge carries in the wind. I look to the shoreline and notice many trees bent over so far, they are brushing the river, yet the remains of their roots are still attached.
I wonder where are the turtles? Haven’t seen any in months.
I must be too late or looking in the wrong sites for the beavers and the otters. The Mallards are always here. No spider webs today on the bridge rails. No spiders anywhere. Where are they hiding?
Today I brought a few slices of bread to feed the ducks and they rush over anxious to eat. The Muscovy duck stands alone. All waterfowl keep a 10-foot distance. When I move quickly or walk closer to them, everyone flaps their wings in unison, flies up and heads for the safety of the river. More Canada Geese fly over the river. A lonely seagull flies in squealing. After a soft landing, the gull looks around. “Where is the food?”
As I begin walking back up the ramp to the parking lot, I hear the distinctive chortle of a Great Blue Heron as it flies along the opposite shore and then disappears into the fog. Even on clear day, the Heron is difficult to follow because its blue gray colors blend seamlessly into the hillside. An Egret makes its occasional appearance and flies past the boat ramp to hide in bushes upstream.
I marvel at every sighting of these impressive birds – especially intrigued at how much the Egret avoids contact with the Great Blue Heron and all other shorebirds.
Many days I have watched ducks dunking for food and swimming leisurely in the river in front of me. I look to the opposite shore and see the Egret perched on a rock alone patrolling for its own snacks.
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.
Chickens are quiet in Fair Oaks parks. None of them are out searching for food on Bridge Street. Birds whistle and chirp, hidden in trees near Fair Oaks Bridge. Ice clings loosely to the car windshield. I wear my hooded jacket, leggings and gloves.
Heavy mist hangs in the air as if suspended by invisible wires. The blanket of mist begins behind a curve in the river corridor at far right of photo. Ducks create their own wake as they swim in the still water. I hear the call of a seagull in the distance. So few of them are watching and waiting near the boat launch ramp. I have seen far less salmon this year than last year or the year before.
I watch the mist cloud roll slowly forward along the surface as waves gently cover the shoreline at a beach.
Thin strips of golden clouds line the sky just above the emerging yellow sun. Bridge deck is dry even though the air is filled with moisture. Strips of water crossing the deck marking the site of upright posts is the only clue of moisture in the air. A dozen cyclists pass by. No walkers. I walk to the boat launch ramp to enjoy a closer view of the ducks and random seagulls flying in.
One seagull stands alone on a rock next to the ramp. It calls out and I imagine it saying, Where is everyone? Where is the food? Two seagulls circle overhead and vanish.
I see a Bufflehead swimming in the center of the river. Then three appear, swimming together in the swirling mist. Another bird calls. Scattered clouds in the eastern sky form the shape of a cyclone in the sky on this peaceful morning.