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.
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 awash with shades of pink fading in the sky. As the pink turns slowly gray, I see the mist hovering over the water as if this is Brigadoon hiding its secrets. The southern sky is woven with pale stripes as the sun rises. The mist gently moves along the river towards the bridge. The movement so gentle it reminds me of fog blowing across a stage in a theater in unseen currents of air.
I wear gloves. My hands still feel like ice. The boat launch ramp is empty. A group of four ducks are just now coming out to swim. A single seagull flies west over the bridge. The little bird that used to greet me every morning has returned to sit at the top of the bridge frame and sing its song, “Ti Too! Ti Too!” Geese fly under the bridge, honking, honking loudly, landed on the west side of the bridge in their traditional water skiing style.
Alas, two empty beer cans sit on the bridge. Runners arrive wearing hats, jackets and gloves. The bridge rails are covered with dew. The deck is moist enough to reveal footsteps. An intact spider web is suspended between two bridge rails. Six dead salmon float next to the riverbank to become food for hungry gulls, as Canada Geese and turkey vultures monitor the river.
I walk to the boat launch ramp and stand alongside two Canada Geese pondering what they will do today. One turns around and spies the river. The other stands and whispers, “Honk, honk” to me over and over again. What a treat it would be to know geese language. The best I can do is say good morning in “people speak.” The river’s resident Egret is sitting on the north shore in its usual spot.
A single seagull flies over my head. Its circular flight path is 100 yards long, over and over again. The gull is far too high above me to hear the flap of its wings. Yet I do hear it whistle as it circles above me six times. The two Canada Geese decide to fly over the river and vanish into the mist. Ducks appear, land in the water and quickly liftoff once again to fly away to another part of the river corridor.
I leave the boat ramp and walk back over the bridge, always giving the river a last glance for the day to hold it in my memory. Arriving at my car at 810 am, the morning temperature has only warmed to 49 degrees.
Each time I visit the bridge, I walk from a nearby parking in the Fair Oaks Village. I listen, I look, I get a “feel” for the morning. Today everything is quiet. Not a single crow from the chickens. No cars driving on the street. Not a single person walking through the Village. I walk downhill to the bridge entrance and see grass as green as emeralds.
Several months have passed since the landscape was so green. I wonder if I will see fairies dancing or leaping from the grasses.
My first view of the American River is watching Canada Geese glide lazily down the river on the current. Water tinted with shades of blues and greens shimmers in the morning sun.
I arrive on my bike at the boat launch ramp minutes after crossing Jim’s Bridge. No clouds visible in the deep blue sky. I throw grapes sliced in half to a duck who sees me tossing them. The duck not only refuses to eat the grapes, it complains about it with a rude quack, as if to say, “Where is the good stuff I can eat?” and waddles away.Read more
I begin the day by listening to the chicken’s morning calls in Fair Oaks Village. I stop and enjoy their morning concert.
Today a pale blue, cloudless sky is tinged with gray at the horizon. A gentle breeze blows on Fair Oaks Bridge as sunlight glares on the water. I meet a couple looking over the side of the bridge and ask what they are looking at. They are looking for the beaver that was eating a salmon whole by stripping the meat right off the bones. They showed me where to look on the shoreline to find its home. I also found out they sighted two river otters and a seal that wandered far from its home turf into the American River one day.Read more
Mist covers my car windshield. I wonder if this morning chill will continue in mornings to come.
My mornings of wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals are certainly to become less frequent. Chickens that provide daily wake up calls in Fair Oaks Village are still slumbering. I see three cars as I walk through the village streets. Hot Yoga parking lot is double stacked with cars – located on the street about 100 steps from Fair Oaks Bridge.
Today is a cloudy morning. By the time I wake up, any color in the sky from the sunrise has vanished. A trio of chickens wake up and stand in the street on the way to the bridge. Only one greets me with a good morning crow. The others are far too busy scratching the dirt to find breakfast. On my walk to Fair Oaks Bridge, one small chicken is raising a panic. Instead of crowing to greet the day, this chicken sounds more like it is complaining over and over again.
What other sounds does the morning air hold that I am not hearing?
Three boats sit a few yards away on the east side of the bridge. The fishermen wait. Everyone prefers the east side. They are so intensely committed to catching fish, they arrive before dawn and wait for hours. I often see men in each boat talk to each other, swapping stories of who caught what and where, what bait they use and other conversation as they wait. Two more boats sit 100 yards farther east.
For a moment, the same tiny bird that greeted me each morning last fall with “too, too” returned to its post at the top of the bridge. Not intending to stay for long, it took a look around and flew away. The glowing yellow sun emerges in the eastern sky over the heads of trees lining the American River No waterfowl are out yet this morning. Not even one. As I sit and listen in the still air, I hear a distant call of a Canada Goose, and then a quack and then silence. I wonder how far away are the geese?
After nearly a year of observation, I have a baseline of observing what happened each month. Yet, as the fifth year of drought concluded with heavy rain and flooding, I wonder what is usual and customary on the river? How will activity on the river change this coming fall? Will the waterfowl return? How many salmon will come? Will other wildlife return to feed on the salmon as they did last fall?
Four ducks emerges from their evening hiding places and swim under the bridge heading west. They swim past fallen trees laying on the river bottom visible in the clear, shallow water. They pass trees with exposed roots along the eroded riverbank. These prominent features are a few of many ways flooding and erosion over time has shaped and scarred the integrity of this river channel.
The fisherman continue to sit and wait and I see nothing jumping in the water. The water is as still as it can be in this flat section of the American River. Birds are twittering unseen. I do my regular spider web check and see no evidence. I look for the fallen tree that was once an ideal sunbathing spot for turtles. It has fallen farther into the river. Where have the turtles gone? Another visitor to Fair Oaks Bridge remarked there were a dozen turtles or more. I saw only two. Now they have moved somewhere else.
During an afternoon bicycle ride, I go directly to a narrow section of the American River shallow enough for salmon to spawn and ducks dive for tasty tidbits. No one there yet. The picnic area facing a small island is a favorite feeding zone for seagulls. Indeed, 60 of them are sitting in the water and waiting to eat.
Later in the season, 100 seagulls will be gathered here. Since mid-October is still early in the season, these gulls maybe the “early birds.”
The Nimbus Fish Hatchery opened the fish ladder and filled it with water. Two dozen large, red and decaying salmon swim at the top level delighting visitors of all ages. Fishing season ends October 31. Time is running out to make a catch.
The river canyon at the weir (barrier stopping salmon from swimming any farther up river.) is as steep as the Fair Oaks Bluffs. Yet, some still climb down to risk fishing on the cliff. They get a rude surprise when the Game Warden catches them where they don’t belong, and fishing in a prohibited area.
Fishermen continue to fish and catch salmon at the Jim’s Bridge, Fair Oaks Bridge and farther upstream. Yet, I see very little jumping out of the water yet. Will the salmon run be strong this year considering increasing challenges to their habitat?
My last stop riding home is Jim’s Bridge where Mallards love to hang out. I watch them dunk and dive for food.
Each duck paddles it webbed feet, sometimes doing a little dance to move around underwater dirt, then a straight vertical dive for about five seconds and comes up with something to nibble on.
At the hint of food somewhere else, ducks rise in unison, flap their wings as fast as they can possibly move and fly from one side of the river to the other. Could be people standing and throwing bread, or other ducks finding nibbles on the opposite shore, ducks rise up and fly in a great hurry to land with a splash on their webbed skis.
Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017, 9 am 57 degrees
People of all ages enjoy a morning outdoors on Fair Oaks Bridge.
Families are out walking, joggers shake the bridge as they pass and I hear cyclists on the American River Parkway less than 100 yards away. The air is warm, with no breeze, yet filled with the calls of birds hidden in trees that hug the riverbanks. With heavy cloud cover, the sun barely shines through.
People climb the Fair Oaks Bluffs to enjoy the panoramic views, cross the bridge, stop to enjoy the river and see the wildlife at play and at work.
Seagulls call as they fly over the river, some landing in the water to call again. One bird song reminds me of a calliope with its high pitched whoop. Buffleheads skirt the water, leaving ripples as they rise out of the water and fly low across the river. Watching the river all year long, I only see these daring little ducks in fall and early winter. I presume they live somewhere else during other parts of the year.
Do birds know today is a holiday for people because we show up in larger numbers than other days?
This looks like one more workday for them in their ongoing search to find breakfast. A woman arrives on the boat launch ramp to throw seeds. Nearly 20 birds and waterfowl rush to get their share. Seagulls call out to each other. One gull lands in the river to nibble at a dead salmon floating slowly downriver. A very busy day on the American River.
Sunrise glows a soft orange through heavy fog and a blanket of white clouds.
Streets are empty and quiet. The American River is nearly still. A few random leaves float lazily down river. I hear a splash to my left standing on Fair Oaks Bridge. I look over too late and see nothing. My hands are chilled, even in gloves and shake them out to get warm. As the sun rises at the horizon, the sky resembles a tapestry woven of grays, blues and a brush of the palest orange. Air streams from airplanes cross a wisp of dry gray clouds resembling a skein of unspun yarn. The orange at the horizon grows deeper as the sun begins to emerge.
A single gull flies west and disappears into dense fog. A jet stream crosses the sky. Two walkers emerge out of the fog on the bridge. A single jogger passes.
More gulls fly west. Their elevation is so high, I wonder if their bounty of salmon meals is coming to an end? The salmon run typically ends by mid-December.
Two Buffleheads huddle along the north riverbank, not ready for their morning swim. A few ducks are braving this chilly morning to swim in the center of the river channel. Canada Geese swim in a line swim toward the bridge. I have not seen geese in a few weeks here. I hear the distant call of one chicken living on Bridge Street, calling to anyone who can hear.