A love letter to the river, part 2

As my days here in California dwindle, I’m trying to savor the things and places I’ll miss most. Last week’s post offered up the first part of a love letter to the river here. This week’s focuses on a more specific love I have for the river: the birds it attracts.

A Great Heron keeps a watchful eye from its nest.

Double-crested Cormorants line up along a wire across the river. I love their turquoise eyes.

White-tailed Kites perched in their tree before going on a hunt.

Perhaps it is the birds I will miss most about the river. Unexpected varieties of birds have became daily companions. I’ve searched for them on morning walks and brought friends to see them in pouring rainstorms.

The little Anna’s Hummingbird that perches in the same tree top each morning. The pair of White-tailed Kites who have their own tree to defend from interloping hawks. Owls I can hear but never see in the dimmest early morning hours. The big birds that come in hunting salmon and trout: golden eagles, bald eagles, osprey. Then there are the herons, egrets, cormorants, mergansers, and other birds who are ever present. I’ve even come to appreciate the vultures.

Encountering these birds make up some of my favorite memories, and I will carry them with me in my heart when I go.

Do you have favorite birds you see where you live? Or when you travel?


The flowers have already appeared in the land;
The time has arrived for pruning the vines,
And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.
— Song of Solomon 2:12

Is it any wonder that a woman who loves trees so much should eventually turn her attention to the birds living and dancing and nesting among those trees?

The last few weeks have brought early signs of spring and a stunning array of birds to the river, including what I believe is a Golden Eagle. I’ve spent countless hours out along the river banks taking photographs and trying to see the eagle again.


The one time I saw the eagle up close, I had no camera or phone with me. Probably Murphy’s Law in action. When I have brought my camera with me, the eagle is either in hiding or perched across the river, too far for a good, clear photograph.

I’m no birding expert, but I have started learning the names and characteristics of an increasing number of birds. I thought you might like to come along on a virtual field trip with me to see a few of my favorites.

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Tis the season for salmon

My husband and I have kept ourselves busy the last few days decorating for Christmas. Tis the season after all.

It’s also the most magical time of the year down at the river. As I ran this morning, I realized that I have fallen in love with the river, and this time of year has become my favorite river season for two reasons: cooler weather and the salmon run.


Salmon splash in shallow parts of the river as they make their way upstream.


The end point for the salmon, at the gates of the hatchery

A fish hatchery upriver raises Chinook salmon from the eggs they collect (a process that is not at all for the faint of heart of heart to watch). Visitors to the hatchery can watch the salmon climb the ladder (also troubling to watch, as some of the salmon throw themselves again and again at gates that often close to prevent overcrowding in the holding tanks).


A fish makes it up a “rung” of the ladder.


The ladder draws crowds daily, salmon climbing and people watching.

I prefer a spot lower down the river, one where I stop daily at the river’s edge to watch the splashing of the salmon, trying to decide if this day holds more salmon than the day before.

There’s inherent heartbreak to the salmon run. They swim up river to spawn and then die. The last few days, I’ve noticed more and more dead salmon in the river and along its banks (Warning: photo of dead salmon below). That also means the vulture count is growing.


I count at least sixteen in this picture.


The vultures provide a necessary service, but … I don’t enjoy this part.

The river teems with birds at all times of the year, but this heron (a year-round resident) seems especially perturbed by the vultures landing so close to him.


Puffing up with indignation


Establishing the pecking order? Or claiming personal space?

As the sun emerged from clouds the other morning, the vultures stretched their wings to warm in the sun’s heat. As ugly as vultures are, I found them beautiful in their own way this day.


Ugly and beautiful?

The vultures’ presence is vital, or the river would become unbearable for the stench and debris. It’s hard to watch, but I remind myself that this is the salmon’s goal in life and is a cycle they must undertake to keep their species going.

The hatchery offers hope on this front. For a quarter, you can buy fish food to feed these babies:


A holding pond filled with baby chinooks

Have you ever seen the salmon run? If not, come visit California in the fall. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spellbound by this spectacular cycle of nature.