Roughly 5 million to 8 million people venture out onto the American River Parkway each year, but few experience Sacramento's crown jewel the way John Buchmiller did this month.
The 52-year-old Mira Loma High School teacher was on his bicycle at the Harrington access point in the Carmichael area on Jan. 5, trying to spot a rare sea lion visitor he had heard might be lounging in the river.
"At first I heard it breathing," Buchmiller said. "It sounds like a whale in the water.
"And then I saw the movement in the water and then sea gulls following it. I was back four times that week and every time I would see it within minutes."
Buchmiller caught the sea lion on two separate videos, including one of the animal feasting on salmon or steelhead, and has set off a buzz among regular users and supporters of the parkway. The videos of the sea lion, which he estimates was 8 feet long, are below.
While it is not unheard of for a sea lion to make it that far up the freshwater American River from the ocean, it is unusual.
"It happens a couple times a year where we hear about it," said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It probably happens more often.
"A year and a half ago there was one way up in Amador County, so they do find their way up there. It's a naturally occurring event, and the sea lion will get tired of freshwater and work their way back down."
Buchmiller, who has taught science for 12 years, said he had never seen one this far upriver, although they are not uncommon near Old Sacramento.
Buchmiller, who lives near the Harrington access point, said he uses the parkway constantly to run, bike or go birding, and that he has been able to incorporate the river into teaching.
"The reason I had the video camera is we don't really get to do field trips anymore, so I'm looking into taking some videos while I'm out of different phenomenon," he said.
That day, Buchmiller said, he was out because he had heard there might be a sea lion in the river and he was walking with his bicycle when he ran into another man who also was looking for it.
That turned out to be Warren Truitt, a past president of the Save the American River Association, a volunteer group that has fought to protect the parkway since 1961.
Buchmiller continued looking and shortly afterward got his videos of the creature, then ended up emailing them to Truitt, who subsequently passed them along in a group email that found its way to The Bee.
Buchmiller's find is the latest reminder of the vast variety of wildlife along the parkway, where coyotes, beavers and river otters are common sights.
Buchmiller said he recently spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree at the William B. Pond Recreation Area just upriver from the Harrington access point.
"There's a lot of wildlife here if you take the time to look," he said.