Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Salmon Have Returned - All Hail the Kings in Lagunitas Creek!

What a thrilling, perplexing, and joyous day it has been! Looking down on Lagunitas Creek while taking my dog Bodie on his normal morning walk on the Cross Marin Trail on my way to the SPAWN office, I see what is clearly a patch of light-colored gravel. A salmon redd??!?! It's November 18, the timing is right, but no rains have arrived. But wait, there she is, a huge female salmon moving in to take position over a compact, deep redd!

The coho are spawning! OR ARE THEY? 
To learn more, join a naturalist-led Creekwalk. For info and to register, click here.

I contacted another biologist in the watershed leading up to the November 9-10 SPAWN Creekwalk Naturalist Training, and he had a confirmed sighting of a pair of Chinook, or king, salmon on a compact redd in the lower reach of Lagunitas Creek. Amazing! King salmon as a species are struggling - they are the most imperiled of all Pacific salmonids. They are known to spawn in Lagunitas Creek, but evidence is usually limited to seeing one or more of their compact, deep redds in the lower reached during the weeks before the arrival of our coho. This biologist sent me photo of these kings to compare with what I had seen overlooking the creek.

Armed with binoculars, the recent photos, and my identification guides, I returned to the overlook on
the old Tocaloma Bridge and gazed down on the redd. One, then two, then three salmon! The female is recognizable by the white, dead skin on her tail. The male, dead skin along his dorsal ridge. The other, small was likely a jack, and sure acted like one! The smaller jack darted in from behind, tangled in with the female on the redd, and was quickly chased off by the big male.

All of these fish were darker than coho, lacked the red color typically seen on coho when they transform to freshwater spawners, and lacked the white gums characteristic of coho. It can be tough to identify these species being so far away as to not disturb them.

All hail the Kings! The Chinook salmon have returned to spawn in Lagunitas Creek, and the coho are not far behind. This redd, and the female guarding it, have been visible the last three days. She is looking tired and likes to fade into the shadows of the undercut bank and drift to rest on a log under the bridge.

Rains have arrived, and I am heading out to hunt for any spawning coho viewable for our first Creekwalk of the season, this Saturday! To learn more about joining a naturalist-led Creekwalk and to register, click here.

See you along the creek!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Celebrating Our Volunteer’s Hard Work

-->On June 22nd, Salmon Protection and Watershed Network held a party in appreciation of our hard working volunteers, supporters, and friends. With great music and delicious food, the event came into full swing. Food donations were made by Lagunitas Brewing Company, Frey Wineyards, Sweet Things, Safeway, Palace Market, Flour Chylde, Lagunitas Groceries & Deli, Bovine Bakery and a special thanks to Brooks Painter from Coho Wine for attending our event and donating your fantastic Coho Red!

There were a variety of activities available to guests and staff, like new nursery tours, flood plain talks, and a slide show presentation that showcased SPAWN’s hard work, projects, staff, and volunteers. Saxophonist Brian Campbell and guitarist Alex Markels gave a great performance at the event. Executive Director Todd Steiner, Watershed Scientists Melinda Barnes and Aaron Fairbrook thanked key volunteers and supporters.

Six longtime supporters who were in attendence received personalized and heartfelt awards:

Laura Chariton – Watershed Wizardess Award for all her work and recent outreach and advocacy;

Mitch Todd and Julie Vogt – King and Queen of Herbarium Award in thanks for their years of help and for permitting SPAWN to use their property for our nursery;

Nancy Hanson – Native Plant Queen Award for championing native plants and removing invasives where ever they are found!

Melvyn Wright –Green Thumb Award for his outstanding work to nurture SPAWN’s 5,000 native plants grown each year and manage our nursery operations.  
SPAWN's Aaron Fairbrook, Melinda Barnes, 
and Todd Steiner present Mel Wright with his award

Mel is shown receiving his award in the adjacent photo. Mel stated, “…I want to thank everyone for the warmth, recognition, and togetherness experienced at Saturday's Volunteer Appreciation Day.  As I said in response to my award, all of you have inspired me to do the work I've done since 2006.”

William Teufel, an another longtime supporter for our nursery work who couldn’t join us received the Doc Botany Award.

Also, awards were given to Dan Brockman, Jim Zahradka, Jeff McCullough, and Stephen Meyer

We would like to thank again all of these wonderful individuals and their hard work these past years. We would have not reached this level of success without your support.

This event brought together great people and generated new memories of a beautiful day. We look forward to our new and old volunteers joining us for more restoration projects, future creek walks, and preserving the salmon population – and another party next year!

Guests and staff thanking our great intern Stephanie Hernandez who helped organize the event, but couldn’t be there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Irony and greatness often go hand in hand and Monday was no exception on San Geronimo and Lagunitas Creeks. Sunday provided a beautiful set of 5 fish at Castro Pools that made for exciting tours (with small numbers :) of course) and made it obvious how well the naturalists and guides communicate. Monday, with great confidence, no less, I was scouting for a morning tour and the 5 fish....GONE!....sad face. I thought, this is OK, there are bound to be some of our Coho friends somewhere, right? Not right. I ran this group of amazing women all over searching for fish with no luck but having the most wonderful time. We check one last time at Castro on our way out and run into not only several friends but a line of cars belonging to a camera crew following one of our renowned valley scientist friends. They had been searching too! There are so many now interested in looking for the Coho now that the numbers are dwindling for the season; a bit like what happens once a species is extinct I dare to note, everyone becomes interested. The beauty of this story is that the crew found their fish at no other location but SPAWN headquarters provided by our own Andy Harris. Hip Hip Hurray for Andy! I love beautiful endings, don't you?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Suspense on the creek

January 5 brought rain, but enough to bring in more fish? Right out of the  Leo Cronin parking lot, a fresh red male says YES!
But it's frustrating to see him nuzzling up to the very spawned out female who's been guarding her redd since Christmas Eve -- there are no eggs there!
Told there's a spawning pair upstream, I rush to see another new male nuzzling up to another maybe spawned out female. Her tail does not show the weeks of wear of female number 1, but it's white and lacy. Maybe she still has eggs; I hope so. 
She certainly has a lot of energy, turning and digging again and again. This isn't dispositive -- females keep tidying the redd until they die. Indeed, the word "redd" comes from the Scottish word that means "to clear an area or keep tidy." So think of an obsessively clean housekeeper sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, when you see a coho female clear the silt from her eggs for the hundredth time. 
If the two new males are cozying up to females who may be out of eggs, what do we need? New females! Set up the chant! Fe-males! Fe-males!
There's still hope; it's only one day after the rain...
And just before I leave, there she is, rolling and digging at the parking lot redd. Her tail is perfect, intact; she's fresh and ready to go!!! 
Within fifteen minutes, two adult males and a jack are thrashing around her. Back in business! 
Barring predation, look for spawning activity at this redd for the next few days.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New year, new fish?

First viewing of the new year yields one carcass -- a spawned out female (near the intersection of the Shafter Grade trail), one mighty tired fierce warrior female at the first redd above the parking lot (she whom we have been watching since Christmas Eve, now unchallenged and still defending), and one mystery fish Jeff thought might be a steelhead because she was so silvery. Dramatic female common merganser and belted kingfisher are patrolling, kinglets flashing, mushrooms burgeoning.
The dam is still spilling and the rain is starting to fall. Will more water bring another wave of coho? Fingers crossed!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sitting to tighten my wading boots on the bank of Arroyo I was thinking maybe the water is too murky. Then low and behold I look up with a sigh and there is the first fish I have seen on Arroyo. I good size male Coho with some storm damage I suspect. The water was indeed too murky for photo ops but the day progressed with more excitement. Next I found a female further upstream than the male and then in between the potential future couple a pair over a redd. It was a great day and I encourage everyone to get out there and see the fish.

Girl on girl action

Holy day on the creek -- first water over the dam! As Kent Lake began spilling last night,  Lagunitas Creek above Shafter rose above the controlled flow of the Marin Municipal Water District to became a natural waterway in its own right. Can the fish feel the difference? Does the stream feel wilder?
Yesterday's tumult has subsided, but the female competition continues.  We saw two savage contenders tussling and biting and rolling. They were very well matched, each with the same level of wear on her tail, and neither seemed willing to cede.
One redd upstream, the dominant female we saw chasing yesterday was still at it, racing off her redd over and over to repel another female who had had the temerity (or misfortune) to deposit eggs nearby.
Each female had a seriously worn tail, meaning she'd already deposited eggs. Thus each was committed to her territory: this was no introductory, establishing-territory sort of skirmishing, but a fight no one can win. So it goes on, and on, and on.
Females live from three to 24 days after they deposit eggs. I suspect that females locked in continual battle don't last as long as those who get to dally peacefully on their redds,  languidly swishing.
Saw one fresh female above the eyeletted boulders, with a well-worn jack just behind. As we left, some very tattered males seemed headed upstream. Go, boys, go!!!!