REMEMBER! Always be respectful and quiet while viewing spawners so as not to disturb them. To protect these wild salmon, the creekbed and adjacent creekbanks are off limits to humans, horses, and dogs from December 1 - June. Respect posted signs along the creek!
January 27, 2006
By Paola Bouley, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
The flood event left many of us (including the fish) reeling! In just one night Lagunitas Creek was transformed (see updates below) and the smaller tributaries that run through our neighborhoods roared to life. Two things became abundantly clear as we all began to assess damage to property and take stock of coho spawners (the flood hit around the time of peak spawning) and overwintering juveniles (this year's outmigrant population): 1) Current development practices - continued development in floodplains, channelization of creeks, the increase of impervious surfaces (paved roads, roofs - fail the human inhabitants of watersheds on many levels, as the flooding demonstrated, and 2) the fate of the Lagunitas coho population is in an exceptionally fragile state. A spate of just a handful of bad years could drive the population into extinction. Hopefully, as we begin to recover from the recent flood we can begin a process of restoration that will balance human needs to protect already exisiting creekdside development with healthy riparian forests and floodplains that support our creek ecosystems.
And now, a breakdown of coho spawning activity for the 2005/06 season...
While last year was the best year on record for coho spawners in the watershed as a whole(492 redds), this year is the lowest since the 1995/96 spawning season for Lagunitas, Devil's Gulch, and San Geronimo Creeks combined (total 130 redds, not including the San Geronimo Valley Tribs).
Here are the preliminary 2005/06 estimates for coho spawning activity broken down by major creeks in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed:
Lagunitas Creek: 49 redds (gravel nests)
According to Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Ecologist with MMWD, there is no remaining evidence of spawning that occurred prior to the big flood event, and the 40 redds documented prior to the storm were most likely destroyed. Sadly, that leaves 9 post-storm coho redds on Lagunitas.
San Geronimo Creek: 48 redds
Devil's Gulch: 33 redds
San Geronimo Creek tributaries (Arroyo, Larsen, Willis Evans Canyon, Woodacre, North Fork San Geronimo): 54 redds
Stay tuned for more!
January 16th, the Last Walk
By David Selzer, SPAWN Naturalist
The Sunday, 1:00 pm walk was inspirational. There were 16 people. The great thing was that we saw a salmon at our last stop, the Inkwells. I told the group we should keep our eyes on the stream, especially the rapids. Finally, we saw what I assumed was a spent Coho male, fighting and losing his way down the creek. He was at least 20 inches long and his sides were red and there was a white patch at the front of his snout. We watched him from the bridge for 10 minutes while he valiantly swam gainst the current. The last we saw of him was being swept down the rapids at the opening to the ink wells. What a spirit!. I felt it was a fitting end to the last Creek Walk of the season.
January 15, 2006
By Megan Isadore, SPAWN Naturalist
"There are fish in the net, lots of fish this time in the net of the heart." From Fishing in the Keep of Silence, Linda Gregg
The coho season is nearly over, and this tired female takes her well-deserved rest in a pool. She lies patiently, apparently oblivious to anything around her. She makes no effort to hide, or swim away. She is.
Beneath the gravel just upstream, her precious eggs lie. Who knows what she's seen in her watery life, what her consciousness revealed, what she feels. We know little, and feel much. Rest well, Beautiful Salmon, and may your fry emerge strong, healthy and quick!
January 8, 2006
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
A week after the great storm, the waters in Lagunitas Creek are way down from their flood-high of 7000 cubic feet per second, but Peter's Dam is still spilling, and the creek still zooming at almost 10 times its normal flow of 25 feet per second. That means muddy, fast, waters - bad for fish viewing, and probably bad for fish.
Touring today was like visiting a New Orleans nursery after Katrina, seeing incubators smashed against the sides of the walls, and cribs turned into woody debris. The sad truth is that all the redds (nests) pre-dating the storm in Lagunitas Creek from Shafter Bridge to Peters Dam are gone, tumbled, scoured - gone. We made a pilgrimage to each of the former redd sites, noticing how very different the creek is now. Where there were gravel beds, there are deep pools; where there were log jams, there is free flow. It's a whole new world out there.
There may be fish right now in that stretch of Lagunitas, but if so, they were invisible to us. We gazed and stared and peered, focused and re-focused our binoculars, but it was like looking at a dreamscape; shifting glints under sunlit water ultimately appeared to be no more than the shape of our own desires to see fish again. Still, there are definitely fish spawning up on Larsen Creek, and new redds up on some of the San Geronimo tributaries. This year-class of coho, generational descendants of the fish so deeply tumbled as "young of the year" back in the 1998 flood, has not given up.
Despite the dark tint of the water and the dark tone of this report, it's a fascinating time to be out in the watershed, taking the first steps to re-learn a creek re-defined and re-created by this 30-50 year storm event.
Monday, January 2, 2006
By Megan Isadore, SPAWN Naturalist
The Power of Water...
This past weekend turned our sleepy little creeks into large torrential rivers!
Our delightful little Inkwell pools were completely submerged at the height of the flow. Looking downstream from the footbridge, I saw no sign of pools or waterfalls, just a roiling mass of deep brown water filled with large trees, household items and rocks flying rapidly downstream. The noise was tremendous, between the rushing waters and the cracking and tearing of trees being swept downstream. Many trees along the banks have been ripped out, and others show deep gashes in their bark where debris scraped by. Most of the large woody debris piles between Shafter Bridge and the dam have been ripped out completely or significantly shifted and altered, including the huge rocks placed by helicopter years ago. I saw two of those huge rocks, still cabled between a HUGE old trunk, moved at least 100 feet downstream, and lodged behind a tree on the near bank. In several places along the path, water overflowed the bank. Remember that huge tree root just upstream of Shafter Bridge, that was placed last year? Gone! Remember that enormous woody debris pile way up the path toward the dam? Gone!
The pool at the foot of the dam looked like Niagara Falls, with water pouring down the spillway and flying in from several new waterfalls. Spray rose up to 100 feet in the air, and the top of the pool was a stormy sea of flying water. Major blowouts and erosion are everywhere; several roads in the SG Valley were wiped out, tiny seasonal rivulets that ran quietly through people's back yards poured tons of mud and water into roads and homes.
The tributaries looked a little better, with fish seen spawning in Larsen Creek by the footbridge yesterday! However, we won't have a full report on damage until it stops raining and the flows ease so that we can get into the creeks to survey.
Despite pouring rain, high winds and flooding, some very hardy guests showed up for tours, and only one tour, yesterday afternoon, was lacking a single guest. Some tours saw fish, and the ones just after the biggest rainfall were thrilled to see the river at its height and witness the immensity of the flow. Huge thanks to all you brave naturalists who took folks out!
Once the water goes down, we'll be looking at a whole new creek. Gravel, rocks, boulders, erosion sites, familiar bends in the creek, huge woody debris piles built up over years are changed. Our usual mild creek flows of around 10 cfs (cubic feet per second) increased to 7000 cfs. A "bankful event," which is considered enough to move gravel on the creek bottom, is 1700-1800 cfs. We can expect different spawning sites next year!
As for the fish, it's hard to say. While they are well-adapted to high winter flows and have survived in this watershed so far, a 500-fish population is very tiny and fragile, more vulnerable to large-scale disaster than a larger population. We have several generations of fish in the creek right now; the 2- and 3-year spawners, last year's fry who are nearly ready to smolt downstream in the spring, 2-year-old steelhead who haven't gone out to sea yet, and the fragile eggs. I'm personally most worried about last year's fry, the smolts. Last year was a record high for spawners, and I've been delighting in the thought of a huge return in 2 years, barring unfortunate events, global warming, or other disasters. I'd call this an unfortunate event. We're hoping many of the smolts were able to find refuge in slower backwaters further downstream from Shafter, and ride it out.
I encourage you all to come to Brannon Ketcham's presentation on Thursday night at 7 at the Dance Palace in Pt. Reyes. I'm sure he will have much information to provide!
By Candace Hale
Water still spilling over Peters Dam, and the waters of Lagunitas Creek are still high and turbulent, making for very limited viewing. Despite these challenges, talented fish-spotters Joe West and his daughter Laurie sighted a large fish at the Leo Cronin viewing area, just a bit upstream from the large educational sign. The water was so thick and dark all we could see was a two foot semaphore of silver flashing at us from time to time, but since the fish looked too big for a steelhead and was exhibiting the classic spawning behavior of periodically turning on her side and flapping five or six times, I tentatively identified her as a female coho.
Joe said he remembers coming to the creek in 1962 and seeing it filled with spawning salmon - bank to bank. Let's hope that's a sight we get to see in our lifetimes....
Sunday, January 1, 2006
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
If salmon had television news shows, we would be watching anchorfish standing by raging creeks wearing serious expressions while a somber voice intoned: CATASTROPHE! NEW YEAR'S EVE STORM DECIMATES NURSERIES; 2005 SPAWNING CLASS FEARED LOST.
On other hand, salmon watching from the safety of an eddy behind a downed tree might say: "Oh, those newscasters. Always so sensationalist! We're FISH, for goodness sakes! Certainly this is a huge blow, but not the end of the whole year's class."
Sensationalism aside, there is no question that the New Year's Eve storm event that caused so much disruption in San Anselmo, Novato, and other North Bay communities was a disaster for the 2005 coho class. The stretch of Lagunitas Creek from Shafter Bridge to Peters' Dam, a prime spawning area, has been transformed to a wild river, still raging today. Yesterday the dam spillway was pouring water so fiercely that the plume was 100 feet in the air; the force of the water coming down the creek was so strong that it ripped out massive woody debris structures and huge boulders cabled into the creekbed. Given such huge flow, it seems impossible that any of the eggs so carefully tucked into gravel redds over the last two months survived (once the eggs are torn from the gravel, they tumble downstream and become food for fish and birds or simply deliquesce into the creek).
Since probably 80% of the spawners have already arrived, the loss of these redds is quite significant - especially for a class expected to be one-third to one-half the size of last year's. Still, our initial surveys suggest that the tributaries in the upper San Geronimo stem of the watershed were less tumbled by the storm, and it may be that redds in those tributaries, estimated last year as 25% of the year's total, will save the class.
Meanwhile, the fish are still carrying out their biological imperative: we saw at least one female exhibiting spawning behavior in the coffee-colored water of a minor tributary. Let's hope that many others found refuge in the eddies and undercuts, and will be able to start new redds as the water subsides. We will also hope that latecomers encounter perfect conditions and that their eggs are remarkably successful.
As for viewing, there are essentially no areas open to the public where you are likely to see fish today. Leo Cronin is closed to allow the huge MMWD trucks in to repair the roads and culverts blown out by the storm, and Camp Taylor and Devil's Gulch are closed to the public for safety reasons.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
Continued creek turbidity at the Leo Cronin area of Lagunitas Creek rendered the viewing area right off the parking lot, usually such an accessible and exciting hot spot, quite impenetrable --- but the viewing upstream was great. Activity was clustered in two spots, one just past the yellow hydrant and another just below the large log-jam. Both areas featured a wonderful sampler of coho in various stages of spawning behavior: one tattered, quiescent female close to the end on her redd, one fresh female actively digging and laying, a jostling conclave of bright red males fighting for supremacy, and an assortment of jacks (sexually precocious males without the secondary sexual characteristics of bright red coloration and the developed kype "overbite"" of the mature male).
An experienced angler swore one of the "jacks" was, in fact, a steelhead, lurking behind the queue to suck up eggs as they were deposited. I couldn't confirm the sighting, but it makes sense, as the steelhead run has started and fisherpeople agree, steelhead have quite a taste for salmon eggs!
We also saw some ruby-crowned kinglets actively displaying bright red, usually hidden, crowns, as well as lovely little Townsend's Warblers (bright yellow and black striped heads) that have been hanging out above the creek.
Parking at Leo Cronin is truly HIDEOUS, and requires the utmost patience, cleverness and consideration; Samuel P. Taylor is a good alternate location if you can't get in.
DON'T FORGET YOUR BINOCULARS!!!
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
By Todd Steiner, SPAWN director
Viewing at Leo Cronin viewing area is poor because of some type of sediment load entering the creek from a culvert coming down the hill on the east side of the creek. But above this, in the pool below the dam spillway, five or six otters were seen around noon! A lamprey was seen again "sucking" its way over the inkwells.
Some salmon were seen jumping at Roy's Pools.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
By Paola Bouley, SPAWN Biologist
The week of Dec 20th we received 9 inches of rain in the San Geronimo Valley. The creeks are running high and turbid, and the salmon are spawning. And, it's offical, as of this week the smaller tributaries are "on" and the salmon are now spawning there. Last year these small tributaries (running mostly through San Geronimo Valley backyards) supported 25% of the spawning coho population in the Lagunitas Creek Watershed, so their importance as habitat is tremendous. SPAWN began coho surveys throughout the tributaries this last week. While spawner numbers were low three years ago (coho have a 3-year life-cycle) and we are not expecting a large return this year, it is still to early to tell how strong the run is. So stay tuned!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
The Inkwells were still flowing well today, but the number of salmon leaping through on their way to the San Geronimo stem of the watershed was way down. I was lucky enough to see a beauty of a jump after only five minutes, but other observers reported 40 minute stints and no fish at all. It may be that the majority of fish that are moving up into San Geronimon Creek in this wave are already through. There was no action at Roy's Pool.
Leo P. Kronin and upstream continues to offer excellent viewing. In addition to the spent female and new female with consorts described yesterday, we saw a veritable Bachelors' Waiting Room where a quintet of males, three big bright red and two jacks,tussled and queued for position. The female who was the cause of all the activity was hidden from view, possibly because of turbid stream conditions.
This weekend should be one of the best for seeing spawning activity in the watershed - come out on a Creek Walk with a SPAWN naturalist to learn more about what you're seeing! (You can sign up on this site or call SPAWN for reservations.) Also, if you've run into a SPAWN Roving Creek Naturalist, and enjoyed having your questions answered on the spot, why not think about making a donation to SPAWN as a thank you?
Monday, December 19, 2005
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
Hooray! With the deluge of the last few days,the 100 coho observed last week in the Samuel P. Taylor hike and bike pool - as well as their many confreres - have finally been able to come up the watershed and get busy about the business of the season - spawning!
Waterflow was too high on Sunday for action at the Inkwells, but come Monday morning and the fish were flying. Well, okay, jumping. Also seen were our native lampreys, which are amazing to watch inch up the rocks full in the face of the waterflow, hanging on by their sucker mouths. Quite a sight.
Experienced observers were split in estimates as to whether waterflow at the Inkwells would still be high enough to support leaping fish tomorrow (Tuesday). But in any case, the flood of new fish has created a wonderful opportunity to view complex spawning behavior. One of the most accessible observation posts is immediately off the parking lot at the Leo Cronin Viewing Site.
The first thing you will notice is a very tattered, white-tailed female, still defending her redd after three weeks. She's still very agressive; if you watch for a few minutes, you are likely to see her chasing off newly arrived fish trying to come upstream.
Slightly upstream is a newly arrived female, with at least four males courting her. The female is greeny-silver til she flips on her side to prepare the gravel for egg-laying, at which time her pearly pink side gleams. The males are much more red. At least today, two of the four were jacks, sexually precocious males that are substantially smaller than the "bullnosed" three year males.
This next two weeks should be wonderful viewing. Come out for a Creek Walk as soon as you can! And bring your binoculars.
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2005
a quickie By Megan Isadore
A Fishy Weekend
We had an absolutely great weekend now that the fish are here. The viewing was very good, and will likely get even better if we have some more rain this week, as forecasted. Thank you all, wonderful naturalists, for your work guiding our guests around the watershed. You all are doing a great job!
As of this weekend, the salmon had made it up as far as Forest Knolls, but not yet passed Roy's Pools. The high flows receded quickly after the storm, leaving some fish to wait for the next storm to bring them further upstream.
Check out the picture of an otter-predated salmon taken by Tom Schneider at Devil's Gulch. Note the amazing coloring, the irregular spots on his back and the spots only on the top of the caudal (tail) fin. Those are typical coho markings. A chinook would likely have more regularly-spaced spots and spots all over the caudal fin, not just on top.
Saturday, December 19, 2005
by Matt Cerkel, MMWD.
The Bald Eagle was first seen on Wednesday Dec 7th at Phoenix Lake, where the photos were taken. Since then it was been seen several times in the Alpine and Bon Tempe Lakes area, I saw it on the 18th at Alpine.
A Chinook was seen Phoenix Creek below Phoenix Dam near the picnic area. It was first reported on Dec 10th and was there until at least the 14th. The photos were taken on the 10th and 11th.
Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
a quickie By Paola Bouley
Spawning has begun! Coho have been seen as far up as Forest Knolls on San Geronimo Creek building their redds. So they did make it through the falls at the Inkwells!
Two beautiful coho redds can be viewed on the stretch of Lagunitas Creek about half-way up between Shafter Bridge and Pete's Dam (Kent Lake). Two females can be seen building their redds within 8-ft of each other. They were being closely pursued by four 3-yr old males and a jack (2-year old male). One of the beautifully red-colored males was noticeably larger than the other three!
Looks like we are going to need more rain to get the fish through Roy's Pools and into the upper-reaches of San Geronimo Creek and the tribs.
Friday, December 2nd, 2005
By the SPAWN Crew.
We received ~4 inches of rain over the past few days and the salmon finally arrived in the Lagunitas Watershed! They can be seen jumping through the falls right now at the Inkwells on San Geronimo Creek! The Inkwells are located at Shafter Bridge adjacent to the confluence of Lagunitas and San Geronimo Creeks, near the entrance to Samuel P. Taylor State Park. If you drive west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd through the town of Lagunitas, Shafter Bridge is the 2nd green bridge located approximately 1/2 mile past the Lagunitas Deli.
See you out there. Happy Viewing!!! And remember to always be respectful while viewing the salmon.
Saturday, November 19th, 2005
By SPAWN Naturalist David Ford.
We went to White House Pool. Saw maybe a fish or two.
However, we watched three to four otters for about a half an hour. They were in the willows across from us (at the big opening just over the foot bridge) We saw them swim into the brush, then heard them fighting (a lot of snarls and hisses and barks) and then watched them through the branches as they tore apart a salmon and ate it. My sense is that the fish had been up on the bank, a previous kill. After much contented smacking (all quite audible), they groomed and settled sown for a nap. Needless to say, we were also much contented.
We stopped at the Park Staff access bridge on the way back. I had scene two small fish (maybe chinook jacks?) earlier and they showed up again. We got only fleeting views.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2005
By SPAWN Naturalist Megan Isadore.
There are few things more likely to wake me up on a sleepy afternoon than looking for salmon. Having heard they're jumping around the confluence of Olema and Lagunitas Creeks, Candace and I drove down to see what we could see. The creek down there within the tidal influence is dark and silty, and it's hard to see fish under the water. We strolled along the bank, stopping at each opening along the path to look for fish. A red tailed hawk flew above us, a coot and two pied billed grebes paddled in the slowly moving creek. As we walked we heard two splashes, but couldn't see anything through the vegetation except for ripples and bushtits. We stood for a long time on the bank with a clear view upstream toward the confluence. A couple of splashes, a couple of silvery sided fish, one rolling over and one jumping above the water. Why are these salmon jumping? Could it be the otters? We watched and waited, catching up on our lives since last salmon season. Salmon continued to jump and roll every so often, at least one with a coppery pink side, and we stood, binoculars plastered to our eyes. After a while a dark smooth head emerged, followed by a long sinewy muscled body, barely making a ripple, then diving. Bingo, an otter!
Tuesday, November 8th, 2005
By SPAWN Biologist Paola Bouley.
Over the past 2 weeks we have had a handful of reports of fish jumping in the lowers, more estuarine reaches of the creek system. Just today we heard word from Barbara Deutsch (a resident near the Olema-Lagunitas Creek confluence) that since the weekend fish of various sizes have been seen jumping to a parade of otters, kingfishers, egrets, and crows!
On Oct 29th, during our naturalist training workshop, we saw two salmon (perhaps one jack and one 3-yr old) in the deep pools at the Bike-Hike Bridge in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Noahlani Litwin (12 yr-old SPAWN Naturalist and Spawner Surveyer) was the 1st to see salmon in Lagunitas Creek this season! Just a few days prior to seeing the fish, Eric Ettlinger (MMWD Aquatic Ecologist) recorded the first redd of the season upstream of the Lagunitas-Cheda Crk confluence.
With the good rains we've had since yesterday we expect the fish will be moving up into the mainstem with gusto. We hope to be seeing them any day now, so stay tuned!