Coho are back!, January 24, 2010 Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
Oh what a day! Thanks go out to Parker Pringle of the Friends of Corte Madera Creek for the heads up. I spent four hours at Leo Cronin gazing in wonder at a beautiful coho female attended by a very good looking bright red male and two jacks, all just at the logjam below Dog Creek culvert. The redd is right in the stream channel and at the tail, rather than the head, of the rifle. Maybe she picked it because it had excellent undercut for hiding from predators?
Lots of thrills and chills; the female chased the male off the redd a number of times at the start of the afternoon; the male chased one jack over and over for hours; the male chased a pair of merganser marauders (!!); and towards the end of the day, a second jack appeared, unless it was a young steelhead hoping to get some salmon eggs on the drift.
Towards the end of the four hours, the big male, who had been suffocatingly attentive, hit the road and did not come back. My best guess is that the female was out of eggs and he went to seek other action.
Happily, tons of people happened by, so I got to share this fabulous late-season viewing with many, some of whom stayed with me for the entire four hours!!!
I left on a really dramatic note, as the male had vanished and a merganser had just appeared upstream. I hope the female is able to fend it off so it does not get a salmon egg milkshake through its spatulate bill.
I am really hoping that similar unexpected coho appeared through the rest of the watershed. By the way, one passer by reported seeing a fish jump at Roy's today!
January 22, 2010 Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
Rains have ceased, for the moment and the creeks are full of life! Having just stretched out to bank-full, they have a fresh new look in many places, and this level of flow and activity can only be observed after a series of storms. There are over 50 coho redds in the watershed now, and steelhead have been spotted moving in. If you are at the creek, watch the waterfalls for jumping steelhead, watch for colorful wood ducks and mergansers, and keep your eyes peeled for any coho that may be making a last effort to spawn!
BEFORE THE STORM, January 16, 2010 Jim Zahradka, SPAWN Naturalist
Saturday afternoon I was waiting for a ride at Devil's Gulch parking area and decided to take a look in the creek for fish. To my surprise, about 150 yards from the Devil's Gulch sign, a good sized female coho spawner and a pesky young "jack" swam out from the bank and back a few times, as I watched. She appeared "fresh", not beat up from redd building. They both looked like they were in a "waiting" mode. I hope this is a harbinger of good times to come!!!
January 8, 2010 Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
Happy New Year to all my SPAWN friends, activists, and blog readers! Another amazing week has passed along Lagunitas Creek. Over 400 Creekwalkers have joined our cause to protect the endangered coho this season. Salmon redds are clearly visible at ALL our Creekwalk stops, and there is an abundance of winter wildlife and amazing fungus formations to see at all times. Light rains predicted for tonight and tomorrow will only improve creek conditions, so when you come on out this weekend, I will see you at the creek!
December 30, 2009 Paola Bouley, SPAWN Conservation Director
Had a great opportunity today to view spawning fish on Lagunitas Creek. A female, who has already spent at least a week working her redd, was joined by two bright red males. And this female has been working hard! Check out the photo (right) and notice how her tail is worn to the stub from cleaning sediment from her gravel nest. She has cleaned the silt and sediment from the gravel bed of the creek, using her tail do so. All this work on her part helps ensure her eggs and alevins have silt-free, well-oxygenated spaces in the gravel to endure their almost 2 month incubation period below the surface of the creekbed. She will stay on and defend her nest until she dies, which could be anyday now.
To date, only 36 redds have been recorded in the entire Lagunitas, Devil's Gulch and San Geronimo Creek watershed. That is only 10% of what we recorded for this year-class 3 years ago in the winter of 2006. More rain could bring in more fish, so we all eagerly await another good storm!
December 29, 2009 Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
After 3 miles of bike riding along the Cross Marin Trail overlooking Lagunitas Creek, I had seen many of the redd markers hanging from the bank, but no coho. Finally, I saw movement just downstream of Swimming-Hole Bridge, and when I changed angles to look down from Sir Francis Drake, there was a bright red male! I watched him swim upstream and disappear into the depths of the pool. Sweet.
December 26, 2009 Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
At the advice of Megan and Susan Scott (see below) I took my group of Creekwalkers to Samuel P Taylor Park and we watched a female coho dig her redd in what looked like very swift current, another female downstream resting in a deep pool, and an elusive male coho hanging-out in the pool making his presence known to the females. Sightings of spawning coho are less frequent than last week. More rains are what we need to allow the next wave of coho into the watershed.
Christmas Coho, December 25, 2009 Susan Scott, SPAWN Naturalist
Today, a beautiful Christmas day, was one of the best tours I've ever had - a full house with a bunch of enthusiastic folks (with several well-behaved adorable kids) from far flung reaches like San Mateo. They arrived on time and were super-attentive to my pre-walk talk, asking lots of good questions. We paid a visit to miss tattertail and one of the group had good enough binocs to spot the little jack who was holding just upstream from her. Even when I knew where he was, I couldn't see him with the naked eye but when I borrowed the binocs, there he was, big as life!.
Then we went over to Samuel P. Taylor to view the redd near the kiosk, which I had visited the day before and where I had seen two flagging females barely holding their own in a strong current. Today we only saw one, and I suspect the other gave up the ghost some hours ago.
The group all saw ruby crowned kinglets and kingfishers, some brilliant scarlet waxy cap mushrooms (poisonous, but spectacular) among other wonders, and we all went home happy and fulfilled.
Amazing how inspiring a few tattered and exhausted female coho can be to young and old alike!
Solstice on the Creek, December 21, 2009 Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
The huge throng that came out today to meet Jared Huffman and see salmon got to see some truly special sights.
We first saw an indefatigable female coho, still tidying the first redd up from the parking lot. A little jack courtier swam nearby.
This redd, sited by branches that provide hiding places from predators, appears to be the most popular real estate on the creek. It has been continuously occupied by two successive females for the last two weeks. As Megan noted in her last post, the Coho Queen who built it was evicted by a fresh new female. Now that interloper is white-tailed herself -- but she continues to fling her rose-pink and silver side up again and again, thrashing her tail to flush out the last bits of sediment from the gravel where her eggs repose.
As we continued our tour, the two upstream redds were disappointingly empty. And they were still the same small size as when we first observed them. Uhoh! Suspicious circumstances!
And our worst suspicions proved true. I must report: cold-blooded murder was done on the creek, and we saw the killer!
Yes, we saw a river otter crunching a salmon carcass with wild abandon. We caught it (with eyes and cameras) as it started to eat. The fish was whole, and we could see that it did not have a white tail. So it was either a female that had not yet spawned (which would really be a shame) or a male.
As Chris said, we really have to teach these otters to make more sustainable choices! We're glad to have them on the creek -- they are native, natural predators, and when they eat salmon, they help distribute its ocean-rich load of nitrogen and other nutrients to the watershed. But it would be great if they could wait until the salmon have spawned!!
The otter was tucked under the creek bank , where we had a great view into its little cave. We watched for at least half an hour, hearing bones crack with every bite. While the Bonecracker snacked, a second otter swam back and forth, trying to get a share of the feast. But it had no luck -- which meant we got a great swimming show as well.
I've seen otters on the creek before, but never like this! I hope someone got a picture.
Salmon Days on Lagunitas Creek, December 16 2009, by SPAWN Naturalist Megan Isadore
The viewing is excellent these days, with lots of drama going on in the creek. A new, fresher female has kicked out the "Coho Queen," the first female we all saw near the parking area at Leo Cronin, and is busily building her redd, accompanied today by a lovely fresh hooknose and a couple of jacks. When new females build redds right on top of other females' redds, it's called "superimposition," (as well as unfortunate for female #1). Further upstream, the redd begun last week is in fine shape, the female is still spry and enjoying the attentions of a couple of hooknoses and a couple of jacks, AND there is a new redd in the site of last week's digging, just upstream of the boulders with the I-bolts.
Our group stood under the only-slightly dripping canopy, observing a male/female pair on a redd, when what to our wondering eyes did appear, but three sleek river otters, cruising their way upstream, we thought in search of their favorite December meal! The otters swam right by the pair, apparently not seeing them! The two coho moved out of the way for less than a minute, and were back on the redd post-haste. To say we were gobsmacked might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight. A possible reason for their lack of interest in the fine fat coho was that they'd seen our group of 10 up on the bank, and may have been a little spooked. Otters are very shy of humans. Or, perhaps they were the same otters that Julie, Camp Host at Samuel P. Taylor, had reported playing tug-of-war with a huge dead salmon that very morning in the park, and were not hungry. We know the Lagunitas river otters are a fine, healthy and exciting medium-sized carnivore to have in our watershed. Hurray for the otters!
December 16, 2009 Madeline Rose, TIRN Staff
After working at Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) alongside SPAWN for a year and a half, and hearing about the coho but never actually seeing an adult fish, I finally got the sighting of my life! Today, following the advice of my co-worker Chris Pincetich to check out the creek for salmon on my way in to work, I stopped at a bridge within Samuel P. Taylor Park to see if I could spot some salmon. Lo and behold, just below the bridge was a large redd with a pair hovering there together, a male and female in the midst of spawning. It was so thrilling to finally be able to see them in action! The female was turning on her side and slapping the rocky creek bottom with her tail, the reddish-colored male by her side. Then he sort of shivered from head to tail, which I assumed was him fertilizing the eggs. They kept dancing together like that, criss-crossing each other or hovering side by side over the redd. It was spectacular!
December 16, 2009 Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
This video was filmed from the Leo T. Cronin salmon viewing area, at the redd we have all been observing this past week. Red digging, bright male posturing, and defense of the redd from the intruding jack were all captured. Yipeeee! I love spawning season.
December 12, 2009 Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
At last, at last! It is so wonderful to see spawners in Lagunitas Creek again! Last year's class would have been the fish that had been laid as eggs just before the New Year's Day floods of 2006. But though we looked and looked, those children of the storm were few and far between. Lagunitas Creek (between Leo Cronin viewing area and the dam) was especially bare, since any eggs laid down before the storm got washed out in that huge deluge. So we tramped and peered and hoped, but many of us saw not one coho the whole 2008/2009 season.
But now, after a year's hiatus, the spawners are back! We sighted seven coho between the Leo Cronin viewing area and Kent Dam yesterday --- and they provided a fabulous sampler of the stages of a spawner's life. Just upstream from the parking lot, a large female, white tail worn to a frazzle, guarded her redd after six days of digging and egg depositing. Although she looked out of eggs to me, two little jacks thought otherwise. One snuggled by her side and crossed over her just like a full-size male, while the other darted up and was chased off time and again. Upstream, opposite Dog Creek, a white tailed female had lost her redd to the territoriality of a sparkling new female (no white on the female's tail at all) starting a redd just downstream. The bright red male courting the new female chased the white tailed pioneer away again and again as she circled in the deep pool, trying to get back to her own homestead. All the while a tenacious little jack kept trying to get close to the new female, despite fierce thrashing and chasing from the big male. And did I mention? At last, after hundreds of hours on the creek, I got to see the "milky cloud" of milt the male releases when the female deposits eggs.
And the kingfisher zoomed and rattled and the American Dipper bobbed and wove.
And that's not all! Indeed, it's only half the story -- because on the other side of Sir Francis Drake, the indomitable San Geronimo fish were -- at last! -- leaping through the Inkwells! The parade was slower than in some banner years -- the "oohs" and "aaahs" moments farther apart -- but the patient got to see a wonderful show. In about an hour, I saw two big bright red males, one big female, at least two jacks, and an assortment of little fish -- some coho fry and some larger -- maybe two year steelhead? I had not know before that the coho fry leap upstream in the big flows, looking for refuge, and it was fun and somehow funny to see these tiny little three inchers popping into the air, trying to get up the same falls as their two-foot long brethren.
More rains coming Tuesday and Wednesday, so perhaps the Inkwells will host another spectacular later in the week. In the meantime, a gloriously satisfying day .
December 10, 2009. Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
At least 2 females, one with a male jack shadowing her, were visible from the top of the bank along the trail to Peter's Dam from the Leo Cronin Viewing area this morning. Two redds are visible, and I had a chance to watch a female digging and tending to her redd. Fantastic! I was chatting quietly with a local resident while filming with my small camera, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I want to share that with all of you!
December 6-7, 2009. Megan Isadore, SPAWN Naturalist
There are few more amusing sights than 4 SPAWN naturalists seeing their first few coho of the season. They creep up on the unsuspecting fish like lions hunting in the brush. Once close to the creek, they become wily crocodiles, all but submerging into the mud for camouflage. Finally, they morph into cartoon characters, eyes sproinging out into space as they itch and ache to see the fish without ANY disturbance of her on her redd. One of the best ways to find coho during spawning season is to walk along the creek paths and look for the goofballs standing still as statues, apparently peering at nothing through binoculars. Another tip-off is the navy blue SPAWN caps a lot of us tend to wear. Or woolly hats, scarves and gloves.....we know how COLD it is on the creek. Ask us about salmon; we love to talk!
Yesterday, I and my intrepid fellow naturalists stood still as statues in the first rain shower, peering at a female coho digging on her redd. The redd is quite viewable from the bike/hike bridge in Camp Taylor. It's also viewable from the bank, but there is no parking nearby, and the female is very shy of people and shouldn't be disturbed. If you get too close to her, she will swim under the bank and will not return until you leave....so rule of thumb for observing coho is to stand as far from them as possible and look through binoculars.
More rain is on the way, and we hope it brings more coho into the watershed. Go on out and look! The parking lot at Shafter Bridge by the Inkwells is now open, and the path is flat and easy.
December 7, 2009. Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
LOTS of new coho action this morning! I saw 3 seperate areas of coho redd digging activity, all within 5 minutes hike of each other near the Irving Picnic grounds. A nice redd upstream of the bridge is easily visible just standing on the bridge! My quick stop for photos did not allow much time to sit quietly and wait for the adult coho to reveal themselves, but we know they are there, active, and more should come with rains this week.
With very little rain in November, we watched the 4-5 coho already here (since October!) carefully and have been leading Creekwalks to see them and the redds dug earlier by Chinook.
JOIN US on a Creekwalk!
December 5, 2009. Paola Bouley, SPAWN Conservation Director Bald Eagles, Coho and a Wild Hazelnut
On Saturday morning we headed out to begin our watershed exploration at White House Pools down where Lagunitas Creek meets Tomales Bay. It wasn't likely that we would see salmon here today. although there have been many those magical moments when we witnessed a school of salmon or carp and this spot is usually the best to observe rivers otters at work.
Our group waited and watched along the shores and as the birders among us turned their attention to the skies above the newly restored Giacomini Wetlands we observed kites, harriers... and oh, could that be... YES, a bald eagle! We had heard reports of eagle taking up to hunt in the wetlands this year. What a thrill it was for us all to see this bird, another species that almost stumbled over the brink of extinction but now foraging here around the local wild places we all love.
Later we headed upstream into Samuel P. Taylor State Park and as we peacefully walked along the trail exploring the native plants and stopping to discover a rare, wild hazelnut, we stopped to look down into a deep pool and within minutes of arriving to watch and wait two bright red males swam by. It is always a thrill, no matter how many times you've experienced it, to see these amazing animals here in Lagunitas Creek.... and it has been a long time (too long) since some of us have seen the flash of a red fish or heard the slap of a salmon's tails on the water. This year is full of promise!
October 31/November 1, 2009. Candace Hale, SPAWN Naturalist
Oh, it was terrible --- just as we got that surprise two-inch rainstorm, the second of this deliciously early season, I had to leave for a trip to the East Coast. I knew the first salmon would be coming in, and I could not believe I would not be here to welcome them. And so it was --- on October 21, 2009, just as I arrived in Rhode Island, the first coho arrived in the hike and bike pool at Samuel P. Taylor. Drat! Grrrrrr!
So of course the first thing I did when I got back was race down to SPT to see what I could see. And the first thing I saw was --- fish!!!! Beautiful, fast, silvery fish whizzing by me as I gazed at the deep cool pool just downstream of the Hike and Bike Overpass. Two fish, one about a foot long, and the other notably smaller.
At first I thought maybe they were hold-over steelhead, because they seemed slim, silvery, and faster and more energetic than I am used to seeing coho in the deep pools. I was reminded, as I am at the start of every season, how hard it is to know what you're seeing when you gaze at a moving target in a dark pool.
But when they zoomed on by again, I saw that the larger of the two had a white tail, so I knew that it was a "she," and that she had been digging her redd. Since I feel fairly sure that second-year steelhead would not be spawning in November (much too early), I revised my thinking and decided I had seen a slender coho female and a jack.
I walked upstream to see if I could find their redd --- which I could not. But I startled a beautiful barred hawk up from the creekside. Hmmmm, I thought. Hawk? By the creek? Really? And then I practically stumbled on the explanation. At my feet, at water's edge, lay a large dark grey and white bird with bright yellow, cartoon yellow, rubber chicken yellow feet. Its neck was broken --- clearly the hawk had just killed it. And at its throat, where the hawk had started slashing before I so rudely interrupted, burst an explosion of big, bright orange berries, looking as though they had been marinated. Which I guess they had --- I am now realizing that when birds slam down as many berries as they can, they are swallowing them whole and stashing them in their crops, where I guess they get softer, and larger.....
The hawk waited across the creek for a little while, and truly, I did not tarry long because it dawned on me that I was keeping it from its dinner -- with berry dessert included. But alas, it did not fly back to the kill while I could see it. I am thinking perhaps that there is only a short time a hawk is interested in its kill --- maybe once the flesh is no longer warm, it is no longer delectable, but becomes carrion.
I went back the next day to view the remains again, but ha ha, there were no remains. Not even a glimmer of a cartoon yellow foot. But our resident expert, Ms. Paola Bouley, gave me a number of birds she thinks would have been eating manzanita berries right now, and from that list, I have determined that the victim was probably a band-tailed pigeon. http://www.whidbeyaudubon.org/birdlist/Band-tailedPigeon.jpg
Too cool for school!
Oh, and speaking of school, of course I had to look in the pool again the next day to see what I could see -- and once again, within the first 30 seconds, I saw the same two silver fish swoop by, once downstream, once up, and then no more. This time, maybe because my eyes had adjusted, the larger really did look like a coho female to me.
Ah, it's good to be home!!!!
October 24, 2009. By Chris Pincetich, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
The coho return as big, bright spawners, and a few younger males known as "jacks" come back early each year to spawn at only about 2 years old instead of 3 years old. Today I was riding my bike along the creek on my way to SPAWN's Restoration work party and looked over the edge of the bridge at the Inkwells and there was a a little jack! One of those little jacks spotted earlier by Todd and Paola is on it's way to the San Geronimo Valley, and since the jacks are knows to follow the older spawners, folks in Lagunitas should keep a look-out for salmon on the move. Exciting! No rains in the immediate forecast, which should bring more coho to migrate upstream, but Chinook salmon may not wait for this, so keep your fish glasses on and contact us if you have any exciting sightings!
October 21, 2009. By Paola Bouley, SPAWN Conservation Director
The coho are here! Today we observed coho salmon spawners holding along a deep pool on Lagunitas Creek. The recent rains (where we received 7" of rainfall) definitely helped draw the salmon upstream. More rains to come soon, and hopefully more salmon! Stay tuned....
October 13, 2009. By Paola Bouley, SPAWN Conservation Director
This past weekend we held our 9th Annual Creek Naturalist Training Workshop and this year SPAWN will celebrate 10 YEARS of leading Creekwalks to see spawning salmon! SPAWN Naturalists are true watershed ambassadors and they work hard all winter long to lead +1,000 kids and people from across the Bay Area out onto the creeks to see the coho salmon of Lagunitas Creek first hand and learn about and get involved in all the ongoing restoration efforts.
This year's training included presentations and field tours with Paola Bouley, Chris Pincetich, Todd Steiner (SPAWN), as well as guest speakers Gina Farr (http://www.wildsoundstories.com/hero.htm), Candace Hale (Naturalist), Carissa Brands (Giacomini wetlands restoration specialist).
WELCOME 2009 NATURALISTS!!!