Monday, November 26, 2012

Piper's Creek Salmon Run in Carkeek Park: They're Back!

Lena points out a salmon hanging in the pool in Piper's Creek
Maybe some of you kick off the holiday season by shopping Black Friday or eating leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast, but for me it's all about spotting spawning salmon in a creek near my home. 

A simple, miraculous pleasure.

While I will never completely understand how salmon make their way back from the mighty ocean to their small home stream, it's a thrill to see them answering the call of their biological imperative:  spawn and die.

As I park and hop out of the car at the  environmental learning center parking lot in Seattle's Carkeek Park, several volunteers are gathering, clipboard and pens in hand.

"Is it a good run this year?" I ask.

"Yes," says friendly volunteer Barb, "It's the best run in 9 or 10 years, and the fish are really big."

With that I skitter down the wooded trail to the best viewing spots along Piper's Creek, which runs through a gulch rimmed with second-growth lowland forest.  On this rainless, sunny weekend after Thanksgiving, lots of people are out to celebrate and see the returning salmon. It's quite a popular outing for families with small kids.

A big salmon was spotted right underneath this footbridge.

At the junction of Piper's Creek with Mohlendorph Creek (a small tributary),  I see two grayish-green chum salmon hanging in a pool on the opposite stream bank, below some overhanging tree roots. Occasionally they surge forward with a splash, and then drop back.

After meeting up with several friends, we hopscotch along the creek toward Puget Sound, spotting about half a dozen salmon in varying stages of dying, death, and decay. 

"They release about 300,000 fingerling salmon into the stream and usually around 300 or so make it back,"  a pony-tailed young man tells us. As of midday November 24, there were 363 chum salmon counted entering the creek so far, and a smaller percentage of the more rare coho.

Alas, since Piper's Creek is in an urbanized watershed (too many toxins in the runoff and too much water entering the stream without natural filtering), the salmon run needs to be supplemented with hatchery fingerlings.  Years ago early settlers logged off all the old growth and trashed the stream in this watershed, and the original salmon runs were extirpated/destroyed.

Regardless, with the efforts of local volunteers, tribes, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, salmon have been returning to Piper's Creek again for many years.

This guy would probably rather be chasing a ball than watching for salmon

While it's hard to get a shot of the salmon in the stream, I get a few shots of some carcasses on the beach that washed back out to the Sound with the heavy rains.  

Male chum salmon carcass

So grab those rainless days here in the Northwest while you can this time of year.  Get on out to the beach, the woods, or your nearest park if you can't make it to Carkeek or another salmon stream.  If you see something amazing like salmon spawning or bald eagles hunting, remember you're just bearing witness to what's been going on for milennia around here.  

Looking south from Carkeek beach to Meadows Point and beyond
Have you watched spawning salmon returned to their native streams? Would love to hear when/where in a comment below.

When You Go
Peak viewing for the Piper's Creek salmon are from about the third week in November to the second week in December. So you've still got time to catch the action.  Carkeek Park is located in NW Seattle. Take I-5 exit #173 going either north or south. Proceed west on Northgate Way (turns into NW 105th) to 3rd Ave NW. Turn right on 3rd Ave NW to NW 110th. Then turn left on NW 110 (turns into Carkeek Park Road). Go through park to Salmon Viewing Areas. Parking is available nearby. Or take Metro Bus #28 and get off at Eddie Mcabee entrance across from QFC, or at NW 113th and walk to Salmon Viewing Areas (along the Lower Meadow trail in this map).


Ed said...

This is why I love WA so much, people get excited about the coolest things, including salmon spawning! I will have to go and check them out!

jill said...

Thanks Ed, that's a nice way of looking at our quirkiness around here. Yea, go do some salmon counting at Carkeek, and

jill said...

Argh! AND you might find yourself in conversation with people around you. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jill,

A very interesting blog on the salmon spawning.

Thank You,


Anonymous said...

I'm with Ed. It's great to see lots of people at the park looking for salmon. And I like seeing the salmon, myself. What a life they have.


Matt said...

Niiice Jill, thanks for your empathy. And I love Volunteers passionate loving.

Thinking..?.. Do they stand a fucking chance? 362+ clinging to survival in a gutter size stream closely surrounded by 70,000 "land owning" consumers.

God bless those noble creatures, and the lovers..

Seanna said...

I think seeing spawning salmon rank right up there with seeing sea turtles in Cancun. Thanks! Mike the dog and I will check it out today or tomorrow!

jill said...

Yea Betty, what a mysterious life!wonder how far they stray on the Pacific.

jill said...

Matt, well, the Piper's Creek salmon are not a naturally sustainable run. Let's hope we humans can get our act together to help our Puget Sound salmon before it's entirely too late.
Yes, love the volunteers. I've volunteered at Carkeek for Earth Day, but thinking about picking it up.

Anonymous said...

I wondered if the editor would edit my comment, haha.
Also, the "lovers" designation was meant to include the land-owning nature-lovers too.
BTW, nice follow-up with the book review demonstrating thoughtful progress.