by Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Ecologist
Happy New Year! The holiday season is always a busy time for spawner surveys, but luckily this year we got a two-week break in the rain that allowed us to survey 34 km of streams in the Lagunitas and Walker Creek watersheds, and still take some time off. Well, “time off” is relative as I brought my extended family to watch a whole lot of salmon on Christmas Day.
Since my last update we’ve counted 58 coho redds, bringing the season total to 160. That’s slightly higher than average for this date, but we’ve also counted 563 adult coho salmon - the highest count in 12 years. It remains a mystery why we’re seeing so many fish but only slightly above-average numbers of redds. Many of the fish we saw last week had not yet spawned, so the redd count may still grow considerably. Fingers crossed.
We can now say for certain that the steelhead run is off to a very good start. We’ve counted 24 steelhead redds so far, which is a record for this date, along with 21 adult steelhead. And we’re still at least a month away from the typical peak in the steelhead spawning season.
In addition to all the coho and steelhead, we also saw four Chinook salmon on January 2. Seeing Chinook and steelhead on the same day is very unusual and somewhat, frankly, frustrating. Both species can appear like large, grey fish from a distance, or even up close when the water is turbid. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time watching fish with binoculars to get their identification right, which can certainly be a fun activity when the air temperature is above freezing. The 67 Chinook and 19 Chinook redds seen to date will hopefully be the final count for the season.
Lastly, this weekend’s rain raised the flow of Lagunitas Creek to a level possibly high enough to uncover and wash away salmon eggs. We don’t know exactly how high the flows got since the two stream gages are down and the US Geological Survey has indicated it doesn’t have any money for maintenance. The government shutdown is also preventing our colleagues at the National Park Service from conducting spawner surveys on Olema and Redwood Creeks. Our best wishes go out to these folks who surely want to get back to doing their important work.
A typical (i.e., not very clear) view of adult salmonids taken on January 2, 2019. There are at least two steelhead among the coho salmon in this photo.