As far as most of us are concerned this is the end of salmon watching for another season. We begin tuning skis, checking out the library, gym, video stores, and pubs, preparing for winter mode.
But there are more surprises in the rivers. The chicken of the sea, the Coho Salmon, are moving in. They are between the Sockeye and Chinook in size, and the males achieve the same blushing tones of the sockeye. These salmon are different. They have a groundwater fetish, frequently choosing the tiny ground water tributaries of the Birkenhead and Lillooet Rivers. The moderate temperatures and flows often protect the eggs and fry from the ravages and extremes of winter weather scouring at flood stages or suffocating in the anchor ice on the river bottoms.
The Coho, unlike the Chinook and Sockeye, spawn over a long period, and can be seen November through January. Pemberton Creek, just below the highway is an ideal place to catch a glimpse. Another great place is at the outlet of Fee Creek into the Birkenhead River. Just watch for the sign about 10 km north of Mount Currie. A migrating Coho seeking the upper reaches of tributaries is a driven creature; fighting its way over beaver dams, squeezing through branches, edging over riffles only centimetres deep, jumping into culverts, determined to reach that familiar ancestral gravel where they were born.
A pair of Coho that reach their spawning grounds are the survivors of a biological odyssey that begins three years prior. They represent, on average, only two of the approximately 3,000 eggs that were laid by the parents. The rest of the siblings meet various deaths along the way. Many of these fatalities are simply bad luck, but good fortune alone cannot account for our pair of Coho who are now side by side over their redd.
The returning Coho salmon genes are jewels. They represent characteristics which will be transferred to their progeny. Genes relating to strength, endurance, survival instincts, even the instinct to bury eggs deep in the gravel to avoid sculpins and dipper birds. To harm spawning coho is to negate the process of natural selection that ensures the transference of these superior survival qualities.
Admire them, respect them, cheer them on, protect them and their habitat from harm. Arm yourself with the knowledge of their incredible journey to pass onto your children, rather than bringing out the fishing pole. I often feel an uncontrollable lump in my throat while watching these survivors. Perhaps some of some of you get those same feelings. I hope so.
Monthly Bird Walk
Meet at the base of Lorimer Road at 8 a.m. Contact Michael Thompson (604-932-5010) for more information.
Christmas Bird Counts
Squamish: Dec. 14, meet at the Brackendale Art Gallery, 7 a.m.
Pemberton: Dec. 15, meet at the Pony Espresso, 7:30 a.m. Contact Hugh Naylor
Whistler: Dec. 21; contact Michael Thompson
Lillooet: Dec. 29; contact Ken Wright
Written by: Hugh Naylor