August 20, 2001
Salmon Watchers seek more converts
by Bronwyn Wilson
Every fall something fascinating happens at the occasional little creek that winds behind the home where Maggie Windus lives. It dries up for part of the year, but then fills up again when the fall rains come. And when it does, large salmon begin to make their way up the tiny creek.
"The coho smell the stream and come up," said Windus. The traveling salmon look as out of place as Boeing 757s trying to taxi along a crooked sidewalk.
Windus explained, "They are at least 50 percent out of the water because the stream is so shallow it's almost like their bellies are touching the gravel and the other half of their bodies are out in the air. It's mind boggling."
Once they arrive, the salmon find a nice gravel part of the creek to spawn. The sight of the relentless salmon struggling upstream with half of their 24- to 30-inch bodies out of water has Windus in awe. But she wasn't always fascinated.
There was a time when Windus only viewed salmon at the seafood department in the grocery store.
"I've always lived in Seattle and I never saw a salmon except at a hatchery or in a store on ice," she said.
That was before she became a resident of Woodinville and had the opportunity to witness the determined salmon first-hand as they splashed up the creek in the greenbelt behind her house.
"I was amazed at how they find their way," she said, "and I became a convert."
Today Windus and her son Brian participate in the Salmon Watchers Program. Salmon Watcher volunteers annually collect information on the presence of spawning salmonids, including chinook, coho, sockeye, kokanee, chum, steelhead and some trout. Data of this type becomes more important as salmonids in the region, such as the Puget Sound chinook, are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Said Windus, "We identify what type of salmon they are (species and gender), and keep a tally of them."
She watches the salmon from one site at least once a day from the first of September to the end of October.
"My goal has been to go every day anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and count them as they go by."
After the first of November, Windus said that she tapers off and watches for salmon every other day. The Salmon Watchers Program asks that volunteers watch at least two times a week. "I just love it. It's very peaceful," Windus said of the time she spends keeping an eye out for the homeward-bound salmon. The most common species that she has seen is the sockeye. "We might have seen as many as 500 sockeye last year," she said. "We also saw kokanee (lake-locked salmon), but they're very few and far between."
One of the sites Windus observes from is at Bear Creek off NE 133rd. Coho come through, she said, but she hasn't seen very many.
"The real highlight is the chinook salmon because they're just hu-uuge," she said. The chinook can be anywhere from 24 inches to 48 inches long.
At spawning season, students, neighbors, even strangers, notice Windus' parked car near a salmon viewing location and decide to see the salmon for themselves. Many like to sit at the observation lookout with her.
"The neatest thing," said Windus, "is when someone comes tromping through the bush and goes gaga over the fish."
The data the Salmon Watchers gather will help King County and the city of Woodinville in making salmon recovery decisions. According to Debra Crawford, Planning Technician, the city is currently in the process of adding an environmental element to the city's Comprehensive Plan, which will set the policies for environmental issues.
Volunteers are asked to sign up for a two-hour training session. Crawford summarized what the volunteers will learn in the training workshop.
"Basically they will learn how to fill the data sheets and how to identify the salmon." In addition, fish and wildlife biologists will give presentations and volunteers will learn where salmon spawn and discover why they are able to swim up small streams, plus discover other interesting information about the salmon population.
Also at that time, volunteers will be assigned an observation location (there are nine in Woodinville.)
After training, volunteers will document data and view salmon during the spawning season Ñ September through December Ñ from a bridge crossing, a public footpath, or a backyard.
Michael Murphy with King County's Water and Land Resources Division is the volunteer coordinator for the program and spoke of the benefits for Salmon Watcher volunteers.
"Participation in the program is a chance for citizens to get more connected with their local environment. It helps people in the community to have a much better sense of what's going on out there and to gain a sense of stewardship, as well as to realize what we have and how valuable it is."
In 2000, the Bellevue Stream Team, King County Water and Land Resources Division, Snohomish County Surface Water Management and the cities of Issaquah, Renton, Seattle, Woodinville, and Kirkland actively participated in the program. The city of Woodinville has participated since 1999.
For those who haven't witnessed the salmon make their homeward journey during the time of year when the trees show off their striking autumn colors, there's plenty of room for many more converts. Individuals, teams, schools, clubs, families, teens, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters -all are welcome to participate. No prior experience necessary.
Woodinville's workshop will meet on Sept. 11 in the Council Chambers at City Hall from 7 to 9 pm.
To register for the training session or for more information about the Salmon Watcher Program, contact Michael Murphy at (206) 296-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For general questions about the program, contact Debra Crawford at (425) 489-2757 Ext. 2221.