salmon spawning surveys with one of Seattle Public Utilities' fisheries biologists
The mouth of Thornton Creek empties into Lake Washington. This urban creek has a few branches and headwaters beneath a shopping mall at Northgate. It flows between houses, parks, roads and schools to reach the Lake. The salmon that make it up Thornton Creek have already gone through the Ship Canal, through the Chittenden Locks, and up into the Lake.
We walk Thornton Creek in waders and boots, starting in the lake and moving upstream. We walk against the flow, and sometimes we are waist deep, other times in shallow water. Under roads and in backyards, walking in the creek provides a new view of the city. We pass some wooded areas, lawns and back yards and fences and bridges. Only when we reach Meadowbrook Pond and Thornton Confluence does the channel spread out again, becoming a place of pools and riffles.
On a day in late October we find three salmon: a mostly eaten carcass near the mouth of the creek, one unspawned, dead, and one living fish hiding in a resting spot where the creek flows around an island in suburban back yards.
Piper’s Creek flows mostly through Carkeek Park and empties into Puget Sound. The environment of Piper’s Creek is urban- residential neighborhoods and business districts fill the watershed- but immediately surrounding the Creek are woods and park areas.
On a day in late November we walk Piper’s Creek, and count over 130 salmon, 50 or so of them living. They are mostly Chum salmon. In pools behind downed logs and rocks, groups of salmon are gathered. The carcasses of already spawned salmon, most partially eaten by raccoons or other predators, can be found in the water and on the banks. Some salmon, already spawned and nearly dead, rest in shallows, their gills still slowly moving. The fish we see often appear battered and worn out. The females have rubbed the scales from their tails while using them to dig nests in the gravel.
Moving against the current, climbing over logs and brush, I think about what the view of the salmon might be underwater, what the experience might be. We enter a culvert, crouching in the dark and shuffling forward. The sound of water rippling amplifies, echoes. A sudden splashing and thrashing occurs as a salmon at the edge is disturbed by our movements and plunges off downstream. Each time this happens I am startled by the speed and power of the fish near my feet.