The Weaver Creek Salmon Run




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The life cycle of the Pacific sockeye salmon is a fascinating one. Although salmon are a salt water fish, they start life in fresh water. Every year in October thousands of salmon migrate back to the river of their origin to lay eggs. The eggs are fertilized by the males and stay buried in a gravel nest until they hatch in the spring.  The eggs turn into alevin, a small fish with a yolk sac under its belly to provide nutrition.  They remain buried in the gravel as they grow. When the yolk sac is used up, they emerge from the gravel as fry.

Sockeye differ in their life cycle at this point as the fry swim to a fresh water lake where they stay for a year growing into smolts. These smolts then migrate back to the ocean where they mature into adults. Near the end of their four year cycle they instinctively return to the creek they were hatched as spawners. Both male and female fish return. The female digs a nest about twenty centimetres deep and lays her eggs. The male deposits his milt to fertilize the eggs. After both are spent, they die, the salmon life cycle complete.

Other species of salmon follow a similar pattern but return to the sea as fry, not as smolts.

Salmon fishing is a major industry in British Columbia and, not surprisingly, people have made efforts to conserve and enhance the salmon stock. Weaver Creek, about 45 minutes from Abbotsford and two hours from Vancouver was the site of the first efforts at salmon enhancement in 1885.

In 1965, after several years of a declining salmon run (from an average of 20,000 sockeye salmon to just 12,000), a spawning channel was built about thirteen kilometres from Harrison Mills.  Every year from October 8th to November 1st, the sockeye return to Weaver Creek to spawn. The facility is open to the public daily from October 6th to November 5th from 8 AM to 4 PM.

The spawning channel meanders in a a serpentine fashion and covers a distance of almost four kilometres.

The tour is self-guided and works its way from the end of the channel to the beginning. There are many large signs along the way explaining the process. I am reversing the order here and starting at the beginning of the channel.

A weir blocks access to upstream Weaver Creek on the right and the salmon are directed into the spawning channel.

At the head end is  weir to keep the salmon from heading upstream and diverting them to the spawning channel (on the left in the picture above).

The first part of their journey is a fishway, a series of four cascades which the fish have to navigate to get to the spawning channel.

Four cascades form the fishway.

These are the highest jumps the salmon must breach to head upstream. From there the fish move into a holding area. The picture at the beginning of this article shows a salmon leaping from the lower to the higher level of the holding pond.

Before they can get into the spawning channel itself, they are sorted and counted. Fisheries staff allow 30,000 sockeye, 2000 pink and 2000 chum salmon to enter the channel at a ratio of three females to every two males each fall. Surplus fish are directed back to Weaver Creek to spawn naturally.

The sorting and counting station

Once past the gateway, the salmon enter the spawning channel itself, a winding stream almost four kilometres long. The channel is specially designed with a gravel bed where spawning occurs. The female fish digs tail down into the gravel create a hole about twenty centimetres deep. She lays her eggs and a male comes along and sprays his milt over the eggs. Then they are covered up and the fish continue along the channel.

Some activity in the water, possibly a female digging a nest.

A female salmon may build several nests before her supply of eggs are used up. Shortly after the salmon, both male and female, are spent, they die. In the wild, the carcasses wash downstream but in the channel, they are collected daily and buried elsewhere on site.

The fish go through a sort of dance or ritual in this whole process. You will see them milling about, sometimes one female chasing another away from a chosen nesting place. A male and female will pair up as a female will not deposit her eggs unless a male is nearby. The male are the larger of the salmon though they look quite similar.

Several salmon in the stream. You can see the salmon up close here as the stream is relatively shallow and the fish come quite close to shore.

The most fun to watch, of course, is salmon leaping over the waterfalls along the way.  The earlier cascades in the stream are higher and take more effort to navigate. The ones in the actual channel are aluminum and are designed to aerate and oxygenate the water. Oxygen-enriched water helps the salmon.  These aluminum barriers have a notch or hole in the middle and the salmon swim up through these notches though occasionally one will just jump over the barrier.

This salmon has just swum through the notch in the aluminum barrier.

Below is a video I shot that shows first the fishway, second the holding area before the counting station, third fish milling about the stream, and lastly, fish swimming through the notch in an aluminum barrier.

The Weaver Creek Spawning Channel is open daily from 8 AM to 4 PM until November 5th. It is an almost park-like setting with walking paths and trees lining the banks. There is ample parking across the street from the hatchery. My wife and I enjoyed our visit a lot and highly recommend it.

There were two busloads of Asian tourists visiting while we were there, as well as couples with kids in tow. This is an excellent educational experience for school age children.

The peak of the salmon run is from October 15 to 25 so now is an opportune time to visit.

I should note that downstream is the Sandpiper Golf Course which has an excellent restaurant called the Clubhouse. We dropped by for dinner after our visit to Weaver Creek. If you’re a golfer you could make a day of it, doing some golfing a well as visiting the fishery.  And Harrison Hot Springs is not far away as well.

And I should also note that, while the Weaver Creek spawners are collected and buried after they die, the many other salmon traveling up other creeks and rivers float back down the river naturally after they pass away. These fish are a favorite food source for bald eagles and the Sandpiper Golf Course is also the site of the annual Bald Eagle Festival.  There you’ll see the “world’s largest concentrated gathering of bald eagles” in November.  I’m told November 5th is the best date for eagle watching.

Since the salmon enhancement centre is open until November 5th, you might want to combine both if you visit in early November. There were no eagles to be seen when we went on Oct. 10th – too early in the season. And there may be fewer fish still making the run by November, so it’s a trade-off.  We will be going back for the eagle festival.

Below are some links of interest followed by some more photos.

A fishy commotion
A salmon scales the fishway
A salmon makes its way through a weir
The Weaver Creek Salmon Spawning Channel entrance
Map showing the creek system and the spawning channel. Water flow is maintained at a constant level in the channel to combat either flooding or drought as the case may be.
Layout of the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel




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Rottnest Island




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Australia is a biologically distinct continent with many species of both plant and animal life that live nowhere else in the world. These include, of course, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the koala, the Tasmanian devil, the emu, and a wide variety of snakes and insects.

Some of these flora and fauna are particularly limited in their range. One of these is the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a large cat that looks something like a miniature kangaroo.  The quokka is found only in Western Australia, and only in a limited range in the southwest of the state.

The quokka, a rare marsupial found only in Western Australia

The largest population group, estimated to be between 8,000-12,000 is on Rottnest Island. A smaller group of up to 1000 live on Bald Island near Albany. And about 4000 live on the mainland in scattered colonies in the Margaret River region.

Rottnest got its name because in 1696 the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, thought the creatures were rats and called the island Rotte Nest (rat’s nest). Its native name is Wadjemup.

Today Rottnest Island is a nature preserve with about 100 permanent residents, but it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists with around 500,000 visitors annually. It can be reached by high speed passenger ferries from downtown Perth, Fremantle, North Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Visitors are not restricted to day visits as there is a hotel on the island as well as cabins for rent.

One of the fast ferries to Rottnest Island

The island lies 18 kilometres off the coast from Fremantle. The nineteen square kilometre island has three plant species endemic to the island including the Rottnest Island Pine. The only predators that prey on quokkas on Rottnest are snakes, including the poisonous dugite. The mainland population was decimated with the introduction of dogs, cats and foxes.

The fast ferries land at a pier in Thomson Bay. On shore you’ll find the visitor center and a small collection of shops and restaurants. You can walk to many of the sites popular with visitors or you can book a bus tour of the island. You can also rent Segways, take guided walking tours and even board a small train.

On both of our visits we opted to walk around taking in the scenery before embarking on a bus trip to the other end of the island.

Walking along the streets around Thomson Bay

Our first priority was to see a quokka and we did not have to wait long. They are everywhere. They are not afraid of people and it is easy to approach them, though feeding them is prohibited. Local businesses sometimes find them a nuisance and one shop featured a sign with a stylized picture of a quokka with a “No” slash across it.

Daughter Sarah petting a quokka while Janis snaps a photo

Not far from the town is the Bathhurst Lighthouse, one of two on the island. The lighthouse overlooks a spectacular beach and the shoreline is a beautiful melange of sea and wind sculpted rock.

The sculpted shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Janis and Sarah on the beach near the Bathurst Lighthouse

The island has a varied history. It was at one time a penal colony, a military installation, and an internment camp for enemy prisoners during both World Wars. The island also has several salt lakes and was, at one time, the largest producer of salt in Western Australia.

The penal colony was used to house Aboriginal prisoners and closed in 1902. About 3700 prisoners aged from eight to seventy had been housed there over the lifetime of the colony. 369 died there including five who were hanged.

Lomas Cottage was used to house just one prisoner, John Lomas. His is an unusual story.

After exploring the area between the dock and the lighthouse, we hopped on the bus that takes you around the island. It’s a hop on, hop off affair with a number of stops along the way. We were only there for a day each time so we got off at the far end of the island near Cape Vlamingh.

This is a spectacular venue where you easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There are two sites to visit here. One is Cathedral Rocks. These are a series of small rocky islands just offshore that are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals.

New Zealand fur seals on the Cathedral rocks

These playful creatures love to frolic in the water, often swimming on their backs with their flippers in the air, doing rolls and otherwise cavorting in the waves. We also saw a king’s skink on one occasion.

Cavorting for the tourists

A few hundred yards away is Cape Vlamingh. A wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout that commands a spectacular view of Fish Hook Bay as well as the open ocean at the west end of the island. The surf is strong here with rolling breakers crashing on the reefs and pounding through various nooks and fissures carved into the shoreline.

Surf crashing onto the shore at Cape Vlamingh

After catching the next bus back, we headed along the north shore of the island, passing the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes before arriving back at the town.

One of the salt lakes with the Wadjemup Lighthouse in the background

In town we passed the old salt house, once a center of commerce on the island. And we passed the Rottnest Island Hotel, which used to be the summer home of the Governor of Western Australia.

The Rottnest Island Hotel

We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the island on our first trip. The cafe had netting surrounding the large patio to keep quokkas out. While we were eating, the little fellahs would poke their noses up to the netting at our feet begging for handouts. One managed to get through the netting at one end and a waitress spent some time chasing the critter around trying to shoo him out. I asked her why she didn’t just pick the animal up and carry him out since they were relatively tame. She replied that it’s best not to touch them as they can carry salmonella. Oops – we had petted one earlier. Good thing we washed our hands!

This restaurant’s patio is surrounded by netting to keep the quokkas out.
But that didn’t deter them from visiting diners seated near the edge of the patio. I think they know how cute they are and use it to advantage.

On our second trip to Rottnest we encountered a special treat along the shore of Thomson Bay. Lots of boats tie up here, and the beach is popular with tourists. We saw a bit of a commotion nearby and went to check it out. It seems a stingray had swum right up to the shore, which amused a crowd of onlookers.

A tourist checks out this stingray that swam up to the edge of the beach.

There is a lot more to see and do on Rottnest and one could easily spend a week or two here checking it out. There are, in fact, 37 beaches on Rottnest. There are two military installations with  fortifications and big guns at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, both open to visitors. There is a golf course and a wind turbine. And there are lots of cabins as well as campgrounds and the hotel for visitors wanting to stay longer. It even has an airport if you’d rather fly in.

A wildlife refuge and a summer playground, as well as a step back into history, Rottnest is a terrific venue for the explorer. Check out the additional photo galleries linked below as well as the official Rottnest Island website. You can just scroll down to the photo galleries if you are on the front page.




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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island East End




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Here are some additional photos from the East End of Rottnest Island.

Overlooking Pinky Beach from the Bathurst Lighthouse
The Bathurst Lighthouse
Sculptured shoreline near the Bathurst Lighthouse
Some local residences on Rottnest Island. Some are available as rentals.
No quokkas allowed! 
Perth seen from Rottnest Island, 19 kilometres away.
Salmon Bay – actually not east end but more like the middle of the island.
The Wadjemup Lighthouse is also in the middle of the island overlooking Salmon Bay to the south. This photo is taken from the salt lakes west of the lighthouse.
The old salt store on Rottnest Island
Some outdoor seating near the Rottnest Island Hotel
Sarah and Janis head down to the beach on Thomson Bay
Lots of boats are moored on the bay.
Checking out the stingray that swam up.
The stingray
And a last look at one of those cute little quokkas!



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Photo Gallery: Rottnest Island West End




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Here are some additional photos from the west end of Rottnest Island including the Cathedral Rocks and Cape Vlamingh.

Janis and Sarah checking out the seals at Cathedral Rocks
Seals at Cathedral Rocks
A seal shows off
A king’s skink
Closer look at the king’s skink
Fish Hook Bay
Janis and I at Cape Vlamingh
Waves crashing through a rock cavern
Rock formations and waves

 




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Our Cabo Adventure




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The iconic image of Cabo San Lucas is the famous arch, El Arco, a rocky outcrop on the tip of the peninsula not far from the town of Cabo San Lucas. But Cabo is more than just the town and the rock formations. A plethora of large resort hotels dot the coastline between that town and the town of San José del Cabo. And, of course, there are lots of golf courses and a national park near by.

Our first visit to Cabo was to the town. It was the first port of call on a cruise we took in 2007. Although there were excursions available, we opted to wander around on our own. We were surprised to see heavily armed soldiers on duty on the docks.

Along the waterfront in Cabo.
Along the waterfront in Cabo.

Cabo is a pretty little town and we stopped at a place called Margarita Villa for the largest Margaritas we had ever seen.

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Janis and I knock back a couple of giant Margaritas.

Our second trip to Cabo was in 2013 when we spent a week at an all-inclusive resort about half-way between the two towns. The Dreams Resort, like many resorts along the strip, has fabulous amenities – a large swimming pool with a swim-up bar, several fine restaurants, and entertainment.

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The Dreams Resort at Cabo San Lucas

Sandy beaches spanned the front of the resort and off in either direction past many other resorts. Every morning we would start our day with a walk along the beach for an hour or so. The ocean here is a deep blue and the surf is quite fierce. There are warnings to be careful of undertows and riptides. Swimming is at your own risk.

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At one end of the long beach along the Cabo peninsula are these rocky outcrops. You can see the ferocity of the waves as they crash.

One time we were walking along talking and maybe closer than we thought because a large wave crashed and pounded up to where we were. The water swirled around our feet and Janis lost her footing. As she fell, her new hat flew off. I quickly grabbed the hat and was surprised to see her sliding down the sand flat on her back away from me into the sea.

I followed her out and as the wave settled she struggled to her feet and I grabbed her hand and we raced back up the sand out of reach of the next wave. It was a bit of a scare and she lost her glasses in the process. But hey, I saved the hat!

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The picture of me that serves as the header for this blog was shot on our Cabo vacation in 2013.

One day we took the bus into the town of San José del Cabo. It’s a picturesque village with a large church and a central plaza. We wandered around and visited a few shops but there is not a lot to do there.

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San José del Cabo, a pretty little town but not really a lot to do here.

The resort often had entertainment and one evening show featured acrobats twirling batons of fire as well as a lot of dancers on the beach.

Of course, a lot of time was spent just lounging by the pool reading, or going for a swim. Who wouldn’t want to take a dip when the pool has a swim-up bar!

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Sipping Margaritas at the swim-up bar. Life is good!

Later in the week we booked a sunset sailing excursion in town. We took the bus to the city and boarded the boat, a large sailboat. This was a terrific adventure, the surf, the wind, the sail flapping in the breeze.

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Heading out on the sailboat.

The ship took us past the famous El Arco and along the way we saw a narrow strip of sand between two imposing cliffs. The beach, we were told, led to another beach on the other side. The beach on this side was called Lover’s Beach. It is safe to swim here as this is the sheltered side.

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The gap leads to the Pacific side of the Land’s End and Divorce Beach. Swimming there is dangerous. This side, on the Sea of Cortes, is quite safe.

The other side is called Divorce Beach. Here you are exposed to the open sea and the surf is unpredictable and dangerous. Rogue waves, strong undertows and riptides have claimed lives here. Swimming is not recommended. When we returned home I found a few stories on the Internet of drownings and narrow escapes.

We were served a tasty meal aboard and then we sailed into the sunset. A gorgeous sight. We enjoyed this sailing adventure a lot.

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Sunset at sea.

And while we had a great week what with the sea and surf, the swim-up bar at the pool, the fabulous restaurants, and the sailing adventure, we had an unexpected surprise on our last day there.

Dreams Resort is part of a sea turtle rehabilitation program. Five species of sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches of Cabo every June. Some are protected and sheltered until they hatch and return to the sea, but many of the eggs are gathered and taken to safe hatching grounds. When the hatchlings are large enough, they are returned to the sea.

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A large bin full of baby sea turtles.

On our last day there, the resort announce that they would be having a turtle release in the evening just before sunset. Everyone eagerly gathered on the beach to watch.

Hundreds of little sea turtles were placed on the sand and they crawled eagerly out to the sea. As they got closer, the surf pulled some in, and also washed some back up onto the beach. People were eager to help the little critters make it back to their home. It was quite a sight to see.

After a week in Cabo we flew back home and had another adventure, an emergency landing in San Francisco as one of the engines on the plane failed. So we got home a day late, but very happy to have spent a week in fabulous Cabo San Lucas.

Be sure to check out the additional photo gallery for more pics and vids. Either click on the link or if you are in the main page, scroll on through.

 




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