Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday Walk: Fall on the Estuary

The morning rains ceased in plenty of time for the Wednesday walking group to meet at our usual place, Litos Café. As we decided where to go, passengers awaiting the little ferry to Saltspring wandered nearby, including this cutie – six month old Sully.

Sully is the nephew of Tarben, one of the Wednesday walking canines. Wiggle butts and puppydog eyes drew us like a magnet, so of course we had to stop to visit and to collect bulldoggy face washes.

We said goodbye to Sully and headed out to the estuary at Swallowfield, where the leaves are now drifting to the ground yet fall colours are still plentiful, and the spawning salmon create thick swirls and splashes at the mouth of the Chemainus river.

It is hard to describe, and even harder to photograph, the impact of dozens of large spawning salmon flipping and splashing and shoving, preparing to lay their eggs on the shallow gravel banks that separate the fingers of the stream. The ripples you see in the above photo (you may need to click on it for a better view, then use your back browser to return to the blog) are not caused by wind or tide but by an undulating school of fish, most weighing between three and ten pounds I would guess, churning around and around and around.

I suspect they were getting ready to deposit and fertilize the eggs in the gravel. Everything I have learned about salmon suggests that is the case – their colour had changed, the water was shallow, the gravel plentiful, the fish were flipping (an action they use to loosen the eggs for deposit), and the large males were shoving the smaller fish out of the way as they compete for the privilege of fertilizing the eggs. Pacific salmon are somewhat unique among fish, in that spawning is their final act before death.

I've also always been taught that this is NOT a good time to fish – not only does it destroy the next generation of salmon, but the meat of spawning fish is soft and mealy, not firm and tasty as it is earlier in the season. In fact, in many states it is illegal to fish among spawnbeds, though I was unable to find any regulation forbidding it here.

In fact, we had the dubious privilege of watching a young man spear fish after fish simply by wading in, aiming, and then releasing the spear in the tradition of First Nations fishing cultures. (Note: spearing fish is illegal for nonnative anglers in BC; the First Nations are not governed by these same regulations).

Within a few minutes, he had pulled these four from the river, but then unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortuitously from the fishes perspective) lost his gear.

We left the anglers to their activities and wandered on further, where the dogs could run and play and swim without fear of being tangled in fishline or snagged by a hook. Because of the salmon run, the sky was filled with eagles and gulls and other birds harvesting their own catch to fill their bellies. In the pools of water, jellyfish floated – not big and red like the smacks that arrived in Osbourne Bay earlier this fall, but tiny and transluscent, drifting with the tide:

We enjoyed an hour or so watching the dogs play, humans drinking in the beautiful scenery while the dogs splashed happily at the water’s edge, or romped in the mud and grasses.

Tarben and Tess kept us entertained with their ongoing Battle For the Branch – alternatively stealing it from each other, parading around with it held high, or playing tug of war as they each grasped an end.

In this video, Tarben has decided the stick shall be his, and warns off all contenders – but watch what happens at the end when he gets distracted by a movement in the grass! LOL - Poor Tarben!

After a while, dark clouds began to gather and so we headed back. On the way home, I stopped to photograph this section of track emerging from the trees:

I had spotted the brilliant yellow, dense, sunlit tunnel of leaves Monday morning on my way to the SPCA, but didn’t have my camera. Now, just two days later, the leaves were already turning brown and many had fallen – yet still it was a lovely sight.

I do believe fall is my favourite time of year.


EvenSong said...

I must say, upon reading your post title, I feared you had been knocked into the water by some errant canine! Glad you were speaking of the season, rather than the verb!
Lovely photos!

Jean said...

EvenSong, that made me laugh! I should have used the word "autumn" instead - though it wouldn't be the first time an errant canine had knocked or dragged me into water! My Caleb was a master at that!

Black Jack's Carol said...

Excellent capture of Tarben's embarrassing moment. I await the comeback sequel with anticipation:)

Lovely photos, Jean, and interesting to read about the salmon. We're off this morning to try out your suggestion, the Capilano River Regional Park. Stay posted for an account of our adventure.