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They left home as babies, but they found their way back

Learn where to watch spawning salmon in Whatcom County

The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association offers special events to see spawning salmon in Whatcom County creeks every fall. Check n-sea.org for more information.
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The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association offers special events to see spawning salmon in Whatcom County creeks every fall. Check n-sea.org for more information.

With the return of the rainy season, wild Pacific salmon are circling the mouths of the rivers and streams where they hatched years ago, waiting for the waters to rise enough for their final journey home to spawn.

It’s a story as old as time, said Annitra Peck, program director for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.

I love their calico spawning pattern. They really dress up for the party.

Annitra Peck, Nooksack Salmon Enhancment Association

“They have an imprint in their brains that works with composition of the stream,” Peck said. “No Google maps. No smartphone. It’s one of their most fascinating characteristics. They get fairly far from home and don’t have landmarks to go by. It’s the ocean – but somehow, they find their native stream.”

For the next three Saturdays, NSEA naturalists are offering their annual free guided events to see Pacific salmon spawning on local creeks. Whatcom County is home to all five species of Pacific salmon: chum, Chinook, pink, sockeye and coho.

Chum salmon are the most common species found in November at easily accessible Whatcom County creeks. Recent rains should encourage salmon to start moving upstream, Peck said.

Salmon undergo marked changes in color and body shape during their spawning “runs.” Chums turn from the usual green to a brown and white tortoise-shell coloration.

“I love their calico spawning pattern,” Pack said. “They really dress up for the party.”

To see salmon, watch silently along a creek and wait for the fish to move.

Peck said the free guided events are popular with families and that staff members hope to give children an appreciation of the iconic Northwest fish and their environment. Staff members will have displays illustrating the salmon life cycle and have hot beverages, snacks and games for children – plus free polarizing glasses so visitors can see into the water without glare.

IMG_salmon_2_4_1_P09OB2F5_L268388404
A chum salmon in its calico spawning pattern swims near the bank of Chuckanut Creek in November 2014. Robert Mittendorf rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

This year’s salmon tours include Chuckanut Creek near Arroyo Park on the outskirts of Bellingham, which features streamside trails and a footbridge that lets visitors get close to the chum salmon as they fight the current upstream to mate and spawn, building a “redd” of gravel for their eggs.

For the first tour on Saturday, NSEA pairs with the Skagit Fishery Enhancement Group to show visitors both the importance of the Skagit and Whatcom watersheds on local salmon populations. Viewing will be from a bridge not too far upstream from the shellfish farm.

This year’s final tour will be Nov. 19 on Haynie Creek, and feature discussion of recent habitat restoration efforts. Visitors might see some chinook salmon on that tour, Pack said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

Salmon tours

Free guided events show visitors where the salmon run and offer information about their importance to the environment. Look for NSEA signs. Dogs can disturb the fish.

▪  Oyster Creek: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. Park at Taylor Shellfish Farms, 2182 Chuckanut Drive.

▪  Chuckanut Creek: Noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 11 at Arroyo Park. Park at the two small lots near 1700 Old Samish Road or at the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead.

▪  Haynie Creek: Noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 19 at Dakota Creek Golf Course. Parking is available at 3258 Haynie Road in Custer.

Information: n-sea.org; email: info@n-sea.org, or call 360-715-0283.

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