Salmon and Swans Show Conservation Successes

A quick glance this morning at Buckingham Creek confirmed that no more salmon are spawning, but the evidence that their life-cycle drew to a successful end is seen in the salmon carcasses now visible along the creek.

The rotting salmon are generating a bit of a stench for sure, but it’s a good stink! To borrow a famous line from the movies and add a bit of a twist: “We should love the smell of dead salmon in the morning…. It smell[s] like victory.” It’s the way things end for all Pacific salmon. Death after spawning is a real victory. Their life cycle is complete, and the next generation is, we hope, soon to be wriggling out of the gravel and heading downstream to the Pacific Ocean.

Even in death, the adults are helping their offspring. The rotting carcasses provide nutrients for the minute animals and plants that the newly hatched salmon fry will feed on at the beginning of their journey to the sea. So hold your nose if you must, but keep that smile on your face for the salmon.

So while the action on the creek now moves into the realm of the tiny and barely visible, we’ve had some exciting visitors to the lake over the past couple of weeks. A couple of Trumpeter Swans have been visiting the west end of Deer Lake and feeding there. The heaviest bird in North America, Trumpeter Swans are a conservation success story.

By the 1930’s, the known population of Trumpeter Swans, found only in North America, was down to about 70 individuals. They were victims, on a massive scale, of hunting, for the plume trade and for food, and from destruction of their habitat. On the brink of extinction, they were finally given full protection and work was started to bring them back to their former numbers and range across the Continent.

On the last continental census in 2005 they numbered over 34 000. It seems that there were a few unknown populations out here in Western Canada and Alaska back in the 30’s, but nonetheless this is an incredible success story. Isn’t it amazing what a little protection from hunting, and some habitat protection and enhancement can achieve?

Here’s a better picture taken of one of the birds by Brian Nottle, a regular walker, and photographer at Deer Lake. A beautiful adult bird, the large, all black, straight-topped bill going right back to the eye distinguishes the Trumpeter from the introduced Mute Swan, which has a nobbly bill, and from its wild close-cousin, the Tundra Swan, which sports a yellow spot where the eye meets the bill.

Trumpeter Swans don’t breed locally. Those visiting us here are likely part of a large number of birds wintering out on the Fraser Delta or up the Fraser Valley where they particularly like eating the potatoes left in the farmers’ fields after harvest. On Deer Lake, they are eating the aquatic vegetation at the west end of the lake – another positive payoff from the City of Burnaby’s  restrictions on access to this ecologically sensitive area of the lake by boats, and from shore.

The swans are not daily visitors, but they’ll likely be back again over the winter. So keep a look out; they’re a visual treat.