The last time we studied salmon we were in California and we lived very near a creek where the kokanee salmon spawned every autumn. We had such a tremendous experience and reading back over the entry I remember the excitement of the day spent with my boys.
I hope you’re enjoying the autumn series of Outdoor Hour Challenges posted here on Fridays. Please note that all of the challenges along with corresponding notebook pages are available to Ultimate Naturalist Members at the Handbook of Nature Study.
You can see all of the ebooks available by clicking the graphic above. This includes 20 ebooks, 76 archived newsletters, and over 75 other printable notebook pages and activities.
We were able to experience two kinds of salmon and their spawning this autumn.
The Kokanee salmon are a land-locked species that live in the high mountain lake and then return to the creek of their birth for spawning.
This shallow creek is the perfect place for laying eggs in the gravel.
The fish come by the thousands, swimming and leaping around in the water as they make their way back up the creek from the lake.
The bears are around and we are warned to keep clear of them as they come for their autumn feast of salmon after the fish have spawned and then die.
Even though these are land-locked salmon, they still go through the same changes that their ocean cousins perform. Their colors change and their jaws and teeth become more prominent.
They wiggle a little dance to court the females and then fertilize her eggs. It is amazing to watch.
There are two bridges that you can watch the fish from and on this day there were quite a few nature lovers out there viewing the fish ritual.
The ducks, gulls, and eagles all depend on the salmon spawning for their autumn diet. We didn’t see any eagles on this day but the ducks were present.
They eat the freshly laid eggs if they get the chance.
Our second salmon observing opportunity came this past weekend at the American River above Sacramento. There is a fish hatchery below a dam where the salmon will make their way up the fish ladder.
Here is the ladder the salmon will leap up as they make their way to the hatchery. The officials were waiting until the next day to open the gate that ajoins the river to the ladder.
We were a little early but we were still able to observe the *huge* Chinook salmon waiting at the gate to climb up. They were actually jumping up out of the water and slamming into the metal gate. One sign says they can leap out of the water nine feet!
The Chinook are much larger than the Kokanee and we decided it was because they have a much longer migration journey. They travel round trip 2,000 miles from their birthplace, down the American River, through the Sacramento Delta and then out into the Pacific Ocean. Two or three years later, they make the return trip and end up at their birthplace again….changing from freshwater fish to saltwater fish and back again.
The hatchery we visited has a lovely visitor’s center to learn more about the cycle of life of the salmon.
Trout are filling the holding ponds of the hatchery at the moment. There are steelhead and rainbow trout to view. In a month or so the steelhead will start their journey up the fish ladder and we may take time to visit again.
We had an additional observation of the rainbow trout a few weeks ago at a local pond that they stock for the kids to fish in. They are such beautiful fish and very tasty too. (I’m surprised I didn’t encourage us all to taste test the salmon and the trout…next time.)
So for our Outdoor Hour Challenge we were able to compare two different species of salmon as well as the salmon to the trout.
Our favorite is still the Kokanee salmon in its wild habitat and its unique cycle of life.
Here is a nature journal entry I made a few years ago featuring this colorful amazing fish.
Inside Preparation Work:
Trout: Read pages 156-158 in the Handbook of Nature Study (Lesson 40). Much of this information seems outdated but if you Google search “trout fishing NAME OF YOUR STATE” you will probably find enough current information to fill in the gaps. Try to determine what kind of trout you have in your area: Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat, Brook, Golden, or Lake. Here is some additional information on the Brook Trout (includes a video).
Salmon: There are no specific pages in the Handbook for the salmon but there is plenty of information online to use as part of this challenge. Here is a coloring book for the Pacific Salmon and Steelheadthat is excellent (this download link keep disappearing so do a Google search for it if you can’t get it from the link provided). You can print the entire book out and use it to pre-study salmon. Here is the Atlantic Salmon version. Make sure your child understands that the salmon lives part of its life in saltwater and part in fresh water.
Compare a Trout and a Salmon
Does it live in fresh water or salt water?
Size, color, shape, markings, placement of fins, eyes.
Where do they lay eggs, how is the nest made, and how are the eggs protected
Outdoor Hour Time:
This is the perfect time for a field trip to a fish hatchery in your local area. Google search “fish hatchery list YOUR STATE NAME”. This will usually give you at least one good lead to where you can visit to see fish up close. If you cannot find a hatchery to visit, ask someone you know who is a fisherman if they could bring you a fish to observe up close. As a last resort, visit a local pet shop or an aquarium and look at any fresh water fish.
Lots of choices for this challenge as part of your follow-up: Coloring book pages from above, the trout notebook page or the salmon notebook page in the Autumn ebook, a blank page in your nature journal, or the Venn Diagram activity suggested above. There is also a Salmon Life Cycle notebook page in the ebook. Have your child narrate what they learned from this challenge and help them write about it in their nature journal or on their notebook page.
We took a long walk today to enjoy the last of the hot afternoons…we know they will be coming to an end soon. Here are a few things I want to share from our day.
This is a sure sign that autumn is coming quickly. The aspens are beginning to change color and the wind makes them shimmer and shake.
The Kokanee salmon are spawning and their green and red color is brilliant in the clear creek water.
The creek is very shallow and the salmon come here to lay their eggs and die. This becomes a habitat for eagles and bears and ducks this time of year. Can you guess why?
If you click this photo it will enlarge and you will see the outline of a bear at the bottom of the photo among the trees. She was on the other side of the creek sharing a salmon with her baby. We gave her a lot of space and the few of us that were there snapped a few photos and left her in peace.
The whole afternoon was picture postcard perfect.
The Pussy Paws are golden and the Rabbitbrush is golden and the pines are green and the sky is blue……where are my paints?
This was a great afternoon and I feel so refreshed.
What a wonderful afternoon drive we had yesterday! The fall colors were popping out all around us and we were pointing out the car windows, totally amazed at the colorful show we could see as we drove along.
The aspens were glorious and the sun even made a brief showing in the late afternoon.Walking along the path under the aspens, I remembered why I love this variety of tree.
Here is our regular stretch of beach at the lake. We indulged in a picnic dinner of roast chicken and salad and then realized that we were all alone at the beach for the first time ever. It was quiet except for the Stellar’s jays.
The three boys were erecting driftwood and rock sculptures while the rest of us took a walk out onto the dock. The sun was beginning to set and we very reluctantly started back to the car.
Earlier in the afternoon, we also went to see the Kokanee salmon spawning in the creek and these signs were something new in the last few weeks. Apparently there are three mama bears with cubs in this area and they are feasting on salmon during the spawning period.
While we were observing the salmon in the creek….a bear was spotted on the opposite side of the water. The bear was totally and completely uninterested in us humans and she went about its business of eating and foraging around in the bushes. We did get a really great view of the bear and I was too busy watching her to take a photo. I do not have a very good zoom on my little camera so it would probably not have turned out very well anyway. Take my word for it, this was not a scary encounter at all. There were a lot of salmon to occupy the bear and a lot of water inbetween us. We watched for a few minutes and then hiked along the path.
There is nothing mentioned in the Handbook of Nature Study about the salmon but I was surprised to find a section on goldfish. I read over the observation suggestions and they were quite good so we will be including a study of our goldfish when the weather is too yucky to go outside. There is always some way to fit nature study in if you are diligent.
We found a lot of interesting feathers on this hike. I love this polka dotted one the best. I am guessing it is a woodpecker feather but I am not sure.
“The color of feathers and often their shape make some birds more beautiful; while in others, the color of the feathers serves to protect them from the observation of their enemies.” Handbook of Nature Study, pages 31-32 about feathers as ornaments
What a great day for a family drive, hike, and picnic.
Yesterday we took another shot at finding some eagles to watch. We have an eagle habitat about 45 minutes from our house, near a salmon spawning creek. We went up there a few weeks ago to watch the salmon and we thought we saw an eagle circling overhead, up over the pines. Of course we hadn’t brought our binoculars along on that trip so we weren’t sure if it was eagle.
The dead tree in the distance along with the green trees has a nest in the top. Click the photo to make it larger and then you will see in the tree that looks dead a sort of platform nest on the top of it. Eagles nests are huge when they are being used.
This time we went back with binoculars in hand to see if we could spot him again. We didn’t. We did see a nest in the distance. We did see an snowy egret or egretta thula, some Canadian Geese, and several varieties of ducks.
This is really a hard photo to see the snowy egret but he is the white dot in the brown tree in the middle of the photo…..click the photo to make it larger. They are normally down by the water but this one kept flying up into the trees.
Spawning salmon-click the photo to make it larger and you will see the beautiful color of the spawning Kokanee salmon Thousands of salmon all trying to get upstream to spawn…so colorful.
The highlight of the day was watching the Kokanee salmon spawning in Taylor Creek. There were hundreds and hundreds of these brightly colored salmon, all making there way up the creek to spawn and die at the end of their life cycle.
There was nothing in the Handbook of Nature Study about eagles…not a common bird for most. I will look further into the bird section of the book in the spring when we are focusing on birds.
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