Tag Archives: Animals

Celebrating Sockeye…but how many?

Every year, sockeye salmon that have matured in the Pacific Ocean, make their way up west coast rivers to spawn. Many enter the Fraser River enroute to Shuswap Lake, and into the Adams River to lay their eggs. This is a dominant 4th year for the annual run, a pattern established after rock slides in the Fraser hampered the runs decades ago. The largest recent run, in 2010, saw 3.86 million fish arrive in the Shuswap. Those numbers have dropped significantly since then for a variety of reasons, including fishing, changes to habitat and warming water temperatures. In 2022, fewer than 600,000 may complete the journey. It’s another indicator of the decline in salmon species that has been observed throughout the Salish Sea.

We were fortunate to see the 2010 banner year’s run, so we were prepared for much less this time. The river didn’t run red with fish as it did then. Instead, an irregular stream of mostly sockeye and a few black chinook could be seen at the viewing points.

In years past, you could walk a forest trail beside the river and stop at many spots to watch the fish surging through the current, or flipping their tails to create a redd (a depression in the sand and rocks) for their eggs. Several high water events have redirected the river, eroding much of the old shoreline. In contrast, this year of drought has dried up many channels. The warm temperatures of late summer have left the water at a balmy 15 degrees, we were told on the day we visited the park. Hopefully, many more salmon were in a holding pattern farther downstream until cooler conditions triggered their final spawning rush.

Salmon have been a vital food source for 1000s of years for the Secwepemc people of Shuswap Lake and Adams Lake, so they have a deep interest in promoting conservation of this wild resource. Volunteers run the Salute to the Sockeye each dominant year, an event with interpretive facilities where visitors can appreciate and understand the ecology of the salmon and the environment. It was obvious by the crowds of school kids we saw during our own visit last week that the educational focus on this aspect of science is strong.

Will nature find a way to boost salmon numbers again in 4 years?

Smarter than a squirrel?

I think I’ve outsmarted a squirrel. How? But maybe first …..why?

If you’ve visited here before, you know I’m a birder. On winter days, a sunflower seed feeder hangs by my deck. In summer, there’s a hummingbird feeder within easy view. We live in bear (and raccoon) country, so the seed feeder is taken indoors at night. And then there are the squirrels. After several years of squirrel absence, one red squirrel has turned up in the back garden….lots of trees out there, plenty of habitat and food.

But, of course, a seed feeder is a tempting target for a meal. Easy too: all you have to do is climb up on the deck rail, take a short leap….bingo, food! But my feeder is for the birds. Squirrels are on their own. They don’t hibernate, just nap the colder days away. When the temperature rises and the sun is out, they emerge to forage. Our ‘resident’ squirrel is energetic, plump, healthy looking. It doesn’t need my seed.

So how to keep this one at bay? There are all kinds of ‘squirrel proof’ feeders out there if you have the right place to hang them. The inventors recognized that the squirrel is a highly intelligent, determined. rodent, able to problem-solve. But I found a hopper-style feeder without a tray (where the seed gets mucky and encourages diseases to spread) but with a slim perch rail from which birds can reach the slits to pick out a seed.

American Goldfinches

I hung it above a shrub so birds could also perch on the branches….until the squirrel showed up, climbed up, hung on it and munched away. So we moved the feeder to hang under the house eaves a short distance away. That’s when squirrel figured out it could leap from the deck rail, no problem.

I watched this manoeuvre and decided it wouldn’t do. I needed something to block its path. So I hung up an elastic cord (bungee style) and dangled an inch-wide lanyard ribbon with a bit of weight on it between its take-off spot and the feeder. Theory: a visual distraction might work. Squirrel took the leap, grabbed the ribbon, and rode up and down as the elastic stretched. So funny to watch! It didn’t move on to the feeder….hmmm. But once it had taken a couple of bungee rides, it realized the ‘distraction’ wasn’t harmful. It could leap right past…and it did.

Over to me: obviously, I needed a wider distraction. So I added a foam tray, slits cut in it to thread the lanyard through. It swung in the breeze…would it bother the birds? I added a metal key ring for a weight to calm it down, and removed a bit of the bulk by cutting zigzags along the edges.

Now the chickadees and song sparrow were happy, but the squirrel not so much. It has jumped onto my free, homemade-with-recycled-material distracter, taken some bungee rides up and down but is unable to reach the feeder…so far. Can’t go over it, can’t go under it… Around it? Not so far. The distracter is too wide so it can’t angle its leap around it. Nor can it give a firm enough push off it to jump the rest of the way to the feeder.

So we are at a stalemate…either my solution continues to work, or ‘smarty squirrel’ will outsmart me again! Meantime, I’m happily watching and counting the birds. Spring is coming, so maybe a sweetheart squirrel will turn up and the two of them will be too busy racing through the trees to bother me anymore.

Night visitors!

Maybe they’d come prowling before, but had left no sign. Maybe it was the suet I’d hung on the hook only a couple of days earlier that attracted them. But on the night of our first snow, they came a’calling. We spotted the telltale tracks of their investigations first thing next morning. Raccoons! Looked like a pair of them, and they’d checked out every possible food source in my back yard: suet feeder, bird feeder and composter.


The suet feeder, on a shepherd’s hook that normally stands upright, had been pulled down to coon-nose level. Not eaten though. Guess that wasn’t to their taste, although it is something these omnivores will eat.



On the deck, lots of muddy footprints (they must have been under the deck, too) showed they’d pattered through the spilled sunflower seed from the bird feeder. With only a slender perching rail on it for the birds, there was no way a raccoon could occupy the feeder itself. So they’d climbed onto the deck rail, reached up and tipped it. I’m darned sure it was full the day before!

The composter I use
for veggie trimmings….they just took a look and passed that by. But raccoons will
eat almost anything. That’s why they easily adapt to living near human
habitation, feasting off the food we may inadvertently leave outside —  from picnic leftovers in a park to corn
growing in the back garden. You can find out more about ways we’ve made it easy for these furry neighbors to move into urban areas across the country in a
fascinating book, City Critters (Orca, 2012) by Nicholas Read.

Living in this rural subdivision for 15 years, we’ve seen deer, coyotes, even bears and tracks of cougars. Raccoons have good options around here for dens, and they must be thriving, boldly making the rounds of likely snacking spots. I expect we’ll see more signs of them….even if they do their prowling so silently we won’t likely hear them. But I’ll be taking in the feeders at night until they decide to bed down for the coldest parts of the winter. No more ‘free lunches’ around here!