Autumn Red and Reproduction

The red osier dogwood is one of my favorite willows. You can find it growing along local trout streams and in stands of huge poplar trees in riparian habitats, further back from the creeks. It is not a big fan of the sun, so north facing plantings and areas that don’t get a lot of sun are a prime habitat, when you are planting them. In the photo below, they are mixed in with poplars and Western Water Birch. Which produce yellow leaves in the fall.

The golden color of canary grass is shown on the right hand side of the photo, with a few shafts of green in the mix. Some of the leaves with both red and yellow color, fall into the stream and you can see them at great depths, sometimes with a few trout holding right over the yellow leaves. this makes it easier to spot trout in deep pools.

The dark color of summer moss on the submerged rocks, helps hide any brook trout that decide to linger in the shallower runs, maybe migrating upstream to spawning beds. Most people might not notice such things, but a keen observer can sometimes get lucky and spot what I have just described. The growth along the Bighill Creek in the town of Cochrane, Alberta is lucky to have excellent green space along the creek in places, running right thru the town. I awoke to the sound of an owl, in the wee early morning hours this past week. How many people can hear such things in the middle of a small town, nestled in the foothills of the east-slopes?

The fall is a time of reproduction in these parts. Some strains of trout are spawning and the wild ungulates are in rut or soon to be. If your lucky to be in the mountains or foothills when the bull elk bugle their mating challenge to potential competitors. This sound also brings in the cow elk. So to see such things that are a wonder of nature, in person, it sometimes raises the hair on the back of your neck, if the bugling bull is close to where you are. Anyway, here in town, the only ungulates you will see during the fall rut are deer. So just spawning trout and deer are what I like to watch in the fall, just down the path from where I live. If it is there to see, I am happy to see it!

The red on this brook trout was easy to spot in the shallow gravel run.

Sometime we need to know what we have before we can properly look after it. There is a responsibility that comes with having a trout stream in our community. It doesn’t take a lot to take care of the fish and the creek, at the same time. The deer numbers could grow to problematic levels in the near future. I have been watching the deer population increase over the past few years, as the deer became more habitualized to us humans and our dogs. At night the deer wander up into our residential streets, from the creek bottom land. They have routes that they follow, knowing where the bird feeders are located and also the well groomed flower and vegetable gardens.

At some point in time, there will be so many deer that people may start feeding the animals and this is when the real problems start. Areas around the city of Edmonton, in suburbs and small communities, have experienced major deer population explosions in the past and they know how bad things can get. The most important control in managing deer numbers has been to discourage any feeding of the animals. Our intentions are always good, but the bad thing is that we are not really helping the deer at all, in the end.

Rock Wall

In 1998, as part of the Canmore Creek Project, a rock wall was constructed on an erosion site, next to historic Canmore Mines #1 shaft. The rock wall would stop the bank erosion and the loading of coal mine tailings, from entering the Canmore Creek. This would allow the stream bed to clean itself and provide a more healthy natural stream bed.

This is the erosion site where coal mine tailings were getting washed into the stream, annually.

It was determined that a rock armoring of the outside bend in the channel would be the best approach. Due in part to the curvature of the outside bank and for appearance sake, large rocks would seat into the bed and eroding bank efficiently. Rocks for the project site, were lowered into the valley using a cable trolley and basket. It was important not to disturb the natural cover, on the steep slopes of the valley, which were comprised of mainly mine tailings and very unstable.

My crew and I constructed the rock wall, with planted willow cuttings that had been pre-grown for this particular project. We also carried out in-stream fish habitat enhancement work along the creek. You can see some nice boulder work, just out from the rock wall.

If you look behind the right shoulder of Eric Lardizable, in the yellow jacket, you will see part of the mining structure at the historic site. The timbers are across the creek channel in the trees. Duncan McColl is on the right in the photo. Duncan was my main guy (foreman) for construction. I was lucky to have such a good crew for that particular stream restoration project. Duncan had been with me from the start, which was a year earlier, on Canmore Creek.

This is a photo of the rock wall, from a downstream perspective, one year later. You can see the willows are now growing good, as hoped. The channel and stream bank will look very natural over time.

On Canmore Creek, there is a natural shale and possible coal seam, right at the big falls on the lower reach of the creek. Even the smaller lower falls is comprised of shale, so there is a lot of shale in the stream bed. However, areas where the current flows faster, show gravel, cobble and boulders beneath the shale. Trout can actually spawn in shale, but it is very hard on the fishes tail. A trout can wear part of the tail fin off, but fanning a nest in sharper shale beds. However, the success of incubation of trout eggs in shale, must be high enough to support a population of trout on some streams.

This is a photo of the same rock wall, nine years after construction. Someone has built some small rock dams both upstream on the wall and just downstream. This playing in the creek is typical, when the project site is close to any residential homes. The willows are now growing well and the rock-wall looks totally natural.

At least, both the log wall site and the rock wall site are no longer contributors to the high volumes of tailings that enter the creek. The stream does support a population of brook trout and I even captured brown trout while trout trapping the section between the big falls and lower falls. I later learned that some residents once netted big brown trout below the falls and helped them out by carrying the trout above the falls. This information was given to me by several nearby residents. So whether there still are brown trout in that reach of the creek, it is yet to be determined, by me personally.

This is another view of the rock wall site. It looks pretty natural now. No more loose mine tailings visible, other than where heavy traffic of people visiting the old mine shaft, hidden behind the trees and blocked off, for good reason. There is a lingering odor of gases coming out of the old mine. Not a good place to get too close to.

The last time that I visited the rock wall site, the upper part of the rock wall had already grown in with sod, right down to the water’s edge, covering the rocks. There were also spruce trees, along with the planted willows, which are now growing on top of the upper part of the wall. On my next trip up to the area, I will take another photo for some comparison. In the first decade of 2000, there were trout in the creek on every trip I made up to inspect our enhancement work.

Autumn Gold

The title autumn gold can mean a few things to different people, but it could mean a big brown trout, to a fly fisher. Just the look of the photo below brings the thought of a large brown trout with its autumn colors. now the most beautiful that you will see on the big male brown trout. The color on the cotoneaster is beautiful, although it is an invasive that is common on property hedges, all over the neighborhood. However, the old poplar trees are not, they are native to this land and the stream’s riparian zone. The big brown trout that may be living below the trees is also an implant from Germany and possibly Scotland, depending on whether it has orange or red spots. A Scottish brown trout or Lockleven, has no spots.

A likely lie for a brown trout, a slab of autumn gold for the fly fisher.

The yellow and gold color on the changing leaves, helps to reveal our willow and poplar tree plants along the stream banks of local creeks. The tall grass is starting to relax a bit too, which also helps to make spotting planted willows, a lot easier. The nearby prairie grasses still hold dominance along the creek in some areas. Once the soil is disturbed, invasive quack grass moves in and destroys everything. Fortunately, the city of Calgary has cut back on their weed spraying program, which is good for all native willows and those that we planted in recent years. Thanks for sparing some of our native prairie habitat, along with the creek!

All of the willows shown, now growing on both sides of the stream channel of West Nose Creek, were planted as part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. Some of the Corporate group members will probably remember this reach of the creek. the site shown above, received the most attention by corporate groups and other NGO volunteers. What a great thing to see happen, I cannot wait until these plants are another four years into their live spans.
The very top left of this photo shows a patch of yellow, this is actually a willow plant. The willows growing on both sides of the stream channel were all planted in our BVRR&E Program.

Bryant Spawning Gravel

The Bryant family have always been very supportive of our local fisheries habitat enhancement programs. There donations of spawning gravel have been just right, and this is many because they let me rake the spawning gravel from the slopes of pit-run, at there gravel pit. Bary in particular has even helped out, back when we deepened the lower Mitford trout pond. His contacts have made life easier for me and the deepening project turned out to be a major success. The spawning gravel was donated by the Bryants, so this is much appreciated and as you can see from the photo below, the trout love it.

These brook trout are spawning on Bryant Construction gravel. It may take a few seconds for you to find the two trout in this photo, but I can give you a clue. Look for the tails first, its the first give away. The most obvious brook trout tail is above the one that is harder to spot, in the photo.

The Last Crop In Calgary

As usual, eventually things change, people move on and I have to start all over, with permissions to plant. In the pre-season of the year 2020, I hit a road block with my planting efforts in the City of Calgary. New people to deal with and I just don’t have the patience anymore to deal with those that don’t have a clue about riparian planting, and my ambition to teach a newbie wasn’t there. So I decided to shut down my operations in the city and concentrate on the Town of Cochrane and the City of Airdrie. By the end of the 2020 planting season, I was ready to scale down to planting in my home town and this would be my mission for the next few years.

Fortunately, the plantings from previous years, in the city of Calgary, still are growing, so at least I can pass this progress report onto you. The last planting year was 2019 and these plants are coming along just fine. I took a few photos of some 2019 plants that are now into their second year of growth along West Nose Creek, in Calgary. They seem to be doing just fine and the ones that haven’t been damaged by rodents are growing well.

This is a willow planted in 2019, on West Nose Creek, Calgary.
This is one of the plants that was planted right along the water’s edge. I am pretty sure that this plant is either a 2019 or 2018 planting. Sometimes the beavers will take the main shaft off, and all that is left looks like a second year plant. But the bottom line is that the plant is still alive and growing well.

After six good planting years, working with some really good people, in Calgary, I feel that we had a good run of riparian restoration work. It is not easy to work such a program as the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” in a city of such a size. Too many different people to deal with, which always adds a lot more work that I like to do. I would rather just be planting native willows and trees than trying to teach a young dogs new tricks. Besides, I am getting too old for starting anew every year, at least sometimes this is what it feels like when you have to try and sell your program to new people. For parks managers, they sometimes can’t see where the program is going and what the benefits will be in the long run, which is really sad.

However, like I said, the plants that are already in the ground will keep on growing and I can happily report their growth progress to you, in the future. It will be a good way of promoting this technique of riparian restoration, for future parks ecologists, biologists and other park and natural area managers. There is a good library of photos to dig up for comparison, in the future.

Willows that we started to plant in 2016 are now showing above the grass and growing out and over the stream channel. If you look closely at this photo and then imagine how the willows will look in another 4 to 5 years of growth. The tall grass on the nearside of the stream bank hides willows that we planted as well, but they are covered by towering canary grass, and other native grasses growing thick along the stream banks. This is the type of growth that I enjoy watching, over the years.
This willow was planted in the spring of 2019, in a patch of native grasses and rush. The plant will survive into the 2021 growing season, and this is when it should start to grow faster. The plant has already been browsed on by muskrats, yet it continues to grow.

There are now trails in the grass, where people interested in the creek and possibly our plantings, are walking thru our willows and the tall grass, just to check things out. Just like I am constantly doing. I think the interest in the planting program has grown, since the first year on the stream. People, in the city take notice of such things, and the many folks in the surrounding area and the people in the corporate group plantings, are now able to come back to their planting sites and see the results. Soon these people may take a more habitat forming monitoring program on, and joint in on watching the stream transform over time.

I have met a lot of folks over the years, along the streams that I plant. When we meet a few years after the planting, we sometimes talk about how the plants are growing, and this suits me just fine. It is always good to talk to folks who also have an interest in the health of the nearby stream. They will also tell me about the wildlife that they have spotted. I once saw a cow moose at the Stoney trail and Beddington interchange. That was a big surprise, but after some thought on the matter, in the future more wildlife may wander into the creek’s environmental reserve, with a riparian zone providing more cover for wildlife.

Right now, there are beavers, mink, muskrats and coyotes that standout the most. The deer numbers will most likely increase over time, as the new willows and trees that have been planted by the city and in the BVRR&E Program, become more evident. Regardless of the beavers, the cover of new willows and trees will expand out from the creek. We will also probably see more beaver dams in the future, which will also bring more waterfowl to the stream to nest and multiple. The wetland habitat always grows when beavers get to work and more land is flooded by the dams. This will also result in a different kind of wildlife visiting and living along the creek. the great Blue Heron is one bird that really adds to the biodiversity of the healthy riparian habitat.

This Blue Heron is a common sight on Bighill Creek in Cochrane and there are a few that visit the Nose Creek in Airdrie. The birds are one of my favorites to see; along with dippers, mergansers, grebes and so on.

Stream Transformation

My recent tours of planting sites is a great way to finish off another season of planting native willows and trees. This year, it was 3,400 plants, planted on Nose Creek and the Bighill Creek. Already, I have good commitments for next season, so more plants will start their life this next spring. The plants on West Nose Creek have done exceptionally well and the native stock from previous years is growing along the creek, providing plenty of photo opportunities. The stream is already transforming in places and it looks good, especially knowing that from this point on, the plantings will do nothing but good for the stream and its important population of brown trout.

It may not be ready for trout fishers just yet, but we are well on our way. The plantings right along the water’s edge are especially attractive to the eye of an old fly fisher, who has seen plenty of good trout habitat, over the years. When I look at a plant, I can always envision what it might look like in a few more years of growth. The added woody debris to the stream will be a vital part of its new future. Remember, the streams like West Nose Creek once had lots of willow cover, and a population of wild native cutthroat trout. Early survey crews doing work in the Calgary area in the 1880’s, described the heavy cover along West Nose Creek, and cutthroat trout that the crew members would catch for dinner.

You can see the native willows that we planted in previous years, are growing well along the stream banks of West Nose Creek.
This photo shows willows that were planted in 2016, 2017 and in 2019. Some of the smaller plants from the 2019 planting are visible on the far right hand side, near the water’s edge. These plants do take time to grow, in the nutrient poor soil that now borders the West Nose Creek. Many years of land abuse resulted in the old historic riparian growth disappearing and the top soil once held by the roots of willows and trees soon vanished, after the willows and trees were gone. Now, the new willows will help rebuild the soil, adding organics and carbon to the soil.

Willow plants are defined as nitrogen fixers, bringing enrichment to marginal soil with a higher PH. There is mostly clay in the soil these days, but over time this will change, on the surface layers. A reliable source of water, from the creek, will insure the plants can thrive in future years. But this all needs to start somehow. Natural recruitment of native willows and trees will happen over time, but these days we are a little pressed for time, when it comes to natural re-forestation and riparian growth, along creeks that need it. If we can lend a helping hand and get these plants off to a start, by our planting programs, we can speed up the process.

You will see in the photo above that the water is running clean in the creek. If this was the case for most of the year, the creek would have a thriving trout population, but upstream of the city of Calgary, livestock have pretty much decimated the stream and its riparian habitat. Off channel watering from livestock would be a huge step in the right direction, followed by better pasture management and control of livestock access to the stream banks. This is all important when it comes to stream recovery work, and better water quality downstream.

There are areas of planting sites that haven’t been hit hard by fall beaver activity, which indicates that the beavers must have moved on, after completed deforestation of some areas, last fall. So it was a good time to take some photos, before future beaver activity makes the willows disappear, temporarily. Fortunately, now that the plants have made it to a certain point in growth, they are safe from being killed by beavers over grazing. The next few years should show some real progress in our riparian planting efforts on West Nose Creek.

These are all planted willows along Bighill Creek. The first planting at this site was in 2013, a year before the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program” was first started. Since that first planting, multiple plantings in the BVRR&E Program have been completed. You can already see the shade that the larger willows are providing along the creek. The Salix exigua will grow thick along this reach and be really good for the trout population.

The fall weather has been exceptional recently and it is really nice to get out and enjoy the creek and its wildlife. The only problem are the joggers and bikers that use the trail and these people are very inconsiderate, considering the pandemic. Most of these fast moving folks will not warn of their approach as they speed by you, on the trail. Panting and spewing germs is the way they roll. If they had any consideration, they would at least wear a bandana and pull it up over their face when they pass by. I wear a bandana all the time and slip it up over my face whenever someone approaches. You need to be in a state of self defense on the local trail system, these days!

The Fall Tours

It is easy to get motivated to walk the trails along Bighill Creek, in the fall. The color change brings cooler air and fresher than the smoke filled summer days. Fortunate to live so close to a stream, I do like to take advantage when I can. The deer numbers are growing along the stream and in our planted areas there are deer like I cannot remember. There nightly tours to browse in the adjacent residential areas leaves signs of their presence. That favorite bush that you planted might be under constant threat from a nibbling night marauder. There are more and more nibblers these days, so the competition brings the deer out in the day time as well.

Our willow plants get hit pretty hard in some places as well, but this won’t kill the plants. It is actually nice to see the deer and having them wander by my office window from time to time, is all part of the entertainment of living close to a creek.

A pretty picture of the Bighill Creek from the valley rim. The fall colors bring a new season to the stream valley and the wildlife. A time to fatten up for the winter months both in the water and all around it. Even when the sun is not shining brightly, you can enjoy the blend of fall color and the smells of fall.
These willows were planted right along the water’s edge, on Bighill Creek. It is of great interest to me to watch them grow, and how the new growth transforms the stream into a healthier place for wild trout to live.

The fall time is the best time to spot our native willow plantings, in the tall grass of late season. The yellow leaves stand out along the water’s edge. The willows that we planted in the photo above, are from a more recent planting, in 2016. They are growing relatively slowly in the area where they were planted. Most likely, the soil conditions are not ideal, but this will change over time. The fall leaves and dead branches help to enrich the soil with organics and help future growth. The leaf litter from the willows contain a natural growth stimulator in their stems. The acid is similar to aspirin, and it is called acidiasidic acid

This domesticated cat knows where to go and hunt, along the creek. What a perfect color to hide well, in this terrain.

Sometimes you will see the most interesting things along the creek, in Cochrane. The cat that I encountered was in its primordial hunting position, like a bobcat or lynx might also take, when I passed near its well hiding spot. It was obvious that the cat was not afraid of me, otherwise it would have taken off, like a wild stray might. I zoomed in for a closer look, thru the red osier dogwood and water birch. There may have been trout cruising the shallows or just song birds taking shelter in the dense stand of cover. This would attract any cat to hunt in these woods.

Sorry Sight

Yesterday, while walking the Ranch Park area, I came across a school group learning how to fish, on a known key spawning area of the Bighill Creek. It is the start of spawning season on the BH Creek, so harassing spawning trout is not a good idea. They probably didn’t realize this and the teach had probably spotted trout in that area on previous fall days, so assumed it was just resident trout, showing themselves in the shallow gravel bars. But this is not really what is happening right now, because of events like this.

It is not only bad sportsmanship to fish over spawning trout but it is also illegal by law, under the federal fisheries act and also provincial law. This falls under harassing wildlife, which is pointed out in the fishing regulations and most anglers should know this little known fact. The mere fact that we can see brown trout spawning in the creek, as well as brook trout, should be enough for us human intruders. There have been many people that have witnessed the spawning trout in the fall and know that this annual happening should be respected and protected.

I did not disrupt the event in any way, but I did send an informative letter via email, to the principal of St. Timothy High School, in Cochrane. The fisheries recovery work completed over the years on Bighill Creek and tributaries was all directed at recovery of the trout population and also to provide the opportunity for young people to enjoy the sport of fishing on the creek, but in a respectful and mindful way.

These planted willows were part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. The enhancement part of the title is directed towards fish habitat enhancement. They will create excellent fish habitat in the future, but we must take care of the spawning events on this and other streams.

If teachers don’t teach a respectful approach to nature, the kids that they are teaching will be confused in later life. Teach kids to love nature and respect it and in the future, they will be in a position to help protect nature as well. The actual viewing of spawning trout is a wonderful thing to watch, and to see it not being harassed makes life easier for the trout’s tough struggle to survive. Remember, we are not the only beneficiaries to a healthy trout stream, the whole biodiversity of the riparian ecosystem are dependent on every living thing.

Willows In Glenbow Park

Yesterday, I walked the trail down to Glenbow Park, in Cochrane, to see how the willow plants were doing. This part of the Bighill Creek was part of the early planting program that was first started on Millennium Creek in 2006 and 07, and then on Bighill starting in 2009. The Glenbow site was first planted in 2012 and 2013. Since then, annual plantings have occurred. Now, the section of the Bighill Creek is part of the Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program. In any case, the creek is definitely coming along just fine.

The leaves of the willows are now turned yellow, with only a few willows still holding on to the summer green. The tall canary grass, combined with the willows, is providing great overhead cover for the stream and helping to shade out the mid-day sun. The resident trout are safe beneath a tangle of grass and willow limbs, making any threat from angling less of a worry for the fish. There are lots of late season insects still flying over the stream, so it is my guess that the food for trout is not a problem in the creek.

Willows planted in the “Bow Valley Riparian Recovery and Enhancement Program”, in Glenbow Park.

If you get a glimpse thru the grass and willows, and see the surface and depths of the stream, you know that trout lurk in small pockets of cover, below the slick surface flow in the deeper runs. On the shady side of the stream channel, under an over hanging cluster of willow branches, the trout can find protection from the bright rays of sunlight. A wild trout’s eyes are very sensitive to the sunlight, so a retreat to a darker world is always welcome.

The weight of an ants body on a leaf turning color, may be all the leave needs to free itself from the limb, so ant and leaf will fall onto the creek. The leaves will sink to the bottom of the stream and nourish a portion of the aquatic invertebrate population. The ant will drift in the current until it passes close enough to a trout, waiting for just such opportunities, to help in the trout’s mission to fatten up for winter. This is why fall is anything but boring along a trout stream. The warm sun and brighter fall colors work together to reveal the changes in the season. My walk down to Glenbow was very enjoyable that day!

This is a view of the Bighill Creek from a different perspective.

Canmore Creek 1997

The video that you can review is an early look at the beginning of the Canmore Creek Project at involved a stream restoration and fish habitat enhancement program. For those that don’t know where Canmore Creek’s headwaters are, you can see in this production. Also included is some footage of structures constructed to create pool habitat, as well as spawning habitat. All of this on the upper reaches of the creek, in the early stages of the program.

In the beginning.

Native Willows Grow Where They Grow – Along The Creeks

In the photo below, I demonstrate how willows will find a rich strip of soil and this is where they grow the best. There are two different varieties of Salix willow that were planted on the far stream bank and on the near side, there are three different varieties, all grouped together. My theory is that this particular spot had a beaver dam at one time, and the rich organics have provided good soil for growing new willow plants. The grouping was purely accidental, the plants were planted on different years, not noticing the thick grouping at that time. In any case, the willows will now grow in an opposing position on the stream channel.

There is advantage in having opposing clusters of willow plants, on a stream channel. The plants will eventually provide a major constriction in flow, from grow encroaching on the water’s surface and beneath, from both stream banks. This opposing deflection of flow will create an increase in velocity off of the point of the willows. The long term result could mean a pool habitat directly below or a deepening of the run, between the willows. This is all good, because either way, the creation of trout habitat will be the result as well. It is best to take photos of such things while they are still in the early stages of growth, because once they grow into mature plants, the stream channel will be harder to see, thru the thick growth.

If you look closely, or zoom in a bit, you can see multiple varieties of Salix willows, growing in a clump on opposing stream banks. This is a flow deflecting position.

Once the willows have grown high and thick, the constriction of flow created from submerged limbs will cause a damming effect upstream of the grouping. This will also work toward deepening the runs in the creek, providing optimal habitat for trout. Then, the aquatic weeds, starved for sunlight, will thin out and the channel bed will scour clean substrate. In the photo below, you can see that there is presently a lot of silt on the bottom of the stream channel. The planted willows in the photo will eventually take care of this. I suspect that there is gravel, cobble and boulders hidden beneath the muddy stream bottom. There is also a lot of clay on the stream bed as well.

You can see a few willows growing on both sides of the stream bank in this photo. Sometimes, the plantings will only grow in certain spots, usually due to competition from shoreline grasses.
The narrow leaf willow on the near side is from a previous planting. On the far side of the channel, you can see another willow, which I believe is a red osier dogwood that was planted around the same time as the narrow leaf, but the exposure to the sun is better on the nearside of the channel. These willows are growing in an opposing position as well.