Fraser River Islands ER #76 Warden’s Report August 20, 2011
ER #76 – August 20, 2011
Report by Ecological Reserve wardens Bev and Bill Ramey
Sunny, hot, with temperatures about 25 degrees C.
Water level 2.3 to 2.0 metres at Mission, and at Hope Gauge 6.1 metres. Due to high snow pack and long cool spring extending into June, the Fraser River did not reach extreme flood levels this year, but run-off has stayed very high into August. Water levels were however dropping rapidly, and had dropped almost a metre in the past week at the Mission gauge.
This is highest water level we have paddled to islands; however, current did not seem to be any faster, the river had just spread out and covered all gravel bars. We did not have to carry kayaks across any gravel bars in order to reach the islands, and it was easy to keep position on river when ferrying across and not drop downstream in the current.
Launch kayaks from Nicomen Island at 10:00 am. About 20 vehicles parked there; most people appeared to be fishing. They walked in from the parking lot. The approach is gated there so that it is not possible to drive a vehicle to the boat launch itself. Folks at the parking lot told us about conflict with adjacent farmer, who was trying to keep people off the dyke trails and off the riparian areas on the river side of the dyke. The farmer had posted official looking signs, naming authority of the Nicomen Island Dyking District. People had contacted Federal Fisheries and government staff, and there had been a petition with 1500 signatures in favour of public access. Return to car at 7:00 pm.
Land on lower island, just upriver from eagle nest. Mature and immature eagle in trees near nest. Likely due to the lengthy flow of Fraser at fairly high water, the inner channel has substantial accretion of fines on the side under and upriver from the eagle nest. We were able to land there, and then bushwacked inland to locate a route for the tour now planned for October 7th.
The mosquitoes were really bad, likely as there was still considerable standing water in the inner swales and muddy sections. Vegetation was covered in extensive silt, as there hasn’t been substantial rain for several weeks. The rain would have washed off that silt deposited on the plants during the high water levels. Between the mosquitoes, silt dust and heat, our travel efforts were difficult and slow. Blackberry is extending its reach, although under the large cottonwoods, not significantly.
We returned to our kayaks without having made it through to the southwestern side of the island. The inner swale we were following, although we had reached the open section on it, was too full of water. With slippery sides and dense vegetation above, it just was not walkable.
Paddled further up the inner slough, and landed on the downstream islands, by the steep bank. The main river current made the normal landing spot a large gravel island and there were about 10 people fishing there, although with only one boat visible. They caught at least two sockeye salmon in the short time while we landed our kayaks. We carried on inland with the bushwacking, and made it to the other end of the inner swale,
where the water had stopped us earlier. Then we headed out to the top end of the broad inner swale that we usually walk, but too much water flowing in it to walk, so we returned to our kayaks. We noticed bear tracks at several points when we were bushwacking.
Paddled back down channel, and landed on the upper islands before exiting the channel. Walked the main channel upriver. It was easy to wade the shallow waters of these swales. Water levels here were lower than previous years; likely the Fraser has shifted deposits into this area.
During our visit on the islands, at least four fixed winged aircraft made low passes over the islands possibly looking to see whether they could land. There was still too much water in their two landing strips from last year, but with river levels dropping rapidly, the planes might be landing within the next couple of weeks.
As we walked up the main swale heading upriver, we made a short side trip into the large trees to view an older forested area. Carrying on, at the upper end of the swale was an extensive fishing camp, with about 10 tens closely pitched, two shelter tents with tables underneath, at least one boat and about ten people present. On looking back down the swale where we had come from, we saw a large black bear walking across the swale and into the treed area we had just looked at.
On talking with the people fishing, we learned this family group had been camping there annually for the past several years. They are from Kamloops and stay annually for about a week. In the time speaking with them, we saw two of them catch sockeye. Two others in their group who were fishing from a power boat in the river, were reeling in what they thought was a sturgeon. The fellow on shore told us that they had caught a sturgeon in the area last year and had played it into a net at the boat and carefully let it go. The one fellow told us they were being really careful to keep their camp clean as they had seen a sow black bear and cub that very morning near their camp.
Next we continued walking to the upstream tip. Along this shore (the southeast facing shore) were about 15 people fishing, and about 10 boats. During our time there we saw two people in this location catch sockeye salmon.
We then continued down the north shore, around the downstream tip of that main island to make a loop back to our kayaks. Then we walked out to the gravel bar facing southeast, where four people were just leaving in a boat having cleaned at least one fish. At that point we watched what were likely two First Nations people in a small outboard with a gill net that they set upriver and then floated downriver below Chilliwack Mtn. There it looked like they retrieved the net and fish and motored back up to their landing across the river (on the Chilliwack side), just upriver from our side. Also directly across the river from us were about 10 boats near that shore, anchored, with people fishing.
Returning, at the Nicomen Island boat launch (now closed) parking lot, there were about ten vehicles parked there.
During the day we saw:
Two large northwestern toad
Tracks of deer (many tracks throughout all the islands)
Tracks of possibly bobcat and possibly coyote
Tracks of beaver
Tracks of several birds, including heron, Canada geese, and shorebirds, likely spotted sandpipers
In the newly formed silt bar just upriver from the eagle nest, there were extensive black bear feces, about 20 of them. The bear’s diet had been cherries, likely the native bitter cherries on the island. These feces were a week or two old.
Birds seen were:
CAGE 16 flew out from inner channel/swale area
RTHA heard two when we were bushwacking in inner swale and saw one
BAEA adult and immature
GWGU about 50 off the upstream tip (on other side from where people were fishing) and another 15 gathered at that south central bar where people had been fishing and the gulls were eating the guts of the fish
TUVU came in where the gulls were feeding
Large number of people bar fishing, and those camping, suggests some temporary sanitary facilities would be welcomed. Would need to be removable as most areas flood during freshet.