Restoration Update - December 2011
Since restoration construction activity stopped last September, we have been watching wildlife respond to the return of the tides to Ni-les'tun, and it has been very exciting. Probably the most obvious response has been by waterfowl; geese have been grazing on the fresh grass growing on the disturbed areas, and mallard, northern pintail, American wigeon, American coot, and most spectacularly a flock of up to 500 green-winged teal are taking advantage of the channels and pools filled by the tides. The teal fly around in tight flocks wheeling like shorebirds when they are flushed by northern harriers or peregrine falcons. Speaking of shorebirds, there has also been persistent flocks of sandpipers, plovers, dowitchers, and scattered Wilson's snipe; particularly down on the incipient mudflats developing at lower Fahys Creek. There is now also a greater presence of great blue herons and great egrets than before the restoration and they can be seen foraging throughout the marsh, indicating that there is plenty of food for them.
With the restoration of fish passage along the entire length of Fahys Creek, we are anxious to see if any stray salmon will discover the new gravel spawning beds available to them. Biologists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife installed an adult salmon fish trap in Fahys Creek just below North Bank Lane in late October for the purpose of monitoring salmon migration up the creek. The habitat is most suitable for Coho salmon, but the only fish we have captured to date is a single hatchery Chinook. Any Coho captured will be marked and released above the trap, where they will have to negotiate a few beaver dams to reach the gravel beds. The peak of Coho migration is still to come, though, and we still hold out hope that some fish will move into the new habitat. We are also conducting weekly redd and carcass surveys along the creek to document actual spawning.
In late November we supplemented the woody plantings at Smith Tract with another 2,000 trees and shrubs. These new plants replace some of the previously planted (last March) trees that died, and add species, such as evergreen huckleberry, cascara, and rhododendron, that we were not able to get from nurseries last winter. We contracted with Professional Reforestation of Oregon, Inc. of Coos Bay to do the planting and their crew also removed thousands of invasive scotch broom, gorse, and blackberry sprouts from the site. The planting crew also weeded and planted to repair disturbance associated with the Fahys Creek fish passage projects upstream of the Refuge.
This week we have a team from USFWS Columbia River Fisheries Program Office down to sample fish in the new marsh for the first time since the tides have returned. They use fife nets and seines to capture fish at various locations throughout the refuge. So far, they have found lots of coastal cutthroat trout and juvenile Coho in the non-tidal waters of Fahys Creek. The intrusion of brackish water into the marsh has brought with it typically estuarine species found for the first time including larval smelt, crabs, and jellyfish, along with plenty of stickleback, sculpin, and juvenile Coho that were all present before restoration.
The November King tides were spectacular to see as the tidal water flowed all the way to North Bank Lane, the DeFazio Marsh Overlook Deck and nearly submerged the new marsh spur trail.
Posted by the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex Staff at 5:29 PM in Category: Ni-les'tun Tidal Marsh Restoration Project