Vashon Nature Center Wildlife Update

by: Bianca Perla

As Thanksgiving approaches I am thankful for my time with the wildlife and natural areas on this island which constantly remind me that there is so much more to this existence than our human world.  It’s been quite an exciting few weeks.

After a series of cougar sightings in the northend ferry neighborhoods we had a 6 day break in sightings for the cougar. Perhaps, we thought, he’d gone to the north end of Vashon to take advantage of the full moon, nighttime low tides, and the shortest distance to the mainland to go for a swim. But, nope, he is still with us. On the 17th he was sighted in the Reddings Beach neighborhood at 7 pm gracefully ambling towards Christensen Ravine.  More info

Our wildlife camera network also gave us both a chuckle and a surprise recently….

Who’s this?  Here’s a better view

Yep! This guy is still with us too. We capture him regularly on our wildlife cameras. Otherwise, he is extremely good at keeping below the radar. This is a really well behaved bear.  We have had only one sighting of him reported in the last 2 months (but frequent camera captures)! And despite our still slightly sloppy garbage practices on this island he hasn’t cued in (YET).  Please secure your garbage just in case and if you have garbage pick-up try to put the cans out in the early morning if you can rather than letting them sit out all night. It would be a shame if this bear figured out free garbage was at his disposal.  More info

Salmonwatchers continue to count salmon coming up Judd and Shinglemill Creeks. So far this year we have counted 133 salmon and most of these are coho. The chum runs don’t seem to have ramped up quite yet. We call chum salmon our thanksgiving fish as they usually peak around that time so the best may be yet to come for them. Some salmon were spotted in Ellis Creek as well (coho and unidentified). To keep tabs on Vashon salmon visit our Salmonwatching page and let us know if you see a salmon even if you aren’t part of our salmonwatching program.

Watch this great video from Salmonwatch coordinator Kelly Keenan of salmon spawning in Judd Creek.

Another unexpected value of having Salmonwatchers on our creeks is that they see other wildlife too, sometimes wildlife we never knew occurred here. Salmonwatchers were responsible for finding the American dipper bird that we now know inhabits Judd Creek and has for the past 3 years.

Our new resident beaver building a dam. He is as industrious as the stereotype! Please help out and keep dogs on leash as you walk the creeks so that they don’t wander and disturb the beaver or the spawning salmon. photo by: Kelly Keenan

This year, Salmonwatcher Kimi Healy has found something really exciting!!! A beaver taking up residence! Beavers are fairly rare on Vashon.  They occasionally swim over but can get saltwater toxicity during the swim and some don’t survive. We’ve had 2 reports of beavers swimming over just this year. One ended at KVI and perished soon after. The other was reported from the westside of Vashon and might be this very one who is now happily building a home in an out of the way place on Shinglemill. Let’s please respect his/her privacy. You can help us by keeping dogs from wandering off leash both for the spawning salmon and our new beaver neighbor.

I am so happy about this news! Beavers are considered keystone species (having a larger influence on the ecosystem than one would expect from their numbers) through their ecosystem engineering.  The dams beavers make create pools that are used by fish and waterfowl, increase certain types of aquatic and riparian vegetation, and provide habitat for many different invertebrates.  Learn more

This PBS documentary on beavers is fascinating!!

Beavers eat plant material and are dependent on young shoots of various deciduous streamside trees and other plants. In Yellowstone the return of wolves decreased elk grazing in riparian areas, leading to more forage for beavers. This increased beaver populations and their structures which, in turn, greatly benefited river ecosystems. With all the changes in predator activity we’ve had over the last ten years, it makes me curious, are we starting to see some of these changes on a smaller scale on Vashon? Time will tell.  There are many factors that could be responsible for all these new visitors including land-use change on the peninsula, older and bigger forest areas on Vashon, and just random chance. Big thanks for the conservation efforts of the Land Trust in partner with King County and private landowners who protect and restore lands here. Protecting and restoring our forest, streams and greenbelts just might be working.  That’s a lot to be thankful for.

featured photo: Kelly Keenan

6 Comments on “Vashon Nature Center Wildlife Update

  1. Thank you Bianca for this post, so well written and full of information.
    Reading it made me very excited to be living on the island at this time.
    We are grateful for all the work you do.

    • You are welcome Pascale and thanks for the kind words. I love this island too and all the amazing life it holds. I feel very grateful to live here doing what I love.

  2. These are such wonderful posts. Thanks for everything that you do at the Nature Center.

  3. Gosh, I am so pleased at the report of beavers. Definitely a sign of health for the island. And for one who sometimes lets my dog off leash on shinglemill, this is a really good reminder. I pledge to be more diligent.
    And the bear is amazing. Thanks for all that you do for our natural world Bianca.
    Meg White

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