June 13, 2020, Saturday, 9 am.
I was out early to do my weekly measuring of the creek depth in five different sites from Pipers Pub to the beach. Last year at this time, the creek was completely dry. So I have been measuring the depth of the creek, just to keep track of it.
The second measurement site is just below Shores Drive. I walked down the riparian area to the edge of the pool and was about ready to lower my measuring rod when there was frantic thrashing of some small creature in the pool from one side of the small pool to the other, the creature went and all was quiet. Could it be a frog or toad? Salamander? What was it?
I crouched down low to watch and then a small fish appeared in the middle of the pool, fanning the water over its gills, hovering just under the surface of the water. The pool was fed by a small trickle of creek water from upstream which then trickled out the other side, flowed under the gravel, and traveled subsurface. It was an isolated pool, fed by a meagre flow.
I guessed that the pool was low on oxygen since it was small and isolated. All the excitement must have worn the fish out, so it hung just beneath the surface as if to say, "take a photo if you must." So I did. I leaned in close but the cutthroat trout didn't move. I identified it by its size, colour, and markings but especially by the red slash under its jaw. (I learned to do some identification while volunteering for the Departure Creek Smolt Trap count every spring - except this year, that is.)
I reluctantly left the pool to complete my other measurements.
June 13, 2020, Saturday, 7:10 pm.
Later that day, after some decent rain showers, I revisited the same pool. The rain had changed the flow in the creek. Much more creek water flowed through the site and the pool was no longer isolated. The water had been oxygenated. I couldn't see the cutthroat at first. So I disturbed the banks of the creek where it might be hiding and out it came with lots of energy. Back and forth across the pool and then quiet.
I began to worry about the long term feasibility of the cutthroat to survive here and thought about the possibility of moving the fish upstream to larger pools there. The fish was helpless against river otters, birds, and other prey.
June 14, 2020, Sunday, 10 am
I visited the pool once again and found the fish much more active with the continued lively flow from upstream.
June 14, 2020, Sunday, 7:00 pm
Later that day, I once again visited the creek and did not see any evidence of the cutthroat. I disturbed the edges and middle of the pool and nothing emerged.
During the summer low flow season, trout can get trapped in pools and become stressed by high temperatures and lack of oxygen. We wondered what the best response is in this situation - leave the fish or move it to a deeper and more oxygenated pool?
Dave Clough advised us that in some conditions it would be best to move the fish, but you can't legally do so without a fish salvage licence. He recommended we apply for one annually through Front Counter BC - Fish and Wildlife permits (research/scientific permits).
Our annual invasive removal in Morningside Park looked a little different this year. With schools closed and everyone practicing physical distancing, we relied on a small group of friends and family to tackle invasives in Morningside Park. Thistle, Daphne, and Ivy out-compete native plants like Oregon grape, ocean spray, and tiny fir and Cedar for sunlight and nutrients. By removing as many invasives as possible, we hope to encourage the diverse native plants to thrive.
Illegal dumping of yard waste continues to be a problem in Morningside Park. Year after year we discover leaves, grass clipping, and even Christmas trees dumped over people's fences into the sensitive riparian area. Years ago someone broke up an old patio and threw the concrete chunks and fence post footings "away". "Out of sight, out of mind" behaviour degrades the slope stability, causes erosion, smothers native plants that are stabilizing the bank and providing shade, and can crush/impede wildlife. Through talking to residents who back onto the creek, we know that most neighbors understand the importance of properly disposing of yard waste. However, a part of restoration still includes removing materials that have been illegally dumped. We're hoping our continued work and outreach eradicates this problem!
Project area in Morningside Park BEFORE thinning, January 2018
On October 25 Walley Creek Streamkeepers met with Rob Lawrance and Margaret Pimlott from the City of Nanaimo, along with Dave Clough, RPBio, to create a plan for improving the biodiversity in a part of the riparian area in Morningside Park. City arborists then helped thin an unhealthy stand of fir and alder that had self-seeded in an area full of rock fill. This created space for volunteers to plant a variety of native plants to increase the biodiversity of this area, and improve the water-retention qualities of a wetland area adjacent to the creek.
Project area in Morningside Park DURING thinning/before planting, facing the gravel path and Ecole Hammond Bay Elementary.
Project area AFTER planting, facing the creek and houses that back onto Walley Creek along Hammond Bay Road.
35 volunteers came out November 8, 2019 to help us improve the biodiversity in Morningside Park (Reach 2 of Walley Creek). They created polygons out of logs, moved 15 yards of topsoil and 7 yards of mulch, then planted 260 native plants and trees including snowberry, Indian Plum (Oemlaria), swordfern, Oregon grape, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar and pine. The day was a great success!
High school volunteers from Dover Bay and Nanaimo & District Secondary schools brought energy and enthusiasm to the planting day. Rob Lawrance and Deb Beck from the City of Nanaimo volunteered their time, as well as many volunteers from the Nanaimo & Area Land Trust, Departure Creek Streamkeepers, and Snunuemuxw First Nation. We are so grateful to all the volunteers that came out and gave time, energy and expertise to this project!
Each week since June we've been carefully watering the Oregon grape, ferns, Nootka rose, Snowberry, and Salmonberry that were planted in the riparian area back in March. We are careful not to let any treated "tap" water enter the creek, but volunteers soak the mulch and soil enough that the plants have a chance to get established this spring/summer. We have also spent many hours pulling invasive thistles along the gravel path. This area was disturbed in 2015 when the RDN upgraded the wastewater outfall at Morningside Drive. The City then replanted both sides of the path and installed an irrigation system to support Maple trees, Salal, Oregon grape and ferns until they were established. The irrigation system is no longer being used, and the native plants are being choked out by opportunistic weeds. While we focus on the riparian area and salmon habitat, we recognize the importance of this park land as a corridor and habitat for many other animals. This is one of many tasks we take on in this "adopted" park.
This was the third year grade 7 students from École Hammond Bay participated in a work party to give something back to this community park that has been a place to explore and appreciate nature during their time in elementary school. Parents conceived this project as a way for students to be meaningfully involved in fundraising for Grade 7 year-end activities. Each year students gather pledges for a couple of hours of work with the Walley Creek Streamkeepers, DFO and City of Nanaimo staff. Extra funds are donated back to the Streamkeepers, who use the funds to help with our outreach and education activities. Every year the young people have a chance to learn about the importance of native plants and trees to stabilize the stream banks and provide shade and habitat for fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and mammals that live along Walley Creek. Then they participate in removing invasive species like Daphne, Himalayan blackberry, and ivy so that native plants and trees can flourish. Their hard work and enthusiasm help us accomplish so much in this beautiful little City Park!
Streamside planting, including adding topsoil and mulch.
With guidance from Dave Clough, we installed 16 pieces of 8-foot long untreated landscape ties held in place by 3-foot pieces of rebar. This steep slope has endured scouring by private landowners who toss yard waste over their fence into the riparian area. We cleared out several garbage bags full of waxy leaves (camellia?) that were not decomposing and were suffocating any native plants trying to establish on the slope. With a lot of muscle and determination we dug trenches in the bank to nest the landscape ties in, then hammered rebar through holes drilled at each end of the ties. These will provide a shelf that we can plant ferns and Oregon grape behind; the native plants will help prevent erosion and improve water quality.
Later a volunteer from the Island Waters Flyfishers (who are also part of the RDN's CWMN and are stewards of the Millstone River in Nanaimo) planted red osier dogwood cuttings right at the creek-side to further increase stability and prevent erosion. He used plastic cones to temporarily prevent the cuttings from being browsed by deer.
In this reach there are still some significant pieces of human garbage that need to be removed: a huge piece of concrete (an old piece of patio?) that is at risk of sliding down into the creek, as well as a an old wooden bridge. The property owner nearest to where the bridge is located has agreed to give us access and help remove it. The concrete could require a truck with a winch to pull it away from the edge of the slope and remove it safely. There are also several generations of Christmas trees either in or near the creek, and several wooden fence posts still attached to chunks of concrete footing. We will continue our public outreach in this area to educate all the property owners who back onto the creek about the sensitive ecosystem and it's legal protection under the Riparian Areas Act.
If you have visited Neck Point Park in Nanaimo you have passed over Walley Creek where it flows into Hammond Bay. This section of the creek, upstream of Morningside Drive, flows between private properties and a piece of City of Nanaimo park land. The park is enjoyed by students from École Hammond Bay Elementary School and children from the surrounding neighbourhood. It has a small wetland with potential habitat for salamanders, frogs, and all sorts of mammals and birds. Illegal dumping of yard waste and garbage over the years has done serious damage to a steep slope on the north side, eroding the bank and degrading the riparian zone. It is the location of one of our RDN CWMN water quality monitoring sites, and an area where we have worked hard removing garbage and invasive species in the past two years, with help from Grade 7 École Hammond Bay students.
Dave and Brad added logs and stumps. Nina secured delivery of soil and bark mulch.
Linda and Nina coordinated volunteers (neighbors, Dover Bay eco-club, family members, and Nature Kids)
In 2017 we picked up the USHP survey where we'd left off at McGuffie Road. Reach 4 flows through a strata development where people have literally built right on top of the creek. There are bridges, hardscaping, and no regard for a riparian buffer.
A City path dead-ends at private property south of Piper's Pub. This area has beautiful wetlands that suffer from illegal dumping of fill and yard waste, but so far have not been impacted by development. We installed wildlife cameras in one wetland area between Logan's Run and Piper's Pub in 2018.
North of Vista View Cresent are two large wetlands: one is natural, the other is a man-made stormwater detention pond behind a chainlink fence.
At Vista View the City path starts again, and Walley Creek flows parallel to this paved path that gets lots of foot and bike traffic from local residents. The path continues east and ends near the source of Walley Creek, at Frank J. Ney Elementary school. We came across a couple of storm drains that empty into the creek behind a townhouse complex south of the Hungarian Cultural Centre. The City of Nanaimo interactive web map shows that these pipes are conveying rain water into the creek from developed areas between the Linley Valley and Rocky Point. (To see storm drains: open the interactive web map, then click on themes > utilities, then on the left side click the box that says "storm". You have to be zoomed in really close for the utilities to show up.)
As we walked upstream the creek switches from one side of the paved path to the other. When we crossed over the paved path to continue measuring, we were awed to see a bat fly back and forth across the stream, dipping into the surface of the water several times before disappearing into a cavity in a nearby tree. When we reported this to a bat biologist she said it's very unusual to see a bat during the day and we may nave seen a thirsty nursing mother! The "bat tree" below is obviously also a snack bar for woodpeckers, nestled in a grove of Fir and Spruce trees.
The creek and riparian area along this path are so beautiful. There is old evidence of logging, but the alders and Cedar have grown up and there is a rich diversity of native species including Oregon grape, trailing blackberry, salal, salmonberry, ferns, vanilla leaf, and skunk cabbage. The creek flows over silty bottom, with an occasional boulder, but there is relatively little cobble or gravel in the stream bottom upstream of McGuffie Road. This means the habitat isn't ideal for fish spawning, or the invertebrates fish love to eat.
As we noticed often during our survey, however, the creek supports a wide variety of life besides fish. After crossing Williamson Road we spotted this little frog cooling off in the water. Herpetologist Elke Wind advised us that Walley Creek and its wetlands are important breeding habitat for frogs and salamanders that spend the rest of their time in forested areas like the Linley Valley. Protecting migratory corridors between these two areas (forest and stream) will be crucial for the survival of these fragile species.
Upstream from Williamson Road Walley Creek flows between Harry Wipper Park and the outdoor classroom used by students at Frank J Ney Elementary school. Here the dominant species is alder, with a few sword ferns. The skunk cabbage and salmon berry tend to get trampled by children exploring and learning outdoors, and the stream is choked with small woody debris. With enough flow and slope, small woody debris can have a healthy scouring effect, but if it plugs up the flow it can create erosion on the banks. This is not a big problem at the headwaters of the creek since the flows are small, even in the winter.
The question of how to improve biodiversity and stream health at this site is not an easy one to answer. When the school was built it's likely an excavator dug a channel to encourage the stream to flow in its present path, and to drain water away from the construction site. Since the original sponge-like infiltration area has been drastically reduced by development in this area we must now look for ways to prevent any further loss of wetland area here at the headwaters, and throughout the watershed.
The beginning of the end. Just before we reached Entwhistle Drive, the water disappeared. In the winter there is surface water on either side of Entwhistle Drive as far east as Springfield Place. Our August Stream survey, however, ended here.
As Nanaimo continues to grow, there is pressure to increase density on the suburbs. While this is a smart strategy to combat urban sprawl, it should not be at the expense of life-sustaining wetlands and streams like Walley Creek. This photo was taken in 2016 before a townhouse complex was built between Fillinger Crescent and Entwhistle Drive.