Vacation Day #13: Nimbus Fish Hatchery

DAY THIRTEEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up a little before 7:00 am and headed out to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I knew they had the salmon gate open, so I wanted to see if I could spot any of them; and I wanted to see if the migrating birds were around there yet. The weatherpeople forecast clouds and rain for today, but when I went out it was mostly sunny and around 53º… and it stayed nice all the while I was outside.

At the hatchery, there weren’t hardly any waterfowl.  I saw some Mallards, a couple of Great Blue Herons and some Great Egrets, along with several Double Crested Cormorants but no other ducks or geese. There were a lot of different kinds of sparrows out there, though, and I saw House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Golden-Crowned Sparrows. There were also Acorn Woodpeckers around and lots of Starlings. I saw one Starling poking its head out of its nesting cavity… which was too near the Acorn Woodpeckers, and they were fussing about it. The big surprise was seeing a small flock of Cedar Waxwings.

A one place along the trail there was a huge fig tree, and the leaves were dotted with clusters of Assassin Bug egg cases. Yikes!  The fig was just starting to get fruit on it. Coffeeberry trees along the route were burgeoning with berries, though, just in time for the Waxwings (who eat berries almost exclusively).

The raceways were full of trout and salmon. When I was walking around the trout raceways, one of the rangers came up to me and handed me a big (16 oz) cup filled with fish food so I could feed the fry.  “You’re the first kid we’ve had through here today,” he said as he handed me the cup.  Hah! He said there were currently over 3-million trout in the raceways (everything from fingerlings to adults), and in another month or so they’d be pulling them all out and depositing them in tanker trucks to take to the lakes and ponds all over the area. None of the trout form there go into the rivers.

The fish are used to being fed by hand (or by another truck that goes between the raceways and blows food at them like a huge leaf-blower). Whenever I leaned in over the side of the raceways to look at them, they’d all rush to the edge and splash around expecting food. When you toss food to them they all attack it at the same time and it’s gone within seconds.

Also in the raceways were about four Green Herons. The raceways are completely surrounded and covered by chain link fencing, but someone must’ve left a door open and the smart herons rushed in.  Once they’re in there it’s hard to get them out, but there are literally millions of fish for them to eat, so it’s not like they’d starve.

When I went over to the salmon side of the hatchery, I was surprised to find that they were actually collecting and “spawning” the Chinook Salmon that were coming up the ladder. I didn’t think they were doing that until December, so it was a treat to be able to see it so early in the season.

Here are some pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157686356492352

Video #1: https://youtu.be/6gf0-kdqX-w

Video #2: https://youtu.be/92TwnHBQsgU

When they bring the salmon up to take the eggs, they kill them (because they’re at the end of their life cycle anyway).  There was one hug female in the mix –- she must’ve weighed 40 to 50 pounds – and the rangers said she probably had 10,000 eggs in her belly. (A normal take is about 5,000 per female.) The bodies of the fish that are killed, are tagged and sent to Washington state where they’re used in dog food and made into fertilizer, so they’re “recycled” and not wasted.

I walked around the hatchery grounds and trails for about 3 ½ hours and then headed home.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.