The Enumclaw plateau area provides habitat for many species of wildlife. One of the best places to find them is along Boise Creek. The creek originates in the foothills east of Enumclaw, flows west through the golf course, across the plateau just south of town, and into the White River. In and along the creek are a variety of fish, rodents, insects, amphibians, mammals, and birds. A few of them are represented here.

Four Species of Salmon
Four species of salmon make their way into Boise Creek from Puget Sound each year. They travel up the Puyallup River and into the White River before finding their way into the creek. We first see the salmon at the end of summer when the blackberries along our country roads are ripe; the salmon often appear following a day of rain. The first to arrive are usually the Pink (or Humpback) salmon. They show up in great numbers in odd-numbered years and are soon followed in lesser quantities by the Coho (or Silver) salmon and Chinook (or King) salmon. Toward the end of the year many Chum (or Dog) salmon come into the creek. The spawning season may last well into December. There is also a spring run of Chinook salmon, but the creek is usually flowing so fast and deep during this time that they are difficult to see.

To see a US Geological Survey chart that shows the current water level of Boise Creek
near Buckley, as well as historical Boise Creek water level data, click here

Click here here to learn more about the four salmon species found in Boise Creek.

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Pink (or Humpback) Salmon
Spawns in odd numbered years.

Coho (or Silver) Salmon
Spawns every year.

Chinook (or King) Salmon
Spawns every year.

Chum (or Dog) Salmon
Spawns every year.
Here are some videos provided by King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. They were filmed at the Lower Boise Creek Restoration Project site where Boise Creek flows into the White River. The historic alluvial fan at the mouth of Boise Creek was abandoned a century ago when the railroad relocated Boise Creek into an overly steep ditch. The Lower Boise Creek Channel Restoration Project, completed in 2010, was designed to restore and expand salmon habitat, including spawning for spring and fall Chinook. The project site is now used extensively for spawning and rearing by salmon and trout.

Chinook salmon spawning in Boise Creek
September 25, 2012

Steelhead spawning in Boise Creek
May 15th, 2013

Pink salmon do battle in Boise Creek
September 9th, 2013

Three Species of Trout
Boise Creek supports three species of trout: Cutthroat, Rainbow, and the larger Steelhead. There are far fewer trout than salmon, which is good because all trout are carnivorous, eating fish eggs deposited by spawning salmon. Trout can be found in the creek throughout the year, but are difficult to spot because they are smaller and prefer the deeper, darker places.
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Rainbow Trout

Steelhead Trout

Cutthroat Trout
Other Life in the Creek


Boise Creek also provides habitat to fresh water mussels, small eels, and an odd fish called the Pacific Lamprey (shown above). We had no idea the Lamprey were in the creek until we spotted a nine inch long, bright blue eel-like creature one summer day. The Pacific Lamprey live in muddy areas along the creek and obtain nutrients from the mucky soil. When it is a few years old and a few inches long the Lamprey leaves its muddy home and travels out to sea where it grows up to 30 inches in length. Lamprey return to the creek and spawn, laying tens of thousands of eggs. The Lamprey is a threatened species with numbers in steady decline.
Click here to read a study by the Bonneville Power Administration; click here to see a larger view.


Occasionally we see a fresh water Crawdad in the creek. These creatures hang out in the mud in places where we've seen the Lamprey. They are not afraid when confronted; they will grab onto a stick if you try to poke at them! 

Wildlife Along the Creek

North American Beaver

North American River Otter

Nutria (River Rat)
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Every few years a beaver will make its home somewhere along the creek. We don't encourage them, because although they are fascinating, beavers dig burrows into the creek side causing portions of the bank to give way. Beavers feed on wood, so they cut down nearby saplings and trees, dragging them into the creek. These trees provide habitat to a variety of birds and create shade that is critical to cooling the creek water. Beavers also use the cut wood to build dams across the creek, creating wide pools upstream. Dams contribute to flooding and create a barrier that prevents salmon from reaching spawning areas upstream. 

Much smaller than the beaver is the playful, curious otter. This semi-aquatic mammal navigates the creek with ease; darting in and out of the water, leaping from rock to rock, and scampering along the tree limbs. The creek is both its hunting ground and play ground. Otters can be hard to spot, because they blend well with the environment. However, they don't seem to frighten easily and - from a safe distance - they may find you just as interesting to look at as you may find them!

Occasionally, we see the Nutria. This large, omnivorous, semi aquatic rodent is not a northwest native. It has destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors and is considered a pest. We have started to see the nutria only recently, as it seems to like the new Middle Boise Creek Natural Area created n 2013.



Along Boise Creek and throughout the nearby countryside are many species of birds, both large and small. They fill the air with their unique songs. Over time, we have tried to identify as many as we could see. We have created a collection of the bird photos we have taken around Boise Creek. Click here to check them out.


One of our favorite birds is the American Dipper. This long-legged bird bobs its whole body up and down as it feeds on insects and their larvae on the creek bed. The Dipper has an extra eyelid that allows it to see underwater, and scales that close its nostrils when submerged. If they don't take care they may be eaten by salmon or other wildlife. The presence of this indicator species indicates the clean water quality of Boise Creek.

 

We love to watch the larger birds that live along the creek throughout the year. The turkey vultures are one of our favorites. They are huge and can fly across the sky at an amazing speed. They often sail in a circular pattern in the thermals along the foothills, soaring to heights so great that the are no longer visible. Turkey vultures are an asset to the surrounding farmland, quickly locating and consuming afterbirth, dead animals, and other natural waste.
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Turkey Vultures soar above the Highlands.

Another one of our favorite birds is the great blue heron. We always stop what we're doing to watch the slender, beautiful heron fly low along the creek from its home downstream, looking for an evening meal. Herons are fond of fish and we see more of them as the salmon spawn and die. It's amusing to hear the heron's noisy "squawk" a he takes off out of a tree. The magnificent heron should have a more dignified sound! We have one heron that has made the creek his home. We call him Hendrix.

On sunny summer days we like to wander along the creek trail. We try to move silently so as not to disturb the wildlife. Often, a pair of startled ducks will rise out of a shallow pool, complaining loudly at our intrusion. As colder weather sets in the ducks grow in number and the creek and surrounding fields become favorite gathering spots throughout the winter months.

One summer a mother Muscovy duck made our creek-side park her home. Muscovys are not native to the area, but raised domestically. She arrived with her seven babies and within a few days they would come to our call and eat from our hands. Here is a short video clip of Liza and her baby ducks in the park and some salmon swimming in the creek. 

In late autumn we are sometimes startled by the racket of honking geese flying purposefully above us. They are fixed upon their destination, driving forward in a long, stretched-out "V" above the pastures. They remind us of the shortening days and the coming winter.


Ducks

Great Blue Heron

Canada Geese

 

The American Bald Eagle is truly a majestic bird. We see them often; particularly around the farms along the White River. It's an impressive site when you find one on the ground, ripping the flesh from some unidentifiable animal corpse. Standing in a pasture, an eagle is so much larger than expected. The mature ones have the easily recognizable white head and tail, but we often see immature eagles flying with parents or siblings, not yet sporting their distinctive "bald" head. There is a rural road a few miles west of us; we call it "eagle nest road" because it is a favorite place for eagles to nest. One morning, we stopped on "eagle nest road" and counted thirty-nine of these magnificent birds in the trees, in the sky, and in the surrounding pastures. That's a lot of eagles!

American Bald Eagle

Little Brown Bat.

Barn Owl

One summer, Bob awoke in the early morning darkness to get ready for work. He went into the living room to find that a little brown bat had flown in from an open window. It was flapping madly around the room trying to escape. In a flash our cats were in on the action, racing excitedly after it. I awoke and scrambled to remove the cats from the confusion, getting them securely (but resentfully) locked in the bathroom as we tried to coax the bat outside through the open front door. We turned the lights out in the house and turned the porch light on. We quickly realized that this was not a good idea, because bats see better in darkness and tend to avoid the light. Bob's next plan was to find a fishing net and he soon had the poor creature contained. We took it out on the porch and studied it (cool, but kind of creepy) before we let it fly into the early morning darkness. All things considered, it was an interesting way to start the day!

Years ago, a barn owl lived next door. She made her home in our neighbor's barn, venturing out at night to hunt for field mice and other tasty treats. She was beautiful and mysterious, sailing away from us when we tried to get a closer look. It was a real treat to see the owl flying low over the dark pastures, her gold and white body shining in the moonlight. One day, we came home and noticed a fluffy bundle laying on the back lawn. We were shocked and upset to find the owl lying dead - a hole through her feathery chest. She was as beautiful in death as she was in life, but her killing still haunts us. Today, another owl lives in the old barn and Bob discovered an interesting way to get her attention. He has an Audubon app on his iphone that plays a variety of bird calls. When he plays the owl call, she comes soaring out to investigate. We don't do this very often, because she doesn't like to discover that it is only a couple of humans!  


In late fall or early winter we can see small flocks of Tundra or Trumpeter swans. These large and beautiful birds are a fairly rare site in our area. They are about the same size as geese, but they differ in that they are all white, except for their black beaks.



When the salmon spawn and die, the smell of dead fish can become, well... quite nasty. But that's just my opinion. Little black bears seem to think that this is a delightful aroma. Occasionally, a little black bear will travel at night down the thick wooded hillsides of Mount Peak, pass quietly by sleeping cattle in dark, silent pastures to arrive unseen at the side of Boise Creek. He is seeking a feast worthy of his early fall appetite. In the cover of darkness and thick, thorny bracken he samples the ripe remains of humpies, silvers, and kings. Little black bears are secretive and shy; only the fortunate few ever catch a glimpse of them. But we find evidence of little black bears now and then, beneath the trees along the creek. After the salmon have all spawned and died the little black bears will find a safe, secluded spot within Mount Peak's dense forest to sleep away the long cold winter days.


Little Black Bear
One early morning just as the darkness was lifting, I stood at the dining room window drinking my morning coffee. Running down the road were what I thought to be a couple of dogs. As they passed in front of the house, I saw that they were actually two large raccoons trekking along. No doubt, they were on their way to find some breakfast. The only time we have seen raccoons, they are in pairs, running and playing together in the early morning hours.
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Raccoon.

Roosevelt Elk.

Bobcat
Sometimes, we hear the sound of a bull elk's high-pitched bellow as he seeks dominance over other males during the rut. There are a couple of elk herds in the area; roughly thirty to fifty elk are in the herd closest to our place. They range around the Mount Peak and White River area. We often find them in one of the pastures between Storbo Hill and Owl Hill, grazing or dozing in the sun. Once in a while we catch them as they move from farm to farm, leaping fences effortlessly one at a time. The elk can be a real nuisance to farmers and unfortunately, some land owners will scare them off with gun shots. This creates a stampede of frightened elk who charge through areas where they may not normally go, causing unnecessary damage. Very seldom do the elk cross our pasture, but they have done so once or twice, breaking fence posts and knocking down wire. On one rare occasion we came home to find elk tracks stomped throughout our back yard. To our dismay, the vegetable garden was plundered and the old Japanese lace-leafed maple was thoroughly thrashed. It's wonderful to have elk in the area, but not in my back yard!

Although we rarely see them, or any evidence of them, the bobcat hunts along the creek. This beautiful feline is larger than a very large house cat and has oversized paws. The bobcat is cautious and highly adept at hiding. We had the chance to see one up close just once. A neighbor found one near his barn one evening. It was crouched unmoving, but growled a warning when he approached. The next morning our neighbor looked for the bobcat, but found that it was dead. Upon examination it appeared to have been hit by a car. We went to see it. We stroked its soft fur with its beautiful markings. The bobcat had wonderful big paws and a short bobbed tail. We were reminded that although we don't see them, they are living nearby.

From time to time we spot deer around the Enumclaw plateau area. The deer have a large food supply in the foothills and don't feed on grass, so they have little need to venture into the pastures. However, they do like to sample the tasty treats in our gardens. Deer are beautiful animals, but can do a lot of damage to crops. When they become a nuisance, deer fences must be installed. The best places to see deer are in the higher hills as you head up to Mount Rainier.


White-Tailed Deer

Possum

Coyote
It seems that no one likes the poor slow-witted possum. I feel sorry for them, because I usually only see them after they have been hit and killed by automobiles. Possums are a marsupial, and the mother carries her babies in a tiny pouch and when they are older, on her back. It is amazing that these babies survive at all, because they are only the size of a dime when born and quite vulnerable. However, they have not only survived, but the possum has existed since the time dinosaurs roamed the Earth!

Just a few years ago we had a large population of coyotes living along Boise Creek. When King County Conservation asked us to join a salmon stream revitalization effort, we were happy to participate. Along with our neighbor upstream, we allowed this group to replant the creek side with native vegetation that now provides shade to cool the creek. These planting have also created a root system to anchor the soil and prevent bank erosion. Before the new vegetation was planted, the group removed a tremendous amount of blackberry bushes. We were delighted to see them go, but the coyotes who lived in these bushes were not very pleased. These howling, yipping carnivores moved to a new location. We are glad they've moved on - and so are our cats!

In the spring of 2005 a huge swarm of bees visited our farm; there must have been many thousands of them. They were on the move looking for a new place to live. The bees formed a dark cloud around our front yard apple tree; the air was filled with a loud humming sound. They gathered in thick clumps along the tree branches. From the safety of the house, we called a local bee man, who came out to collect them. He set up boxes and laid down cardboard beneath the tree. He assured us we were safe, so we cautiously joined him in the yard. Using his bare hands, he pulled the bees from the branches, dropping them in big clumps down onto the cardboard. He used a vacuum to gather the rest, sucking them directly into the boxes. Like a molten-lava river, the bees on the cardboard slowly flowed into the boxes to join the others. The bee man pointed out the queen amongst her subjects. He contained the entire swarm - every last bee - and took them away to find a new home. 

Bees Swarming; Bees in Tree.

Collecting the Bees.

Containing the Bees; the Queen
When the bees were swarming, it was rather alarming. However, we soon learned that the bees were not dangerous because they had no hive to protect. We stood beneath the apple tree with the bee man as thousands of bees swarmed around us. They crawled on our arms and hands, showing no interest in stinging us. He told us that this swarm was the second largest one he'd ever seen. We'll never forget that day when the swarm of bees came calling.

 


 

Some Notes on Boise Creek

The following paragraph is found on page 25 of Nancy Irene Hall's book, In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Pioneer History of Enumclaw published in 1983; they are the words of Enumclaw pioneer George Vanderbeck in his later years as he reminisces on his first impressions of Boise Creek:

"In the spring of 1870, I arrived in these regions and looked over the land around Boise Creek. I was surprised and also much pleased with the beautiful stream called Boise Creek although the country was wild and heavily timbered I was fascinated with it. I looked over much of the surrounding country, but could not erase from my mind the beauties of these parts. In those days the camp of the Indian could be seen along the banks of the beautiful stream as well as the wild game that leaped up and took to flight at the approach of the white man. I finally concluded to locate here".

Note: The Sbalxqo'abc Indian village along Boise Creek was home to the Muckleshoot Indians who traveled Boise Creek and the White River (Hall, 1983, p. 17). The Vanderbecks, from Hanover Germany, were the first to live together as a family on the Enumclaw plateau. Vanderbeck settled 60 acres along Boise Creek near the White River just south-east of our farm, where Mud Mountain Road is today. The area was known as Boise. Click here to see the original Vanderbeck home (Hall, 1983, p. 85). Click here to see an 1889 photo of the old bridge that spanned the White River at the mouth of Boise Creek (Hall, 1983, p. 87).

Click here to see a before and after map that shows the course of Boise Creek today and its original course.

 

 

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During the years that we have lived along Boise Creek, we have come to appreciate and respect the diversity of wildlife around us. Each species depends upon the other to maintain the delicate balance that means survival for all. Most importantly, we have come to realize how each of these species relies upon us to respect and value their lives and their right to exist in a healthy habitat.

 We hope that you've enjoyed your cyber nature-tour of the wildlife in and around Boise Creek.
Come back any time!
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Here are some details about the salmon in Boise Creek.

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Average Size
Weight: 5 to 10 pounds
Length: 10 to 15 inches
Pink or Humpback Salmon
In the ocean, Pink salmon are bright silver fish. After returning to the spawning stream, their coloring changes to pale gray near their tail with a yellowish white belly (although some turn an overall dull green color). Pink are characterized by a white mouth with black gums, no teeth on the tongue, large oval-shaped black spots on the back and v-shaped tail, and an anal fin with 13 to 17 soft rays. During their spawning migration, males develop a pronounced humped back, hence their nickname "humpies".
Average Size
Weight: 7 to 11 pounds
Length: 28 inches
Coho or Silver Salmon
During their ocean phase, Coho have silver sides and dark blue backs. During their spawning phase, the jaws and teeth of the Coho become hooked and they develop bright red sides, bluish green heads and backs, and dark bellies with dark spots on their back. Sexually maturing Coho develop a light pink or rose shading along the belly and the males may show a slight arching of the back.
Average Size
Weight: 10 to 50 pounds
Length: 33 to 36 inches
Chinook or King Salmon
Chinook salmon are blue-green on the back and top of the head with silvery sides and white ventral surfaces. They have black spots on their tail and the upper half of their body; their mouth is dark gray. Chinook salmon are typically known as "spring Chinook", "summer Chinook", or "fall Chinook" (the most common).
Average Size
Weight: 10 to 22 pounds 
Length: 24 inches
Chum or Dog Salmon
Chum have an ocean coloration of silvery blue green. When adults are near spawning, they have purple blotchy streaks near the caudal fin. Spawning males typically grow an elongated snout or kype and have enlarged teeth. Some researchers speculate these characteristics are used to compete for mates.
Source: Wildlife data from Wikipedia

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