Small Stream Life in the Big City

By Corinna Lichota

I recently spent a wonderful weekend, talking science and taking in the rugged and natural suroundings, at the Pacific Ecology & Evolution Conference (PEEC 2013), held at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. Although I love nature and the outdoors, I realize how much of a city slicker I am when I visit such pristine places like Bamfield.

I study urban stream ecology, and although I know a lot of biodiversity has been lost in developed areas, there are still places with unexpected wild inhabitants. Last summer I conducted fish surveys in urban streams and was surprised at how much life there is in small streams in big cities.

Coho salmon love to rear in small complex streams. Check out this stream in Coquitlam, a tributary of Hyde Creek, and just north of the Hyde Creek Recreation Centre. Although it looks like but a trickle, we found lots of coho in here:

little stream photo 1C

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Sometimes we found fish where we totally were not expecting it.  In Langley, Yorkson Creek runs through a culvert underneath Highway 1 near 205 Street.  In this >100 m long and dark culvert we found a handful of coho fry. Here is one, seen at the bottom of the frame.

photo 2

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Some urban streams are more pristine than others and can provide habitat to sensitive species.  In Mossom Creek (Port Moody) and Partington Creek (Port Coquitlam), you can find coastal tailed frogs, adapted for living in these fast flowing streams.

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Sometimes wildlife sees you before you see it. When visiting the mouth of Maple Creek in Port Coquitlam, I was spotted by a mink that was hanging out near a tidal flood box.

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Soon after I realized I was being watched, I tried to get close for photographic evidence with my iPhone. The mink didn’t like that and quietly slipped into the water and swam away with its little head poking through the surface.

Of course, sometimes there are unwanted introduced species in urban streams. While we were working at Byrne Creek in Burnaby, just near the Edmonds Skytrain station, we found a very plump and healthy looking goldfish. We are baffled as to how it got there and persisted in a small pool.

photo 5

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Megafauna is rare in the big city but riparian areas are a great place to look. We encountered this big friend at Partington Creek, near Minnekhada Regional Park.

photo 6

Photo credit: C. Lichota.

Next time you are having a day in the city keep your eyes open, especially in the riparian and stream areas. A lot of wildlife has been lost in developed areas but some can be found hiding about.

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