Drumm Media Blog

Ballard Locks and Fish Ladder

Wildlife at the The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or more commonly know as the Ballard Locks, are in an ecological convergence zone, making them a hotspot for Northwest wildlife. The locks, located in Salmon Bay, are a crossroads from the saline waters of the Puget Sound to the massive freshwater body of Lake Washington. Estuaries, zones where freshwater and saltwater meet, are exceptionally active systems, especially in the Northwest where salmon and steelhead trout must run the gauntlet from the sea up into their natal birthing streams to breed. Aside from being a dam and boat entry to Lake Washington, it is also built with a fish ladder, which migrating salmon use to cross the dam. Because the salmon congregate at the base of the dam, so do sea lions and harbor seals. During the fall when salmon begin migrating upstream, the powerful California and Stellar sea lions hunt fully grown salmon at the locks. During the spring months, harbor seals chase small smolt (newly born salmon) as they enter the ocean for the first time, coming down spill tubes from Lake Washington.

Wildlife Photography at Ballard Locks

Lots of birds also take advantage of this productive system, and can be seen hunting fish near the dam and down Salmon Bay. Just west of the locks on Salmon Bay Bridge a pair of osprey have made a nest, look on the top of the southern tower on the bridge. Also on the Magnolia side of the locks is a great blue heron rookery, where dozens of herons roost. Park in the lot on 34th and W Commodore Way, and walk up 33rd Ave W, where you will find a bridge crossing some train tracks, just past the bridge on the right is a forested area, the heron nests are hidden among these trees. Also seen at the locks are bald eagles, belted kingfishers, and plenty of hunting/scavenging seagulls.

When you visit be patient and look closely—and enjoy!

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