I was standing at the top of the beach among the drift logs when I heard the chatter notes of a Wilson’s Warbler in the bushes under the trees along the slope. I turned to see it jump from branch to branch singing as it searched for bugs. It made me think about how abrupt and quick the transition is from forest to beach to marine habitat. In a short stretch of 100 yards or so, we see a complete change in the ecosystem and the species we might see. Some do cross these boundaries in their quest for survival and reproduction; others like the Wilson’s Warbler are restricted to only one.
As I continued down the beach, I heard the cries of a Bald Eagle and looked above to see two Eagles circling peacefully above the beach until a few crows flew up to harass them. One of the Eagles dropped down to land for a few seconds on the beach before it joined the first and they sailed over the rock outcropping and out of sight down the beach. A pair of Black Oystercatchers worked along the edge of the surf probing into the sand for possible morsels. The rolling twitter of a bird caused me to turn and look to see a Whimbrel flying out from the beach to make a broad arch around me and headed north. This species is passing through Washington from its wintering grounds to the Arctic for the breeding season. A Harlequin Duck was sitting on a rock in the surf while several male Surf Scoters were actively foraging just beyond the wave line. These two ducks should be heading to their breeding grounds pretty soon.
I finally arrived at my destination along the beach; a large rocky cliff that extended out perpendicular from the beach into the ocean. Several sea stacks showed that the cliff had once extended even further. The sandy beach shifted to a rocky shore and I had come to look for tide pools and what I might find in them. These rocks and pools of water can be full of life and you can get quite close to it because they either don’t move or moved very slowly. I had planned to sit to see what new things I could discover by patiently watching the scene. I had an hour before the sun would begin setting and I hoped to watch the sunset from this vantage point.
Several Ochre Sea Stars were tightly attached to rocks. These orange or purple starfish can hold the rocks with their tube feet as waves wash across them. The starfish feed on barnacles and mussels; which were common on the rocks. Several mussel patches were a yard or more across and contained hundreds of mussels. The mussels do best above the zone that the starfish can reach. The giant green sea anemones were in several of the pools. The tentacles radiate out from its top and the anemone waves these appendages with their stinging cell through the water to capture possible prey.
The sunset was worth the wait. Watching the waves flow in and out as the sky gradually changed was serene. After the sunset, I headed down the beach to return to my campsite. As I walked through the twilight, a harbor seal poked its head out of the water to study me. It swam parallel to me for a hundred yards before it gave up interest in me and returned to its other activities. What a relaxing afternoon, definitely experiencing wilderness in Washington is a treasure.
Excellent study of one of my favorite places in Washington – and that’s saying a lot as there are so many here! Nice work
Thanks so much. I love the Olympic Coast. I didn’t make it out there last summer. Hope to this summer.