Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jetty Hopping

When we arrived at Ocean Shores the weather was clear but crisp and pretty windy. Algae blooms had stained the Pacific waves a thick, rusty brown that lapped up the beach at low tide. Not that these Florida folks were about to dip into the cold waters here, anyway.

As we walked out on Damon Point the weather began to shift. The wind picked up even more and rain clouds began to push in from the West. We made our way back to the parking lot after exploring the now exposed wreck of the SS Catala and searching, in vain, for Snowy Owls which we later learned were hiding in the dunes just beyond that growing tide stream.

SS Catala

The planned birding tour of the area was cut short by that growing storm but I wanted to at least get out and scan the jetty back at the beach. I stepped out with my Pentax, which I use as a pretend telescope at times, and walked toward the jetty as a light rain began to blow in. I climbed up to the top of the jetty and stared down the jumble of rocks leading out into the Pacific.

I could see a LOT of birds floating in the waves at the very end of the jetty maybe 100 yards long ahead of me. If you know me well you know what happens next. I had to get out there, weather be damned. I began hopping from rock to rock as the family sat in the car.

In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest thing to do but I needed to know what those shapes actually were. Life Birds were at stake. The wind was gusting up to around 30 mph and the clouds were gaining strength and menace. 3 other foolish humans were well ahead of me and I was determined to reach the end as fast as possible.

I eventually made it to the end of the jetty just behind the other adventures and scanned the bobbing specs through the rain while nearly loosing my footing numerous times as we were buffeted by gust after gust. The waves were crashing hard by now, adding their spray to the light rain.

Most of the birds were not new as I had hoped. Surf and White-winged Scoters and a few gulls and a Pelagic Cormorant. Out on the edges of the flocks a lone, large Harbor Seal poked his head above the waves to scan the birds just as I was doing. Off to my left there was a flash of white feathers which was a Life Bird: Long-tail Duck. It dove twice and then flew off, avoiding my attempts to photograph it.

I looked behind me down the long stretch of now slick rocks and could just make out the headlights of the rental car. Besides the inclement weather, it was now getting dark. Time to head back past the gulls and Pelagic Cormorants. By now, I could notice some smaller birds at the base of the jetty. Here were my Life Birds, down dodging the waves below me.

The light was really fading now but I could make out one bird for sure. I had been thinking it would have been easier to find in other locations but I would take it here. Even at a distance in the gloom I could tell it was a Black Turnstone. This image was scanned in and cropped.

Black Turnstone

Other small birds were searching for food in the mess of waves and wind. Hard to make out at the time. Best I could do was try and grab any shot and review in the warmth of a hotel after the film came back. Turns out there were a couple more Lifers out there for me. One was a Surfbird.


What could these other birds be? Not sure. Had to ask for some help from the Tweeters in Washington. Helped confirm another new bird. In this shot we have Black Turnstone, Surfbirds, and Rock Sandpipers.

Jetty Birds

I was slowly making my way back to the point where I wouldn't be swept into the ocean when I saw one more odd little bird floating and diving. I knew the was light minimal but I tried to stand as still as possible to get something to image for me later. The wind wasn't cooperating too much. Managed to get enough to get verified by someone much more knowledgeable than me that it was my only auk of the trip. Rhinoceros Auklet in fact.

Rhinoceros Auklet

I only time I actually almost fell from the rocks was just at the end of my climbing but I managed to right myself one last time and jump down to the level plane of the beach. From there it was an easy walk back to the car and to comfort.

Thankfully, the rental car we had came equipped with a DVD player so the kids didn't complain much about the wait. They are quite use to Dad being distracted with birds from time to time. Fortunately, too, my wife is a saint. She patiently waits for my little bursts of craziness to ebb. She says we looked awfully funny hopping from rock to rock to rock.

The best part of this jaunt wasn't even bird related.

My head was all clogged up since we were on descent into Seattle 3 days before. I could hardly hear and my sinus pain was nearly constant and my ears just wouldn't pop and clear things up. Not long after I got back in the car and warmed up I realized things were clearing up.

Somehow, all that cold, wet, windy weather and exercise had burst through the roadblock in my head and I got the best sleep of the trip so far.

And at least 6 new birds in that miserable dusk. I would do it all over again. Probably will.

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7 days to success said...
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