Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Low Tide at Haystack Rock, 6/21/2016

It was high tide the first time we walked on Cannon Beach to see one of Oregon's landmarks, Haystack Rock. Knowing that it is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and a designated (and, therefore, protected) "Marine Garden," we wanted to visit during low tide to see the colorful tidepools and some of the birds that nest on the rock. As you can imagine, there is a sharp contrast between views of Haystock Rock at high and low tides. 

I was thrilled to be able to snap a couple of photos of tufted puffins who nest in grassy areas near the top of the rock. This is the very first time we have seen them in the wild, ever!

There are also many other birds that make Haystack their home returning to their nests for several months of the year. Below are common murres and seagulls

The tidepools are bustling with marine life that can be seen at low tide near Haystack and the surrounding rocks. 

To be honest, I have become completely fascinated with this ecosystem and love exploring these pools that teem with life. How they can survive the pounding surf and then be exposed to completely dry conditions twice a day is really pretty incredible. The high tide zone is home to limpets, barnacles and some mussels. The mid zone is predominately inhabited by mussels, who stick to one spot on a rock for their entire life. 

But the most amazing creatures to me are those in the tidepools, the low zone. Anemones attach themselves to rocks and wait for food to come to them when they are submerged. Their colorful tentacles release barbs filled with toxin to paralyze and capture prey. Anemones open when underwater and close when they are exposed to air. 

The ochre sea stars (orange and red/purple) have no eyes or brains. During high tide they search for crabs, snails, barnacles, and mussels by moving around on the rocks. They enclose their prey with their bodies, digesting the meat and discarding the shells. 

Sea stacks, like Haystack Rock, along the Oregon coast are basalt and were created 10-17 million years ago by volcanic activity in the area. Not only is the wildlife interesting here, but the rock formations themselves are fun to explore as well. 

Climbing on the rocks here is sticky prohibited to protect the fragile ecosystem. HRAP (the Haystack Rock Awareness Program) is an educational wildlife effort that provides information and volunteers during low tide. Individuals are available to respond to questions during that time and are very knowledgeable about the wildlife here.

If you are in the area, check the tide tables and be sure to visit at low tide. For additional information about the program, check it out online. 

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