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Monday, June 4, 2012

Astoria and Fort Stevens State Park

On Monday as most Memorial Day weekend traffic was heading back towards the city, we headed to the coast for a one day overnight in Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria, Oregon. It was drizzly and windy as we arrived, but we still had to stop to take in the impressive Astoria bridge that spans almost four miles across the Columbia River delta into Washington.

Nearby, among the old dock pilings, were some double-crested cormorants, Canada geese, and a flock of greater scaup.

At Fort Stevens State Park, the rain had stopped and we ate a picnic lunch perched in one of the sand dunes near the shipwreck. While eating, I couldn't believe my eyes when I spotted a gray whale! The peak season for seeing gray whales off the Oregon Coast is between December and March, though there is a small seasonal resident population throughout the year made up of whales that don't make the full migration north. It was amazingly close to shore for this part of the coast, surfacing just beyond where the waves were breaking.

After lunch we hiked a few short trails in the park, and at the beach access furthest out the spit I saw a flock of more than a hundred Caspian terns (194). On the ocean side of the spit there weren't as many terns as on the inland bay side, but I got closer to one here than anywhere else:

This scene of glaucous-winged gulls with the rocky shoreline behind them to the south epitomizes the Oregon Coast to me:

In the late afternoon we checked into our overnight accommodations: a yurt.

While sitting around the campfire that evening roasting marshmallows I couldn't believe my ears when I heard a northern saw-whet owl (195, NA life bird 347)!! Another one started up it the other direction and we heard them off and on for more than an hour. I used a saw-whet owl call as the alarm clock tone on my cell phone a while back, otherwise I might not have immediately recognized it, but it sounded exactly the same. As a side note, when entering the saw whet owl on my life list I realized that the Wilson's phalarope from Eide Road seen a few days before was also a life bird!

The next day before heading back towards Saint Helens, we walked around the south jetty of the Columbia River.

It was great birding here. Some highlights were eight bald eagles, a flock of 200 sanderlings, a dozen or more red-necked grebes in the surf, and most impressive, well over a hundred brown pelicans. They are so cool to watch in flight, as they fly in a long line, often right over the waves, bobbing up and down to stay close to the surface of the water while avoiding the next swell. Here, some groups were up high and flying overhead, providing some photo opportunities. This picture reminds me of one of those shots where people superimpose the same bird in different positions, but these are all different birds just at different stages of their wing beats:

While kind of an awkward-looking species, I actually find the pelican to be a pretty beautiful bird:

They're certainly impressive due to their size!

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