During every season, the Oregon Coast teems with wildlife, from seabirds and seals to gray whales and scarlet crabs.
Up to two hours before and after low tide, rocky underwater coves become tide pools ripe for exploring. Dense colonies of black mussels mingle with barnacles, creamsicle-colored sea stars and mint-green sea anemones. Three species of small crab (purple shore, kelp and hermit) scurry within the scene. Feel free to gently touch tide pool inhabitants, but leave them in their habitat.
Some of Oregon’s best tide pool are located near the Haystack Rock in Pacific City, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Strawberry Hill State Park, Sunset Bay State Park and Harris Beach State Park. The better-known Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, which is also part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, is another great tide pool area.
Grab a pair of binoculars and go to any coastal headland to see gray whales, which head south along the Oregon Coast starting in mid-December for about a month, then reappear between March and June on their way north.
Languid, lounging California sea lions are easy to spot (and hear) on fishing docks in Astoria and Newport. While harbor seals maintain a lower profile, they congregate near Yaquina Head, Strawberry Hill and Coquille Point. Look for seal pups in the spring, but be sure to leave them be — especially if you see them alone on the beach waiting for their mothers to return. For a guaranteed seal or sea lion sighting, head to Cape Arago, which offers views of large colonies of the mammals on Shell Island.
Bird-watchers flock to the Coast to view seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl of all kinds, including the state’s most popular seabirds — the tufted puffin and common murre (a penguin-like bird). The murre can be spotted reliably each spring and early summer at Yaquina Head, with nearly 80,000 birds nesting there. You can ask a volunteer interpreter near Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach for help spotting the tuffted puffin at low tide. In fall and winter, bays and estuaries host brown pelicans, loons, grebes and different species of duck.
Birding also abounds at the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which stretches from Tillamook Head to the California border. More than a million seabirds nest at three marine refuges in the complex (Oregon Islands, Cape Meares and Three Arch Rocks), and harbor seals and sea lions can be found there during breeding season. The three estuarine refuges within the complex —Nestucca Bay, Siletz Bay and Bandon Marsh — offer sanctuary to a diverse array of wild creatures.
Wherever you look, you’ll see that the Oregon Coast is alive and wild.
Story by Lucy Burningham