The Green's Observation on Living on the Coast

By Margaret Green
Bald Eagle - Image: John Green

Just 80 miles west of Longview/Rainier one can discover new opportunities for observing wild life beyond our customary species.  We moved from Longview to Gearhart, Oregon in April 2016, and now are coastal residents of nearly a year.  Living and exploring the coastal forests and prairies, the dunes and beaches has offered some delightful experiences. 

One of our more interesting sightings happened last summer, when we began seeing large black fins circling just beyond the breakers off Gearhart Beach.  Amongst these were repeated whale spouts.  We identified 3 whales and at least 5 Orcas.  Several local naturalists offered the explanation that this rogue Orca pod (often seen at the mouth of the Columbia) was trying to separate a mother gray whale from her calf.  The mother was successful in staying between her calf and the predators as two whales were seen a few miles north within an hour of our sighting.  It is hard to know who to root for during these natural world battles.

John takes a daily beach walk and it is always interesting.  We have seen 6 eagles at one time, “celebrating” a comrade’s successful catch of a small sea perch, too small to share.  Another day, one was clinging to a crab and puzzling over its best approach for consuming.  The eagles are plentiful this winter and John sees them daily.  We hope to find successful nests over the next couple months for observation.

Surfscoters - Image John Green

One of the most exciting finds has been a group of 5 Snowy Plovers that have been present almost daily for nearly two months.  This is a rare and endangered shore bird for which there are recovery plans/actions happening at Leadbetter Point on the Long Beach Penninsula. 

Two of John’s birds are banded.  After reporting the birds, including a picture of the bands, we were told they had been banded in Central Oregon.  We hope that Gearhart Beach might be considered suitable habitat for nesting by these small birds, though tourist activity and the presence of avian, and mammalian predators would present a deterrent for success.  Seeing them regularly has encouraged us for prospects of this species’ survival.

Snowy Plover
banded Snowy Plover - Image Neil Maine

After our first big storm, we began seeing Red Phalaropes in inland water bodies, puddles in yards and streets and in parking lots.  These are small birds that spend their entire lives on the ocean.  The high winds had pushed them inland.  At the Cannon Beach Sewage Ponds, hundreds could be found feeding.  Sadly, these birds are oblivious to the dangers of land predators so many succumbed to predation by hawks, ravens, and coyotes.  And though it was amazing, and honestly, enjoyable to observe these birds at close range, it was a very sad phenomena, that we are told happens yearly, to some degree.  A birder’s delight is often a bird’s demise.

Snowy Plover
Snowy Plover - Image John Green

Walking the beach introduces us to a multitude of sea creatures such as fried egg jelly fish, pyrosomes and many dead seabirds and mammals such as murres, grebes, albatross, porpoise, seal lions, and even a rabbit.  The Seaside Aquarium, our resident experts have been very helpful with identifications and actually performed necropsies on various sea lions and a still borne whale carcass John found.

A wildlife viewing opportunity that is always a thrill is a visit from the Gearhart elk herd, a group of about 80 individuals that wander the dunes, yards, prairies, and forests between Seaside and Camp Rilea.

Elks - Image John Green

The variety of gulls and ocean birds offer new challenges to our bird watching hikes, but the forests have all the familiar species that abound in the hills around Longview.  Bluebirds and Meadowlarks have been an added treat.  The beauty of these coastal communities is their proximity to so many lovely hikes.   The northward shorebird migration in April is an annual event that provides opportunities to see those birds in vast numbers and in breeding plumage rather than the non-breeding black/white and gray palette.  It is worth a trip.

Below is a video of a Red Phalarope doing its twirling feeding behavior.


Our wildlife sightings have been plentiful and of high quality because of the consistency of our presence.  But 80 miles is not far to travel for an occasional glimpse of something special.