Haystack Rock

I really wanted to see the puffins.

Haystack Rock, in Cannon Beach, Oregon, is well-known as a nesting site for the Tufted Puffin. According to eBird, the puffins are in residence from late spring through mid-August. I’ve been there many times, but always in the winter months when the birds were feeding out to sea. Now we were finally going to be there on a summer day—August 23. That was cutting it awfully close, but the trip involved too many scheduled meetings and couldn’t be moved. I’d just have to wait and hope for the best.

You may have gathered what happened from the lack of a puffin photo at the top of the page. That’s right. We arrived bright and early Sunday morning, having driven west from the Portland area. The sun was shining. Temperatures hovered around 70. The tide was out and damp sand stretched toward the scenic offshore rocks. As I hauled my camera equipment down the beach, birds wheeled overhead—gulls crying, cormorants squawking—but nary a puffin was to be found. The docent posted to keep beach-goers away from the nests answered my question—no puffins had been seen since Thursday. We’d missed them by three days.

Well, if I couldn’t photograph any puffins, what could I see?

Double-crested Cormorants are common birds—too common, according to many fishermen. In fact, there are various programs aimed at reducing their numbers. Here, they were sitting on nests, many of which were filled with fledglings. Parents returned from hunting with throats full of fish, which they proceeded to regurgitate into the moths of their begging offspring. It was interesting enough, but I’ve seen enough of these cormorants to last me a long time—plus we see them at home in Colorado. What could I find that was more… coastal?

It was hard to miss the Western Gulls. Cooperative and photogenic, they inspired me to take dozens of photos even though I already have plenty from previous trips. They, too, nest on Haystack Rock, and numerous nests were occupied with one of the parents (they take turns) patiently waiting for the eggs to hatch.

A loud commotion nearby caught my attention and I spied a pair of Black Oystercatchers on a nearby rock. I concluded that they were parent and child, as one seemed to do all the squawking while the other ignored its pleas. I guess it wasn’t meal time.

Finally, Haystack Rock was decorated with numerous, plump black-and-white birds that reminded me a bit of short, squat penguins. I’d seen Common Murres before, during a whale-watching trip, but they were simply bobbing along offshore. Here they were roosting, flying, and presumably nesting on the rocky ledges, high above the water. Like the puffins, they winter offshore, but apparently hang around a bit longer before departing for the open ocean.

Surprisingly, those were the only species present that day. There were no sandpipers. No other gulls. None of the other sea birds I was hoping to see. I could only assume their absence was due to all the people enjoying the gorgeous day at the beach.

As we made our way back up the sand to the car, I mentioned to my husband that we’d just have to come back again next summer, perhaps in June. I still want to see a puffin! He just smiled and murmured, “We’ll see!”

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