Cape Lookout State Park on the north Oregon coast is home to dramatic scenery and diverse wildlife habitats, containing everything from basaltic ocean cliffs, sand dunes, and majestic Sitka spruce forests. The park has an enviable location with facilities situated between the remarkable cape which juts 2 miles out into the Pacific Ocean and Netarts Bay, the latter of which is arguably one of the more pristine bays on the Oregon coast.
This summer, Cape Lookout has also been the host of a large stream restoration project designed to improve the park’s aquatic resources. Jackson Creek is an ocean tributary contained mostly within the park’s boundaries that flows through the picnic area before running out to the ocean on the cobble and sandy beaches just north of the headland. The Jackson Creek watershed encompasses just 1.6 square miles but provides excellent habitat for coho, sea run cut throat trout, winter steelhead, and many different species of amphibians. The upper part of the watershed is steep and Jackson Creek forms a deep, narrow canyon east of the Park. As the stream enters the Park, it enters the flat coastal plain, where the channel becomes less steep. It is here, within the boundaries of Cape Lookout State Park, the creek provides important spawning and rearing habitat for fish.
Jackson Creek has an interesting history and has long been impacted by a series of human caused disturbances that have resulted in its habitat being compromised. In 1950, the creek was diverted into an excavated channel and directed into Netarts Bay. According to an article in the April 9, 1950 issue of the Oregonian, this action was undertaken by Tillamook County with the hopes of improving the salmon fishery. It was also hoped by some that the increased fresh water into Netarts Bay would help clear out sedimentation and improve commercial oyster production.
These intentions were well meaning, but ended up having negative impacts on aquatic habitat. It turns out that Netarts Bay is naturally a very saline environment, with only 14 small perennial streams providing a source of fresh water to the bay. In fact, the bay flushes itself with only 1.6 tidal cycles which is pretty rapid for a bay of its size. The fresh water contribution from diverting Jackson into the bay was minimal. Also, the creek likely contributes more to sedimentation, particularly in the south side of the bay where it regularly delivers material from the steep slopes of the Tillamook Highlands.
Diverting the creek into the bay also effectively cut off the ocean tributary from fish use. But this didn’t last long. A few years after the creek was diverted, it broke through the construction dam and some flows returned to the original channel. The flow of the creek has then been split between both channels- the historic ocean tributary and the newly constructed diversion channel- for the past 60 years. This had dramatic effects on the aquatic habitat. While fish have been using both channels, neither channel has had enough water in it to effectively support high quality fish habitat. Additionally, the diversion channel frequently went dry in the summer months and would strand juvenile salmon in small pools that eventually went completely dry. The diversion channel was also very unstable. It transported large amounts of coarse gravel downstream, and then would jump its banks and flow into portions of the campground. It wasn’t uncommon during these events to see juvenile salmon stranded in puddles in the campground!
Clearly, something had to be done. This summer, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department teamed up with partners the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to implement a large stream restoration project on Jackson Creek. As part of the project, the diversion channel was plugged and historic flows returned to the original Jackson Creek channel. A road ford, which had park vehicles driving across the creek to access the water treatment plant, was removed and a timber bridge will be installed to provide safe fish passage for all life cycles of salmon. And finally, the water intake that provides water from Jackson Creek to the park for use was effectively screened to prevent fish from becoming trapped in the park’s water system.
With all these improvements, it is hoped that adult fish will have an easier time navigating the ocean tributary as they come in from the ocean to spawn. Natural resources staff also hope that the original Jackson Creek ocean tributary will become more connected to its floodplain with the increased flow, providing a better place for young coho to rear. All in all, the creek has been returned to its natural condition and will provide a better experience for all park visitors- both human and fish!
Many Oregonians flock to the Coast for July 4. The cool breezes are a welcome respite from the Valley’s summer heat, and there are so many things to do! People and pets will be playing on the beaches, where wildlife can be overwhelmed by the disturbance. What is fun and relaxing to us can be very nerve-wracking to wildlife, and can even cause the loss of young babies and nests.
Each year on our sandy beaches, imperiled western snowy plovers settle down to nest. Federally and state threatened, plovers have been forced into smaller and smaller areas as their habitat has been consumed by invasive plants and development. With no where else to go, the birds try to raise their young on the beach that is left – which is also where people go to play. Since plovers and their nests are well camouflaged, beach visitors often don’t even know they are there!
But the birds certainly know people are there. When an adult flushes away from its nest to avoid people and pets, the nest and young are vulnerable to predators and weather. A tiny shorebird nest can get covered in sand very quickly with our Coast “breezes”! Keep in mind that infrequent disturbance short in duration isn’t the problem – it becomes a problem when people are always walking by (different people!), or sitting down near a nest.
Each nest is critical to the survival of these birds, and thanks to Oregonians their population is on the rise! Some preserved areas serve as nesting grounds and affords these birds a chance at successful nesting, which is helping their populations to rebound.
This holiday, the main concerns are the large crowds and the use of fireworks. Fireworks and nesting birds do not mix; to a shorebird, fireworks are loud, startling noises rather similar to gun shots. Adults can panic, and leave nests and flightless chicks without protection. In order to help us protect these birds we ask that you not shoot fireworks into the nesting areas or on beaches (where it is illegal whether birds are there or not), keep your dogs on a leash and out of the nesting areas (where they aren’t allowed anyway), and do not cross any rope barriers that are established to protect nesting birds. There has been a large time investment by beach goers, OPRD staff, and many other agencies ensuring the success of this year ‘s flock of fledglings and we need your help for that success to continue.
Following these simple steps will help you share the beach and still enjoy it yourself:
- RESPECT POSTED AREAS- Nests are hard to see! They are well camouflaged and blend in with the sand. Walking or allowing your dog to roam in roped off areas puts nests at risk of being trampled or abandoned by their parents. Shooting fireworks, flying remote controlled planes, or flying a parasail adjacent to or within protected areas creates a disturbance and will chase birds away.
- NEVER INTENTIONALLY FORCE BIRDS TO FLY- Birds come to our beaches to rest just like we do. When we scatter a group of birds they have to use energy that they need to reserve for nesting activities or migration. While it creates a great visual it is the same as someone chasing you as soon as you sit down on the beach.
- KEEP PETS ON A LEASH AND AWAY FROM NESTING AREAS- While your dog might not chase birds, nesting shorebirds can’t distinguish a good dog from a predatory dog, or a leashed dog from an unleashed one. They assume all canines are predatory and react as such, flushing off of their nest when approached by anything resembling a threat; this includes your dog no matter how well behaved.
- KEEP THE BEACH CLEAN AND DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE- Food scraps attract predators such as crows and ravens to the beaches. It is against the rules to feed wildlife on the Ocean Shore not to mention it is impolite to your beach neighbors to attract gulls with snacks. They will eat anything and don’t know when to go away. It’s funny in “Finding Nemo”, but not so great when they are staring at you!
That’s it! Pretty straight forward, and so easy to do. Please go and enjoy our beautiful coast, and share the beach with the wonderful wildlife!
To work with wildlife you bend your schedule to fit whatever the critters require. So when you’re working with land birds, that means you get up before dawn, go to your site, and be in place before the birds really get going. The height of bird song, when everything is singing and you can hardly hear yourself think, is called the “Dawn Chorus” and starts right about sunrise. Some species start singing earlier – American robin, pacific wren, Swainson’s thrush – but to really get the prime diversity you want to be listening at dawn and for an hour or two afterwards.
So I was up before dawn, at one OPRD’s properties in the central Willamette Valley. The property has no facilities other than some old road beds and wildlife trails that wind between agriculture fields, through riparian gallery forest, past a meadow, and terminate at a large pond with an island in the middle. There’s also wetlands, a slough, and two smaller ponds full of carp.
Here is the big pond, with part of the island on the right. The up side to early mornings is that you get to see lovely views like this, a perk of the job.
The gallery forest is alive with birds; right now there are adults singing and calling to each other, hunting down prey, and delivering it to their fledglings that are squealing for food at all hours. Once you start listening to bird calls you’ll start to hear the fledglings. They have this insistent “eee eee eeee!” that is new to the forest in late May and common place by the end of June.
I set up a point count on this old road access, with full forest on one side and a small pond on the other. A point count is a spot where you stand for 10 minutes, listening and watching and recording all the birds around you. I use fixed-distance point counts so that our data can join Klamath Bird Observatory’s database, and we can calculate density and abundance. With data like that, you can survey a site over multiple years and see how the bird populations are changing. Determining just how many song sparrows are singing all around you can be an intense process when there are 12 other species all calling at the same time!
What is neat at this point station is this old snag:
It is home to a group of acorn woodpeckers! The whole time I stood there the woodpeckers were coming and going, feeding their young. Acorn woodpeckers are best known for their clown-like facial feathers and for shoving hundreds of acorns into trees (or utility poles) to feed on over the winter. They are also unique in their flocking. Most woodpeckers are in pairs for the breeding season, raising only their young. But acorn woodpeckers are very social, and multiple females will lay eggs in the same nest cavity, taking turns incubating and feeding. This makes for a very loud group effort!
All in all, I documented 38 bird species after 5 points and walking between them, including a surprise – common poorwill. That is a rare bird for the Willamette Valley, and I doubted myself when I heard it calling. But, there’s not much that sounds like a poorwill, and I checked the call in the field with my Sibley app (woo smart phones). Yep, common poorwill. I’ll be listening for him next time I visit to see if he was resident or a stray.
I also had another uncommon resident – black phoebe! This was the second time I saw this fellow, so he is a resident. I’ve not observed a pair, so he might be an early range expander thanks to climate change. Regardless of why he is there, the little phoebe is living in the Valley this summer!
Bird List on June 12, 2013
- Green heron
- Red-tailed hawk
- Osprey (pair with young)
- California quail
- Mourning dove
- Eurasian collared-dove
- Common poorwill
- Rufous hummingbird
- Belted kingfisher
- Acorn woodpecker
- Hairy woodpecker
- Northern flicker
- Western wood-peewee
- Black phoebe
- Western scrub-jay
- American crow
- Tree swallow
- Barn swallow
- Black-capped chickadee
- Brown creeper
- Bewick’s wren
- Pacific wren
- American robin
- Swainson’s thrush
- European starling
- Cedar waxwing
- Yellow warbler
- Common yellothroat
- Wilson’s warbler
- Black-headed grosbeak
- Spotted towhee
- Song sparrow
- Dark-eyed junco
- Brown-headed cowbird
- Red-winged blackbird
- American goldfinch
And after that lovely morning, I get to go back to the office and do some paperwork. Yay!
Do you like slimy, cold, and adorable? I do! Frogs and salamanders abound in many of our State Parks, and late winter and early spring is one of the best times to find them. Amphibians are excellent indicators of ecosystem health, and tracking trends in their populations or productivity can help showcase changes in the environment before other species do.
Besides, who can resist these eyes?
Photo Credit: Sara Viernum
This past February OPRD’s wildlife program hosted surveys for lentic breeding amphibians at four of our parks. A “lentic breeding amphibian” is one that spends its adult life on the earth but lays its eggs in ponds or other still water places, like red-legged frogs (Rana aurora) and northwestern salamanders (Ambystoma gracile). With the help of interns from Oregon State University, we donned waders, datasheets, and the mighty Swamp Stick to set out in the wetlands, marsh, and ponds at Beaver Creek Natural Area, Bower’s Rock State Park, Champoeg State Park, and Wapato Access.
What, you might ask, is a Swamp Stick? Here I am with OPRD Natural Resource Specialist Katie Duzik, modeling the latest in amphibian tracking gear. The stick was craftily pieced together from PVC pipe, zipties, and a big spoon. It serves three functions: giving a nice white background to show what is in that dark water, a way to manipulate delicate amphibian egg masses without needing to touch them, and probably most important for staying dry, as a ground prodding stick to make sure there really is something solid in front of you!
Here you can see the bottom of the Swamp Stick, the nice big spoon, showing off some red-legged frog eggs. Handling egg masses could detach them from their anchoring vegetation, but sometimes you need to move them a bit to see what they are: Swamp Stick. The young frogs are in the “tailed” stage, where you can see them starting to develop a tadpole-like form.
Photo credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Here are some more fantastic pictures!
Pacific chorus frog egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Long-toed salamander egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Northwestern salamander egg mass. Photo Credit: Vanessa Blackstone
Now all the data is in a pile on my desk, waiting for analysis. Wait, I think I have a bird survey to go on… paperwork will have to wait for a rainy day!
When the weather outside is frightful, why not learn about some wildlife? OPRD is hosting a Western Snowy Plover Workshop on February 13, 2013. The workshop is from 8 am until noon at the Skamania Lodge (1113 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA) in conjunction with annual meeting for the Oregon and Washington chapters of the Wildlife Society. Anyone can attend!
The goal of the workshop is to provide all the current information on the plover’s population, recovery and management goals, changing recreation on Oregon beaches to aid the plover, and survey methodology. Attending this workshop will count as the needed “classroom” style information required to survey for the birds during the breeding season (Note: You need a USFWS recovery permit, or to be listed under a permitted biologist’s permit, to survey for plovers during breeding season).
Guest speakers include Laura Todd (USFWS), Theresa Bolch (BLM), Eleanor Gaines with the Oregon Biodiversity Information Center (ORBIC), and me!
Registration is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Morning snacks and coffee/tea are provided.
I hope you’ll join me there!
The spring of 2006 brought exciting times to the Western pond turtle nursery at Elijah Bristow State Park southeast of Eugene. Last year, biologist Lisa Riley, whose reputation as a turtle tracker has grown along with the park’s identity as a prime breeding ground, discovered 12 nests in the park.
her findings resulted from two years of trapping adult turtles and monitoring their movement in a study conducted for OPRD and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Between late April and mid-May, Lisa and park staff members enjoyed the rare pleasure of seeing and photographing baby turtles emerging from several of those nests. Their appearances marked the first time Western pond turtles have been observed emerging from a nest on park property. Lisa first discovered the baby turtles, the first ones she has ever seen emerging, on April 27 while removing covers used to protect the nests from predators. “The first one I saw appeared to be lifeless, so I was worried at first,” she says. “It was alive, though, then I started seeing others emerging from other nests.” Since a baby Western pond turtle is about the size of a quarter, Lisa says they are very hard to see. “It’s easy to miss them, so there may have been others that dug their way out before we saw any,” she admits.
As a bonus to seeing turtles leaving known nests, more nests were found in the well-protected open fields that serve as the park’s nurseries. The park’s backwater slough and pond system serve as the turtle’s primary habitat, but in the summer, females move from that sheltered environment to lay eggs in sparsely vegetated, sunny locations. Incubated by solar heat, the eggs hatch, but the young remain in the nests through the winter before emerging the next spring. Lisa’s two-year study of Western pond turtle populations, which have been declining in Oregon, was prompted by a need to identify nests and protect them in managing the park’s trails. Fences and signs now warn people to keep out of identified breeding areas and to stay on established trails. In her early work, Lisa used fingernail polish to draw designs on the shells of turtles she trapped, and glued radio transmitters to some as aids in searching for nests. She also has been monitoring their travels between the slough and lazily flowing Lost Creek. Lisa, who estimates that 50-65 turtles live at Elijah Bristow, is now expanding her search for nests upstream along the Middle Fork of Willamette River in adjacent Dexter State Recreation Site. Revenue from OPRD’s agricultural leases is supporting the expanded research.
Check out the turtle slideshow from 2006!
For more information on Western Pond Turtles visit Herpetology Northwest.