Monday, January 24, 2011

Stranded Beaver on the Beach

This past Saturday, we decided to head west towards the northern portion of the Oregon Coast, stopping to view Elk at Jewell Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary and a quick hike at Fishhawk Falls along the way, the details of which will be coming to you in a not so distant future blog post. Viewing the elk so close was definitely a highlight of the day, until I had a rare encounter with a beached beaver.

We decided to use the vehicle access point near Gearhart and drive up the beach to see what we could see, expecting nothing more than some shorebirds, a few gulls, and maybe some interesting driftwood. For those of you outside the Pacific Northwest, the past few weeks have seen some unusually heavy rans, along with the associated flooding, so just being at the ocean with the sun shining was a welcome treat, plus you never know what is going to wash ashore after a storm. We happily drove along snapping pictures of the sandpipers and just enjoying the beauty of the day.

Somewhere near Sunset Bay State Park, a gentleman in a white truck flagged us down to stop. We obliged, figuring he had a warning about some sort of danger that may lie further up the coastline.

"Look out. Right up there *pointing to a brown blob in the surf* is a beaver. He's a young guy and pretty tired. He's been there all day being battered by the waves. Wildlife rescue is on the way. Just give him some space, he's having a pretty bad day."

Brown Blob in the Surf

My husband and I both looked at each other and exclaimed "A beaver? What?" This we had to see.
Now, I am not a beaver, but I have to imagine that while I rather enjoy a day on the coast, for him, being stuck there was no day at the beach. Now, being as I have never seen a beach beaver, and I am not sure whoever wrote the Marine Mammal protection act meant it to apply to stranded beavers, we were not sure how to handle the situation. However, we respected the beaver's space, kept the same distance we would for a beached seal, and were thankful for the powerful zoom of our camera lens.

The poor little guy was just miserable. He kept trying to swim back out to sea, and back to whatever river or creek he came from, but it looked more like he was making a really bad attempt at body surfing. Then when he would take a moment to rest, a huge glob of sea foam would cover him completely, and he looked like someone took him out of the bathtub and forgot to rinse the shampoo off. We sat and watched over him for quite a while. Lots of other people stopped intermittently to gawk, and we all remarked that we had never heard of, let alone seen a beaver on the beach before.

Finally, the cavalry (Wildlife Center of the North Coast) came to the rescue!! At this point my husband jumped out of the car with the camera to get pictures of the rescue. My youngest child and I waited safely in the car. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be anywhere near an angry beaver should it decide to attack.

Luckily, the whole rescue happened without incident. They corralled him into a huge fishing type net, put him in a crate and were gone in less than 10 minutes. Really, the whole thing was pretty anitclimatic. I was expecting the beaver to put up at least a little bit of a fight, but, in all honesty, I think he was just ready for his day on the beach to come to an end and was happy to comply with anyone that offered him an escape route.

We did talk to the rescuers, and they pretty much confirmed the theory we had been bouncing around since we happened upon him. all the recent flooding had washing him out of whatever stream he had been living in, and right out to see. That must have been on hell of a ride!!

Now, to me, this is a once in a lifetime occurrence. I never expect to go to the beach and see a beaver surfing. Other than the normal sandpipers, seagulls  and starfish, maybe I might see a few other interesting birds such as terns or pelicans. If I am really fortunate, maybe a seal that has come ashore and is also in need of rescue, but never an unlucky beaver. Much to my surprise, the wildlife rescue volunteers said that this actually happens five or six times a year, especially after the rivers and creeks have been flooding.

I guess it just goes to show, you never know what you will find when you go exploring the Oregon Coast.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creatures of Habit

If nothing else, I am a creature of habit. Not to say that I am boring, but if someone wanted to stalk me they wouldn’t have a difficult time. I have been ordering the same drink from Starbuck’s for 20 years, and when I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon, (and sometimes there really is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon), I grab the camera, hop in the car, and take a drive out the Historic Highway in the Gorge. Yesterday was one of those days. The weather was not ideal, but it was better than sitting home in front of the TV. So out for a Sunday drive with the family I went.

As I said, the light was not very good, and the ice that had attacked me earlier this week had mostly melted. The snow on the cliffs was quite beautiful, and the swans are still hanging out in Mirror Lake beneath Crown Point. We decided to continue on to Bonneville Dam and enjoy the ride. As we were leaving the visitor center, the sun was just setting, and we decided to drive to one of the island fishing areas and try to get some pictures of the sunset behind Beacon Rock. As I stood there snapping pictures, I heard the sound of a large animal in the water, kind of like what you hear when watching the Discovery Channel and they are showing whales. I knew right then it had to be one of the infamous Bonneville Dam salmon munchers, more commonly known as sea lions.

These guys are the ultimate creatures of habit. Regardless of what us humans try to do, they won’t be deterred from their preferred meal of endangered fish. They come back, over and over again. I stood there and watched him (or her for that matter) swimming upstream. Before I knew it, the sea lion disappeared from view and returned to the surface, with a mouth full of his favorite delicacy flapping in his mouth. I hurried to get a picture, but the light was bad and he was too far away for one of those amazing wildlife pictures you see in National Geographic or the like. Above is the best I could do under the circumstances. He finished his meal, once again disappeared from sight (I assume in search of a second helping), and I realized it was time for this creature of habit to go home and have her own supper.

Click here for a news article with a much more detailed explanation of the sea lion issues at Bonneville Dam.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Columbia Gorge Ice

Frozen waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, what photographer can resist that? I surely couldn’t. My oldest daughter had a doctor’s appointment earlier this week, so that afternoon was a perfect opportunity to take the drive out the old highway and capture a few images. 

Problem was, apparently things weren't quite as frozen as they once were. The East Wind (also known as the Chinook Wind), which blows through the Gorge and creates a very chilly wind tunnel this time of year, had abated. So Mother Nature’s ice sculptures were now starting to melt again and become cascades of water. Which my oldest daughter and I found out the hard way, literally.
While completely engrossed in one particular ice formation near Oneonta Gorge, I heard the rumbling that one can only take as a rock slide. Only this time, it was a shower of softball size chunks of ice and jagged icicles. As I turned to run for cover, one large piece hit my camera lens glass straight on, my hand, and my ankle. By some miracle, my lens was encrusted with ice, but not even a scratch. I have no clue how it survived unscathed, but being grateful is an understatement.
My daughter, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well. Ice hit her square on the top of the head. Tears were streaming down her face. “Mommy, my head hurts.” At this point I launched into full panic mode. I was convinced that the blood was going to start streaming down her face at any second, and I was going to have to race to the nearest ER. 

Again, another stroke of luck. No gaping wound, just a small little bump. I grabbed a chunk of ice from the ground, one of the very pieces that had just assaulted us, and wrapped it in her scarf, and put it on her head to keep the swelling down. I told my daughter that was probably the piece that hit her in the head, and now it was going to make her feel better. At that point we both laughed pretty hard at the irony of that, and she forgot that her head was throbbing, almost as quickly as it fell from the cliff and on her head. We both realized how lucky we were that neither of us had a concussion, broken bone, or some other serious injury.
The moral of the story: When nature gives you a head wound, make an ice pack.