Has It Really Only Been 1 Month? Yaquina Highlights

I’ve officially been out here in Newport, Oregon for about one month. So far, it has been epic.

I’ve learned so much about the wildlife, including the tidepool animals, seals, whales, and most importantly: seabirds. Brandt’s Cormorants have slowly become my favorite bird by far. I will be expanding on this in future posts. Besides the animals I get to observe and learn about, I talk to hundreds of people each week, I am outside more than I am inside, and I love all of it. The rangers I work with are extremely kind and have been helping me “learn the ropes” (I have to make as many sailing jokes as I can while I’m here) while I work on my interpretive ranger program. (Stay tuned for the next blog post for my program reveal).

Now, here is a very brief overview of some of the highlights: 

Why Is there An Egg In The Tide Pool?

After arriving at Yaquina, my first two weeks were filled with training. I had the chance to shadow the last two education programs of the season for two fifth-grade school groups. The program focused on students making hypotheses about where they would find tide pool animals at low, high, or mid-tide. While I was with the students in the tidepools, a chaperone approached me with a broken blue spotted Common Murre egg they had found on the cobble next to the tidepools. While training during my second week, I had been gradually learning about the different seabirds at Yaquina. Apart from observing them from a distance with my binoculars, I hadn’t had the chance to see them, or their eggs, up close.

I took the egg, and at the end of our program, I let the students know I had one last thing to show them. I pulled out the egg and asked if any of them knew what it was. I received a lot of answers, so we spent the last few minutes of our time in the tidepools discussing the Murre egg and why it was in the tidepool instead of on top of the rocks, examining its shape, color, and size. The kids’ excitement was contagious, so I let them use my binoculars to check out the Murre colony on top of Lion’s Head. This was a memorable moment for me because it was my first time formally conducting interpretive education outside of an academic setting.

For the last bit of training, we had a two day workshop where we had people from various federal groups and non-profits come out and speak to us about the work they are doing. US Fish and Wildlife, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (me), Elakha Alliance, Friends of Yaquina Bay, and more attended!

Seabirds! Monitoring Murres & Cormorants

Brandt's Cormorant feeding chicks
Monitoring the Brandt's Cormorant colony on Flat Top
Common Murre colony on Lion's Head

Each Wednesday and Friday morning, I show up with my team to work at 5:45 am to monitor the Common Murres, Brandt’s Cormorants, Pelagic Cormorants, and three nesting Western Gulls. Despite the early call time, it’s definitely one of my favorite times of the week. We have been focusing on the cormorant colonies because consistent disturbances from juvenile and adult Bald Eagles have prevented us from getting counts of Murre eggs. If you are interested in learning more about our project here at Yaquina Head and Oregon State, check out last year’s report. But as for this year, the Brandt’s Cormorants have chicks! The Pelagic Cormorants still have eggs, and the gulls have chicks that look like brown fluffy cotton balls. Every day is basically an episode of Our Planet, with eagles flushing the Murre colonies, gull chicks stumbling out of the nests, and cormorant chicks asking to be fed.

One of my favorite parts about monitoring is getting to see the cobalt blue throat pouch of the Brandt’s Cormorants while they do their mating display. They have turquoise eyes that match and it’s incredible to see while the sun is rising. The sunrise highlights the blue color through my scope.

Sea gull disturbance viewed from the lighthouse deck
Sunrise during monitoring
Juvenile Bald Eagle trying to get murre eggs
Brandt's Cormorant with breeding plumage
Bird crew explores tidepools at Cobble Beach

Time Travel Is Possible When Entering The Lighthouse

Yaquina Head has the tallest lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Technically, it’s not the lighthouse itself but rather its height from sea level. I still think it’s pretty cool though. At my park, we offer lighthouse tours, and the rangers give 15-minute tours in the clothes of the Keeper’s time. One of the rangers I work with does his in the character of Shadrack L. Wass, one of the keepers from 1875. I got the opportunity to shadow one of the tours, and I forgot I was in uniform for a split second. I got to feel the excitement our visitors experience when entering the lighthouse. 

Although I prefer studying birds, watching the historical lighthouse tours has allowed me to learn interpretive techniques from the rangers here at my park. It’s only been one month, but I have definitely picked up some new skills. I’ve learned that interpretation is all about giving visitors the opportunity to connect with the resources your park has and hopefully inspiring them to care. This is different from environmental education, where my end goal is to meet specific objectives. I’m realizing that getting people to care about nature through birds requires a bit of both. 

All in all, between working in tidepools, the interpretive center, interpreting with educational tables, seabird monitoring, and exploring Newport, I have been very busy. I genuinely can’t wait to see what the next five months have to offer. 

Look out for my ranger program next post. Prepare to appreciate Brandt’s Cormorants as much as I do (or more)! 

Closing the park and getting to meet a local
Suited up for a rainy shift at Cobble Beach
Learning to sail during the Summer Sailstice with Yaquina Bay Yacht Club (over the weekend, not on shift)
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