Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast

Many people love to come to Oregon in the winter solely for the dramatic wave action and winter storms. Yet winter storms are not the only thing that draws the crowds to our shoreline. Gray whales, which migrate farther than any mammal on Earth, can also be observed here.

Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast but the winter is a particularly good time as viewing peaks in early spring. No matter where you choose to catch a glimpse of these amazing animals, volunteers all along the coast are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with you.

Check out my earlier post detailing Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms.

image of young girl near an ocean side cliff journaling Whale Migration

Each winter in the warm waters of Mexico, gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north in spring. They swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the waters of the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. In fall, they travel back to Mexico again to complete a round trip annual journey of 10,000 miles.

We enjoyed a little weekend getaway this past weekend, driving north along Highway 101 to Newport. We stopped at numerous scenic points along the way to observe the waves crashing on rocky shoreline. In Depoe Bay, we visited with the Oregon Parks and Recreation volunteers who helped us to spot the gray whales migrating offshore.

The first phase (non-calves) of the northbound gray whale migration appears to have peaked and the second phase (moms with babies) is just beginning – just in time for Spring Whale Watch Week, March 23-29, 2019.

image of a young boy and his father standing in the skeletal mouth of a grey whaleWhale Anatomy

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay was constructed during the postwar period designed to serve the rapidly increasing ranks of the motoring public, while taking advantage of a unique scenic vista—the world’s smallest navigable harbor at Depoe Bay.

While here, we also took time to enjoy the touch tables and pictorial history inside the center. What fascinated me most was the whale ear bone pictured here. In land mammals, the fleshy pinna or the outside part of the ear helps collect sound and funnel it into the ear. That works because the acoustical properties of the air and flesh are different, so sound  gets channeled into the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum and the ossicles (or ear bones).image of the inner ear bones of three whales

In water, the acoustical properties of flesh and water are pretty similar, therefore the fleshy outside part of the ear serves no function. Though hearing in baleen whales is not well understood, in toothed whales, instead of sound coming in through the ear canal, sound comes in through fatty tissues in the jaws which are attached to an acoustic funnel. Scientists believe that the ossicles vibrate this fluid-filled inner ear.

Baleen whales like the Grey Whale do not have teeth, instead they have 130 to 180 baleen plates that hang down each side of their upper jaws, like a fringed curtain. The plates are made out of fingernail-like material called keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. It makes the baleen strong, but still flexible.

image of whale baleenBaleen is a filter-feeder system inside the mouths of baleen whales. The baleen system works when a whale opens its mouth underwater and the whale takes in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as food source for the whale.

Inside the center, there was also a display that discussed how man has hunted the whale in the past for oil and baleen. It provided a fascinating reflection of how man has impacted our natural resources and how times have changed.

Science Literature

Cetaceans have captivated the human imagination for centuries. Kelsey Oseid explores the most interesting and illuminating facts about these marine mammals in her book,  Whales: An Illustrated Celebration. Her guide dives into their mysterious evolution (from land to water mammals), their place in mythology, and their ecology, habitats, and behaviors. It also covers the current state of wild and captive cetaceans worldwide, why we should care, and what we – as individuals – can do to help.This book is perfect for all ages.

 

More advanced readers will want to consider Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures written by Nick Pyensen. This acclaimed author is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. His book explains these marvelous creatures – feeding, migrating, their interactions with one another, and so much more. Using old-fashioned tools as well as radio trackers, 3D laser scans, and drones, Pyenson takes us on an epic adventure through the eyes of a paleobiologist. I highly recommend this book for high school students and those interested in ethology.

image of a gray whale skeletonWhale Watching Sites

Beginning north and traveling south along highway 101, the following locations are excellent view points from which to watch for whales.

  • Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment State Park
  • Neahkahnie Mountain, south of Cannon Beach
  • Cape Meares State Park
  • Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
  • The Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay
  • Cape Foulweather
  • Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter
  • Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
  • Umpqua River Whale Watching Station
  • Shore Acres State Park
  • Cape Arago State Park
  • Face Rock State Park
  • Battle Rock Wayfinding Point
  • Cape Sebastian
  • Klamath Overlook

Other Wildlife

Whales are not the only wildlife one can observe here at the Whale Watching Center. In addition to the whales we glimpsed with spotting scopes, we also observed the following wildlife at wayside viewing center:

  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
  • Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
  • Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
  • Several species of gulls
  • Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi), I believe

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for January 2019:

Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast by me here  at Eva Varga

Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate shares a Winter Tinker Kit

Emily has put together a fun Winter Scavenger Hunt at Table Life Blog

Hibernating Animals is the focus of Karyn’s post at Teach Beside Me

Erika at The Playful Scholar shares a fun, Hibernate or Migrate, Early Learning Game

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.


Winter Trees and Poetry

Winter is Coming. At least in our part of the world. As a child, rain was the constant companion of winter on the Oregon Coast. Though it is still yet a constant, we do now see more sunshine and snow is as infrequent as ever.

a trail through along the river in late winter, coniferous trees border the trail and the trail has been cut through a fallen logWhat I love about this time of year is the opportunity to really see the trees. In winter, the bare branches stand like skeletons against the sky. While I have grown accustomed to identifying trees by their cones and leaves, I am now challenged to identify them solely by their branches and buds.

Trees that once had leaves are bare.
They’re dressed instead in lacy white.
Snow dusts their trunks and coats their limbs
with flakes that outline them with light.

Winter Trees 

One of the books I most enjoyed sharing with my children when they were younger was Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. In this story, a boy and his dog use their senses of sight and touch to identify seven common trees in the snow covered forest.

Providing clues about how to identify trees in the winter, the text invites readers to explore the outdoors on a more intimate level. Intricate yet simple illustrations and lyrical text make distinguishing different types of trees easy, even in the middle of winter.

It’s a sweet little book. The verse is uncluttered and reverent. Leslie’s brightly-colored block prints, decorated with watercolor and collage (with some digital enhancement, as well), are striking. It is a beautiful blend of play, science, poetry, and art.

Do You Know That Tree?

Close your eyes and picture a tree. How big is it? What kind of geometric shape is it? How are the branches arranged? Does it have leaves or needles?  Does it have any kind of fruit. Now open your eyes and draw what you pictured in your mind.

Now grab your coat, your nature journal materials, and head outside. Walk around your neighborhood or along a favorite woodland trail. Find a tree of interest to you – perhaps one you have taken notice in the past. Note the trunks.  Is there one main trunk or does it split into multiple trunks? Are they straight or bent?

Look at the overall shape of the tree.  What geometric shape is its leaf/needle crown? Look at the bark.  What color is it? Is it smooth or rough.  Does it peel?  Feel it. Describe how it feels.

Tall yellow poplar’s furrowed bark
surrounds a trunk that’s straight and neat.

yellow poplar leaf on the trunk of a treeDoes it have many large branches, or branches that have lots of twigs? What colors are the leaves or needles? How are they shaped? Do they have any distinguishing characteristics? Are there any seeds, flowers, fruits, nuts, or cones on the tree? There may be some on the ground.

If the weather is conducive, sit down and draw a few sketches of your tree. If it’s raining, take a few photographs and do the journaling when you get back inside.

Record words, ideas, and impressions that enter your mind. Use your sense of touch, smell, sight, and sound to generate more words.

Poet-Tree

Now, compare and contrast your two drawings. Finally, challenge your children (or yourself) to convert their (your) thoughts into a poem. There are several forms to choose from: Haiku, Diamante, Fluxus, or a Shape Poem. Download the free Poet-Tree guide from Project Learning Tree.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book Club

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for this month:

Sky Tree Art Project by Emily at Table Life Blog

Winter Trees & Poetry by Eva at Eva Varga

The House at Pooh Corner Online Book Club by Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate

The Busy Tree Flap Book Activity Activity by Katrina at Rule This Roost

Plant a Tree, Nature Study Printable and Candle Holder by Sharla at Minnesota Country Girl

Party Rules
Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!
Welcome to the Nature Book Club!
*November theme: Trees & Twigs*


Prairie Wildflowers of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks

Prairie Wildflowers of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks

My family and I have just returned from a road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. It was a fabulous vacation – nearly two weeks away from the stressors of life (work and school) and distractions (social media). As WiFi is not available in most areas of the park, we were able to decompress and really connect with one another.photo collage of wildflowers and pollinators with text overlay

One of the things I had hoped to see were the wildflowers. By September however, most blooms have begun to decline. As each day passes, the wildflower meadows begin to disappear. Yet, I was pleased to see several species that were still attracting pollinators as autumns colors begin to change.

The Prairie Ecosystem

The prairie is an ecosystem located in the Great Plains of North America. It includes the lands between the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and extends east as far as Nebraska and north into Saskatchewan. The region is flat and rolling with mesas and stream valleys.

Elk, bison, and pronghorn antelope forage in the open expanses of the prairie, while wolves hunt nearby. Backwaters and springs create wetlands that provide cranes, waterfowl, and other birds with nesting habitat. Nearby woodlands provide refuge for black bears and cougar.

image of a yellow daisy wildflowerPrairie Wildflowers 

Within the boundaries of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks, the valleys are abundant with wildflowers. Cascade Lake Trail, in Yellowstone, is a meandering walk through meadows and along streams, offering a wide variety of wildflowers throughout the spring and summer.

The Yellowstone is a wild-flower garden. Wander where you will, you have the ever-new charm, the finishing touch, the ever-refreshing radiance of the wild flowers.” ~ Enos Mills, Your National Parks, 1917

The wildflowers of Grand Teton National Park usually bloom May through September. While valley flowers (Skyrocket gilia, larkspur, and indian paintbrush) blossom in the valley as temperatures rise, they begin to fade by late July.  Yet, wildflowers blooms are just opening at the higher elevations so we thereby hiked up Cascade Canyon Trail in hopes of finding wildflowers as well as the elusive Pika.

As we hiked, I carried along the pamphlet Wildflowers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It is a great reference tool that includes 3 major National Parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier), plus a host of mountain ranges – from the Wasatch and Uintas of Northern Utah to the Canadian border. The twelve page guide features almost 100 species that are found from the valleys up to almost 14,000 feet. Color photographs are supplemented with text describing key features such as size, habitat, and blooming period.

Nature Journaling & Photography

As we explored many of the little niches of the parks, we each took to documenting our discoveries with the mediums we have come to enjoy most. My daughter and I use a traditional sketchbook with watercolors and colored pencils. The boys, on the other hand, prefer a camera with different lenses suited to shooting different subjects.

teen girl nature journaling in a prairie with text overly wildflowers of Yellowstone and Grand TetonsGet Involved

Prairie habitat is unfortunately declining in many areas. There are many agencies and organizations trying to protect and restore native prairies across the country. Attempts to conserve prairie communities before they are lost are underway and prairies are even being reconstructed on abandoned land.

Become an informed citizen. Learn all that you can about short and tall grass prairies. Plant native wildflowers and grasses to encourage prairie dependent wildlife to use the area. Even small gardens of native plants serve as a reminder of the lovely, lively prairie that once existed throughout America.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in September

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for the month:

Prairie Habitat Clipart and Coloring Pages based on America’s Prairies and Grasslands from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Notebooking Pages based on The Prairie That Nature Built from Jenny at Faith and Good Works

Nature Journaling based on Wildflowers of Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: A Guide to Common & Notable Species from Eva at Eva Varga

Online Nature Book Course based on The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush from Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate

Flower Suncatchers for Toddlers and Preschoolers based on Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America from Erika at The Playful Scholar

Flower Printable Pack based on Prairie Flowers: Learning Activities and Lessons to Inspire Creativity! from Sharla of Minnesota Country Girl

Flower Paintbrushes based on The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush from Cassidy at Freshly Planted

Sunflower Decoupage Vase based on The Sunflower House from Katrina at Rule This Roost

Prairie Wildflower Identification Hike from Thaleia at Something 2 Offer

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!


Aquatic Science Studies: 10 Activities for Teens

Aquatic science – the study of wetlands, freshwater and marine systems – can be a little intimidating. With adult supervision and clear boundaries and expectations outlined in advance, taking time to explore these diverse habitats can be very rewarding. The focus of my post today is on aquatic systems – estuaries, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers.

image of the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California with text overlay Aquatic Science Studies: 10 Activities for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Physical Factors of Aquatic Systems

Abiotic factors are components of a natural environment that are not alive. In other words, abiotic factors are the physical or chemical parts of the environment that affect the organisms in that environment. For aquatic ecosystems, these factors include light levelswater flow ratetemperaturedissolved oxygenacidity (pH), salinity, and depth.

Upper elementary and middle school students are capable of exploring how each of these abiotic factors affect the environment. If you are just getting started, I encourage you to begin with a small pond. Here, children can enjoy the freedom to explore safely while also focusing their attention on specific learning goals – observations and data collection.

The most distinctive area of an aquatic system is likely the riparian zone. Acting as buffers between upland areas and open water, riparian zones help filter pollutants such as nutrients and sediment. Healthy riparian vegetation helps to reduce stream bank erosion and maintain a stable stream channel. Vegetation also provides shade, which works to lower water temperatures.

Conduct a riparian area survey with your students with my guide, The Many Parts of a Stream Bank. This half-day field excursion is a wonderful outdoor science experience for teens.

A few years ago, my STEM Club was immersed in a three part ecology unit, Field, Forest, & Stream. One of their favorite activities in this unit study was the stream survey – after all, we spent much of our time in the stream – the perfect way to cool off in the stifling heat of a Redding summer. Some of the physical factors we investigated were bottom substrate, channel shape, and the velocity of the current.

image of teen setting a crab trap at low tide

Flora & Fauna of Aquatic Systems

Move beyond the physical factors to explore the impact these abiotic factors have on the animals and plants that make their home in freshwater streams and rivers. Expand on your stream survey to include the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) of the riparian zone. Take it further by investing how biotic factors such as invasive species affect the native organisms.

Reach out to your local fish and wildlife agency or watershed associations to inquire about their outreach classes and internships. Many provide opportunities for youth to get involved in long-term projects.

For example, my daughter and I recently collaborated with an undergraduate looking at the effects of the invasive European green crab on our local estuaries. We spent the day collecting traps that had been set out the day before and in turn setting them out in new locations. We also collected data related to the abiotic and biotic factors:

  • What crab species are present?
  • What is the water temperature? air temperature?
  • What is the time of day and location?
  • Of the non-natives collected, what is the size and sex distribution?

Design a simple lab experiment to explore how environmental changes affect aquatic organisms. I’ve outlined the procedure in my post, Environmental Science: How Species Respond to Environmental Changes.

Inquiry based science projects like these allow students the opportunity to become the scientist themselves – using the tools and resources of real scientists. For more ideas, here are 100 Science Fair Projects.

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, and they spend most of their time in the water. Nature’s engineer, the industrious beaver is often cited as an example of a keystone species because through its dam-building behaviors it has major influences on both the vegetation of an area and the water table.

Initiated by the fur trade, the consequences of losing beavers has had a profound impact on our ecology: streams eroded, wetlands dried up, and species from salmon to swans have lost vital habitat. A fabulous non-fiction book for adults and advanced students is Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They MatterThe author outlines the strategies undertaken by scientists, ranchers, and passionate citizens who recognize that ecosystems with beavers are far healthier, for humans and non-humans alike, than those without them.

Do you have beavers in your local area? What about the past? How has the range of beavers (or another animal) changed over the years? What impact does its absence or presence have on the ecosystem?

For younger readers, consider Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones. The illustrations and text blend well together to give a great sense of the ecosystem and watershed. Written in cumulative verse, the author has created a book that is enjoyable for students and a valuable teaching resource. Awarded the CBC/NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, it provides an accurate description of the life cycle of salmon – from their form as eggs in a stream to the wide ocean, eventually making a hazardous journey home to their stream of origin. At the back is a section on salmon facts and what makes a good habitat for them, teaching the basics of ecology and why clean streams and waters are so important.

To accompany this book, I created a printable you can download FREE to illustrate the life-cycle of salmon.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in August

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Seasonal Pond Study and Printables from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study
Sensory Bin and Observation Notebooking Page from Jenny at Faith & Good Works
Pond Life Printable Pack from Emily at Table Life Blog
Aquatic Science Studies: 10 Activities for Teens from Eva at Eva Varga
Above and Below a Pond Unit Study and Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Online Book Study about water cycle from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate
STEAM Challenge – Does Water Ever Flow Up? from Erika at The Playful Scholar
Who Was?® What Was?® Where Is?® Book Series: Where is the Mississippi River? from Sharla at Minnesota Country Girl
River Exploration and Frog Catching from Thaleia at Something 2 Offer

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!


10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore

The sandy shore dominates much of the open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, stretching uninterrupted for miles in many regions. These dynamic habitats represent the most physically controlled of all the nearshore marine habitats and are considered one of the hardest places to live. As such, understanding the nature of the habitat and the animals that live there is important.image of a teen walking on a sandy beach with text overlay "Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore: 10 Activities for Teens" @EvaVarga.net

Sandy beaches are in a constant state of change and motion. Animals on exposed sandy beaches must protect themselves from shifting, abrasive sand and heavy surf.

Hands-on Activities to Explore the Sandy Shore

My family and I have spent much time exploring the ecology of the sandy shore and immersing ourselves in nature discoveries. There are many opportunities to learn more about this environment. Here are few ideas to help you get started:

Collect samples of beach sand from different beaches and classify each into coarse, medium, and fine sand. Can you see evidence of animal life in the samples?

Send the kids on an scavenger hunt of the intertidal invertebrates – note that many of these are not residents of the shifting sands of the sandy shore but are found clinging to the rocks and along the margins shoreline.

Be ready for the unexpected; you never know what you might discover while walking along the sandy beach like these Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep. Finding an animal or plant that is unfamiliar to you is a great opportunity to seek out the answer. Can you find it in a guidebook? Do others know? Consider reaching out to local experts (remember to bring a photo) for help. Resource specialists at Fish & Wildlife offices are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with the public.

getting started in 5 exercisesBegin a nature journal and showcase your discoveries. Here’s a peak at one of my son’s earliest entries, The Elusive Brittle Star: An Hawai’ian Nature Study. Need help to get started? Check out my tutorial, Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises.

You may also be interested in a college level course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom. The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

Do a little research to learn more about the animals that live in the surf-swept coastline. How are they adapted to life in this physically demanding habitat? Compare and contrast the means of mobility of two animals commonly seen on California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach: the Pacific Mole Crab and By-the-Wind Sailor. Make a list of the adaptations you have observed.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole CrabChallenge your kids to design their own plant or animal specially equipped to survive on the sandy shore. Draw a picture of the organism or build a 3D model. Tell how it is adapted to life here.

Take Action to Protect the Sandy Shore

As a life long resident of the Oregon coast, the condition of our local beaches and ecosystems is very important to me. The idea of citizen science or “public participation in scientific research,” has also always been a passion of mine. Here are a few ideas in hopes of inspiring your family to get involved:

Take part in aBioBlitz –  an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. We took part in 2014 but they happen annually.

image collage of a young girl upcycling plastics to create artOrganize a family beach clean-up and do your part to spread the word about the dangers of single-use plastics like Washed Ashore

Feeling inspired? Collect plastic bottle caps to create a colorful mural and donate it to a local non-profit.

Just for fun, create a Labyrinth on the Beach and invite others to join you. Encourage participants to make a pledge to do their part to make a difference.

Guidebooks to the Sandy Shore & Other Habitats

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Life in the Pacific Northwest by Thomas M. Niesen is one of my favorite marine ecology guides.  Each page is features incredible hand illustrations (by artist David Wood) that really capture the organism with a detailed simplicity.  Additionally, black and white images (though some are a little dark) and 16 pages of color photographs in the center of the book provide  excellent coverage.

Though this is not a pocket guide, Dr. Niesen writes in very clear language to help you identify what you are looking at, learn about its life habits, as well as its habitat. Organized with an emphasis on habitats and arrangement by type of organism within each habitat (sandy beach, estuaries, rocky intertidal, open ocean, etc.) is extremely helpful. Niesen also goes into great detail about the different tidal zones and the particular creatures you will find in each zone.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in July

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Seashore Observations Printable Activity from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Seashells by the Seashore | Notebooking Pages from Jenny at Faith & Good Works

Beach Scavenger Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog

10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore from Eva at Eva Varga

Turtle in the Sea Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!


A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist

Having grown up on the Oregon coast, I have been fascinated by marine animals since I was a young girl. I spent many long summer days exploring the tide pool and estuarine habitats in my neighborhood.

A naturalist at heart, I have inundated myself in ecology and natural sciences ever since, completing the coursework to become an Oregon Coast Master Naturalist a few years ago. Today, I am delighted to take you on a guided tide pool “hike” to one of the hidden gems of the Oregon seashore.

Cape Arago State Park

The tide pools at Cape Arago are incomparable. Here, you’ll find easy access to both the North and South Coves of Cape Arago. Tucked away below the cliffs, a short walk along the steep trails will take you to a secluded cove where tide pools and fossils can be found.

The south trail leads to tide pools teaming with diverse sea life. The north trail lets visitors view offshore colonies of seals and sea lions (however, the trail is closed from March – June to protect the seal pups during birthing season). Visitors to the area can also enjoy whale watching, crabbing, fishing, and scuba diving.

Nearby, there are two additional state parks: Sunset Bay (a sandy beach protected by towering sea cliffs – perfect for sunbathing and swimming) and Shore Acres (a lushly planted garden perched on rugged sandstone cliffs high above the ocean – once the famed estate of Louis Simpson).

Let’s now begin our guided hike of the south cove at Cape Arago.

Guided Tide Pool Hike

Upon hiking down the south trail you will first come to a small sandy beach. There is often driftwood and marine debris along the high tide line, pushed up against the base of the cliff atop the rocks and small boulders.

Purple Olive Snails

image of purple olive snails buried in the sand. Text overlay reads A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netAs you walk nearer the shoreline to the waters edge, you may see tiny little bumps in the sand. Olivella biplicata, commonly known as purple dwarf olive snails, burrow themselves in sand, leaving a plowed trail behind it. The foot is wedge shaped to facilitate plowing.

While burrowing it raises its long siphon up through the sand as a snorkel. They can be found nearshore on fairly quiet, protected beaches and farther offshore on more exposed beaches. Their predators include the seastarsoctopus, moon snails, and gulls. Most active at night, often move up and down the beach with the tide. Omnivorous, they eat kelp blades and both live and dead animal material.

Take a closer look, however. Some of these snails are not like the other.

Hermit Crabs

The snail shell at the top is inhabited by a hermit crab. There are more than 1000 species of hermit crabs -decapod crustaceans that possess an asymmetrical abdomen that is concealed in a scavenged mollusc shell which it carries around. As the hermit crab grows, it will seek out a larger shell.

Young boy holding a purple shore crab with text A Guided Tide Pool Hike with a Master Naturalist @EvaVarga.netShore Crabs

Hermits are not the only crabs you’ll observe in the tide pools. Crawling about between rock crevices and amongst the blades of kelp and marine algae are a diverse number of small crabs, each with its own distinguishing characteristics.

  • Purple shore crabs – Hemigrapsis nudus (pictured above) reaches sizes of approximately 4.0–5.6 cm and is generally dark purple in color, although it may be olive green or red, with white or cream markings. The color of the legs matches the color of the carapace but the white-tipped claws are a lighter color with purple or red spots. These markings distinguish it from the similar…
  • Lined shore crabs – Pachygrapsus crassipes, whose chelipeds lack spots.
  • Oregon shore crab – Hemigrapsis oregonensis is a similar species with setae or small hairs on its legs, a distinguishing characteristic the other two lack
  • Porcelain crabs – a flat, round body (perfectly adapted to life between rocks) with two large front claws, these delicate crabs readily lose limbs when attacked, and use their large claws for maintaining territories.

Blood star - a red, five armed sea star common on the Oregon coastSea Stars

No matter the depth or the substrate, these spiny skinned invertebrates are among the most successful marine creatures inhabiting the coast. The abundance and number of stars found along the west coast of North America is without equal in the world. I highlight just one in my post today.

Henricia leviuscula, the Pacific blood star, feeds mainly on sponges. It is fairly stiff with only small papulae (skin gills) and tube feet. It seems to rely much more on seawater uptake through the madreporite (a series of seawater-filled ducts that function in locomotion, feeding, and respiration) than do other sea stars of comparable size.

Ventral view of a Gumboot Chiton Chitons

The gumboot chiton, Cryptochiton stelleri, can be found clinging to rocks, moving slowly in search of its diet of algae which it scrapes off of rocks with its rasp-like retractable radula, covered with rows of magnetite-tipped teeth.

Unlike some other chiton species, C. stelleri has well-developed ctenidia (gills) in the groove beside the foot (pictured above). A commensal polychaete worm can sometimes be found here, as can the pea crab, Opisthopus transversus.

green sea anemone with embedded image of an aggregating anemone Sea Anemones

There are many anemones in the tide pools of the Pacific Northwest. One of the most common is the green anemone, Anthopleura xanthogrammica. Anthopleura is not just one species, however. Hidden within its tissues is an algae.

In this symbiotic relationship, the algae gain protection from snails and other grazers and don’t have to compete for living space, while the anemones gain extra nourishment from the algae in their guts. Contrary to popular opinion, this anemone’s green color is produced by the animal itself, not the algae that it eats.

Another fascinating anemone is the aggregating anemone (pictured in the embedded photo above), Anthopleura elegantissima, the most abundant anemone species found on rocky shores along the Pacific coast.

Aggregating anemones can rapidly clone themselves. If buried by shifting sands, they can survive for more than three months.

Tide Pool Guidebook 

You may not have the opportunity to explore a tide pool with a naturalist when you visit the Pacific Northwest Coast. In this case, you will want to find a guidebook or two to help you identify the diverse wildlife you will encounter.

One of the books we have at the marine life center that our visitors enjoy perusing when they have questions is The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest by J. Duane Sept. It was revised in 2009, it is beautifully illustrated and is a great guide to identifying the most common intertidal animals and plants of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

The size is perfect to toss into your day pack if you wish to look up a specimen on your trek. It is written with the beachcomber in mind so while it does not feature every species, it is an excellent starting point for the more general specimens you may encounter.

While here, you may also be interested in Oregon Coast Quests – fun, educational, and clue directed hunts specific to the Oregon Coast.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in June

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

5 Senses at Sunset Walk from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study
Discovering Nature in the Garden Scavenger Hunt from Jenny at Faith & Good Works
Nature Walk Alphabet Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog
Guided Tide Pool Hike from Eva at Eva Varga
Foraging & Feasting Unit Study & Lapbook from Tina at Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Fairy Gardens and Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate
Decoupage Art with Nature Walk Findings from Katrina at Rule This Roost
Summer Nature Hike from Thaleia from Something 2 Offer
Leaf Shape Hunt from Karyn at Teach Beside Me

image of a stack of books in the grass with text overlay listing monthly theme

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
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