Friday, July 19, 2013

Life On The Rocks - Common Murres

I'm not a fan of the beach (just ask my family) but the coast of Washington and Oregon is very different from what we are used to on the coast of Florida and the Carolinas. The Pacific Northwest coast has numerous coves, bays, rocky coast lines, and even waterfalls.   One feature I found interesting is the sea stacks, which are blocks of erosion-resistant rock isolated from the land by sea. Sea stacks begin as part of a headland or sea cliff. Relentless pounding by waves erodes the softer, weaker parts of a rock first, leaving harder, more resistant rock behind.

Three Arch Rock

Three Arch Rock is an example of a Sea Stack about 1/2 mile off the Oregon shore near Oceanside where we spent a couple nights.  Another example is Pillar Rock off shore of the Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge.  We could get closer to this rock and get a good look at the residents of this inhospitable place.

Pillar Rock at Common Murres

Common Murres are penguin-like birds that live in the cooler northern oceans.   Common Murres nest on the tops of these sea stacks in colonies so dense that there may be 20 nesting pairs in one square meter.

Close Quarters

Nesting on a Blue Egg
Common Murre eggs are pointed at one end; when pushed, they roll around in a circle, preventing them from rolling off into the ocean. The variation in egg color and markings allows parent Murres to recognize their own eggs when they return from sea.

These birds are abundant along the coast, which makes them easy targets of eagles.   We talked with some birders at Cape Meares and learned that eagles will swoop down and grab a baby or even adult right off the rock.  Sometimes they will land just a few feet away to eat their meal right in front of the other birds.  

Later that day we were down at Yaquina Head Natural Area in Oregon when we heard Sea Gulls making a racket and chasing a young Bald Eagle.  You can see this eagle has a Common Murre in it's talons and blood and feathers on his beak. 

The surprising thing is it was the Sea Gulls that were harassing the Eagle.

Life is pretty rough on the rocks.

If you're interested in seeing more photos from our trip to Washington and Oregon and hearing more about the photography, join me at the Twin City Photo Club in Bristol Tuesday September 3.  I'll be doing a program using photos from this trip.

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