Thursday, May 21, 2015

What Is That Foam?

Visitors to Haystack Rock were recently greeted with an intertidal covered with a brownish foam and, naturally, asked 'What is That Foam?' The foam has been prevalent up and down the north Oregon coast during the last week, evident both in the surf, on the beaches and in the intertidal zone.

Sea Foam on Cannon Beach, Spring 2014
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

The foam is not pollution but is created by microscopic phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are one-celled organisms that are at the bottom of the ocean's food chain. Diatoms are the most common form of phytoplankton on the north Oregon Coast. The phytoplanktons contain a fatty-like material, called cytoplasm, that holds them together. When the phytoplanktons die, the cytoplasm 'glue' the individual skeletons together. This creates layers that trap air within the ocean water, increasing the surface tension and creating the bubbles. When there are a lot of phytoplankton more of them die creating even more surface tension and bubbles, which creates the sea foam!

Sea Foam off Cape Perpetua, October 2014
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

Sea foam is almost always present but there are two major things that lead to larger amounts of foam. The first is stormy weather - more wind results in more foam. The second is a photoplankton bloom - a mass birth of the organisms. The blooms result from an abundance of nutrients in the ocean so sea foam is an indication of a healthy ocean filled with nutrients! Heavy blooms are often seen in Seaside, Gearhart and Warrenton due to nutrient rich water flowing into the Pacific from the Columbia River just north of these towns.

There is always something new and unexpected to discover when you visit the beach. Stop by Haystack Rock during your next low tide beach walk and watch for the unexpected! HRAP Interpreters are on the beach every day at low tide and are happy to answer your questions!

Hope to see you on the beach soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Week at Haystack Rock

HRAP Interpreters have just completed their third month of the 2015 season on the beach this week! Nearly all of the wildlife that inhabits and visits the rock has been spotted already this year and will continue their habitation and visitation of Haystack Rock through the summer. Let's take stock of this week at the Rock!

By-the-Wind Sailors (Velella velella) first washed ashore in Cannon Beach in late March.  There have been several more events of sailors washing ashore and subsequently decaying on the beach. This week, an interpreter found a sailor on the beach that had barnacles attached to it.

By-the-Wind Sailor with attached barnacles

A wide variety of birds and ducks were spotted at Haystack Rock this week. Among them  were Pigeon guillemots (Cepphus columba), Harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) south of Haystack, vocal and active black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani), Common murre (Uria aalge) on the the Rock and Needles, and Tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) active and in numbers of up to 12 at a time. Finally, the western gulls (Larus occidentalis) were evident in large numbers as is typical, with many mating pairs spotted.

Tufted Puffin on the Grassy Surface of Haystack Rock
Photo courtesy of Larry Shoer

The predatory birds were also active this week. Early in the week, two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were successful in their hunt of a murre. Late in the week, the eagles made multiple attempts on cormorants with one successful raid on a nest, destroying it and eating the eggs. There were multiple other attempts by eagles during the week that were unsuccessful. Other predatory birds - Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) and Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) - were spotted hunting but a successful hunt was not observed.

Bald Eagle perched on a ledge
Photo courtesy of Larry Shoer

Bald Eagle taking flight
Photo courtesy of Larry Shoer

There was plenty of activity in the intertidal during the week too. There were many juvenile sea stars on the Needles, and only one lesion due to sea star wasting noticed on an adult star.  Chitons were in abundance on the Needles and several species of nudibranch were in the tidepools.

Chiton on an exposed rock in the Intertidal, 2012
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Propst

Nudibranch in the Intertidal, 2012
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Propst

Not to be outdone by the birds and invertebrates, there were plenty of human visitors to Haystack Rock during the week too. Among them were seven school groups ranging in age from 2nd grade to high school and totaling nearly 250 visitors. 

Spend some time at Haystack Rock during a low tide soon and see how much wildlife you can see! HRAP Interpreters are on the beach daily at low tide and can help you make the most of your visit to Haystack Rock. We look forward to seeing you on the beach!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Haystack Rock Predators

Have you ever been quietly observing the tidepools at Haystack Rock when all the birds suddenly start squawking and they all seem to take to the sky at once? This is a sure sign that the predatory birds that frequent the rock are on the hunt. Haystack Rock is frequently visited by Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and occasionally by Osprey. The predators most common prey is the Common Murre (Uria aalge). Occasionally, they will take an adult cormorant, but more commonly they will take eggs from a unprotected nest after the parent bird flees it upon the arrival of the predators.

Birds taking to the sky in response to the arrival of a predator
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

There are two pair of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that regularly frequent Haystack Rock. Eagles build large nests, predominantly in tall, sturdy conifers; one of the pair that visits Haystack Rock lives in the forest to the east of Cannon Beach and the other pair is usually seen flying away to the south. Both male and female bald eagles have a blackish-brown back and breast; a white head, neck, and tail; yellow feet, legs, and beak; and pale yellow eyes. Immature bald eagles do not have the distinctive white head and tail, nor do they have a yellow beak or eyes; these traits develop as the bird matures over it first 5 years of life. A female bald eagle has a wingspan of 79 to 90 inches; the male is smaller with a wingspan ranging from 72 to 85 inches. An eagle's average weight is between ten and fourteen pounds. Bald eagles are birds of prey, at the top of the food chain, and will predate on other birds, fish and will take advantage of carrion. Listed for many years on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species, the bald eagle was removed from the list in 2007 but is still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Bald Eagle perched on Haystack Rock
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) also visit Haystack Rock, usually alone and typically not as frequently as eagles. They are a smaller bird than the eagle, with a wingspan between 30 and 45 inches, and, like most raptors, the males are smaller than the females. They are blue-gray on the back with a 'barred' pattern in shades of brown on the breast, and have long, pointed wings and a long tail. The peregrine is a very fast flyer and catches its prey, typically medium-sized birds, in mid-air following a swift dive. The peregrine nests on cliff ledges, and in the Pacific Northwest they may also nest among or under Sitka Spruce tree roots on steep slopes.

Peregrine Falcon Circling ...
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

 ... and Diving
Photo Courtesy of Susan Glarum

Next time you visit Haystack Rock, sit in the sand and observe the birds inhabiting the monolith - you might just witness a visit by one of the resident birds of prey! HRAP frequently has spotting scopes set up on the beach - be sure to take a look and talk with the interpreter about the wildlife at Haystack Rock! HRAP Interpreters are on the beach every day at low tide.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sea Star Update

Regular visitors to Haystack Rock last year were witness to the sea star wasting disease that claimed many of the stars on the Pacific Coast from California to Alaska. The wasting was first reported in June 2013 but was not seen at Haystack Rock until the early summer of 2014. Symptoms included twisted limbs, lesions and disintegration of external tissue. After extensive research by many researchers the wasting has found to be caused by the sea star-associated densovirus. The virus has been found in seawater and sediment and has even been found in sea stars collected in the 1940's. Sea stars with larger amounts of the virus in their system showed the more extreme cases of wasting. Researchers are still trying to determine why the virus, which has been around for a long time, is causing disease now. High populations of sea stars just prior to the wasting event and warmer seas are two areas that are being investigated.

Adult sea star with Wasting Disease

In the last month we have seen sea stars returning to Haystack Rock, particularly adult stars on the north side. These adult stars are likely at least 5 years old, indicating they did not succumb to the wasting last year. Observations by HRAP staff and volunteers last year indicated that stars exposed on a more frequent basis had a harder time fighting off the virus. Hence, sea stars on the front and sides of Haystack Rock were hit the hardest with the wasting. Those on the back side of Haystack and on the Needles are exposed less; they survived in greater numbers and may be moving to the intertidal where now there is no competition.

Students from Seaside High School conducted a survey of the stars on April 20th. The survey was funded by a grant from Youth Learning As Citizen Environmental Scientists. HRAP coordinator, Samantha Ferber, visited the school's marine biology class prior to the survey to teach the students about  sea star wasting, the implication of the sea star die-off, and the monitoring protocol in preparation for their visit.

HRAP Coordinator Samantha Ferber
with Seaside High School citizen scientists

Surveying at Haystack Rock

The survey found 36 stars on the needles, most of them juveniles, and only one with wasting lesions. Twenty-six stars were found on the boulders north of the rock, most were adults and only one with lesions. Finally, the south wall had 36 stars, mostly juveniles with none showing lesions.

Surveying the Boulders north of Haystack Rock

Seaside High School citizen scientist 
recording survey data

Its great to see the sea stars returning to Haystack Rock and the Needles. Observation and star counting will continue throughout the year!

We are always thrilled to have new volunteers who want to help protect the habitat of Haystack Rock for all the creatures that depend on it for their survival. Ask an HRAP interpreter how you can get involved - we are on the beach every day at low tide!