Posts Tagged ‘Ophir Beach OR’

New Mexico Skies © SR Euston

In extreme northwest Victoria, Australia, where the outback begins, lies a dry eucalyptus land called Sunset Country. I have never seen this place, but the name itself is its own reward.  Imagine—the evocation of the mere word sunset. What comes to mind?  Of course dazzling reds and oranges, reflected in the water or across desert rocks or through the trees.

When we say sunset, it is always with this anticipation of color. For most, the more color the better. Pink, rose, mauve, purple, magenta, orange, silver, gold, copper. But in photographing sunsets, the boundaries of artistic license, it seems to me, are pretty narrow. Brilliant red can turn into the garish commonplace; evanescent rose can look washed out.

The problem with sunsets in the early days of color photography was the color itself. Sunsets could look horribly fake. But with Kodachrome, things changed. Does anyone old enough to have a Kodachrome slide collection not have multiple shots of a sunset over this or that famous landmark? The color’s the thing and the only thing. It was satisfying to end your slide show for friends with a fantastic sunset, maybe with a nice silhouetted tree.

Oregon Coast 4:45 PM © SR Euston

When color prints became common, sunsets presented different problems. Compared to the brilliance of Kodachrome slides, or now the digital monitor, sunsets printed even on the best photographic paper don’t often have élan. They lack everything except  the color red. That is, if the photographer (with new digital tools especially) hasn’t fiddled with the spectrum, color value, saturation and hue. And in my view upping the ante on color is exactly what many professional landscape photographers have done. I admit to a deep prejudice against what I think of as garish obvious sunset pictures in millions of calendars and magazines.

Sunset Reflection on Wall © SR Euston

The following pictures, by the way, are not products of photoshop miracles, though there is what I think of as reasonable digital darkroom editing. But as I rail about the garish, looking at these photos on the monitor gives me a slight tinge. Can these colors be real?  SRE

One Minute of Purple Ocean © SR Euston



Cold Front Passing, Oregon© SR Euston

Green River, Utah in Repose © SR Euston


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Every rain-soaked morning we’ve watched south-flying, storm-avoiding brown pelicans. In ragged lines of ten or so, they glide along the breakers, just above the water, looking gracefully elegant. Just like the gulls, while soaring and banking occasionally northward, they’ve always returned to their southward course.

At first Stan didn’t believe I was seeing pelicans. We’ve never seen them in our five years coming here to Nesika Beach. Besides I’ve been known for off-the-cuff bird IDs that have later proved wrong.

But pelicans? False identification seemed to me highly unlikely. Unless they were reincarnated pterydactyls, or a sudden influx of condors, there aren’t many other possibilities for the huge brownish birds I saw gliding long and low over the breakers, heads pulled back into pudgy “shoulders,” wings extended. While gulls flap and tack into the southerly headwinds, the pelicans glide and wheel.

I read that brown pelicans used to winter in Coos Bay, about 65 miles north of here. But Northwest Birds in Winter (Contreras. OSU Press. 1997) noted that, by the 1990s, brown pelican populations—an early casualty of DDT-caused eggshell fragility and resultant high mortality and one of the first birds to be listed as endangered—while rebounding in other locales, hadn’t repopulated Coos Bay.

Pelican Waves © SR Euston

Yet again, Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) came to my rescue. At Port Orford in 2007, no brown pelicans were counted, in 2008 there were 25. But for 2009, 193 were noted. And in Coos Bay, CBC pelican populations in 2007 were 48, reached over 2700 in 2008, and dropped back to 363 in 2009. Anecdotely, a recent picture in the local newspaper The World, featured a photo of a huge pelican gang roosting in Reedsport, a fishing harbor north of Coos Bay.

What’s it all mean?

Frankly I don’t know. A Gold Beach friend who’s been here for a decade told me at first winter gulls and pelicans were plentiful. Then for years there were virtually none. Now they’re back. Why? El Niño? El Niña? Fate? I wonder….

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High Flyers © SR Euston

High Flyers© SR Euston

This week, as storm after storm has churned up the coast, we have been treated to a unique daily show. Huge clumps of gulls pass by our bedroom window, all of them heading south. We conjecture they’re moving inland before the latest storm. Perhaps they all return north at night but who’s birding then? A few afternoons ago we did spot a giant congregation in a pasture south of our Nesika Beach home. Seems likely that’s where they bunked down that night.

My observations and reading suggest they are Western Gulls, a pink-legged species that frequents this area in winter. But they could be other species too; gulls are notorious for being tough to identify. They interbreed freely, making beautiful but difficult hybrids to name with certainty. And the hybrids are fertile too. So it’s easy to end up with hybrid hybrids. Makes a person reconsider the definition of a species.

Overlaid on interbreeding are seasonal and annual variations. My checks of the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) at Port Orford yields a dizzying array of gull species and wild fluctuations in numbers from year to year. In December, 2009 Port Orford’s largest population, at 768, was the Herring Gull, also pinkish legged and only subtly different from its Western Gull cousin. In 2008, just five were counted and in 2007, only 18. To me the most telling CBC number is under the heading “gull species.” Annually five to eight hundred are lumped into that “I’m stumped” department.

So I choose the Western Gull as the winter type species here. Not just because Northwest Birds in Winter (Contreras. OSU Press. 1997) told me so on page 118, but also because their annual CBC counts are so consistently around 500.

But here’s what I’ve really learned. In my mind’s eye I’ve always seen gulls as large, aggressively sassy, white bodied birds with black and gray wings, formidable yellow beaks and neon-yellow legs and feet. Now that I’m paying attention: That gull on the electric post outside our window has pinkish legs.

It forces me to realize. I have never really looked carefully at many of the creatures all around me. If I pay close attention, what will I truly “see” next?

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High seas and spotty rain are in the forecast today with breakers of up to 25 feet. We head north to wavewatch at the Sisters, a recent Oregon State Parks acquisition, about six miles north. The Sisters is noted only by a small  Parks sign on Rt. 101. A new coast trail marker indicates the narrow marshy track we follow down through the grass and huckleberry toward the beach.

Storm Clouds: Sisters South ©SR Euston

The Sisters is a rock formation easily seen from the table where I sit writing. Beyond its grassy, wind-bitten promontory a narrow neck leads down to two outcrops: one large and green, the other brooding black. Just beyond offshore a third low sea stack stands.

On the south is a tiny crescent beach, once built up at its seaward end with a wall and dock. From this makeshift company town of Frankport acidic tanoak bark was shipped to tanneries along the coast. Later this “harbor” was used for lumber shipments, and ultimately entrepreneurial drug dealers attempted unsuccessfully to use it for marijuana transshipment.

Looking at it now as it returns to its natural state, it’s virtually impossible to imagine how anyone could have seen its commercial potential. The shoreline is a tumble of cobble and black angular rock and waves crash on all three sides.

Tidal Gate © SR Euston

Today, we venture across the rough basalt to the west-fronting headlands. Here, a narrow tidal gate forces powerful storm waves literally to explode on the enclosing boulders, spray climbing and drifting, momentarily creating a luminous gauzy effect.  We don’t stay long. The waves are dangerous.

A few feet away, frenzied breakers rush through an underwater tunnel and out a huge exposed opening, shooting up spumes of foam. The roar is artillery-like. Today the sea is too high to dare even to get close enough to look.

This place must present a calmer aspect in the dry days of summer. I read that it is actually possible to go into the cave occasionally.

But now as it begins to rain and I hunker down with Clara beneath the umbrella all I see is another stretch of untamable Oregon coast.

Rains at North Sisters Beach ©SR Euston

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This place we are staying on the Oregon Coast has more than generous displays of nature’s awesome face, with wild nights of Pacific wind, magnificent rolling voluptuous ocean swells, heart stopping 25 foot breakers gilded with wind-tossed foamy salt sprays, gale winds roaring and whistling through the solemn moss-padded rainforests. But in all this excitement of the grand, it’s easy to forget the commonplace.

Exhausted by the waves and wind, I sometimes take a camera exploration among intimate images of the every day. In other words, just sort of looking around. Our place here, like many beachy places, is a bit rough at the edges—assorted old wood scattered about, homely worn picket fences, a gravel driveway filled with rainwater depressions, prosaic old windows framing the ocean, diaphanous worn curtains showing curving abstract waves. The other day, I saw  some sun breakthrough the stratus clouds, and presto: the camera was called!    SRE

Ocean Through the Window©SR Euston

Curtain Curves © SR Euston

The Gate to Humbug Mountain ©SR Euston

Impressionism in a Puddle ©SR Euston

Discarded Wood 1©SR Euston

Discarded Wood 2 ©SR Euston

Weathered Board and Batten ©SR Euston

Reflections in Car Window ©SR Euston

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On a January night watching the falling stars. Nesika Beach to Port Orford.       SRE

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Tonight, as we leave for Oregon, I am reminded of a poem I wrote three years ago when we arrived at our “second home”—SandCliff House in Nesika Beach.

SandCliff Looking North ©SR Euston

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There are only two situations in which our dog Clara will run: when she hears dog chow hit the food dish or when she gets out of the car at Ophir Beach.

Looking South at Ophir Beach ©SR Euston

In summer, I imagine we could walk the miles of beach from the end of our road in Nesika north to Ophir Beach. But in winter there are countless ice cold, rain-created, unnamed freshets to cross. So we drive the four miles to the rest stop on US 101, park, take the path through the stabilized dunes and hit the beach, with Clara off and running.

Most mornings we head north toward the Devil’s Backbone, a pointy promontory, and Euchre Creek which runs fast and north parallel to the surf for about a quarter mile, before abruptly turning west and disappearing in a weaving of rivulets into the sea.

Unlike the sand bluffs to the south, here at Ophir there is a narrow coastal shelf over which the Euchre flows down from the coastal hills. Cows graze in its tiny estuary on the east side of the Rt. 101 causeway, knee deep in green and wet. Sometimes deer or elk join them. In the hard sand we may see their tracks, and those left by other beach visitors: raccoons and otters and tiny mice, seagulls and sandpipers and terns.

As we wander up the dark sand beach, especially after a winter storm, we kneel in piles of tiny shells and rocks, looking for ocean treasures. We find polished amber, rose and clear agates which go into our pockets and later in the glass dish of beach walk discoveries.

Winter Jewels ©SR Euston

Clara may return from a dunes expedition with some nefarious unidentifiable “treasure” of her own, usually something dead, which I force her to drop.

Cold Beachcombers ©SR Euston

We have watched the low morning sun rise, a brisk east wind blowing from the interior, transforming the misty sea spray into evanescent prisms. The ocean’s jeweled welcome to the morning. We’ve seen frighteningly tall storm waves peak and crash, and gentle swells barely ripple the sand. Once we walked back, heads bowed by a pelting hailstorm, my husband sheltering a shivering Clara under his jacket. Another time we walked in teeshirts.

I think the only logical attraction we’ve never witnessed at Ophir Beach is someone swimming. I bet they pack them in in summer—just kidding! The ocean temperature around here rests in the 50s most of the year. At least it works for seals.

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