Rocky Habitat Management News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 8, 2022

Territorial Sea Plan Part Three – Rocky Habitat Management Strategy Adopted

SALEM – On March 31, 2022, the Land Conservation and Development Commission unanimously adopted Part Three of the Oregon Territorial Sea Plan (TSP), the Rocky Habitat Management Strategy.  The decision completed a multiple-year effort led by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) to revise the Strategy. The revision of Part Three of the TSP included extensive input from agencies, organizations, governments, and those with general interest in Oregon’s rocky coast.  This is the first significant update to the Strategy since it was originally adopted in 1994 and completes a comprehensive rewrite of the whole chapter. 

The amended Strategy is now consistent with the existing policies of the Oregon Nearshore Strategy, the Climate Change Adaptation Framework, and recommendations from the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Coordinating Council. Notable revisions include the designation of two new management areas at Coquille Point (Marine Education Area/Garden) and Cape Blanco (Marine Research Area). Part Three also includes a new process that provides the public with the opportunity to submit proposals for additions, removals, and changes to rocky habitat site management designations on Oregon’s (See Section E for details).    

In recognition of this achievement, the Department of Land Conservation and Development and Oregon’s Coastal Management Program would like to thank all those who participated in the revision process, including: the members of OPAC and its Rocky Habitat Working Group, agency staff, local governments, tribal governments, conservation organizations, members of the public who took part in the proposal process, and anyone else who contributed their ideas, perspectives, and time to the effort. The consensus recommendations that advanced this amendment reflect the hard work that was accomplished and the values that Oregon will use in future management of our Rocky Shores.   

View the Part Three Rocky Habitat Management Strategy – https://www.oregonocean.info

Access the Rocky Habitat Web Mapping Tool here – http://Oregon.SeaSketch.org

Sign up for more updates on ocean planning and policy – https://bit.ly/3gCf57y


What is the Oregon Coastal Management Program?

The Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP) is a federal-state partnership program authorized by the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA).  OCMP is housed within the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).  We work in partnership with coastal local and tribal governments, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders to ensure that Oregon’s coastal and ocean resources are managed, conserved, and developed consistent with Oregon’s Statewide Land Use Planning Goals.

The OCMP has been charged by the Legislature with managing ocean resources for the existing and future benefits that they hold. This is codified under Oregon’s Land Use Planning Goal 19: The Ocean Resources Goal – which states all agency actions within Oregon must “conserve marine resources and ecological function for the purpose of providing long-term ecological, economic, and social value and benefits to future generations.”

The Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) administers the program. A seven-member volunteer citizen board known as the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) guides DLCD.  

Under the program, all cities and counties have adopted comprehensive plans that meet mandatory state standards. The standards are 19 Statewide Land Use Planning Goals that deal with land use, development, housing, transportation, and conservation of natural resources. Periodic review of plans and technical assistance in the form of grants to local jurisdictions are key elements of the program. Find more information at www.oregon.gov/lcd/Pages/index.aspx.


CONTACT: Sadie Carney (503) 934-0036, Sadie.carney@dlcd.oregon.gov

                   Andy Lanier (503) 206-2291, Andy.lanier@dlcd.oregon.gov

The Oregon Coast Rocks!

The Oregon Coast Rocks! 

Here’s proof: last week the state Land Conservation and Development Commission approved two designations – Coquille Point Marine Garden near Bandon, and Cape Blanco Marine Research Area near Port Orford – to better manage Oregon’s rocky habitat and involve local communities while seeking to honor Tribal sovereignty. The Commission also approved the broader Rocky Habitat Management Strategy which includes critical policies to protect kelp forests and seagrass meadows which support an abundance of marine species. https://www.publicnewsservice.org/2022-04-04/environment/new-protections-designated-for-fragile-or-shoreline-sites/a78529-1 #oregoncoast #thepeoplescoast

Nurdles: The Worst Toxic Waste You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Karen McVeigh; The Guardian (UK); Monday 29 November 2021. Link to original article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/29/nurdles-plastic-pellets-environmental-ocean-spills-toxic-waste-not-classified-hazardous

Sri Lankan navy personnel clean up beach polluted by ‘nurdles’ in the largest plastics spill in Sri Lanka’s history. This nurdles spill was from the X-Press Pearl container ship disaster. Photo: Chamila Karunarathne/EPA

Billions of these tiny plastic pellets are floating in the ocean, causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous.

When the X-Press Pearl container ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean in May, Sri Lanka was terrified that the vessel’s 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil would spill into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster for the country’s pristine coral reefs and fishing industry.

Classified by the UN as Sri Lanka’s “worst maritime disaster”, the biggest impact was not caused by the heavy fuel oil. Nor was it the hazardous chemicals on board, which included nitric acid, caustic soda and methanol. The most “significant” harm, according to the UN, came from the spillage of 87 containers full of lentil-sized plastic pellets: nurdles.

X-Press Pearl ship after burning for nearly two weeks, spilling oil, nurdles. Photo: Sri Lanka Air Force, Slaf Bell 212, photo taken June 2021

“I’ve seen some of the dolphins and they had plastic particles inside. There are 20,000 families who had to stop fishing.”

Hemantha Withanage, environmental campaigner

Since the disaster, nurdles have been washing up in their billions along hundreds of miles of the country’s coastline, and are expected to make landfall across Indian Ocean coastlines from Indonesia and Malaysia to Somalia. In some places they are up to 2 metres deep. They have been found in the bodies of dead dolphins and the mouths of fish. About 1,680 tonnes of nurdles were released into the ocean. It is the largest plastic spill in history, according to the UN report.

Nurdles, the colloquial term for “pre-production plastic pellets”, are the little-known building block for all our plastic products. The tiny beads can be made of polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride and other plastics. Released into the environment from plastic plants or when shipped around the world as raw material to factories, they will sink or float, depending on the density of the pellets and if they are in freshwater or saltwater.

They are often mistaken for food by seabirds, fish and other wildlife. In the environment, they fragment into nanoparticles whose hazards are more complex. They are the second-largest source of micropollutants in the ocean, by weight, after tyre (tire) dust. An astounding 230,000 tonnes of nurdles end up in oceans every year.

Like crude oil, nurdles are highly persistent pollutants, and will continue to circulate in ocean currents and wash ashore for decades. They are also “toxic sponges”, which attract chemical toxins and other pollutants on to their surfaces.

Plastic pellets inside a dead fish washed ashore on a beach near Wellawatta, Sri Lanka. Photo: Saman Abesiriwardana/Pacific Press/Rex/Shuttercock

“The pellets themselves are a mixture of chemicals – they are fossil fuels,” says Tom Gammage, at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an international campaign group. “But they act as toxic sponges. A lot of toxic chemicals – which in the case of Sri Lanka are already in the water – are hydrophobic [repel water], so they gather on the surface of microplastics.

“Pollutants can be a million times more concentrated on the surface of pellets than in the water,” he says. “And we know from lab studies that when a fish eats a pellet, some of those pollutants come loose.”

A bowl of nurdles collected on a beach
Nurdles collected on Briones beach, Spain. The plastic pellets act as ‘toxic sponges’ attracting other chemicals to their surface. Photograph: K Berger/PA

Nurdles also act as “rafts” for harmful bacteria such as E coli or even cholera, one study found, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds. The phenomenon of “plastic rafting” is increasing.

Yet nurdles, unlike substances such as kerosene, diesel and petrol, are not deemed hazardous under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) dangerous goods code for safe handling and storage. This is despite the threat to the environment from plastic pellets being known about for three decades, as detailed in a 1993 report from the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency on how the plastics industry could reduce spillages.

Now environmentalists are joining forces with the Sri Lankan government in an attempt to turn the X-Press Pearl disaster into a catalyst for change.

When the IMO’s marine environment protection committee met in London this week, Sri Lanka’s call for nurdles to be classified as hazardous goods attracted public support, with more than 50,000 people signing a petition. “There is nothing to stop what happened in Sri Lanka happening again,” says Gammage.

Last year there were at least two nurdle spills. In the North Sea a broken container on the cargo ship MV Trans Carrier lost 10 tonnes of pellets, which washed up on the coasts of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In South Africa, a spill in August 2020 came after an accident in 2018, which affected up to 1,250 miles (2,000km) of coastline. Only 23% of the 49 tonnes (54 tons) that were spilled were recovered. In 2019, 342 containers of plastic pellets spilled into the North Sea.

Awareness is growing about the huge threat posed by the tiny pellets. Last year two environmental protesters in the US were charged under a Louisiana state law with “terrorising” a plastics industry lobbyist when they left a box of nurdles outside his house as part of a campaign to stop the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics opening a factory in Louisiana.

The nurdles came from another Formosa plant in Texas, which had spilled vast amounts of the pellets into Lavaca Bay on the Gulf of Mexico (Formosa agreed to pay $50m to settle a lawsuit for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act). The charges against the activists, which carried a 15-year prison term, were later dropped.

A dead sea turtle washed ashore on the beach at Ratmalana, Sri Lanka.
A dead sea turtle washed ashore at Ratmalana, Sri Lanka. The spillage is thought to have killed 470 turtles, 46 dolphins and eight whales. Photograph: Chamila Karunarathne/EPA

Such incidents are preventable, campaigners say. “The sinking of the X-Press Pearl – and spill of chemical products and plastic pellets into the seas of Sri Lanka – caused untold damage to marine life and destroyed local livelihoods,” says Hemantha Withanage, director of the Centre for Environmental Justice in Sri Lanka. Consumption of fish, the main protein source for 40% of Sri Lankans, has reduced drastically, he says. “It was a huge accident and unfortunately there’s no guidance from the IMO.”

Classifying nurdles as hazardous – as is the case for explosives, flammable liquids and other environmentally harmful substances – would make them subject to strict conditions for shipping. “They must be stored below deck, in more robust packaging with clear labelling,” says Tanya Cox, marine plastic specialist at the conservation charity Flora & Fauna International. “They would also be subject to disaster-response protocols that can, if implemented in the event of an emergency, prevent the worst environmental impacts.”

But the nurdle can has been kicked down the road, with the IMO secretariat referring the issue to its pollution, prevention and response committee, which meets next year. Campaigners said it was disappointing that the Sri Lankan proposal was not properly discussed. The EIA’s Christina Dixon said: “The attitude of the committee members was extraordinary and showed a callous disregard for plastic pollution from ships as a threat to coastal communities, ecosystems and food security. This is simply unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the cleanup continues in Sri Lanka. Some of the 470 turtles, 46 dolphins and eight whales washing ashore have had nurdles in their bodies, says Withanage. While there is no proof the nurdles were responsible, he says: “I’ve seen some of the dolphins and they had plastic particles inside. There are 20,000 families who have had to stop fishing.

“The fishermen say when they dip [themselves] into the water, the pellets get into their ears. It’s affected tourism, everything.”

For the original article in The Guardian, click this link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/29/nurdles-plastic-pellets-environmental-ocean-spills-toxic-waste-not-classified-hazardous

How Warming Affects Arctic Sea Ice, Polar Bears

Photo: Kerstin Langenberger, Svalbard, Norway

By Seth Borenstein, Camille Fassett and Kati Perry, Associated Press

Majestic, increasingly hungry and at risk of disappearing, the polar bear is dependent on something melting away on our warming planet: sea ice.

In the harsh and unforgiving Arctic, where frigid cold is not just a way of life but a necessity, the polar bear stands out. But where it lives, where it hunts, where it eats — it’s disappearing underfoot in the crucial summertime.

“They have just always been a revered species by people, going back hundreds and hundreds of years,” said government polar bear researcher Steve Amstrup, now chief scientist for Polar Bear International. “There’s just something special about polar bears.”

Scientists and advocates point to polar bears, marked as “threatened” on the endangered species list, as the white-hot warning signal for the rest of the planet — “the canary in the cryosphere.” As world leaders meet in Glasgow, Scotland, to try to ramp up efforts to curb climate change, the specter of polar bears looms over them.

The State of Sea Ice

Arctic sea ice — frozen ocean water — shrinks during the summer as it gets warmer, then forms again in the long winter. How much it shrinks is where global warming kicks in, scientists say. The more the sea ice shrinks in the summer, the thinner the ice is overall, because the ice is weaker first-year ice.

Julienne Stroeve, a University of Manitoba researcher, says summers without sea ice are inevitable. Many other experts agree with her.

The warming already in the oceans and in the air is committed — like a freight train in motion. So no matter what, the Earth will soon see a summer with less than 1 million square miles of sea ice scattered in tiny bits across the Arctic.

The big question is when the Arctic will “look like a blue ocean,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Maybe as early as the 2030s, most likely in the 2040s and almost assuredly by the 2050s, experts say.

The Polar Bear Connection

Photo: Polar Bears International

There are 19 different subpopulations of polar bears in the Arctic. Each is a bit different. Some are really in trouble, especially the southernmost ones, while others are fairly close to stable. But their survival from place to place is linked heavily to sea ice.

“As you go to the Arctic and see what’s happening with your own eyes … it’s depressing,” said University of Washington marine biologist Kristin Laidre, who has studied polar bears in Baffin Bay.

Shrinking Sea Ice Means Polar Bears Shrink, Too

In the summertime, polar bears go out on the ice to hunt and eat, feasting and putting on weight to sustain them through the winter. They prefer areas that are more than half covered with ice because it’s the most productive hunting and feeding grounds, Amstrup said. The more ice, the more they can move around and the more they can eat.

Just 30 or 40 years ago, the bears feasted on a buffet of seals and walrus on the ice. But with ice loss, the bears haven’t been doing as well, Amstrup said.

One sign: A higher proportion of cubs are dying before their first birthdays.

Polar bears are land mammals that have adapted to the sea. The animals they eat — seals and walruses mostly — are aquatic.

The bears fare best when they can hunt in shallow water, which is typically close to land. Recently, however, the sea ice has retreated far offshore in most summers. That has forced the bears to drift on the ice into deep waters that are devoid of their prey, Amstrup said.

The Future

Even as leaders meet in Scotland to try to ratchet up the effort to curb climate change, the scientists who monitor sea ice and watch the polar bears know so much warming is already set in motion.

There’s a chance, if negotiators succeed and everything turns out just right, that the world will once again see an Arctic with significant sea ice in the summer, experts said. But until then “that door has been closed,” said Twila Moon, a National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist.

So hope is melting too.

“It’s near impossible for us to see a place where we don’t reach an essentially sea ice-free Arctic, even if we are able to do the work to create much, much lower emissions” of heat-trapping gases, Moon said. “Sea ice is one of those things that we’ll see hit some pretty devastating lows along that path. And we can already see those influences for polar bears.”

***

For more on this important topic, explore the following:

More In-Depth Interactive Associated Press Article https://projects.apnews.com/features/2021/polar-bears-sea-ice/index.html

Polar Bears International websitehttps://polarbearsinternational.org/

Against All Odds: The BLOY of Northern Elephant Rock

Author: Teri Spencer, Shoreline Education for Awareness (SEA) member

Photos: Diane Bilderback, SEA member

The beaches of the Southern Oregon coast are a wonderland of beautiful and unique sights, sounds and smells. One distinct sound frequently heard along our beaches is the high-pitched, animated call and rapid chatter of the Black Oystercatchers, shorebirds that reside along the coast year-round. Black Oystercatchers, abbreviated BLOY by bird experts, are always a favorite of Oregon coastal residents and visitors. We admire the beauty of their solid black bodies contrasted by their long and vivid orange beaks and eyes. BLOY are among the most vivacious shorebirds, always fun to watch and never ceasing to surprise with their highly spirited actions. After observing them for the Oregon Black Oystercatcher Project, I now recognize these birds are far more complex and fascinating than they appear. BLOY possess innumerous admirable qualities that, for continuing survival, any species should aspire to.

The Oregon Black Oystercatcher Project has been conducted through Portland Audubon since 2015. As stated on the project website, the BLOY are a significant species to monitor:

Because of their small global population size, low reproductive rate, and reliance on rocky intertidal habitats, they are considered a “species of high conservation concern” and act as an indicator of intertidal ecosystem health.”

Lead by Joe Leibezeit, Staff Scientist and Avian Conservation Manager of Portland Audubon, the project has compiled monitoring data from over 300 BLOY nests collected by over 90 volunteer community scientists along the entire Oregon coastline. The Bandon group of volunteers is expertly organized and mentored by Diane and Dave Bilderback. The data analysis from 2015-2019 showed an overall hatching success of 67%, and only 33% of chicks survived to fledge (able to fly) in Oregon. Although that rate seems low, the project website states “Demographic studies suggest this productivity is enough to sustain the population”.

Monitoring the BLOY brings one to fully understand why so few of the BLOY pairs are successful in raising a chick to fledge, hence why this article is titled “Against All Odds”. With all of the overwhelming hazards they face, it’s a wonder any of their offspring survive.

BLOY must be profoundly hardy to face the challenges inherent to their chosen nesting location in the rocky intertidal zones. BLOY live about 15 years, and are thought to mate for life. Mated pairs nest in the same or nearby locations year after year, and defend a foraging territory in the nest area throughout the year. In Bandon the BLOY pairs nest primarily on the offshore and mainland rocks. Mainland rocks are those that can be accessed from the beach at low tides.

Nesting BLOY in Oregon are faced with constant threats from natural forces (wind, ocean waves), avian predators (Peregrine Falcons, Bald Eagles, gulls) as well as from land mammals (at low tides). Of greater concern to this writer is the increasing threat to the BLOY nests from human sources (people climbing on rocks, unleashed dogs, drones) throughout the time the BLOY parents must be intensely focused on incubating and raising their chicks.

A note about the increasing threat posed by drones flown along the coastline: The BLOY do not distinguish them from a bird of prey and will abandon their eggs or chicks to aggressively chase a drone flown near their nest site. This inherent defensive action leaves the eggs/chicks defenseless to the aforementioned natural predators, who will take the opportunity to consume them. Each consecutive season the Bandon volunteer nest monitors report more and more drone incidents of harassment of nesting BLOY. Although the monitors only view the nests a miniscule fraction of time, we witnessed at least 14 separate incidents of drone harassment which kept the BLOY parents away from their nests for sometimes 20-25 minutes during the 2021 season alone. What untold number of times does this occur when the monitors are not there? Because of this growing problem, Oregon State Parks and US Fish and Wildlife agencies are actively pursuing clarification and enforcement of drone operation rules along the coast to support wildlife protection.

The BLOY of North Elephant story

This is the story of a pair of BLOY that I have monitored for the past 3 seasons in Bandon: the BLOY of North Elephant Rock. Their story has all of the elements of a page-turning novel: suspense, danger, tragedy, joy, and ultimately a happy ending. Throughout consecutive seasons this BLOY pair demonstrated unending strength, tenacity, and dedication in overcoming numerous natural and human-based dangers to hatch, raise and fledge their offspring. As a comparatively pampered human, I truly feel fortunate and humbled to have the opportunity to witness their journey as it has unfolded each year.

June, 2019 : A second chance

During the BLOY breeding/nesting season in 2019, the Elephant Rock/Coquille Point area of Bandon was home to 6 BLOY nests, many of which failed to successfully fledge a chick. This BLOY pair built a nest there in late May, and hatched 2 beautiful chicks in late June. Within 2 days both chicks disappeared, likely due to predation.

After suffering a nest failure, some BLOY pairs try again, which is what this pair did. One week after their nest failure, I saw the pair mating in their foraging territory on the low rocks at Coquille Point. Immediately after, they flew together up approximately 30 feet to the top of North Elephant Rock, loudly chattering at each other and moving rocks and vegetation around, actions associated with nest location selection prior to laying eggs. I was hopeful that their apparent “second chance” at procreation that season was underway.

July:  incubation

According to the Oregon Black Oystercatcher Project monitoring protocol, the existence of a BLOY nest is confirmed when one of the birds is seen sitting on a suspected nest site for at least 15 minutes for consecutive observations. On July 4, 2019 the BLOY nest on the top of North Elephant Rock was confirmed. The clock started for an incubation period of approximately 30 days.

Figure 1. BLOY incubating at North Elephant Rock July 6, 2019

During incubation one of the BLOY parents must keep the eggs warm and protected from predation at all times. BLOY parents usually take turns sitting on the nest while the other forages, and this pair was no exception. Each time I observed the nest one parent was faithfully sitting on it, sometimes facing directly into a 20+MPH  north wind. The other parent was generally either close by, or would fly back to the nest within a few minutes and trade places with the incubating parent, both energetically chattering. Their “nest exchange” process was like a loud, spirited dance, demonstrating commendable collaboration for diligently protecting their eggs.

Potential predation of the eggs was a constant threat for the pair, from nearby peregrine falcons and the gulls who also nest close by. During many monitoring visits the BLOY pair would respond aggressively to a potential avian predator, flying at the other bird, even hitting a few juvenile gulls who ventured onto North Elephant Rock, sending gull feathers flying. Several visits, when a peregrine falcon flew over, both BLOY left the nest to chase the falcon, always successfully fending it off, but leaving the eggs vulnerable for a time.

Human interference was also a regular threat, likely due to the nest location at a heavily visited area of the beach. North Elephant Rock is located at Coquille Point, a spot on the Bandon beach which is a common visitor destination for viewing the wildlife, such as harbor seals and nesting shorebirds and seabirds. At many low tides the base of North Elephant Rock is surrounded by the sand, allowing easy access to it. The BLOY parents were hyper-alert to any possible disturbance from the exposed beach. Numerous monitoring visits they became agitated, sounding their short, very loud “alert” call when people and/or their dogs walked too close to, or even climbed onto the base of the North Elephant Rock. The BLOY would remain agitated for several minutes, watching closely until the “intruders” moved on.

On one occasion I watched a man abruptly run through ankle deep ocean up to the base of North Elephant Rock and start to climb it, coming within 15 feet of the nest. Frightened, both BLOY parents flew off the nest and away from the area, leaving their eggs unprotected before returning 10 minutes later. I intervened, calling the man to come down, who had no idea he was doing anything wrong.

 August: Exhaustive Rearing

  

Figure 2. New BLOY nestlings  at North Elephant Rock  August 4, 2019

Finally, in early August, after what seemed to be an exhausting ordeal of incubation, Diane discovered that chicks had hatched. We quickly stationed ourselves on the bluff overlooking North Elephant Rock to watch the new parents and their 2 tiny chicks. Like they did during incubation these BLOY parents worked together, elegantly coordinating as one would fly off to gather food while the other stayed, tending to and protecting the hungry chicks. When food was brought back to the chicks, called a “food carry”, the chicks immediately gobbled it up, while one of the parents left again to collect more. In a 90 minute period, we watched the parents frantically repeat this food carry/feeding routine 10 times!

That was this BLOY family’s first day together, facing all of the same threats they did during incubation, but now with 2 very active, hungry, and curious chicks completely vulnerable to outside forces, and dependent on them for about 40 days until they could fly.

The parents did a phenomenal job of protecting and rearing their chicks and it was a pleasure to witness. There was a constant threat to the chicks by hungry juvenile gulls that hatched earlier that season, forcing the parents to spend lots of time and energy aggressively fighting them off. After a week, the BLOY parents moved their nest site and chicks to the west side of North Elephant Rock, more out of  the sight of hungry gulls and everyone else, including human monitors. It is common for BLOY to move their family away from the original nest location, often making it more challenging to watch them. For a few weeks the only view of the chicks as they grew was from a narrow strip of sand, exposed only at very low tides. However, as the chicks grew and became more adventurous, they and their parents could be seen on other parts of North Elephant Rock. The rock has many nooks and crannies which the always clever parents used to routinely hide the chicks for their resting periods throughout the day. The rock camouflaged them so well, it was often difficult to see them.

  Figure 3. BLOY chicks sleeping in nooks-look closely for them 8/16/19

Figure 4. Chicks exploring North Elephant Rock at 2 weeks old 8/16/19

The BLOY chicks grew quickly as we watched their parents teach them how to forage for food in the growth at the tide line on North Elephant Rock. The mid August weather brought some rough seas, which would, at times break on the base of the rock. When they were 3 weeks old, one of the chicks was adventuring out low on the rock when a large wave hit, water washing over the chick and obliterating it from view. In a panic on the beach, I tried frantically to find where the chick was, and was certain it had been washed into the ocean and met its demise. Luckily it did reappear high on the rock about 10 minutes later, having escaped the worst possible consequence of its adventuring.

Sadly, that was the last monitoring visit when 2 chicks were seen on North Elephant Rock.  Two days after the wash over incident, only 1 chick was left with the parents. One can only speculate on the cause of the chick’s presumed demise. Considering the low fledge rate, it is an all too common occurrence.

September: A time to fledge

After the loss of one of their chicks, the BLOY parents were noticeably more anxious and hyper-vigilant in protecting the remaining chick. They spent most of the time on the hidden side of North Elephant Rock, and the parents became alerted to any possible threat, chasing any species of birds who flew over or came onto the rock, even those that posed no threat. We were not able to catch a glimpse of the well-hidden chick for several consecutive monitoring visits, but knew it was still alive because its parents were still bringing food in to it.

In late August both parents and a very changed chick reappeared on the rock within sight from the beach. The chick had grown nearly as large as its parents and now had darker, smoother plumage in preparation for flight. Throughout the first week of September, the chick could be seen foraging with the parents on North Elephant Rock, frequently flexing and flapping its wings in practice.

Then, during monitoring on September 11, 2019,  all 3 of the BLOY of North Elephant Rock FLEW together over the water, and landed on another rock to forage there and on the beach! Fledged! After watching the intense struggles and outstanding protective actions this BLOY pair coordinated and executed over 3 months, the sight of their chick flying was truly gratifying. A rare and deeply humbling experience which will last in memory always.

Post note: Anyone interested in more information or getting involved in the Oregon Black Oystercatcher project, there is a huge amount of educational information on the Portland Audubon site. Click on the photo/link below.

Oregon Black Oystercatcher Project