Oregon Coast and South Slough National Reserve
We pick up shrimp cocktails for lunch and fresh fish for supper in Charleston and drive towards Simpson Reef. Two fawns at Shore Acres State Park are most co-operative. They’ve come out into bright sunshine to nibble on scattered forbs amongst dry short grass. A sprinkling of yellow flowers (false dandelions?) dots the lawn. No sign of the doe, but the fawns look relaxed and well nourished. We watch for at least ten minutes and then the twins bound off as if being called home for lunch. Spots of sunlight dance on their backs as they disappear into the Sitka spruce forest.
Shell Island and the outer reef are packed with hundreds, no thousands, of sea lions -- 3000-4000. The island’s beach is a solid mat of wiggling sea lions, so packed we can’t tell if any elephant seals are amongst them. At this time of year thousands of male California sea lions are migrating north.
At first glance the ocean seems calm, but there is a large swell, just no white caps. Most swells gently rise and sink along the reef, but some stumble with a tall plume of sparkling white spray and drench dozens of sea lions in the process. Virtually no wind and comfortably warm. I would love to spend the afternoon sketching the sea lions, but we also want to take advantage of the nice weather at South Slough. It may be the last day for good insect photography this summer. Cooler weather is promised.
I’m glad we continued on to South Slough. We eat our shrimp cocktails in the shade just beyond Hinch Bridge and then wander about in that area for over an hour. Lots of skippers are visiting asters and gumweed; a fuzzy bee-mimicking fly visits one flower after another; a margined white butterfly floats erratically in the gentle breeze; a Ctenucha moth shows off his gaudy red shoulders; the most striking find shouts out lime green with bits of orange, back and white -- the caterpillar of an Anise swallowtail butterfly.
|Crow feather and Stellar's jay feather|
It is close to four when we start down the beaver pond trail. Life is full of unexpected surprises along our way. Many birds are molting. Last week I found a crow’s black primary and one of the delicate plumes from a great blue heron’s breast. Today I find an osprey’s secondary wing feather and a Stellar’s jay feather. It’s illegal to keep these feathers but I can quickly sketch them and finished the work at home.
And then I find another surprise. Have you ever heard a whisper song? Once before I did. It was about the same time of year. Tucked in the ivy at home sat a fluffed-up chickadee mumbling a string of musical sounds to himself. I was baffled by the unchickadee-like singing, but my friend, Eleanor Pugh, knew right away it was a ‘whisper song.’ The little bird was practicing using his vocal cords.
Today’s sweet mumblings came from deep within a tangle of evergreen huckleberries and blackberries. I suspect I was less than 15 feet away. I couldn’t find the bird in the undergrowth so I can only guess which species – perhaps a song sparrow. Song sparrows are common along the edges of this salt marsh.
I first heard the sweet singing when I paused to photograph a moth fly. Dale was at least one hundred feet from me. I put my finger to my lips and motioned him closer. Of course the little bird hushed up, but not for long. Soon Dale and I stood together, enthralled by the hidden singing. What sweetness.