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Oregon Coast: Netarts
Cape Lookout State Park
Cape Meares State Park
Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area
Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Cascade Head Nature Conservancy Land
Oswald West State Park

In celebration of our anniversary, we decided to spend a few days on the Oregon coast - a place we used to visit more often during our "youthful" days (and when traffic allowed us to get down there for a weekend in reasonable time).

We found an AirBnb in the tiny, quiet town of Netarts - located on the bay between Cape Lookout and Cape Meares and close to Tillamook. The house we rented had beach access right down to the bay. During slack tides, the water on the bay would be dead flat so it made for perfect sunset pictures especially with the backdrop of Three Arches NWR offshore to the north. From the house, we could easily walk to the outer coast, where the waves swelled over the sandy beaches. In the evenings, large sand fleas came out and gave impressive hops away from our booted feet. Some of them were pretty large.

Another really nice feature of Netarts was the Schooner restaurant just down the road. We had some pretty good food there. From the woods surrounding the house, we could hear singing Purple Finches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and an occasional Wrentit. Netarts Bay is created by the long sandy spit of Cape Lookout State Park. During low tide, people dug for clams in the muddy bay. Great Egrets also took advantage of the exposed mudflats and hunted the shallows alongside Great Blue Herons.

Tillamook was the largest nearby town. It’s most famous for the creamery, which we visited one day. Despite it being a weekday, there was a long line for ice cream. It was worth the wait, however, to get some flavors that are only available there. At the factory viewing hall, we watch them make cheese and process the blocks into the 2 lb loaves you see in stores. It was a little hypnotic watching the blocks of cheese whizz by on the conveyor belts.

Tunnel Beach
We were fortunate to have a fairly decent low tide while on the coast. After researching on the web, we decided to try Tunnel Beach, which is just north of Netarts. At high tide, the beach is only accessible by going through a tunnel in a rocky head, but during low tide, you can easily walk around it.

The tide pooling was pretty good, lots of gooseneck barnacles and large muscles clung to large boulders. Below them were purple and orange ochre sea stars and green anemones. Sponges and communal corals grew in spaces in between. Limpets, chitons, lemon sea slugs, and purple crabs clung to the rocks and seaweed. Sculpin and sand shrimp darted around endless in the pools of water. Above all the tide pools, Pigeon Guillemots called and landed on the cliff side. Their bright red feet and mouths were in stark contrast to the black and white plumage. Black Oystercatchers poked along the exposed rocks and a Western Gull patiently worked to swallow a sea star whole.

Cape Meares State Park
The large rocky head of Cape Meares provides a good vantage point for looking out into the ocean and at the offshore rocks including Three Arches NWR. You definitely need a scope for looking at the arches, which are ~2 miles away. But scoping the area on a somewhat clear day, I was able to pick out five Tufted Puffins among the 100s of Common Murres that bobbed in the water around Three Arches NWR. Closer in along the rock cliffs of Cape Meares, colonies of Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants nested moss-lined stick nest in the rock crevices. The weather on the coast can be very volatile; visibility can go from miles to nil in no time when the marine layer rolls in. The state park also has the Octopus Tree - an old Sitka pine with 8 major limbs (minus a few) .

Cape Lookout
In our younger days, we camped at this state park during the winter months. We experienced many wet and stormy days, but it never detracted from the beauty of the place. The campground is located at the base of the sandy spit that creates Netarts Bay. The sandy beach stretches for miles north up the coast providing a lot of habitat for mole crabs, which follow the tides in and out. They use their tails to swim backwards and to burrow into the soft sand to hide.

To access the view from the rocky head of Cape Lookout, there is a 2.5 mile trail through dense Sitka forest and along the cliffside. Mats of moss and lichen hung to the branches overhead. Red Crossbills fed on the pine cones high in the canopy. Hermit, Wilson's, and Orange-crowned Warblers sang unseen from dense underbrush and high boughs. Swainson's Thrushes added their melodious voice to the forest bird chorus. Large rafts of Common Murre gathered near the cliff side and cormorants flew by at eye level around the cape. We enjoyed the sun while soaking in the views from the lookout, while a thick layer of marine fog drew closer. It soon enshrouded the cape in dense fog during our hike back through the forest.

Cape Kiwanda
We drove south from Netarts to explore the area we hadn't spent much time previously: the area south toward Lincoln City. Along the way, we stopped at Cape Kiwanda Natural Area. The cape is different from Meares and Lookout; the cape is composed mostly of yellow limestone with very sparse vegetation and a big sand dune. From the public beach in town, we walked up the soft sand and followed the fencing to the lookout area. On the public beach, fishermen launched their boats into the surf to drift just past the breakwater. To come back ashore, the fisherman would give warning honks while driving at the beach at full throttle. Near the shallows, they'd raise the engines and glide onto the sand. Seabirds gathered in the waters and near the small rock island offshore. At the cave inside the cape, Pigeon Guillemots gathered in loose pairs on the rocks. A pair of Peregrine Falcons wowed us with an aerial prey exchange - the presumably female (larger) falcon flipped upside down to catch the prey as its partner dropped it from above. Despite the aggressive scotch broom on the dunes, beach pea and yellow sand verbena bloomed in the soft sand. Below the cape, the low tide revealed rocks teeming with muscles, ochre sea stars, green anemones, and gooseneck barnacles. While impressive, it wasn't as good or extensive as the tidepools on Tunnel Beach.

Nestucca River NWR
This wildlife refuge was created and managed for overwintering geese, which use the rivers and floodplains as feeding grounds. But there is also a nice meadow and trail through the forest where the Little Nestucca and Nestucca Rivers flow together into a bay before joining the ocean. Oregon iris, cows parsnip, and bristly-stemmed checkerbloom flowered on the grassy hillsides. The everpresent White-crowned Sparrows sang out in the open. The trail meandered through deciduous alder and maple forest with the occasional sitka spruce to remind us that it was the coast. Coastal forest birds: Pacific-sloped Flycatcher, Swainson's Thrush, Hermit and Wilson's Warblers were more often heard than seen in the dense forest foliage. Near the picnic area at the end of the trail, we heard the soft toots of a Northern Pygmy Owl. Thinking the calls were off in the distance, we were surprised to realize we were practically standing underneath the diminutive owl. It continued to call occasionally as we watched it swivel its head back and forth. Swainson's Thrushes and Chestnut-backed Chickadees chattered in agitation. After watching and photographing the owl for a while, it flew away higher up in the canopy, only to return and duck into a hole in a snag. It perched at the hole for a short while, before flying off into the canopy once more. Upon reviewing the pictures, the owl was holding a dead bird (maybe a thrush) and had delivered it to its nest.

Cascade Head
The Cascade Head is owned and protected by the Nature Conservancy. It is one of the few remaining coastal meadows in Oregon. We hiked from the southern trail head through private property to reach the meadows.The trail from Knight County Park wove through impressive Sitka spruce forest and up the hill to a young alder forest. The trail crossed several long foot bridges, which span the chasms, before opening up to the meadows. Indian Paintbrush, edible thistle, bristly-stemmed checkerbloom, California figwort, lupine, and coastal manroot flourished on the grassy hillsides that overlooked the estuary of Salmon River below. On the head below, a herd of elk graze along with two mule deer. Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows sang from the grass, while Violet-green Swallows sailed overhead.

Oswald West State Park
On the way back home, we stopped at Oswald West State Park because it had been on my list of places to camp whenever we traveled through the area. However, as is the case for many things, the opportunity was lost with time. Specifically when a storm destroyed the campground and the park was converted to day use only. However, it was still on my list of places to visit. The parking lot, which is immediately off the highway, was filling up quickly by mid-morning when we pulled in. Tall impressive Sitka spruce towered over us and I was immediately reminded of why I was interested in the state park in the first place. The trail climbed the hillside through the forest. When the trail turned away from the highway, the noise of traffic and people below gave way to the quiet and peace of the forest. Red Crossbills chirped high above us. I never tired of the Hermit and Wilson's Warblers that serenaded us. We continued along the trail crossing a few shallow streams through blooming false lily-of-the-valley and goatsbeard toward Cape Falcon. From the trail, we could see surfers bobbing in the water trying to catch the next wave. The forest opened up at the head and the trail led us through a tall hedge of salal intertwined with coastal manroot. From the rocky cliff, we could see into the crashing waves below and toward the open ocean. I spotted movement in the waters nearshore and sputtered "look, look, wah... a whale!" I saw its large barnacle flecked body curve followed by the dark and light fluke as it dove down next to the rocks. We watched the waters intently, hoping it would surface again. It surfaced a few more times close to shore before it reappeared 100s of meters away in the open waters. We lost sight of the gray whale shortly after, but felt lucky to get great views of it. After the sighting, we traveled back through the forest, passing many hikers that continued to stream in. At the parking lot, cars were backed up waiting for an empty stall. In spite of the popularity and busy foot traffic this trail received, the trail through the Oswald West forest was enjoyable and a wonderful way to top off the trip.

The Oregon coast holds a sentimental place in our hearts - as one of the destinations that helped seal our relationship with each other. This trip was a great reminder of the past and the celebration of the present. I am looking forward to what the future brings.


Pictures (click on thumbnail)

A Northern Pygmy Owl clutches it prey and softly toots
Mole or Sand Crabs swim in with the tides at Cape Lookout State Park
Gray whale off Cape Falcon, Oswald West State Park

Bird List
Canada Goose CH
Surf Scoter N,CM
White-winged Scoter N
Western Grebe CM
Band-tailed Pigeon NB,CH
Eurasian Collared-Dove N,CH
Mourning Dove N
Anna's Hummingbird N,NB
Rufous Hummingbird N,CM
Black Oystercatcher N,CH,CM
Common Murre N,CM
Pigeon Guillemot N,CM
Rhinoceros Auklet CM
Tufted Puffin CM
Western Gull N,NB,CH,CM
Caspian Tern N
Pacific Loon N,CM
Common Loon CM
Brandt's Cormorant N
Pelagic Cormorant N,CM
Double-crested Cormorant N,NB,CH,CM
Brown Pelican N,CM
Great Blue Heron N,NB
Great Egret N
Turkey Vulture N,NB,CH
Osprey CH
Northern Harrier N
Bald Eagle N,NB
Red-tailed Hawk NB,CH
Northern Pygmy-Owl NB
Barred Owl CM
Belted Kingfisher NB,CH
Downy Woodpecker NB,CH
Hairy Woodpecker N,NB,CH
Northern Flicker NB,CH
Peregrine Falcon N
Olive-sided Flycatcher NB
Pacific-slope Flycatcher N,NB,CH
Warbling Vireo NB,CH
Steller's Jay N,NB,CH,CM
American Crow N,NB,CH,CM
Common Raven N,NB,CH
Black-capped Chickadee CH
Chestnut-backed Chickadee N,NB,CH
Purple Martin N
Violet-green Swallow N,NB,CH,CM
Barn Swallow N,NB,CH
Wrentit CM
Golden-crowned Kinglet N,NB,CH,CM
Brown Creeper CH
Pacific Wren N,NB,CH,CM
European Starling N,CH
Varied Thrush N
Swainson's Thrush N,NB,CH,CM
American Robin N,NB,CH,CM
Cedar Waxwing NB,CH
House Sparrow N
Purple Finch N,NB
Red Crossbill N,NB,CH,CM
American Goldfinch N
Dark-eyed Junco N,NB,CM
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) CH
White-crowned Sparrow N,NB,CH,CM
Savannah Sparrow CH
Song Sparrow N,NB,CH
Spotted Towhee N
Brewer's Blackbird N
Orange-crowned Warbler N,NB,CH,CM
Black-throated Gray Warbler N,CH
Hermit Warbler N,NB,CH,CM
Wilson's Warbler N,NB,CH,CM
Western Tanager CH
Black-headed Grosbeak NB,CH
Gray Whale Oswald West
Harbor Seal N
California Sea Lion N
Mule Deer CH
Elk CH
California Ground Squirrel N, CH
Douglas Squirrel N
Garter Snake CM
Pacific chorus frog
Notable blooms:
yellow sand-verbena
crimson columbine
sea thrift
Oregon coast paintbrush
scarlet Indian paintbrush
field chickweed
edible thistle
Menzies' larkspur
Oregon sunshine
sharp-leaved monkeyflower
coastal monkeyflower
roundleaf alumroot
tough-leaved iris
beach pea
twinberry honeysuckle
seashore lupine
false lily-of-the-valley
coastal manroot
littleleaf miner's-lettuce
common self-heal
Nootka rose
California figwort
bristly-stemmed checkerbloom
Idaho blue-eyed grass
clasping twisted-stalk

N: Netarts Bay, Cape Lookout State Park and area
CM: Cape Meares State Park
NB: Nestucca Bay NWR


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page updated: 7/2/23