Un Gigante en Yaquina Head

(English translation provided below the Spanish version)

Desde una belleza natural envuelta en un verdor de espesos y vastos bosques extendiéndose más lejos de lo que cualquiera pudiera ver, la costa del estado de Oregón ofrece un destino de vistas paradisiacas que combinan el esplendor de la naturaleza con la complejidad arquitectónica de su historia. Es aquí mismo, sobre la costa de Oregón, que se encuentra el faro de Yaquina Head; un lugar de intrigante historia y singular aprendizaje cultural que hace destacar a la ciudad de Newport. No hace falta colocarse a la base del faro para apreciar su grandeza; desde la distancia, ya sea viniendo del norte o del sur, el primer emblemático punto de referencia que se puede divisar a la distancia es este faro.

Trabajando con la Oficina de Administración de Tierras (BLM por sus siglas en inglés) del estado de Oregón, he tenido la oportunidad de interactuar con diversos turistas, quienes ajenos a esta localidad, acuden a  esta zona natural para deleitarse con la vista. La imponente presencia del faro cuenta la historia de un centinela cuya luz, iluminada desde 1872, otorgó pasaje seguro a centenales de navíos venturados en las frías aguas de la costa rocosa de Newport. Nuevas tecnologías han opacado la misión de este veterano, quien por más de cien años de impecable contienda antagónica hacia la implacable naturaleza, ha logrado resistir y habiendo cumplido su encomienda se le ha otorgado el derecho a la jubilación.

El BLM ofrece recorridos en el faro, dirigidos por guías vestidos en atuendos de la época victoriana. Tuve la oportunidad de formar parte de uno de estos entretenidos recorridos y mientras subía la escalinata de 114 escalones, una ineludible pregunta invadía mi mente: ¿qué ha sido de aquellos quienes habían sido delegados con la tarea de mantener la luz del faro encendida, los escalones pintados, el aceite fluyendo y al público informado? Para contestar preguntas como esta los guías turísticos del BLM son entrenados para representar el papel de los custodios y sus esposas, los cuales desempeñaron la difícil tarea de mantener esta fortaleza funcionando. La historia cuenta que desde 1872 hubo un equipo integrado por tres custodios del faro, quienes en compañía de sus familiares vivieron justo al lado de la torre. Fue en la época de los años 1930, cuando la electricidad remplazo el uso del aceite y la tripulación se redujo a sólo dos custodios; hecho que marcó el comienzo de la decadencia de los faros como guías marítimos. La época llegó  a su fin en el año 1966 cuando se instaló una computadora para controlar la luz y los dos últimos custodios partieron de este territorio junto a sus familias.

Hoy en día el faro que había visto tantos soles pasar frente a si, funciona como atractivo turístico y centro de reconocimiento histórico. Sigue exponiéndose en una vertical de fortaleza e historia viviente que ha trascendido desde hace ya un centenario y medio hasta la época contemporánea.


The coast of the state of Oregon offers a natural beauty wrapped in a greenery of thick and vast forests extending farther than anyone can see. It is a destination of paradisiacal views that combines the splendor of nature with the architectural complexity of its history. It is here, on the coast of Oregon, that the lighthouse of Yaquina Head is located; a place of intriguing history and unique cultural learning that highlights the city of Newport. You don’t need to stand at the base of the lighthouse to appreciate its greatness; even from the distance, whether coming from the North or South, the first iconic point of reference that you can see in the distance is the lighthouse.

Working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the state of Oregon, I have had the opportunity to interact with various tourists, who as foreigners in this town, come to this area to revel in the view. The imposing presence of the lighthouse tells the story of a sentry whose light, illuminated since 1872, granted safe passage to hundreds of adventurous ships in the cold waters off the rocky coast of Newport. New technologies have overshadowed the mission of this veteran, who for more than a hundred years of impeccable antagonistic combat toward the relentless force of nature, which has managed to resist and having fulfilled its task it earned the right to retirement.

The BLM offers tours in the lighthouse, led by guides dressed in Victorian attire. I had the opportunity to be part of one of these entertaining tours and while climbing the staircase of 114 steps, an inescapable question was invading my mind: what has become of those who had been delegated with the task of maintaining the light from the lighthouse, the paint of the steps, the oil flowing and the public informed ? Tourist guides of the BLM are trained to answer questions like this one by representing the role of the keepers of the lighthouse and their wives, who played the difficult task of maintaining this fortress running. The story tells that since 1872 there was a team composed of three keepers of the lighthouse, who along with their families lived right next to the tower. It was at the time of the 1930’s, when electricity replaced the use of oil, that the crew was reduced to only two custodians; an event that marked the beginning of the decline of the lighthouses as maritime guides. Their time came to an end in 1966 when a computer was installed to control the light and the last two keepers and their families departed from this territory.

Today the lighthouse that had seen so many seasons pass before it, functions as a tourist attraction and center of historical recognition. It is still exposing itself as living history that has transcended from almost a century and a half ago to the contemporary period.




The rumors

If Paul Revere were a modern-day birder, he’d be running down the path of the estuary flailing a Kaufman guide in the air while frantically shouting:

“The shorebirds are coming! The shorebirds are coming!”

But he’s not. Paul Revere is long dead. C’mon guys, get yourself together. I know the anticipation of this shorebird migration must be driving you nuts, too. It’s obviously rolling me off of the rocker. But no worries, that’s why I’m here.

Ergo, it is my pleasure to announce: the shorebirds really are coming! So turn that frown upside down, and lean into your chair, you’re about to take a ride back in time of the elusive history of the Oregon coast to…yesterday.

Oh, yesterday. Like many, it was crazy, full of random outings, chaotic research endeavors, and rapidfire admin projects. This was a particularly packed day; at 8am my roommates and I peeled out of bed and headed to Depoe Bay for a training on whales, then I rushed back home to jump into the field in my stubborn mission to find shorebirds, had an hour or so to coordinate logistics for a county-wide festival, and then jumped back into the field for a second attempt at shorebird spotting. For those who think that “kids” of my generation don’t want to work, take this brief picture of my internship as a glimpse into the things that we are willing to do simply for a feeling of purpose; it’s not an easy task to drag around a scope through mud, rain, bitter cold high winds, and trash for four hours a day, and then maintain the energy to complete three-four other projects. I am just one of many youngin’s happy and willing to shed sweat, blood, and tears just for a chance to shine. This is not a complaint, I’m extremely blessed and honored to have the opportunity, and can only hope that I deliver to and beyond the expectations put forth to me. What I hope to convey here is that it is important to provide a stepping stone for recent graduates to become qualified professionals within your field, because we’re ready and willing to make the leap, and keep on jumping until we’re ready to continue the legacy you leave behind.

Anyways, I digress, you’re here to read about birds, and I shall deliver:

Why am I doing it? Because I finally spotted not just one, but MANY shorebirds. Coincidentally, it was the first visit that I finally managed to convince a friend to join me. Considering my luck, I did not expect to see much on the mudflats, so I felt it was a good day to inspire another person to be as obsessed with birds are. Maybe this goal was a little selfish–I often find myself with wandering eyes in the middle of conversations (I can’t help it if a cool bird is doing kickbutt stuff right behind someone), a part of me hoped that pulling someone into my kind of crazy would make them understand the struggle of a birder. We went out a little early than necessary so I could show her how to use the scope, and navigate her through the library of field guides that I drag out with me. So far these guides have only been useful as a potential defense mechanism for creepers out in the wild (doesn’t happen here, but I am from D.C. and inherently have an incurable sense of paranoia). However, right when I peeked into the scope to focus it for my friend, I noticed a slight movement on the opposite bank:

“What’s up?” My friend froze, anxious.
“A blowing leaf? No…”
“What?!?” The poor girl was squirming from anticipation.
“Oh my god…”

If I were a comic book character, a big red exclamation point would have materialized above me and my head would have exploded from excitement. There’s no equivalent to making a discovery, no matter how small it may be. Yesterday I found that the peeps are arriving, and many more will soon be making their way.

For now, we have Black-bellied plovers, Western sandpipers, and a Yellowlegs (I think Greater) claiming the Yaquina Bay. Just for fun, I also witnessed a Bald eagle stealing a fish from a gull in mid air and the gull, determined and touch beyond belief, coming back at the eagle for vengeance. Meanwhile, US Fish & Wildlife boating trips along the California shore have reported sightings of flocks of migrating birds coming up North.

So rest assured, they are coming, they are coming strong.

Until next time! Bird on.

The Feeding

Food. Everywhere. This town has so much to experience just through the taste buds and I cannot help myself. It’s no wonder why our migrating shorebird friends love to make Newport their pit stop–everything looks, and tastes, delicious! Though I love a good meal, I’ve never considered myself a foodie; truly, I’ve always snorted food just for the sake of survival, and if something cheap happens to taste good it was a lucky day. Something about this clam chowder, though, not only makes me entertain ridiculous musings, like shorebirds ordering steamed mussels in the local seafood grille, but also has me reconsidering my life choices. Maybe I should take some cooking lessons? Maybe I could clean dishes in exchange for fresh muffins? I hear that you can volunteer on a sustainable farm and get paid in fresh vegetables…or maybe I should start a blog? Oh wait, I’m already doing that.

Hopefully you’re still with me, and not lost in a sea of my recently discovered culinary obsessions.

I started my shorebird surveys this week. There isn’t much to see in terms of shorebirds, it’s either that the migrating birds are truly too distracted by the multitude of local options for pancakes and “better than most” coffee shops to be out on the mud flats, or (the more scientifically and logical option) they’re still flying up from the Los Angeles and Monterrey sites.  Today, I had a conference call with my fellow birders-on-duty to get more intel.

Doesn’t mean that there’s nothing out there. To the impatient eye, the flats are barren, sprinkled by the occasional flock of crows and gulls. I, however, being [likely] excessively thorough in my non-counts of shorebirds, have unexpectedly made tons of discoveries. Turkey Vultures,Great Blue Herons, Killdeer, and Northern Harriers like to hang out on the regular at my sites. One time I was just barely finished with tackling the stiff legs of my scope, and, in my struggle to catch my breath, I almost stepped on a Coast gartersnake. Poor thing almost paid miserably for coming in too close. My favorite species to visit, by far, is the bald eagle. It perches on a solitary post in the middle of the water, a slab of wood that looks Poseidon was playing Javelin and left his spear stabbed into the murky bottom of the bay. The times I’ve seen it have been early in the morning, when the haze is barely lifting off of the horizon. As I adjust the zoom of my scope to capture a solid view of this majestic creature, I often pause, scared that he is staring right back at me, menacingly, as if warning me not to get too close. For now, there seems to be a mutual respect, but I fear one day I might unknowingly and foolishly anger the beast and he’ll make me his next meal. Shoot, I am technically small enough…

Well, I’m almost out of bread crisps with which to soak up the last drops of my chowder. It’s time to move on to the next adventure. Oh, clam chowder, parting is such sweet sorrow.

Until next time!

To birding.

The Landing

I look at my calendar and count the days. Yep, one week and 14 hours since I first opened the door to my new apartment. Sitting here, I glance out the window and scan the expanse of the Yaquina Bay, squinting slightly at the brilliance of the sunlight dancing off of the water’s still surface. With a deep sigh, I reflect:It was only last Tuesday, when my shaking fingers grasped the cold metal of the doorknob and jammed my key into the slot, violently and nervously shifting the rifts into place. I admit–I was purposefully clumsy: with a ball of nerves rocking in my stomach, I was anxious to open that door. Granted, I’ve always dreamt of moving to the West coast, and immersing myself in some sort of ecological adventure. For three years, I painstakingly filled out job applications, eager and willing to chase jays through redwoods, wade through marshes to photograph panthers, live on a boat for months on end with sunsets for a salary, and yet to no avail. Back in December, when I was just ready to throw in the towel, the call to come out to Oregon came to me like a message from the heavens. For two months, I mentally prepared myself, unloaded my closets of excess baggage, and said my goodbyes. Now that I was finally in Newport, I could not bring myself to open that door, and take the first step into the darkness of my new life.

The next few days were a whirlwind. My mind was just as scattered as the messily unpacked clothing littering my apartment: between shaking hands with wildlife biologists, university professors, park rangers, elementary school principles, and starving students, squinting my eyes against sideswiped bursts of rain, gasping for breath at awe-inspiring views of sunlit kissed cliffs and formidable waves, I was swept up in the charm of this mystical town…

Newport is a beautiful place, a fisherman’s village accustomed to the comings and goings of strangers from faraway lands. In my afternoons off, I grab my bike and cruise the banks–which takes you absolutely anywhere and everywhere you want and need to go. Southeast of me is the Oregon Coast Aquarium, decorated by a carnivalesque square of gift shops and general stores, littered with collapsing auto shops. In the winter months it looks like a ghost town. In fact, if you listen closely, I swear you can hear echos of laughter from tourists past.

Creeped out much? Cycle Southwest and trip right into the jetties of South Beach State Park, three armored lines of defense sparing Hatfield from the might of the Pacific. Once the sand overcomes the pathway, it’s advisable to abandon the bike and tackle the dunes. A fifteen minute fight with the shifting sand and sporadic rocks is well worth it. Suddenly, you come up around the hill top and, like changing the channel from Bravo to Nat Geo, the scenery flips a switch on you: before your eyes lies miles of white sand beach, flattened by the constant abuse of the cold waves. The horizon melds with the fog of the sky, which creeps onto the shore with the stealth of a mountain lion narrowing in on its prey. Daunting and beautiful, you cannot help but stop, and stare.

Craving some social antics? Follow the northern star across the Newport bridge and in no time you’ll find yourself with an array of restaurants, bars, and beachfront views to choose from, depending on your mood, of course. Just be ready to meet a sailor or two, they’re everywhere here, and they’re always ready for an open ear to tell a tall tale. Just west of the town is more beach, prime “habitat” for restless locals and adventurous tourists to set up bonfires in the evenings and for seals to soak up the sun during the day. East is the way out to the local university, Oregon State, the route from which vagrant Easterners, like myself, wander Westwards in their quest for adventure and experience.

Which brings me to Yaquina Head, one of my several “offices.” The first time I arduously cycled up the road towards the visitor center, I sacrificed my momentum for a glance off of the cliffs and nearly collapsed from astonishment. The mountains, the waves, the trees jetting out from the rocks, barely hanging on for their dear lives, the sun perched in the horizon–it was all too much for just two eyes to handle. There is no attempt at writing, photographing, or painting that could capture even an ounce of the beauty of Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area: nature defiantly proves, in this one escarpment of land, that we humans are no match for her artistic prowess. Kudos, nature.

Needless to say, from the amount I’ve written here, that I’m overwhelmed with how much there is to see and do in Newport. Hopefully the spell that this place has cast on me is contagious, and it has tantalized you into staying tuned…

Until next time.

Bird on, my friends.

Sunshine is a rarity on the Oregon coast, and this daisy is determined to capture every single ray of it.

Sunshine is a rarity on the Oregon coast, and this daisy is determined to capture every single ray of it.