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Winter at Nehalem Bay State Park

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With winter arriving it always get’s hard to handle the dark wet days in the Pacific Northwest. We were lucky to see a rare long sunny weekend forecast for the coast, so we headed south to Nehalem Bay State Park in Oregon. Situated about 20 minutes south of Cannon Beach and picturesque Haystack Rock (photo’d in gallery), Nehalem Bay State Park shares the beach with Manzanita, another of Oregon’s many excellent coastal towns. The weather did not disappoint, the entire weekend there we saw not a cloud in the sky, and were visited by a full moon each night reflecting off the ocean waters.

Nehalem Bay State Park has many full hook-up campsites, the north half of the park is reservable while the south half was first come first serve. Since it was a four to five hour drive we booked our site though it turned out the south half loops were all pretty much empty due to the lack of popularity in winter camping! The Park is situated on a long strip of land between the bay and the ocean and boasts diverse habitats, including dunes, forests, and of course the beach and bay. The dunes and beaches here are absolutely incredible, we will certainly visit again in the Spring or Summer as there are many miles of beach for us still to explore.

We arrived just in time to catch an incredible sunset, with the sun reflecting off the wet sands as the tide went out. The best part though was in the wet sand were many little Sanderlings, common shorebirds running up and down the beach in sunset poking through the sand for food. We also saw a huddled group of Dunlin further down the beach, each sunset they came out and repeated their feeding routine. Watch them sprint along the beach here in the video like little road-runners.

Sanderlings nest very far north in the Artic, it is quite amazing how far these birds travel as in non-breeding seasons they can be found scouring the beaches for meals all over the world, even in the tropics. Dunlin also nest up north, maybe not as far north as Sanderlings but most likely neither are often seen with their breeding colors unless you are on quite an adventure into the northern frontiers. We could tell the difference due to the slightly browner color of the Dunlin as well as their longer and more downturned bill. The Dunlin were not noticeably sprinting up and down the beach which is a common trait of the Sanderling.

Being not far from Cannon Beach we had to make a trip up to see Haystack Rock, especially with the amazing weather. Here we saw another Black Oystercatcher much like on our Port Townsend visit. We also saw a flock of seagulls feeding on an unfortunate crab, it was quite chaotic. The crab was not amused at being chosen for lunch and the gulls did quite the dance to avoid it’s pinchers. Lastly we added a new lifer to our birding list as we saw a small group of Surfbirds, not uncommon but new to us! Surfbirds nest mostly in Alaska, but then travel only on the west coast of North and South America, all the way down to Southern Chile.

While visiting the area be sure to stop into Manzanita for some shopping and great food. The kids enjoyed some ice cream and a walk to the beach in town where we could watch the huge waves crash during King Tide Season. There are also a lot of nearby hikes to the beach and up to the bluffs and low mountains that overlook the ocean. This trip we did a walk to Short Sands Beach and years ago did the Neahkahnie Mountain Trail that ends with an incredible view of Nehalem Bay and the coast to the south.


Things to Note:

  • While there are many great places to eat in the area we had a wonderful breakfast at Yolk in downtown Manzanita, I always enjoy a good Eggs Benedict and theirs did not disappoint! The French Toast was also excellent.

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