Harlequin duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)

The distinctive Harlequin duck is a  beautiful small sea duck with a small bill, short neck, and long tail. Males in breeding plumage are unmistakable with their dark blue color, reddish brown sides and crown, and striking white patterning on the face, neck, sides, and back. Unlike most waterfowl that prefer quiet marshes, the Harlequin duck breeds on fast-flowing streams and winters along rocky coastlines in the crashing surf.

Harlequin ducks are well adapted to their harsh surroundings. They make their way against the current and easily climb up steep and slippery rocks, although many have been found with broken bones presumably from being dashed against rocks in the rough surf. Like other diving ducks, they forage underwater for crustaceans and mollusks, insects, and small fish found in riverine and marine habitats.

The Harlequin duck is sometimes called a sea mouse for its very unducklike squeaks. You can listen to the Harlequin duck here.

Shore pine (Pinus contorta)

Shore pine and lodgepole pine are two different varieties of the species (Pinus contorta). In the Northwest, the  coastal lowland form is called shore pine and the inland, mountain form of this species is called lodgepole pine. Shore pine is found between Alaska and Northern California and typically colonizes infertile sites near sea level where other trees grow poorly, if at all. When grown in tough, windy locations, shore pine can be twisted and irregularly shaped (hence the name ‘contorta’). Although shore pine can live to be 250 years old, they are typically grow to between 20 and 35 feet in height due to the harsh conditions where they live.  

Native people used shore pine pitch medicinally and put it on open sores. Today, the lumber is sometimes used for cabinets, knotty pine paneling or other finish work. Its inland sibling, the lodgepole pine, grows straight and tall  and was used by natives for the central pole in tepees. Nationwide, pines are second only to oaks in the food value to wildlife. They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds and small mammals. Foliage is eaten by grouse and deer and porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood.

Can you identify other trees on the Oregon Coast that have developed unique adaptations due to their unique living environment?

Dungeness crab (Cancer magister)

The Dungeness crab is an important species on the West Coast, where it thrives in chilly Pacific Ocean waters and drives the economy of fishing communities throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. These crustaceans have eight walking legs and two claws and prefer sandy bottom habitats in the intertidal zones to a depth of approximately 750 feet. Dungeness crab have been harvested commercially on the West Coast since the mid-1800s when San Francisco fishermen began the fishery. For more than 100 years, the fishery has been regulated by size, sex, and season in order to preserve this important resource.

The commercial Dungeness crab season typically begins in early December and continues through the spring. Recreational crabbing is a popular, year-round activity on the Oregon Coast. Just make sure you’re aware of the regulations next time you head to the beach or the docks so you can help ensure this animal continues to provide a delicious food source and an important economic opportunity for coastal communities in the region. Many coastal bait & tackle shops along the coast will help you get set up for an enjoying crabbing experience!