"The first time I had ever been to Seaside was when I was going over the old Trail's End Marathon course. About 2 hours into it Dad and I made a sudden stop to stare. To our right was an elk. A beautiful 5 foot tall Roosevelt elk. Not only was I at the beach, next to the ocean, but I was experiencing my first elk ever! I love Seaside!" -- Joel Pearson, Co-Race Director (Next trip included a herd of 30 ELK!)
Seaside and the surrounding area boasts some of the finest birdwatching in the region. Diverse natural habitats all located in close proximity and readily accessible to the public make birdwatching convenient for everyone. Hundreds of different species of birds, from eagles to herons, puffins to hummingbirds, and ducks to sparrows, can be observed year-round. Some of the very best birdwatching occurs during the spring and fall migrations, but all seasons feature an excellent assortment of opportunities.
What to Bring: Although you will be able to see many birds without binoculars, most people find birdwatching more enjoyable using binoculars or a scope to get an up-close view. If you don’t have either, you can always rent birdwatching equipment at the Wild Bird Shop in Cannon Beach. Another good item to bring would be a local bird identification guide, so that you’ll be able to identify the birds you encounter. Bird guides are also available at local bookstores in the area. Kids especially enjoy it if you bring along a checklist of birds known to frequent the area. For a Seaside area bird checklist, you can visit www.ddesignor.com and print out your very own copy. You might want to bring a camera and perhaps a picnic lunch with a few extra crumbs to share with our seagull friends. It is also a good idea to dress appropriately and be prepared for unexpected weather.
Where to Go:
- The Cove - One of the most convenient locations for birdwatching is in “the Cove” in South Seaside. You can even observe shorebirds right from your car! This area can get rather busy during the summer months, and surfers are almost always present, but the variety of birds you can easily observe here is still excellent. Binoculars or a spotting scope are recommended for the best viewing. The nearby forests and marshland also give you the opportunity to see songbirds, woodpeckers, and many other species.
- Necanicum Estuary - Access the estuary trails from the North end of Seaside beach, the park behind the High School, or visit Gateway to Discovery off Hwy 101. Estuary access can also be found further North in Gearhart.
- Neawanna Natural History Park - On the East side of Hwy 101, take Ave. ‘S’ and turn South onto an unmarked paved road (park alongside the road). Behind the city shops is an area known as Neawanna Natural History Park. Numerous waterfowl and other birds & wildlife can be observed throughout the interconnected ponds and wetlands found in this quiet, little known area.
- Circle Creek - This area is accessible from the North Coast Land Conservancy Conservation Center at the very end of Rippet Road in South Seaside (click here for website). This large area between the Necanicum River and Tillamook Head is known as Circle Creek. Elk, as well as many species of birds, are frequent visitors to this area.
- South Jetty - The Columbia River south jetty, located in Fort Stevens State Park, is a popular destination for birdwatchers. Numerous species, including rare and unusual bird sightings are reported here every year.
- Haystack Rock - For those interesting in viewing the colorful Tufted Puffin, your best bet is to head to Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach between the months of April and August, when the birds can be seen nesting on the rock.
- Water Treatment Ponds, Cannon Beach - Numerous species of waterfowl congregate in this area. The ponds are located on the East end of 2nd street in Cannon Beach, adjacent to the RV parking area, and near the City Park and Visitors Center.
- Sea Lion Rocks - Part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, this offshore bird sanctuary is easily viewed from the complimentary binocular station at Ecola State Park.
- Chapman Point - In North Cannon Beach, and observable from Ecola State Park, is Chapman Point. The “Bird Rocks” around this area are known for supporting the largest colony of the penguin-like Common Murres (approximately 28,000). The nearby Ecola River Estuary provides further birdwatching opportunities.
There are several good tidepool exploring opportunities in and around Seaside. The best time to explore tidepools is at low tide, so first things first - check the local tide table. Plan your tidepool adventure about an hour before low tide, so that the ocean will be receding. At low tide, tidepools are formed amongst the rocks in "The Cove" at the South end of Seaside. The most accessible tidepools are located at the base of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach. However, the collection or removal of anything is prohibited and punishable by fine, as this area is designated as a Marine Garden. To preserve the wildlife that call this rock formation home and for your own safety, climbing on the rock past the designated signs is also prohibited.
When exploring tidepools visitors should tread carefully as there are life forms everywhere, and the rocks can be very slippery. It is also very important to always keep an eye on the ocean and never turn your back to it. Even when the tide is receding, "sneaker waves" will surge high up onto the beach and rocks.
Try to be patient when investigating tidepools. A pool that may appear lifeless at first glance will often reveal a multitude of activity when observed a little while longer. Common tidepool residents you are likely to see include hermit crabs, anemones, barnacles, mussles, fish (sculpin), chiton, and sea stars. If you pick up any creature to examine it, always be sure to put it back in exactly the same place as you found it since many of these animals are highly specialized and may die if placed in a slightly different area.
To learn more about tidepool creatures, visit the Seaside Aquarium, or visit the local bookstores to purchase tidepool guidebooks.
- Whale Watching
Grey whales migrate along the Oregon coast twice a year, during the winter and spring months. Approximately 30,000 whales travel past Seaside on their way to and from their Alaskan feeding grounds and the warmer waters of Baja, Mexico where they give birth. This incredible migration adds up to about 12,000 miles round trip! During the winter migration, which usually occurs around December and January, the whales cruise South at a steady pace of about 3-5 miles per hour. The spring migration lasts quite a while longer, generally beginning in March and lasting through June. During this migration, the whales with their newborn calves, tend to swim much closer to shore as they travel North towards their feeding grounds.
While whales can be spotted from the Cove, and even from the beach in Seaside, it's easier to spot them from a higher viewpoint. A favorite location for whale watching is atop Tillamook Head at Ecola State Park. You can get there by taking the Tillamook Head hiking trail, or you can drive South on Hwy 101 to the first Cannon Beach exit and take a right (following the signs to Ecola State Park). Another excellent location is from the Neahkahnie Mountain Viewpoint, South of Cannon Beach and just before Manzanita on Hwy 101. Driving South, you can't miss this viewpoint, it's incredible!
When spotting whales, it's easiest to look for their spout. When the whales surface to exhale, they release a whitish, misty puff that, on a calm day, can be easily seen with the naked eye. Once you've spotted your first whale, you can observe it more closely with a pair of binoculars, and chances are you will start to see more spouts & more whales. If you're lucky you might see a grey whale calf, or even a whale breach out of the water!
- Seals & Sea Lions
Harbor seals, elephant seals, and sea lions are sometimes spotted around Seaside. Hoardes of sea birds and fishermen in the Cove is usually a sign that there has been a population explosion of fish, and this is when you're more likely to see (and hear) the seals. For pictures of recent seal activity in the Cove, click here. Seals are also seen at Silver Point in Cannon Beach, where pups will sometimes lounge on the beach, wating for the mother seal to return from feeding. Sea Lions are a common sight to the North in Astoria, where they bask on the docks at the East Mooring Basin. It's important to remember never to approach a seal, as they can be quite dangerous if they feel threatened. If you are in Seaside, you can notify the Aquarium or the Police so that someone can make sure the animal is not harassed by anyone.
- Unusual Creatures
The waters off Seaside are also home to a large assortment of marine life, including numerous species of whales, sharks, fish and other creatures. We usually don't see most of these animals, but occasionally an animal will wash up on the beach. If you encounter and unusual animal washed up on the beach, contact the Seaside Aquarium. Even a dead animal can provide scientists with valuable information and research opportunities. For example, numerous reports of a species not normally found on the Oregon coast could prompt researchers to take a closer look at what might be the cause . . . and whether it is natural or the result of human actions.
The different natural environments within the Seaside area support a large and diverse range of animals. From the coastal rainforest atop Tillamook Head to the Necanicum Estuary and the coastal shoreline, there are numerous wildlife viewing opportunities. All of these locations also feature fantastic bird-watching (see above).
Roosevelt Elk, Black-tailed Deer, Raccoons, Rough-skinned Newts, Red-legged Frogs, Douglas Squirrels, and Townsend’s Chipmunks are just some of the animals you might encounter on any of the local hiking trails that take you through the spruce, hemlock and alder forests in the area. Check the Hiking page for details on the different hiking trails to choose from. For better viewing of the local Roosevelt Elk populations, there are scenic helicopter rides that can take you over their feeding grounds, or for a day trip you can visit the Jewell Meadows Wildlife Refuge where wintering Elk can be easily observed. The Jewell junction is located East of Seaside off Hwy 26.
The two rivers that flow through Seaside, the Necanicum and Neawanna, provide visitors with many wildlife viewing and recreational opportunities. Along with the always popular birdwatching, fishing, and crabbing activities, you can also tour the waterways on canoes, kayaks, or paddleboats (rentals available), or take a stroll along the Necanicum river-walk. The Necanicum Estuary can be accessed several ways. On South Holladay, behind Seaside High School, a parking lot and boardwalk provides easy access and viewing of the estuary. Access the estuary walking trail South of the 12th Avenue parking lot, or visit Gateway to Discovery, located just off Hwy 101 in North Seaside. This natural history center sits on 10 acres of estuary land, and knowledgeable staff are happy to answer questions and guide you on your exploration of Seaside’s rich and diverse natural wonders.