Posted tagged ‘shi shi beach’

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Crab Chaos and Human Creativity

July 28, 2011

The coil

Nature is rarely orderly and tidy–and to a naturalist, that is part of its charm. On the other hand, an artist can sometimes use natural materials to bring order to that chaos, with marvelous results.

As we walked down sandy Shi Shi Beach among the beached seaweed, swarming sand fleas, a dead and stinking sea lion, and a zillion crab carcasses, two National Park Service rangers greeted us.

Crab parts on the Shi Shi Beach, with the dramatic sea stacks of Point of Arches in the distance

One said “Everyone is asking about all the crabs along the beach. They aren’t actually dead bodies; they are the molted shells of crabs that have outgrown their old bodies and discarded them.”

Dungeness Crab parts rolling in and out with the waves 

So it wasn’t mass suicide or a toxic oil spill or global warming that killed a million crabs. In fact, it was just an ordinary yearly molt that we were privileged to see, and the crabs of the deep were still alive and enjoying a growth spurt as they muscled their way out of their old exoskeletons and ate their way into new and larger clothes. Meanwhile, the discarded crab parts moved gently in and out with the waves in a spectacular jumble that left every beach visitor wondering–until they learned the truth,

I had thought about putting a few of these crab carapaces into an arrangement to photograph, but someone with grander ambitions and more time beat me to the punch. On our way back up the beach, we encountered a spiral of crab backs (known as “carapaces”) that looked at first like a giant ship’s rope that someone had neatly coiled. When I walked up to it, I stared in utter amazement and surprise at the fleeting work of art that someone had created. Executed with technical perfection and a fine artistic vision, the crab spiral celebrated nature, yet it did so within the very human needs for order and art. Line, texture, and repetition of forms were among the artistic elements employed. The crab spiral was an ephemeral masterpiece by an unknown artist!

The crab spiral as we found it, left by an unknown artist

Detail of the arrangement of crab carapaces

It would have taken the artist hours and hours of exacting work to create this ephemeral work; notice how uniform the crab backs are in size and shape

The setting, with Point of Arches distant

Karen Rentz repeated this backpacking trip two weeks later, and found that the Crab Spiral was no more. High tides had claimed it. Nature’s love of chaos beat back the human need for order, but I got the photographs that illustrate what the human imagination is capable of, even on a remote wilderness beach.

For those interested in the intersection of nature and art, the acknowledged master is artist Andy Goldsworthy. You can see an excellent selection of his work at Andy Goldsworthy.

With the careful placement of these barnacles growing naturally on a molted crab shell, nature looks to be playing the trickster!

Shi Shi Beach is a wilderness beach within Olympic National Park. It stretches over two miles in a gentle, sandy crescent, ending at the dramatic rocky sea stacks and arches of Point of Arches. We backpacked along the beach, and on this Fourth of July weekend we guess that there were 60 tents sharing the beach and the adjacent forest. Hikers need to be aware of the tides, which can have an amplitude of over ten feet and can affect hiking and tide pool exploration schedules at Point of Arches. Hard-sided food containers are required for backpackers (to keep away marauding Raccoons), as is a wilderness permit from the National Park Service and a recreational permit from the Makah Indian Reservation. Parking for backpackers is $10 per day at a private residence near the trailhead.For more information about Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, go to Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

SHI SHI BEACH: The Peregrine and the Pirate

July 25, 2011

Bald Eagle turning in flight to make a raid on a Peregrine Falcon’s kill

When humans don’t behave by human standards, we call it criminal. When wildlife doesn’t behave according to human standards, we call it fascinating–especially when the behavior involves two iconic species once categorized as endangered. The wild piracy portrayed here occurred on Shi Shi Beach along the Pacific Ocean, in Olympic National Park.

Nervous gulls take to the air from their resting and bathing site at the mouth of Willoughby Creek along Shi Shi Beach

As we crossed Willoughby Creek along the sandy shores of Shi Shi Beach, vacationing biologist Mike Layes greeted us and pointed out a Peregrine Falcon about 100 feet away, perched atop a dead gull on the beach. Mike had been camping, and said he had seen the falcon make several kills where the stream meets the Pacific Ocean.The falcon looked briefly at us, then resumed plucking bright white feathers from the gull it had just killed.

Peregrine Falcon feeding on gull

The mouth of Willoughby Creek is a gathering place for gulls, who drink from and bathe in its waters and seek protection in numbers of its own kind. In fact, when we were hiking down the beach, looking for a place we could get water, I had mentioned to Karen that the gathering of gulls ahead looked like it could be at a source of fresh water. Turned out, it was.

Gulls gathered at the mouth of Willoughby Creek

The gathering of gulls didn’t provide safety in numbers in this instance. Mike said the falcon dove fast and hard on the gulls, scattering them and giving it an opportunity to take one down. The strange thing was, once the falcon began defeathering and devouring the dead gull, other gulls landed and settled back into their routines–just twenty five feet away! Maybe they figured that the victim had it coming. More likely, they had seen it all before and figured they were safe as long as the predator was occupied with lunch.

Peregrine with a gull feather in its beak

The falcon sees the Bald Eagle targeting his prey

The falcon dug into its meal, holding down the carcass with its talons as it tugged on the meat. Suddenly it became alert and looked south. In the distance, from the sea stacks of Point of Arches, we saw a distant Bald Eagle heading straight toward us. The falcon instantly took to the air, like a fighter pilot taking off to intercept an enemy bomber. The eagle closed the distance quickly, and withstood the missiles of hate that the falcon aimed its way. Then the eagle wheeled in the sky above us, and descended toward the falcon’s gull carcass. It missed the first time, but on the second swoop it adeptly grabbed the carcass in its talons, on the fly, and began slowly gaining altitude. We watched as the enraged Peregrine Falcon buzzed it with all the skill of a Top Gun. Alas, all to no avail as the eagle flew with its pirated treasure back to the sea stacks at Point of Arches.

Bald Eagle with its eyes fixed on the falcon’s prey

Bald Eagle with dead gull in its talons, being buzzed by an angry Peregrine Falcon

During his day on the beach, the biologist had seen this battle scenario repeated three times. We went back the next day and the next, and sat and waited for another display of aerial combat. Alas, it was not to be. Apparently the falcon decided that three strikes and he was out.

You can view a video of the event on YouTube at: The Peregrine and the Pirate.

Peregrine Falcon headed back to the sea stacks at Point of Arches

We did see the falcon once more; it came to quietly drink from Willoughby Creek, high on the beach, as we and others watched it from about 100 feet away.

We saw Brown Pelicans and Black Oystercatchers along the shore, and Wilson’s Warblers and a Hermit Thrush in our campsite, but the alpha experience was watching a professional pirate at work, skillfully turning the falcon’s ability to hunt to its own advantage. Arrrgggh!

Feathers plucked from the gull by the Peregrine Falcon, now floating at the edge of Willoughby Creek

Shi Shi Beach is a wilderness beach within Olympic National Park. It stretches over two miles in a gentle, sandy crescent, ending at the dramatic rocky sea stacks and arches of Point of Arches. We backpacked along the beach, and on this Fourth of July weekend we guessed that there were 60 tents sharing the beach and the adjacent forest. Hikers need to be aware of the tides, which can have an amplitude of over ten feet and can affect hiking and tide pool exploration schedules at Point of Arches. Hard-sided food containers are required for backpackers (to keep away marauding Raccoons), as is a wilderness permit from the National Park Service and a recreational permit from the Makah Indian Reservation. Parking for backpackers is $10 per day at a private residence near the trailhead. For more information about Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, go to Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach.


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