The Snail Pace

A black oystercatcher swallows the soft part of a snail it has extracted from its shell at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon

Life is precarious in tide pools. Mussels and barnacles that live too low on the rock surface are within reach of predatory starfish. Those too high are at risk of drying out while they wait for the rising tide. And in this case, the high spots also had just enough purchase for a black oystercatcher to walk along their perimeter, feeding as it went. But its target on this day was not the mussels and barnacles but the snails that feed on the algae on their shells, here it is about to swallow the soft part of a snail it has extracted from its shell.

The oppressive summer heat might be the biggest obstacle I had to overcome to be willing to move to the desert, but not far behind was saying goodbye to the coast (and in California, the nearby wetlands). I was rather taken with tide pools and the coast in general on visits to the redwoods in California and the rain forests in Washington and decided to make a concerted effort to visit the coast more often, which is why I was at the Oregon coast on this day in early October. A few weeks later I’d find out my team was getting laid off and thus started the process that would take me from the Northwest.

I changed the lock screen on my phone to this picture of a harbor seal as soon as moving to Arizona became a possibility, before it even became a strong possibility, to force myself to think repeatedly about whether I could really give up the coast. I decided I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the coast, and never would be, but I was ready to say hello to the desert. And to the desert I go.

A Small and Beautiful World

Mussels and barnacles live crowded together in a tide pool at Enderts Beach in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California

In this crowded space in a tide pool at Enderts Beach in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, goose barnacles fill the gaps left by California mussels while acorn barnacles attach directly to the mussels themselves. The snails and black limpets are a little more mobile but all have evolved some sort of hard enclosure to protect against drying out at times like these when the tide has receded, and also against the birds who prey upon them. They may not be able to evolve fast enough to survive their biggest enemy as we not only warm the oceans but acidify them too. But for the moment I will bear them witness, this beautiful little world that exists only in the narrowest strip up and down our coasts, halfway on land and halfway in water.

The Oystercatcher

A black oystercatcher stands on a rock covered with goose barnacles and California mussels in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

A black oystercatcher stands in what must feel like heaven to a bird that eats mollusks, a rock covered in goose barnacles and California mussels. When the tide comes in this rock will be underwater, something I still have trouble wrapping my head around. I love watching and listening to oystercatchers as they hunt in the tide pools so it was a special treat to get to photograph this one so completely in its element. After watching them at several places in California and Washington, I began to wonder why some of them had extra black spots next to the pupil of their wondrous orange-ringed yellow eyes, leading me to a paper that suggests you can fairly reliably determine whether the oystercatcher is male or female by these eye flecks. I suspect this one may be a male since it had only small specks next to its pupil, they were hard to see unless I zoomed in on the picture.

The 8:13 to Beaverton

A dense bed of mussels in a tide pool at Rialto Beach

Mussel beds are one of my favorite parts of tide pools, as a slightly-claustrophobic introvert they remind me of crowded trains. There are a couple of trains that I try to catch on my commute as for whatever reason they are usually fairly empty at my stops, when most trains are quite crowded, and arrive and leave work at convenient times. I got to my stop this morning just before the 8:13 to Beaverton and almost have the entire car to myself.

The mussels are covered in acorn barnacles with some limpets and snails along for the ride. I don’t know what type of snails they are, frilled dogwinkles? Eroded periwinkles? Wrinkled amphissas? I do know this: A+++ to whoever came up with snail names, I love you.

Here Comes the Tide

The incoming tide washes over starfish, anemones, and mussels

I had many thoughts as the ocean covered my feet as I photographed the incoming tide washing over the starfish, anemones, and mussels attached to this large rock. My first thought was that I need to get some tall waterproof boots (which reminds me, I need to get some tall waterproof boots). But mostly I was just amazed that any creatures could survive in this spot, sometimes in air, sometimes in water, and that I could stand in this spot for a hundred years and still not fully understand the little ecosystem right in front of me.