Washaway Beach and Willapa Bay


Willapa Bay

WA coast-Willapa Bay

Long before the Columbia River was tamed by dams and jetties, a long sand spit formed north of the Columbia’s mouth.  The sand spit grew until it partially enclosed the estuaries of several small rivers.  Today, that sand spit is called the Long Beach Peninsula.  The estuary on the inland side of that sand spit is Willapa Bay.  At over 260 square miles of water surface, it is the second largest estuary on the west coast (San Francisco Bay is the largest).  Willapa Bay is also one of the most pristine estuaries in the U.S.

Ledbetter point at the northernmost tip of the Longbeach Peninsula.
Cape Shoalwater at the northern flank of Willapa Bay.

 

Over 100 years ago, there were two tidal channels in Willapa Bay. Shoals dotted the area in between Leadbetter Point and Cape Shoalwater.
By 1911, one deep tidal channel had carved into Cape Shoalwater, causing rapid erosion. Large shoals had formed off the end of Leadbetter Point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since Willapa Bay is fairly shallow, half of the volume of water inside it enters and leaves with every tide and creates a dynamic ecosystem that includes mud tidal flats and salt marshes.  These, in turn support vast beds of eel grass and shellfish.  And during the spring migration over 100,000 shorebirds stop here to eat and rest before continuing their journey north.  Additionally, there is a large year-round bird population.

A hundred years ago, the community of North Cove was on Cape Shoalwater.  Since 1911, the shore has eroded 100-150 feet per year.  During the 1920s, over 30 homes were claimed by erosion or relocated. In the years that followed, erosion destroyed a lighthouse, a life-saving station, a clam cannery, a school, and a Grange Hall. Erosion also forced the relocation of a cemetery and State Highway 105. In recent decades, erosion has destroyed 20 homes, private property, and part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.  In 1976-77, the pioneer cemetery and Washington highway 105 were threatened with erosion and moved to their present location.  In 1995, WA-105 was again threatened by erosion and the Washington State Department of Transportation constructed a $27 million submerged groin and beach fill to protect area cranberry bogs as well as the highway.

During my exploration of Washaway Beach and Cape Shoalwater on August 21, I found two homes on the short stretch of what is left of old Highway 105.  Since my return home, I discovered that one of the residents has a photo journal of Washaway Beach here on WordPress at http://washawaybeachthisweek.wordpress.com/ with much more detail than I was able to manage.

Going, going, almost gone
Notice the red rooftop of an abandoned building, on an angle because of continuing erosion.
North Cove Pioneer Cemetery
Inscriptions from a few of the gravestones that were visible in the fenced-off pioneer cemetery. If not for the sign, visible from the highway, I would not have known the cemetery was there.
Washaway Beach
Some of the rock work done by the Washington State Dept. of Transportation is visible in the lower left portion of this photo. The view is looking inland across Willapa Bay.
Having already moved highway WA-105 once, the state of Washington is doing all it can to prevent the current route from being washed away at Washaway Beach.
Having already moved highway WA-105 once, the state of Washington is doing all it can to prevent the current route from being washed away at Washaway Beach.

In a way, it is fascinating to see the power of Nature.  From another perspective, it was sobering to realize the forces that are continually at work here, reshaping the shoreline, destroying wildlife habitat as well as homes.  I find it remarkable that there hasn’t been a program on PBS or the Discovery Channel; there is so much here to explore and learn about.

I came to Willapa Bay on my way to Westport to buy fresh albacore.  I chose this route to learn more about Washaway Beach.  I did learn quite a bit along the way and had the added bonus of seeing lots and lots of birds.  My only frustration was the lack of places to pull safely off the road to get a closer look.

Segregation?
On this Shoalwater Bay sandspit, all the black birds were on one side and the white ones on the other.
So many shorebirds at rest and so many more constantly on the move.
So many shorebirds at rest and so many more constantly on the move.
A crow stopped to look at me while I was photographing Highway 105 and Washaway Beach, so of course, I had to look back at him.
A crow stopped to look at me while I was photographing Highway 105 and Washaway Beach, so of course, I had to look back at him.
It was difficult shooting into the sun, but then I realized this would be perfect in Black-and-White.
It was difficult shooting into the sun, but then I realized this would be perfect in Black-and-White.
Heron and Grazing Ducks
A great blue heron and who knows what kind of ducks, since they were mostly “bottoms up”.
This Canada Goose appeared to want the others to notice those beautiful wings.
This Canada Goose appeared to want the others to notice those beautiful wings.
Willet
I first thought this was a Wandering Tattler, but then a more experienced birder identified it as a Willet. Seen at Tokeland Marina.
At Tokeland Marina, it seemed to me this great blue heron paused just so I could snap his picture, so of course, I obliged.

 

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willapa_Bay

http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=13552

http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/coast/erosion/washaway.html

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9 thoughts on “Washaway Beach and Willapa Bay

    1. From what I have learned, the lack of sediment coming from the Columbia is causing a reduction in sand halfway up the Washington coast. The effect would seem to be similar to the loss of the Mississippi Delta because of all the dikes and levees that prevent that river from picking up sediment during flood times.

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  1. Although I am a firm believer in rising sea levels I have noticed in other places such as Ocean Beach in San Francisco how man made structures also contribute to reduction in sand along coastal areas. I think the sea wall along the northern stretch of Ocean Beach has helped accelerate the the loss along the southern end.

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    1. I agree with you, Mike. Humanity has caused more than just global warming and the resultant rising sea levels. We mess up currents and tidal flows in so many places and then wonder why beaches and deltas and natural wetlands are vanishing.

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  2. This area of the coast is really interesting, and a real magnet for birders. I go down there several times a year, sometimes alone and sometimes with a group on a field trip. We usually end up in Tokeland, where there is a pier and many structures visible from around the harbor/marina from which to observe the birds. And speaking of birds, the really dark gulls are Heermann’s Gulls (mostly kids), and I think your Wandering Tattler is instead an even “better” bird, a Willet, as tattlers tend to stay on the rocks while willets wade. Good info on the history of Washaway…I have watched that very action over the last 12 years, but more from the beach side than the road. I have a really healthy respect for the power of Pacific storms!

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    1. Thank you for solving a couple of bird mysteries for me! I saw a Wandering Tattler posted in the Flickr group, Birds of Washington and thought that looked similar to my bird. Now that you have pointed me in the direction of Willet, I agree with you. And I had no clue what sort of gull those black ones were on the sand spit.

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