Dinner is Served

Thousands of seabirds ebb and flow with the tide to dine en masse on a delicacy

Where herring go to spawn, seabirds love to follow.

Each spring local naturalists keep a sharp eye peeled for signs of herring entering Yaquina Bay to spawn. Timing, duration, location and other circumstances vary each year, but when the spawn in on, it’s a spectacle to behold. I have no idea who tells the seabirds, but they’re never late to the feast.

Some years the menu includes both spawning fish, and their eggs. But this spring (2019), the major portion of the spawn evidently occurred at night. By sun-up a large swath of water near the north jetty was turned milky white from the spawn, but the fish had largely departed, depriving local sea lions of a meal, and photographers of the marine-mammal-mayhem that often accompanies this event. Nonetheless, untold numbers of seagulls turned the north shoreline white, while several thousand surf scoters (most prominent among other species of diving ducks) focused on the south jetty, working hard to harvest the fresh herring eggs.

The scoters largely work in unison, performing a fluid ballet of sorts as they cycle in ever-changing formations around and around the near-shore shallows, where they dive in waves to reach the herring eggs. The phenomenon typically continues over a span of days, and manifests in different ways in different years, but this clip repeated thousands of times is fairly representative. Especially impressive to me is how the scoters maintain formation and dive in orderly sequence behind the line directly in front of them, with hundreds of birds disappearing under the water in one place, then reappearing in another.

As noted the annual event serves as a visual feast for photographers as well — to view a longer sequence showing much more of the fascinating phenomenon, CLICK HERE. But as a “quick take” for those in a hurry, the short clip above provides a good overview of the amazing choreography surf scoters and other seabirds present in bays and inlets along Nature’s Coast every year.

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