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Cape Meares

Category: General Article

Back to Three Capes Scenic Drive

GPS Coordinates: 45.485936, -123.974233

The northernmost stop along the Three Capes Scenic Drive, Cape Meares is a favorite place for both bird- and whale-watchers. Overlooks along the cape allow you to enjoy the dizzying heights where seabirds flock by the thousands. Depending on the time of year, you may find large groups of bird enthusiasts as well clustered on the viewing platforms with high-powered telescopes and cameras.

Birds Everywhere!

As you stroll along the edge of the cape, make sure you listen to the wilderness around you. Chances are you’ll hear more birds than you see, especially during the Spring when many species return to the Oregon coast to mate. Being able to identify different birdsongs is a great tool when you’re wildlife spotting. The descriptions of three common bird calls heard around the cape are described below. Can you hear them?

Rufous-Sided Towhee: A tri-colored bird with a black upper body, rust-colored wings and white belly. Its song consists of a single, screech-like note.

Pacific Wren: A small, rust-colored bird with a ball-shaped body. It produces a long, very complex song usually at a very loud volume.

Hermit Thrush: A small bird with olive brown coloring, a rust-colored tails and a speckled breast. Its song usually begins with a single sustained whistle, followed by numerous, quick syllables.

Common Murre: The cape’s most abundant sea bird is often mistaken for a penguin due to its black-and-white tuxedo coloring. Their calls are often compared to laughter and are generally very loud.

Peregrine Falcon: These predatory birds are often on the cape feeding on smaller species. Their calls are a series of rapid bleats, sounding similar to machine-gun fire.

Bald Eagle: Like the falcon, the Bald Eagle may venture out to the cape in search of food, especially the Common Murres. The eagle’s call is varied and may include sounds similar to grunts, croaks and burps.

Related Information: Wildlife Spotting

A Tree-Dwelling Seabird

While most visitors thrill to the sight of Common Murres and other species nesting, diving and soaring around the rocky heights of Cape Meares, this area is also home to a tree-dwelling seabird called the Marbled Murrelet. In a unique adaptation for a seabird, the Murrelet builds its nest in the mossy branches of old growth forest, sometimes as far inland as fifty miles (80 km). This can make it difficult for parents who need to feed hungry chicks, as they have to fly back to the coast to hunt fish and invertebrates. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this bird has such strange nesting habits. Maybe it’s to reduce competition for the limited nesting areas on the coastal cliffs and islands? Maybe it’s a way to avoid common coastal predators like Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons that feast on seabirds? Regardless, if you’re looking for a Marbeled Murrelet at Cape Meares, you’ll need to start at the edge of the forest.

The Shortest Lighthouse

The lighthouse here is unique for two major reasons: its height and its lens. The shortest lighthouse on the Oregon Coast, it measures only 38 feet (11.6 m) tall and is shaped more like a bucket than the slender cylinder you’d expect. Because it was built on a high cliff – 217 feet (66 m) above the water – there was no need for a tall tower. Its short stature means you get a great look at the lighthouse’s intricate Fresnel lens from the footpath just above the tower.

If you pause to examine this huge light, you’ll notice that its shaped like a beehive and is partially constructed of dark red glass. The outer surface of the lens is covered with tiny prisms that focus the light so it can be seen further out to sea. Four of the lens’s eight sides are covered in red glass so that this light beam will alternate in color between red and white. This unique flashing pattern was known as a “signature” and allowed ship captains to immediately identify this particular lighthouse.

The Cape Meares light was so powerful it was called a “light of the first order” and it took three men to constantly polish and maintain it. As impressive as the light was, however, new technology made it obsolete by the early 1960s. Still, it’s an impressive piece of technology and one that you can easily visit.

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