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2019-08-09 Brookings and the Smith River Mouth

Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla
Beachcombers at the mouth of the Smith River in Northern California near the border with Oregon.

On this Friday I drove from Medford Oregon to Brookings Oregon southwest along US-199 into California and then north on US-101 back into Oregon. US-199 starts in the Rogue Valley in Grants Pass Oregon and reaches the northern coast of California near Crescent City. The drive takes its travellers down the Smith River through a stunning hard rock canyon that spills into the tall redwoods of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It would be sinful to race this narrow winding road as much as it would be dangerous, for this corridor should be savored, not gulped like so much fast food.

My mission this day was to visit old friends I’d known since the middle 1960s when we attended school together in southern California. Steve and Jeanne settled in Brookings 16 years ago and it had been a very long while since I’d been able to spend time with them. There were projects and commitments on their calendars for the earlier portions of the day, and it gave me time to visit a couple of promising coastal locations on my drive from Crescent City to Brookings.

My first stop was at the mouth of the Smith River; that same waterway that carved its way down the Siskiyou Mountains and created the incredible gorge I followed on US-199. Here fresh waters drifted into the ocean and gave refuge to Harbor Seals, cormorants, gulls and the occasional oystercatcher. I carried my camera gear to the rocky shore and enjoyed those birds bold enough to approach me. On this day it was “peeps”; specifically Least Sandpipers.

When I left the Smith River I continued north to Brookings and explored the harbor area and the channel for the Chetco River where I found a wealth of tourists and campers, but not a wide selections of birds. Western Gulls were present in good numbers, including juveniles, but not much else. A Common Murre swam downstream on the river, but it stayed to the far side of the waterway, beyond good image range. I thought I saw a Pigeon Guillemot off the end of the south jetty, so I gathered my gear and climbed precariously over the large boulders and rip-rap. It took me twenty minutes to reach the end of the jetty and when I arrived, what ever bird I saw in the distance was gone. <sigh>

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