a trip to the olympic peninsula, part two: eagles, sea lions and starfish

Have you ever had the chance to watch more than 40 bald eagles in their natural habitat less than 50 feet away? Neither had I, until we visited Neah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula.

We got up early to drive from Lake Crescent to Cape Flattery, the most northwest point of the U.S. This turned out to take three hours — the Peninsula isn’t huge, but because most of it is covered in national parks and forests, there isn’t an incredibly direct route. Cape Flattery, part of the Makah Nation, is home to water an astounding shade of blue and sea caves that echo the bellows of sea lions. After walking the trails along the tops of the rocks, we decided to find a walkable beach.

We ended up a few minutes away on Hobuck Beach. Though guidebooks tell us that Hobuck is popular with surfers, around 3 in the afternoon the beach was utterly deserted. It was low tide, so we spent a good hour wandering about exploring the tide pools. Never had we seen so many fat, colorful starfish, mint-green sea anemones, and enormous rocks literally jammed with mussels. Click to the link to see where we watched dozens of eagles have their evening meal!

With a long drive ahead, we started back toward Lake Crescent by way of Neah Bay, also part of Makah Nation. We spotted a bald eagle in the sky and pointed it out to our guests. Then we spotted another. And another.

We pulled the car over to the bay, and were stunned at what we saw — literally dozens of adult and juvenile eagles were descending to the beach, exchanging eerie, high-pitched calls, and more were heading in from the nearby hills. A local filled us in: the fishermen put out parts of their catch in the morning and afternoon (We arrived between 4 and 4:30 p.m.) and the birds descend to feast. Whether this is environmentally correct is debatable, but it was undeniably amazing to watch — and hear — 40+ eagles tear at fish on the bay and dive into nearby waters to grab more.

After watching this for a long time, we made our way over to the docks where two sea lions were thrashing about in the water. A fisherman encouraged us to walk further down one of the docks “if you really want to sea something!” So we did, and watched for awhile as fishermen cleaned out the days’ catch and would occasionally hold out a large chunk of fish for the sea lions to grab.

We finally tore ourselves away from this scene, knowing we had a bit of a drive to get home. That three hours each way? Worth every minute. –Mary T.

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