Everyone loves seeing a Puffin! It’s like a common mainstay question of conversation for tourists and locals alike. Have you seen a Puffin yet?
The Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) is available to help bring the answer of YES, to fruition for this question of visitors, tourists, students and even curious locals. Showing up in front of ‘The Rock’ nearly every day in their usual big red truck HRAP provides education gear, telescopes and extra sets of binoculars so everyone can get their own first glimpse, or a second, of these nesting birds.
Haystack Rock is an iconic landmark holding anchor in the Pacific Northwest. Cannon Beach is home to this monolithic figure standing at 235 feet tall. As the tides come and go with water and with people, Haystack Rock sees its fair share of visitors every year with numbers close to 1,000,000 and increasing. HRAP estimates having direct contact in front of ‘The Rock’ with nearly 80,000-100,000 of these people passing through.
Visitors to Cannon Beach can see Haystack Rock from Highway 101 winding into the first turns and twists at the North end of town. ‘The Rock’ is visible nearly from any angle on the beach and houses birds ranging from Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, and Tufted Puffins.
The Puffins are what most people come to see as their rare stock of white and bright orange beaks contrast their dark black feathers. Puffins are easy to spot during April to June and mostly rest on the North facing slopes.
“I saw a Puffin today!” is due largely in part to the great work set out by Karen & Neal Maine who started ‘The Puffin Club’ back in 1983-4. The club grew with Karen’s energy out of a sure tenacity to help educate the public about these nesting Tufted Puffins scaling Haystack Rock’s edges every year. Largely propelled by friends, volunteers and donations the Maine’s pressed on and by 1985 the City of Cannon Beach incorporated the group into today’s known name of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program.
The Maine’s were largely instrumental in getting people to be involved and hands-on with the program and ‘The Rock’. As the two teachers turned their passions into a pursuit the program kept growing beyond visions of their imagination.
Today the Haystack Rock Awareness Program annually houses 100-150 volunteers. 40% of which come from the Portland Metro area, 30% are coastal locals, with the rest scattered throughout the U.S. from places like Seattle or even just simple travelers passing through.
Why so much effort to help educate Cannon Beach’s visitors about our dear Haystack Rock? Because it’s a living eco-system. Or, as HRAP Program Coordinator Melissa Keyser would say, “It’s a marine garden that becomes completely covered in water.”
Every day, high tide, low tide, twice a day for each. You need to either be lucky or smart enough to read timetables to even see the full abundance of wildlife that can be found on or around Haystack Rock. For viewing purposes, low tide is the best. Check with local timetables for current calculations of what times of day this occurs.
When visiting Haystack Rock it’s important to respect the wildlife. Volunteers from HRAP are available from February through October (actual schedule) to help educate guests with knowledge about the area. “The rocks are actually covered in live animals; anemones, titans, and barnacles,” shares Keyser adding, “they don’t have eyes or faces but it’s still an animal.”
Back in 1985, the Tufted Puffin population at Haystack Rock soared in the 1,000’s. Over the last 10-20 years, this number has significantly decreased into the 100’s. With an estimate of 50 puffins returning in the last couple years and about only 30 nesting in 2017. While this number has drastically declined, Haystack Rock is still the largest population of Tufted Puffins in the Pacific Northwest!
As most visitors just want to see a Puffin it is hard to escape the glaring truth of these numbers. There aren’t as many to see. Now the question is often asked, ‘Where did the Puffins go?’ The easiest answer for HRAP is to just share the actual scientific data of the decline.
While science states the facts, volunteers of HRAP look at their role as educators to “teach and give people tools so they can form their own opinions” continues Keyser.
No political views or agenda’s going on here. Just a display of the truth of the reality existing at Haystack Rock for decades now. The puffin population is decreasing because oceanic water levels are warming and becoming more acidic. That means less fish for puffins to eat and thrive on. Which means fewer puffins.
Things change and it’s important for people to embrace change in the best way they can. HRAP believes in this scientific data as knowledge. This is why they are committed to providing this unbiased knowledge and awareness of the environment that surrounds people when they visit Haystack Rock.
Cannon Beach is beautiful because of the beach, and the rock, and the ocean and all of the nature that surrounds it. Cannon Beach does not exist without this interactive awareness that we are intertwined with nature as much as nature is intertwined with us. HRAP continues to share a light-hearted message about this awareness.
Nature has a profound effect on us. It is beautiful, invigorating, lively and vibrantly mysterious. We also have an impact on nature and it is up to us, each in our own unique way, to decide what to do with it. Because, “Yes! I have seen a puffin!” and it would be great for you and your family to enjoy a sight of this majestic creature someday as well.