The Columbia River Estuary
Recently I heard a story on the radio that mentioned the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary on the Oregon side of the Columbia near its mouth. I remembered that I had gone there last summer because it was listed in some guide as a Lewis and Clark interpretive site. I also recalled that I had taken some pictures but had not yet posted them here.
A viewing platform and interpretive signs about wildlife and Lewis and Clark at this sanctuary a few miles east of Astoria.
The mouth of the Columbia is about four miles wide, with numerous bays and treacherous sandbars posing a challenge to all who would travel in and out of the river or even past it while sailing up and down the coast. Today, the big ships still need a bar pilot to come aboard on either side of the river's mouth to guide the vessels safely through. Astoria, Oregon, has a working waterfront with a bar pilots station, and one time my daughter and I were lucky enough to see one of the pilot boats swing alongside a huge ocean liner and two men climb up and down the flexible ladder hanging over the ship's side. The man climbing down would have been the bar pilot who had just helped the vessel enter the river, and the man climbing up was the river pilot who would help the ship continue up the Columbia to the various ports of call, perhaps as far as Portland itself.
For ships heading out to sea, the river pilot climbs down and the bar pilot takes his place (or hers--I don't know if any women do this). The big ships keep moving while all this happens--they're more stable moving than at anchor--but it's always a dangerous feat. Recently, one of the pilots fell from the ladder and was killed.
An estuary is the tidal region of a river that meets the sea, where fresh and salt water blends and creates a rich and varied ecosystem. The Columbia's estuary, which extends many miles upstream, is unfortunately a mere shadow of its former self in terms of the abundance of wildlife. Lewis and Clark wrote about being kept awake at night by the cacophony of geese, ducks, terns, and other waterfowl, and it was near this area that they saw a condor, which has been extinct this far north for a long time. The great salmon runs are, as most people know, seriously imperiled.
Example of an interpretive sign about the expedition and this stretch of the river. Notice the coonskin cap and fringed buckskins fashions. The sign features the famous description and drawing of what we now know was a California condor.
The view of part of the Columbia's estuary from the eagle sanctuary observation platform, looking northwest toward Washington state. This section of the river with its many islands, marshlands, and mudflats is now the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge.
The bald eagles here and elsewhere have made an inspiring comeback, thanks in part to places like the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary. Unfortunately, we still don't know the lasting fate of other endangered varieties of wildlife, like the California condor.
[Photos by K. Dahl, copyrght 2007.]