Preening pelicans are aplenty, along with sunning sea lions, on the Oregon Coast

Editor's Note: Part one of a visit to the Oregon Coast appeared here last Wednesday.

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Hundreds of migrating brown pelicans converge on Yaquina Head in October.

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Driftwood often dwarfs visitors to Oregon beaches.

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Green European beach grass lends color to a view of the fabled Yaquina Bay Bridge on a gloomy October morning.

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A sea lion strikes the pose of a serious thinker on an Old Town warf.

When Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I sat in the pickup, high above Newport's Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area tide pools, dozens of brown pelicans sailed overhead.

We heard rapid plop-plop-plops as their chalky droppings splatted the windshield, the hood, the top and the west side of the pickup.

"Ouch," I said. "Some welcome, huh?"

"Apparently," Darlene said.

A flock of the prehistoric-looking, graceful birds circled and sailed below the parking area toward a massive rock formation and awkwardly elbowed for spots to perch.

Preening pelicans already packed the rock like a honeybee swarm beneath the eaves of a barn.

They also swarmed along the rocky ridge jutting southward from the lighthouse.

"How many pelicans do we see?" Darlene asked.

"Maybe a thousand," I said, like wondering how many angels can dance on a pin head.

They seem to be there by the zillion in early October. We saw them for the first time in 2008. We saw them again this year, again more than we could count.

Over our five days in Newport, we visited the Yaquina natural area 10 times. We used our $10 lifetime Golden Age pass to 2,000 federal recreation areas, and I snapped pelican photos until my trigger finger cramped.

We followed routine.

Well, sometimes.

Darlene rose leisurely, made coffee and spread cream cheese on bagels while Nora took me and a plastic bag for her morning toilet and ramble on the beach.

We trekked south along the tide line to the Yaquina Bay jetty to watch boats heading out to sea and to photograph shore birds and the famous bridge across the bay.

We returned across the grassy dunes.

Or we trekked north to tide pools and Nye Beach.

We usually saw one or two other early beach combers or dog walkers. One man tossed tennis balls that his dog leaped high to catch.

Once we watched a child in pink-striped shirt, socks and shoes shovel sand into a yellow plastic bucket and pour it out. Time after time.

After dining with Darlene, she shopped at Lincoln City or the kite store. We checked out the sites along the Old Town wharfs, especially the congregations of sea lions near the Undersea Gardens.

I counted 15 of them absorbing misty Oregon sunshine in and around a cage designed to allow the capture and treatment of the injured.

Another clutch of 10-20 barked, stretched and lounged on a rock island nearby in the bay.

Once, after visiting the Oregon Coast Aquarium, we checked the pelicans at Seal Rock State Park, 20 minutes to the south. Nora and I walked the short trails and saw another gaggle of sailing and preening pelicans.

We strolled at Agate and Fogarty beaches. We watched the kite fliers and crashing waves.

We made one or three daily trips a day to Yaquina Head.

Rules prohibited Nora from visiting the lighthouse overlook, which provided the best view of the big birds as they cleaned their feathers, soared overhead or between the cliffs, inches above the roiling surf.

I carried my tripod out there and spent an hour at a time snapping photos while Darlene entertained Nora.

Or vice-versa.

To mollify Nora, perhaps, she walked me down the wooden stairs to the tide pools.

And she led up the switchback trail to a wide panoramic view above the lighthouse, which enhanced the meaning for "outstanding" in the "Outstanding Natural Area."

The head stands tall and stretches a mile into the ocean, making it an "outstanding" feature.

Added to that, the lava that formed the head flowed from ancient volcanoes in the Oregon-Idaho border area.

An informative sign explained how gravel used for building Highway 101 came from quarries on Yaquina Head, blasted out over a 66-year period from 1917 to 1983.

Anyway, the head eventually became the Bureau of Land Management's Outstanding Nature Area, which provides an opportunity to observe pelicans in October.

The pelicans may be scarce, but the Golden Age pass also works like a charm in April.

Editor's Note: Part three of the October trip to the Oregon Coast and the Oregon Coast Aquarium will appear here next Wednesday.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com

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