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Low Tide Walk: Wildcat Cove, Aug 19 2020

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

For the last good daytime low tide of the year, I had booked off three days to explore different low tide locations. The first, Bainbridge Ferry Terminal, was a familiar location where I was certain to see a wide array of creatures. For the second day I chose a location unfamiliar to me, thinking that if it was a bust I would still have one good day of lookings left. Looking at a map, I determined that Larabee State Park in Bellingham would be a promising spot to try a low tide adventure based on photos of the beach others had posted online. The rock formations at an area labelled "Wildcat Cove" looked most promising. For this adventure, I had my adventure associate Amanda along with me.

The lowest tide wouldn't be until 11:30 ish so we headed to Oyster Dome, a nearby hike, first at around 7:30 am. It was a relatively quick jaunt and we were able to complete the hike and get over to Larabee State Park a little after 10 am. We parked at the first park entrance on the right as you are heading south on Chukanut Drive, where Google maps indicates the "Band Shell" is located. The trail down to the beach was well marked it the walk took maybe five minutes.

Amanda at Wildcat Cove

When we got down to the beach we assessed the landscape and picked a direction to explore. The beach was fairly busy with a couple groups of children playing in several areas. There are intriguing sections of rock to explore both on the north and south sides of the beach. We opted to go the southern route as there was already a large group of kids stomping through the northern side. We were alone in our spot.

The rocky landscape we explored was in itself quite fascinating with intricate patterns worn into the formation either through wind or water. Ochre stars and painted anemones proliferated throughout the rocks and were quite easy to find. Peering into the gaps between rocks provided small glimpses into alien worlds. Much of the rocky surfaces were covered with tunicate colonies in yellow, white and pink. The rocks in this area jut out a ways into the Sound. We explored the northern side of this feature first. This part forming the southern edge of the cove was covered in seaweed and had plenty of spots of sand and moisture.

Heading around the rocky formation we walked upon parts of exposed rock that would normally be underwater. There was plenty of life hiding out in the cracks of the rock formation, but equally as interesting was the marine life that was visible in the water below. Where the rocks dropped off, the water was very clear and we could easily see the bull kelp forest below. There were numerous live crabs in the water, however they were difficult to photograph. Stars and anemones were also visible, but often far away as they clung to rocks well below the surface. While we were on this rocky jut Amanda noticed a small ferret-like creature among the rocks, which we later identified as a stoat. We sighted him a few more times during our lookings. He seemed quite unperturbed by us, more intent on finding a low tide snack!

Dividing leather star

In this area I found something unusual that I hadn't encountered before- a leather star that appeared to be in the process of dividing itself in half! It looked as though this process might have been triggered by an injury. The star had five arms but there was an obvious spot where a six arm had existed. I found the discarded limb in the seaweed near the star. I am not sure the series of events that happened to this little leather star, but the formation of a second anus (take a close look at the photo!) leads me to believe that it was attempting to break off into a clone of itself. I did not want to further distress the creature and as such I left him alone!

Carrying further along the rocky outcropping, the beach below falls away as you round the corner. The erosion patterns in the rocky become more elaborate, leaving plenty of pockets for water to collect and create tide pools. It was worth scrambling along the rocks away from the beach to see these little protected areas. We were alone here despite the crowds on the beach, except for our stoat friend and a few people lingering on the trail above us. I must have been on a shiny-orange-tunicate-finding-streak as I found a little one hidden in the rocks. There were a few anemones in the tide pools and clinging to seaweed that I still need to identify. They were unlike anemones I have seen before in Puget Sound, though might just be a different form of one I am familiar with.

It was almost noon and past low tide when we had exhausted our exploring efforts on this rocky outcropping on the south side of the beach. I was optimistic that the northern side would be child-free at this point. Alas it was still fairly crowded, but we decided to brave a cursory lookings of this side. The northern side appeared to be more seaweed covered than the rocky outcroppings to the south. There were numerous dense patches of ochre stars but not a whole lot else that we could easily see, though admittedly we didn't look deeply as we were put off by the crowds. I imagine that the northern part of the beach is less hospitable to organisms due to the high amount of foot traffic that seems to come through this area during low tide. We left shortly after a brief exploration of this side.

I would be tempted to return to this spot, but I will want to wait until non-Covid times (if that ever happens). I assume that there are more people here than would normally be, as that has been the case with many of my usual haunts. Next time I would like to return with a kayak. There is a small rocky island formation very close by the shore that is only accessible by boat. While we were exploring the cove we watched a mother and child easily paddle over to the island. There is probably all sorts of interesting organisms worth the kayak trip in a relatively undisturbed state! If you visit this area for low tide, definitely bring a boat or paddle board to explore if you have one and please let me know what you see!

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