Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Geeking out at Owls Head

Getting into it with Kerry and Sarah!
It was a rumor that had to be investigated.

Somewhere, sometime, I had heard that there were tidepools at the Owls Head Light.  Good tidepools.  Tidepools worth tromping through.  I might have read it in Shumway.  Or I might have heard it on the street.  Either way, I'd been itching to get out there and investigate for awhile.

I tried to get there just a couple of weeks ago.  This is what it looked like in town:

Very striking image, but not encouraging for a tide pool day!
I hightailed it out of there!
But the weather was clearing, and there was a very low spring tide approaching.  And so I assembled my team of intrepid scientists.  Kerry Whittaker, a young biological oceanographer, and Sarah Kingston, an amazing molecular ecologist and all around cool gal, were on the crack squad of tidepoolers this time out.  We dug out our boots, bundled up in several layers, and rendezvoused for a spring tide expedition to Penobscot Bay.

Our arrival was greeted with cold, strong winds.  We thought this might make our trip unpleasant, but it turned out the wind was from the northeast, so we were in the lee of the headland once we made it past the lighthouse.

Typical light house wonderfulness.
A beautiful site!

We scrabbled down the steep trail . . . 
And what did we find?  How were the tidepools?


The headland protects this spot from wind and waves.
First off, this was the slickest place I've ever tromped through -- slick as in slippery, not as in cool.  I looked like a little old lady clamoring around on all fours.  There was a lot of Irish moss very high on the rocks -- surprising because this seaweed doesn't do well exposed to air.  I thought it might be Mastocarpus at first (which looks similar, but can withstand emersion for longer than Irish moss.  But it wasn't; a curious finding!  We found a ton of dog whelks -- not surprising given the fact that waves would have trouble getting to the tide pools here.  That meant we also found an ecological community typical of a place with lots of hungry predators -- very few barnacles or mussels.  We also found a lot of sea urchins in the low tidepools -- super cool.  These hungry herbivores gobble up seaweed at an astonishing pace, so the tidepools looked like the salad bar had been picked clean.

Dog whelks:  voracious predators.

Exposed Irish moss:  unusual.

Smooth periwinkles (and slippery seaweed).

A tidepool dominated by coralline algae.

Loads and loads of sea urchins!

Like this one!
And then there was the rock gunnel incident:

So yes -- there are amazing tidepools at Owls Head.  Investigating them was hard work, but someone had to do it.  We rewarded ourselves with a trip to King Eiders Pub in Damariscotta on the way home.

Spring sun on the lighthouse.
Other Tidepools and How to Tidepool.  Check 'em out; summer is coming!

GETTING THERE:  From US1 in Rockland, turn right onto Rt 73.  Go 1 3/4 miles and turn left onto North Shore Road; go 2.5 miles and turn left onto Main Street (at the General Store and Post Office). At the waterfront, turn left until you see the state park signs.

The tidepools are most easily accessed by taking the left fork in the dirt road once you park your car. Unless you want to scrabble down the cliff.

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