Monthly Archives: July 2013

Refuges For Endangered Hawaiian Seabirds

The West Maui Mountains between Kajakuloa and Makamakaole has historically been home to many breeding seabirds, but in recent years this population has been in steep decline. Habitat conservationists are hoping that next year they will begin to hear the songs of native seabird species in these hills again.

Two bird enclosures are in the process of being built by First Wind, a Boston-based renewable energy company that operates the Kaheawa wind farms above Maalaea. The enclosures are for the endangered Hawaiian Petrel (uau) and the Newell’s Shearwater (ao). First Wind agreed to put the conservation plan together in order to offset potential impacts of the wind farms and ensure a “long-term net conservation benefit”.

A Hawaiian Petrel, an endangered species that this project is hoping to help.

A Hawaiian Petrel, an endangered species that this project is hoping to help.

The already installed shearwater enclosure has a predator-proof fence around 3-4 acres of breeding habitat. Many predators were trapped and removed and the fences will be checked each week for any breaches in security. Additionally, artificial burrows will be placed in each enclosure. The second enclosure will be installed within the next couple of weeks, and both enclosures are to be fully completed by fall.

Why is there a need for these enclosures? Native seabirds were first driven to near extinction after early seafarers used the birds as food. More modern day threats mainly include introduced island predators. “We know that there are shearwaters here, but they’re being (preyed upon) by mongoose and cats,” said Steve Sawyer, president of EcoWorks New Zealand, which designed the enclosures for First Wind and has built similar enclosures on other Pacific islands.

Sawyer brought two specialists with seabird detecting dogs to help search for remnant Hawaiian petrel burrows. After weeks of hiking all over the mountain, the search team found only dead petrels.

Attempts will be made to draw in the seabirds through the use of a solar-powered, weatherproof sound system that broadcasts recorded bird calls as well as the use of life like-decoy birds that were made by the same New Zealand company that created props for “The Lord of the Rings” movies. The enclosures will be kept in place indefinitely and biologists will monitor the project for the next 20 years.

For more information and photos of the enclosures click here.

What’s Washed In

With all this great summer weather, we hope you are enjoying lots of time on the beach (for a survey or for fun)! Our inbox keeps filling with new and exciting COASST finds. Here are a few things that have washed ashore recently:

Greater White-fronted Gooose

A Greater White-fronted Goose found by Tom and Connie on the South Coast of Washington. This is a rare find for COASST (less than 40 documented!). You won’t find this species in the field guide. However, those three webbed front toes and bulbous forth toe will put this bird in the “Waterfowl: Tippers and Geese” category.

Pacific Loon

A Pacific Loon found by Melissa in Humboldt. Check out those wide flattened-like-a-knife tarsi: definitely a loon! Looking up the LO section in Beached Birds, we see that small loons (Pacific and Red-throated) can be separated from the Common Loon by their wing size. The Pacific Loon can be distinguished from the Red-throated Loon by its straight (as opposed to upturned bill – second photo shows this best), and limited spotting across the back.

Brandt's Cormorant

A Brandt’s Cormorant found by Olli, Carolyn, and Keith in Oregon North. The dark bill and a tan chin rule out the smaller, Pelagic Cormorant (featured in our last email) and the Double Crested Cormorant (stout orange bill or black bill with white face plumes).

Pacific Lamprey

Pacific Lamprey – part of a class of animals (Agnatha) without jaws, ribs or paired fins.

A Pacific Lamprey found by Candace, in Oregon South. A first-ever find for a COASST survey! Although this fish won’t be winning any beauty contests with its mouth full of yellowish paired (or tripled) teeth, it is pretty important conservation-wise.

Lots of yellow rope found by Heidi and team out on the North Coast of Washington! These 30cm (12in) fragments of small diameter polypropylene could have a couple of possible origins. Rope like this is often used in recreational fisheries, perhaps from a larger length encountered at the surface, wound around, then cut from a propeller. This type of rope is also used in oyster culture and cut as the crop is harvested. With rope, larger loop fragments pose and entanglement hazard (especially to seals), fragments pose an ingestion threat, based on length, to many marine species.

Squid Eggs

Helen and Peter's BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach.

Helen and Peter’s BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach (near Pacific Beach, WA).

Thanks Helen and Peter for passing along a photo of their Haskin Park find: Squid eggs. A first for COASST! Helen did a little research of her own on this non-bird find, “we learned that these little opalescent packages are squid eggs and found an amazing video of a squid laying eggs in the sand and transporting them back to a hanging cluster to attach.”

At COASST, we’ve had squid on the brain ever since we were introduced to Scarlett Arbuckle, who earned her PhD at Texas A & M looking at Ommastrephid squid, Dosidicus gigas. Now, Scarlett is a new member of Selina Heppell’s lab at the University of Oregon, home to a wealth of projects, among them the northward invasion of Humboldt Squid in the Pacific Ocean (check back soon, for our upcoming blog on Selina).

When you’re a squid expert like Scarlett you’re always on the look out. Scarlett says “most people first disregard squid eggs as tunicates. Helen and Peter’s photo shows a cluster of squid egg sacs, probably from loliginidae squid family. The sacs were knocked loose from their anchoring and washed up. Depending on the available substrate and species, female squid will anchor the sacs in clusters in the sand, on rocks, or, like shown in the video, to ropes and man made structures.”

While it’s difficult to tell the species without a specimen in hand (COASSTers know all about that!) Scarlett ventures these are likely “California Market squid egg sacs, since they range from Southern California all the way to Alaska.”

More to come? Yes, definitely. We’re hoping to work with Scarlett to figure out what kinds of data COASSTers can collect on beached squid to inform researchers. Stay tuned!

Some Good News for Atlantic Puffins

Atlantic Puffins have once again arrived in Maine for the breeding season, and, unlike last year, are finding plenty of food for their chicks.  Last year, there was a shortage of hake and herring that resulted in the deaths of many puffin chicks, but this year it seems like there is enough food.  However, researchers are still concerned.  The number of puffins on the islands of Maticinus Rock and Seal Island has decreased by a third, even though these two islands are closely monitored by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Audubon Society.

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic Puffins numbers are doing better this year. Photo: USFWS.

Atlantic puffins are beautiful birds with a unique lifestyle.  Their bills are brightly colored, with a mix of reddish stripes and yellow spots.  They are a diving bird, and will dive down as far as 200 feet below the surface in search of food.  Like penguins, they use their wings to “fly” under the water for 20-30 seconds and can carry several fish at a time due to the sharp, tooth-like structures on the roof of their mouths.  These birds are becoming a major tourist attraction in the Gulf of Maine, but a hundred years ago the population was nearly wiped out as people hunted them for their eggs, meat, and feathers.

Research suggests that puffins are more sensitive to environmental changes than other seabirds because they are less able to adapt.  While stopping their decline is difficult, this sensitivity can help scientists study the changes in ocean climate.

Learn more about this research here.

Helpful hints: data notes and photographs

COASST data depend on two things: detailed notes and high-quality photographs. So we (Scott, Jessica and An, students with COASST) went digging! Thanks to some great examples sent in by COASSTers, we’ve compiled some helpful tips.

What are “Good” Notes?
Good notes are legible and complete. If a space in the data sheet asks for information pertaining to something not present or not applicable to the situation, put a slash (/) in the box, a “N/A” for not applicable, or a “U” for unknown (can’t be determined). “N” means no, “0” means none. When a survey sheet is returned with all the boxes filled, we know it’s complete. 


Data example 1: Paul’s data sheet. Note how paul has filled in all the appropriate boxes legibly.

Data example 2: Chet’s data sheet. Note Chet’s comment at the bottom of the survey – this way we can be doubly sure someone didn’t just forget to fill out the backside.


Data example 3: Michelle’s data sheet. Again, everything filled out clearly, comments include notes on an unusual number of invertebrates found (sea stars in this example, but could include crab, clam, krill, etc)


Data example 4: Bird data from Cindy on Mad River Park North (Humboldt region). Note how all boxes are complete, a dash fills the second to last box noting that there is no distinguishable difference between Brown Pelican males and females.

What are “Good” Photographs?
Good photographs include three simple things 1) Specimen/bird/bird part(s): make sure the whole specimen fills the frame 2) Scale: black and yellow photo ruler placed near the bird for scale! (for most, included on the top of the chalkboard) 3) Chalkboard/slate: record the beach name, date of survey, cable tie number (Tag ID#) on the chalkboard (if possible, the species ID and bird number as well)

2) and 3) above are found in each COASST volunteer toolbox, 1) you’ll have to find on your own!

Photographers also pay attention to 1) Light (enough light, flash used in low-light conditions, no photographer shadows (check out “Here Comes the Sun” blog), bird stands out against background 2) Camera/camera settings/photographer movement (photos taken on high resolution setting, “beach scene” setting is chosen on bright days, photographer is stationary, camera is positioned over bird, camera lens is dry)

COMU Found by Jerry Chadwick & Carol Sanders (Bastendorff ) 2011-12-12

Photo example 1: Jerry & Carol’s murre on Bastendorff (Oregon South region). Slate/chalkboard is complete, bird is in the sun, shadows are minimal, bird takes up almost entire frame, camera is positioned over bird (not at sand-level or weirdly angled, for instance).

WEGU Photographed by Mariann & Doug Croucher (Oregon Mile 101) 2011-12-02

Photo example 2: Mariann & Doug’s gull photographed on Oregon Mile 101 (Oregon South region). Photo has scale, chalkboard is neatly filled out, light  is good, shadows minimized, wings are spread and take up most of the frame.

What Keeps Us Going?


The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

As a group, COASSTers spend thousands of hours a year completing their COASST surveys and thousands more traveling to their COASST beach(es). We just had to ask: what keeps them going? Why continue month after month?

Well, it happens that we asked this very question on the COASSTer survey in April 2012, “tell us why you continue to be involved with this program” and we let all of you free-write, to explain. Using just the nouns, we ran the words through Wordle, a program that takes a bunch of text and creates these types of word collages, where the font size reflects how often a particular word is used. There’s actually one on the right side of our blog, but it’s based on a few “tags” we set a-priori.

For COASST participants, there’s a clear winner: beach (merged here with the plural: beaches). That’s an association with the where of COASST. And secondarily, bird (includes, again: birds). That’s the what of COASST. You can also see some of the who of COASST, which has many more unique forms, “husband” “COASSTer” and “COASST Staff” among them. “I even like some of the small words, ‘excuse,’ ‘wife,’ ‘stories,’ ‘puzzle,'” writes Julia.

Is it surprising that COASSTers continue because they enjoy the beach? Perhaps not, but “it’s a way to visualize the motivation and values of single COASSTers and (smooshed together) of COASST as a group,” adds Jane, “simply, or complexly, if you look at all the tiny, tiny words.”

Score for the Teaching Collection


We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, "yes!"

We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, “yes!”

Late afternoon, in the fisheries building parking lot and Jane comes across this find. Seven years bad luck? Should she call it quits and leave work early?

Nah – bag and freeze and tell Matt (Senior Intern) there’s another bird waiting to be added to the COASST teaching collection. Thanks Peregrine Falcon, for leaving your lunch for us.

Based on its size, some people mistake this bird (in wings-only form) for a Common Murre. It’s not! Upperwing is not uniformly dark, feet are pink and not webbed. It’s a Rock Dove (aka Rock Pigeon or just pigeon).

New Footprints – Lindsey Nelson

Meet graduated COASST intern Lindsey Nelson, who spent nearly 600 hours in the COASST office from 2010-2012 as a Student Intern and later, Senior Intern.  After leaving COASST, she went north, WAY north, to work as a Fishery Observer in Alaska.

Lindsey, on the bow  of a fishing boat covered in ice in Alaska

Lindsey, on the bow of a boat covered in ice. You go, girl!

What does that entail? After completion of the three week training program (and passing a pretty grueling fish identification test), Lindsey’s job is all about “collecting data on catch estimates, species composition, prohibited species, bycatch (non-target catch), locations and dates and times, which is then assessed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.”  Lindsey’s work helps NOAA establish regulations and optimum yields for Alaska groundfish (Pacific Cod, Sabelfish, Lingcod, Walleye Pollock, Atka Mackerel, to name a few) .

The day-to-day varies a little, as fishing only occurs two to four days a week.  The other days are spent either travelling or offloading.  During a fishing haul, she’s responsible for collecting samples of the catch and identifying, counting, and weighing all species, as well as special procedures for dealing with birds, mammals, sharks, prohibited species, and tagged animals.  She also monitors levels of bycatch and notes the delivery weights during offloading.

Lindsey collects samples in these baskets and performs her data collecting at this station.

Ah, the scenic data collection station: fish collection baskets, waterproof notesheets.

What the...!  Lindsey found this lumpsucker in one of her samples!

“One of the ugliest cute things I’ve seen,” says Lindsey, holding a Smooth Lumpsucker (and she would know!).

So is it all work and no play? Lindsey says “the crew was friendly and helpful whenever I need their assistance, and we’ve become good friends, even back home in Seattle.”  And the seasonal nature of her job allows her to travel, and check a few things off the list, “moose, glaciers, salmon, native performances, snow-covered peaks right next to the shore. You know… all the essentials.”

Alaska may be cold, but it's darn beautiful.  These are fishing boats like the ones Lindsey works on in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Cold and beautiful. Fishing boats in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Education Research: Meet Katie!

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast, at Cascade Head.

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast at Cascade Head.

Who is Katie?

Katie Woollven is a Marine Resource Management grad student, working with Dr. Shawn Rowe in the Free-choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University. For her Master’s thesis project, Katie gets to chat with select COASST participants about their perspectives on their role in science and resource management.

Where has she been?

After receiving her B.S. in marine biology from Texas A&M, Katie worked as a field biologist collecting mosquitoes for a bird study, as a fisheries observer in Alaska, and as an intertidal lab tech before shifting gears to focus on education research. Working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Science Under Sail Program and an NOAA-funded community-based marine debris removal project sparked her current interest in nature of science learning and citizen science.

What is she thinking about and exploring in her research?

“The big, overarching questions for my grad studies are: What kind of learning does or can happen in citizen science programs?  How can we design citizen science programs to benefit science, volunteers, and society?,” says Katie. “COASST is a long-term citizen science program with a diverse group of participants to help us understand how/if citizen science impacts participants and the greater community,” she adds. And the best part, we asked? “I’m excited to hear what COASSTers have to say!”

Sounds of the Marbled Murrelet

Breeding plumage Marbled Murrelet in the Salish Sea. Copyright A. Barna

Breeding plumage Marbled Murrelet in the Salish Sea. Copyright A. Barna

The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is one of four seabirds in the COASST range with listing status under the Endangered Species Act. Just a few days ago, some lucky members of the Audubon Society of Portland rose at the crack of dawn (literally, as in be there at 4:30AM) to hear the “kerr kerr kerrs” of the endangered Marbled Murrelet.

Paul Engelmeyer, Manager of Ten Mile Creek, a National Audubon Society sanctuary and Kim Nelson, Senior Faculty Research Assistant hope annual trips like these (Eight years and counting) might include portions of the MAMUs historic range, where monitoring surveys have not been conducted (or not in a very long time). See the full story here.

Not a morning person, but just have to hear for yourself? You can click here to listen to a high-definition recording from Big Basin, Redwoods State Park (yes, that is 6:00AM Thomas is referring to on the 5th of May – not quite light).