Monthly Archives: September 2014

Update from Charlie

As some of you know, Charlie takes a break from COASSTing each summer to do a little field work. This August, Charlie returned to Middleton Island for the fall field season and we just received his hand-written letter, which reads:

Hello COASSTers,
Here is a photo update. The weather has been unusually calm (and still) and there are signs of it being a warm water year. Beach finds include our first Velella velella and Cassin’s Auklet on the Island.

Velelella velella have been turned up at Middleton this summer, too.

Velella velella jellies have been turned up at Middleton Island this summer, too.

Cassin's Auklet's Auklet found on Middleton by Charlie.

Cassin’s Auklet’s Auklet (COASST guide AL8-AL9 or AK: AL21-AL22) found on Middleton Island by Charlie. Note the short, stout bill with pale spot at base, and in fresh birds, blue-toned feet.

Also see the VERY COOL “armored” tarsus, toes and webbing of a Parasitic Jaeger.

Parasitic Jaeger foot showing very rough (almost sharp) scales.

Parasitic Jaeger foot showing very rough (almost sharp) scales.

Parasitic Jaeger (complete with COASST ruler!)

Parasitic Jaeger (complete with COASST ruler!)

Work days have been long and productive, and “days off” are spent doing much of the same thing.

Shore-based surveys of pelagic birds.

Charlie’s team, conducting shore-based surveys of pelagic birds. What are they seeing through those scopes? Look below!

Buller's Shearwater.

Buller’s Shearwater.

Sooty Shearwater.

Sooty Shearwater.

Killer Whale.


Red-necked Phalarope.

Red-necked Phalarope.

"The catch," of Middleton's banding station (one bird per bag).

“The catch,” of Middleton Island’s fall banding station (one bird per bag).

Happy COASSTing!


What’s Washed In – Sept. 19

It’s hard to believe how fast summer has flown by! Here in the COASST office, we’re getting ready for a busy fall season, with upcoming trainings and refreshers in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska over the next month.  If you’re considering attending a refresher training near you, we highly recommend it – it’s a great way to brush up on your identification skills and meet other COASSTers in your community – and we’d love to see you!

Thanks so much for all of your datasheets, photos, and fun stories over the past few weeks.  Let’s take a look at what’s washed in lately:

A.Bill: 44 mm, Wing:  32 cm, Tarsus: 53 mm

Carl and Terry found not just one, but TWO of these rare birds at Griffith’s Priday State Park in Washington on their July 26 survey.

Foot is webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), nail only (go to Q7), flat heel (go to Q8), small foot – Tubenose: Petrels.

Wing chord greater than 20cm – True Petrels.

Alaska guide: select bill color “pale w/ dark tip – Pink-footed Shearwater, rare)

West Coast guide: select bill “thin and long,” tarus “flat” – review TN5, TN7, TN15.

Of these, only the Pink-footed Shearwater (TN15-16) has a pale bill with dark tip and white belly.


Bill: 37 mm, Wing:  18 cm, Tarsus: 32 mm

Charlotte found this bird at North Hartney Bay in Alaska on September 4.

Since the wing is well-profiled here, let’s use it.

Alaska Wing Key (page 44): Choose “w/ light or dark speculum and/or one or more white patches” (go to Q17), dark speculum (go to Q24), “green w/ buffy stripe above and white below” – bingo – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Key (page 33): Select “secondaries contrasting and dark” (go to Q18), “green w/ tan stripe above and white below” – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Table (page 32): We’re in the ”small” row. Pan across to “patch/speculum,” aka “like a patch but always found in the secondaries, often iridescent with lighter bordering stripes.” Two species: Pigeon Guillemot (PIGU – AL10-11), or Green-winged Teal (GWTE – WF7-8). The PIGU has a white upperwing patch, green in the upperwing? – Green-winged Teal.


Hank and Linda found this very small piece of plastic on their trial survey of the marine debris protocol. Fragments like these can wash-up in great numbers but easily overlooked and difficult to remove from the environment.



In July, Velella velella hit the shores big time, but for Stone Lagoon beach in California, a different story: Pacific Sand Crab (aka Pacific Mole Crab, or if you’re a bit more geeky, Emerita analoga). These burrowing crustaceans stick their rear into the beach and use their antennae to catch plankton and scrape it into their mouth.

Seen something like this on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

North Pacific Humpbacks making a comeback

humpback whale 2Have you ever spotted a Humpback whale during one of your surveys? Check out these awesome photos of Humpback whales taken by our very own Hillary Burgess, Marine Debris Program Coordinator! A topic making waves right now is the potential delisting of the Central North Pacific Humpback Whale (CNPHW). Those beautiful, agile creatures that you may have seen on a boat or taking a stroll down the beach are reportedly making a comeback. In the last couple years, two major petitions have been submitted to the respective state governments with the shared goal of declaring the CNPHW a Discrete Population segment (DPS), which would remove them from the endangered species list. The state of Hawaii launched a petition in 2013, through the state’s Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition, and the state of Alaska issued another petition in February of 2014.

While we commonly think of Humpback whales as one species, there are actually sub-populations that vary between regions. Humpback whales’ genetics, behavior, and predation patterns change by region, which has triggered their placement into three distinct “population stocks” of North Pacific Humpback whales: the Central North Pacific stock, the western North Pacific stock, and the Central America stock. This delineation between populations represents the basis behind the recent petitions. In this case, the Central North Pacific stock is the species of interest, predominantly because recent studies have established this population’s behavioral and genetic “fidelity” to particular breeding/feeding regions across generations (State of Alaska Petition). In other words, the health and abundance of the CNPHW is well established, while less is known about the western and Central America stocks.

Humpback whales have been on the endangered species list since December of 1970 – almost half a century! These petitions are attempting to bypass this historical hurdle by declaring the CNPHW a DPS – a claim the groups substantiate by emphasizing the distinct characteristics of these whales (State of Hawaii petition). If the CNPHW is viewed as a DPS and the states’ assertion that the population has recovered enough to the point that extinction is no longer a threat, this species will be delisted! Proving both of these qualities is no easy task. Strides, however, have been made – NOAA Fisheries recently completed a “90-day finding,” in which the whales were surveyed and observed. Based on that finding and the minimum of 5,833 whales found migrating between Alaska and Hawaii, NOAA has declared the petition valid and supported (NOAA News release). NOAA’s initial stamp of approval isn’t quite enough to delist the CNPHW. The next step is for NOAA to develop a status review of the humpback whale on a global scale with the goal of verifying the positive 90-day finding.  With a few more studies and evaluations to go, the Central North Pacific Humpback Whale may officially be delisted and declared stable!

humpback whale 3


What’s Washed In – Sept 5

September is off to a great start! It’s a busy time in the COASST office – we just completed our first marine debris pilot training session on August 23, and we’re getting ready for beached bird trainings in California and Oregon later this month.  We’re also anxiously awaiting the return of our amazing intern crew, as many of them are currently away enjoying the last few weeks of summer. Thank you for all of the datasheets and great photos over the past few weeks.

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:A Wing: 11.5 cm, Bill: 45mm, Tarsus: 40mm

BWing: 12 cm, Bill: 24mm, Tarsus: 30mm

Jon and Merrie found the first bird at Oregon Mile 287 on August 14 and Mark found the second bird at Roads End South in Oregon on August 16. With wing chords about equal, which is a chick and which is an adult?

Let’s use the Alaska and West Coast foot key (page 34, 22 respectively) to find out. Q1 select webbed (go to Q2), fully webbed (go to Q3), 3 webbed only (go to Q4), foot small, tarsus <50mm: Alcids

On AL1, both guides split Alcids via wing chord, at 15cm. Both of these birds fall into “Small Alcids,” based on that.

The West Coast guide directs us to look at 2 species: COMUj (AL4), MAMU (AL14).

The Alaska guide directs us to: MAMU (AL17), KIMU (AL19).

Turns out the first is an adult Common Murre, in molt (the process of shedding feathers, in this case, all primaries at one time). Even in the absence of a head (mostly dark, so transitioning out of breeding plumage) or feet, note the pale brown wing plumage, worn secondary tips (just a bit of white remains), long body length.

The second is a juvenile Common Murre, rare in Alaska but quite common along the West Coast, which warrants a separate species profile on page AL4 in the West Coast guide. Even in the absence of feet or a head, note the fluffy breast feathers, small body size, short distance from wrist to elbow, and fresh, dark, wing plumage.

CWing:  22 cm, Bill: 110 mm, Tarsus: 71 mm

Wow! A super rare bird (only the 5th found by COASSTers since 1999)! Janice and Vicki found this bird at Damon Point East in Washington on August 25.

Using the Alaska and West Coast foot key (page 34, 22 respectively): Q1 select free (go to Q9), four free toes (go to Q10), no toes fused (go to Q11), tarsus less than 150mm (go to Q12), no claws (go to Q13), toe pads not fleshy – Shorebirds: 4-toed.

And that’s as far as we can get with the Beached Birds guide. The bi-colored pink-black bill (slightly up-curved) rules out Whimbrel, Long-billed and Bristle-thighed Curlew (bi-colored, but all down-curved). The orange-brown mottled wing with solid orange inner primary patch means this must be a Marbled Godwit.

2A 1A

The first marine debris pilot testers from the Ocean Shores training are in action. Data and photos are beginning to roll in. While surveying Old Mill Mark, Lee found these two lighters. For these common finds, color is an important distinction between the two: red is attractive to many seabird species, and red lighters can be confused with squid, a food favored by albatross as demonstrated in the side by side comparison below.3

This photo was taken on Midway and shared with COASST by Claude Gascon, Chief Scientist with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Bchsd20140216 skate or ray (b)

Back in February, Susan found this skate at Beachside State Park in Oregon. As verified Dr. Jerry Hoff, a Fish Biologist at NOAA, this is most likely a longnose skate (Raja rhina), a common species found all along the west coast, ranging from the Bering Sea to Baja California. Skates are bottom dwellers that inhabit mud and silt bottoms in shallow, nearshore habitats where they lay their eggs. Skates bury themselves in sediment leaving only their eyes showing for camouflage. As seen below, skates have multiples rows of small teeth with raised cusps on both their upper and lower jaw line. Skates capture their prey by pouncing on top of it and trapping it against the seafloor. Their diet consists of marine invertebrates such as worms, mollusks, clams, shrimp, and crustaceans, as well as small benthic fishes.Bchsd20140216 skate or ray (d)

Dr. Hoff suspects that the skate found on Susan’s beach may have been discarded by either a commercial or sport fishing boat before it washed up on the shore. Skates are often caught accidentally with otter-trawls, longline, and handline fishing gear. Mortality via bycatch is a growing problem for the species, but their populations are still stable. Though full skate carcasses are a relatively rare find on the beach, finding their egg cases is a much more common occurrence (see What’s Washed In – July 28).