Tag Archives: beached birds

Staff Profile: Charlie Wright

by Eric Wagner

Sakuma Point is an unprepossessing park along Boat Street, near the University of Washington. Not quite half an acre in size, the park is sandwiched by a popular restaurant and canoe rental shop on the left, and a storage warehouse on the right. Visitors can sit at a bench or table overlooking a small stretch of Portage Bay and relax or eat their lunch. Or, if you are Charlie Wright, you count birds for ten minutes.

“I try to make it out here every day,” Charlie says on a bright spring afternoon. He is standing at the water’s edge with a pair of binoculars, calling out species almost the instant he sees or hears them. “There’s a crow,” he says. “Another crow… six lesser scaup over there.” Something behind him chirps. “Song sparrow,” he says without looking back. Another chirp. “White-crowned sparrow.” A few gulls drift in the distance. “Glaucous-wing or hybrids,” he says. “They’re too far away for me to tell.” Ten minutes of this pass, and then he calls time. “Now I upload the list to eBird,” he says, “and that’s the survey.”

Yes, hard as it may be to believe, Charlie—COASST’s stalwart data verifier, he who scrutinizes almost every single photo volunteers send in—likes live birds too. A lot. “I’ve been watching birds in general pretty much since I started having memories,” he says. He was leading birding trips for the Rainier Audubon Society in southern King County by the age of eleven, and has done field work with birds all over the world, from Alaska to Peru. A few years ago, he was part of a team that drove all over Washington, ultimately breaking the state record for greatest number of species seen in a twenty-four-hour period. “Birds are kind of my muse,” he says.

Charlie started as the COASST data verifier in 2010. He performs the vital function of confirming the identity of every dead bird COASSTers find on their surveys. Each fall, he starts to work his way through the backlog of volunteer submissions from the previous year. Most of the time he has no reason to doubt what a volunteer sends in: he cross-references the datasheet with the photos and concurs with the ID. It takes him all of thirty seconds, tops. “It’s rare for me to spend more than five minutes on anything,” he says. “COASST volunteers are pretty amazing at IDs. They know their birds and how to use the COASST field guide.” In fact, COASSTers correctly identify beached birds to species 89% of the time.

But everyone gets stumped once in a while. Last December, a team of COASSTers surveying a beach up near Hobuck, Washington found a bright, iridescent wing. They puzzled over it. Was it a Steller’s jay? They did not think it was, so they sent it in as “unknown.” Charlie spent a few minutes with it before he made the ID. “It was a purple gallinule,” he says. “It was the first time the species was documented in Washington.”

Even with his lifelong interest in birds, IDing a dead bird still is not completely intuitive for Charlie. “With some of the tough ones, you have to take body parts and key them out,” he says. He might use the COASST database of photos—“the largest collection of dead bird photos in the world,” he says—or some of the more technical guides at his disposal. After all, even though COASSTers have found 181 species to date, five or six still show up each year that no one has ever found on a survey before. “Those rarities are always in the back of my mind,” Charlie says. “This body is probably a common murre, but it could be… something else.”

In May, once Charlie has brought the annual backlog of roughly ten thousand photos down to zero, he and his wife head off to Alaska to do field work for the summer, reveling in the realm of living birds, helping monitor their populations and whereabouts. As you read this, they might be in the midst of a point-count survey (a method similar to his hobby activity at Sakuma Point) in the Yukon-Kuskokwim National Wildlife Refuge, camping eighty miles from the nearest town. Or they might be sailing around the Aleutian Islands on a research vessel, helping on a seabird survey. Or they might be even farther north, in the Chukchi Sea. “My COASST work is really complimentary with the Alaska work,” he says. “There’s a seasonality to both of them, ID challenges. It’s just that one is with live birds and the others are dead.”

Participant Profile: Jeanne Finke

by Eric Wagner

In Jeanne Finke’s kitchen sit a pair of binoculars and bird guides, which she tends to reach for, as she says, in the way others might reach for salt and pepper. For Jeanne, they are just as necessary. She lives on the North Bay of Grays Harbor in southwest Washington and sees birds through her window all the time—pelagic birds, shorebirds, the latter sometimes in great numbers during migration. She’s taken classes on bird biology and feels she has a good handle on her local avifauna, but she’s always curious to know more about what might be around, whether in view or out of sight, living or dead.

Jeanne Finke on survey in December 2017. Photo credit: Susan Kloeppel.

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What’s Washed In – June 15, 2015


Hope you’re all having a great month so far! It’s been a fun few weeks, with volunteer socials in Port Angeles (WA) and Cape Meares (OR) and trainings in Florence (OR) and Gold Beach (OR). A big thanks to all of you who attended and welcome to our new volunteers.

This week Julia is headed to Fort Bragg (CA) to give a community presentation on “The Natural History of Dead Birds.” We’ll also have weekend trainings in Fort Bragg and Fortuna (CA). California COASSTers, we hope you can join us!

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:










Samoa Bay Street South (CA) 3/14/15 found by Sharon

Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 50 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus less than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose 4th toe lobed, with flap extending to end of nail – WATERFOWL: DIVING DUCKS.

Alaska Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF5), Greater Scaup (WF15), Bufflehead (WF29), goldeneyes (WF31, WF33) and mergansers (WF35, WF37). Based on measurements, we can eliminate all these except mergansers and White-winged Scoter. Only one of these has dark plumage on the side of the neck and upper breast: White-winged Scoter.

West Coast Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key/wing table, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF3), Greater Scaup (WF13), Bufflehead (WF15). Of these, measurements fit only one: White-winged Scoter.










Roads End South (OR) 6/2/15 found by Mark and photos sent by Chuck
Bill: 27 mm
Wing: 25 cm
Tarsus: 36 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose thin toe or nail only (go to Q7), choose heel flat (go to Q8), choose tarsus less than 65mm – TUBENOSES: PETRELS.

Alaska Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill color is dark, underwing is white, with dark stripe from wrist towards wingpit: Mottled Petrel.

West Coast Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill is thick and short, bill color is black: Gadfly Petrels (Mottled Petrel is one).

The saga of this piece of debris is quite interesting. This container lid was found by beach cleaner extraordinaire Russ in Longbeach, WA.

One of our COASST students, Devin (or shall we call her Sherlock Holmes), who is fluent in Japanese, saw this photo and recognized 有栄七屋商店 as Kanji (Chinese characters that have been adopted in Japan). She did some sleuthing and discovered the lid is from a local Japanese grocery store (and nailed it down to the address of 5-8 Honcho Otsuchi, Kamihei District, Iwate Prefecture 028-1116 Japan).

Along with discovering the source of the lid, Devin found something truly intriguing via Google Street View: the entire location was flattened and washed away by the Tohoku tsunami. The map shows the epicenter of the Tohoku earthquake in red, and the store location that the lid was from in green.











Take a look at what Paul and Louise found at Bishop’s Beach West earlier this year. COASST intern Mallory refers to this as an “Octopopsicle” – a Giant Pacific Octopus washed ashore and frozen in the ice. According to NOAA, there are at least seven species of octopus in the Gulf of Alaska, but the Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is by far the most common. The Giant Pacific Octopus is able to change the color and texture of its skin at will, making it an adept hunter and challenging opponent when playing Hide-and-go-Seek.

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

Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns