Tag Archives: Common Murre

Participant Profile: Wendy Williams

by Eric Wagner

Drive along Highway 101 down the Oregon coast to Lincoln County, and a little bit north of the city of Newport you will come to Agate Beach. The beach is an official state recreation site, and according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, it gets a few more than 172,000 visitors each year. Those people can surf if they want, but razor clams are the main attraction. “Diggers, this park’s for you!” the state website proclaims.

For Wendy Williams, that description doesn’t capture the full appeal of Agate Beach. “It’s basically a big sandy beach, but it’s pretty amazing for a lot of reasons,” she says. The beach is backed by a creek, which has a tendency to wander, its course meandering over the sand with the years. During the summer, when the northwest winds are steady, sand dunes will build up, some of them eight feet tall. “The place is just so dynamic and lively,” she says. “There are a lot of stories in the sands of Agate Beach.”

Williams knows her share of those stories because she has been walking the beach monthly since 2007 as a volunteer for COASST. In this, she has learned not only Agate’s particular rhythms, but also how they are linked with those of its influential surroundings. Sitting at the beach’s northern end is Yaquina Head, site of a well-known and well-studied murre colony. “I used to find lots of murres, until bald eagles and peregrine falcons started to cut down on fledging success,” she says, of the raptors’ return to the area. “But I’m still always bracing myself: how many chicks am I going to find come August or September because of death or nesting failure?”

Williams is more than passingly familiar with murres, in part from finding their bodies every so often, and in part from having earned a graduate degree from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Coos Bay for her studies of their diving physiology. It was during her time at the OIMB that she learned to be a seabird observer, helping with aerial surveys along the coast and farther offshore. That work helped get her through school (both financially and spiritually, it sounds like), and also brought her in touch with the environmental consulting company with which she enjoyed a varied career as a seabird biologist. (Varied in more ways than one: “I ended up living in North Dakota for three years,” she says. “But I still called myself a seabird biologist!”)

Any seabird biologist will tell you—even those outside of COASST—that dead birds are part of the trade, but Williams has taken that maxim to a certain extreme. She has worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, and the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, as well as several smaller scale oil spills. In all instances, Williams participated in the effort to understand what happened to birds once they died, so a spill’s fuller ecological cost could be better calculated. “Often with these spills, there’s chaos and everyone’s desperately trying to rescue and clean up the oiled birds,” she says. “However, the number of birds rescued or found dead doesn’t tell us what we really want to know, which is how many birds died from this spill event.”  To address this question, she was involved in many projects on carcass persistence: radio-tagging seabird carcasses, distributing them widely, tracking the carcasses to see if they drifted to shore, and if so, documenting how long they lasted (i.e., were they scavenged, rewashed into the water, etc.).

“A lot of the questions we were asking in Alaska and the Gulf were similar to the ones COASST is asking,” Williams says. “It shows why it’s so important to have background numbers in case of big mortality events.” And so in that way it makes sense that she started volunteering with COASST after she went to Agate Beach one day more than ten years ago and saw some dead birds marked with the ubiquitous COASST colored zip-ties. “We were just enjoying ourselves,” she says, “and there they were.” She contacted COASST and learned that the volunteer who had been responsible for Agate Beach was leaving. The beach was only about an hour from her home in Corvallis. “So I just picked it up,” she says.

At the same time, and considering the breadth of her experiences with dead birds in some of their more soul-wringing circumstances, it might seem a little odd that in her spare time Williams would choose to watch for more dead birds, spending as much as five hours at a time meticulously searching for them. But that is not the case at all. “Whatever has happened in my life, no matter how intense some of the projects have been, I have always enjoyed having this work to do,” she says. COASST gets her outside, and she feels like she’s making a contribution, and that’s something she’ll always love. “I would go out to Agate Beach two or three times a month if I could,” she says.

What’s Washed In – March 31, 2015


Hope you’re all enjoying the start of Spring! It’s been a busy month at COASST, with national and regional media attention. Executive Director Julia Parrish was recently featured on the March 20 edition of Science Friday, COASST data were featured in the recent Pacific States Fisheries Management Council Meeting, as #9 of the 12 main highlights in the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA), State of the California Current Report, 2015, and a number of COASSTers were featured in recent news coverage. A big thanks for all of your hard work! Check out the latest on our website in the COASSTal News section. We’re so proud to have all of you representing COASST!

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











Anchor River Recreation Area (AK) 03/14/15 found by Lisa

Bill: 45
Wing: 20
Tarsus: 39

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, slender and featureless, upperwing is dark –check out these four species:
Common Murre (AL3)
Thick-billed Murre (AL5)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL7)
Black Guillemot (AL7)
Look carefully – the face has a dark eyeline, or “tearline” – (see key character 2 on the AL3). The Thick-billed Murre has a dark face with a white chin. Non-breeding guillemots with white underparts lack this eyeline; the bill, wing and tarsus measurements for this bird do not fit for the PIGU or BLGU. Common Murre – correct!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, smooth/slender and featureless, investigate these two options:
Common Murre (AL2)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL10)
The bill, wing and tarsus measurements do not fit for Pigeon Guillemot and the underwing is white – Common Murre – great work!










Ruby South (WA) 1/20/15 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 17 mm
Wing: 13.5 cm
Tarsus: 18 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is less than 15cm. Bill is dark, without a spot – one of the murrelets:
Marbled Murrelet (AL17)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL19)
Bill is too long for a KIMU and the eye is within the dark part of the face – Marbled Murrelet – nice!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, so we’re left with a few options:
Common Murre-juvenile/chick (AL4)
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
* Ancient Murrelet (AL16)
* Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
* Least Auklet (AL24)
* Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
(* = rare, included in the 2002 version only)
Not a Common Murre chick – it’s January! And besides, this bird has white shoulder patches and dark secondaries and no dark eyeline. Measurements fit for Marbled Murrelet, but let’s examine the rarities:
Ancient Murrelet – nope, dark shoulder
Kittlitz’s Murrelet – nope, bill too small
Least Auklet and Whiskered Auklet – nope, bil and wing too small
Yep, it is a Marbled Murrelet.


Mike and Chiggers’ marine debris surveys at Norwegian Memorial (WA) tell an interesting story. Their beach consistently catches  A LOT of bottles and bottle fragments, many with Asian writing. Seen here is the haul from a single zone in a single transect. A well weathered Puma shoe also washed up for their December survey. The stitching and lace holes make us think these are “vintage”. Do they remind anyone else of basketball practice in the 70s?











Washington COASSTers Lee and Sue were lucky enough to come across this Humboldt squid during their February survey of Three Crabs Beach.

Also referred to as Jumbo squid, these giants are able to swim with speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and are known to eject themselves from the water to escape predators. While the coloring of this squid is mostly white, these cephalopods are able to change their appearance in shades of purple, red and white.

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

What’s Washed In – July 28

Hope all of you are enjoying the last week of July! Thanks so much for sending in all of your great photos and datasheets. We’ve had a fun few weeks, training new volunteers and catching up with current COASSTers in Crescent City (CA), Bandon (OR), and Coupeville (WA). This week, we’re starting summer check-ins.  If you have any datasheets lying around or if you need any supplies at all, please let us know.  We’re always happy to help!

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

A copyBill: 16 mm, Wing: 13 cm, Tarsus: 18 mm

Peter and Helen found this on Haskin Beach on the North Coast of Washington on June 3rd.

California COASSTers don’t jump too fast on this one! 3-webbed toe, no hind toe – and from the general size, looks like a juvenile Common Muurre, except that’s not just bright lighting – the foot is pale.

West Coast Beached Birds: on AL1, select wc<15cm, bill color dark – Marbled Murrelet (AL14) is the only one with dark secondary tips on fully-grown wings (primaries extend much farther than secondaries)

Alaska Beached Birds: on AL1, select wc<15cm, move to AL2, select dark bill. Here we’re left with Marbled Murrelet (AL17) of Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL19) – bill and tarsus are too long for a Kittlitz’s – Marbled Murrelet, that’s correct!

BBill: 54 mm, Wing: 44 cm, Tarsus: 67 mm

Randy and Jim found this bird on Churchrock Beach on the Chukchi Sea in Alaska on June 21st. This gull has not “been through the wash too many times” – it’s a species with unique plumage, and rare for West Coast COASSTers (you guys can sit out on this one).

Alaska Beached Birds wing key (‘cause the foot is hidden): Select upperwing white-to-nearly-white, and with a wing chord of 44 cm, we have our match – Glaucous Gull (LA10), a subadult since the bill tip is dark.

C2 copyBill: 50 mm

Candace really pulled out the fine-tooth comb on this bird found on Otter Point in Oregon on July 1st. With just a bill, we’re a little on our own with identification. No worries! We’ve got this!

Luckily, don’t have to turn too far to find the first match – dark bill, straight, 50mm. We’re left with Common Murre (wc: AL2, ak: AL3), Pacific Loon (LO2), Red-throated Loon (wc: LO6, ak: LO4), American Crow (wc: PE2) or Common Raven (ak: LB4). Bill depth (perpendicular measurement from upper to lower bill) removes crows and ravens from the running. Between the Common Murre and the two small loons, look at the placement of the nostril – for murres, the nostril is under the “V” of feathers, for the small loons it’s at the point of the “V,” or slightly above. Good work – Common Murre, adult, breeding plumage.large debrisThis huge marine debris item was found on March 10th by LoAnne on Washaway Beach. This piece is extremely weathered and multi colored. Characteristics like these are clues to how long marine debris had been in the water and where pieces may have come from.

balloonOn July 19th, Hillary led the interns and students from a marine biology class on a field trip to Ocean Shores. Their marine debris surveys documented plenty of lasting evidence from 4th of July celebrations, including the remnants of this parachute firework. A double whammy for potential harm to wildlife: this object is red which may attract some birds more than other debris, and it has several small loops which pose a risk of entanglement.

Skate eggs How cool is this mermaid’s purse?! No, we’re not kidding, this really is called a mermaid purse. These skate eggs were found by Janice at Oregon Mile Marker 309. Although they sometimes wash ashore, skate eggs belong in the water on the sea floor, where they grow and eventually hatch. The eggs are covered a sack to protect them from predators. Hundreds of skate species have been identified and their egg sacks can be distinguished by size, length, and color. Eggs can range in size but are typically found to be very small, only a few cm in length.