On the Long Beach Peninsula last weekend, Jane and students Qi, Summer, Lauren, Angeline and Loren checked out the beaches for birds and marine debris. Expecting to see hundreds of Cassin’s Auklets (a lone Pacific Loon, that’s it) they turned their attention to other beach curiosities. Here’s a look:
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:
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.
Also see the VERY COOL “armored” tarsus, toes and webbing of a Parasitic Jaeger.
Work days have been long and productive, and “days off” are spent doing much of the same thing.
Sara and Peter at Mad River South (CA) just found this last week. Let’s take a look at the feet. Webbed, completely webbed, four webbed toes: Pouchbills. Since the bill is less than 10 cm and the wing chord is less than 35 cm, we know we are looking at a Cormorant. If we take a closer look at the wings, we’ll notice that the outer primaries cut out on the leading edge. We can tell this is a Brandt’s Cormorant because the bill is dark and the chin feathers are tan (Pelagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, or Red-faced Cormorant).
Here we have gray upperwings with contrasting dark tips. Using either wing key (Alaska, West Coast), we check the upperwing for stripes – nope. Next, we turn to the primary feathers, noticing that some have white fingernails, but no windows (large white spots, not at feather tip). The inner primary plumage is gray, not white-tipped (Red-legged Kittiwakes – Alaska guide). With a wing-chord of 30 cm, this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.
Using the West Coast wing table, the 30 cm wing chord puts us in the “large” row. Our column is “gray mantle with white linings and black tips” – either a Black-legged Kittiwake or a Red-legged Kittiwake. Underside of primaries is more pale than the mantle – this is a Black-legged Kittiwake.
Tom found this Gray Whale skull on his first COASST survey at Steamboat Creek in Washington (beginner’s luck!). After checking in with colleagues at Cascadia Research Collective (thanks Jessie!), it’s likely be an adult gray whale (originally 12m!), initially found in 1991.
Here’s a crab buoy found by Joanna on Oregon Mile 309, covered or “biofouled” with mussels, barnacles, sponges, and algae. Did you know? It takes free swimming barnacle larvae (cyprids, more than 6 months old) a few hours-to-two weeks to settle onto natural or man-made surfaces.
On October 5th and 6th, the COASST interns and the University of Washington’s marine biology class drove to Ocean Shores, WA for a day of beached bird surveys. The interns and students learned the COASST survey protocol and got lots of practice identifying and tagging beached birds. The bird identification started off slow but the teams were quick to pick up the new skills as the day went on. By the end, they were identifying, recording data, and tagging birds with ease.
Eleven beaches were surveyed over the two days. Common Murres were by far the most abundant bird found. They were seen in breeding, non-breeding, and molting plumages which added an extra challenge for these new surveyors. Other commonly found birds included, Sooty Shearwaters and large immature gulls.
The teams also came across some rare finds. At South Chance, a beached yellow shafted Northern Flicker was spotted. It can be identified by the vibrant yellows found in the wings. Another team happened upon a skate egg casing, with small embryos inside. Not a bird, but a very cool thing to find!
Overall it was a great weekend. The weather was beautiful, with no rain, making it an enjoyable learning experience for all.
We hope everyone had a nice short week last week. There’s evidence that many of you even “labored” for COASST over Labor Day weekend. Thanks for that! Eventhough it’s the University of Washington’s summer break, things aren’t slowing down at the COASST office. Lots of great data continues to pour into our mailbox. Here are a few interesting finds sent our way recently:
A Black-legged Kittiwake found by BJ in the Gulf of Alaska. Leg color would be a dead giveaway for this bird, but we didn’t want it to be that easy for all of you! Let’s turn to the Alaska wing key: “gray mantle, some species with dark tips and/or stripes on mantle” (this has both, actually). We’re looking at a “broken diagonal stripe from wrist to elbow” and the secondaries are white, not black – wing chord of 30 cm means we have a Black-legged Kittiwake – immature.
We do find a few of these guys down in the Lower 48:
-Using the West Coast wing table? Choose size=large (29-32cm), predominantly gray mantle, with black wing tips (leaves: Black-legged Kittiwake, Red-legged Kittiwake)
-Using the West Coast wing key? Choose gray upperwing, dark-to-black wingtips, and mottled stripe from elbow to wrist – that’s the Black-legged Kittiwake-juvenile (wing chord of less than 29 cm – otherwise it would be a Caspian Tern-juvenile).
In North America, the Black-legged Kittiwake breeds in Alaska, and northeastern Canada, winters across the North Atlantic and North Pacific. BJ’s beach is right near one colony, nesting on the Homer ferry terminal.
A Bonaparte’s Gull found by Candace in the Puget Sound. BOGU are just rare enough in the Pacific Northwest not to be featured in Beached Birds, only in Beached Birds-Alaska. Looks a lot like the Black-legged Kittiwake we just saw, but hey – did you spot the feet? Not black. Let’s turn back to the Alaska wing key: gray mantle, some species with dark tips, and that mottled upperwing stripe, but in this case secondaries are dark (see left wing). The wing chord also helps us out: BOGU=25-27cm, a little shorter than the BLKI. Live Bonaparte’s Gulls are normally seen in Puget Sound during their migration (Mar-Apr) to Canada and Alaska, though some stick around in small numbers throughout the winter time.
A Black-footed Albatross found by Jane and Marilyn on the North Coast of Washington. Boy can we see the foot clearly on this one! Three webbed toes and a huge foot (tarsus >75 mm) puts us in the Tubenose: Albatrosses foot type family. From there, we choose between the only three albatross species in the North Pacific (22 worldwide): Black-footed, Laysan, Short-tailed. Dark feet, face, and neck rule out Laysan. Short-taileds change plumage from all dark to mostly white but have WAY huge (129-141mm!), hot pink bills – see outline on TN20 or TN14(AK). A long-distance, ocean traveler, this bird likely calls MidwayAtoll, or Laysan Island home (73% of the world’s population lives in these TWO places), to raise chicks, winter-spring.
A Common Murre bone refound by Tom in Oregon North. This bird was tagged on Tom’s first survey over a year ago. Recently, he refound the bone with the tags still in place. Note how the cable ties are tightened nicely around the right wing bone. Good tag placement ensures that COASST birds stay tagged and identified for remainder of their time on the beach: use the innermost wing bone, tie tight, clip tie ends!
A fish hook and lure found by Joanna in California. Hooks account for about 17% of the bird entanglements documented by COASST and are second only to fishing line. As we’ve mentioned before, if you see something like this on your beach, it’s best to pack it out.
We just wrapped up the summer quarter here at UW and bid farewell to our awesome team of interns (An, Adrienne, Chelsea, Hilary, Matt, Monisha, Jessica, Shannon, Stephanie, and Tom). As the UW summer break begins, the COASST office will continue to be a hub of activity, especially since the fall post breeding mortality spike isn’t too far away. August has brought lots of interesting finds out on the beach. Here are a few of the many photos that have landed in our inbox recently:
A Heermann’s Gull found by Jerry and Carol in Oregon South. Since the feet aren’t visible, let’s use the wing (sorry Alaskan’s – this one prefers south of 55°N). Our wing chord measurement is about 34cm, which puts this in the “Extra Large” category. Mantle is gray, wing tips are gray, so we have either a Glaucous-winged Gull or Heermann’s Gull – only one has a red bill with black tip – that’s the Heermanns’s. If you’re using the new wing key, select gray mantle, wing tips about the same color, no white trailing edge or windows in the outer half of the primaries.
A Sooty Shearwater found by Linda and Dini on the South Coast, Washington. Three webbed toes and one tiny fourth toe (actually just a nail) – Tubenose! From the family page select dark, thin, long bill (and for Alaska – white underwing linings). The bill size (39mm) rules out Short-tailed Shearwater (29-35mm). COASSTers surveying this area know we’ve seen a wave of SOSH this August. Drawn to the productive waters off the Columbia River, mouth of Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay and Tillamook Bay, Sooties are “tanking up,” about to make their journey south (WAY south) to areas off Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere.
A Brown Pelican found by Terry and Kimberly in California. It’s hard to mistake this large bird! Four webbed toes puts it in the Pouchbill family and with a bill length of 34cm(!) it could only be a Brown Pelican. The head, neck and throat are brown; the breast white, so this is a juvenile bird (hatched January-June 2013 in Southern California or Baja California-Mexico).
A ball of monofilament line found by Heather in Oregon North. Fishing line is the most commonly recorded type of entanglement on COASST surveys. If you see some of this on your beach, it’s a good idea to clean it up.
The COASST office continues to be a buzz of activity as our summer quarter wraps up. Recently, we trained new North Coast and Aleutian Island volunteers in addition to our many ongoing projects. There have been lots of interesting finds this summer. Here are a few of the many photos sent in by volunteers:
Large Immature Gulls (LIGU) found by the Hobuck crew in Washington, Carl in California, and Caren in Oregon. We’ve been seeing a lot of LIGUs lately as the post-breeding mortality spike begins. As you see in the photos, the coloration on these birds can really vary. Chances are, if you find mottled brown mantle with an extra large wing cord (more than 33cm) you’re looking at a Large Immature Gull.
A Marbled Murrelet found by Nancy and Barbara in the Puget Sound. This species is listed as US Fish and Wildlife ESA Threatened in California, Oregon and Washington, and a rare find for COASST surveys (only 65 found since 1999). Three webbed toes put it in the Alcid family, and a short wing chord leads to Common Murre chicks, Marbled or Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Least or Whiskered Auklet. A dark underwing and mottled brown underparts point us to Marbled Murrelet, since the Kittlitz’s bill is less than 14mm(!).
These two Pigeon Guillemots (adult on the left, chick on the right) were found by Elizabeth in Oregon and Govinda in the Puget Sound. Another member of the Alcid family, PIGUs have bright red feet (hidden in chick photo) and a white patch on their upperwing (just barely showing on the inner portion of the chick’s left wing).
This pallet was found by Carol in Alaska. Koito, the brand printed in red, is a Japanese automotive and aircraft lighting manufacturer. This pallet could have traveled from Japan or come from a boat shipping Japanese products.
Everyone knows our student interns keep the COASST office buzzing along. We took a step back and realized over 150 University of Washington undergraduate students have been part of the COASST effort, committing over 13,500 hours to the program in total!
Today, and in posts to come, we highlight what some of our graduated students are up to.
Erin Tomaras, COASST Intern (later, Senior Intern) contributed a whopping 390 hours of service, March 2009-June 2012. With her heart set on field work from the day she graduated, she’s now working for a non-profit on South Padre Island, Texas called Sea Turtle Inc. “On my non-patrol days I work in the clinic helping sea turtles that have been hit by boat propellers, attacked by predators, caught in fishing line, or are sick with infection. I also educate visitors about the different species of sea turtles, what impacts humans have in sea turtles, and the condition of turtles in our care.”
And on the patrol days? No, she doesn’t wear armor or dress in camo, “I monitor 64 miles of beach on an ATV for nesting Kemp’s Ridley mommas. This is harder than it sounds because this species is the smallest type of sea turtle and it only nests on windy days – tracks often disappear in the course of a half hour.” COASSTers, of course, are well aware of the difficulties of finding birds in sand, let alone tracks!
When you’re around COASST that long, you can’t help but look out for birds on the beach. In fact, she sent us this email, and true to COASST form, a quiz to our current students (and all of you):
“Hi Jane, Since I have been down here in Texas, I have spotted a few beached birds during my sea turtle ATV patrols. It seems I’ve still got my eyes subconsciously peeled for them. I thought you might be interested to see some beached birds from the Gulf. You should try these photos on the interns!”
So we share them (careful, only one is in the Beached Birds guide, none of these are in the Beached Birds-Alaska guide).
We have been seeing lots of interesting things being found out on the COASST beaches. Here are a few of the many photos that have been sent in recently:
The tiniest of tubenoses, this is a Leach’s Storm-Petrel found in North Oregon. All dark upperwing and a small wing chord of less than 18cm puts us in the “tiny” category of the West Coast guide, and a similar spot in the Alaska guide, one shared with many of the small Alcids (e.g., Marbled Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet). Underwing linings are not white (you’ll have to trust us on this point) so we’re left with Storm-Petrels. Of those, only the Leach’s has a white rump and dark brown (vs. light gray) plumage.
A Large Immature Gull entangled in blue filament (see left leg) found in the Puget Sound. Entangled birds make up about 0.5% of all birds found during COASST surveys in any year. Look carefully at that bill – dark and hooked, but no tube or separate bill plates, so it’s not a shearwater or a jaeger.
There’s only a few species with white in the upperwing and the secondary feathers – Ivory Gull, Glaucous Gull, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan or Snow Goose. Dark primary feathers tell us this is a Snow Goose-light morph, found in the Chukchi Sea (it’s finally melting up there!)
A rubber cat found on the South Coast of Washington – perhaps used as an under-pet-bowl placemat?
Finally, a glass ampoule (sealed vial) found on the South Coast of Washington. Modern ampoules are mostly used to contain injectable pharmaceuticals. The best way to dispose of an item like this and other medications is through a local pharmacy, or National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, or via the FDA’s suggested method.
You never know what you may find out on those beaches!
Amazing trip out to the COASST with Barbara Blackie’s “Topics in Marine Ecology” class at Western Washington University. Barbara, a former COASST Volunteer Coordinator, uses COASST surveys as a learning opportunity for numerous college students. As all COASSTers know, you can’t head out to the beach without looking for (dead) birds!
COASST finds made up for the less-than-ideal weather – a couple of Black-footed Albatross, a Rhinoceros Auklet (complete with white leading edge), and a Sabine’s Gull (distinctive white upperwing triangle).
Occasionally, new recruits ask whether “Wrack: Thick >1M wide” refers to wrack height or spread across the sand. At Sooes, we actually found wrack almost one meter tall – incredible.
We followed up COASST surveys with a walk on the Cape Flattery trail, with some stunning views of Gray Whales, Tufted Puffins, and migrating geese. After all that, how could you not want to become a marine biologist?