Algae and foam near Ocean Shores


Foam observed at Griffith’s Pri­day State Park (Ocean Shores, WA).

Last week­end, Carl (COASSTer since 2009) doc­u­mented a few stranded birds (two West­ern Grebes, one Brandt’s Cor­morant) cov­ered in algae at Griffith’s Pri­day State Park. For COASSTers who wit­nessed the 2009 Akashiwo san­guinea algal bloom, this raised some con­cerns that the foam on the beach and the algae vis­i­ble on the birds might be Akashiwo.

Thanks to the rapid response of part­ners Raphael Kudela-UCSC, Vera Trainer-Northwest Fish­eries Sci­ence Cen­ter, Anthony Odell-ORHAB Part­ner­ship, water sam­ples col­lected this week­end will be ana­lyzed for the pres­ence of Akashiwo, with results avail­able as early as next week. We’ll relay the results to COASSTers and keep you posted.

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, TN7TN15.

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 (PIGUAL10-11), or Green-winged Teal (GWTEWF7-8). 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).

What’s Washed In — August 22

Hope that all of you are enjoy­ing sunny beach walks this month! It’s an excit­ing time at COASST.  Tomor­row, we are hold­ing our first marine debris pilot train­ing ses­sion in Ocean Shores, Wash­ing­ton, and last week we met up with COASSTers in Neah Bay, Wash­ing­ton for a refresher train­ing on the beach. We’re also get­ting ready for upcom­ing train­ings in Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon next month. A big thank you to all of you for your hard work. If you have any datasheets or pho­tos lying around, please send them our way! We can’t wait to see them.

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

Katie found these wings on Peter­son Bay in Alaska on July 5th. Wing:  64 cm

Can we get to the species with just two wings? Sure!

Alaska wing key (page 44): A smidgeon of the upper­wing is vis­i­ble in the top photo– select “dark, some species w/ white spots or edg­ing.” Upper­wing dark (go to Q5). Under­wing lin­ings not white (go to Q9). Wing chord more than 35cm (go to Q14). Q14 asks us to check indi­vid­ual pri­maries: look at the bot­tom photo – the last pri­mary is super short – must be a Bald Eagle.

West Coast wing key (page 33): A smidgeon of the upper­wing is vis­i­ble in the top photo– select “pri­mar­ily dark, some species w/ pale spots of thing stripes (go to Q2).” Upper­wing sim­ple dark (go to Q3). Under­wing is dark (go to Q6). Check the wing for smudges – nope. But the “out­er­most pri­mary IS more than a feather width shorter than the next – a Bald Eagle.

West Coast wing table (page 32): Too rare! This species, if included would fall into dark upper­wimg, HUGE (wing chord >43cm).

BLani and Betty found this bird on August 4th at Har­bor Mouth in Alaska.
Bill: 28 mm, Wing: 21 cm, Tar­sus: 30 mm

Since the foot is hid­den, let’s use the wing – it’s unique!

Alaska wing key (page 44): On Q1, select “gray, some species w/ dark tips and/or dark stripe(s) on man­tle (go to Q25). Aha! “Bro­ken dark diag­o­nal stripe from wrist to elbow (go to Q26). No idea about the under­wing, so we’re left with BLKI-i (LA14) and BOGU-I (LA18). Note the imma­ture Black-legged Kit­ti­wake has white sec­on­daries and the immatyue Bonaparte’s Gull has dark sec­on­daries – this must be an imma­ture BLKI – a young chick, not yet fully grown.

West Coast wing key (page 33): Select “gray, some species w/ dark tips and/or dark stripe(s) on man­tle, go to Q10.” Wing tips DO con­trast (go to Q12). Aha! “mot­tled ‘stripe’ from elbow to wrist” – two species: BLKI-j (LA13) and CATE-j (LA19). The mot­tled “stripe” is def­i­nitely black, not brown – Black-legged Kittiwake!

West Coast wing table (page 32): Wing is 21cm, so we should con­sider Med (21-24cm), one row up Small (18-20cm) and one row down, Med-Lg (25-28cm). Upper­wing is mostly gray, so scan across to the next page where “Gray Man­tle” appears as a col­umn header. Yikes! Noth­ing in any of these size classes. Let’s take it down one more row, where we find BLKI (LA13) and RLKI (LA23). Between the two, the Black-legged kit­ti­wake is the one with the paler man­tle, black wing tips and black diag­o­nal wing stripe.


Is a bot­tle just a bot­tle and a cap just a cap? This photo taken by Kari on her August sur­vey at Duk Point (WA) demon­strates the vari­ety of shape, color, size, mate­r­ial and con­di­tion of what we might think of as “bev­er­age bot­tles”. The vari­ety mat­ters: shapes are some­times par­tic­u­lar to coun­try of ori­gin and tell us how far and where a bot­tle may have come from.


Bot­tle caps that are in the red end of the color spec­trum like this one, found by Janis and Judy on Ruby South Beach (WA) in April, are often con­fused for food by many seabird species.



Speak­ing of marine debris, thanks to Paul at Ocean Park South in Wash­ing­ton for help­ing us to iden­tify the black pip­ing fea­tured in What’s Washed In on August 8.  These black tubes appear to be the remains of a net pen called a polar cir­cle, which is used in salmon farming.


Not a bird, but quite an inter­est­ing car­cass! Can­dace found this stur­geon at Otter Point on May 28. White stur­geons, also known as Pacific stur­geons, are found along the West Coast. Stur­geon are anadro­mous fish, mean­ing they start their lives in fresh­wa­ter and then migrate to salt­wa­ter. Stur­geon may return to fresh­wa­ter to spawn mul­ti­ple times over their life. They can live up to 100 years, and they are also the largest fresh­wa­ter species in North Amer­ica, grow­ing up to 20 feet in length!

What’s Washed In — August 8

August is off to a great start! We’ve had won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tions with many of you this week dur­ing our sum­mer check-ins, we are excited for a Beached Birds Refresher in Neah Bay on August 16, and we are get­ting ready for our very first Marine Debris Pilot Train­ing in Ocean Shores on August 23! If you are look­ing for some­thing to do this week­end, note that this is the last really good low tide series in day­light — a per­fect time to con­duct a sea star sur­vey at a local rocky beach.  Check out the vol­un­teer tool­box to find the COASST pro­to­col and datasheets.

Thank you for all of your hard work this month! Let’s take at what’s washed in to COASST beaches recently:

Carol found this bird at Bas­ten­dorff Beach in Ore­gon on June 18th.
Bill: 63 mm, Wing: 40 cm, but no feet on this one – let’s jump to one of these three places:

West Coast wing table:
Scan down to the “extra large” row and across the col­umn head­ers. Of all these, man­tle is tan + white. If you chose gray, that’s okay, but just gray leads us to Heermann’s Gull (LA21) and that man­tle is way too dark. So we’re left with: Large Imma­ture Gull — LIGU (LA3), South Polar Skua — SPSK (LA29), Poma­rine Jaeger — POJA (LA27), Heermann’s Gull HEEGj (LA21). The SPSK has a very dark wing with white at the bases of the pri­maries – it’s out. POJA has bright white pri­mary shafts that con­trast with the upper­wing color – it’s out. We’ve already elim­i­nated the HEEG. We’re left with LIGU, specif­i­cally a very bleached/worn Glaucous-winged Gull (you can sep­a­rate it from the Glau­cous Gull — bill all black).

West Coast wing key:
Choose “man­tle with vari­able mot­tling: brown, gray, or white” (go to Q14). White/brown is mixed through­out (go to Q15). Under­wing lin­ings (those small feath­ers cov­er­ing the bases of the pri­maries and sec­on­daries on the under­side) are not bright white – they’re tan. Still, even if we can’t really decide, we’re left with: CATEj (LA19), SNGOj, LIGU (LA3), CAGO (WF1) or GWFG. Let’s use bill to get there – CATE has a straight, red bill. All the geese have bills with rounded tips and ser­rated edges. Must be a LIGU!

Alaska wing key:
If you choose white-to-nearly-white you’re a bit out-of-range at 40cm. Instead select “mot­tled man­tle brown, gray or white” (go to Q29). Mot­tling through­out man­tle (go to Q30). Under­wing pat­tern is not white, and at 40cm it’s either an eider, Large Imma­ture Gull or Emperor Goose. Bill gives it away – LIGU indeed.









This new COASST species was found by Can­dace on Use­less Bay in the Puget Sound on July 19th. It’s not in the guide, but we can get to fam­ily with the foot!

Bill:  18 mm, Wing:  16 cm, Tar­sus:  36 mm

Alaska & West Coast:

Free toes (go to Q9). Three free toes, all front – Stop – 3-Toed Shorebird!

On SB1 of the COASST guide, Sander­ling, Black Oys­ter­catcher and most plovers fall into this foot type. Two other plovers turn up as sim­i­lar species to this one in Paulson’s “Shore­birds of North Amer­ica” – Semi­palmated Plover and Wilson’s Plover, but only the Killdeer has two black stripes across the upper breast.











What is it about nets that helps them catch fish and other organ­isms? Loops, as Jane demon­strates here, can entan­gle an ani­mal — allow it to get “in,” but mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to get “out”. Some­times nets get lost in the ocean and con­tinue “ghost fish­ing”. The size and flex­i­bil­ity of the loops deter­mine what ani­mals might get caught. Fish­ing nets were made for this pur­pose but there are lots of other com­mon debris objects that also have loops that can entrap ani­mals like this bucket found by Arne on Bain­bridge Island (WA).



Bar­bara and Mike found this large pipe had at South But­ter Clam (WA) on July 23rd. We are still try­ing to fig­ure out what it is and where it may have come from. It’s over 30 feet long and filled with Sty­ro­foam. Best guesses so far: the base of a float­ing dock, raft or pon­toon boat. Let us know if you have other ideas!


Have you noticed these crea­tures on your beach lately? Here’s a photo from Stan­ley at Wash­way Beach (WA), who noticed a large accu­mu­la­tion of Velella velella at the end of June. These crea­tures are com­monly referred to as “by-the-wind sailors.” Because these colo­nial cnidar­i­ans have no means of move­ment, they solely depend on pre­vail­ing winds and ocean cur­rents. They actu­ally use their semi­cir­cu­lar “sail” to catch the wind. When the ocean and wind con­di­tions come together just right, we see a mass strand­ing of Velella velella: an event that only seems to occur once every four to five years!  While Velella velella do in fact sting their prey when in the water, they are found to be harm­less to humans.

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.

What’s Washed In — July 9, 2014

It’s been a busy week at the COASST office, with juve­nile com­mon murre wreck reports in two Hum­boldt loca­tions and lots of data com­ing in! If you hap­pen to see 10 or more beached birds of the same species on your sur­vey, check out Part 4 of the COASST Pro­to­col and let us know if you have any ques­tions about wrecks! We’re happy to help.

This week­end we have another low tide series, which means it’s a great time to head out for another sea star sur­vey or your very first, if you haven’t tried the sea star pro­to­col yet. More than 18 species of sea stars in the Pacific North­west are exhibit­ing signs of Sea Star Wast­ing Dis­ease, and we could really use your help to mon­i­tor sea stars on COASST beaches. Thank you again to those of you who have con­tributed thus far.  There is no way we could mon­i­tor such a large geo­graphic area with­out your help.

We’ve had quite a few inter­est­ing finds on COASST beaches recently, includ­ing what we call a one-in-a-million bird! What does that mean? Let’s take a look at what’s washed in and find out!AWe haven’t seen a flood of this species hit the beaches like what we saw in the sum­mer of 2011 and 2012. Still, Brenda and Bill spot­ted one – only mea­sur­able part left is the tar­sus. Let’s take a look, start­ing with the foot key (tar­sus = 53mm): Webbed, go to Q2; com­pletely webbed, go to Q3; 3-webbed, 4th minute (=tiny) go to Q6; thin toe or nail only go to Q7; heel is flat, go to Q8; with this tar­sus, we’re at Tubenose: petrels – stop!

On TN1, we can see that what’s left of the wings is larger than 20cm, so pro­ceed to True Petrels. Bill is thin, long and dark – one of the shear­wa­ters! With a 53mm tar­sus, we’re out­side the range of the Short-tailed Shear­wa­ter, and just barely in the range of the Pink-footed Shear­wa­ter. The PFSH has a pale bill base – well, Sooty Shear­wa­ter it is!


BJ and John found a one-in-a-million bird last week, not by species (we’ll get to that) – it was oiled AND entan­gled – only about a  .002% chance of that! Let’s get back to what it is – crack open the foot key again: Webbed, go to Q2; com­pletely webbed, go to Q3; 3-webbed, 4th minute (=tiny) go to Q6; thin toe or nail only go to Q7; but this time the heel is swollen: Lar­ids – stop! Hooked bill, mot­tled brown plumage, dark bill: we have our­selves a Large Imma­ture Gull, specif­i­cally a Glaucous-winged Gull, subadult.

CLook at the size of that fish! Joanna didn’t find any birds on her Ore­gon Mile 309 sur­vey, but she did spot this Yel­low­eye Rock­fish (aka Ras­p­head, Red Snap­per) on May 25. Yel­low­eye range from Prince William Sound, Alaska to Baja Cal­i­for­nia, Mex­ico, though in the mid­dle of their range, their pop­u­la­tion is low and declin­ing, which led to a ban on their take in Wash­ing­ton since 2003. In 2010, they were listed as Threat­ened under the Endan­gered Species Act prompt­ing a pro­posal of crit­i­cal habi­tat in the greater Puget Sound/Georgia Basin in 2013 for Yel­low­eye, and two other species: Canary Rock­fish, and Bocac­cio. Yel­low eyed rock fish can grow up to three feet in length. Yel­low­eye rock fish are red in color as juve­niles and very slowly progress to a dull yel­low. By very slowly, I really mean very slowly! These fish can live up to about 120 years!

KayakRopeWon­der­ing what’s hap­pen­ing with marine debris? COASST’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor, Julia Par­rish, recently took a trip to Kayak Island, Alaska to test out the marine debris pro­to­col.  She was joined by Ellen Lance, Branch Chief for the Anchor­age USFWS Endan­gered Species Pro­gram, and they found a lot of BIG debris. On the smaller side was this rope. A cou­ple of key char­ac­ter­is­tics are the fact that it has many loops (a poten­tial entan­gle­ment haz­ard for wildlife) and it has goose­neck bar­na­cles on it (a sign that it has been in the water a long time and may have trav­eled a long dis­tance).  In this photo you can see our pro­to­type mea­sur­ing device/color bars used to deter­mine the size and color of debris objects, along with the famil­iar COASST ruler and chalkboard.

Thanks to all of you for your hard work! Happy COASSTing!

What’s Washed In — June 30, 2014

Hope every­one is enjoy­ing the first weeks of sum­mer. As usual, the COASST office is bustling with activ­ity — we have new sum­mer interns, we’re get­ting ready for three beached bird train­ings in July, the marine debris pro­gram devel­op­ment is pro­gress­ing, and we’re now col­lect­ing data on sea stars (see below)! Just a heads up for those of you along the Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Wash­ing­ton coast, Brown Pel­i­cans are headed north ear­lier this year. In some years, we’ve seen big spikes of murre chicks around coastal colonies due to Pel­i­can dis­tur­bance — be pre­pared, espe­cially if you sur­vey between New­port and Otter Crest in Ore­gon North.

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in!

A.Wing chord = 41mm

Ack! Just a wing! But no fear here: if you have the wing key, turn there (that’s what Janet and Carol did), or turn to the wing table!

Alaska wing key: Pale, but not white, so select gray (go to Q25). And hey! There’s not much else going on here: no mot­tled stripe, no dark pri­mary or sec­ondary tips, no bicol­ored pri­maries, and the pri­mary tips aren’t white, they’re still gray. Look close – can you see the tiny white “fin­ger­nail”? This has to be a Glaucous-winged Gull (LA6-7).

West Coast wing key: Gray man­tle, some species with dark tips and/or dark stripes (look­ing pretty plain here, but still, go to Q10). If upper­wing gray, do wingtips con­trast? Nope, not that we can see. Check out the longest pri­mary – at least one white fin­ger­nail there, so we’re left with Glaucous-winged Gull (LA7-8).

Wing table: With our wing chord, we’ll zero in on the “Extra Large” row. Upper­wing isn’t dark (those near black hues), it’s gray – turn the page or scan across. Sim­ply gray or gray with white lin­ings or gray with black tips? Well, we can elim­i­nate black tips. We’re left with Heermann’s Gull (LA21-22) or Glaucous-winged Gull (LA7-8).  Our wing chord is too large for Heermann’s – Glaucous-winged Gull, final answer.

BBill: 44mm, Wing: 20cm, Tar­sus: 41mm

Sure, this didn’t JUST come in, but we pulled this one to show Chris’ detec­tive work started with FINDING the bird, even before the ID. A fine exam­ple of a bird hid­den (not even buried!) in wrack.

All regions: Foot — let’s start there. Three webbed toes and no tiny “minute” toe behind – Alba­tross or Alcids, but the foot is WAY too small for an albie.  Flip to Alcids, AL1. Bill is dark, smooth and fea­ture­less – mur­res or guille­mots. No white upper­wing patch – not a guille­mot and bill is too big for a Thick-billed Murre (a rarer-than-rare option in Puget Sound, but still). Con­grats – COMU (AK: AL3-4 West Coast: AL2-3).

CaCbWing chord = 26.5 cm

Gin­ger fig­ured this out! Flip back to the wing key or wing table.

Alaska wing key: Sec­on­daries darker than man­tle, so select dark specu­lum (go to Q17). No patches here (go to Q24). There it is: buffy stripe above and white below specu­lum. The wing chord is larger than 19cm, so we have a North­ern Pin­tail (rare, not in the AK COASST guide).

West Coast wing key: Dark sec­on­daries, go to Q18. Tan stripe above and white stripe below specu­lum. Def­i­nitely larger than a Green-winged Teal – good work — North­ern Pin­tail (WF9-10)!

Wing table: Smack in the mid­dle of “Med-Lg,” and we’ll scroll across to patch/speculum. We have few to con­sider! NOPI (WF9-10), MALL (WF11-12), WWSC (WF 3–4), KIEI-m (WF21-22). Let’s start from the bot­tom and work our way up! KIEI  male – white under­wing – ours is mostly gray. All  white sec­on­daries, a la WWSC? Nope. Mal­lard has a purple/blue specu­lum bor­dered by white – not quite. Only one has a “green­ish brown” specu­lum – that’s the North­ern Pin­tail (WF9-10).



Bill: 74mm, Wing: 30cm, Tar­sus: 69mm

Melissa notes, “dark brown, belly tan mot­tling.” Let’s go back to the foot key.

All regions: Webbed foot (go to Q2), fully webbed (go to Q3), 4 toes, all webbed, Pouch­bills (PB1). On PB1 we note: NOT a Pel­i­can (wing chord less than 35cm). In Alaska, we can get straight there: tan (or at least not dark) chin. West Coast COASSTers, fol­low through to pages PB2, PB4, and PB6 to check the mea­sure­ments of all three cor­morants. A bill of 74mm is too big for a Pelagic or Double-crested Cor­morant – this is a Brandt’s Cor­morant (AK: rare, West Coast: PB2-3).


Dolliver_Jane 21014float Here’s a buoy that the marine debris team found recently. If you take a close look, you can see the curved pecks from bird bites. Pilot sur­veys con­ducted by Marine Debris interns seem to be show­ing a pat­tern that’s con­sis­tent with research con­ducted by Ger­hard Cadee in the Nether­lands. In Cadee’s research, he found bird bite marks on 80% of the foam marine debris he tested! The COASST Marine Debris mod­ule will help us under­stand the degree that birds inter­act with debris objects.

CCallen6-16-14 0043A big THANK YOU to all of you who are help­ing to col­lect sea star data.  Here’s a photo sent in by Can­dace, show­ing sea star wast­ing dis­ease in ochre sea stars. Sea star wast­ing dis­ease is cur­rently impact­ing upwards of 18 species of sea stars through­out the Pacific Coast.

COASST is work­ing with Pro­fes­sor Drew Harvell at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity to doc­u­ment sea star wast­ing dis­ease using a sim­ple pro­to­col. If you live near a coastal area with cob­ble, rocky bench, or tide pool coastal sites, we’d love your help with this impor­tant, time sen­si­tive project. The pro­to­col and data sheet can both be found on the COASST web­site in the vol­un­teer tool­box.