Updated Cassin’s Auklet — Dec


We’ve updated the Cassin’s Auk­let graphic to include December’s monthly encounter rate, with sur­veys received through Jan 22, 2015. A few more weeks into Feb­ru­ary and we’ll be able to add Jan­u­ary as well. Cur­rently, Jan­u­ary totals are the high­est of the four months, but that may change as the num­ber of entered and ver­i­fied sur­veys grows.


© T. John­son. All rights reserved.

We fig­ured COASSTers would want to check out this photo (which Char­lie rounded up from Tom). Did you note the COASST ID char­ac­ters on this one?

  • Short, stout bill with pale spot at base
  • White spot(s) around eye
  • Gray under­wing with pale cen­tral band

Woo hoo! That’s how we know it’s not a Kittlitz’s or Mar­bled Mur­relet, nor a Rhi­noc­eros or Para­keet Auk­let. And this late into the year (Nov-Jun), juve­nile mur­res are all teenagers — at least the same size as adults — so it’s not one of those, either.

Keep on going, COASSTers! At this rate, Cassin’s Auk­lets might sur­pass North­ern Ful­mars for the num­ber two spot on the COASST species list - if so, you’ll be the first to know!

Cassin’s Auklet Die-off Continues

For the full story, see the North Pacific Cassin’s Auk­let Wreck fact sheet, posted to our website.

Fol­low­ing the Dec 20/21 week­end, COASST par­tic­i­pants have seen a wave of Cassin’s Auk­lets hit the beaches, from Clal­lam County, Wash­ing­ton to Hum­boldt County, Cal­i­for­nia. Com­bin­ing reports from beached bird pro­grams across North Pacific (see pre­vi­ous blog) pre­lim­i­nary esti­mates sug­gest that tens of thou­sands of these birds are wash­ing ashore, at the rate of 10–100 times “normal.”

Cassin's Auklet off the Washington coast. (c) R. Merrill

Cassin’s Auk­let off the Wash­ing­ton coast. © R. Merrill

The Cassin’s Auk­let, Pty­choram­phus aleu­ti­cus is a small (about 200g, or 7 oz) krill and lar­val fish-eating seabird that breeds along the West Coast of North Amer­ica from Alaska south to Baja Cal­i­for­nia, Mex­ico. A major­ity of birds ( ~80% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion) breed in the Scott Island group, off the North­west tip of Van­cou­ver Island. Need more info? Check out BC’s Coast Region Species of Con­ser­va­tion Con­cern Fact Sheet.

Over 50 birds documented by a COASST team outside of Lincoln City, OR. (c) COASST

Over 50 birds doc­u­mented by a COASST team out­side of Lin­coln City, OR. © COASST

As of Jan 6, 2015, the north­ern coast of Ore­gon (Colum­bia River south to Hec­eta Head) has had the high­est regional per kilo­me­ter counts, at 4.3 Cassin’s Auklets/km (Nov) and 5.2 Cassin’s Auklets/km (Dec). The high­est per kilo­me­ter encounter rate on a COASST sur­vey is from Bay­ocean Spit (near Tillam­ook, OR) at 71 birds/km.

Cassin’s Auklet Wreck

Cassin's Auklet wreck data as of November 21, 2014.

Cassin’s Auk­let wreck data, Octo­ber 1 — Novem­ber 21, 2014.

Beginning in late October and continuing through mid November, we've witnessed an uptick in Cassin's Auklets. In collaboration with West Coast beached bird partners Beach Watch (San Francisco - GFNMS) and BeachCOMBERS (Monterey Bay - MBNMS), and British Columbia Beached Bird Survey we know this event extends from Washington State south to Monterey Bay. The highest per kilometer counts occurred in Oregon North (30 Cassin's Auklets per kilometer at McPhillips Beach in Tillamook County). 

Why Cassin's, why now? Cassin's Auklet colonies in British Columbia (75.9% of the North American population) fared well this season with high (the highest?) reproductive output recorded from decades of monitoring. Lots of young-of-the-year out in the Pacific this year! Ocean conditions, may (though we don't have evidence yet) be deteriorating more than normal. Storm activity November 15/16 preceded a wave of beaching - not unusual - the combination of young birds and difficult conditions predictably lead to wrecks, like those we see most years, at the end of a good Common Murre breeding season.
Just two of the 179 birds Patty counted on 12/23 near Neskowin, OR.

Just two of the 179 birds Patty counted on Decem­ber 23 near Neskowin, OR.

UPDATE: A new wave of Cassin's Auklets hit the coast of Washington and Oregon beginning Sunday, December 21 with up to 100/km on some beaches. These small, fist-sized birds have a dark bill (pale spot at base), dark back and wings, white belly. Fresh specimens show blue-ish feet (3 webbed toes, no hind toe).

What determines the path of marine debris through the ocean?

Physics! A com­bi­na­tion of char­ac­ter­is­tics of the object, and the pat­terns of wind and ocean cur­rents all play a role in where marine debris moves in the ocean. Why do we care? With two types of information–where debris winds up (on a COASSTER’s beach, for instance) and the influ­ences of the move­ment of debris–we can deter­mine where the object may have come from. This process can help to deter­mine the sources of what’s wash­ing in on our shores.

If we already know the source of marine debris and its beach­ing loca­tion, it can serve as a sort of “track­ing device” or drifter. Fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing tsunami that struck Tohoku, Japan in 2011, mod­els have been used to pre­dict the path of the tons of debris that washed out to the ocean. The accu­racy of these kinds of pre­dic­tions depends on real, live infor­ma­tion to ver­ify and improve the meth­ods.  COASST’s new marine debris pro­gram will col­lect this kind of data, tak­ing into account the very char­ac­ter­is­tics of debris that play a part in how the object may move through the water.


Vary­ing degrees of windage on exam­ple floats. Image orig­i­nally appeared in NOAA Marine Debris doc­u­ments about Tsunami Debris tra­jec­to­ries. http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/Japan_Tsunami_Marine_Debris_Report.pdf

So how does it work? Ocean cur­rents are impor­tant no mat­ter what, but the influ­ence of wind depends on char­ac­ter­is­tics like size, hol­low­ness, dimen­sion­al­ity (is it flat?), and mate­r­ial (tells us about den­sity). Obvi­ously, hol­low and less dense (buoy­ant) objects are likely to rest higher in the water than solid or heavy objects. The shape and vol­ume of any hol­low cav­ity influ­ence how a float­ing object is affected by wind. The area of the object that sticks above the water, or “sail area” deter­mines the degree that wind impacts the object’s move­ment. This is known as “windage”. High windage– where the major­ity of the object is above the sur­face of the water–results in an increase of wind force on the sail area, where wind pat­terns in addi­tion to ocean cur­rents play a role in the path. Just as it sounds, the sail area acts as a sail and catches the air cur­rent. Oppo­sitely, the “drag area” is the part of the object that lies below the sur­face. For objects that are flat or float just below the sur­face, windage will be very low.

One out­come of drift­ing debris


North pacific Sub­trop­i­cal Con­ver­gence Zone, cour­tesy of wiki­me­dia commons

You may have heard of the North Pacific Gyre (NPG): a slow-moving spi­ral of con­verg­ing ocean cur­rents cre­ated by a high-pressure sys­tem of air cur­rents. Within this con­ver­gence zone lies what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; mil­lions of pounds of trash and plas­tic that extend for miles below and across the sur­face of the ocean. The mas­sive accu­mu­la­tion of garbage comes from all over and is car­ried to the NPG by those very cur­rents that con­verge there. Every piece of plas­tic that forms the “garbage island” got there by the forces of ocean and air cur­rents. Objects with higher windage, tend not to accu­mu­late in the Garbage Patch, as the wind sends them on their way.


It’s all in the Foot(print)

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:

Domestic dog print. But wait! How do we know it's not a coyote? Front nails are spread far apart (coyotes nearly touch)

Domes­tic dog print. But wait! How do we know it’s not a coy­ote? Two front toes (and nails) are spread far apart (coy­otes’ nails nearly touch).

Hoof print; most force on forward (leading) edge.

Hoof print. Most force on for­ward (lead­ing) edge.

Larid (gull) print. Bird is walking towards the top of the photo.

Larid (gull) print. Bird is walk­ing towards the top of the photo.

Crow foot. Toes are segmented. With fast movement, front nails make drag marks in sand.

Amer­i­can Crow foot. Toes are seg­mented. With fast move­ment, nails catch in the sand, extend­ing straight lines from front toes.

Three-toed Shorebird. So tiny!

Three-toed Shore­bird. So tiny!

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).