Category Archives: Beached Birds

A common (murre) story of life and death

 

Murres, like other alcids, have round “football-shaped” bodies. Credit: K. Mack

Common Murres (Uria aalge) are one of the most fascinating marine birds in the North Pacific.  As adults, these “footballs with wings” can fly as easily under the water as they can on land.  Murres have been found diving as deep as the continental shelf (~200m), zooming around after forage fish and krill.  Especially during the breeding season, it takes two parents fishing for most of each day to sate the demands of their single hungry chick.  One of the reasons is because parents bring back one fish at a time, and always head in, tail out.

Murres feed their chicks one fish at a time. Credit: J. Dolliver

Fortunately for the parents, young murres leave the colony after a scant three weeks.  Early in the evening, as the sun tips below the horizon, a murre chick will leave the safety of the colony and walk to the edge of the cliff, accompanied by the male parent.  Dad and chick often engage in an extended conversation – it’s impossible to watch and not pretend that Dad is giving his chick a last few bits of advice.

Well heeded!  A murre chick actually fledges before its wings have grown flight feathers.  Essentially a fuzzy tennis ball with winglets, these chicks take a leap into the unknown.  Will they hit the water, or the rocks below?  Turns out that it doesn’t matter.  Although you might think this is a “dinosaur waiting to happen” survival strategy, the worst imaginable (a splat) doesn’t happen.  Instead, young murres bounce on the rocks, pick themselves up and run for the waves, avoiding marauding gull predators on the way.

Once safe on the water, each chick begins calling loudly: Cheep! Cheep! Cheep! If you’re within sight of a murre colony, it’s a sound you can hear from the mainland during the fledging season (July in California and Oregon; August/September in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska).  And it’s a good thing fledglings have a loud voice because they’re announcing their presence to Dad, who returns the call with a guttural: Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh!

Against all odds, most Dad-chick pairs find each other and swim away from the colony. Credit: COASST

They will spend the next several weeks together, until the fledgling learns to fish.  Of course this is an especially dangerous time: pairs can get separated and storms can make fishing difficult.  COASSTers know that the post-breeding period is the time to expect murres to wash up on the beaches.  And this got us wondering, is there a signal in the beached bird data that might tell us something about how successful breeding was on the colonies?

Where and when, on average, we expect to see adult and juvenile common murres on COASST beaches.

To figure that out, we turned to Rob Suryan, Associate Professor at Oregon State University, who maintains a long-term database on the Common Murre colony at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, immediately north of Newport, Oregon.  Rob and his team spend the early summer in the Yaquina lighthouse surveying the murre colony and counting the eggs, then chicks, then fledglings.  This gives them a measure of the breeding success of each pair: the average number of fledglings per pair.  Given that murres only raise a single chick, the very highest this number could ever get is 1.0 (if every single pair was successful).  In reality, something above 0.70 signifies a good year.  In poor years, numbers below 0.40 are common.

We reasoned that in a really good year, colonies would produce a lot of fledglings, filling the nearshore with Dad-chick pairs.  And COASSTers might see that signal on the beach as more than the usual number of juvenile murres, because juvenile mortality is always higher than adult mortality.

By contrast, in poorer years, fewer chicks would even reach fledging stage, and adults would likely be stressed and thinner, more susceptible to the ravages of early fall storms.  In these conditions, COASSTers might see relatively more adults.  That is, both relatively more than juveniles, and absolutely higher encounter rates than “normal” years.

Turns out, we’re right! The graphs below show the relationship between breeding success on the Yaquina Head colony (on the horizontal, or X axis), and measures of COASST data (on the vertical, or Y axis). Each point is a different year, colored so you can easily find each one.

Left: the relationship between how many adult murres are found per kilometer of beach surveyed over the August-September post-breeding season in Northern Oregon. The solid line shows that there are more carcasses when breeding success is truly poor, fewer when breeding conditions are good. Prediction confirmed! Right: the relationship between the proportion of all murres found that are juveniles (for math geeks: juveniles/(adults + juveniles)) and breeding success. Again, our prediction – that good years would yield higher numbers of juveniles – is confirmed!

What does all of this mean?  Basically, that beached bird data can stand in as a proxy for breeding success on the colony.  And this is really good news, because most of the murre colonies in the Pacific Northwest are not regularly monitored, either because they are too far from shore to see (like the Yaquina colony), or because the island or spire where the murres nest is literally unscalable.

If you’re a Pacific Northwest outer coast COASSTer, take special care on your late summer and fall surveys – your murre data are showing us that death is part of the life of the ecosystem.

Gooney Birds? Mollymawks? Albatross!

A recent spate of Black-footed Albatross finds along the north outer coast of Washington in May and June got us wondering about these majestic birds.

With a wingspan of two meters (!) or longer, albatross are the largest members of the Tubenose Foot-type Family (Procellariidae). In the North Pacific there are three species: the dark-bodied, dark-billed Black-footed Albatross; the light-bodied, Laysan Albatross with a “smokey eye”; and the larger, Short-tailed Albatross, distinguished from Laysan and Black-foots by an over-sized bubblegum pink bill (plumage of Short-tails varies with age).

What else might a COASSTer mistake an albatross for? Bald Eagles, Brown Pelicans, Great-blue Herons and Sandhill Cranes are all COASST finds with overlapping wingspans. But each of these birds can easily be distinguished by foot-type, and bill size and shape.

All of these large-bodied COASST finds have distinctively different feet.

A long-lived, monogamous bird, albatross begin breeding at age 5-10, and it takes two parents to raise a single chick. New pairs may require a few years of practice to “get it right.  After that, mates meet annually for a long breeding season: courtship and “re-acquaintance time” starts in November, eggs appear before the turn of the year, and chicks don’t fledge until mid-summer!

Like all members of the family, albatross have a keen sense of smell and can literally smell their prey from tens of kilometers away, a talent that suits these open ocean birds. Dinner for an albatross?  Neon flying squid, flying fish eggs (tobiko in sushi restaurants), and a range of small fish and shrimp-like organisms that come to the surface of the ocean at night.

Unfortunately, smelling their way to food puts albatross in harm’s way. Fishing vessels smell like floating restaurants, attracting albatross and their smaller relatives – shearwaters and Northern Fulmars – some of which become entangled or hooked in gear. Marine debris can also be deceptively appealing, as some plastics, after floating in the marine environment, adsorb and emit the same chemical (dimethyl sulfide) used by procellariiforms as a cue to identify prey. Not only that, floating debris can look like albatross prey (could you tell the difference between a squid mantle and a red lighter floating at the surface?). Young birds are especially susceptible. Dependent on their misled parents for food, chicks ingest plastics, filling their stomachs with indigestible objects they cannot regurgitate.

Photo: Claude Gascon. One theory to explain why albatross consume marine debris is prey mimicry. Oblong, ~5cm floating objects in the yellow to red color spectrum are squid mantle look-alikes.

Populations of Black-foots and Laysans number in the hundreds of thousands.  In contrast, Short-tails number less than ten thousand and are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

With a body that mimics a glider, albatross have the ability to soar tremendous distances.  Even while breeding on islands in the Hawaiian Island chain (Laysan and Black-foots) or southern Japan (Short-tails), breeding adults regularly visit North American waters.  Laysan’s appear to prefer coastal Alaska, whereas Black-foots fly due west to the Lower 48.

Breeding so far from our shores, and preferring the open ocean, you might think COASSTers would never find an albatross.  Not so!  In fact, Black-foots are among our top 30 species.  Peak Black-foot deposition is in the summer: May through August, just when adults are finishing breeding and chicks are coming off the colonies.  But the annual pattern is “irruptive.”  That is, in some years COASSTers are much more apt to find an albatross than in others.  In northern Washington, 2012 and 2017 were break-out years; in southern Washington, 2003, 2007 and 2012 were big.  The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any trend towards higher numbers.

Although you’d have to walk pretty far, on average, to find an albatross on the beach, they do wash up regularly. Along the West Coast, Black-foots are about three times more prevalent on Washington outer coast beaches than along beaches to the south in Oregon and California. And Laysans are a truly rare find (photos are scaled to encounter rate). On the Aleutian Islands, the opposite is true.

Across the COASST dataset, albatross species wash up exactly where you would expect them to given at-sea sightings: Black-foots along the West Coast, and Laysan along the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Although the total body count favors the lower 48 (note only 3 Laysan have been found in Alaska), it’s actually the encounter rate (carcasses per kilometer) that is important.  Remember, there are many more COASSTers along the outer coast of Washington, Oregon and California than there are in the Aleutian Islands!  The photographs in the figure above are scaled to species-specific encounter rate the—the chance of finding an albatross in the Aleutians is about the same as along the outer coast of Washington.

A closer look at Black-foot deposition pattern on the West Coast reveals two distinct aggregations: one associated with the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (we’re guessing these birds are associated with the Juan de Fuca eddy – an oceanographic feature south of the Strait), and a second larger aggregation surrounding the Columbia River.  Both the eddy and the “plume” of river water exiting the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean are highly productive locations where a hungry chick or exhausted post-breeding adult can hunt pelagic prey.

When Black-foot encounter rates are broken down into smaller lengths of coastline (half a degree of latitude, or about 55 kilometers), it’s clear that some locations attract many more.

Moral of this story? If you hope to see an albatross on a COASST survey, head to the south outer coast of Washington during the summer and take a stroll along the sand.

The Risk of Chronic Oiling

When Michael, one of our new COASSTers, found oil on his survey at Jacobsen Jetty South (Tokeland, WA) last month, we decided to take a closer look at the oiled birds in the COASST dataset. How many oiled birds has COASST found over the years, and where? What is the risk of chronic oiling, the type of oiling that might result from small spills like the one Michael documented?

Since 2000, COASSTers have documented 125 oiled birds: 3 in California, 4 in Alaska, 15 in Oregon and a whopping 103 in Washington. But absolute numbers don’t tell the whole story! There are also a lot of unoiled birds found along the outer coast of Washington. To generate an index of chronic oiling risk, we divided the number of oiled carcasses found by the total number of carcasses found, per state. Washington is still in the lead, but Alaska is now second!

Oiling rate by state (separating out Salish Sea and Outer Washington locations) with higher rates indicative of relative risk of chronic oiling, regardless of how many carcasses have been found overall. This analysis allows direct comparisons between birdy states, like Washington, and states like Alaska where the chance of finding a beached bird in some locations is basically zilch. (For the statistically-minded, we’ve subtracted the mass mortality events out of the baseline signal, so we’re truly comparing baseline to oiling).

What’s the story in Washington? Why so many oiled birds relative to elsewhere (3 times higher risk than Alaska, 6 times Oregon and 11 times California)? The map below indicates that almost all of the oiled birds found by COASSTers in Washington have been along the outer coast (only one oiled bird has been found in Puget Sound, just at the entrance of Admiralty Inlet), and most of those have occurred on the Long Beach peninsula and in the Gray’s Harbor/Ocean Shores area. A second smaller cluster of oiling can be seen on the beaches immediately south of Cape Flattery. We suspect a combination of shipping activity concentrated at the Columbia River and at the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, boating activity in the vicinity of the two large southern estuaries, and coastal oceanography bringing Columbia River water close to shore along the southern half of the Washington coastline (but not the Oregon coastline).

What washes in oiled and where in Washington, the state with the overwhelming majority of oiled carcasses (82%) COASSTers have found. Jacobsen Jetty South, where Michael recently reported an oil spill, is right in the middle of the highest oiling region, the southern outer coast. Circles are scaled to the number of oiled birds found – a few beaches are approaching 30 oiled carcasses, in total!

What washes in oiled and where in Washington State – the state with the overwhelming majority of oiled carcasses (82%) COASSTers have found. Jacobsen Jetty South, where Michael recently reported an oil spill, is right in the middle of the highest oiling region, the southern outer coast. Circles are scaled to the number of oiled birds found – a few beaches are approaching 30 oiled carcasses, in total! Of course, the spill Michael encountered at Jacobsen Jetty South reminds us that chronic spills are not necessarily the result of a vessel actually discharging oil, or oily bilge water, but can be the result in inadvertent loss of oil-filled containers, or even malicious dumping once the debris reaches shore. Although large oil spills get most of the press, the vast majority of spills in any year are small ones. One study released by the Washington Department of Ecology showed that between 1991 and 1996 there were 100 documented oil spills. Only 4 were large (>100,000 gallons). Half were 100 gallons or less, and three-quarters were 1,000 gallons or less.

And finally, which species are oiled? Not surprisingly, murres, fulmars and gulls top the list, accounting for ~80% of all oiled carcasses found. We’re not surprised by this because murres, fulmars and gulls also collectively rank as the top three species or groups in the COASST dataset. In fact, there is a pretty strong relationship between oiling numbers and total numbers. The only species that falls outside of this relationship is Black-footed Albatross. At 186 Black-foots found to date, we’d not expect to see even a single oiled carcass, let alone two.

Wondering what to do if you find a fresh oil or hazardous material spill on your beach? Check out this post for details on how to make a report!

Silent Winter

All quiet on the western front? Lower 48 Outer COASSTers, and our data verifier Charlie Wright, have – after breathing a huge sigh of relief! – been reporting that it’s been a little too quiet this winter. In fact, COASST surveys from November 2016 to February 2017 from Washington down to California recorded the lowest encounter rates of beached birds we’ve seen since we started!

The “heartbeat” graphs below show the long-term (starting in 2001 for WA and OR; 2006 for CA) baseline (solid black line) and a measure of variability around it (yellow wash). The gray bars are the average monthly values for that region of the coastline. We’ve rolled up the COASST data by state, so realize that there are a lot of beaches represented by each bar.

In this graphic, it’s easy to see the recent mass mortality events – these are the gray bars that are way over the baseline (and just a note for the statistically geeky – COASST deletes all of the mass mortality event months, which we define as more than 4 times the baseline, from the baseline calculation).

But check out what’s been happening most recently. We’ve expanded the last four months and displayed them as a percent of the baseline. Only December in Washington and February in California reach ~100%. All other region-month combinations are at less than half of the number of birds we would expect over the same period. Of course, compared to the death and destruction of recent winters along the outer coast, too few birds doesn’t ring alarm bells. But we have been wondering, who is missing?

The bar graph indicates the number of carcasses, by species or group, in a 100 kilometer stretch across the entire lower-48 outer coast. The blue bars are the baseline encounter rate, (statistical geeks take note: calculated as the median across years from 2006 on so that WA, OR and CA are equally weighted). No surprise – fulmars, murres (within the large Alcids), large grebes (mostly Western Grebes) and gulls make up the vast majority of the “usuals.”

The red bars are what is happening this winter, from Nov-Dec 2016 in the top panel, to Jan-Feb 2017 in the bottom panel. With some exceptions (check out Northern Fulmars, phalaropes in November-December and kittiwakes in January-February), most groups are drifting in at lower rates. We’ve boxed “top 5” contributors that have dropped this year by more than half. Large Alcids – mainly murres – were much less abundant than usual, with rates ten times below normal for January-February. Rates for gulls, cormorants and small Alcids (primarily Cassin’s Auklets) were also much lower than normal.

Both large and small Alcids have been having a rough time recently, with significant mortality events effecting Cassin’s Auklets in the winter of 2014-15, Common Murres in the winter of 2015-16 and Rhinoceros Auklets in the summer/fall of 2016. In fact, this is the first winter in three years that lower 48 outer coast COASSTers haven’t responded to a major die-off event.

Where post-breeding birds disperse to is an important factor in determining whether and how many will end up on shore. Should they die in a winter storm, birds that have taken up their wintering residence far offshore have little chance of floating to the beach before they sink or are scavenged at-sea. This is usually the case with Cassin’s Auklets, as geolocation tagged birds have ranged throughout the eastern half of the North Pacific in winter. Undoubtedly, some of the birds are simply way out there.

But the simplest explanation is that fewer birds are dying. Across the board declines in the rate at which COASSTers are encountering carcasses is usually indicative of milder conditions, and/or plentiful food. The winter storm conditions were fairly average compared to the long-term average, and with ocean temperatures approaching near-normal levels off of the whole of the west coast by late 2016, conditions may finally be returning to some level of normalcy.

Should we be worried about the lack of dead birds on beaches? With the tumultuous last several years, COASST has come to expect a “new normal.” Whether that now includes a return to the “wreck years” is an open question. In the meantime, COASSTers should relax into their next survey and enjoy the respite!

Photo Credit: S. Beck

Grebe Time

COASSTers surveying along the Lower 48 West Coast know that winter brings cold, darkness, rain… and grebes. This winter season, COASST has received a flurry of messages about an uptick in beachcast grebes. Is this normal? Is something going on? The answers are yes, and yes.

Grebes breed inland on freshwater lakes and ponds throughout western North America, migrating to coastal locations post-breeding from the Gulf of Alaska south to Mexico, and including inside waters like the Salish Sea, San Francisco Bay, and the Gulf of California. By November, the chance of encountering a grebe along the Pacific Northwest outer coast has risen from essentially zero to about one grebe per 5 kilometers. And that’s the average, some places and some years see much higher spikes.

The black line traces the average or “baseline” pattern of how many grebes are found per kilometer of beach length over the year (where numbers less than one mean you would need to walk more than a kilometer to find a grebe). The yellow area to either side of the line is the range over which 95% of the actual variability in that central signal lies. If we record a month and year that is absolutely lower (or higher) than the yellow area, we pay attention.

Most of the grebes washing ashore on COASST beaches are large grebes, and most of those are Western Grebes. The pie charts in the map graphic indicate the proportion of grebes found in each region identified to species. Dark blue is Western, turquoise is Clark’s, and light blue is when we can’t tell the difference.

What?!? Are we really that bad at identification? Nope. Turns out that a headless large grebe is impossible to differentiate as Western or Clark’s. And that’s because the best character is whether the dark|light plumage line on the face puts the eye in the dark feathers (Western) or the white feathers (Clark’s).

Side note: headless grebes, or more commonly a grebe with the neck skin inverted and pulled over the face so that only the bill is poking out from this macabre inside out turtleneck are the victims of raptors who literally skin their dinner to expose the breast meat. Light blue pie slice? – that’s a raptor signal.

There are several really cool patterns to note in this graphic:

  • First, the proportion of the grebe pie that is Western or Clark’s is HUGE – almost every grebe found along the outer coast is one or the other.
  • Second, the “raptor signal” is also pretty large, especially in California.
  • Third, the chance of finding a beachcast grebe is vastly different, depending on where you are. From November-February (i.e. the peak season for Grebes) you need only walk ~3 km in California to find a grebe on average, whereas in Puget Sound it’s a much longer trek: 115 km of beach before finding a grebe. And there’s a south to north pattern – more towards the south, less as you go north, and a serious decline as you round the corner into the Salish Sea.
  • Fourth, while the Salish Sea may not have as many grebe carcasses on beaches, the variety – the biodiversity – of grebes is much higher. Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, even Eared Grebes wash in. Want a chance of finding a Red-necked Grebe? Eschew the outer coast and head for the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

When the days start to lengthen and winter loses it’s grip on the Pacific Northwest, grebes stop washing in. By March-April, a grebe carcass is a very rare occurrence on a COASST beach. And that’s because these long-necked divers have left their seaside wintering grounds for their freshwater breeding sites, where they’ll build a floating nest, raise a brood, and start the migratory cycle all over again.

Watch Out for Phalaropes!

At 55 grams, phalaropes are among the smaller shorebirds that wash up on COASST beaches. Despite their small size, phalaropes are long-distance migrants that breed in the Arctic and head south of the equator in winter. In the lower 48, COASSTers are most apt to find a phalarope in the Fall-Winter during the southward migration; that is, right now!

Easy to identify given their distinctive multi-lobed feet, these tiny birds use their toes to help them gather food by paddling in a tight circle around and around until they produce a vortex (like a small cyclone) underneath their spinning body which sucks up zooplankton and brings prey within reach of the long needle-like bill. Lucky kayakers out for a fall paddle along tidal rips can be surrounded by hundreds of spinning birds intent on fattening up before continuing south.

phalarope

Photos of Red Phalaropes by COASST bird verifier, Charlie Wright. Notice the dark smudge around the eye and the tiny multi-lobed toes. The broader, more triangle-tipped bill shown here separates the Red Phalarope from the slightly smaller and lance-billed Red-necked Phalarope.

The vast majority of the phalaropes COASSTers encounter are Red Phalaropes. A smattering of Red-necked Phalaropes have also been found over the years.

The graph shows the chance of finding a beached phalarope along the outer coast of Washington and Oregon throughout the year. It is the month-averaged (or mean) encounter rate in carcasses per kilometer. The black line shows the seasonal pattern using all of the COASST data, from 2001 to 2015. The smaller red line takes out the winter (November to January) of two years (2002-2003, and 2005-2006) when there were wrecks of phalaropes. What’s interesting is that even with the big years removed, the pattern in time is virtually the same.

With the peak years excluded (focus on the red line), the chance of finding a phalarope is highest in December – but the average survey would have to be 60 kilometers to have a serious chance of finding one. That’s a lot of walking!

baseline

The phalarope (Red Phalaropes, Red-necked Phalaropes and unknown phalaropes) baseline (carcasses encountered per kilometer) calculated across the “average” beach in Oregon and Washington outer coast locations. Data span 2001 to 2015.

In some years, Red Phalaropes seem to run out of gas, and they can be found in abundance if your monthly survey happens during the “carcass-fall” of these tiniest of birds. In 2002-2003, a phalarope wreck lasted from November through January. Carcasses were found all along Washington and Oregon coastlines. The carcass-fall that year was 60-100 times normal and some extreme sites found up to ~15 birds per kilometer (or 1,000 times the non-wreck normal peak!!) A smaller wreck occurred in the winter of 2005-2006. It started slightly later (in December), and fewer COASSTers recorded birds, even though the total number of COASST sites was higher.

bubbles

Phalarope “finds” by COASSTers during the winter of 2002/03 and 2005/06. Bubbles are situated over the COASST survey location, and the size of the bubble is indicative of the number of phalaropes found per km of beach surveyed. Bubbles are color coded by month.

This year we’ve been getting wind of disoriented, emaciated phalaropes coming to shore in British Columbia. Although initially speculated to be associated with an oil spill, birders from Ketchikan, Alaska to Monterey Bay, California have reported seeing numbers of these birds unusually close to shore. And the COASST data have spiked up. Take a look at the very latest COASST data compared to those earlier wreck years.

encounter-rate

The timeseries of phalarope (Red Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope and unknown phalarope) monthly encounter rates from 2001 to the present. Bars represent the average encounter rate across surveys performed in that month across Oregon and Washington outer coast locations. The black line and yellow shading represent the seasonal baseline encounter rate and its range, respectively, calculated across all years excluding the winter of 2002/03 and 2005/06.

With all of the changes in the coastal ecosystems of Alaska and the lower 48, we’re not sure what to expect this winter. But here’s the early warning for outer coast COASSTers in the lower 48 to be on the lookout for phalaropes, particularly following storms.

2015 in review: Murres on the Beach

Goodbye 2015! You were a strange year for the North Pacific:  “the blob” stuck around, elevated numbers of Common Murres washed-in throughout the COASST range (and continue to in Alaska, see below),  harmful algal blooms, and lets not forget the Cassin’s Auklet wreck last winter. What does it all mean? COASST is working with partners up and down the coast to try to figure it out. We’re still assembling data from December, and January is in-progress, but here’s a look at the latest story that’s unfolding:

COMU Wreck 2015lower

COASST data show that the annual murre post-breeding mortality signal (August-September) was observed in Alaska and the lower 48 in 2015, and was particularly accentuated along the outer coast of Washington and the northern coast of Oregon.

But in the Gulf of Alaska…

Elevated murre mortality levels occurred both before and after the breeding season, creating a continuous signal stretching from May through to present (December).

COMU Wreck 2015 for Heather_HKB

Maximum COASST beach counts (red circles) are significantly higher than the 2015 monthly averages (yellow circles), and maximum anecdotal reported counts are 1-2 orders of magnitude above that.

Many thanks to our intrepid, dedicated participants who are braving long days on rugged beaches to document the extent and magnitude of this mortality event!

What’s Washed In – August 12, 2015

Hi COASSTers,

Summer signals COASST’s busy season, especially along the West Coast – exhausted breeders (and their chicks) arrive on COASST beaches beginning in July. Alan, who surveys Bob Creek and Stonefield Beach sounded the alarm about dozens of Common Murre chicks on Oregon South beaches. Staff at three partner organizations, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (Leslie Slater), the International Pacific Halibut Commission (Tracy Geerneart), and Washington Sea Grant (Ed Melvin) alerted COASST to two wrecks in Alaska – murres near Homer, shearwaters, fulmars, and murres near St. George Island.

With the wreck season upon us, here are some helpful tips to expedite processing lots of birds:

  • after the 10th bird, don’t measure – record, tag, and photograph only
  • process birds as a group – record, tag, and photograph together: we sometimes bring a 5-gallon bucket along to assist with this
  • bring extra helping hands and delegate people to specific tasks: one person tags and measures, one person takes notes, one person takes photos and writes on slate

Watch out for those Alcid chicks! Below, we’ve profiled two sets of four birds – in each of the sets, one species is not the same as the others!

Let’s take a look:

ed090084-3aa1-4142-877c-ec13caec0bc8 f3b76984-d57a-4312-9fa1-5e3a9a1d70a9 82960287-5c62-46d1-bdd6-8158439f1a02 99b08e4d-3679-4952-8479-a03df958a135 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wing measurements (L to R): 13 cm, 20 cm, 12 cm, 11 cm

Credits (L to R): Grant and Kathy (Oregon Mile 102), Marc and Craig (Oregon Mile 313 S), Teresa and Danny (Pistol River, OR), Joann and Julie (Klipsan Beach, WA)

It’s photo THREE that’s different here (Ancient Murrelet). The rest are adult Common Murres. Here’s why:

Feet are pale, not dark, and the secondaries do not have white tips. In photos one and four, all murres are in molt. Wings look “stumpy” like those of a juvenile, except the face of all these birds is mostly dark. Check out the feather wear of the bird in photo one. Even though the chin is dark, we know this can’t be a juvenile – juveniles have fresh, dark plumage all over – this bird has worn plumage except for the head and new (growing) primaries.

5cb6d54e-013f-4e1c-8880-91920b88aee2 be6628fd-984b-4210-8dc8-b88d17035cf4 Coasst150 bd3a84dd-e2f8-41fa-9344-f97364ca3926 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wing measurements (L to R): 29 cm, 28 cm, 42 cm, N/A

Credits (L to R): Terry (Clam Beach South, CA), Steven and Nancy (Coronado Shores, OR) Ken (Sarichef East, AK), Deborah (Homer Spit Middle, AK).

It’s photo THREE that’s different. The rest are Northern Fulmars. Here’s why:
Although the plumage is similar, the wing measurement is WAY too big for a fulmar (28-33cm). Compare the heel (joint at base of toes) of the bird in photo two with photo three – that’s the swollen heel of a Larid, a Large Immature Gull.

78caac70-2cca-4fd3-b946-3e27b95bac09

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mystery item from our last edition has been identified thanks to Ken and Art. As Art points out, “it is undoubtedly a butane powered micro brazing torch. Those things make great holiday gifts for the hard-to-buy-for crack or meth smoker, but they are also handy for electricians or mechanics with a need to heat something relatively small or delicate.”
5558a3ba-9950-4b73-8104-4af2c108acbe 7f50e230-0b8f-435a-b152-315561c79d28

 

 

 

 

This week Ken from Shishmaref encountered a noteworthy concentration of objects with Russian and Korean writing. We are still in the process of translating the Korean, but in the meantime thought we’d share with you some of his finds.

Russian translation student Sarah identified that the jar is from brand Медведь любимый, translated as “favorite bear,” a company that cans fruits and vegetables.

The tube shown here contained hand lotion from brand Белоручка, which translates to “small white hands” or kid-glove.

eecf7252-9ad9-417b-8d59-beb171765cd8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the tubeworms that Keith found on his July survey in Ocean Shores (WA). Tubeworms anchor themselves to available substrates and secrete calcium carbonate, which forms the tubes that surround them. These tubes offer some protection from potential predators and other dangers. While there is still a lot to be researched about these unique animals, according to National Geographic, tubeworms have been around for at least 3 million years and can tell us a lot about the ocean’s history.

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

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

Updated Cassin’s Auklet – Dec

cassinaukletsJan22

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.

IMG_4176

(c) 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. (c) 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. (c) 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.