Category Archives: Beached Birds

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.”
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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.

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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

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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.

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(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.

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).

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!

Good News for Marbled Murrelets

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Earlier this month a federal judge ruled that Marbled Murrelets would remain protected under the Endangered Species Act, despite a movement by the timber industry to remove these protections and expand logging activities in coastal forests. This has been the fourth failed attempt made by the timber industries in the Pacific Northwest to eliminate protection for Marbled Murrelet habitat. In addition, the court ruled that the old growth forest areas where these birds nest will remain protected from deforestation for the next three years. The Marbled Murrelet has been listed as threatened by the Endangered Species Act since 1992.

Old growth forests are used by the Marbled Murrelets for nesting and raising their young, making the existence of the habitat critical for murrelet survival. These small Alcids create nests high on the branches of inland old growth trees. At night, they fly to the coast to fish and hunt food for their nestlings: a unique nesting behavior makes Marbled Murrelets especially vulnerable.

For more information, on this story can be found here.

 

Wing Bones Connected To…

Thanks, Randy for sending this amazing photo from Churchrock Beach in Kotzebue, Alaska, along with this note: “Attached here is a photo for your database of some nicely weathered wing bones. I thought you might be able to use it for teaching purposes.”

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Sara and Peter provided this complementary photo to the one above – Common Murre #294, from Ma-le’l Mid, Humboldt, CA.

So we took this opportunity to explore the avian skeleton, specifically the wing. From the inside (left), out, the first large bone (large 2 cm process on left end) is the humerus (not to be confused with humorous, the adjective). Largest bone on the inside? COASSTers know recognize the humerus as the bone to attach the cable ties.

Farther out, the paired radius (thinner, nearer to the top of the photo) and ulna (wider, nearer to the slate). To the right, at the junction of these bones and the next (the metacarpus) is where the wing chord measurement starts, at the wrist (view the comparison between a human/bat/bird). This wing is missing the very last digit, where the primary feathers emerge. While the order of the bones remains the same, the structure and proportion changes as a function of the type of flight the bird undertakes – soaring (Laysan Albatross) versus quick short movement (Calliope Hummingbird).