Tag Archives: Alaska

What’s Washed In – March 31, 2015


Hope you’re all enjoying the start of Spring! It’s been a busy month at COASST, with national and regional media attention. Executive Director Julia Parrish was recently featured on the March 20 edition of Science Friday, COASST data were featured in the recent Pacific States Fisheries Management Council Meeting, as #9 of the 12 main highlights in the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA), State of the California Current Report, 2015, and a number of COASSTers were featured in recent news coverage. A big thanks for all of your hard work! Check out the latest on our website in the COASSTal News section. We’re so proud to have all of you representing COASST!

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











Anchor River Recreation Area (AK) 03/14/15 found by Lisa

Bill: 45
Wing: 20
Tarsus: 39

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, slender and featureless, upperwing is dark –check out these four species:
Common Murre (AL3)
Thick-billed Murre (AL5)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL7)
Black Guillemot (AL7)
Look carefully – the face has a dark eyeline, or “tearline” – (see key character 2 on the AL3). The Thick-billed Murre has a dark face with a white chin. Non-breeding guillemots with white underparts lack this eyeline; the bill, wing and tarsus measurements for this bird do not fit for the PIGU or BLGU. Common Murre – correct!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, smooth/slender and featureless, investigate these two options:
Common Murre (AL2)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL10)
The bill, wing and tarsus measurements do not fit for Pigeon Guillemot and the underwing is white – Common Murre – great work!










Ruby South (WA) 1/20/15 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 17 mm
Wing: 13.5 cm
Tarsus: 18 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is less than 15cm. Bill is dark, without a spot – one of the murrelets:
Marbled Murrelet (AL17)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL19)
Bill is too long for a KIMU and the eye is within the dark part of the face – Marbled Murrelet – nice!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, so we’re left with a few options:
Common Murre-juvenile/chick (AL4)
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
* Ancient Murrelet (AL16)
* Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
* Least Auklet (AL24)
* Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
(* = rare, included in the 2002 version only)
Not a Common Murre chick – it’s January! And besides, this bird has white shoulder patches and dark secondaries and no dark eyeline. Measurements fit for Marbled Murrelet, but let’s examine the rarities:
Ancient Murrelet – nope, dark shoulder
Kittlitz’s Murrelet – nope, bill too small
Least Auklet and Whiskered Auklet – nope, bil and wing too small
Yep, it is a Marbled Murrelet.


Mike and Chiggers’ marine debris surveys at Norwegian Memorial (WA) tell an interesting story. Their beach consistently catches  A LOT of bottles and bottle fragments, many with Asian writing. Seen here is the haul from a single zone in a single transect. A well weathered Puma shoe also washed up for their December survey. The stitching and lace holes make us think these are “vintage”. Do they remind anyone else of basketball practice in the 70s?











Washington COASSTers Lee and Sue were lucky enough to come across this Humboldt squid during their February survey of Three Crabs Beach.

Also referred to as Jumbo squid, these giants are able to swim with speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and are known to eject themselves from the water to escape predators. While the coloring of this squid is mostly white, these cephalopods are able to change their appearance in shades of purple, red and white.

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

What’s Washed In – November 18, 2014


Hope that all of you are staying warm on your beaches this month! This past weekend, COASST staff conducted trainings in Washington and Oregon, catching up with many current COASSTers and adding some new COASSTers to the team. It was great to see some of you in Long Beach (WA), Charleston (OR), and Port Orford (OR)!

It’s hard to believe that November is more than halfway over.  As you get ready for your next survey, take a quick look at your supply kit and let us know if you need any additional cable ties, chalk, datasheets, etc.  We’d be happy to send more your way. Also, if you have any completed datasheets sitting around, please send them our way! We can’t wait to see them.

Let’s take a look at What’s Washed In:











Buldir Island – B (AK) 6/27/14 found by Alaska Maritime NWR staff

Bill: 14 mm
Wing: 14 cm
Tarsus: 27 mm

Dark underwing, dark heel, orange bill. Let’s check out our options using the wing key.

Alaska wing key (page 44):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to Q2), simply dark (go to Q5), underwing linings not white (go to Q9), wing chord less than 35cm (go to Q10), none (go to Q11), wing chord less than 16cm (go to Q12), underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL17)
Crested Auklet-CRAU (AL25)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL23)
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s Alaska range (16-21mm). Flipping to the Crested Auklet, measurements fit, but plumage is mostly dark. Not in the similar species section – Parakeet Auklet has a white breast, belly and undertail (all dark plumage for the Crested). See that white bit of fluff between the two wings? Bingo – Parakeet Auklet.

West Coast wing key (page 33):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to 2), choose upperwing simply dark (go to Q3), underwing gray-to-dark (go to Q6), underwing simply dark (go to Q7), wing chord less than 17cm (go to Q8), and select underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL14)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL18).
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s range West Coast (14-18mm), so Parakeet Auklet it is!

West Coast wing table (page 32)
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose row = tiny (wing chord less than 18cm) and column “dark upperwing” – no pale underwing linings. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
Leach’s Storm Petrel (TN11)
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (TN9)
Parakeet Auklet (AL18)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
Crested Auklet (AL22)
Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
Four of these don’t fit because of the tarsus measurement Marbled Murrelet, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Whiskered Auklet.  Of the remaining three, only one has some white plumage (see that tuft between the two wings?) and an orange, upturned bill: Parakeet Auklet











Ruby South (WA) 10/10/14 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 44 mm
Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 48 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), complete (go to Q3), 3 webbed toes 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus less than 1mm across (go to Q6), 4th toe has flap extending to tip of nail­­­­–Waterfowl: Diving Ducks.

Alaska: WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on sides: one of the scoters (WF5, WF9, WF7) or eiders (WF 21, 23, 27). Bill too large for any of the eiders except for the Common Eider. Wing too large for any of the scoters besides the White-winged Scoter. Between Common Eider and White-winged Scoter, measurements fit only one perfectly – dark plumage, white speculum and white eye patch – White-winged Scoter.

West Coast (2013): WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on top or sides – one of the three scoters, and only one has a wing chord that large: White-winged Scoter

West Coast (2002): WF1: White in wing! Feathers or knob on bill: White-winged Scoter or one of the eiders. Only the Common Eider is a contender, but its secondaries are dark (vs white in the White-winged Scoter).











Keith and Anita find a lot of interesting “large” debris at OR Mile 460. Although marine debris pilot COASSTers are not yet surveying for objects larger than 50cm, but these two couldn’t help but share several examples of “mortise and tenon” joinery, common to Japanese architecture but also used elsewhere and throughout history. This type of joint involves a mortise hole, several shown here, and a tenon tongue on an adjoining piece, that is inserted into the hole and glued, pinned or wedged in place.











Albert and Kathie went on their first marine debris survey on November 14th at Graysmarsh. They didn’t find any debris but did turn up an unusual find: an Ocean Sunfish, also known as Mola mola.

The Mola mola is the largest known bony fish in the world. An average adult individual typically weighs over 2,000 lbs, and they can reach up to 5.9 ft. in body length and 8.2 ft. fin to fin. Sunfish are most often found in temperate and tropical waters that are 50°F or warmer. They are often seen swimming on their sides, basking in the sun at the surface of the water to warm themselves after deep dives. Prolonged periods spent in water colder that 50°F can lead to disorientation and death for the sunfish, which most likely happened to this guy found in the Strait!

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

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

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, TN7, TN15.

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 (PIGU – AL10-11), or Green-winged Teal (GWTE – WF7-8). 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!

Oh Charlie, Where Art Thou?

The Diomedes Islands

The Diomedes Islands

Has anyone noticed a lack of bird ID e-mail from our one and only Charlie? That’s because he has temporarily departed the COASST office to conduct arctic research in the beautiful Alaska region. After the COASST training in Unalaska, he departed on the Healy, an icebreaking research boat, and headed on a journey across the Chukchi Sea. In the short time that he has been in transit, he has seen some pretty spectacular wildlife sightings. In a recent e-mail to our COASST office, he described some of these experiences.


A walrus on the the ice

“It’s been quite a trip so far… I’m currently surrounded by thousands of walruses (we have seen over 7000 in the last 3 days) and so many miles of sea ice. On Saturday we saw four polar bears,” Charlie recalls. Bird sightings include a few Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Pomarine Jaegers, and Glaucous gulls that follow their ship around as it cuts through ice.


One of several polar bears Charlie has spotted

Before they reached the ice in the Chukchi Sea, there were a lot of birds and Gray Whales to be seen. “We saw nearly 300 whales in one day. In binoculars it looking like the International Fountain at Seattle Center, except it went all along the horizon. Red Phalaropes were associated with the whales there, big flocks of them descending on the footprint like sand fleas every time an animal would blow.”


Keeping track of the findings

He continues by adding, “The true bird show, though, was before we got to the Chukchi. We arrived at the Bering Strait and the Diomede Islands at the ideal time to experience an other-worldly, bizarre, incredible, unbelievable show of Crested and Least auklets returning to their nesting slopes as the sun set. I have no way of describing what I saw there. My photos just look like my lens was completely covered in pepper, no matter where I pointed it in the sky or on the water for 360 degrees. I wouldn’t have believed anything like it to be possible.”


Huge flocks of auklets

While Charlie is missed around the office, we cannot deny that he experiencing some pretty remarkable events. We cannot wait for him to return with even more stories!




What’s Washed In

The COASST office continues to be a buzz of activity as our summer quarter wraps up. Recently, we trained new North Coast and Aleutian Island volunteers in addition to our many ongoing projects. There have been lots of interesting finds this summer. Here are a few of the many photos sent in by volunteers:


Large Immature Gulls (LIGU) found by the Hobuck crew in Washington, Carl in California, and Caren in Oregon. We’ve been seeing a lot of LIGUs lately as the post-breeding mortality spike begins. As you see in the photos, the coloration on these birds can really vary. Chances are, if you find mottled brown mantle with an extra large wing cord (more than 33cm) you’re looking at a Large Immature Gull.


A Marbled Murrelet found by Nancy and Barbara in the Puget Sound. This species is listed as US Fish and Wildlife ESA Threatened in California, Oregon and Washington, and a rare find for COASST surveys (only 65 found since 1999). Three webbed toes put it in the Alcid family, and a short wing chord leads to Common Murre chicks, Marbled or Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Least or Whiskered Auklet. A dark underwing and mottled brown underparts point us to Marbled Murrelet, since the Kittlitz’s bill is less than 14mm(!).


These two Pigeon Guillemots (adult on the left, chick on the right) were found by Elizabeth in Oregon and Govinda in the Puget Sound. Another member of the Alcid family, PIGUs have bright red feet (hidden in chick photo) and a white patch on their upperwing (just barely showing on the inner portion of the chick’s left wing).


This pallet was found by Carol in Alaska. Koito, the brand printed in red, is a Japanese automotive and aircraft lighting manufacturer. This pallet could have traveled from Japan or come from a boat shipping Japanese products.

COASST welcomes new Alaskan volunteers!

Recently, Charlie Wright, COASST data verifier, headed to Alaska to conduct field work for the summer season (more on this in a future post). Before he boarded the research vessel, he spent a few days in Unalaska, AK out on the Aleutian Islands to lead a training for new COASST volunteers.

COASSTers try their hand at beached bird identification

COASSTers try their hand at beached bird identification

Six individuals (and one four-legged companion) attended the training. All were excited to learn about the program and beached bird identification. There was even time to complete a survey; no birds found. It was a great group and we are thrilled to be filling a few vacant beaches in the area as well as staring a new survey beach!


New volunteers take to the beach to practice their skills




Helpful hints: data notes and photographs

COASST data depend on two things: detailed notes and high-quality photographs. So we (Scott, Jessica and An, students with COASST) went digging! Thanks to some great examples sent in by COASSTers, we’ve compiled some helpful tips.

What are “Good” Notes?
Good notes are legible and complete. If a space in the data sheet asks for information pertaining to something not present or not applicable to the situation, put a slash (/) in the box, a “N/A” for not applicable, or a “U” for unknown (can’t be determined). “N” means no, “0” means none. When a survey sheet is returned with all the boxes filled, we know it’s complete. 


Data example 1: Paul’s data sheet. Note how paul has filled in all the appropriate boxes legibly.

Data example 2: Chet’s data sheet. Note Chet’s comment at the bottom of the survey – this way we can be doubly sure someone didn’t just forget to fill out the backside.


Data example 3: Michelle’s data sheet. Again, everything filled out clearly, comments include notes on an unusual number of invertebrates found (sea stars in this example, but could include crab, clam, krill, etc)


Data example 4: Bird data from Cindy on Mad River Park North (Humboldt region). Note how all boxes are complete, a dash fills the second to last box noting that there is no distinguishable difference between Brown Pelican males and females.

What are “Good” Photographs?
Good photographs include three simple things 1) Specimen/bird/bird part(s): make sure the whole specimen fills the frame 2) Scale: black and yellow photo ruler placed near the bird for scale! (for most, included on the top of the chalkboard) 3) Chalkboard/slate: record the beach name, date of survey, cable tie number (Tag ID#) on the chalkboard (if possible, the species ID and bird number as well)

2) and 3) above are found in each COASST volunteer toolbox, 1) you’ll have to find on your own!

Photographers also pay attention to 1) Light (enough light, flash used in low-light conditions, no photographer shadows (check out “Here Comes the Sun” blog), bird stands out against background 2) Camera/camera settings/photographer movement (photos taken on high resolution setting, “beach scene” setting is chosen on bright days, photographer is stationary, camera is positioned over bird, camera lens is dry)

COMU Found by Jerry Chadwick & Carol Sanders (Bastendorff ) 2011-12-12

Photo example 1: Jerry & Carol’s murre on Bastendorff (Oregon South region). Slate/chalkboard is complete, bird is in the sun, shadows are minimal, bird takes up almost entire frame, camera is positioned over bird (not at sand-level or weirdly angled, for instance).

WEGU Photographed by Mariann & Doug Croucher (Oregon Mile 101) 2011-12-02

Photo example 2: Mariann & Doug’s gull photographed on Oregon Mile 101 (Oregon South region). Photo has scale, chalkboard is neatly filled out, light  is good, shadows minimized, wings are spread and take up most of the frame.

New Footprints – Lindsey Nelson

Meet graduated COASST intern Lindsey Nelson, who spent nearly 600 hours in the COASST office from 2010-2012 as a Student Intern and later, Senior Intern.  After leaving COASST, she went north, WAY north, to work as a Fishery Observer in Alaska.

Lindsey, on the bow  of a fishing boat covered in ice in Alaska

Lindsey, on the bow of a boat covered in ice. You go, girl!

What does that entail? After completion of the three week training program (and passing a pretty grueling fish identification test), Lindsey’s job is all about “collecting data on catch estimates, species composition, prohibited species, bycatch (non-target catch), locations and dates and times, which is then assessed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.”  Lindsey’s work helps NOAA establish regulations and optimum yields for Alaska groundfish (Pacific Cod, Sabelfish, Lingcod, Walleye Pollock, Atka Mackerel, to name a few) .

The day-to-day varies a little, as fishing only occurs two to four days a week.  The other days are spent either travelling or offloading.  During a fishing haul, she’s responsible for collecting samples of the catch and identifying, counting, and weighing all species, as well as special procedures for dealing with birds, mammals, sharks, prohibited species, and tagged animals.  She also monitors levels of bycatch and notes the delivery weights during offloading.

Lindsey collects samples in these baskets and performs her data collecting at this station.

Ah, the scenic data collection station: fish collection baskets, waterproof notesheets.

What the...!  Lindsey found this lumpsucker in one of her samples!

“One of the ugliest cute things I’ve seen,” says Lindsey, holding a Smooth Lumpsucker (and she would know!).

So is it all work and no play? Lindsey says “the crew was friendly and helpful whenever I need their assistance, and we’ve become good friends, even back home in Seattle.”  And the seasonal nature of her job allows her to travel, and check a few things off the list, “moose, glaciers, salmon, native performances, snow-covered peaks right next to the shore. You know… all the essentials.”

Alaska may be cold, but it's darn beautiful.  These are fishing boats like the ones Lindsey works on in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Cold and beautiful. Fishing boats in Dutch Harbor, AK.

St. Paul Students Create Seabird Documentary

Funded by the North Pacific Research Board, 10 middle school students from St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea had the opportunity to make a short documentary in order to feature the importance of seabird research as well as the significance of seabirds to their home. Throughout the school year, students learned how to identify the 11 common seabirds of the region, seabird behaviors, specific facts about the birds and also the effects of marine debris on seabird populations. As the year came to a close, students left the classroom and went out into the field to gain firsthand experience of observing seabirds, applying what they had learned in the classroom.

In addition, together with St. George Island, these students have established the Seabird Youth Network. The network is designed to provide awareness and opportunities related to seabird ecology, scientific research and conservation biology.

Click here to watch St. Paul Island Seabirds.