Tag Archives: Citizen Science

Rarities: A Short Tale about Long-tails

In September last year, our data verifier Charlie got quite excited about the Long-tailed Jaeger found by Margaret and Nancy on Oregon Mile 309. This bird is so rare in the COASST dataset, it’s only the second one COASSTers have found in 18 years of searching the beach!

Typical measurements – Tarsus: 34-46 mm, Wing: 29-32 cm, Bill: 26-31mm.

In the same family as gulls and terns (Larids), jaegers make their living swooping in and stealing prey from less agile fliers. And the long tail? Just an ornament, rarely seen outside of the breeding season. An easy way to tell a Long-tailed from the other jaegers? Check those outermost primary feathers: 2 bright white feather shafts in Long-tailed, 4-6 in the other species. Photo Credit: Lucas DeCicco/USFWS.

We tell you a lot about the birds frequently found by COASST: at over 24,000 finds, Common Murres are comfortably in the #1 spot on our species list. And the top 5 species (Common Murres, Northern Fulmars, Cassin’s Auklets, large immature gulls – we know that’s not a real species, but still! – and Rhinoceros Auklets) account for an astonishing 71% of the 68,700 marine bird finds to date.

But what about the rarely found birds?

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Welcome, Jenn!


Jenn holding an Atlantic Puffin chick on Eastern Egg Rock Island, Maine.

This fall, we welcomed a new graduate student to COASST: Jennifer Ma. Jenn comes to the UW from New York, where she completed her undergraduate degree in Wildlife Science at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. As a graduate student, she’ll be working with our COASST data to “explore the unexplored:” trends and emerging patterns from the last fifteen years of beached birds. Jenn’s first look at the data involves digging deeper into the 2009 algal bloom event on the Washington coast.

Dead birds aren’t the only kind of birds she’s interested in. As an avid birder and former field technician, Jenn has a lot of love for seabirds and other feathered friends. Since graduating in 2011, she has done field work in New Jersey with Piping Plovers, in Maine with Project Puffin, in Australia with Fairy-wrens, and in New Hampshire with warblers. She’s also traveled in between jobs to Ireland, throughout Australia, and New Zealand (birding, of course).

Jenn is excited to get her graduate degree up and running and we look forward to sharing her results!

Welcome new Forks COASSTers!

This past Saturday Heidi and Liz ventured out to Forks, WA to train a new batch of COASSTers. These volunteers are on top of their game and ready to hit the beach in search of birds. Thanks to this group, five inactive COASST beaches needing surveyors have been filled!

After the training, Heidi joined several North Coast volunteers on surveys of two area beaches. It was a great weekend to be out on the Olympic Coast!

Heidi shows Caty and Janis how to identify just a wing.

Heidi shows Caty and Janis how to use the foot key.

Ellie and Babs work to key out birds from the teaching collection

Ellie and Babs work to key out birds from the teaching collection.


DO-IT scholars visit COASST!

It has been an exciting past few weeks here at COASST!

Recently, we had the opportunity to host the DO-IT scholars and teach them a little bit about what we do here at COASST!  The DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) program encourages young adults with disabilities to pursue secondary education and helps them in establishing successful careers.  Our eight scholars, matriculating from different schools around the Seattle region, were a part of the science track. They came to the fisheries building to get their feet wet in the wonderful world of citizen science!

DO-IT scholars identifying feet and wings.

DO-IT scholars identifying feet and wings.

At the start of the day, the bright-eyed students trekked to COASST and were thrown straight into the mix!  They were shown what COASST strives to achieve each and everyday, and how the program works with local communities to provide useful beached-bird baseline.  In addition, the scholars were given a tutorial on how to identify birds using the COASST guide.  Then the real exciting part began.  Once the students became familiarized with the guide, Liz and Shannon took the group to the necropsy lab to test their skills. They had to identify birds like the Rhinoceros Auklet, Black-footed Albatross, Large Immature Gull, Common Loon, Common Murre, American Crow, etc.  It was such a great experience, and most importantly the kids got to participate in hands on science learning!

Shannon and a DO-IT scholar identifying a bird.

Shannon shows one of the scholars how to use the foot key of the COASST guide.

Click here to learn more about the DO-IT program.



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




What Keeps Us Going?


The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

As a group, COASSTers spend thousands of hours a year completing their COASST surveys and thousands more traveling to their COASST beach(es). We just had to ask: what keeps them going? Why continue month after month?

Well, it happens that we asked this very question on the COASSTer survey in April 2012, “tell us why you continue to be involved with this program” and we let all of you free-write, to explain. Using just the nouns, we ran the words through Wordle, a program that takes a bunch of text and creates these types of word collages, where the font size reflects how often a particular word is used. There’s actually one on the right side of our blog, but it’s based on a few “tags” we set a-priori.

For COASST participants, there’s a clear winner: beach (merged here with the plural: beaches). That’s an association with the where of COASST. And secondarily, bird (includes, again: birds). That’s the what of COASST. You can also see some of the who of COASST, which has many more unique forms, “husband” “COASSTer” and “COASST Staff” among them. “I even like some of the small words, ‘excuse,’ ‘wife,’ ‘stories,’ ‘puzzle,'” writes Julia.

Is it surprising that COASSTers continue because they enjoy the beach? Perhaps not, but “it’s a way to visualize the motivation and values of single COASSTers and (smooshed together) of COASST as a group,” adds Jane, “simply, or complexly, if you look at all the tiny, tiny words.”

Education Research: Meet Katie!

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast, at Cascade Head.

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast at Cascade Head.

Who is Katie?

Katie Woollven is a Marine Resource Management grad student, working with Dr. Shawn Rowe in the Free-choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University. For her Master’s thesis project, Katie gets to chat with select COASST participants about their perspectives on their role in science and resource management.

Where has she been?

After receiving her B.S. in marine biology from Texas A&M, Katie worked as a field biologist collecting mosquitoes for a bird study, as a fisheries observer in Alaska, and as an intertidal lab tech before shifting gears to focus on education research. Working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Science Under Sail Program and an NOAA-funded community-based marine debris removal project sparked her current interest in nature of science learning and citizen science.

What is she thinking about and exploring in her research?

“The big, overarching questions for my grad studies are: What kind of learning does or can happen in citizen science programs?  How can we design citizen science programs to benefit science, volunteers, and society?,” says Katie. “COASST is a long-term citizen science program with a diverse group of participants to help us understand how/if citizen science impacts participants and the greater community,” she adds. And the best part, we asked? “I’m excited to hear what COASSTers have to say!”

Education Research On-the-road: Ben Haywood

Select COASSTers have received an email from Ben Haywood, PhD Candidate at the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and AssessmentsDepartment of Geography at the University of South Carolina, about his citizen science research project. On Friday, we had the chance to meet Ben face-to-face!

Trial focus group with Ben, Charlie, Liz and students.

Trial focus group with Ben (front), L-R: Charlie, Liz, Stephanie, Matt, Tom, Chelsea, Jessica.

Ben’s project? “My research investigates volunteer participation in citizen science programs like COASST. Specifically, it aims to explore the nature of relationships between people, places, and the natural environment.”

The clickers! (Sometimes used to test large lectures, but Ben's questions, thankfully, are not about content).

The clickers! (Sometimes used to test large lectures at the UW, “but!” our students say, “Ben’s questions are about what you think, not what you know”).

And the next steps put Ben on-the-road, visiting a bunch of coastal communities from Washington to California. Which beaches will Ben visit? What will he eat? Who will he meet? These, and other stories will be posted on Ben’s blog – take a look.

Champions of Change in Washington DC


Julia presents at the White House Champions of Change ceremony.

Julia Parrish presents at the White House Champions of Change ceremony in Washington DC.

We hope you are all raising your glasses tonight in celebration of Julia and the COASST program receiving the White House Champions of Change award on Tuesday, June 25. You can read Julia’s blog about how it takes a village to make citizen science a success, or for those of you that missed the 6am(!) live stream from Washington DC, you can watch the event on You Tube (Julia begins at approximately 11:00 of the 1:26 video). And if you just want to read it, well, you can do that too:

“COASST started in 1998 with 12 volunteers in Ocean Shores, Washington. Those 12 people were going out on the beach monthly to literally pick up dead birds, figure out what species they were, and report that back to me at the University of Washington.

Now over 15 years later, COASST has 850 people walking the beaches from Eureka, California north to Kotzebue, Alaska and west to the Commander Islands (which are in Russia, right a the end of the Aleutian Island chain). COASST has identified 160 species and has found over 30,000 carcasses identified to species (pretty, geeky, I realize). We’ve used that data to figure what’s going on with fishery bycatch, to document harmful algal blooms, to look at Avian Influenza, to look at the effects of climate warming, and to look at historic use of seabirds by Native Americans as food sources.

COASST is Kathleen Wolgemuth, an 80-year old from Ocean Shores, now battling cancer, still out on the beach every month with her daughter Beth.

COASST is Robert “Olli” Ollikainen from Tillamook, Oregon. An avid Huskies fan (and I hope he’s watching), has literally scooped up the whole town to volunteer with him. And actually made a dead bird float in the 4th of July parade. [laughter]

COASST is Olivia Vitale age 15, started at age 12, surveys with her dad, Don, on Bainbridge Island. And put her first bird find on You Tube.

COASSST is Daniel Ravenel from Taholah, Washington, who works for the Quinault Tribal Nation Department of Natural Resources. Surveys with his dog, Denali when he’s not in the Coast Guard Reserves, coming from a military family.

And what brings those people together? It’s not their age or their race or their ethnicity. It’s not their politics or their education level. It’s not their job or their gender. It’s that they have a very, very strong sense of place. They love their place. They want to know about it. They worry about it. And by participating in citizen science, in rigorous citizen science, they know they can gather the data, they can work with scientists, and together we can make a difference. Because only with that very broad extent, fine grain data, can we solve the environmental problems that face us today.

So science is important. But people are important too. And the world is changing very fast. There are just too many issues and problems for scientists to deal with alone. So we need an army and we need a village.

Last century was the century of “Ivory Tower science,” where you had to have a PhD to be a scientist. But this century, is the century of citizen science. Where everybody –  everybody in this room, everybody who’s watching, everybody in the country, everybody in the world – can be part of a science team and make a difference.”

COASSTing in Taholah

Last Friday, Julia and Jane stopped in at the Quinault Division of Natural Resources in Taholah, Washington. Julia, wearing “both her hats” as an Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Diversity at the College of the Environment and the Executive Director of COASST had a chance to hear from a host of Quinault Indian Nation resource managers including Joe Schumacker, Ed Johnstone, Daniel Ravenel, Heather May, Mark Mobbs, Larry Gilbertson and Janet Clark.

Non-bird finds: deer, cormorant egg, monofilament ball, toy boat.

Non-bird finds: deer, cormorant egg, monofilament ball, toy boat.

Julia and Daniel take in the views.

Julia and Daniel check out some (live) seabirds.

And we just had to head out the beach for a COASST survey with Daniel (a long-time COASST participant) and Nick Barry (tribal member and wildlife intern from Washington State University). With the sun out, we had ample time to take in the views, discover a “new foot type,” find a cormorant egg, and some debris items, all in a matter of hours. The only COASST find that day? Well, see if you can tell from the photo:

Julia and Nick examine the find of the day. Hint: a tubenose, common this time of year.

Julia and Nick examine the find of the day. Hint: a tubenose, common this time of year.