Tag Archives: Interns

New Footprints – Erin Tomaras

Everyone knows our student interns keep the COASST office buzzing along. We took a step back and realized over 150 University of Washington undergraduate students have been part of the COASST effort, committing over 13,500 hours to the program in total!

Today, and in posts to come, we highlight what some of our graduated students are up to.

Erin Tomaras, COASST Intern (later, Senior Intern) contributed a whopping 390 hours of service, March 2009-June 2012. With her heart set on field work from the day she graduated, she’s now working for a non-profit on South Padre Island, Texas called Sea Turtle Inc. “On my non-patrol days I work in the clinic helping sea turtles that have been hit by boat propellers, attacked by predators, caught in fishing line, or are sick with infection. I also educate visitors about the different species of sea turtles, what impacts humans have in sea turtles, and the condition of turtles in our care.”

Erin, "with my first momma Kemp's Ridley sea turtle"

Erin, “with my first momma Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle!”

And on the patrol days?  No, she doesn’t wear armor or dress in camo, “I monitor 64 miles of beach on an ATV for nesting Kemp’s Ridley mommas. This is harder than it sounds because this species is the smallest type of sea turtle and it only nests on windy days – tracks often disappear in the course of a half hour.” COASSTers, of course, are well aware of the difficulties of finding birds in sand, let alone tracks!

"This was 2 weeks ago - injured Least Tern from the beach road on one of my patrols."

“This was 2 weeks ago – injured Least Tern from the beach road on one of my patrols.”

When you’re around COASST that long, you can’t help but look out for birds on the beach. In fact, she sent us this email, and true to COASST form, a quiz to our current students (and all of you):

“Hi Jane, Since I have been down here in Texas, I have spotted a few beached birds during my sea turtle ATV patrols. It seems I’ve still got my eyes subconsciously peeled for them. I thought you might be interested to see some beached birds from the Gulf. You should try these photos on the interns!”

So we share them (careful, only one is in the Beached Birds guide, none of these are in the Beached Birds-Alaska guide).

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery bird #1 from Erin.

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery bird #1 from Erin.

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery bird #2 from Erin.

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery bird #2 from Erin.

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery birds #3 from Erin.

Texas/Gulf Coast mystery bird #3 from Erin.

Intern Field Trip: Cape Disappointment

This past weekend, the COASST interns (Shannon, Adrienne, Chelsea, An, Stephanie, Hilary) road tripped down to Long Beach, Washington and Cape Disappointment to do a COASST survey . It was a chance for all of us to experience conducting their own survey and learn more about beached bird species identification. Perusing the coast under the grand Pacific Northwest sunshine. There’s nothing better than that.


Klipsan Beach entrance – our first stop.


Liz (left) and Adrienne (right) head out to Klipsan beach to start their survey.


Adrienne scans the surfline for any birds that might have washed up on shore.

It wasn’t long until we had our first find. It was a wing that had been partially buried in the higher portion of the beach, and the team quickly got to work to try and identify what they had found.


Adrienne measures the wing length (wrist to end of outermost primary).

The next step was to determine the species!


Liz points out mottling on the upperwing. Eventually we decide: Large Immature Gull.


Adrienne takes a couple of photos of the Large Immature Gull wing.

Soon we were on a roll. Not too much further from our first find, we come across another find: just a head!


Liz shows us the starting point of the bill measurement.


The head is tagged: black, white, red (#901). Large adult gull.


Our last find: a Sooty Shearwater –  a seabird with one of the longest migration routes ever recorded: 39,000 miles.

After COASSTing, we had the rest of the day of explore Long Beach and Cape Disappointment – not a disappointment in any sense!



Liz, Stephanie, Adrienne, An, Hilary, Chelsea, and Shannon.


Cape Disappointment was spectacular, actually.




Seabirds from an Artist’s Perspective – Part 2

Last week we heard from artist and COASST intern Rose Beede about how she views and sketches seabirds. This week, we hear from another very talented COASST intern, Chelsea Starr. We are so fortunate to have two very talented artist on the COASST team who each bring in their own unique perspective. 

As a biology enthusiast and COASST intern, and I often enjoy making study-type watercolors of different fascinating animals. Recently, I decided to paint the Brandt’s Cormorant.

Why you ask? I found the Brandt’s Cormorant (specifically the breeding birds) to be incredibly versatile visually with a very wonderful and dominant presence. Their casual posture reflects an aura of wisdom while the jet-black plumage nicely reflects their stoic and ruthless resolve for life. The Cormorant’s iridescent sapphire eyes and throat poach contrast with this serious demeanor in a whimsical way. They are dark and brilliant all at the same time. Lastly, the light whiskers on the sides of cheeks gives a much needed sense of humor to their appearance, especially when viewed from the right angle. When you add all of these observations together, you get a beautiful and visually complex seabird that can represent very powerful aspects of life that I consider very important…. Wisdom, Determination, Beauty, and Humor.


Brandt’s Cormorant painting by Chelsea Starr

Earth Day Fair

A big thanks to Shannon, COASST intern, for helping out with the Washington State Parks/King County Housing Authority/Federal Way Public Schools AmeriCorps Team Earth Day Fair at Saltwater State Park. The event drew families, school children, teachers and the general public for a day of investigating Washington’s watersheds, from mountains to sea.

Shannon shows two students how to identify a grebe foot using the COASST “Beached Birds” field guide.

Seabirds from an Artist’s Perspective – Part 1

“And now for something completely different…” as Monty Python would say. What is it like to look at seabirds from an artist’s perspective?

First of all I, the writer, would like to introduce myself. My name is Rose, and I’m one of the student interns here at COASST. I answer emails about seabirds, enter data about seabirds, and I draw seabirds. As an artist, I specialize in pets and wildlife, and do custom portraits and odd job commissions when I’m not too busy with school here at the University of Washington.

Of all the possible subjects, why would I draw birds?

A delicate hummingbird drawn by Rose

Birds have always been aesthetically fascinating to me. This fascination is a little bit hard to articulate, but I will try my best. There is a certain lightness to them that touches me, sort of like a gust of wind touches a leaf and lifts it for a moment. Very often gulls and turns gliding on a playful breeze will catch my imagination, and I will imagine myself as one of them dancing upon the wind. There is something so beautiful and sleek about the smooth curves of a streamlined bird that give me such deep satisfaction to emulate on paper.

Seabirds are a supreme design. For a designer, it is extremely difficult to create an object that is both fully aesthetically pleasing and functional. If you think about all the objects you use in your daily life – your phone, or your vacuum cleaner – all these things are made up of compromises between beauty and functionality, yet in seabirds both are one and the same.

A Marbled Murrelet sketch showing the balance of beauty and functionality

In reality, at least for me, seabirds from and “artist’s perspective” and seabirds from a “scientist’s perspective” aren’t terribly different. Aesthetically beautiful wing curves can be described mathematically in terms of lift and airflow, which can then be analyzed statistically to determine fitness during winter months. Birds are fascinating to me. This is the reason I draw them, and it is also the reason I peer at them through binoculars, or trek out to the beach in the rain to log their carcasses. When you get down to it, I’m simply exploring what I love, with the skills that have been given to me.


The cover to a planner designed by Rose also features a seabird

Spring Intern Field Trip

On April 20th, the COASST interns went on our quarterly field trip. This spring, we went to the south coast of Washington and surveyed South Leadbetter A and Oysterville Beach, both north of Long Beach, WA. The eight of us set out from the University of Washington at 7am sharp, reaching Long Beach at around 11 am.  Once there, we met up with a local COASST volunteer and split into two groups. One group went with Liz on South Leadbetter A, and the other with COASST Senior Intern Stephanie, on Oysterville Beach.

These field trips allow us to get hands-on experience surveying beaches and identifying beached birds. We found two birds to practice our ID skills on–a set of Red Phalarope wings and a Herring Gull, both on South Leadbetter A. The weather was surprisingly nice that day; the rain stayed away, and the sun even made an appearance. There were some people out flying kites and taking walks on the beach, and even a few horseback riders. A great time was had by all.

Shannon, Scott, and Elizabeth collaboratively bounce observations off each other as Liz challenges their ability to identify!

COASST interns gather after a successful identification.

COASST Intern Field Trip to the Zoo

The following is by Clinton Stipek and intern at the COASST program:

Over this last weekend the COASST interns and Liz had the treat of going on a guided tour at the Woodland Park Zoo! The weather was great and our guide, Alastair, knew just about everything under the sun about the animals. Alastair is a COASST volunteer who also works as a docent at the Woodland Park Zoo. He offered up his Saturday to teach the COASST crew new facts about the animals (birds and non-birds alike) and give us insight into what it is like to work at the zoo.

Alastair and the interns

We had a great time and were able to tour just about every exhibit they had. My personal favorite was the Stellar’s Sea Eagle. I had no idea how big they truly were. With a wing span of 6-8 feet and weighing in at 15-20 pounds they are the largest and heaviest eagles. They are magnificent creatures and it was a real treat to see them in person. Some of the other cool things we saw were weavers making nests in the Savannah Aviary, Humboldt Penguins swimming around in their exhibit and brightly colored Toucans. Overall, it was a great day. We learned a lot and had a blast!

Great Blue Heron in the penguin enclosure

Brown Bears

Humboldt Penguin

Peregrine Falcon

Stellar Sea Eagle


Meet the COASST Interns!

You have received e-mails and packages from them, they enter survey data, and occasionally, they wander out to do surveys. But who are they really? Well, to get to know them better, here is a little information about each COASST Intern.

COASST Interns after a survey

Monisha Ray:

After graduation, Monisha would like to try many things; such as traveling, working for a non-profit organization, and possibly going to graduate school. In her free time she likes to rock climb, hike, and backpack.  Monisha’s favorite seabird is a rhinoceros auklet because it looks like a flying football.


Summer Wang:

Upon graduation, Summer wants to attend graduate school. When Summer is not busy with school or COASST, she enjoys traveling the world. She has been all over Asia and Australia. In one word, people would describe Summer as kind.


Clinton Stipek:

Clinton would like to go to graduate school after he completes his undergraduate studies. In his free time he likes to swim, scuba dive and do pretty much anything outdoors or dealing with water. Clinton’s favorite seabird is a Short Tailed Albatross because it can fly incredible distances.


Logan Spencer:

Logan wants to become a workingman when he graduates. His favorite seabird is a Glaucous Winged Gull because it reminds him of his home state, California. In his free time he likes to scuba dive. An interesting fact about Logan is that he owns exotic snakes.


Drew Lyons:

When he graduates, Drew wants to backpack around the world. Outside of COASST and school, he likes to play and write music. Most people consider Drew to be pretty chill. A fun fact about Drew is that he was on the UW’s Ultimate Frisbee team for two years.


Erin Costello:

Erin wants to be a ski bum for a year before going on to graduate school when she finishes at UW. Outside of school, her hobbies include playing soccer and eating burritos. Something interesting about Erin is that she can ride a unicycle and people would describe her as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


Peder Digre:

Peder plans to work in the global health field before going to medical school when he graduates. Peder is originally from Minnesota, which most people do not believe since he does not have an accent. Peder’s favorite seabird is a brown pelican because in the movie Finding Nemo the pelican, Nigel, helps to save Nemo. Most people would describe Peder as driven.


Tor Shimizu:

Tor likes to live life as it comes. After she graduates she would like to be involved with a conservation project before heading back to school. Tor’s favorite birds are penguins because the male cares for the egg while the female hunts for food. Tor is very athletic, playing rugby for UW and on several soccer teams. Fun fact about Tor is that she has played in international soccer games for FIFA and scored an international goal.


Sydni Baumgart:

Future plans for Sydni include, traveling somewhere exotic before finding a job in Seattle. In her free time, she volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium and likes to spend time outdoors hiking and boating. Most people would describe Sydni as enthusiastic. An interesting fact about Sydni is that she is able to tap dance.


Rachael Murray:

In the future, Rachael wants to go to graduate school or travel the world. People would describe Rachael as happy. When she is not busy with school or COASST, she likes to paint. One day, Rachael dreams of being on the Amazing Race.


Stephanie Valdez:

Stephanie plans to go to graduate school for a PhD in ecology when she has completed her undergraduate studies. Outside of COASST and school, Stephanie enjoys reading, traveling, hiking, knitting, and scuba diving. An interesting fact about Stephanie is that her favorite animal is the African elephant. She plans to go to Africa to study these great creatures.

www.coasst.org Updates


We wanted to share a couple of great new features on our website, aimed to link COASSTers together and all of you to us:

We’ve started a blog! Here we’ll highlight seabirds in the news, wrecks and wreck warnings, trainings, socials, talks, and the happenings in the COASST office. On the right hand side, you can search for areas that interest you, or by popular subject using “tags” below. You can access it through the COASST website ‘Volunteer Toolbox’ section or by clicking this link:

The blog features similar content for those of you not already connected through our public Facebook page:

Through this feature, you can chat directly with COASST staff during normal business hours (~9am-5pm, weekdays). Access this link by going to the COASST website (http://www.coasst.org) and clicking ‘Live Chat’ in the lower right corner of the screen. Just type your name, email address, and question or issue and we’ll respond! We’re hoping this provides quick answers to short survey or online data entry questions.

Thanks to Peder for helping us daylight these new additions.

Julia, Jane, Charlie, Heidi, Liz, Leslie, and Peder (intern extraordinaire)

COASST Citizen Science Spotlight

COASST has been recognized in the citizen science edition of the online journal “Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment”.

Here is what they have to say about us:

Citizen science engages non-professionals in authentic scientific research, ranging from long-standing, large-scale projects like the Breeding Bird Survey to the more personalized research experiences offered by the Earthwatch Institute. The combination of historical data and assembly of a large, dispersed team of observers creates opportunities for ecological research at unprecedented spatial and temporal scales. Many ecologically based citizen-science projects collect important baseline data, which positions them to respond to crises such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Other projects routinely monitor mortality in a particular population or species, helping to identify threats to native species and to people (eg Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team [COASST]). Dispersed data collection and the ability to collect observations and connect with people, in places, and at scales that would otherwise not be possible, render citizen science increasingly important to environmental research.

Today, the internet and geographic information system-(GIS-) enabled web applications allow participants to collect large volumes of location-based ecological data and submit them electronically to centralized databases. The ubiquity of smartphones, the potential for digital photo validation of questionable observations (eg COASST; WebTable 1), and the development of infrastructure for creating simple online data-entry systems (eg www.citsci.org; Table 1) provide added potential for initiating projects quickly, inexpensively, and with stringent criteria to ensure data accuracy. These same web-based tools are democratizing project development, allowing for the creation of data-entry systems for community-based projects that arise out of local, practical issues or needs (eg Extreme Citizen Science; WebTable 1). Although we cannot currently assess the impact of this democratization for ecological research, such empowerment means that resource management decisions, and the data that drive them, are more likely to be in the hands of the people who will be affected by the outcomes.

Read More: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/full/10.1890/110236