Tag Archives: Oregon

Updated Cassin’s Auklet – Dec


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.


(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).

What’s Washed In – December 3, 2014


Hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. Thank you for all of your data over the long weekend and, of course, for all of your staged “turkey on the beach” photos too!

It was great to see some of you at the Olympia and Port Angeles (WA) classroom refresher trainings on the 21st and 22nd. Erika and Heidi really enjoyed it!

Thank you to all of you for hard work, especially during these colder months. It is very appreciated.

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











Steamboat Rock (CA) 11/15/14 found by Gene and Keith

Wing: 31 cm
Tarsus: 55 mm

Alaska wing key (page 44):
Choose gray (go to Q25), gray wingtips with no windows or fingernails: Northern Fulmar, wahoo!

West Coast wing key (page 33):
Choose gray (go to Q10), gray, same as mantle (go to Q11), uniformly gray: Northern Fulmar – excellent!

West Coast wing table (page 32)
Choose row = large (wing chord 29-32cm) and column “dark upperwing” – no pale/white underwing linings, no primaries outercut. We’re left with:
Northern Fulmar (TN3)
American Crow (PE1)
Parasitic Jaeger (LA25)
Long-tailed Jaeger (LA31)

The jaegers are out – the tarsus of this bird is too long. Crows have “completely black plumage” so we’ll opt for Northern Fulmar.

Natural history notes: Peak beaching for Northern Fulmars in Alaska (where they breed) is July/August. Along the West Coast (where they spend the winter) November/December can be particularly high. In December 2003, COASST participants in Oregon North found an average of 11 fulmars per kilometer!










Wayside Beach (OR) 11/12/14 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 65 mm
Wing: 18.5 cm
Tarsus: 74 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Lobed (go to Q14), large foot, single lobes, tarsus>50mm: Grebes.

Alaska participants – stop here – this bird is found farther south.
West Coast guide GR1 – wing chord > 18cm, so we’re down to Clark’s Grebe (GR1), Western Grebe (GR1) or Red-necked Grebe (GR4). RNGR has a much tinier bill and between the CLGR and WEGR, the Western Grebe is the one with the eye surrounded by dark facial plumage.

Natural history notes: Western Grebes also peak on the West Coast a tad later in December/January. Like scoters and loons, Western Grebes breed along lakes in the interior and migrate to the coast during the winter. Concern continues about declining numbers of Western Grebes in Puget Sound – this paper uses Christmas Bird Count data (citizen science!) to look at shifting distributions of Western Grebes along the West Coast.

























How often are land based vehicles found as marine debris? Only once that we know about on a COASST survey. Marine debris pilot testers Paul and Louise conducted their first survey on 11/13/2014 and found encountered this rusted van on Bishop Beach West. A little ways down the beach, the radiator fan was in their medium debris sample.

































Take a look at this gumboot chiton that washed in near Cape Mendocino.  This species is the largest of all chitons, growing up to 14 inches in length and weighing over 4.4 pounds! Gumboot chitons inhabit rocky coastlines from California to Alaska, across the Aleutian Islands and south to Japan. What’s unique about this species is that the 8 plates on their body are hidden by their reddish-brown skin, or girdle. The underside is bright orange or yellow, consisting mainly of a large foot. They also have a retractable radula with rows of teeth to help them consume marine vegetation, such as sea lettuce and kelp.

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

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

Researcher Profile: Selina Heppell

What do sea turtles, sharks, sturgeon, and rockfish all have in common? Dr. Selina Heppell, marine fisheries ecologist and a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, would tell you that these marine creatures all have long lifespans, mature at a late age, and are threatened by over-harvest and habitat loss (the typical story of a top predator). COASST Intern, An Huynh, had the opportunity to ask Selina some questions about her research.

Heppell uses computer models and simulations (i.e. some pretty complex math) to assess how their populations change in response to environmental factors and applies those results to aid conservation and management decisions. Her passion for marine biology takes Heppell all over the world: to teach conservation of biodiversity in the sea in Iceland, help international partners develop sustainable fisheries policies in the Mediterranean, work with high school teachers in Mississippi.

Selina Heppell explains her dissection of a Humboldt squid to a group of students on the coast.

Selina explains her dissection of a Humboldt squid to a group of students on the Oregon coast.


me on 2 computers

How many computers does it take? In this case, two. A lot of Heppell’s research is done using models and simulations to assess how marine populations change in response to environmental factors.

A native to the Pacific Northwest, Selina dove into marine biology early, as a volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium when she was only 12. Her sense of wonder and amazement continues, “I love to tell people about cool stuff in the ocean.” So what’s the coolest thing she’s learned? “Sea turtles have finger-like projections in their throats to help them retain and swallow food while spitting the water back out. Unfortunately, it also means that that they can’t throw up very easily – whatever goes in has to pass all the way through. This is one reason why plastic bags and balloons are a big problem for them!” As COASST expands into marine debris, we’re lucky to have Selina’s expertise on our advisory board, as we examine which characteristics make certain debris harmful to specific marine species/species groups.

Even if you eliminated the marine debris threat, Sea turtles aren’t “out of the woods,” so to speak. Marine turtle populations are also highly sensitive to bycatch, or unintended fisheries take. Although protective measures have been put into place to mitigate bycatch effects (e.g. modifying trawl nets with “turtle excluder devices“), it still takes a long time to see a response in sea turtle populations. Due to this delayed response time, there are growing efforts to monitor sea turtles in the ocean instead of just protecting them on the beaches where they nest.

Heppell measures a sea turtle in the field.

Measuring a sea turtle in the field – carapace length.

Besides her field/at-sea time, as a professor, Selina spends a bunch of time with graduate and undergraduate students at Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Does all the field “work” in her lab involve snorkeling at tropical locales? Selina reminds our youngest COASSTers that the road to becoming a marine scientist is hard work: “it’s a discipline that relies on rigorous data collection and evaluation of evidence.” (COASSTers have some familiarity with the difficulty of evaluating evidence, on a small scale, using the keys, measurements and photos in the Beached Birds guide). Far from a “Discovery Channel degree,” prospective students “need to be dedicated to learning the scientific method and how to contribute data and results to conservation problems objectively,” adds Selina.

Beyond the typical classroom, Heppell sees value in any projects that boost public awareness in conservation biology and marine ecosystems, “COASST is particularly valuable because it gets people thinking about what is ‘natural’ and what is ‘not so natural’ and how systems change through time over very large areas.” After many years of involving and engaging the public through lectures, teacher workshops and citizen science programs, for Selina the benefit to marine conservation efforts is two-fold, “getting people to think about connections in nature can help marine conservation indirectly, and/or directly through political action or contributions to conservation and science efforts.”

selina teaching teachers 3 ketchum

Selina Heppell speaks to a group of teachers about marine policy at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.



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.

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.

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!”

Sounds of the Marbled Murrelet

Breeding plumage Marbled Murrelet in the Salish Sea. Copyright A. Barna

Breeding plumage Marbled Murrelet in the Salish Sea. Copyright A. Barna

The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is one of four seabirds in the COASST range with listing status under the Endangered Species Act. Just a few days ago, some lucky members of the Audubon Society of Portland rose at the crack of dawn (literally, as in be there at 4:30AM) to hear the “kerr kerr kerrs” of the endangered Marbled Murrelet.

Paul Engelmeyer, Manager of Ten Mile Creek, a National Audubon Society sanctuary and Kim Nelson, Senior Faculty Research Assistant hope annual trips like these (Eight years and counting) might include portions of the MAMUs historic range, where monitoring surveys have not been conducted (or not in a very long time). See the full story here.

Not a morning person, but just have to hear for yourself? You can click here to listen to a high-definition recording from Big Basin, Redwoods State Park (yes, that is 6:00AM Thomas is referring to on the 5th of May – not quite light).