Tag Archives: Perching Birds

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!

COASST Field Trips

On October 5th and 6th, the COASST interns and the University of Washington’s marine biology class drove to Ocean Shores, WA for a day of beached bird surveys. The interns and students learned the COASST survey protocol and got lots of practice identifying and tagging beached birds. The bird identification started off slow but the teams were quick to pick up the new skills as the day went on. By the end, they were identifying, recording data, and tagging birds with ease.


Marine biology students identifying and tagging a beached bird.

Eleven beaches were surveyed over the two days. Common Murres were by far the most abundant bird found. They were seen in breeding, non-breeding, and molting plumages which added an extra challenge for these new surveyors. Other commonly found birds included, Sooty Shearwaters and large immature gulls.

The teams also came across some rare finds. At South Chance, a beached yellow shafted Northern Flicker was spotted. It can be identified by the vibrant yellows found in the wings. Another team happened upon a skate egg casing, with small embryos inside. Not a bird, but a very cool thing to find!

Overall it was a great weekend. The weather was beautiful, with no rain, making it an enjoyable learning experience for all.


A yellow shafted Northern Flicker found on South Chance


This skate egg casing was found during one of the surveys


Score for the Teaching Collection


We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, "yes!"

We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, “yes!”

Late afternoon, in the fisheries building parking lot and Jane comes across this find. Seven years bad luck? Should she call it quits and leave work early?

Nah – bag and freeze and tell Matt (Senior Intern) there’s another bird waiting to be added to the COASST teaching collection. Thanks Peregrine Falcon, for leaving your lunch for us.

Based on its size, some people mistake this bird (in wings-only form) for a Common Murre. It’s not! Upperwing is not uniformly dark, feet are pink and not webbed. It’s a Rock Dove (aka Rock Pigeon or just pigeon).

A New Foot-type Family!

How’s this for rare?  A new-to-COASST foot-type family, found on a North Coast beach! Sue Keilman and Scott Horton found this Virginia Rail on their Third Beach survey.  In the Beached Birds field guide, rails are most closely related to the American Coot. As seen in the guide, coots have lobed toes that recall those of the grebes. This rail, however, has four free toes, three of which are very long and spindly. As you can see in the photos, the longest toe is virtually the same length as the tarsus! As usual, foot type betrays function: rails are perfectly suited for walking on soft, marshy substrate and floating vegetation.

What surprise will COASSTers find next?

Image of Virginia Rail

The first Virginia Rail found on a COASST survey.

Image of Virginia Rail foot

Note the three long toes and one short toe.


COASST – It’s not just for Seabirds!

“Seabird” is a part of the COASST acronym and seabirds are the focus of our program, but from the very start volunteers have collected data on ALL dead birds found, not just the ones associated with the ocean.  COASST volunteers have thus far documented 156 dead-on-the-beach species from Humboldt County to the Chukchi Sea. About 30% of those are species that have no ties to the marine environment. So what gives? How does a landbird end up dead on a beach?

Sometimes, we know exactly how. We have raptors to thank for many of our out-of-place finds. COASST data verifier Charlie, watched this Peregrine Falcon (photo above) swooping on a Northern Flicker at Grayland Beach in Washington. He was curious to see if it would then show up on a survey. Sure enough, Laurie Lindeman and Bev Dage came through, finding the picked-clean wings 5 days later (photo below)!

Then there are some real puzzlers. Varied Thrushes are generally described as reclusive forest birds, but for some reason they show up more than we’d expect on COASST surveys. Compared to American Robins, by any measure a more numerous bird, Varied Thrushes (photo below) have been found 20 times, while robins only 6. The reason for this is a total mystery to us!

Life must be hard for raptors, and like any bird (think murres!) the first year of life presents special challenges. There is a real learning curve when it comes to pursuing active prey. Most of our raptor finds involve juvenile birds, like this Red-tailed Hawk (photo below) with the banded brown tail of a youngster.