Tag Archives: Washington

What’s Washed In

Hope that you’re all enjoying Spring! We’ve had a lot of interesting photos in our inbox, including some iconic species. Here’s a look at what’s washed!

MalelN 2014 SUSC 778bCalifornia-to-Washington: Look at that bright red/orange foot! Front toes are webbed, hind toe is lobed: Waterfowl: Diving Ducks. All dark wing and no white plumage – Surf Scoter or Black Scoter. (In the Alaska Guide, without a head, we’ll turn to the Wing Key… see below) For the Black Scoter, the last primary is much shorter – not the case here – “normal” wing with the last primary longest – SUSC! (Found by Sara and Peter, Humboldt, California)

Alaska: Dark upperwing (trust us on this). Upperwing simply dark, and underwing linings not white. Wing chord is 24cm, and wing is “simply dark” no outercuts, innercuts, smudges, bright primaries or short outer primaries. NOW we can use the foot. Harlequin Duck, shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Black Oystercatcher, Surf Scoter  – only one with a redish foot – SUSC!

Wa-atch 2014 0327b

All regions: Okay! This one is certainly recognizable, but let’s go through the steps to verify our answer: four free toes, 3 in front and 1 in back. No toes fused, and the tarsus is less than 150 mm. We definitely have claws here (= nails as long as toes = talons)! The bare tarsus tells us that this is a raptor (as opposed to an owl) – a Bald Eagle. (found by Paul and Sally, North Coast, Washington)

OcnPrkSth 2014 0409 DUNL 079 a

OcnPrkSth 2014 0409 DUNL 079 b
All regions: This is a great example of countershading (dark on back, light on tummy).  Looking closely at this tiny wing: white stripe along the mantle edge when the wing is outstretched and the innermost secondaries are predominantly white. With a wing chord of 12 cm, this is a Dunlin (rare in Alaska). The long (39 mm), droopy-tipped bill separate this DUNL from two other common shorebirds: Sanderling and Western Sandpiper. (found by Paul and Janet, South Coast, Washington)

Sea Star Hatchlings


Burt’s photo from Feiro Marine Life Center (Six-rayed Sea Star, Leptasterias hexactis)

Thanks, Burt (Kalaloch North and Kalaloch South) for sharing the photo of sea star “babies” at the Feiro Marine Life Center thanks also to Jody and Janis for their in-situ photos from Ruby Beach (part of Olympic National Park). With both of these hitting our inbox at the same time, we wondered, is this just coincidence? When do sea stars reproduce in our coastal waters?

Janis and Jody’s photo from Ruby Beach (5-armed: Purple Star, Leather Star, etc – check them out here: http://www.seastarsofthepacificnorthwest.info/species.html)

Sea Stars are part of the Phylum Echinodermata (literally ”spiny-skinned” in Greek). Male and female sea stars (like Common Murres, only THEY can tell the difference) release sperm and eggs directly into the water column (April-July). The resulting embryos become free-swimming larvae, and after several months metamorphose and settle on substrate as tiny versions of the sea stars we recognize. The sea stars in Burt and Jody and Janis’ photos are settled plankton from last summer.

And why do we care? Why are sea stars so important? Well, we need not look far! Just knock on Dr. Bob Paine’s door, University of Washington Biology Professor Emeritus. It’s through years of research on Tatoosh Island that Dr. Paine developed the keystone species hypothesis, a landmark hypothesis in ecology and conservation that describes the importance of (and resulting impact from) predator removal to all other species in an ecological community.  So while small, we’re well-served to pay attention to these stars, now and in the future.

Learn more about Dr. Paine’s research, including what he sees as the most pressing questions to be answered by future generations in his interview with Hillary, when she was a UW graduate student.

Julia Shares her Waldron Island COASST Walk

One of our San Juan Islands COASSTers, Julia, graciously offered to share her pictures from a December COASST walk along her beach on Waldron Island. It’s a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of an islander and see the great diversity of marine birds that surround us in the Salish Sea.


“The first is from the cliff above the bay. You can see the heavy sea lettuce (Genus – Ulva) wrack on the beach, and my dog romping along. Out of focus, near the Madrona tree and below the island to the center right, is a blur which is a flock of birds.” – Julia


A mixed flock of wintering birds, mostly Bufflehead, also including Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Horned Grebe.  In the COASST guide, Bufflehead can be found on WF15-16.  And the Horned Grebe is in GR6-7.


Close up of a Red-Breasted Merganser. Mergansers are larger diving ducks that have long, thin bills with serrated edges to aid in capturing fish prey. If you have the Alaska guide, check out pages WF36 and WF38.



Two Common Goldeneye accompany the Red-Breasted Merganser. It is not uncommon to see various waterfowl species occupy the same foraging location at the same time.


A flock of Canada Geese landed near Pt. Disney, the SE corner of Cowlitz Bay.


The same flock flying over the Nature Conservancy swamp.

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


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.


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.

Squid Eggs

Helen and Peter's BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach.

Helen and Peter’s BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach (near Pacific Beach, WA).

Thanks Helen and Peter for passing along a photo of their Haskin Park find: Squid eggs. A first for COASST! Helen did a little research of her own on this non-bird find, “we learned that these little opalescent packages are squid eggs and found an amazing video of a squid laying eggs in the sand and transporting them back to a hanging cluster to attach.”

At COASST, we’ve had squid on the brain ever since we were introduced to Scarlett Arbuckle, who earned her PhD at Texas A & M looking at Ommastrephid squid, Dosidicus gigas. Now, Scarlett is a new member of Selina Heppell’s lab at the University of Oregon, home to a wealth of projects, among them the northward invasion of Humboldt Squid in the Pacific Ocean (check back soon, for our upcoming blog on Selina).

When you’re a squid expert like Scarlett you’re always on the look out. Scarlett says “most people first disregard squid eggs as tunicates. Helen and Peter’s photo shows a cluster of squid egg sacs, probably from loliginidae squid family. The sacs were knocked loose from their anchoring and washed up. Depending on the available substrate and species, female squid will anchor the sacs in clusters in the sand, on rocks, or, like shown in the video, to ropes and man made structures.”

While it’s difficult to tell the species without a specimen in hand (COASSTers know all about that!) Scarlett ventures these are likely “California Market squid egg sacs, since they range from Southern California all the way to Alaska.”

More to come? Yes, definitely. We’re hoping to work with Scarlett to figure out what kinds of data COASSTers can collect on beached squid to inform researchers. Stay tuned!

What’s Washed In

We have been seeing lots of interesting things being found out on the COASST beaches. Here are a few of the many photos that have been sent in recently:


The tiniest of tubenoses, this is a Leach’s Storm-Petrel found in North Oregon. All dark upperwing and a small wing chord of less than 18cm puts us in the “tiny” category of the West Coast guide, and a similar spot in the Alaska guide, one shared with many of the small Alcids (e.g., Marbled Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet). Underwing linings are not white (you’ll have to trust us on this point) so we’re left with Storm-Petrels. Of those, only the Leach’s has a white rump and dark brown (vs. light gray) plumage.


A Large Immature Gull entangled in blue filament (see left leg) found in the Puget Sound. Entangled birds make up about 0.5% of all birds found during COASST surveys in any year. Look carefully at that bill – dark and hooked, but no tube or separate bill plates, so it’s not a shearwater or a jaeger.


There’s only a few species with white in the upperwing and the secondary feathers – Ivory Gull, Glaucous Gull, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan or Snow Goose. Dark primary feathers tell us this is a Snow Goose-light morph, found in the Chukchi Sea (it’s finally melting up there!)


A rubber cat found on the South Coast of Washington – perhaps used as an under-pet-bowl placemat?


Finally, a glass ampoule (sealed vial) found on the South Coast of Washington. Modern ampoules are mostly used to contain injectable pharmaceuticals. The best way to dispose of an item like this and other medications is through a local pharmacy, or National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, or via the FDA’s suggested method.

You never know what you may find out on those beaches!

Using unmanned aircraft systems to monitor seabirds

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has won permission to test an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) off the Olympic Coast of Washington.  But don’t worry; they’re not using them to spy on us.  Instead, NOAA is planning to use the UAS to take high-def video of seabird colonies, as well as to search for tsunami debris.  The 9-foot unmanned aircraft is better suited for this than traditional aircraft because it makes much less noise and is therefore less disruptive to the seabirds.  In addition, the drones are much less expensive and much safer than manned aircraft.

NOAA drone in flight. Photo Credit: Ed Bowlby / NOAA

NOAA drone in flight. Photo Credit: Ed Bowlby / NOAA

Murre Colony

Photos of Common Murre colony taken by the NOAA drone. Photo credit: NOAA

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has acquired a similar UAS in hopes of also doing seabird colony research. However, that project is currently facing difficulty obtaining a permit from Federal Aviation Administration and remains on hold.

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.