Tag Archives: Waterfowl

What’s Washed In – June 15, 2015


Hope you’re all having a great month so far! It’s been a fun few weeks, with volunteer socials in Port Angeles (WA) and Cape Meares (OR) and trainings in Florence (OR) and Gold Beach (OR). A big thanks to all of you who attended and welcome to our new volunteers.

This week Julia is headed to Fort Bragg (CA) to give a community presentation on “The Natural History of Dead Birds.” We’ll also have weekend trainings in Fort Bragg and Fortuna (CA). California COASSTers, we hope you can join us!

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:










Samoa Bay Street South (CA) 3/14/15 found by Sharon

Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 50 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus less than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose 4th toe lobed, with flap extending to end of nail – WATERFOWL: DIVING DUCKS.

Alaska Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF5), Greater Scaup (WF15), Bufflehead (WF29), goldeneyes (WF31, WF33) and mergansers (WF35, WF37). Based on measurements, we can eliminate all these except mergansers and White-winged Scoter. Only one of these has dark plumage on the side of the neck and upper breast: White-winged Scoter.

West Coast Guide
On WF1, we’re stuck – need a bill. You can return to the wing key/wing table, or look through the WF options that have white in the secondaries: White-winged Scoter (WF3), Greater Scaup (WF13), Bufflehead (WF15). Of these, measurements fit only one: White-winged Scoter.










Roads End South (OR) 6/2/15 found by Mark and photos sent by Chuck
Bill: 27 mm
Wing: 25 cm
Tarsus: 36 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose 4 toes: 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), choose tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), choose thin toe or nail only (go to Q7), choose heel flat (go to Q8), choose tarsus less than 65mm – TUBENOSES: PETRELS.

Alaska Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill color is dark, underwing is white, with dark stripe from wrist towards wingpit: Mottled Petrel.

West Coast Guide
On TN1, select wing chord more than 20cm, True Petrels. Bill is thick and short, bill color is black: Gadfly Petrels (Mottled Petrel is one).

The saga of this piece of debris is quite interesting. This container lid was found by beach cleaner extraordinaire Russ in Longbeach, WA.

One of our COASST students, Devin (or shall we call her Sherlock Holmes), who is fluent in Japanese, saw this photo and recognized 有栄七屋商店 as Kanji (Chinese characters that have been adopted in Japan). She did some sleuthing and discovered the lid is from a local Japanese grocery store (and nailed it down to the address of 5-8 Honcho Otsuchi, Kamihei District, Iwate Prefecture 028-1116 Japan).

Along with discovering the source of the lid, Devin found something truly intriguing via Google Street View: the entire location was flattened and washed away by the Tohoku tsunami. The map shows the epicenter of the Tohoku earthquake in red, and the store location that the lid was from in green.











Take a look at what Paul and Louise found at Bishop’s Beach West earlier this year. COASST intern Mallory refers to this as an “Octopopsicle” – a Giant Pacific Octopus washed ashore and frozen in the ice. According to NOAA, there are at least seven species of octopus in the Gulf of Alaska, but the Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is by far the most common. The Giant Pacific Octopus is able to change the color and texture of its skin at will, making it an adept hunter and challenging opponent when playing Hide-and-go-Seek.

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

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)

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.

What’s Washed In – 10/31/13


Fall is here and the Common Murres are hitting the beach. We’ve been receiving lots of surveys with lots birds! This is nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year, but you should expect longer and “birdier” surveys than your usual. Make sure to start early and bring a snack. Now is also a good time to check your cable tie supply to see if you’re running low of any color.

Here’s a look at what’s washed in over the last few weeks:

-2 A Laysan Albatross found by Kathy on the South Coast (WA). Those three-webbed toes and huge foot (tarsus >75mm) point us to the Tubenose: Albatross family. From here we have three species to consider: Black-footed Albatross, Laysan Albatross, and Short-tailed Albatross. The bill length is WAY smaller than a STAL (130-140mm), and the pale bill and feet rule out BFAL, we’re left with the Laysan Albatross.


A Green-winged Teal found by Susie and Bill in Oregon North – time for some more wing practice!

Using the wing table, at 17cm, the wing falls into the tiny (wing chord <18cm) row but because it’s right on the edge, let’s also consider small (18-20cm) row. That area of contrasting color in the secondaries puts us in the Patch/Speculum group, giving us four options in the two rows; BUFF (WF15), HOGR (GR6), PIGU (AL10) or GWTE (WF7). Bufflehead, Horned Grebe and Pigeon Guillemot have a white patch on the upperwing – not a match. But the green and black speculum with buffy bar in front and white behind is a perfect match for the Green-winged Teal.

Using the west coast wing key, we’d select “secondaries contrasting and dark” for the first question sending us to Q18. Here, we’d select “green, w/ tan strip above and white below.” With a wing chord of 17 cm, we have a Green-winged Teal.

Using the Alaska wing key, we’d select “w/ light or dark speculum and/or one or more white patches” sending us to Q17. Here, we’d choose “dark speculum, no patch” leading to Q24. The “green w/buffy stripe above and white below” points us to the Green-winged Teal (a little short for Alaska birds, but that’s okay – this find is from Oregon).


A Mottled Petrel found by Sue and Scott on the North Coast. You won’t find a species page on this bird in the COASST field guides, but you can still get pretty far on the ID. The three webbed toes with a small fourth toe and flat heel (not quite visible in the photo) would take you to the Tubenoses:Petrels family.

Using the west coast guide, a wing chord of 25cm puts this in the True Petrels group. From here, we consider the bill shape, tarsus, and bill color: thick and short (bill), round (tarsus), and black (bill color) – group: Gadlfy Petrels. With this guide, we can’t get any more specific than the subgroup of Gadfly Petrels.

Using the Alaska guide, a wing chord of 25cm puts drops us into the True Petrels group. Bill color is dark, underiwng is white, with “dark stripe from wrist to wingpit.” Yep – Mottled Petrel!


A gas cylinder found by Phil in the San Juans. Remember, if you find an item like this, do not touch or attempt to move. These items should be reported to the National Response Center by calling 1-800-424-8802 or visiting their website or to local law enforcement.


What’s Washed In – 10/01/13

Hope your week is off to a great start. With the fall weather upon us, now is a great time to check your COASST supplies and make sure you have plenty of rite-in-the-rain data sheets. Looks like there will be lots of rain in the future. We are lucky to have such a great group of volunteers who face the cold and rain to collect these valuable data. Here’s a look at a few of the many things found along our coastline in the last few weeks.


A Short-tailed Shearwater found by Ken in the Chukchi. Three webbed toes with a 4th minute (tiny) toe and flat heel puts this bird in the Tubenose: Petrels family. And a wing chord over 20 centimeters let’s us know it’s not a Storm-petrel.

Using Beached Birds-Alaska, the dark bill points us to either Short-tailed Shearwater (TN5) or Sooty Shearwater (TN7). STSH generally have gray-to-brown underwings and a shorter bill, whereas SOSH have white-to-pale underwings and a longer bill. With a bill of 31cm, this is definitely a Short-tailed Shearwater.

Using Beached Birds, look at the bill shape and tarsus. A thin and long bill and flat tarsus lead us to the shearwaters. We have three to choose from: Sooty Shearwater (TN5), Short-tailed Shearwater (TN7), or Pink-footed (TN15). We can rule out Pink-footed: mostly pale bill, white throat, belly, and underwing linings. With underwings that are more gray than white and a shorter (29-34mm) bill, this is a Short-tailed Shearwater.


Great Blue Heron feet found by Stanley and Resha in the South Coast of Washington. Time for some practice with the foot key. Free toes send us to Q9. Three toes in front, one in the back sends us to Q10. None of the toes are fused – go to Q11. With a tarsus over 150 mm, four toes of the same length, and a comb-like nail on the middle toe, we’re looking at a wader. You’ll notice the “waders” label is in italics. This means Wader species are not part of Beached Birds, so we can’t go any further – writing “Waders” on your data sheet is just fine.


An owl found by Cathleen and Daphne in the San Juans. Here’s another chance to practice with the foot key. This foot follows the same path through the guide as the wader, except a tarsus less than 150 mm will send us to Q12. With multiple claws and a feathered tarsus we’re looking at a Land Bird: Owl. Again this label is in italics: no species profiles of owls are included in Beached Birds


A Northern Pintail found by Kathy and Lyn on the South Coast of Washington. Now for some practice with just a wing!If you are using the wing table, at 25.5cm this wing falls in the Med-Lg category. That iridescent stripe in the secondaries is called a speculum, giving us four options; Northern Pintail (WF9), Mallard (WF11), White Winged Scoter (WF3), King Eider (WF21). Out of these birds, the only one has a tan-dark-white speculum pattern, from leading to trailing edge: Northern Pintail, male.If you are using the west coast wing key, select secondaries contrasting and dark sending you to Q18. Then choose tan stripe above and white below secondaries. A measurement of 25.5cm is well above the range for Green-winged Teal.If you are using the Alaska wing key, select light or dark speculum and/or one or more white patches taking you to Q17. Here choose dark speculum, no patch leading to Q24. Speculum with buffy stripe above and white below gives you a Northern Pintail, male.  


A blue drum found by Heather in Oregon. Drums like this one, found on the beach, can sometimes contain hazardous chemicals. If you find an item like this, do not touch or attempt to move. These items should be reported to the National Response Center by calling 1-800-424-8802 or visiting their website.


What’s Washed In

With all this great summer weather, we hope you are enjoying lots of time on the beach (for a survey or for fun)! Our inbox keeps filling with new and exciting COASST finds. Here are a few things that have washed ashore recently:

Greater White-fronted Gooose

A Greater White-fronted Goose found by Tom and Connie on the South Coast of Washington. This is a rare find for COASST (less than 40 documented!). You won’t find this species in the field guide. However, those three webbed front toes and bulbous forth toe will put this bird in the “Waterfowl: Tippers and Geese” category.

Pacific Loon

A Pacific Loon found by Melissa in Humboldt. Check out those wide flattened-like-a-knife tarsi: definitely a loon! Looking up the LO section in Beached Birds, we see that small loons (Pacific and Red-throated) can be separated from the Common Loon by their wing size. The Pacific Loon can be distinguished from the Red-throated Loon by its straight (as opposed to upturned bill – second photo shows this best), and limited spotting across the back.

Brandt's Cormorant

A Brandt’s Cormorant found by Olli, Carolyn, and Keith in Oregon North. The dark bill and a tan chin rule out the smaller, Pelagic Cormorant (featured in our last email) and the Double Crested Cormorant (stout orange bill or black bill with white face plumes).

Pacific Lamprey

Pacific Lamprey – part of a class of animals (Agnatha) without jaws, ribs or paired fins.

A Pacific Lamprey found by Candace, in Oregon South. A first-ever find for a COASST survey! Although this fish won’t be winning any beauty contests with its mouth full of yellowish paired (or tripled) teeth, it is pretty important conservation-wise.

Lots of yellow rope found by Heidi and team out on the North Coast of Washington! These 30cm (12in) fragments of small diameter polypropylene could have a couple of possible origins. Rope like this is often used in recreational fisheries, perhaps from a larger length encountered at the surface, wound around, then cut from a propeller. This type of rope is also used in oyster culture and cut as the crop is harvested. With rope, larger loop fragments pose and entanglement hazard (especially to seals), fragments pose an ingestion threat, based on length, to many marine species.

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!

Dead Bird ID Terminology

One of the challenges of making the COASST Beached Birds Field Guides was avoiding much of the technical jargon found in other scientific resources. So where possible, we prefer “overlapping” to “scutellate” and “four webbed” to “totipalmate.” Those words can be fun to know, but they have no place in a guide for bringing clarity to bird identification.

With bird ID, there are a few terms that are necessary in order to be specific. The glossary in the COASST Field Guide helps with these, but we still field questions about some of the more obscure ones. Here is a closer look at some of the more challenging terms:

Puffin “stripe” or “smudge”

Unique to puffins and the closely related Rhinoceros Auklet, this is the subtly paler coloration on the leading edge of the wing. Sometimes this can look like the feathers are “worn away”, but it’s actually a plumage pattern.


White spots surrounded by dark, found on the outer wing feathers (primaries) of adult gulls (but not kittiwakes) are referred to as windows.


Many gull species have white tips to their primary feathers, which we call “fingernails.”


When the secondary feathers are colored differently from the rest of the wing they are referred to as a speculum. Often these are iridescent. This term is commonly applied to ducks, for example this Northern Shoveler wing with a green speculum. Presence and coloration of the speculum can be the key to getting that waterfowl wing down to species.

Wing stripe

This is an area of contrast going through the middle of the wing, with darker or lighter color both before and after. In shorebirds, this is often a white “stripe.” Pigeons show a dark wing stripe.

Inner cut/outer cut primaries

Some birds have oddly shaped edges to their outer primary feathers. The leading edge of the feather may taper gradually towards the tip. This is called an outer cut feather. When the tapering is present on the trailing edge of the feather, it is called inner cut. This can be a good way to tell those cormorant wings from scoter wings!