Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beached Bird Survey

Today we did our first Beached Bird Survey for COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team). What that means is we hike an assigned beach and look for dead birds. If we find them, we use the Beached Birds key to figure out, hopefully, what they are. Then we tag them with colorful tags that represent numbers, take measurements and photos and fill out data sheets. Believe it or not, hundreds of volunteers all up and down the Pacific Coast do these surveys monthly.

I took the training in October but my assigned beach, Salmon River,  is rather problematical to get to. We either have to go through private property (Camp Westwind) which means coordinating with them... something that I haven't been able to do... or canoe across the river to the beach from Knight Park. That requires outgoing tides and ingoing tides at the right time so we're not fighting current. And we need decent weather of which we've had little. Today, it all worked out and we had an easy paddle downstream and back up after our survey.

I left my good camera home (out of danger of a dunking) and let Johnny take the photos with his little camera. He dutifully took the photos we were supposed to take and nothing else.  Next time I'll bravely take my camera and try to get photos of something besides beach, debris and dead birds.

This is the start of our survey area, near the mouth of the Salmon River, looking toward Three Rocks. I hoped to see some Black Oystercatchers out there, since this is part of my Black Oystercatcher survey area in the summer, but two Bald Eagles were guarding the rocks, one on the south rock and one on the north rock, so there were no other birds at all out there. Except gulls on the middle rock.

Here is the wrack line on our beach that we wander through looking for bird wings or feet or whatever. That's me, wandering southward. That little dot out in the ocean is Wizard Island. It is offshore of my Road's End Black Oystercatcher (BLOY) territory. The headland in the distance blocks the view of our BLOY nest rocks off The Thumb.

 Here I've made it all the way to that headland at the south end of our 2 km long beach.

 This is the view from the south end looking north, toward Cascade Head. When we reach this south end, having walked the lower wrack line from the latest high tide, we walk back on the upper wrack line from earlier and higher high tides.

 And here is the only beached bird we found. One beached wing plus a few bones. This is the upperside of the wing with some of the dark primary feathers apparently missing.

Below is the lighter underside of the wing. I tried to follow the key but there wasn't much here to help... (and I need a lot more practice with more intact dead birds). We measured the "wing chord" at 29 cm, which eliminated many possibilities but didn't narrow it down enough for me. I'm guessing (with the help of the key) that it is (or was) some kind of loon, but since that's only a guess, I wrote Unknown on my little blackboard. Maybe someone at COASST can figure out what it really is. 

Update: someone from COASST did figure it out. Charlie Wright wrote: "The wing is just intact enough to be measurable. The tell-tale thing to look at in this find is that white "window" in the outer primary feather (white not quite at the tip, but surrounded by black). That makes it a gull. The upperwing photo shows a mix of even gray plumage, like an adult, and mottled brown plumage like a juvenile, so we call these "subadult." As for species, there's not quite enough info to tell exactly. But COASST has that handy category for Large Immature Gulls, where this one fits quite nicely."

Tonight I asked Johnny which of my many bird surveys he thinks is the craziest. He said it was a hard choice between this Beached Bird Survey, the Black Swift Survey (looking for black birds against black rocks at dusk) and the Nightjar Survey. But the Nightjar Survey won out, mostly because much of the scheduled survey period is before Nighthawks, our only likely bird of the Nightjar family, have returned from their wintering areas.

At least dead birds stay put.

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