Friday, March 13, 2015

The Last Beached Bird Survey

Oh happy day! We are done with the beached bird surveys! I gave my notice a few months ago that March would be our last survey. Of all the citizen science projects we have done, I have probably learned the most from this one... and enjoyed it the least. It has been stressful for Johnny because he worries about the weather and the wind on our canoe journey over to our beach. It has been stressful for me because I worry about picking a good day, weather and wind-wise. And the data entry is tedious, the photo relabeling time-consuming and stressful, the long hike staring down at the ground looking for dead birds instead of enjoying the scenery annoying. In short, we were not cut out for this project. But we stuck it out for a year and thus the COASST folks have one year of data from this beach. Maybe they'll find someone else to carry on.

To be fair, it isn't all dead birds on the beach. We have seen lots of other creatures. Today (March 12) we saw gelatinous blobs that we didn't know what were. I wrote to the COASST folks, Jane Dolliver in particular who has been very helpful in teaching me about dead birds and more. She said it's a Salp, a kind of tunicate. And she gave me this link: 

In searching for salps on the web, I learned this:  "A salp is an unusual looking creature that is a free floating tunicate and is barrel shaped. The creature is able to move by pumping water through its body, which is jelly like. When the salp pumps the water through its body it strains it and feeds on the phytoplankton that is in the water... Because salps have to pull the water through their bodies to both eat and move, when they are in very dense populations of phytoplankton they can actually become clogged with their food source and sink! When this happens it is not uncommon for the beaches to be full of slippery salp bodies that have become clogged and then wash up onto the beaches."

To learn about tunicates, go to:

We also saw sea stars that were happily eating their food source, mussels, and looking healthy, unlike the ones we saw on our sea star survey last year at Short Beach. Johnny took a photo of one that had washed up. Well, it looked like it was healthy before it got stranded... and died... on the sand. The ones clinging to mussels on the rocks had no rotting arms and appeared big and robust.

Thankfully, there have been no storms and thus no "wrecks" of birds on the beach. In fact, we only had one new bird to catalog plus five "refinds" from the huge numbers of Cassin's Auklets that were beached in December's storms and found by us in January.

Since we had time and it was a very low tide, we walked/clambered/climbed through the tunnel at the south end of the beach, our turn-around point. I managed to lose my balance and fall into a pool, filling my boots with water and drenching my jeans. Johnny found that very amusing. It was a warm day so it didn't really matter. And I always have a change of clothes in the vehicle when we go to the coast... and often need to use them. When Johnny quit laughing, he asked me to do it again for the camera but I refused. Instead, he took this photo of our view from there, looking south.


We surveyed our way back to our canoe, finishing, on this warm and sunny March day, earlier than usual and drove to the Nestucca Wildlife Refuge a few miles north to see if we could find the now-famous (and alive, not beached!) Bean Goose that has been living with a flock of Cackling Geese on the refuge all winter. It belongs in Siberia, I think. But it seems very content here and gave us excellent looks as soon as we drove onto the refuge road.

 It even seemed to pose when we drove in farther to where the flock was closer.

Would you like to see the orange band around my bill?

 And when we drove up the road to get closer still, it held still while I tried to take a photo through the bare bushes between us, all while I was sitting in the van looking out the window.

Orange legs and orange-banded bill make this bird obvious

After taking a few dozen photos, we drove up to the viewing area and signed our names to the "Bean Goose Guest Book". Yes, this bird has had visitors from all over the country. After all, it is the first confirmed sighting of a tundra bean goose in the lower 48 of the United States. That's a big deal to birders. And it's been there since November. Over 1,000 birders have signed the bean goose guest book so far.

That was so easy we decided to drive on north to Cape Kiwanda and look for Black Oystercatchers. Well, I looked for BLOY while Johnny took a nap. They were as cooperative as the bean goose. The pair that hangs out on the north end of the cape against a cliff was there in their usual spot, a bit hazy in the on-again-off-again fog.

I did not notice "stuff" on the bills until I saw these photos and thought they were from the beach grass I was looking through and over. But even when they stood to preen and then one moved higher where no grass should have interfered with my photo, the "stuff" is there so I think maybe they really did have something on their bills.

I walked to the south side of the cape, then, to see if those BLOY were around. I found one on a flat rock off the cape, feeding first, then snoozing. We often see just one on the south side plus a pair at the end of the cape or on Haystack Rock. I did not clamber out to the end of the cape to look for that pair this day. The day's canoeing and hiking had made me hungry and tired.

I was amazed at the amount of erosion on the cape since my last visit. How much longer, I wonder, before it splits off from the mainland.

Haystack Rock with its top in drifting fog, was as beautiful as ever.

Back at the van, I changed into dry clothes before we headed to Los Caporales in Pacific City for supper, our usual spot when we do BLOY surveys at Cape Kiwanda. What a glorious day on the coast and a fine finale for the beached bird survey.

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