Saturday, October 10, 2009

Beached Birds

My Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) materials have arrived and I'm off to check my beach in preparation for monthly beached-bird surveys along Neptune Beach.
COASST, a cooperative effort made up of volunteers, local environmental organizations, scientists and students at the University of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's (NOAA's) Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, uses "citizen science" to track the deposition of beached bird carcasses along the coast of the Pacific Northwest to help monitor our marine ecosystem health. In our six-hour COASST training, we learned how to identify beached birds through careful examination of just a bird foot or wing specimen using their Beached Bird Field Guide.
Nicknamed "Dead Birds for Dummies", it really is easy to identify the bird with this thorough reference guide. By following the easy-to-use keys in their book, we quickly identified that this was the wing of a large immature gull.
Now, with the training completed and the COASST materials in hand, I will perform monthly surveys on a two mile stretch of shore along Neptune Beach. Considered a priority spot by COASST since they have historical data associated with this beach, this stretch of beach is filled with houses with many of those homes on Tribal property. In reading the historical beach characteristics reports for my beach, it was reported that Tribal fishers are allowed to gillnet out of their back doors and the previous surveyors reported having rescued a loon that was found tangled in one of those nets. The Northern most portion of my beach ends abruptly at a boundary of riprap at the edge of the Cherry Point Oil Refinery property.
More photos from the COASST training, survey materials and a sneak peak at my survey beach.

We'll see what kind of interesting discoveries I make during my monthly beached-bird surveys.


  1. This is fascinating stuff!! It's tough identifying animals when decompostion sets in and when water is added to it, I know it speeds up the process. One day while at the shore in Destin, Fl, I walked up on several sea birds that were ripped to shreds. They literally littered the beach for as long as I can see. As I walked down the beach following feathers and limbs, I came across a huge bird in the distance and as I got closer I saw it was a female peregrine. She was nailing all of the sea birds along the shore. I love birds of prey. Do you see many where you are?

  2. Located along the Pacific flyway, we really do offer a paradise for birders. While most often peregrine sightings are during their annual migration, I've observed the falcons at both Tennant Lake and Semiahmoo. Having lived on Lummi Island a number of years ago, I am aware of a peregrine eyrie on Lummi Mountain (not a real mountain in any sense of the word, more like a heavily wooded hill really), and it is not uncommon to see peregrines around Lummi Bay. Like the eagle, beautiful!

    I checked the COASST historical database, and since their beginning in 1999, only three beached peregrines have been documented. That number includes the surveys from the California, Oregon and Washington outer coasts as well as the inner, more protected area of the sound where we are located. Their beached-bird species list is available here - - if you'd like to see what they're finding.

    The stretch of beach that I survey for COASST they call Sucia Drive North - - and Sucia Drive South - - but we refer to it as Neptune Beach, like its sign says. Public access is gained from Sucia Drive, thus the COASST name I suppose. Historical data for those beaches is available on the links provided above, but nothing is very recent and it does not appear that they ever had a year of consistent surveys – no doubt that's why they told me these were priority beaches.

    Because we are in the inner sound and protected by Vancouver Island, COASST indicated that it is not common for us to find large numbers of beached birds here - in comparison to what might be found on the outer coast of Washington, for instance. My concern is the impact on birds of our local oil refineries just north of my beaches, the industry just a few miles further north located in Canada governed by a completely different set of regulations that pump pollutants into our same waters, and, of course, the potential hazard of tribal fishing nets set out of back doors and other derelict fishing gear.

    I'm rather curious what my findings will be after a year of surveys. Stay tuned for updates with live data on dead birds . . .

  3. RR- I respect you so much for the work you do. Without people like you who are dedicated, there will be no data. It brings to mind about falconers, which if not for them, we would not have realized the affects DDT was having on the thier population along with Eagles and Ospreys. Falconers were finding nest with crushed eggs in them and it became a national event to figure out why the peregrines and other birdds of prey eggs were crushed in the nest and from extensive research they found out that DDT caused the shells to have real thin layers and therefore they would easily be crushed by the brooding mom. So im sure your work you will reap huge benefits to curtail any potential disaster or at least sustain the current populations. Thanks for some wonderful insight!


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