Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wet Weather, Seabird Survey (I)

Friday. Up and out of the house before daylight, to get to Makah Bay with my COASST mentors M-S and JL while the tide was in our favor (and anyway the days are very short.)

On our way out of town we stopped at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's warehouse for sample bottles and freezer packs. The bloom of the algae Akashiwo sanguinea is still happening out there in the ocean, though not in quantities sufficient to distress birds. MS planned to get water samples both at Hobuck and in the marina at Neah Bay to send to the Northwest Fisheries Science Center for testing. One of their boats is in there, a Hurricane Zodiac looking like it was ready to drive its own trailer out the doors; and all their dive gear; and endless shelves and tubs and stacks of science tools. Coming along on this survey is a great opportunity, both because M-S is the boss and knows every bird, and everything about them, and is happy to talk science All Day Long; and because her beach, Hobuck Beach (maps, 1 & 2, and a nice video from youtube), is a deposition beach. There are ALWAYS beached birds there, so it's a good place for training new volunteers, as well as no-longer-new volunteers like me who still mostly can't identify a bird carcass when she's alone with one. :-(

MS & JL at the beginning of the survey, still south of Hobuck Creek. (Click for larger image.)

Rain on and off all day, and many beached birds, something like 27 (JL has the data sheets, and beyond a certain point I was not keeping a separate list in my notebook). All but three were 'refinds', birds tagged on previous surveys. They don't wash away again from Hobuck, (the way they do from my beaches, in fact presumably washing away before I ever see them). The most frequent finds were northern fulmars, both light and dark forms; several red-throated loons; a couple of common murres, a large immature gull, a white-winged scoter, a perfectly enormous common loon. There were also several marine mammals (dead ones, that is), and a whole lot of sand dollars.

We crossed Hobuck Creek, and began heading north towards the Waatch River. Since there were three of us spread out across the wide beach, we could cover it pretty well, though most of the finds were far at the back of the beach, close to the bank and nearly up in the grasses. Bird after bird, sometimes two or three or five at a time.

Got absolutely coated with sand from head to toe, because when there's birds to identify and record you gotta get down in the sand and measure things and handle things, and crawl around variously, dragging your rain poncho through the sand in such a way that it's as wet and sandy underneath as it is on the outside.

When we reached our turnaround point at the Waatch River, there was some of what appeared to be Akashiwo foam, though up to that point we hadn't seen any. MS took water samples, and a sample of the foam. As we headed back there was now foam coming in on the high tide where it hadn't been earlier.

Sampling foam on the beach near Waatch River. (Click for larger image.)

By the end of the day JL and I were pervasively damp, sandy, and chilled. MS, the pro, was still going strong: we stopped in Neah Bay at the harbor for a water sample, and at the Museum shop, for Christmas shopping ;-)

No comments: