Third expedition as a COASST volunteer, surveying Hobuck Beach (map), low tide, May 29th, with M.-S. (the COASST trainer). Wide sandy beach, wrack: 'thick' (more than a meter wide), weather: fog (and sun, but you gotta choose one on the data sheet). Hobuck gets lots of birds, mostly common murres, only not for the past few months. Two years in a row the breeding colony on Tatoosh Island just off Cape Flattery has failed. M.-S. says that because of the large numbers of eagles around, the murres abandoned their nests. They are not very flexible; move as a colony if at all; unlikely to just go somewhere else to start a new nest. We walk.
"Bird!" she calls out firmly. There it is, a couple of wings, plus head and neck.
It's a re-find. Already tagged and in the database. According to the protocol we do not need to measure re-finds, but we do the process on it anyway because I am a newbie. It's a sooty shearwater (formal abbreviation, SOSH).
Pretty soon, another one. "Bird!" she calls out. Another sooty shearwater, re-find, SOSH, #243. Just wings this time. We do the process, and shift it around and photograph it, pack up and go back to wandering our wavy paths down the beach. A dozen lovely whimbrels are wandering around, too; just before they fly away they line up in a neat row so we can count them. Ooh I love shorebirds. If it has long legs and a long beak, I'm for it. We watch them for a while, go back to walking. (It's ok to look around at ocean, sky, wildlife; only you gotta stop walking while you do it, so you don't miss any bird carcasses while you are distracted.)
Hmmm. Kind of a lot of feathers here, more feathers, is there... oh look, a breastbone and some stray bits, but... I call out in a mumble, "Um... er... here's quite a lot of something but nothing to measure..." Then, "OH!!"
It's huge. The details of the beak are very clear. (M.-S. knows just what it is, of course.) She has to prompt me a lot, but we get there. "It's an... ALBATROSS?!?!?" (I'm a little overexcited.)
Our beach ends at the Waatch River. We rest for a while. From here we would see all the way down the coast to the sea stacks at Point of the Arches, if it weren't foggy. I ask her what pelagic birds like shearwaters and albatrosses are doing on our beach. I mean, being a beach person and not a boat person, I've never seen an albatross, or a shearwater. "They drifted here," she says of course, but who knew they could drift so far, fetch up on the shore.
We head back along the upper beach. I pick up one of the really enormous sand dollars. Wander wander. "Bird!!" M.-S. has found what turns out to be a large immature gull. One wing of. LIGU, #245.
The field guide, Todd Hass & Julia K. Parrish's Beached Birds : A COASST Field Guide is brilliant. Constructed on characteristics of the sort of measurable parts that might persist in a beached bird—feet, beaks, wings—it makes it possible to count, study, identify, ACKNOWLEDGE even the lost pieces of birds we have found today. They are not bits, they are birds. Beings who will be valued, remembered.