Saturday, July 28, 2012

Being Out, Doing Science

Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation. We think the weather was supposed to turn good in town; but out here, gray and quiet.

Whimbrels, July 27, Hobuck Beach on Makah Bay (Click for larger image.)
Hobuck Beach, July 27, 2012 (Click for larger image.)

It's the monthly beached seabird survey for COASST. The dead-birds birder team is large this time, seven people. The tide is low and the beach is wide, but with so many people we can cover the whole thing in one pass. It's a long drive (2 hours) and we got a late start. We were on the beach for four hours and the tide seemed really really low the whole time, which is basically not possible, but there you are. For live birds, we saw whimbrels, killdeer, plover, gulls lots of gulls. Heard eagles, never saw them.

At One Point an Additional Wrack Line Appeared, Further Out (Click for larger image.)

We had seven (dead) birds to work, not too hard to deal with when the recorder, the measurer, the photographer and the person wielding the ID book are four different people. Two fork-tailed storm petrels. A baby gull still in down except where his new flight feathers were just coming in. A large immature gull. A sooty shearwater, a northern fulmar (dark morph) and a Cassin's auklet. We had our bird mentor MSB with us or we'd NEVER had gotten the second petrel, he was just a delicate handful of bones; but yeah, a sufficiency of measurable parts when you looked: beak, tarsus, barely visible foot details.

Fork-Tailed Storm Petrel #1 (Click for larger image.)
The Second Petrel (Click for larger image.)

The beach was very clean. SP, who is Makah, says the tribe is doing a tsunami debris survey every Friday, and they are evidently also picking up trash. Hobuck accumulates trash as readily as it does dead birds, so it was surprising to see it so pristine. There were a LOT of people out, surfers, kayakers, stand-up paddlers.

A Lot of People (Click for larger image.)
... (Click for larger image.)

As I said, the beach was clean. Mostly there was only styrofoam, probably left by last night's high tide. We started picking it up on our way back. For the last 500 yards of the return leg, the protocol calls for a marine debris survey, in which you count about one pageful of possible debris categories (and only pick up as you are up for it). This has been being done for about 11 years, a considerable baseline record. But now there is an extremely demanding new tsunami-debris survey which is being developed, which is to cover only 100 yards as far as possible from the beach access and in which you walk a narrow grid, and pick up and tally everything. The seven of us huddled to discuss and discuss what it means, what we should do. It seemed obvious to me that it made no sense WHATSOEVER to do a tsunami debris survey on a beach which had already been cleared and tallied end to end by the Makah Tribe; and that the new protocol must go back to NOAA, to the OCNMS office, for further refinement. Plus everyone was far too tired to trudge back to the further end of the beach, and the first time they field tested the new protocol it had taken four hours... (I was tired and getting crabby. I removed myself from the discussion and ambled to the vicinity of our starting point, read a book. Took a soundscape for Cee.) In the end, the rest of the crew used the old marine debris protocol, listing only this and that, picking up what they could.

Here They Come: HP, GD, JL, MSB, SP, & NM, citizen scientists extraordinaire (Click for larger image.)
Soundscape for Cee. Hobuck Beach, July 27, 2012. See what I mean about the tide?

SP took the sacks of trash to put into the tribe's designated marine-debris dumpsters at Hobuck Campground. The rest of us adjourned to the Marina bathrooms in Neah Bay, to wash up, so that we dared eat our lunches. We're fairly cavalier about whether or not we put on gloves as we handle the dead birds, but it's sort of like the 5-second rule: you know when the ick factor has been exceeded, and then you need to wash or disinfect.

Makah Marina in Neah Bay (Click for larger image.)

No comments: