Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birds in Hand

Rain, sneaker wave, sand in everything, yikes. A fairly large crowd of us (seven people) went out to do the monthly COASST survey at Hobuck Beach. We found two (dead) birds before we even crossed Hobuck Creek, so we thought we might be in for a 20-bird day. We divided into two teams for efficiency, and leapfrogged each other down the beach, one team assigning odd numbers to its finds, and the other even numbers.

It was grey and misty, and forecast for showers after 11AM. "Looks like rain," said GD. "It's fog," said SP, who lives in Neah Bay and who is assigned to cause us good weather every month...

Hobuck Beach, September 28, 2012 (Click for larger image.)
High Tide. Kayakers So Close in We Could Have Counted Them As On The Beach, If We Were Counting. (Click for larger image.)

We worked the birds.

Doing Birds, September 28, 2012 (Click for larger image.)
A Bit Baffled, We Lay a Bird's Beak Right on the ID Page. It's a Match. (Click for larger image.)

The four of us on our team were giving proper attention to a dead pelagic cormorant, nothing left to do but photograph it

Tagging A Pelagic Cormorant (PECO), Bird #87 (Click for larger image.) we were all getting up from the sand and about to pick up our stuff, to get out of the picture or move around to a good angle to take the photographs; and nobody was watching the ocean. Eeeee-too-bad, as we used to say in New Mexico (NM spanglish for ¡Que lastima!) A sneaker wave came rushing up; we ran but not soon enough, were wet at least to the knees, jackets and other equipment on the sand had to be grabbed half-wet out of the wash; SP tried to rescue my pack and fell so she got wet all up the back AND the wave poured into her own open pack and soaked her camera.

Since S lives in Neah Bay and had her own car, she immediately headed back to try to dry her camera. The other three of us sorted ourselves out as best we could. GD searched around in the rearranged seaweed until she found our original tagged bird, though the chalkboard and any ID tools were washed away. We rummaged out someone else's tools and I took its picture, though it was not nearly as neatly arrayed as it had been before the wave caught it and us.

Very sandy and bedraggled Pelagic Cormorant (PECO) (Click for larger image.)

And on we went. It began raining, and kept it up on and off for the next couple of hours. There were lots of birds, we kept flopping our sticky selves down onto the sand to work on them, and the wave-caught team soon felt as sandy and bedraggled as the PECO. One by one we reached our limit for being wet or sticky or trudging in wet sand, and peeled off to head back to the van. That left three people still on task: JL, HP & NM, the few, the brave. All the way back they kept finding birds, you could peer out into the rainy air and see them down on the sand clustered over some late sentient being to give it what amounts to a memorial service: to recognize and identify it, and enter it into the scientific record... In the end we had 14 birds; the last was a puzzle and held the remaining three observers out on the sand at the end of the day for a long time. It was a Northern Pintail. "During migration, they have been seen in offshore waters," says Birdweb. They are in the ID book, and have been found on the COASST beaches before but not often (only 79 occurences on 419 beaches over the past 14 years; compare to almost 10,000 (dead) common murres over the same time frame).

There were elk in the elk fields by Highway 112 to the west of Sekiu. When we picked NM up at her house by the Strait just beyond there, I asked if she ever sees elk on the beach. She said people say they come down to the beach, but she has never seen it...

PS We called SP afterwards from the marina in Neah Bay where we always stop to wash up. She was home and dry, and her camera was resting in a container of rice. As of Saturday it had regained a couple of functions, but seemed likely to get no further toward recovery.

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