Background of COASST

Before I go into my experience with the bird workshop, here are a couple of facts about COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team). The idea for this study was in large part a result of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. It’s estimated that 250,00 sea birds were killed as a result of that diaster, but there were no studies which showed the ‘normal’ mortality rate of coastal birds.

Julia Parrish started the University of Washington program with 12 volunteers combing the Ocean Shore beaches. I think you’d have to say this program has been a resounding success. Since it’s humble start of 12 they have trained over 4,000 volunteers with 1,000 current participates surveying over 450 coastal sites. The beaches span from northern California to Alaska and over 84,500 birds have been entered into the study.

That’s a large dataset that is now in use by multiple organizations.

Bird Workshop

My entry into the program started with a 6 hours workshop. First we learned how to identify coastal birds. Once we had an good grounding in those basic we moved on to how to fill out the data sheets for each bird found. All of this information will eventually, after being vetted by an expert on staff, into the database.

Although the program prides itself on its ‘rigorous citizen science’ protocols, my two instructors Hillary Burgess and Jackie Lindsey couldn’t have been more friendly and approachable. I’m sure I wasn’t the only trainee that appreciated their warm welcome.

The first thing that struck me was the amount of books, guides, and gear that were set out for each participate. At first I was a bit overwhelmed and thought would I really have time to master all of this. However, as Hillary and Jackie started walking us through the program it became less and less intimidating. In fact, now I can’t wait to get my beach assignment and get out in the field.

I can’t possibly go into all we dug into over a 6 hours process, but I will touch on what for me was the highlight of training and that was the actual process of identifying the birds. The field guide is both simplist in it use but extremely informative.

You start by determining which type of foot best describes your bird, then by working through a series of questions you eventually arrive at, if not your specific species, a short list of candidates. From there you use your measurements to narrow it down. Brilliant!

Summary

So, I haven’t even been out on my first survey, but I have a feeling that I’m going to find this a really interesting program to be a part of. I’m just waiting for my beach assignment which I should be getting sometime this week. According to the literature, the surveys should take somewhere between 1 and 3 hours. You are asked to sign a contract making the commitment that you’ll survey your beach on a monthly basis.

I planned to do a report here on the website after every survey so keep checking back to see if I have any change of heart.

Some Useful Links

Steve Weileman

I've been lucky enough to have some of my work featured on CNN, Outside TV and, National Geographic. Join me as I continue to both learn the art of film-making and document the exciting new modern world of citizen-science. His work has been featured on CNN, National Geographic, and OutsideTV, as well as numerous local outlets.

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