Looking toward the northwest I observed the dark clouds with a deep suspicion. Last time we attempted to conduct a bird survey on Toleak Beach we were hammered by wind and rain. I double checked the forecast. Saturday had a much better forecast but today the tides were better. A bit of a gamble -- which way to choose?
Tide
Tide starting to come back in on the beach signalling an end to the survey.
Sunset

Successful Bird Survey

What a difference a little fair weather makes! As I mentioned in the excerpt, the forecast left a lot of doubt. The week before the forecast kept switching between sun, clouds or rain for friday. Saturday’s forecast was better but Friday actually had a slight negative tide which I really was hoping to take advantage of. I had no idea how long this survey would take and wanted to maximize our time on the beach.

And it didn’t get any better the morning of. Looking out the trailer to the NW the sky was dark and ominous. In the end, we decided that tide trumped weather. As it turned out we made the right call. It also helped that this time we knew exactly the trail and landmarks needed to get down to our survey beach.

Forest
Starting our descent from the top of Scotts Bluff down to the beach.
scat
I'm not an expert but from everything I can find online and in my field guide books, I suspect cougar scat. Notice the hairs on the right side.
White Trilium
This flower starts in bloom in white but as the season progresses changes to this soft purple color.

The hike over Scotts Bluff was what we expected; beautiful but grueling. However, we did have one bit that was out of the ordinary. Walking up the trail I noticed a bit of fresh looking scat. I’m not an expert but I do have a field guide on scat that I’ve referenced many times of the years. To my layman eyes this scat looked far to similar to cougar scat and I did notice that there were animal hairs mixed in it. Cougars are the one thing that make me nervous in the backcountry and I couldn’t help but to a quick scan around the area. I’m posting a photo if anyone with more experience cares to identify it. Just leave a comment below.

Toleak Beach
Perhaps I have too much imagination but this piece of driftwood looked like a prehistoric skull of some kind.
Tide Pools
Just some of the tide pools we search for any sign of beached birds.
Giants Graveyard
An unspoiled section of coast; The Giants Graveyard. Jason and I paddled this section while looking for tsunami debris.

Mass Marine Event (MME)

Once we reached the beach we started our survey protocol. Theresa was our pacer, so we laid out the 5 meter line I brought and average 3 walks from end to end. For her in sand that was 7 paces equal 5 meters.

Next she paced off each zone on the beach; surf, bare, wrack, and vegetation. We did this at both the start and end of our beach. Then it’s just a matter of walking the zones searching for birds.

Considering the hike it takes to even reach this beach I really was hoping that we wouldn’t have to many birds to process – I can see that eating up a large portion of your time, and we do have a choke point midway in our beach. But I was anxious to find a least one bird to attempt an identification. Not to be this time. We didn’t find one bird…or wing…or leg to document. Now the manual states that a zero survey is just as important as it establishes that beaches baseline. But I was disappointed.

Toleak Beach
Finally we made it to the beach and this time we had a beach to survey!

However, our survey wasn’t without something to document. There were literally tens if not hundreds of thousand of Velella (Velella velella)washed up on the beach. Our beach measure .9 miles and they were at the high side of the wrack line from start to finish. So many that we smelled them long before we saw them.

I think most people recognize these by their common name By-The-Wind Sailors, but I didn’t realize until recently that they are actually a hydroid colony, with many polyps that feed on ocean plankton. These are connected by a canal system that enables the colony to share whatever food is ingested by individual polyps. Each by-the-wind sailor is a colony of all-male or all-female polyps. The colony has several different kinds of polyps, some of which are both feeding and reproductive, called gonozooids, and others protective, called dactylozooids.

We marked our slate, took the photos and will submit it to the COASST database. In a small way, we’re helping establish and broaden the picture of our PNW coastline.

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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