Bird 301 - Pelagic Cormorant

The day started off like all the other days that involved hiking out to the Toleak Beach on the Washington Coast with no idea that we’d soon be finding our first beach cast bird of the survey.  After a hearty breakfast we fill backpacks, tightened boots and eyed the weather report. We had actually delayed our hike by a day do to heavy rain and winds the day before but a bit of blue sky was peeking through the clouds and we crossed our fingers we might end the day somewhat dry.

I really don’t want to think about the number of miles or the total elevation lost and gained that were traveled to find our first bird but it finally paid off with the discovery of our first bird (and second) to document for the volunteer COASST program.
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It takes a lot of rainfall to keep this rain forest green.
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It’s a bit of an ordeal to get our our COASST assigned beach; but the pure wildness and beauty of the place keeps bringing us back. Once we had rested a bit on the driftwood we started our process of surveying the beach. The first thing we do is pace off the different sections that make up a typical beach; surf, wrack, bare, and vegetation zones. Once that’s recorded we then start down the beach for 1km looking for any signs of beach cast birds.

You can imagine our surprise when we found our first bird right there in the wrack line even before we had a chance to pace off our sections. It took me a few moment to even comprehend what was need to be done next. Eventually our training kicked in and we started measuring a photographing key areas of the bird.

Then Theresa read out the various questions that, in combination with our measurements, walked us through to the individual identification; a Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) bird number 301. Our last step was to attach color coded bands which we’ll use to help to track this bird and decomposition takes place.

Bird 302 - Glaucous-winged Gull

When it rains it pours…no sooner had we processed #301 then we released that #302 was in the wrack line just a few feet away. I believe this was our 6th survey and all the others had come up empty and here we had two birds within a few feet of each other.

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We started the measuring and photographing process anew. In the past I have found it incredibly difficult to differentiate the various species of gulls we have here in Washington. Of course the advantage of working with dead birds is you can measure them with ease.

The other advantage we had was our COASST field guide which walks you right through the identification process. It this case #302 turned out to be a Glaucous-Winged Gull (Larus glaucescens).

Summary

This all actually took place during our September survey. We went back for our October survey but storms kept us off the beach so we weren’t able to see what became of #301 and #302. Given that the storm surges comes all the way up the beach to the driftwood zone; which is full of massive and large amounts, I’m not hopeful that we’ll see our birds again but if we do I’ll pass that on.

Stay tuned.

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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