Thursday, December 31, 2015 Murre Wreck COASST Survey

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:01 am, sunset 4:00 pm for a total daylight of 5 hours and 58 minutes.

Fresh sleet masquerading as white snow covered the ground this morning, and at dawn the grim clouds glowered, threatening more. But an opening appeared in that gloomy and soggy curtain, and like magic, the sky cleared as the sun rose cautiously over the eastern mountains.

Throughout the day, shreds of squalls marched up the bay delivering a variety of precip from hail to rain alternating with sunshine and rainbows, accompanied by a strong south wind from 6 to 28 mph with gusts to 36. Temps ranged from 33 to 39ยบ with just over an inch of rain. Interesting way to spend four hours at the beach on the last day of the year!

Why did I and two friends hang out at the beach at the head of the bay from 11 am to 3 pm? It was time to do the monthly COASST dead bird beach survey. I already knew it would be a long day after finding 283 dead COMMON MURRES on Tuesday. This was a “wreck”, a massive die-off. Dead Murres dotted the beach like snowballs into the distance. Where to start? As the King in Alice in Wonderland said, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” So we did.

Armed with 5 gallon buckets, we quickly gathered corpses (far too easy) and made piles of 10 birds, arranged in two rows of five for the documentary photo captioned by the data board. Then the right wing tips were trimmed to mark them, easily done with all-purpose shears, and we moved on to the next set of ten.

Some birds were so fresh, they appeared asleep, round raindrops gathering on their still waterproof feathers. Others had been gladly scavenged, providing another feast for Eagles, Ravens, Magpies, and Crows. Still more were badly decomposed, more like sandy, gray rags, merging from the ocean back to the earth.

When the sun emerged between the squalls, we individually processed the minimum 10 birds, measuring the bill, wing chord, and tarsus, marked the right wing with color-coded yarn, took two photos, front and back with the data board, and finished up by trimming the right wing tips. Every step was exacerbated by the wind trying its best to snatch the calipers, ruler, yarn, and papers. Rain spotted our glasses, and the latex gloves soon ripped. Not to mention the runny noses! It was quite a challenge.

Never have I moved so slowly down this beach! Four hours later, as the tide approached, we finally reached the end. The data board showed 39 groups of ten: 390 birds! Twenty of these were “refinds” marked with green dye from the 36 I found on December 1, all very decomposed. Plus another 6, and the 10 individuals for a grand total of 406 Murres. It was so very sad, but we had no time to dwell on that, we were so occupied.

We also counted 78 more dead Murres on the small adjacent beach to the west. A dead RED-NECKED GREBE and a PACIFIC LOON, that possibly succumbed in the recent violent storm, were the first of these species I have ever found. The Grebes’ yellow lobed feet were so interesting! And the beautiful loon’s blue-gray bill and scaly webbed feet, pale blue on the inside and black on the outside were fascinating.

Amidst all this tragedy, a temporary bright spot was the successful grab and splash of three live murres stranded on the ice, beach ryegrass, and beach. The highlight for me, just as we were leaving, was a soft trumpeting from the clouds, then the arrival of the six resident TRUMPETER SWANS, circling over the half-frozen pond before landing.

With all the focus on the beach, the only new bird I found for Count Week Day Two was a BROWN CREEPER in my yard.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment