We had a rainy, warm weekend but hit the beach on Saturday to do our COASST survey. We signed up in the fall as observers for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team out of UDub. We are obligated to do a specific beach walk once a month looking for bird carcuses and body parts. We share the beach with another guy who walks it 2-weeks after us. We went through a one-day training and have all kinds of supplies and guide books to help identify bird parts. The training was actually really fun and I think it will help with our general identification of birds.
We were told that most of the time the body part that you will find are the feet - the least fleshy and delicable bird part (guess the COASST people don't do dim sum). The guidebook they gave us breaks idenfication down into several questions based on the look for the feet:
- Are the front toes free, lobed or webbed
- if free, does the foot have 3 or 4 toes
- If 4 toes is the 4th nail strongly arched
- Are toes fleshy or not
- if lobed are the lobes single or multiple
- if webbed is the webbing complete or marginal
- if completed webbed does the foot have 3 or 4 toes
- if 3 webbed toes, is the foot huge
- Doe the 4th toe have a fleshy flap
- Does the 4th flap extend nearly to tip of toenail
- If the tarsus extremely thin, flat and wide
- Is the heel swollen or flat
- if feel flat is the foot huge
From answering these 13 questions you can narrow down the species. After you narrow it down there are other specific questions that you use to verify your find. We got to practice in the classroom with various feet and wings. Some of them were harder than others.
So when we see live birds we just have to get them to show us their feet!
We have rules, clippers, fixed point dividers, gloves, chalk and blackboard, measuring tape, and rain-proof forms that we take with us. We have specifc color-coded plastic ties and specific numbering system we use to mark the birds we find.
When we are at Boy Scout Beach we always see multiple eagles, a few ravens, lots of gulls. This last time we saw some bear prints in the sand. I think our chances of finding any bird parts that aren't scavanged pretty slim - but we enjoy the walk and its all in the name of science!