Citizen Science: Winter Beach Monitoring

A group of happy volunteers warming themselves around the fire. Thank you to Paul Cranefield for taking all of the photos!

A group of happy volunteers warming themselves around the fire. Thank you to Paul Cranefield for taking all of the photos!

This past Saturday night, January 19th, was a special day for our budding Environmental Education program here at Sound View. It was our first night of beach monitoring. It was also my birthday (Nancyrose here) and what could be better than the combination of the two?! Thirteen friends came out to help with the beach monitoring, and they were quick learners and happy to spend the night out under the light of an almost-full moon.

This beach monitoring experience is part of an effort to conduct more citizen science at camp. Citizen science is the participation of members of the general public, rather than professional scientists, in scientific inquiry. The goal of citizen science is for people to have fun, learn a lot, and find out more about the world around us. But it’s not just for fun — regular folks can actually make a big impact by doing citizen science, as they help collect meaningful data that may be small on its own, but combined with other scientific data can make a difference. For example, the data from our beach monitoring experience will go to the marine education organization Harbor WildWatch. They will then submit it to a database that collects long-term data on beaches throughout Puget Sound. In the long run, the data we collect from our Sound View beach could give helpful information about the health of Puget Sound — whether populations of certain species are increasing or decreasing over time, whether invasive species have entered into our waterways, and how the numbers of creatures change from month to month, affecting the availability of food for other animals. We will also benefit by learning more about what makes Sound View’s beach special!

A KelP Crab explores underneath the pier. check out those long legs! Pick them up with caution: Their legs are quite sharp on the ends, and can pierce the skin.

A KelP Crab explores underneath the pier. check out those long legs! Pick them up with caution: Their legs are quite sharp on the ends, and can pierce the skin.

Our 100 acres of forest and long beach provide a variety of ecosystems to do some great science. Our bird count on January 5th was an example of citizen science: a snapshot of the birds in an area at a given time. The data from the bird count was submitted to eBird, which is an online database where avid birdwatchers can enter their avian observations so that they can be used for conservation purposes! Bird counts at Sound View will be especially interesting because so many birds migrate through this region.

But enough about birds! Back to marine biology! Here is a collection of the best photos from the night. Together they tell the story of our big night. We can’t wait until our next beach monitoring experience in the summer!

CLICK ON THE ABOVE PICTURE AND YOU’LL BE ABLE TO SEE ALL OF THE PHOTOS FROM BEACH MONITORING!

We first did a presence/absence survey, in which we indicated whether there were any of a certain grouping of creatures in a 3x5 meter area. We did this all the way from the tree line down to the -1 tide line, 81 meters in all!

We first did a presence/absence survey, in which we indicated whether there were any of a certain grouping of creatures in a 3x5 meter area. We did this all the way from the tree line down to the -1 tide line, 81 meters in all!

The second part of our survey was Counting all of the individuals within 2o different quadrats by species. We occasionally used a field guide to consult if we didn’t know a species.

The second part of our survey was Counting all of the individuals within 2o different quadrats by species. We occasionally used a field guide to consult if we didn’t know a species.

A whelk, a chiton, and a lot of barnacles. We found an abundance of creatures on rocks, not so many in the sand. disruptions, such as pilings, rocks, and fallen logs, are generally places of more ecological diversity.

A whelk, a chiton, and a lot of barnacles. We found an abundance of creatures on rocks, not so many in the sand. disruptions, such as pilings, rocks, and fallen logs, are generally places of more ecological diversity.

The third and final part of our survey was the sea star count. We walked along the beach for a total of 1o minutes searching for sea stars. For every one we had to measure its radius and check for signs of sea star wasting disease, a disease that has been causing die-outs of sea stars all along the north pacific coast. Unfortunately, this mottled sea star (Evasterias troschelli), the only one we found, seems to have some of the early signs of the disease - white lesions along its top.

The third and final part of our survey was the sea star count. We walked along the beach for a total of 1o minutes searching for sea stars. For every one we had to measure its radius and check for signs of sea star wasting disease, a disease that has been causing die-outs of sea stars all along the north pacific coast. Unfortunately, this mottled sea star (Evasterias troschelli), the only one we found, seems to have some of the early signs of the disease - white lesions along its top.

We finished so quickly that we even had plenty of free time to explore underneath the pier, which is not within our survey area. This is where we found some of the most interesting creatures!

We finished so quickly that we even had plenty of free time to explore underneath the pier, which is not within our survey area. This is where we found some of the most interesting creatures!

Winter Bird Count Numbers

Today a talented crowd of birders woke up early (as birders do) to participate in Sound View’s first ever bird count. We were lucky to not see a drop of rain and had a wonderful time watching birds. I (Nancyrose) learned a lot from their knowledge and saw so much more than usual through their powerful spotting scopes! I hope to make the bird count something that happens every season, whether with visiting students, summer camps, or family camps, so that we can keep track of the changes in species throughout the year.

If you’d like to schedule a birdwatching experience on your next retreat or for your school group, let us know! We have enough binoculars for a group of 15 people.

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We started out in the forest, where knowing how to bird by ear is a must. I am still only able to distinguish the most obvious bird sounds one from another, but my companions were able to clue me in on what we were hearing. I have a lot to learn!

We heard the following birds in the woods. The only ones we actually saw of this bunch were the raven, a junco, and a few robins.

Pacific Wren — photo by Cameron Eckert, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

Pacific Wren — photo by Cameron Eckert, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

Song Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Bewick’s Wren

Pacific Wren  

Robin

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Black-capped Chickadee

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Raven

Junco

My companions grabbed their spotting scopes and we headed down to the beach, where we finally started seeing some birds rather than just hearing them! The beach is the best place to bird with visiting students and summer campers, because you can see so many species without trees in the way. It seemed like every time we looked, there was another species of birds - we saw all three species of mergansers, two types of loons and grebes, and many surf scoters, which I had never seen before. We also spotted two seals observing us curiously from the water and a passel of sea lions lounging on the channel marker, as usual.

Male Surf Scoter — photo by Brian Sullivan, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

Male Surf Scoter — photo by Brian Sullivan, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

My favorite sight of the day was a floating log on which a great blue heron and two, then three, cormorants were sitting. The log was floating at least 300 feet offshore, but they seemed content to sit there and let the tide take them where it may. It was probably a great spot to search for lunch! The cormorants, of course, had their wings stretched out to the side in that unmistakable M shape to dry them out. Cormorant feathers are not water-repellent like most water birds, so they have to dry them out in the sun (that is, on the rare occasions when it comes out here in the Pacific Northwest!) The full list of birds seen at the beach is below, with approximate numbers.

Spotted Towhee - 2

Common Merganser - 7

Red-breasted Merganser - 4

Hooded Merganser - 1

Surf Scoter - 25

Kingfisher - 1

Bald Eagle - 2

Pigeon - 2

Great Blue Heron - 1

Brandt’s Cormorant - 3

Double-crested Cormorant - 2

Male Bufflehead —— photo by Liron Gerstman, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

Male Bufflehead —— photo by Liron Gerstman, https://www.allaboutbirds.org

Common Goldeneye - 15

Bufflehead - 9

Common Loon - 1

Red-throated Loon - 2

Red-necked Grebe - 1

Horned Grebe - 4

Plus lots of gulls!

Northwestern Salamander

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We found another little-seen creature at Sound View the other day when our AmeriCorps NCCC Pacific Region team members turned over a fallen log. This Northwestern Salamander was living underneath, so after taking a few pictures we put its house back in place. Northwestern Salamanders are less commonly seen at camp than Rough-Skinned Newts because they live underground and under rotting logs.

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