Marbled murrelets, a species unknown to me and to plenty I am sure, is a threatened seabird located in Washington, Oregon, and California that nests in old-growth forests.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend a marbled murrelet training and survey in Yachats, Oregon. Yachats is on the coast, forty-five minutes south of Newport. I went with a couple of USFW interns who were also interested and we had a great time!
The training was Wednesday night and the surveys were very early in the morning, 4:30 a.m! During the training , seabird biologist Kim Nelson, spoke about the life history of the murrelets, their population trends, their threats, and the politics concerning their conservation. It was interesting learning about the Important Bird Area (IBA) program on the Central Coast and how its designation would place its site as one of the highest priority sited in the US for conservation action. I was intrigued by the differences in marine reserves, marine protected areas, and seabird protected areas and how a combination of these along with thinned plantation in between wilderness areas are being proposed for murrelet IBA Conservation.
The night after training, we camped at Cape Perpetua, a site that has 800ft cliffs above sea level giving amazing scenic lookouts. The landscape of Cape Perpetua has several wilderness areas with the largest intact stand of coastal temperate rain forest of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock. This site was not just a beautiful camping spot but the end road of the campground was also one of the six sites were murrelets were to be surveyed. So the next day, we walk up before dawn, made tea, and walked over to the survey site.
Marbled Murrelets are currently nesting, for this species, both parents incubate the eggs exchanging places at dawn. This is why it was critical to start the survey before dawn, in order to catch the birds as they were leaving the nest and going out to sea or vice versa. During the survey we got 17 detections! But these birds were hard to spot! I missed them entirely, the first few times they were observed flying above us. They were very fast and small, half the size of a Common Murre. It was fascinating to hear all the other birds in the forest wake -up as the survey proceeded.
After this, all the surveyors gathered up at a nearby coffee shop for breakfast. Here, we got to network with other who were coming from around the coast and inland to learn about murrelets. Following this, the next survey was to look for murrelets on the sea. We went to a nearby ocean viewpoint and set scopes out to look for them. At that time which was about 10 am, murrelets are feeding close to the shore. But unfortunately we were only able to find one. Nonetheless, we had some great wildlife watching. I saw for the first time some Tufted Puffins and porpoises! Among these, I also observed several Western Grebes, Rhinocerous Auklets, Brown Pelicans, Surf Scooters, Heerman’s Gulls, murres, pigeon guillemonts, and Harbor Seals.