Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mystery Bird Photographed in an Eagle’s Talons in Port Townsend

Tropical bird spotted at North Beach was far from its normal habitat


A Bald Eagle with a brown booby in its grasp. Credit: Tim Lawson

Sometimes it starts with a simple question. “What is in the talons of that Bald Eagle?” OK, maybe that’s not a simple question. Talons, Bald Eagle, what? 

Recently Tim Lawson, one of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s longtime supporters, sent us his remarkable photos, trying to confirm what he had captured digitally. He had a hunch, but the outrageousness of the idea that it may be a vagrant tropical bird needed some backup, so he asked some of the community’s leading birders for their thoughts.

This avian puzzle rippled out from local experts to regional specialists. Emails were sent, photos shared and carefully studied. Turns out, Tim’s hunch was right, it was a tropical bird that had wandered thousands of miles from its range: a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster*).

In the Americas, you would more likely find a Brown Booby off the coast of Mexico, or flying over the Caribbean. Australia is also home for Brown Booby. But the Strait of Juan de Fuca in February is extremely unusual.

Tim described the bird as “Brown neck, mantle, back and wings. Medium to large bird. Long yellow beak, large yellow feet, long tail.” 

A brown booby (source: commons.wikimedia.org)


Audubon’s online guide says, “In North America [the Brown Booby] is seen most often near the Dry Tortugas, Florida,” with the only currently known nesting sites in Hawaii. This bird indeed lived up to the term “vagrant” defined by Audubon, “straying well outside of regular ecological range.”

Matt Bartels of the Washington Bird Records Committee replied to Tim’s submission, saying that it was unusual, if not as rare as it used to be, and posed the question, “Was it dead before the eagle got to it?”

Finding Brown Boobys in Washington state is fairly unusual but not unheard of. Apparently 3-4 are reported each year. One was reported in November 2020 in Willapa Bay by a crew harvesting oysters. It died with a completely empty stomach. 

Other Booby species have been recorded in Washington and Oregon. In early August 2006, a Blue-Footed Booby showed up in Skagit County, while another was retrieved a few days later from the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon. It is now preserved in Tacoma’s Slater Museum collection.

We had experienced a cold snap the week that Tim took his photos. Freezing cold makes life for a tropical bird extremely difficult. Could that have stunned it before the Eagle hit? Or had it been a stow-away aboard a cargo ship heading this way from southern climes? We will never know.

Thanks to Tim Lawson for sharing his photos and for asking the question in the first place: What is that bird in the Eagle’s talons?

*Sula is the Norwegian word for gannet, and leucogaster is derived from the ancient Greek leuko = white and gaster = belly. Brown, masked, red-footed and blue-footed boobys are all relatives of the northern gannet and known for their spectacular, almost splashless plunge-dives into schools of small fish. None of these sulids are usually found in the Salish Sea. 

Written by PTMSC Community Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Water World Online: April 26-30

 


Water World Online, a dynamic collaboration between Centrum and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, is filled with activities and projects that expand and enhance elementary students’ experience of the marine world through the lenses of both science and art.

In collaboration with artists, scientists, and peers from across the state, students integrate scientific investigations with creative writing and visual art. The result is a multi-faceted, full immersion online learning experience.

Students work in small groups that rotate through a variety of interactive classes and labs. Each day offers a mix of both scientific and artistic workshops. The group size is small to allow for maximum personal attention and engagement.

Classes will be grounded in scientific studies and current issues about the Puget Sound and Salish Sea. These place-based lessons will be used to connect students to their local ecosystems state-wide through readily applied concepts such as water quality, watershed conservation, and developing awareness of the importance of wild, undamaged habitats and how to live in better harmony with nature.

Through a combination of online classes, at-home labs and experiments, and optional local field trips, students learn to work as scientists—exploring nature outside in their own neighborhood; studying plankton and invertebrate through online lessons; and drawing and writing to keenly observe and explore fish, birds, wildlife, invertebrates, waves, wind, and other natural features.


How does it work?
For this program, student groups of 4 to 6 sign up from their school or organization. Larger groups may be accommodated – contact Becky Berryhill for more information (bberryhill@centrum.org)

Every student will receive a package in the mail before the program begins, with all of the supplies needed to participate in the classroom and at-home activities. Students will log in for two Zoom classes every day to learn about and practice marine science, writing, and visual arts. Later in the day, students will partake in at-home experiments and activities, and share their artistic creations and scientific findings with their classmates and artist faculty with daily check-ins and a private online message board. 

For more information and to register, check out Centrum's Water World website.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

FUTURE OF OCEANS Lecture Series: "What Can Puffins Tell Us About The Impact Of Climate Change On Marine Ecosystems?”


Sunday, March 14
3 pm 
via ZOOM

Lecture is FREE 

GET TICKETS*

Our lecture series, The Future of Oceans, draws on the commitment of professional researchers and educators across all academic spectrums to help define and inspire the health of our oceans.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center continues the lecture series by welcoming John F. Piatt, Ph.D. John’s talk will focus on Tufted Puffins in Alaska, how the composition of their diets reflects long-term cycles in marine climate, and how puffins and other seabirds reacted to the strong marine heatwave (“The Blob”) in 2014-2016. 

Dr. Piatt got hooked on seabirds in the 1970s while working on a large puffin colony in  Newfoundland. Following stints as a summer naturalist at a gannet colony, and surveying birds and whales off the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island, he turned in the 1980s to studies of the ecological relationships between capelin (a marine smelt), cod, seabirds, and whales for his Ph.D. at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Lured to Alaska in 1987 to study auklets in the Bering Sea, Dr. Piatt remained to work there for 34 more years on seabirds and marine food webs and is now a senior research scientist at the USGS Alaska Science Center. His current research focuses on the overarching role of ocean climate in regulating the abundance and quality of the forage fish that support seabird populations.  

More info about the lecturer and his research program: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/asc/science/seabirds-and-forage-fish-ecology

Contact: jpiatt@usgs.gov


*Be sure to also get your ticket for a

Deep Dive Conversation with John F. Piatt, Ph.D.

A science-cafe style, moderated discussion

via Zoom

Monday, March 15 6:30 pm 

$5 per ticket - limited to 20 passes! 

 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Community Science: Why The Name has Changed

Community science in action: intertidal monitoring at Kinzie Beach,
Fort Worden. (staff photo)



Our organization prides itself on our use of science as a tool for inspiring stewardship of the Salish Sea among our community.

For years, our collaboration with volunteers in gathering data, analyzing this information, and planning new projects has been called citizen science. In fact, citizen science and the involvement of community members in the scientific process is so important to our organization that we consider it to be one of our core competencies. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event Update

Gray whale mother and calf. Drone photo from NOAA.
Gray whale mother and calf. Drone photo from NOAA.

In January 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared a gray whale Unusual Mortality Event (UME) based on the large number of gray whales washing up along the west coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska.

UMEs require a higher level of communication and each month NOAA organizes a call for coordinators involved with the gray whale UME. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is one of these groups.

On the call are representatives of organizations from California to Alaska and include updates from Mexican and Canadian colleagues. The information shared helps keep track of the migration and stranding patterns of the Northeast Pacific grays.

UME Update

As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, Mexico reported gray whales in the bays and lagoons where they go to birth, rear their young and mate. Southern California described animals transiting south along the shore at Palos Verde, south of Los Angeles. And Washington has one lone "Sounder" who swam in to feed along Whidbey Island. This one arrived earlier than usual.

For 2020, the number of stranded dead gray whales was lower than in 2019.

The Gray Whale Migration

Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling 10,000 - 12,000 miles round trip. They begin their northern migration in February, heading toward Alaska from birthing lagoons in Mexico.


Gray whale migration. NASA image, NOJO graphics.


March and April are a good time to look for gray whales along Washington's outer coast and for a subset, known as the Sounders, who wander into Puget Sound to feed on ghost shrimp and other bottom dwelling invertebrates along the shore of Whidbey Island and at the mouth of the Snohomish River near Everett.

Gray Whales and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

The PTMSC has been involved with gray whale strandings a few times. Spirit, the skeleton used with school programs, landed on the shores between Cape George and McCurdy Point during the last gray whale UME declared in 1999.


Articulation of Spirit, in the Gray Whale class at PTMSC.

In May 2016, a gray whale died mid-shipping channel and was towed to Indian Island where we worked to sink it and retrieve the carcass months later.

And, in the spring of 2019 during the most recent UME, Gunther, a large male gray whale, washed ashore near Port Ludlow and was towed to decompose on a private beach in Port Hadlock (making international and local news in 2019 and regional news 2019 again in 2021).

You can find more information about the UME at:
2019-2021 Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event along the West Coast and Alaska - NOAA
Wildlife officials in Washington seeking homes for rotting whales - King 5 News
A Beached Whale Needs Somewhere to Rot. How About Your Place? - New York Times

Friday, January 8, 2021

MLK Day Socially Distanced Beach Clean-Up


Monday January 18th, 2021
Collecting 10AM - 3PM 
Museum Building Portico at Fort Worden 


Port Townsend Marine Science Center and friends invite you to a Beach Clean-Up on Monday January 18th, 2021 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

We'll be collecting at Fort Worden from 10AM - 3PM but you can join in whenever suits your schedule! You can meet us at Fort Worden State Park in the Museum building portico to pick up supplies and drop off debris, or clean up another local beach! For more information and to RSVP please use this link: bit.ly/PTMSC-MLKDay2021




Monday, December 28, 2020

Resolutions for a Healthier Salish Sea

Here at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center we're getting ready for the new year by sharing our resolutions. Year-round, we commit to making the Salish Sea a healthier and happier place for all to experience. Whether you are a curious human or a hungry octopus, the Salish Sea should be ready for you to enjoy! Do you have a New Year’s resolution for the Salish Sea? Share it with us by emailing it to Meghan Slocombe, the Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps member, at mgslocombe@ptmsc.org. Read on for a glimpse at what our staff are doing this year…


Reduce, reuse (and reuse again), recycle

The order of those words are important and our staff are not losing sight of that. First, we are finding ways to reduce the resources we use. Then we are reusing the items we do have. And finally, when we’ve exhausted all reuses of an item, we are recycling them! Sure it’s a process, but who doesn’t enjoy getting creative and finding new uses for that stained t-shirt (turned cropped tank turned rag)?! Our staff are committing to buying less, buying more sustainably, and using things until they can be used no more.

To find more ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle check out these resources:

Here are some ways our team is planning to reduce, reuse, and recycle: 

Molly Shea, Museum Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to use less plastic by making her own soaps, cleaners, and makeup
Molly Shea, Museum Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to use less plastic
by making her own soaps, cleaners, and makeup. 
Betsy Carlson, Citizen Science Coordinator, plans to use less plastic this year. 
Diane Quinn, Program Director, is going to use less water every day. 
Carolyn Woods, Education Coordinator, plans to find  more reusable items. 
Erin Merklein, PTMSC Intern, is going to upcycle more. 
Brian Kay, Marketing and Development Coordinator, is going to skip fast fashion this year. 
Deb Diner, Administrative Specialist, is going to buy an electric car. 
Dorit Nowicki-Liss, Aquarium Educator AmeriCorps member,
is going to go zero waste and offset her carbon. 


Eat more sustainable (and tasty) food!

At PTMSC we know that our environment is more connected than ever. That means that even what we eat impacts the Salish Sea. Many of our staff have decided to begin a culinary adventure this year by committing to eat more local food and less meat. 

Interested in starting your own journey towards becoming the Top Chef of sustainable and local food? Check out these websites:

Eat Local First, a map of Washington state’s local farms, shops, and markets 

New York Times, 51 quick and easy vegetarian recipes

Happy Cow, this website helps you find local restaurants with vegan and vegetarian options. Sure this doesn’t require you to cook, but who doesn’t love supporting local restaurants?


Gabriele Sanchez, Volunteer and Programs Coordinator, is going to join a Community Supported Agriculture program.
Liesl Slabaugh, Marketing and Development Director, is going to eat less meat. 
Holly Weinstein, Volunteer Program Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to eat more vegan and vegetarian meals. 


Let’s talk wildlife!

PTMSC staff never stop thinking about our wildlife. (We’ve got some pretty cute reminders in our aquarium. *cough* Juvenile pinto abalone. *cough* Tiny the giant Pacific octopus. *cough* ALL the fish.) So some of us decided that we’d spend the year caring and learning for the wildlife of the Salish Sea.

If you’re also looking to get a bit more wild...or at least connect with more wildlife, check out these sites:

iNaturalist, a website where you can log your own animal, plant, and fungi observations and explore what others have seen nearby.

An Encyclopedia of Salish Sea and Puget Sound species, this site is maintained by the University of Washington and the Puget Sound Institute and contains all sorts of information on the critters of the Salish Sea.

PTMSC’s YouTube, missing all your PTMSC aquarium buddies? Swing through our YouTube page and find videos of some of our fan favorites.


Meghan-Grace Slocombe, Citizen Science Educator AmeriCorps member, is going to learn to identify more animals and plants of the Salish Sea.
Phil Dinsmore, Facilities Coordinator, is going to help keep our aquarium critters happy. 

We hope our New Year’s resolutions have inspired you to think about taking action to help conserve the Salish Sea this upcoming year. From all of the staff and critters at PTMSC, we wish you a happy New Year!