This month marks the 14th Annual Marbled Murrelet Community Science Surveys along the Oregon Coast. The Marbled Murrelet surveys happen every other year in the month of July. There were two volunteer sessions offered for the public to participate in, on July 22-23rd and July 29-30th. The training portion and the actual survey were split up over two days. The first part of the project was an evening ecology talk and training at the Yachats Commons. The following day, those of us who were volunteering would be up before sunrise to help survey for the Marbled Murrelet at any one of five locations along the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. Oregon State University’s Kim Nelson, an expert in the field, who has studied the Marbled Murrelet since the 1980s, and Paul Engelmeyer, manager of the Portland Audubon Ten Mile Creek Sanctuary, are the two who run the project each year it takes place. The project is important to the murrelet researchers because it helps “keep track of murrelet use of Oregon’s central coast habitats while also building support to continue the decades-long fight for the imperiled species’ survival.”
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We were not only able to view the old-growth forest habitat, but also the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve and Seabird Protection Area while out on the surveys. We saw and heard the murrelets in their breeding territory during the early morning surveys. In the later morning surveys, we saw them out on the water in the near-shore feeding areas. As we know, the murrelet nests in the large trees of the old-growth forests. The Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock branches are wide enough for them to settle on. And while they can nest up to 55 miles inland, they feed only about half a mile outward. They prefer to forage in the shallow water just off the coast but can dive 60 feet below the water. They feed on any of the schooling fish, such as smelt and herring, that they come across when they are out feeding. Their breeding begins in March; April to July is the incubation time, where the egg will incubate for about 30 days. June to September is the fledging time for the chick, which will take anywhere from 28-40 days. The parents who are incubating the egg will take shifts, switching places at dawn. They spend 24 hours on the nest and 24 hours on the water. In order to minimize the number of trips to the nest, so they will avoid detection from predators, they carry the largest fish they can fit in their beak back to the nest. The chicks will only be given one fish at a time, but they will get fed up to 8 times a day.
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The training was a great way to bring the community together. People from all over Oregon came to participate in the murrelet surveys. Volunteers from the forest service, the Audubon Society, and local people involved in bird conservation, all came together to help with this research project. I learned a lot more about the ecology and identification of murrelets than I had known before. The birders and researchers who came to the nearshore survey also helped me improve my seabird identification, because while we were looking for murrelets on the water, we also spotted murres, scoters, cormorants. I learned a lot and met so many people involved in bird research and conservation because of the surveys. This has easily become one of my favorite experiences so far this summer; meeting this group of people and being involved in citizen science like this has been so fulfilling.