The Marbled Murrelets put on quite a show on the wild central Oregon Coast this week during the Portland Audubon Society's 9th annual Marbled Murrelet citizen survey.
Please hover and click your way through the photo gallery above to see scenes from the morning survey in Audubon's Ten-Mile Creek Sanctuary (where sanctuary manager Paul Engelmeyer lead one of several groups of pre-dawn surveyors) and the coastal area near Yachats where we later observed these fast-flying, forest-nesting seabirds on the water just beyond the breakers (with the help of Kim Nelson, Oregon State University).
You might think that getting up at 4 a.m. is not your cup of tea, but you'll find yourself gulping in every minute of the morning when you are standing in a grassy meadow lighted with fog-diffused moonlight and across the creek from stands of old-growth spruce, hemlock, cedar, and fir. You can feel the life in this sanctuary where the forest is being lovingly restored to balance, where the dawn chorus of thrushes, robins, grosbeaks, and waxwings are so loud you fear they will drown out that cherished keer call of the bird you have come all this way to hear.
Luckily, there is nothing quite like the piercing call of the marbled murrelet. Our group of eight is intent on hearing the call and catching a glimpse of a fast-flying Marbled Murrelet as it flies from the ocean some three miles to the west and the old-growth forest where it are incubating an egg or feeding a chick.
It takes most of us a while to calibrate our ears to high-pitched call and to figure out where exactly to look in homogenous depth of gray fog to look for the tiny fleeting forms of the murrelet. It is easy to mistake mosquitoes and the floaters in your eyes for marbled murrelets.
Thankfully, the murrelets called loudly, often, and gave us time to find them in the sky. Everyone got the hang of it. While many flew above or in the fog, we did see many murrelets flying below the fog--in solo, in pairs, and in groups of four and five. They made their keer calls and the "alternate" or "groan" calls--the one I think sounds like a murrelet impersonating a duck playing a kazoo. They circled over the meadow and behind the trees. They flew silently. They had us pointing, turning, spinning in the meadow. It was spectacular.
Knowing what I know about the marbled murrelet, one glimpse of this bird or one burst of keer calls is more satisfying to me than the experience I had the day before of seeing thousands of Common Murres just offshore (below).
Alas, I have no photographs of marbled murrelets flying by, no recording of their calls--just the memory of their flight and the echo of their call to treasure.
Thanks to Paul Engelmeyer, Kim Nelson, the Audubon Society of Portland, and many others for all the work over so many day, months, and years, to make such an experience of a wild bird and a wild forest possible.