NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015
Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast
Date: May 23, 2015, Day 6 of Voyage
Interview with Brad Toms, Wildlife Biologist contracted through Environment Canada (guests of NOAA) as bird observer from Nova Scotia, Canada.
Tell me a little bit about your background:
I started working with seabirds in 2005 – terns and gulls specifically, counting the breeding colonies – and helped recover an endangered tern called a Roseate Tern. Then I started doing shipboard surveys in 2011 in Canada, and these two experiences brought me here.
What is your exact job on this research cruise?
How do you get trained to be a marine bird observer?
Trained by experienced observers; they make sure you have the skills to identify things properly and meticulously document them.
What are the most common birds you have seen on this cruise?
The most common type of birds on this trip are two types of Storm Petrels which are the Wilsons and Leach’s. These are very small birds, and have approximately a 1.5 ft wingspan.
Did you know?
The petrels are a taxonomic order of birds called tube noses or Procellariiformes. Procellariiformes drink seawater, so they have to have an adaptation to get rid of the excess salt. The salt gland at the base of their beak removes salt from the circulatory system and forms a 5 percent saline solution that either drips from or is forcibly ejected from their nostrils.
Sooty shearwaters are 40–51 cm in length with a 94–110 cm wingspan. Most seabirds have a large wingspan according to their body size so they can glide and not waste energy.
Herring Gulls: Adults have light-gray backs, black wingtips, and white heads. They have a Red spot near tip of lower bill of their beak.
Did you know?
Dutch scientist Niko Tinbergen studied nesting Herring Gulls and he noticed that newly hatched gull chicks were fed by their parents only after they pecked at the red spot at the adults’ bills (beaks).
What are some unusual birds you have seen on this trip?
- White faced storm petrel
- Common Nighthawk
- Barn Swallow
- Summer Tanager
What do you enjoy about your job?
The variety and challenges of each survey and transect make my job very interesting.
What do you do when you site a bird?
I have to keep my eyes on it, until I have all of the features of the bird for identification. These features include general color, distinctive plumage, and size.
I then enter into the system that is voice activated and try to make sure that it is in my transect. I really have to keep track of it to make sure it doesn’t re-enter the transect.
The reason I need to keep track of it is because it has been shown that certain species of birds exhibit this weird behavior where they will circle the ship in a radius of about a half a mile and/ or they will follow the ship.
My transect is on the port (left) side of the boat, and from the time that I start it’s 300 meters out and the length is however far the boat travels in 5 minutes. So if the boat is going slow then the transect is short, and is the boat is going fast then it is a longer transect and this is called a standardized unit of effort, which enables me to compare data and protocols to other studies.
How does your voice activated system work? What does it record?
The voice activated system records what I say to it, but it has to be in code. The basic five things that have to be in for it to be considered a recording are: species, number of birds, location (on the water or flying), inside or outside of the transect, and how far away from the boat it is. I speak in codes, short acronyms for the five basic things above, and I have to make sure to say the five things in a row, in the same order, same thing every time.
Optional things that I can add to the recording include: behavior, age, sex, molt patterns.
What is the greatest number of birds recorded at once on a vessel?
Within one watch, 80 birds.