The Marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a small potato-sized seabird that can fly up to 91 mph! Murrelets fish at sea, and in the summer months (May-August) nest in the boughs and moss of the old growth trees in our coastal woodlands. They are endangered and protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, however, they are only listed as threatened in the state of Oregon. Murrelets are threatened by a variety of factors including: gill net fishing, overfishing of forage fish, predation, disease, and most of all, habitat loss due to industrial logging.
In April of 2013, Coast Range Forest Watch formed out of concern for the Marbled Murrelet management by the Oregon Department of Forestry in the Elliott State Forest. The group sent four volunteers to northern California to be certified as Marbled Murrelet surveyors, and every year since has recruited volunteers to conduct protocol surveys supplemental to ODF’s in and around the Elliott State Forest.
Because murrelets are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk,) performing an inland survey means getting up early! We begin surveys 45 minutes before sunrise, and for the next two hours keep our eyes on the sky through a gap in the forest canopy to watch for murrelets that may be flying between the ocean and their nest. As we listen to the forest wake up we record weather, site conditions, and all the different critters who rise to greet the sun, hoping to hear the quick flapping of a murrelet or their high “keer!” call that sounds like the sea coming into the forest.
When a trained murrelet observer documents behaviors that indicate that the birds are using the area for nesting, such as flying below the canopy of the forest or flying in a circle, the area is protected as murrelet nesting habitat. We use ArcGIS software to plot and track our survey results, and make protected habitat dileneations based on our observations. At the end of our survey season in August, all of our field data and maps are submitted to managing agencies, conservation groups and marbled murrelet researchers. Below is an example of a protected area from our 2016 surveys, a site on the western side of the Elliott State Forest called Alder Creek North.
2013 Season Summary
This first year was a very successful season with generous support from our many volunteers. The Coast Rangers extensively surveyed four locations within the forest, including three timber sales and one proposed land sale parcel. We documented over 500 volunteer hours, yielding 131 detections of Marbled murrelets. We completed 31 surveys with our four trained observers and 17 additional volunteers throughout the season. These surveys included documented occupied behavior in two sites which were previously not designated as murrelet nesting areas.
2014 Season Summary
In 2014 we increased the number of trained volunteer surveyors to 12. With our 12 trained observers and 15 additional volunteers, we completed 109 surveys yielding 174 detections. We documented over 1,500 volunteer hours this year. Our surveys found that Marbled Murrelets occupied each of three parcels of the Elliott State Forest that were recently sold to private timber companies. Environmental groups Portland Audubon Society, Cascadia Wildlands, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the companies if any logging occurs in murrelet habitat.
2015 Season Summary
With 8 trained surveyors and over 20 additional volunteers, we were able to survey timber sales in the Elliott State Forest as well as several other areas throughout the Coast Range. We observed marbled murrelets occupying two sale areas in the Elliott.
2016 Season Summary
In 2016 we surveyed six sites in the Elliott State Forest and recorded murrelet nesting behavior in all of them. Due to the state offering no timber sales containing old-growth forest in 2016 we revised our strategy to survey the best available unsurveyed habitat. This yielded more significant detections of murrelet nesting behavior.
2017 Season Summary
Our 2017 season focused on surveying the best murrelet habitat that was not yet designated as being “occupied”. Despite poor ocean conditions and low nesting numbers, we found occupied detections at four new sites in the Elliott.
Please contact us if you are interested in volunteering with us, helping organize community events, or are just curious to learn more about the project. Thanks to all who brave the early mornings to survey with us, and to the foundations and individuals who provide the financial support to make this volunteer project possible.