Keeping an eye on the coast

Bandon couple combs the beach for the sake of fun and science
2008-11-22T00:00:00Z Keeping an eye on the coastBy Joe Hansen, Outdoors Editor Coos Bay World
November 22, 2008 12:00 am  • 

BANDON— You never know what you’ll find on the beach.

Avid beachcombers Dave and Diane Bilderback of Bandon have found glass floats from Japan, fossilized sand dollars and countless dead birds. Suffice to say some beach finds are more exciting than others.

And then there’s always the weird factor: For example, the couple found a plastic skull mounted on a staff. It’s difficult to say why, said the Bilderbacks, but something about it was just plain creepy. What purpose it could have served, and how it wound up in the ocean and found it’s way into Dave and Diane’s hands is a mystery.

“It was kind of freaky seeing that on the beach,” said Dave with a laugh. “It was like, ‘What’s going on here? This is some kind of voodoo witch-doctor thing.’”

Imagining the story of individual items discovered is one of the retired couple’s favorite things about beachcombing. They’ve found items covered in Japanese, Korean, Russian and German languages, just to name a few, things that fell off a boat or were swept from the shore and took a long journey to the South Coast of Oregon.

“It’s interesting to even try to contemplate how far some of this stuff has come,” said Diane.

Since the Bilderbacks are on the beach most days, they decided to make beachcombing more than just a hobby. As members of CoastWatch, a volunteer organization that keeps an eye on the Oregon Coast, Dave and Diane have made a stretch of beach near their Bandon home their own.

They walk it continually and make regular reports, noting items found, human activity and natural changes like shifting streams and erosion in the area’s foredunes.

“We try to get out on the beach every day,” said Dave.

“When you’re a CoastWatcher you’re paying attention to everything on the beach, and watching the changes on the beach,” added Diane.

Effective beachcombing and Coast Watching requires developing an intimate knowledge of the beach and its natural rhythms, and in the course of beachcombing the Bilderbacks just started noticing all kinds of things about the coast. Dave and Diane both can talk extensively about weather and erosion patterns on the beach near their home, the shifting of Johnson Creek over time and the myriad life that exists on that stretch of the coast.

They’re keyed in to the up- and down-welling patterns in the ocean — downwellings in the winter make for the best beachcombing — and they know that seeing loads of dead common murres on the beach this fall isn’t abnormal, as chicks are separated from their parents during storms and die.  

Once every month, the Bilderbacks take part in the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team bird counts, where they tally numbers of dead birds and report their findings. The information is used to form baseline data for natural resource management.

When Dave and Diane find a larger dead animal, they report it so a wildlife official can come and do a necropsy, what Dave describes as a “marine mammals CSI” process.

“When we first came here, we were really in to beachcombing. Then we thought, ‘we can expand this so we can be of more use.” said Dave, who’s a retired biologist. “There’s something really fun about beachcombing, but can also be really rewarding if you’re providing citizen science.”

A brief walk with the Bilderbacks down the beach near their home yielded all kinds of interesting tidbits — to those who are paying attention. Nothing gets past the keen eyes of Dave and Diane; they stopped to inspect every dead bird, pick up trash and note buried rope so they can come back later to collect it so it won’t harm marine life.

Basically, if something washes up on Dave and Diane Bilderback’s beach, they’re going to know about it.

“One of our retirement goals was to walk as many Oregon beaches as we could,” said Diane. “As we walked we’d just start seeing stuff.”

The couple’s continual observations made being members of CoastWatch and COASST a natural fit. Now they’re excited to go out on the beach nearly every day, and see what new things the ocean has brought.

“It’s changing, not just every day. It’s changing twice a day, with every tide,” said Dave. “It’s really quite an experience to be on the beach.”

For more information: To find out more about CoastWatch, call Director Phillip Johnson (503) 238-4450, Dave and Diane Bilderback at 347-1335 or log on to

To find out more about COASST, call (206)221-6893 or log on to

Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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