Seabird die-offs in Iceland

15 07 2014

Though the United States stretches across a continent between two oceans, when it comes to seabirds, we here on the east coast have a great deal more in common with our neighbors in Europe, Iceland, and Greenland than we do with our Pacific compatriots. For this reason, we always keep an eye on the goings-on in our ocean nation, as well as our political nation. Right now, there is an investigation underway into die-offs of Common Eiders, cormorants, and Black-legged Kittiwakes in Iceland. Wildlife officials have collected carcasses and submitted them for examination to the National Wildlife Health Center in the U.S. and to the University of Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Research Centre and The Institute for Experimental Pathology at Keldur, as well as the West-Iceland Centre of Natural History.

The die-offs occurred on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland.

The die-offs occurred on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland.

Of course, when we here in the Northeastern United States think of eider die-offs, we immediately think of Wellfleet Bay Virus (WFBV), but other potential causes have been suggested. Avian botulism, caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, has not previously caused die-offs in Iceland, but will undoubtedly be on the list of potential diagnoses, as it always is in the face of mass bird deaths. The tally appears to be around 100 birds so far, across the multiple species. The kittiwakes were found several miles from the site where the eiders were discovered, but that does not rule out a common cause for the mortalities. There is not much common ground between eiders and kittiwakes in terms of how they make their livings, except that they both utilize fresh water pools for bathing and drinking. Freshwater ponds and lakes are generally the source of botulism outbreaks, so that may be the grounds for suggesting botulism as a potential cause. Previous eider die-offs elsewhere have been put down to infections with a kidney parasite called coccidia.

It’s always welcome news that a die-off is being investigated, and we look forward to hearing the results from this event as soon as they become available.


Now, in a nonsensical and completely unrelated department, I give you this link to coverage of “The Blob of Provincetown” in Massachusetts.

Travels of tagged birds

31 12 2013

Kathleen Kelly, who walks Old Orchard Beach in Maine, was rather surprised, on her December 29th survey, to find a Herring Gull tagged in usual SEANET fashion (orange cable ties on wing and legs) that she’d never seen before. It appeared that a bird tagged elsewhere had turned up on Kathleen’s beach. Turns out, her beach abuts the territory of another dedicated Seanetter, Barbara Grunden. Going back into our database, it turns out that Barbara had found and tagged a Herring Gull on November 18th. More than a month later, it turned up a ways south on Kathleen’s beach.OOB

Herring Gull found on ME_54 in mid-November. (photo: B and C Grunden)

Herring Gull found on ME_54 in mid-November. (photo: B and C Grunden)

The same Herring Gull, though well-weathered now, on ME_81. (photo: K. Kelly)

The same Herring Gull, though well-weathered now, on ME_81. (photo: K. Kelly)

If we ever doubted the merits of tagging birds, here’s a case that reminds us to continue. Had this bird not been tagged, it would have been counted twice, as separate birds on two separate beaches, inflating the tallies for both. This case also shows us that one cannot rely on a carcass’ position on the beach to identify it. Many of our Seanetters make notes like, “must be the same bird from last month; is in same spot.” While it could be the same bird, this case demonstrates that whether it’s tides, waves, scavengers, or dogs doing the moving, carcasses do travel.

We had another case of following a tagged bird on its travels at least up to the point of its death this month; Nat Goddard, walking for us on Cape Cod, found a whole slew of dead Common Eiders late in October. One of these was a banded male (or parts of it anyway). Nat got this info from the banding lab when he reported the number:

Hatched in 2005 or
earlier, in Lockport, Nova Scotia, Canada (Coordinates: LAT: 43.58333; LON: 65.08333).  Bander c/o Randy Milton, Nova Scotia Dept of Natural Resources, 136 Exhibition Street, Kentville NS B4N 4E5.

What's left of a banded male Common Eider (photo: N. Goddard)

What’s left of a banded male Common Eider (photo: N. Goddard)

Banded in Nova Scotia more than seven years ago; found dead on Cape Cod in 2013. Where he went in between, no one knows.

Banded in Nova Scotia more than seven years ago; found dead on Cape Cod in 2013. Where he went in between, no one knows.

Whether the banders ever got any sightings in between this bird’s banding and his death, we don’t know, though it’s unlikely. Federal bands are small and difficult to read on live birds, and in a sea duck with its legs almost perpetually in the water, the task approaches impossibility. What various travels this bird undertook over the past several years, we’ll never know. But presumably it traversed the Gulf of Maine several times. Remarkable survivors, especially as I contemplate my own SEANET walk today; the temperature right now has yet to break 10 degrees. Of course, as the eiders know, a down coat goes a long way.

Happy New Year, Seanetters!

Happy Thanksgiving, Seanetters!

28 11 2013

You are always in my thoughts, Seanetters, and today, I am thankful for all the time, dedication, curiosity and good humor you bring to our project. Here’s a bit of that lattermost quality:

The elusive marine turkey, Turkus marinus. Thanks to Steve and Roberta Brezinski for the sighting.

The elusive marine turkey, Turkus marinus. Thanks to Steve and Roberta Brezinski for the sighting.

Enjoy your feast, and to those who celebrate, Happy Hannukah as well!

Recovering from vacation

26 08 2013

The chronology on this blog makes it look as though I wrote the 500th post and then disappeared on a two-week celebratory bender. This is not far from the truth. And since I labor under the delusion that you, my readers, would be interested in my vacation photos, here’s a pictorial tour of how I spent the past two weeks in Maine:

Hiked French's Mountain in Rome Maine.

Hiked French’s Mountain in Rome Maine.

Did some kayaking, with and without a young passenger.

Did some kayaking, with and without a young passenger.

Found a freshly dead salmon floating in the lake,

Found a freshly dead salmon floating in the lake…

...and made fish print (gyotaku) t-shirts with it.

…and made fish print (gyotaku) t-shirts with it.

Caught some bass,

Caught some bass,

and a whole slew of pumpkinseed sunfish.

and a whole slew of pumpkinseed sunfish.

Climbed up Bald Rock Mountain to look at Penobscot Bay.

Climbed up Bald Rock Mountain to look at Penobscot Bay.

and now I’m back. The blog will resume normal seabird business this week. Thank you for your patience and your indulgence.

Struggling back toward normal

17 04 2013

IMG_3582This is not the post I had planned for today, but I wanted to issue a widescale apology for any delays or lapses in my communication with you all this week. Monday, my husband ran just about all of the Boston Marathon, getting to around mile 25 before the course was closed. My kids and I were farther out along the race route, but they heard and saw things I wish they hadn’t. We’re trying to get back to normal now, but it’s slow going.

What will not surprise any Seanetter is that the first place I went yesterday morning was to my SEANET beach for my monthly walk. My younger son came along, and while we found no dead birds, we hung around listening to the harbor seals creaking and groaning out on the rocks in the river, and picking through the tidepools for periwinkles.

I am working hard to field all the emails and phone calls coming in from friends and relatives checking on us, and also trying to get my head back above water with SEANET. I have not forgotten you all, and being part of this program is one my great joys. I plead for your patience and understanding, and I promise, I’ll be back online with a Dead Bird Quiz before you know it!

19 02 2013


It’s not all that often that my personal blog aligns so perfectly with the SEANET blog, but this is one of those times. So here you go:

Originally posted on thestagecoachroad:

I suppose he just wanted to join the loons.

I suppose he just wanted to join the loons.

On Saturday we drove to Salisbury Beach State Reservation. We dropped off Christophe so he could commence his 17 mile run home, and the remaining three of us went out to walk the beach. We go outside a lot, in any weather, but our ventures to Salisbury are generally for the purpose of documenting dead birds for the SEANET program. This means a 1.5 mile round trip, and, when in the company of two young boys, about an hour and a half.

I was poking about in the piles of wrack and discarded plastic while the boys dug holes and inspected crab carapaces. Suddenly, I heard Simon howling. I turned around to see him nearly up to his knees in the water. His face was contorted with  shock and pain and he appeared paralyzed by the full force of…

View original 313 more words

Merry Christmas, SEANET!

25 12 2012

To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas from me and the Christmas lobster buoy of MA_24 (Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts)!


Happy Giving Tuesday!

27 11 2012

How about this for the top of the tree? (photo:

Feeling drained by the orgiastic spending of Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Something-or-Other Sunday, and Cyber Monday? Need to withdraw from the consumeristic melee? Here’s an opportunity to boost up your favorite organization (SEANET, I presume) by donating today on another day with a goofy name, Giving Tuesday. Here at SEANET, we keep our costs low by relying on our dedicated, uncomplaining volunteers to generate all of our data. But we do need support! Twenty dollars buys a couple boxes of rulers to measure wings, or a bunch of calipers for determining culmen and tarsus lengths. Fifty dollars pays for permission to use a few photos in our upcoming Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States. One hundred dollars gets me part of the way to a training session on Cape Cod to recruit more volunteers. Any amount helps, and we really mean it. We’re a lean, lean machine here at SEANET, and what you give matters. If you want something to wrap up and give a loved one this season, we have our ever popular SEANET t-shirts in three colors, and, for the somewhat stranger member of your family, we have the Field Guide to Beached Birds (Northeast edition). You can donate via check, or via the Tufts secure online giving form. For instructions on either, please visit our Donate page, and thank you!

I also want to offer you another option for your giving dollar. We could not do what we do here at SEANET without the support of the Wildlife Data Integration Network (WDIN) at the University of Wisconsin. Our database manager, Megan Hines, is some kind of miracle worker. And far beyond what they do for us, the WDIN has several invaluable projects going on, many of which I use daily. Their Wildlife Disease News Digest is my daily source for what’s brewing in wildlife populations all over the world. Cris Marsh and company do an incredible job of poring over a huge volume of information and distilling it for readers. As a blogger myself, I have a deep appreciation for what they do. None of what the WDINers do is cheap, so I strongly encourage you to support their very fine work this holiday season!

Happy shopping, and above all, happy giving!

More on eider movements

27 09 2012

A brief addition to Tuesday’s post: Josh has provided a link to this video that explains a bit more about the nature of the eider study. Unfortunately, Josh himself is not featured here, but the faculty members he works with give a good overview of the reasons for the study and how it’s done. And of course, the seaside footage is gorgeous! Even at 3am, and in the bitter cold, not a bad place to work.


Superstar Seanetter publishes zillionth book.

14 08 2012

You Seanetters never fail to astound me. It’s humbling to find that many, if not most of you, have several other fascinating projects, passions and commitments outside of the time you devote to our little endeavor. Indeed, I often say I want to be like you guys when I grow up. Seanetter John Galluzzo, with whom I was lucky enough to walk down in Duxbury MA last week, is just such a guy. He has written over thirty books in his not very long life, and shows no sign of stopping or even slackening his pace.

He has a new one out now, called Half an Hour a Day Across Massachusetts, chronicling his 2009 quest to walk for 30 minutes each day in all the towns and cities of the Commonwealth. Of particular narcissistic interest, John tells me SEANET makes into this volume. I’ll be reading John’s book for sure, and I hope some of you will join me so that we can hold some sort of virtual book club here in our virtual SEANET living room.

Congrats on your latest tome, John! You Seanetters make me so proud!


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