Ever heard the term Marine Debris?

6 10 2016

Many if not all Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET) volunteers have come across marine debris during their beach walks. Simply put “Marine debris is any man-made, solid material that enters waterways directly through littering or indirectly via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris can be simple items such as a discarded soda can, cigarette butt, or plastic bag that ends up in the ocean potentially harming marine life”. That last part” potentially harming marine life” is central to SEANET’s mission as a citizen science program that brings together interdisciplinary researchers and members of the public in a long-term collaborative effort to identify and mitigate threats to marine birds.

In my continuing attempt to spread the word about SEANET along the eastern seaboard, I was invited to speak about SEANET at a NOAA sponsored workshop on marine debris a few years back. Thus, began my exposure to the MARINE DEBRIS TRACKER program. This program hopes to spread awareness of marine debris, as well as serve as an easy to use and simple tool for marine debris data collection. With Marine Debris Tracker, it just takes a few seconds to  easily report where you find marine debris or litter anywhere in the world… and then prevent it from impacting our oceans.  A mobile app has been developed to promote the Marine Debris Tracker program.

The Marine Debris Tracker Mobile App >>      mdr_logo_fresh_cwithout-border-tws-128x127

“The Mobile App Marine Debris Tracker originated in 2010 from a joint partnership of the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI), located within the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia.  The Marine Debris Tracker is currently available for iPhone and Android platforms. It is simple to use! Marine Debris Tracker is designed exactly for beach cleanup data collection. Instead of the paper data card you would normally use to mark items you find, you simply open the app on your phone, choose items from the list as you find them and log them. The list of items you found will be sent to the Marine Debris Tracker once you view and submit your data from that day”.

So what does it take to be a Marine Debris Tracker?

Try to pick a beach location that you can monitor regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) at the same general time. Then walk the same area (both horizontally and vertically) each time using Marine Debris Tracker to log (and hopefully picking up using gloves and a trash bag) the debris items that you find. You might want to make note of any major storm events or any other noticeable factors (wind, etc.) that might be influencing the debris that day. So, what does this remind you of? SEANET walks on the beach!!

To date, the Marine Debris Tracker program resulted in thousands of people logging and removing over THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION pieces of litter and debris all over the world!

In closing, I really like the Marine Debris Tracker’s slogan “Leave only waves and footprints behind…” So the next time you hear the term Marine Debris, think Marine Debris Tracker and spread the word!



News from the “other coast”, the Pacific Coast, on dying seabirds

23 08 2016

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, COASST, our “sister’ beached bird survey network on the West Coast detected an uptick in seabird deaths last month. In particular, they have experienced elevated numbers of dead Rhinoceros Auklets washing in to Salish Sea. Several news outlets have reported on the event. “About 300 rhinoceros auklets, which are closely related to puffins, have washed ashore since May. Julia Parrish, executive director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, says there’s no clear explanation”. “Scientists are looking into possible contagions or poisons, but if that were the case, Parrish said she would expect more to have washed up. She also said there could be a small algae bloom adding toxins to the auklets’ food supply”.

auklet                                                                                                                                                              Peter Hodum

Scientists are still trying to determine the cause behind a die-off of rhinoceros auklets.

In addition to COASST, the British Columbia Beach Bird Survey is recording any dead auklets found nearby on the Canadian shores as well.

The beached bird survey network in North America consists of the COASST, British Columbia Beached Bird Survey and Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET).  These three largely volunteer, citizen-based surveys are in many cases the only early warning systems for detecting abnormal mortality events in North American seabirds.  As recently evidenced by the abnormal auklet die-off last month that was detected by COASST volunteers along the West Coast, the warning system was in play.  For this and many other reasons, my “hats off” to all the North American beached bird survey volunteers!

Dead Bird Quiz Answers

13 07 2016

Thank you to Wouter and sjcourchesne (aka our very own Seanet Project Coordinator!) for their answers suggesting Birds A & B are both Herring Gulls. As a couple veteran Dead Bird Quiz “experts”, I proceeded to pick up my copy of the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States ( https://seanetters.wordpress.com/shop/beached-bird-guides/) and opened to the section on gull identification (pages 91-103) to cross-examine their answers.

Bird A:WB_13a  5-10-16(2)

Herring Gull (Juvenile)

Based on the wind chord alone (measured as 45 cm, please excuse my error in the original blog in which I stated the wind chord to be 45 mm!) , this bird falls in the range of Herring Gull and outside the reported wind chord ranges for other likely candidates ( e.g. Laughing Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull and Ring-Billed Gull).  As for Adult or juvenile, the black band on the tail feathers is indicative of a juvenile ( or possibly a sub-adult, but the bird has been scavenged and we only have a ventral view). Note: Adults have all white tail rectrices.

Bird B:unknown2

Herring Gull (Sub-Adult)

Based on the wind chord alone (measured as 43 cm, once again-please excuse my error in the original blog in which I stated the wind chord to be 43 mm!), this bird falls in the range of Herring Gull and outside the reported wind chord ranges for other likely candidates ( e.g. Laughing Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull and Ring-Billed Gull).  This dorsal view shows a grayish back coloration, some brown speckling and darker bill (Adults have yellow bills).  This plumage is indicative of a sub-adult (likely aged 2-3 years).

I think this quote sums it up nicely “And, yet, if you know gulls, you know that gulls in summer–bleached, battered, and blasted by sun and surf–are perhaps the greatest ID challenge for American birders” by Ted Floyd in his aba blog entitled “The Most Evil Photo Quiz Ever” at http://blog.aba.org/author/ted-floyd

Well, there you have it. I too agree with Wouter and sjcourchesne that Birds A & B are Herring Gulls!  Thanks to all that read and pondered this Dead Bird Quiz. Until our next Dead Bird Quiz……….


Long overdue Dead Bird Quiz

5 07 2016

Time has slipped by so fast for me recently. And while I was on vacation last week, I was thinking about how long it has been since I have posted to the SEANET Blog.  So, my first thought is that we are well overdue for another Dead Bird Quiz (DBQ).  So, here goes:

The first bird (Bird A) was found on May 10, 2016 on a Massachusetts beach.  Additional details are as follows:

Wing chord 45.0 mm
Tarsus 81.0 mm

WB_13a  5-10-16(2)

Bird A: found on Massachusetts beach in May 2016.

The second bird  (Bird B) was found on May 5, 2016 on a South Carolina beach.  Additional details are as follows:

Wind chord 43.0 mm
Culmen 55.0 mm
Tarsus 69.0 mm
Bird B: Found on a South Carolina Beach in May 2016

In memory of Edward Soldaat

2 05 2016

{Sarah Courchesne, guest blogging}

SEANET is very much a creature of the internet. In my time heading this project, I have corresponded via email and comment threads on the blog with people all over the country and the world, sometimes establishing regular and rewarding correspondence with them. The connection I made with Edward Soldaat was one of the best.


Edward at work

Edward was the founding force behind the seabird osteology site that I have referenced many a time on Dead Bird Quizzes. I can’t remember how we first came into contact–probably I wanted to use one of his excellent images–but after that, Edward became one of the most devoted and knowledgeable players of the DBQs, often offering corrections or clarifications when I’d gone astray.

Edward lived in the Netherlands, as does Wouter van Gestel, another ringer who plays the DBQ often. I always found it both surprising and fitting that some of SEANET’s most kindred spirits were thousands of miles across the Atlantic. But after all, our organization is seaward looking, oriented toward the ocean, and there, on the other side, was Edward, sharing our fascination with seabirds, joined in fellowship over their carcasses.

Wouter wrote to tell me of Edward’s death from metastatic melanoma a few weeks ago, and was kind enough to share with me a bit about the funeral services. Friends and colleagues shared stories of Edward, always angling to acquire skulls and bones from around the globe, or aggravating his mother when he was young, filling the kitchen and freezer with specimens in various stages of processing. He was always lamenting the fastidious and strict U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, evidently one of the world’s more uptight governing bodies as it pertains to shipping bird bits about. I was never able to get Edward any of the things he coveted, but he was ever good natured about it.

Wouter tells me that word came of Edward’s death via a black-bordered card with a bit of verse and an albatross on it. I never got to meet Edward, or even to speak with him, but he was a fellow traveler with the same oddball fixations and interests of all of us here at SEANET. Most people, it seems, try to avoid talking about death. “Well, that’s morbid,” we often hear when describing what we Seanetters do, as if it were a bad thing. Edward understood what the dead can teach us. Already, since his death, I’ve visited his site several times to look over the images or read his descriptions. It seems the right sort of memorial for him. Just like the notice that came of his death, his project was a constant reminder that every living thing inhabits a space hemmed in by black. The lock-winged albatross only has so long to sail, and if he were lucky, then maybe his skull ended up in Edward’s bone collection.

I will miss his voice, and I am grateful to have known him a little bit. I wish peace to all who knew him far better than I did.

What does hand soap and seabirds have in common?

31 03 2016

It is estimated that several million TONS of plastic makes it into our oceans each year. For me, what this means to the survival of marine birds and animals immediately comes to mind.  Our job, as seanetters, to comb our beaches looking for dead birds and to ponder why these birds may have died directly exposes us to the plight of ocean pollution.  The statistics are staggering:

  • Plastics are estimated to represent almost 80% of the total marine debris floating in the world’s oceans.
  • Every year, at least one million sea birds and 100,000 sharks, turtles, dolphins and whales die from eating plastic.
  • Fish in the middle depths of the northern pacific ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year.
  • 267 species around the world are harmed by plastic. 86% of sea turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of ocean mammals ingest or become tangled in plastic.

However, one small U.S. soap company, method (Method Products), is trying to do their part and raise awareness :


dish + hand soap – OCEAN PLASTIC

As a small soap company, they know they can’t clean up the world’s oceans, but they are trying to raise awareness about the issue and use their business to demonstrate smart ways of using and reusing the plastics that are already on the planet. They think the best way to do that is by proving that solutions exist, even at a small scale.

Some of their hand soap bottles are made with a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic.

As seanetters, a dedicated lot, we are all doing our part in some small way too to collect information about the plight of seabirds and in doing so we too are trying to raise awareness about the health of our oceans.  My hat is off to all seanetters!










ocean plastic

DBQ Answers

22 03 2016

Well, the return of the DBQ was a simple affair with only two mystery birds. The same day of the DBQ, capteagleeyes replied Bird #1 (aka Bird A) is a Black-Legged Kittiwake and Bird #2 (aka Bird B) is a Red-Breasted Merganser.  A few days later, our very own SEANET Project Coordinator, Dr. Sarah Courchesne replied “I concur”.  Lets review some key characteristics of these mystery birds and see if we can confirm their species identification.

Bird A looks tern or gull-like in winter plumage. However, none of the terns have a squared off tail. Most terns have distinct forked tails or some degree of forking in their tails. Thus, this directs us to the gull family (Laridae). Relative to the pebbles on the beach, this gull appears to be a smaller gull (less than 17″ total length). Next, bill and leg color are good clues its identity.  The yellow bill points to Ring-Billed Gull, Common Black-Headed Gull (1st year, nonbreeding) or a Black-Legged Kittiwake. Bird A is lacking a black ring (Ring-Billed Gull) or a black tip (Common Black-Headed Gull) which leaves us with a Black-Legged Kittiwake.

Black-Legged Kittiwake (nonbreeding)


Bird B provides us wings, feet and a sternum.  I immediately look at the speculum (i.e. Secondaries) and the color of the webbed feet.  Only two species of bay and sea ducks have solid white in their secondaries and secondary coverts.  They are the female Red-Breasted Mergansers and the female Common Mergansers. The feet of the Common merganser are deep red in color. The male Red-Breasted Merganser has deep red feet as well while the female has lighter red feet. It appears to me the feet are a lighter red color in the picture. Therefore, we have enough clues without exploring the sternum that point to a female Red-Breasted Merganser.



Red-Breasted Merganser, Female


There  you have it. The evidence points to Bird A as a Black-Legged Kittiwake and Bird B as a female Red-Breasted Merganser, therefore, we can conclude the identification of the mystery birds are confirmed! Stay tuned for a future DBQ right here on the SEANET Blog.