SEANET partners with eBird!

30 01 2009

For those of you with some affection for live birds, and not solely for the dead, we are excited to announce the availablility of a new tool! Some of you may be familiar with eBird (www.eBird.org) already, which is an extensive database of live bird sightings. As a SEANET volunteer, you may choose to enter your live bird data into eBird instead of the SEANET database. By using the eBird site, you will have vastly improved access to both your own data and to the live bird sightings of others. We hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship! If you are interested in trying out eBird for your SEANET live bird sightings, please read the following document thoroughly. Try it, you’ll like it!

getting-started-with-ebird

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SEANET T-shirts are in!

29 01 2009

And we mean literally and figuratively. The shirts are available now for a donation of 20 dollars or more to SEANET.  The value of the shirts is $11.50, and your donation is tax deductible beyond that amount. The shirts are available in light blue, gray and white, and in sizes from Youth Medium through Adult 2XL. There are a limited number of shirts in women’s sizes Small and Medium as well.

Two anonymous weirdos off the street model the new SEANET t-shirts.

Two anonymous weirdos off the street model the new SEANET t-shirts.

The striking shirts feature the new SEANET logo (designed by volunteer Libby Rock) over the left chest pocket. The back of the shirt prominently displays the saucy profiles of some of your favorite seabirds: Brown Pelican, Northern Gannet, Black Skimmer, Atlantic Puffin, Great Black-Backed Gull and Greater Shearwater. The back of the shirt also reads “Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine” to lend an air of credibility. Place your order today by emailing Sarah at sarah.courchesne@tufts.edu and we’ll send you your new shirt asap!





Northern Gannet anatomy-an unexplained phenomena

28 01 2009

Yesterday, here at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic, researcher Jennifer Modrell gave a presentation on an anatomical structure that appears to be unique to Northern Gannets and their other gannet cousins.

Northern Gannet presented to SEANET for necropsy

Northern Gannet presented to SEANET for necropsy

While performing routine necropsies on gannets submitted to SEANET, Jen found an odd structure associated with the trachea (windpipe) in all the gannets she examined. Two prominent, yellow-orange, roughly spherical bodies arose from either side of the syrinx (which is the avian equivalent of the voicebox). Intrigued by these structures, Jen set out to learn more. She soon discovered that while occasional scientists back to the 1800s had observed and remarked upon the structures, no one had any idea what their purpose could be. Were they strange thyroid glands? A bizarre version of an immune organ known as the thymus? The literature was surprisingly sparse and Jen realized that she was in a position to answer a question at least 200 years old.

Her first goals were simple: to determine whether or not all Northern Gannets possess these structures and whether they are present in all ages of gannet. The simple answer to both was yes, though they are considerably smaller in immature birds.

The Northern Gannet trachea (pale structure running from the left side to the middle of photo) splits into two bronchi at the middle of the photo. At this split, known as the syrinx, two yellow spherical structures are observed attached. Their function remains uncertain.

The Northern Gannet trachea (pale structure running from the left side to the middle of photo) splits into two bronchi at the middle of the photo. At this split, known as the syrinx, two yellow spherical structures are observed attached. Their function remains uncertain.

Jen theorized that the structures may modify the sound of the birds’ voices, and may be used to signal sexual maturity or even health.  She partnered with a Tufts pathologist, Dr. John Keating, to determine the microscopic makeup of the nodules. That investigation showed that the nodules are comprised of fat with a generous blood supply. Interestingly, Jen has also found that even in birds severely weakened from starvation, these fatty nodules are maintained, even when all other fat stores in the body have been depleted. This suggests that the nodules are very important to the bird, and may in fact be vital to breeding successfully–a prospect even very ill birds will often pursue to ensure the survival of their genetic material in future generations.

Jen intends to continue her research into the role these bizarre structures play in the life history of the Northern Gannet. SEANET is proud to have helped Jen even in a minor way with this valuable project, and we look forward to future developments in her investigations.





The adventures of a Euro-Gull

26 01 2009

 

 

European expatriate, the Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Note the vibrant yellow legs!

European expatriate, the Lesser Black-Backed Gull. Note the vibrant yellow legs!

 

Last summer, SEANET’s own Dr. Julie Ellis managed a remarkable feat. The previous year, she had detected a Lesser Black-Backed Gull apparently breeding with a Herring Gull out on Appledore Island in Maine. Lesser Black-Backed Gulls (henceforth referred to as “LBBGs”) normally inhabit the coasts of Europe. While LBBGs are sighted along the US Atlantic coast with some frequency in the winter months, it is nearly unheard of for one to remain on our shores to breed. Julie’s bird stuck around not just that first summer, but returned in 2008 to nest again and fledge a couple of (presumably hybrid) chicks. 

Undaunted by difficult terrain, Julie managed to trap the LBBG and band it with the hopes of learning a bit more about its movements during the off season. The clever bird proved elusive at first, persuading its Herring Gull mate to enter the trap first. Julie took the opportunity to band her as well, but never gave up on the true prize, and ultimately succeeded. 

Dr. Ellis carefully places a sophisticated trap (a bag made of chicken wire) over the LBBGs nest.

Dr. Ellis carefully places a sophisticated trap (a bag made of chicken wire) over the LBBGs nest.

After banding the bird and taking a feather sample for genetic testing, Julie allowed him to go on with his life raising the chicks before he and all the other gulls packed up and left for their wintering grounds. Tense months followed, and no one heard from the LBBG. Until now. 

Michael Brothers, a Florida birder, was out on the beaches in the Sunshine State and sent the following report:

“What a day! Today, 1/21, Alvaro Jaramillo, Bob Wallace and I led a field trip for the Space Coast Birding festival to the Tomoka Landfill, Daytona Beach,Volusia County. The birds were difficult to see, but we did find Thayer’s and Kumlien’s Gulls. Later, we took most of the group to Daytona Beach Shores for the evening fly-in. We were not disappointed. First, we found a banded adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. Alvaro did some research this evening and it turns out that this bird was banded on an island off of New Hampshire and is the second known breeding Lesser Black-backed Gull found in North America outside of Greenland. A celebrity bird on our beach!”

Both Julie’s own data and the published literature suggest that adult Herring Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls tend to spend their winters rather close to their breeding grounds. So this LBBG is, in comparison, quite a rolling stone, never content to remain in one place for too long.

The LBBG spends his lazy winter days on the sands of a Florida beach (photo by Michael Brothers)

The LBBG spends his lazy winter days on the sands of a Florida beach (photo by Michael Brothers)

Only time will tell if the LBBG turns up in Maine to breed again. And much patience will be required to see if the banded chicks of the LBBG and Herring Gull pair ever turn up there to breed themselves; gulls typically don’t breed until they are three years old or more. 

Congrats to Julie on this great news! It’s like flinging out a message in a bottle and actually hearing back from someone. SEANET looks forward to finding out what the LBBG’s summer plans are, and will let you all know as soon as we hear!





California pelican die-off update

20 01 2009

The latest reports out of California have it that the Brown Pelicans turning up dead or dying along the coast of that state may have succumbed to bad weather.

Brown Pelican, much like those affected by the die-off in California

Brown Pelican, much like those affected by the die-off in California

The birds had been spending time off the coast of Oregon when a severe storm hit, driving the birds south and inland, fleeing the winds and freezing temperatures. Many of the birds recovered by rescuers showed signs of frostbite on their feet and pouches, suggesting that the birds were indeed unprepared for the unusually harsh conditions. As many of the birds were in good body condition, it does not appear that the birds had been suffering from a protracted illness and may simply have been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The diagnosis of this event has been a good example of multiple agencies and wildlife groups working together to determine the cause of an unusual mortality event, and also shows that sometimes these things stem from the most quotidian roots.





Seanetters not baffled by juvenile gulls!

16 01 2009

Well, Jenette Kerr comes through again–she is correct with her i.d. Bird 1 is an immature Great Black-Backed Gull while Bird 2 is an immature herring gull. There are a couple of characteristics to note when comparing these two common gull species. The Great Black-Backed Gull has a very striking, almost checkerboard-like black and white pattern over its back and wings. Additionally, the juvenile Great Black-Backed Gull has a great deal of white over the rump (the lower back where the tail meets the body).

Juvenile Great Black-Backed Gull (photo by BL Sullivan)

Juvenile Great Black-Backed Gull (photo by BL Sullivan)

Compare that to the relatively uniform gray brown of the Herring Gull. Rather than a strong black and white, the Herring Gull juvenile’s plumage is more muted in shades of gray. There is also much less white over the rump in this species, though this difference is not particularly obvious in these particular photos.

Juvenile Herring Gull (photo by BL Sullivan)

Juvenile Herring Gull (photo by BL Sullivan)





Another episode of the Gull Show!

15 01 2009
IBird 1 (photo courtesy of Ron and Jean Bourque)

Bird 1 (photo courtesy of Ron and Jean Bourque)

 In keeping with my recent crusade to rehabilitate the reputation of gulls, let us spend another post on the subject of these worthy creatures. As they are perhaps the commonest of all beached birds found by seanetters, take a look at the two birds pictured here and try your hand at an i.d.

Bird 2 (photo by Dennis Minsky)

Bird 2 (photo courtesy of Dennis Minsky)