It’s a seabird eat seabird world

30 04 2009
Cape Gannets breeding in Africa are under converging pressures

Cape Gannets breeding in Africa are under converging pressures

An African cousin of our own Northern Gannet, the Cape Gannet (Morus capensis), is under ever increasing pressures that threaten the species’ very survival. Now, new research on the breeding success of the gannets is revealing a particularly gruesome picture.

The decline in prey fish, documented worldwide, is hitting the Cape Gannet particularly hard. Overfishing of sardines and anchovies have compromised the birds’ ability to feed their chicks. At the same time, pelicans, kelp gulls and seals, also facing declining prey stocks, have begun gulping down gannet chicks as an alternative to their usual diets of fish. Pelicans in particular are having a devastating effect on gannet colonies as the large, pouchbilled birds are able to eat chicks as large as four pounds!

Much of the new information on the birds has been generated by GPS transmitters attached to a number of Cape Gannets, illuminating their foraging strategies and diets. You can check out the full story at Science Daily.

Featured Beach: FL_11

29 04 2009
Martin Vanoy's beach, FL_11

Martin Vanoy's beach, FL_11

SEANET is starting a new feature; we will periodically choose a beach and volunteer to highlight here on the blog. We hope that this will increase the sense of community among our Seanetters and give you all some insight into the massive variability between beaches from Florida up to Maine.

Today’s featured beach, FL_11, is a bit of a bittersweet case.  Martin Vanoy has been volunteering for SEANET and walking Spessard Holland Beach in Brevard County, FL for over two years. He has been remarkably consistent, never skipping a month in all that time.

Additionally, Martin has contributed numerous gorgeous photos of the live birds on his beach. We have featured a number of his images in our recent SEANET newsletters.

Martin is very soon to move away from FL_11 and far from the coast altogether to inland Georgia. Martin will be sorely missed, and we want to thank him for his dedication and great work for SEANET over the past couple of years. Good luck, Martin, and we hope you find plenty of stuff to keep you busy in Georgia!

One of Martin's stunning photos

One of Martin's stunning photos of the gulls and terns frequenting his beach

New database up and running!

28 04 2009
A rare photo of Megan Hines doing something other than hunching over a keyboard working on the SEANET database.

A rare photo of Megan Hines doing something other than hunching over a keyboard working on the SEANET database.

Thanks to our phenomenal database guru, Megan Hines, our SEANET database has been revamped, revised and reworked into a lean, mean, data accepting machine! If you haven’t tried it already, take a look at the new features. Also, note that the new database reflects the changes made in the data collection sheets (available at the volunteer toolkit), so for your next walk, be sure you have the updated datasheet in hand.

When you do try out the new database, please let us know if you encounter any problems, or if you have any ideas for improvements. You can use the “Send Feedback” feature in the database to reach Megan directly. We’re counting on you folks to help us optimize the system.

Don’t forget to download the volunteer contract and beach characteristics forms (also at the volunteer toolkit site) and send those in to us as well. We need each volunteer to submit both forms by the end of May.

Thanks as always Seanetters, and thanks to Megan for all her hard work!

SEANET trainings in RI and NY

27 04 2009
Watch Hill, RI

Watch Hill, RI

SEANET has been out and about seeking new volunteers here in the Northeast lately. Over the weekend, Dr. Julie Ellis headed down to Watch Hill, RI to train new volunteers. She managed to snag three new recruits to walk beaches in eastern Connecticut.
A bit farther south, our Local Coordinator for New York, Peg Hart, has been hard at work reeling in new volunteers as well. Peg has initiated a partnership with biologists with the National Parks Service. This has resulted in coverage of a considerable stretch of terrain on the Long Island barrier beaches.
We welcome all our newest SEANET volunteers and we look forward to getting your reports!

Take the Seabird Ecology and Conservation course!

24 04 2009
Some of your potential neighbors at the Shoals Marine Lab

Some of your potential neighbors at the Shoals Marine Lab

Our own Dr. Julie Ellis will be out at her beloved Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island in Maine this summer. Julie will be pursuing her ongoing research on gulls, and you can help! Julie is offering a course entitled “Seabird Ecology and Conservation” in June. The course is offered as an Adult and Family Education opportunity, meaning it is open to all. Participants will get an up-close and personal look at Atlantic seabird ecology, and will get to help directly with field research. The Shoals is a gorgeous place, and this is an incomparable opportunity. Check out the course website for more information. Hope to see you there!

Give to SEANET!

22 04 2009

2618850346_fc2d38f7caWe here at SEANET know that economic times are tough. As a volunteer citizen science project, we know what it means to rely on the kindness of strangers to run our program. We are grateful to all our volunteers for their hours spent walking beaches, photographing carcasses, and recording data. Now, we are coming to you all with an additional request. In the current economic climate, the private foundations and government grants to which we usually turn for operational support are slackening or disappearing completely. As SEANET receives no standing support for salaries or volunteer training and supplies, we are turning increasingly to private donors to offset some of our costs.

If you are able to give to SEANET in any amount, take a look at the new “Donate” tab here at the blog. It’s convenient and secure since you can give via credit card at the Tufts University website. We hope you will consider donating, and encourage friends with an interest in coastal and marine conservation to do the same.

We thank you for your support!

Seabirds may go hungry as prey fish decline

21 04 2009
A Cape Gannet dives for fish
A Cape Gannet dives for fish (photo by Alexander Safonov)

The organization Oceana has put out a report entitled “Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey Is Gone?” The report looks at the impacts of overfishing of prey species on top predators–effects that have often been ignored up to now.

While overfishing of large predatory fish (like shark and tuna) has long been recognized as a problem, smaller species like herring were thought to be immune to overfishing because of their large numbers and rapid reproductive rates. Now, however, fishermen are turning up ever smaller catches of these prey fish, and the predators that rely upon them are showing signs of nutritional stress, including decreased breeding success. Malnutrition can also lead to increased susceptibility to disease, and may drive seabirds to seek food from unnatural sources like fisheries discards. This places them at increased risk of fatal entanglement in fishing nets.
Compounding the problem, prey fish are highly sensitive to climate change induced changes in the oceans, and the long-term impacts of such alterations remain unknown.
Take a look at the full report yourself; it’s very well put together and is accessible to any non-scientist. The Oceana site is also worth a general look for its take on issues like off-shore drilling, fishing practices, and assorted other issues facing ocean health today.

SEANET Training at Lloyd Center

17 04 2009
View from the Lloyd Center's Observation Deck
View from the Lloyd Center’s Observation Deck

Dr. Julie Ellis headed south yesterday to hold a reunion of sorts. Eight of our long-term volunteers and their Local Coordinator, Jamie Bogart, met at the Lloyd Center for the Environment on Buzzard’s Bay in Massachsetts for a retraining in SEANET protocols. Some of these volunteers have been participating in SEANET almost since its inception, and we are immensely grateful for their dedication and commitment. Despite their long-standing involvement, all these volunteers were ready to modify their data collection techniques according to our new protocols in order to increase the scientific value of our program.

While we at SEANET are not surprised by the unflagging enthusiasm of our Lloyd Center volunteers, we do want to thank them for being the cornerstone of what is an ever expanding project. Hard to believe that a program that began on a few Buzzard’s Bay beaches now stretches as far as Florida.

Thanks to all the volunteers who attended last night. You’re the best!


Dead Bird Quiz: Dark wing answers

16 04 2009
Yesterday's Bird A was a juvenile Black Guillemot (photo by Nico Sarbanes)

Yesterday's Bird A was a juvenile Black Guillemot (photo by Nico Sarbanes)

Jenette Kerr has once again pulled through with a correct answer on our dead bird quiz. Bird A is indeed a juvenile Black Guillemot, and Bird B a Dovekie. Both are alcids (as are puffins, Razorbills and murres), many of which may be easily confused by the hapless Seanetter. The murres, in particular, are a challenge to identify, as the two species (Common and Thick-billed) appear almost identical. The Black Guillemot makes things a bit easier, showing a striking white wing patch in adult plumage, and, as seen in photo at left, stark black and white patterning on the wing of the juvenile. Another notable field marking in the Black Guillemot is its almost entirely white underwing, in comparison to most other alcids which generally exhibit mostly or all dark underwings.

Bird B was a Dovekie. Note the white tips to the secondary feathers. (photo courtesy of University of Puget Sound)

Bird B was a Dovekie. Note the white tips to the secondary feathers. (photo courtesy of University of Puget Sound)

The dovekie, for example, shows a standard issue alcid wing: all dark above and below, with tiny white tips on the secondary feathers. In fact, the dovekie wing resembles a miniaturized version of a murre wing, so wing chord measurement in the field is critical to identifying these birds, especially when only the wings remain. And since alcids commonly fall prey to falcons, there is often very little left for the dedicated Seanetter to examine.

Dead Bird Quiz, dark wing edition

14 04 2009
Bird A (top) and Bird B (bottom)
Bird A (top) and Bird B (bottom)

Time for another dead bird quiz. These two closely related birds have surprisingly different looking wings.

Offer your guesses as comments, and check back tomorrow!