It’s raining alcids

28 01 2010

Razorbill found by Mary Myers this month on Cape Cod (orginally i.d.'d as a Thick-billed Murre). Note the species robust bill compared with murres.

Mary Myers on Cape Cod found a Razorbill on her beach this month. These are not particularly common on SEANET beaches, and your blogger contacted our expert bird man about the find. Dick Veit, a Professor in New York and ultra-birder extraordinaire, informed us that Razorbills have recently been sighted off the coast of Massachusetts in epic numbers. 12,000 individual birds were spotted off Provincetown, and we also received word from Peg Hart on Long Island that 3,000 birds were seen off Montauk recently as well.

Peg also tells us that Dovekies have been raining down in backyards and on inland streets in New York. This is not unprecedented, as the diminutive seabirds are often pushed inland by winter storms and deposited in strange locations.

Maggie Komosinski in Rhode Island had a hugely productive beach walk this month, finding a slew of dead gannets along with two mangled alcids, species to be determined.

Certainly winter is the season for alcids to turn up on the beaches, but the Razorbills in particular are an unusual and very cool event. So, Seanetters, we encourage you to look up from the sand or rocks once in a while and keep an eye out for live birds as well. Remember, we encourage live bird reporting through, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you see out there!

A word on beached sea turtles

26 01 2010

A stranded turtle received treatment at the New England Aquarium last month. As water temperatures have dropped, live beached turtles are now rarely found.

After last week’s post featuring the Kemp’s Ridley carcass that Ralph Marotti found on Cape Cod, we received a request from the dedicated staff at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Massachusetts. While live sea turtle strandings peaked last month, carcasses are still turning up on the Cape with some frequency, and word from Florida is that cold-stunned turtles are still beaching down there as well. Here in Massachusetts, many of our Seanetters also volunteer to patrol for stranded sea turtles, but anyone can help. If you happen upon a beached sea turtle, live or dead, please contact the folks at Wellfleet Bay at 508-349-2615. They can collect the carcass and they are always interested in reports so they can get a clearer picture of species and numbers of turtles affected by cold-stunning this year. And after all, who better than a Seanetter to appreciate the value of reporting even dead specimens?

The Cape saw its  third most severe stranding year for turtles this season; you can read more about it at their blog.

Uncommon cold in south threatens marine species

21 01 2010

The carcass of a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle was found by Seanetter Ralph Marotti on Cape Cod yesterday

Residents of Cape Cod are sadly familiar with the sight of cold-stunned sea turtles washing up on the beaches when the weather turns cold here. Volunteers patrol the shores on the Cape searching for the nearly lifeless animals and transport them to the New England Aquarium for treatment and eventual transport to the warm waters off Florida. But what is a reptile to do when even that refuge turns frigid?

A stretch of cold weather record-setting in its duration has settled in over the southeastern U.S. in recent weeks. While New Englanders are accustomed to wayward turtles getting chilled in the northern waters, unprecedented numbers of animals in shallow waters around Florida have been found cold-stunned. The majority of the sea turtles affected by the cold weather are green turtles, a federally listed endangered species. Other species include Kemp’s Ridley and hawksbill, both endangered, and the loggerhead, a threatened species.

Fish kills have also become increasingly common as persistent cold weather drops the temperature even in deeper waters where fish usually shelter until the temperatures rise again. Snook, a particularly sensitive species, have been severely affected, but tarpon, bonefish and numerous other fishes have washed up in unusual numbers.

US Fish and Wildlife biologist, Pete Tuttle, makes notes near a pile of dead pelicans. (photo courtesy USFWS)

Members of the public in Alabama came across a bizarre scene on Sand Island in Alabama, where the carcasses of over a hundred birds, mostly juvenile Brown Pelicans, were found in piles, suggesting that they may have huddled together behind the dunes for warmth. A few Least Terns were also found dead. US Fish and Wildlife biologists suspect that the birds died of hypothermia, but have submitted a number of carcasses to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin for necropsy.

The long-term effects of these die-offs will likely differ between species; over 80 percent of the cold stunned turtles were successfully rehabilitated and released, and biologists do not anticipate any substantial effect on their populations. Scientists are less certain about the fish species and the impacts on them may prove significant.

SEANET will keep you posted, as always, if and when any additional news comes from the frigid south, good or bad.

Lawsuit filed to protect penguins

19 01 2010

The Humboldt Penguin is one species listed in the lawsuit against the Obama Administration. (photo: Christian Mehlführer)

The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network based in San Francisco has filed a notice that they intend to sue the Obama administration for illegally delaying protection of penguins. Last month, the deadline passed for the U.S. Department of the Interior to finalize the listing of seven penguin species under the Endangered Species Act. The birds are under converging threats from global climate change and industrial fishing. As the oceans warm and sea ice dwindles, the penguins’ prey base is severely reduced. And longline fishing practices in the Pacific drown countless penguins (and other seabirds) as they forage for food around fishing vessels.

Listing under the Endangered Species Act would afford the seven species (African, Humboldt, yellow-eyed, white-flippered, Fiordland crested, and erect-crested penguins and a few populations of the southern rockhopper penguin) a host of protections and would force the goverment to take measures to mitigate harm to the birds both from greenhouse gas emissions and commercial fishing.

The Center and Turtle Island Restoration Network also intend to file suit against the Interior Department for  denying Endangered Species Act protections to emperor and rockhopper penguins when they initially reviewed the status of 12 species back in 2006.

SEANET will inform you of any further developments in the case as they come available. It will be interesting to see how the liberal-minded Obama administration responds to some strong language in the suit questioning their very commitment to environmental protections.

Warm SEANET sentiments for the New Year

14 01 2010

Little East Beach in Darmouth, Massachusetts. Nothing so serene on the earth as a dead cormorant. (photo by Libby Rock)

Coming to us from Libby Rock, faithful Seanetter in Dartmouth Massachusetts, is this quintessential SEANET tale:

“So: my beleaguered spouse and beach walking partner now works away from home much of the time; so for Christmas I thought I would find a really nice picture of our lovely beach and frame it for him, to have in our apartment where he spends much of his time. So I poked around through tons of pictures – and found the perfect one. A lovely, serene landscape, nice light, perfect. Got frame, all set to make my lovely present.
Then I pulled it up to full size, and as I prepared to run it through P-shop to tweak before printing, took another, closer look. A lovely, serene beachscape – with a large, dead cormorant in the foreground! Why, it IS perfect!! SO picturesque!!”
This very bird, a Great Cormorant, was featured in a Dead Bird Quiz some time back, and here he lies where fate cast him upon the glassy sand.
A belated happy New Year to you Seanetters, who appreciate a coastal scene in its raw state, carcasses and all.

The 100 dollar bird. And a free pelican.

13 01 2010

Dennis Minsky's $100 pay-out: a dead duck

On December 18th, Dennis Minsky found a dead duck on his Provincetown beach on Cape Cod. But this, Seanetters, was no ordinary dead duck. Always rewarding in their own right, this bird was particularly lucrative. A metal band on the bird’s leg read “REWARD $100.” Dennis called up the number listed on the band and got some background info, found out that the bird was a male American Black Duck banded on 8/14/03 in Nova Scotia, and got an explanation from Pam Garrettson with the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

“Most of the recoveries of black ducks and other game birds are via hunter harvest.  Provided we band a representative sample of the population, the proportion of banded birds recovered (recovery rate) gives an index of the harvest rate.  If everyone who shot a banded bird reported it to the bird banding lab, then the recovery rate would be equal to the harvest rate.  If not, then estimating a band reporting rate allows us to convert band recovery rates to harvest rates by dividing them by their band reporting rates.

That’s where the reward bands come in.  We have determined that a 100$ reward is sufficient to ensure those bands are reported with a probability close to 1.  We put reward bands (along with the standard band) out along with birds that only have a standard band (control birds).  Then the reporting rate can be estimated as recovery rate(control) / recovery rate (reward).  Hope this helps.”

SEANET finds it amusing that it takes $100 in reward money to get hunters to report bands almost 100 percent of the time. Perhaps it is a paucity of money and an abundance of enthusiasm combined, but Seanetters always seem to report bands for free.

Along those lines, we have another recent band recovery to recount: Paula Eubanks, walking on Little Cumberland Island in Georgia, found a banded, subadult Brown Pelican on December 29th. Upon reporting it, she found out that the bird was banded as a chick in July of the same year at Rhodes Point in Virginia. Looks like this bird was not destined for a long career as a pelican.

Thanks to both of you Seanetters for contributing to lofty ideas, science, and the lasting legacy of dead birds.

For gulls, the hits keep coming

7 01 2010

Gulls along the Mediterranean coast. Gulls generally may be reservoirs for E.coli bacteria, a new study shows. (UPI photo)

As if the reputations of gulls had not already been much maligned, a new study in Europe links them to antibiotic resistant infections in humans. The study sampled gull feces on beaches in Porto, Portugal, a popular haunt for gulls. E. coli bacteria were isolated from many samples, and the bacteria appear to match those responsible for some serious infections in human patients in France and Portugal.

The study, slated for release this month, is of particular interest to SEANET since our own Dr. Julie Ellis has been pursuing similar topics here in the U.S. Gulls travel great distances and frequent some rather disgusting spots, favoring landfills and sewage treatment plants. These factors may make them more likely than other birds to scatter nasty bacteria about. It remains to be seen how significant gulls are in the transmission of E. coli and other potential pathogens to humans, either here or in Europe. SEANET does hope that these studies do not lead the public to take up torches and pitchforks and storm the beaches in broad scale gull massacres. Meaning, more than they already do.

In happier gull news, please check out Julie’s Gulls of Appledore blog–she’s had some good band resights lately, but I won’t tell you what they are. Go and boost Julie’s blog stats! She needs a jump, Seanetters!

Update on Gloucester Gulls

5 01 2010

The oiled gulls in Gloucester may have been foraging in a fish oil slick. (photo by R. Heil)

Since last week’s post, the apparent oiling of 40 or more gulls in Gloucester, Massachusetts has generated a flurry of emails and phone calls to local, state and federal wildlife officials. At present, the consensus seems to be that the oil involved is not petroleum based (as evident in photos, the substance appears to be clear and yellow, very unlike a crude oil spill). Additionally, no oil has turned up on local beaches.
One of the affected gulls was captured and transported to Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Wildlife Clinic for treatment. Veterinarians there suspected that the substance may have been fish oil, based on its smell. One theory being tossed around is that Herring boats in the Gloucester fleet may have discharged oily fish wastes into the water (this is a legal practice), and the opportunistic gulls hanging around the boats may have been coated in the discharge. Other observers point out that the fishing fleet has mostly been moored, inactive, in the harbor and wouldn’t have been actively discharging any wastes during the timeframe in question. Fish oil waste could also have washed into the harbor with the considerable snow run-off in the days leading up the sightings, and gulls are not ones to miss out on a fishy/oily meal whatever the source, so it may prove impossible to determine its origin.
In any case, aside from the one bird brought to Tufts, SEANET is not aware of any additional captures, and observers in Gloucester have not reported seeing any oiled birds for some days. The birds may be able to preen off the non-toxic fish oil and regain their water-proofing, in stark contrast to petroleum oil, which adheres thickly to feathers and is often fatal when ingested.
SEANET will keep you apprised of any additional developments in this case, and thank everyone who has contributed reports. Keep your eyes open as usual, Seanetters.

In unrelated news, a response is due to Joe Poland, who pointed out that the most recent dead bird quiz was basically a repeat of one issued last month. True indeed, Joe, but I will stop at nothing for a truly wretched pun, and that was the price you all had to pay!