Featured Beach: ME_58

25 02 2010

Thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, SEANET has been increasing its presence in Maine. We are gaining new volunteers by the day, and Dr. Julie Ellis is actually giving a presentation this evening in Falmouth, Maine to recruit yet more Seanetters. In today’s post, we welcome Ron Poulin and his daughter Bridget, who have recently joined our ranks. Ron and Bridget walk Popham Beach in Phippsburg, Maine.

The beach is a sandy stretch within a State Park near the mouth of the Kennebec River. Lobstering goes on offshore, and, in season, sportsmen fish for bluefish along the shore. The beach is a popular one with vacationers in Summer, and the tourist element may explain why the locals have been meeting to discuss how to address some recent erosion of the beach. SEANET will be keen to find out what the locals decide since many “beach stabilization” activities can substantially affect the likelihood of finding bird carcasses.

New Seanetter, Bridget Poulin, in full winter plumage on ME_58

As for our new Seanetters, Ron prefers to shine the biographical spotlight on daughter, Bridget, writing, “[She’s] a biology major at UMaine with an emphasis on cellular biology.  She’s scheduled to graduate Spring 2011 and hopes to attend medical school.  She was such a Seanet trooper to do the walk seeing how she had the flu bug and it was Valentine’s Day.  Her fiancé loaned her the “winter plumage” minus the hat.  I told her a few times prior to the trip she should stay home and I would do it alone.  She insisted on doing the walk.  Bridget said afterwards she looks forward to the next walk minus the flu bug coming along too.”

We already knew that Mainers are tough, and we’re glad to have these two joining us. Anyone willing to join SEANET in northern New England in February is ok in our book. Welcome Ron and Bridget!

The pitfalls of Seanetting: a tale by Jerry Golub

23 02 2010

Being a Seanetter can be isolating work–out on the beaches in cold, wind, driven snow and sleet; even the most intrepid Seanetter can sometimes start to feel a bit uncertain of herself and her bird i.d. skills. We hope that our Dead Bird Quizzes help you all to feel like part of a larger community of dead bird seekers who often feel at a loss when faced with a carcass.

The scene in New Jersey--the "faux hawk" (made of rock) is here, as is an actual Peregrine falcon

Here, Seanetter Jerry Golub (New Jersey) has been selfless enough to share this tale of his most recent foibles out on the madness making winter shores. The subject line of his email: “Double Embarrassment”

“The weather relented and I was able to survey my beach today.  It was 38 & overcast, but no wind.  After only finding half of a dead RBGU and not very interesting live birds, I was almost back at my car when I saw a large falcon fly toward a jetty and harass a gull or pigeon.  I was pretty certain it was a Peregrine, but wanted to get closer for a better view and picture.

Do you see a bird in the lower half of the picture?  I thought I saw a hawk with a dark back and light face & underparts.  I approached and took pictures until I realized it was a rock!  I then relocated the Peregrine and took some pictures.

After photographing the Peregrine I returned to my car and a large white mass I must have passed an hour earlier turned out to be a dead GBBG!

I ID’ed a rock as a bird and missed a large dead bird!”

The "RockHawk" (circled in yellow) drew Jerry's attention, while a real Peregrine Falcon (red) wonders "What am I, chopped liver?"

Truly, we are all in this together, Seanetters. And the beaches and the birds will conspire to bewilder and confuse. Even the rocks, as Jerry now knows, will taunt you. So thank you for sticking with it, Seanetters. We couldn’t do it without you!

Buried under snow, SEANET blogger is preoccupied with California

18 02 2010

Your Seanetter blogger is pining away here at the SEANET office, for our own Dr. Julie Ellis is off at a meeting in Long Beach, California. Julie is at the Pacific Seabird Group’s Annual Meeting, presenting on SEANET’s research into Common Eider die-offs on Cape Cod. While this endeavor has obvious scientific merit, the SEANET blogger would like to point out that the meeting is in LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA, while your blogger was buried under 8 inches of snow yesterday.

Moving on from self-pity, and in tribute to Julie’s great California adventure, a bit of depressing seabird news out of that great state:

Over the past month, at least 1,000 Brown Pelicans have beached along the California coast. Some of the birds appear to be soiled with a dingy looking substance which does not appear to be oil, but may be some sort of algal byproduct. There has been at least one seabird die-off in California previously that was attributed to an algal bloom that stripped the birds of their waterproofing. Additionally, numerous storms have hit the California coast of late, and storm water runoff has also been suggested as a potential source of contamination for these unfortunate birds.

In the present case, necropsies on a handful of birds have shown that the pelicans were turning to prey they normally do not eat, like squid. This has prompted speculation that the El Nino event this year may be at play in altering the availability of food.

The birds treated at wildlife rehabilitation centers have responded well to washing and supportive care, suggesting perhaps that there is not an underlying disease process going on.

In any case, California generally does a very good job of investigating die-offs and disseminating their findings, so SEANET will share those with you if and as they become available.

And of course, we are all very very happy for Dr. Julie Ellis and her strictly professional and not at all fun trip to California.

Dead Bird Quiz Answers

16 02 2010

New Jersey is just about as far south as one might expect to see a Dovekie in winter.

Ding Ding Ding! Mary Wright nailed the Dead Bird Quiz with her responses of A)Dovekie and B)Long-Tailed Duck. Has a challenger emerged to the primacy of Doug Suitor? Doug himself tipped his cap to Mary, who astutely noted the diminutive size of the headless alcid.

While Dovekies are not unheard of in the waters off New Jersey, author/super-birder Kenn Kaufman describes their distribution thus, “Small numbers come as far south as New England waters in winter, rarely farther, but the vast majority remain farther north.” While there’s no way to say from whence this particular Dovekie came, or how it met its demise, it does seem likely that this bird is part of the overall influx of alcids into the northeast which was detailed in an earlier post.

The Long-tailed Duck found on the Cape, on the other hand, is a common winter resident around the Cape and islands, but does not commonly turn up on SEANET beaches. These northern breeders congregate in dense groups over the winter, and are a particularly vocal species. The one found by Mary Myers is a male; while some of the characteristic facial markings are somewhat obscured by sand and general bedragglement, the pink stripe on the bill is rather distinctive.

A rather livelier looking male Long-tailed Duck in winter plumage (photo by Michael Daniel Ho).

The SEANET blogger would like to point out that the photo shown here of the Long-Tailed Duck is by the talented photographer Michael Daniel Ho. Check out his other great bird photos at his website. Michael has been kind enough to grant SEANET permission to use his photos on the blog as an educational aid, and we are most grateful for that favor.

Finally, a note from the Department of Shameless Self-Promotion. After SEANET’s plea for blog visits to put us over the top on the Nature Blog Network stats, we actually dropped in our ranking! Is this a cosmic rebuke for making such an open plea? We hope not. We also want to thank blog reader Dawn Fine who tweeted about us on Twitter to help get the word out; we appreciate it, Dawn! And we humbly beseech the blogo-verse to forgive us our transgression and to raise our stats once again if it sees fit.

Dead Bird Quiz

11 02 2010

With Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day fast upon us, what could be a more romantic or patriotic thing than taking a dead bird quiz?

Bird A: Headless specimen found by Frank Kenny in New Jersey last month.

Bird B: Found by Mary Myers on Cape Cod last month.

As usual, offer your answers as a comment on this post, and your triumph or folly shall be revealed along with the answers in the next post. Someone, please challenge Doug Suitor for the Ultimate Dead Bird Quiz Championship title!

Absurd feathery ornaments: not just sexy, but functional!

9 02 2010

These auklets look ridiculous.

The BBC is reporting on a new study in the journal Animal Behavior suggesting that bizarre feathers ornamenting the heads of some seabirds may actually be functional. Long thought to be mere sexual ornamentation serving as advertising to potential mates, crests and whiskers now appear to afford some protection against walking into things in dark places. Many of the species sporting such feathers also happen to breed in dark burrows where “feelers” would be very helpful.

When the feathers were experimentally flattened, the birds walked into walls quite a lot. This strikes the SEANET blogger as a very amusing study in which to participate.

On an unrelated note of shameless self-promotion, don’t forget to tell all your seabird loving friends to visit the blog–our stats are relatively steady, but we have a shot at being in the top 40 sites (out of 900+) on the Nature Blog Network, so visit often and do share the link widely.

The Dennis Minsky show goes national!

4 02 2010

Click on the whale for a story featuring Dennis in the UK's Guardian newspaper

Not that we heard it from the modest Dennis himself. In the course of our average day here in the SEANET office, we were listening to an NPR interview (On Point with tom Ashbrook) with author Philip Hoare. Hoare was touting his new book The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea, when we suddenly heard Seanetter Dennis Minsky’s name. It turns out that Dennis (who is involved in naturalist activities of all sorts in addition to being a faithful SEANET volunteer) had been Hoare’s guide to the whales around Cape Cod. Hoare was quite taken with Dennis’ knowledge and insight, which will not surprise anyone who has met Dennis. If you didn’t catch the show this morning, you can give it a listen at On Point Radio.

Not that we have anything to do with his good works and dedication, but SEANET is inordinately happy about this!

Also, if you would please help our own Dr. Julie Ellis to boost her blog stats it would be much appreciated. Julie has a new post about one of her banded gulls turning up rather unexpectedly.

SEANET covers the waterfront

2 02 2010

A beached Beaked Whale in Florida. (photo by Jerry Golub)

SEANET’s reach is, as many of you already know, extensive, reaching from Maine to Florida (with, admittedly, a few gaps in between.) This past week, two SEANET events of particular note: Jerry Golub, volunteer in New Jersey, is fortunate to visit Florida with some frequency. His beach of choice there (Melbourne Beach, Brevard County) is actually adjacent to the SEANET beach of Martin Vanoy. While down there on vacation, Jerry noticed a local news helicopter and went to find out what was going on. There on the beach was a beaked whale– a very unusual find. Beaked whales do not commonly beach themselves, and researchers from the local Hubbs Sea World Research Institute were taking every opportunity to record data on the animal and hope to glean additional information from samples collected during the autopsy. Click here for a brief video about the whale from the local news in Florida. Jerry makes a cameo appearance in the crowds of interested onlookers!

Meanwhile, SEANET Central (meaning Sarah and Julie) were at the decidedly less warm and less scenic Technology Park in Falmouth, MA. They were attending a meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Bird Conservation Cooperative Workshop (rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?). SEANET participation in last year’s meeting was also featured on the blog. We are always pleased to see how much SEANET is valued by this community of scientists and representatives of federal agencies like NOAA and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It was an intensive few days, focused on preparing grant proposals and concrete plans for furthering the marine bird conservation agenda. We hope all the work will bear fruit, and SEANET will, as usual, keep you posted on any future developments. Especially if SEANET gleans some funding from the endeavor.