“Beached” live birds: how bad is bad enough?

30 09 2010

While most beached birds reported by Seanetters are dead, we occasionally receive reports of sick or injured live birds, and it can be difficult to determine which of these qualify as beached. Here, I attempt to offer you some basic guidelines, using some recent examples.

The first is a Brant found by Ron and Jean Bourque who walk on Long Island. Ron reported a live Brant in a recent walk that had a fishing lure apparently embedded in its side. Ron included a photo, and noted that he had seen the same bird three months prior and photographed it then too. The photo from this month shows that, while weathered, the lure does indeed appear to be the same one seen lodged in the unfortunate Brant in June. For the purposes of the database, we have considered this bird “beached.” The bird appears to be surviving reasonably well despite its unpleasant adornment, and some might argue that it is not, therefore, beached. But since the injury is so distinctive, we can be somewhat certain that the bird will not be reported at a later date as a newly injured specimen. By contrast, the Brant standing behind the lure-bird with an injured wing in the second photo does not have a distinctive enough appearance to be included in the database as beached. After all, it would be impossible for Ron and Jean to recognize that particular bird in the future, and it could therefore be re-reported and inflate our statistics on injured specimens. Still, neither of these birds appears “beached” in the classic sense. They both seem able, at least to this point, to compensate for their injuries. It remains to be seen what happens to them when harsher weather sets in in the coming months.

Another instance of the live-beached bird conundrum arose this month up in Maine where Helen Rasmussen walks in Portland. Helen has found two injured Semi-Palmated Sandpipers in the past few weeks. The first was debilitated enough to be captured and transported to the Center for Wildlife in York, Maine where it had to be euthanized due to irreparable  shoulder damage. This bird was clearly “beached” for our purposes; it was bad off enough to be caught, and since it was removed from the beach, it will not be re-counted on subsequent walks.

The second sandpiper Helen reported, however, appeared to be getting around reasonably well despite lacking most of its left foot. From Helen’s photo, the injury seems to be well healed, and the bird, though slipping a bit on the rocks, seemed to be compensating well. We elected not to consider this bird beached, and indeed, our volunteers report many partial or complete amputees of various species that seem to be making a successful living out there (especially gulls).

Semi-palmated Sandpiper missing most of its left foot. The injury appears old. (photo by H. Rasmussen)

The last category of live, beached birds is more clear-cut: species that don’t have any business being on a beach in the first place. Species like loons, shearwaters and other tubenoses, and alcids (murres, dovekie, etc) do not belong on land outside the breeding season, so if you find such a species alive on your beach, you should feel confident reporting that bird as beached.

Of course, every case is unique, and, as always, we encourage you to contact us if you have a question about what qualifies as a beached bird. Operators are standing by.

A rousing game of…gull ball?

28 09 2010

Connecticut volunteer Hugh Sokolski, our man on CT_10, observed a rather amusing thing on his beach last week. He writes, “For your amusement, attached are photos of a herring gull playing with a tennis ball on beach CT_10 during my walk on 9/19/10. A few other gulls tried to get it, but they were unsuccessful. The scene was a little like a bird football game.”

Thanks for the photos, Hugh! And check back on Thursday, everyone, for more on matters involving live birds on SEANET beaches. You folks have been seeing some interesting stuff out there…

Dead Bird Quiz: One good tern deserves another

23 09 2010

Clearly you all enjoy tern identification about as much as I do, which is not at all. We only had one taker on this one: Libby Rock offered a guess, writing,

1. Nice tail. Common Tern?

2. Gull-like, but not quite a gull bill…? Another tern maybe?

First of all, thank you, Libby, for your compliments on my tail. I didn’t think anyone noticed. And yes, the first bird was a Common Tern. The Common Tern is often referred to as the “typical” tern; not too big, not too small, fits in your carry-on luggage. The species is quite widespread, found on rivers, lakes and ocean environments during the breeding season and migration in North America. It winters along the South American coast. I would like to share this tid-bit regarding the species, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

“The incubating adult Common Tern flies off its nest to defecate 5-50 m (16-160 ft) away. It deposits its feces indiscriminately in nearby water or on the territories of other terns.”

Bird A was a Common Tern. Note extensive black in the primaries.

In terms of identification, our Bird A is an adult, and they sport a black cap and an orange-red bill. While the forked tail is generally quite long, it usually does not extend past the wingtips when the bird is resting. This is in contrast to the similar Arctic Tern, which has a tail that usually extends beyond the wingtips. In flight, the best field mark to use is a nearly translucent triangle on the outer wing which is made more prominent by the dark primaries and secondaries that surround it.

Bird B, on the other hand, is not what one might term a “typical” tern. As Libby pointed out, the bird seems somewhat gull-like, and this species, the Caspian Tern, has a heavier body and broader wings than any other North American tern. In fact, it is the Largest Tern in the WORLD!

Bird B was a Caspian Tern. Note the stocky body and heavy bill.

Caspian Terns are generally only seen in the Northeast during their migration. Southern Seanetters may see them during the winter, especially along the Georgia coast and in south Florida. Caspians can be seen all year-round along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Dead Bird Quiz

21 09 2010

Bird A: Found in New York by Tony Luscombe in August.

Bird B: Found by Cheryl Kanes in Georgia on August 25.

Good afternoon, Seanetters! I had planned something else for today’s post, but I ended up spending the morning inverted in a dentist’s chair under heavy doses of Novocaine. Thus, I resort to a Dead Bird Quiz, which is long overdue anyway.

Offer your guesses as a comment, and the answers will be revealed on Thursday!

SEANET talk tonight!

16 09 2010

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

The SEANET blogger is gearing up this afternoon for a presentation at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield, MA. This talk is a continuation of our recruiting blitz in Massachusetts and we’re hoping a few brave souls will commit to joining our efforts. If you’re in the neighborhood, the presentation begins at 7pm. We’d love to see you there. Thanks to the Sanctuary’s Sue Baeslack for setting up this talk and spreading the word to bird lovers throughout Massachusetts!

On an unrelated note, your blogger has a confession to make. Julie Ellis has been swamped with work lately, and I offered to keep up her blog for her. Julie’s blog, The Gulls of Appledore, shares records of sightings of her banded gulls, and just this week I’ve posted a couple of stories on her behalf. So take a read, Seanetters.

Blog readers provide blog fodder

14 09 2010

Today I want to highlight a couple of comments we received on the blog after the posts from Canada last week. The first comes from the Public Relations Director of the Butchart Gardens where the SEANET blogger spent a gorgeous day evading responsibility. Though I know that SEANET blog readers are well aware of the life-altering power of dead birds, Mr. Bell wrote,
“Mr. Butchart (whose wife Jennie had the vision for The Gardens) told his great grandson that they’d been in England and planned to take the Titanic back to North America. Shortly before their departure he received word from home that one of his favorite ornamental birds had died. As the bird had originally been obtained from Germany he decided to postpone their return voyage and head to Germany to obtain another bird. His wife waited on in England until he returned. So basically a dead bird saved the Butcharts.”

Brightly colored plastics and rope woven into gannet nests (photo by H. Breder).

We also received a comment on my post about the Marine Debris session at the World Seabird Conference. Birder Hilke Breder, who writes the blog One Jackdaw Birding, posted a comment pointing out the issue of plastic and rope being incorporated into the nests of Northern Gannets. Breder observed this phenomenon during a visit to a gannet colony in the North Sea.

One thing that became very clear from the presentations at the Marine Debris session was the extreme global variability in marine debris deposition and resulting impacts on marine life. SEANET colleagues who have visited Northern Gannet colonies in North America have not reported or documented plastic or other trash in gannet nests at anywhere near the levels seen by Breder on her North Sea trip.

Northern Fulmars in the North Sea also seem to ingest more plastic than birds in other parts of the world, and work presented at the Seabird Conference suggests that the source of this plastic is local, rather than arriving on currents from distant oceans.

The SEANET blogger admits that this is the first she has heard of the issue of gannets being fatally entangled by foreign material in their own nests. We thank Hilke Breder for her comment and for bringing this issue to light to more of the seabird community.

SEANET blogger heads home, seabird conference goes on.

11 09 2010

Your SEANET blogger writes to you this late evening from SEATAC airport en route home to New Hampshire. I leave behind our own Dr. Julie Ellis who will remain at the World Seabird Conference until its bitter, bitter end (a day-long whale watch).

A grainy photo of Julie Ellis and Christa Mulder. It was nearly impossible to get closer--these two are like rock stars.

Julie is now free to enjoy both the conference and the majesty of Vancouver Island since she wrapped up her symposium yesterday. The symposium, entitled “Seabird Island Ecology and Restoration: a global synthesis” was co-convened by Christa Mulder, and was the culmination of a number of years of work by the SEAPRE (Seabird Islands and Introduced Predators) Network. That group, made up of ecologists, botanists, soil scientists, marine ornithologists and a motley crew of other sorts of scientists has been meeting and working diligently toward the ultimate goal of creating a book on the subject of seabird island restoration. It appears they are on the verge of success as their book is slated for publication.

The group also produced a DVD on the topic which is suitable for lay audiences of many ages and educational attainments, so if you or someone you know and love is a teacher, or any other interested party, the DVD is free and you can find out more by getting in touch with the SEAPRE folks through their website.

In other news from the World Seabird Conference, your blogger was most gratified to catch up with two Dead Bird Quiz superstars: John “Quick Draw” Stanton, and Mary “Dark Horse” Wright. Hope to see you both on the blog again soon!

The sunken garden at Butchart Gardens. Spectacular.

Finally, a confession. Your blogger bailed on the latter part of the conference program yesterday to visit the jewel in the crown of Vancouver Island: the Butchart Gardens. Though seething with noisy tourists who seemed to have little interest in gardens generally, the site was well worth the visit, and the day was flawless.

Next week, it’s back to the hard labor of the day to day SEANET grind, and, I hope a new Dead Bird Quiz. I will have to peruse your latest finds, Seanetters. Thanks for bearing with your blogger through a few weeks of irregular postings. We will be back on line from here on out!

SEANET has landed in Canada!

8 09 2010

Ferry arrives in Victoria's Harbour (one must spell that way in Canada).

After a 20 hour trip involving a bus, a plane, light rail line, ferry, and foot, your SEANET blogger at last arrived in Victoria on Vancouver Island in Canada. It is apparently a beautiful place, though all your blogger has seen of it thus far has been the ferry terminal and the inside of the conference hall. SEANET (both Sarah Courchesne and Julie Ellis) are here to attend the 1st World Seabird Conference, and this morning has been filled with presentations on the topic of marine debris, most notably plastics, and its effects on seabirds across the globe. SEANET hopes to add to that conversation with some of the work we have done on Greater Shearwaters.

Tomorrow, Julie will co-chair her symposium on seabird colony restoration, and she has been frenzied with work on that daunting project. Hopefully, both of us will manage a bit of tourism before we head back to New England.

The view from the World Seabird Conference.

At the moment, the presentations are about to start up again, but look for another post before my departure to Boston on Friday.

Julie Ellis, Julie Ellis!

2 09 2010

Conservation Magazine has recently run a feature article on the emergence of drug-resistant infections in marine life. Our own Dr. Julie Ellis is interviewed regarding her research on the role of gulls in the transmission of infectious bacteria. Check out the article and also peruse the many other articles at Conservation Magazine’s beautifully designed site.

Julie also made an appearance on the blog of science writer Carl Zimmer (Julie is shown in the included photo as a large hat with arms holding a young gull).

Much in demand, our own Dr. Ellis will be jet-setting out to Victoria, British Columbia next week for the first annual World Seabird Conference where she will be heading up her own symposium on seabird restoration. She has kindly asked your SEANET blogger to accompany her to carry her bags and genuflect frequently.

Next time you read this blog, it’ll be from the west coast of Canada. Hilarity is sure to ensue, so stay tuned.