Dead Bird Quiz answers

30 12 2010

Dorsal wing of a female Ring-necked Pheasant; looks suspiciously similar to this week's Bird A.

Thank you to Juliet Lamb, whose mother, Diana originally found this bird. Juliet suggested that Bird A was most likely a Ring-necked Pheasant female, and even double-checked the wing chord of the specimen, which also matches the species. And our database manager, Megan Hines, sent us a link to a very cool site run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Their feather atlas is a very thorough resource that’s worth checking out if you’re stumped by a bird on your beach, or in your backyard for that matter. Based on a review of that site, Megan concurred with Juliet. And I do as well. Bird A definitely looks good for a Ring-necked Pheasant.

Bird B continues to confound even the most educated and seasoned Seanetter. Adding to the confusion, similar specimens have been seen all over the world, and appear to include both free-living, wild populations and domesticated individuals (see photo).

Though clearly not the same species, but potentially of the same genus, two birds with similar plumage were discovered on a beach in Maine this year and included in an earlier Dead Bird Quiz.

In any case, Juliet Lamb probably summed this case up best, writing, “I have no idea, but I’m awfully fond of it.”

A captive specimen resembling our Bird B.

Dead Bird Quiz: the last of the year!

28 12 2010

The SEANET blogger is making a genuine plea for your help today. The two birds in today’s quiz have me positively stumped. Please offer your thoughts to save these birds from oblivion in the “Other, Unknown” category of our database! The first bird was found by Diana Gaumond on her beach in Brewster on Cape Cod. I really have no idea what this is.

Bird A, upper wings found by Diana Gaumond on Cape Cod this month. Wing chord: 21cm.

Bird A, underwings.

The second bird, found by Mary Myers, also on Cape Cod (same beach, in fact; Mary and Diana alternate walks there) reportedly had a wing chord of 2cm and a culmen of 0.5cm. Mary included this note with her report: “This specimen (#4 of the day) was found near the [dead] merganser. Very small hole in breast may be cause of mortality. This is the first bird of this kind I’ve ever found on WB_02!! Couldn’t find it in Beached Birds book.” I bet not.

Bird B: Found by Mary Myers on Cape Cod.

Our gift to you: the new SEANET website!

23 12 2010

Due to a woeful lack of web savvy on the part of Drs. Courchesne and Ellis here at SEANET, we have been without a formal website for some time. While this blog has proven an excellent forum for updates, news, and communication within the growing SEANET community, we needed something a bit less casual and irreverent, and more, dare I say, professional? And so, this holiday season, we unveil for you the SEANET website!

The blog will continue to be the place to go for the latest and greatest in SEANET topics, but you may notice a few changes. Features like the Volunteer Toolkit will now be on the website, as will some new resources, like state by state listings of wildlife rehabilitation facilities and marine mammal stranding groups.

And please, this Christmas, don’t forget to give to SEANET! Check out the Donate page on our new website to see how. We make no secret of our tenuous finances, and every little bit really does help.

Many thanks to Dave Susco, Tufts IT wizard, who helped us immensely with the site and was incredibly responsive to our many demands and requests.

Please check out our new site and tell us what you think!

Dead bird quiz answer…ish

21 12 2010

Well, some fine guesses on this one: Dennis himself thought Bufflehead, initially, except for a wing chord of 22cm–certainly too large for the diminutive Bufflehead, which averages 14-18cm. This is if Dennis’ wing chord measurement is to believed, which it is, given his consistently accurate measurements.

So, some other possibilities must be entertained. Diana Gaumond suggested American Oystercatcher, which certainly does sport stark black and white wing plumage. But the Oystercatcher’s white wing patch extends to cover more of the upper wing than our specimen. John Stanton asserts Red-breasted Merganser, hedging with Bufflehead if the specimen were too small to be a Merganser. Well indeed, the 22cm measurement places Dennis’ specimen squarely in the Red-breasted Merganser range. Dennis expressed some trepidation over this identification, as he did not detect much of a black wing bar within the white wing patch, which is usually rather striking in the merganser. Agreed, the bar is not extremely prominent in this bird.

I will offer some side by side shots of our specimen and the Red-breasted Merganser (photos borrowed from the excellent University of Puget Sound’s web archive of spread wings). Any thoughts? Please also check out the other images at the site and suggest any other additional ideas. We, here at SEANET, learn a great deal from these discussions, not being experts in this field ourselves, but being exclusively self-taught.

Dorsum of Dennis' specimen

Dorsal wing, Red-breasted Merganser female.

Ventrum of Dennis' specimen.

Ventral wing, Red-breasted merganser female.

Dead thing answer, and new Dead Bird Quiz

18 12 2010

Dennis Minsky is right as usual: the mystery creature in the last post is a skate. The specimen is rather mangled, and even if it were not, I would profess no skills at skate identification. I was going to post a photo of one of our Atlantic skate species, the Little Skate, here, but I have not received the permission of the photographer, and the blog must go on! Also, we have recently received some unfriendly mail from photographers who did not want their images used by SEANET. So your blogger is a bit gun shy at the moment. In any case, the photo was to be from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s excellent Ichthyology site, and I refer you to that for information on Atlantic skate species. Seanetters find skates on the beaches not infrequently, so you too may encounter one of these very cool animals. That is, if the gulls don’t devour it first.

Today's Dead Bird Quiz has spawned some contentious debate.

Dennis has also provided additional fodder for today’s post. He found some wings on a recent walk in Provincetown, MA and asked for expert opinions on the i.d. since it didn’t quite seem to fit any of the area’s species. The expert opinions are in, but there is still no truly satisfying answer on this one, so we’d like to get some opinions from the general SEANET community. Offer them as comments, and we will continue the discussion next week.

Beach oddities north and south

14 12 2010

Sand sculpture featuring the iconic seabird strangled by sixpack ring.

Your SEANET blogger, being a life-long New Englander, is generally untroubled by the cold and wind. That is, until people like the incomparable Ray Bosse abandon our region for balmier climes and send back photos just to torture me. Ray visited the Sarasota, Florida area and sent this photo of a sand sculpture constructed on Anna Maria island for a competition. The subject matter is close to many a Seanetters heart, encouraging beachgoers to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Mysterious sea creature from the deep. What do you think, Seanetters? (photo by L. McCallum)

Back up north, Seanetter Linda McCallum, found a sea creature on her Massachusetts beach. She sent it along, and I, in turn, present it to you Seanetters as a variation on the Dead Bird Quiz theme. Any thoughts on its identity?

Dead Black Scoters: a bumper crop this year?

9 12 2010

Adult male Black Scoter. Photo by Maggie Komosinksi in RI.

In addition to the expected spate of dead eiders in October, we’ve been getting reports this winter of what seems a larger than usual number of dead Black Scoters. Never common on SEANET beaches, an “unusually high” number of the species would be about a dozen or so across all SEANET beaches for the entire winter season. The birds are only found by our northeastern Seanetters, although the species’ wintering grounds apparently extend as far south as northern Florida.

Adult female Black Scoter. Note small amount of yellow around nostril and at bill margin. Found by Libby Rock on Buzzard's Bay. MA.

Last year, from November to February, we had only six Black Scoters reported on SEANET beaches (all from Long Island northward). So far this winter, we have already had ten formally reported. In addition, Seanetters and affiliated dead bird enthusiasts, have reported approximately 15-20 dead scoters on non-SEANET beaches from northern Massachusetts to Cape Cod Bay. When this winter winds down in February, we’ll have to see if the final tally of Black Scoters is really all that high for the year.

In the meantime, keep the species in mind if you find a small, black, duck-ish looking thing. While the adult male’s yellow bill knob is distinctive, it can be very difficult to differentiate adult females from immatures (of both sexes). Mature females may show a small amount of yellow around the nostril, and the breast tends to be darker in adult females. Immatures generally have a lighter breast.

Please keep an eye out, and pass along any informal encounters with scoters for our rough tally. SEANET will let you know in the Spring whether or not this was truly a good year for scoters. Or at least for scoter scouts. I suppose it’s not a good year for the dead scoters themselves.

Presumably an immature Black Scoter, unknown sex. No yellow on bill. Found by Linda McCallum on Plum Island, MA.

Well, today’s a wash.

7 12 2010

No substantive blogging on seabird topics today, my friends. Your SEANET blogger has been placed under house arrest by a sick 18 month old. He is a tyrant, and, unfortunately, has moved from the lethargic phase to the “I’m feeling much better; I want to play but also whine and smear mucus on you” phase.

Thursday I will be back on the blog with something interesting to say. Hopefully. Until then, I offer you this photograph of the scene in the SEANET blogger’s living room last night, during the 18th consecutive viewing of The Lion King.

Sick day.

That’s one disturbing story about pelicans.

2 12 2010

Some of the survivors of the recent spate of attacks on pelicans. These birds are recuperating at a NC wildlife rehabilitation center.

Over the past several weeks, over 25 pelicans have been found dead on North Topsail Beach in North Carolina. Examination of the birds revealed a variety of injuries that appear to have been intentionally inflicted by humans. Some of the birds had been shot, some had their wingtips smashed, some had their pouches slit, and others had the tendons of their wings severed. Even the birds that survived the initial attacks often had to be euthanized because the nature of their injuries would make survival in the wild impossible.

Officials from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission speculate that the birds are being injured and killed on boats in international waters and then tossed overboard. Pelicans will approach fishing vessels quite closely seeking food and can be readily caught by boaters bent on harming the birds. While pelicans are protected by federal law, there is little officials can do in this instance without an eyewitness account of how the birds were injured.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

While this story is unsettling and quite sad, it is not uncommon. Birds like gulls and cormorants are targets of abuse as well, and your SEANET blogger has seen and treated numerous seabirds that had suffered gunshot wounds, and one that had been shot through the wing with an arrow. Why these birds seem to engender such inhumane abuse is beyond my poor powers of imagination, but we hope against hope that those responsible for these attacks on the pelicans will be identified and prosecuted.