Marine opportunities to be seized!

28 04 2011

Opportunity 1: Seanetter Stephen Brezinski in Maine sent along notice of the 2011 Maine Beaches Conference. The conference is slated to take place Friday, July 15th on the campus of Southern Maine Community College, and features a diverse, one-day program ranging from issues of stormwater runoff to beach erosion, to invasive species to shoreline property rights debates. The conference sounds very public-minded, and includes some citizen scientist programs (though SEANET will not be represented) and I encourage all blog readers in Maine or nearby states to check it out. I would most certainly attend, if not for the fact that I will be on Appledore Island banding Maine gulls that week.

Opportunity 2: Your SEANET blogger has the inside track on the workings of the Conservation Law Foundation here in New England (her husband, Christophe Courchesne, is a lawyer in their Concord, NH office.) CLF’s Ocean Program is in search of an intern. The position would be Boston based, and the ad is as follows:

“The Ocean program is looking for a media and communications intern to assist with research for the new Talking Fish blog, expanding and organizing a collection of compelling photos, managing social media feeds for Talking Fish, and other tasks as necessary. The job description is online here: If you know someone who might be interested, please encourage them to apply to We are asking for applications by Friday, May 6, 2011.”

Hmmm…maybe the SEANET blogger should pursue this. Internships are always extremely lucrative, after all.

They’re at it again (pelicans).

26 04 2011

First off, my thanks to Mary Wright who should really be the one running our Dead Bird Quiz. She posted a comment with a good lead on an additional source for culmen lengths. Aside from our own Beached Bird Field Guide, I generally refer to Cornell University’s Birds of North America for linear measurements. For many species, however, the BNA’s data are incomplete, and I am most grateful for Mary’s input on the matter. Also, her point is well taken regarding the raptor in the most recent DBQ: measurements would go a long way toward ruling in or out a species. Mary takes issue with my assertion that the bird was a young Red-tailed Hawk, and I would genuinely like to know, Mary–what would you suspect it is? (I am merely a veterinarian who likes birds. Mary is truly a birder.)

A volunteer examines one of the dead pelicans on Topsail Beach.

As for today’s actual “news,” today’s post will sound depressingly familiar to many of you. The most recent post on the subject was back in March when I updated you on the numerous dead pelicans turning up on Topsail Beach in North Carolina. That last batch of birds was found in December of last year, and autopsies on the birds suggested that they may have drowned in fishing nets. The birds turning up now appear to have broken wings and most of them are turning up on the southern end of Topsail Beach. A couple of birds were captured alive, but had to be euthanized due to the severity of their wing injuries. Several birds from this recent event have been submitted to the Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Survey (SCWDS) for autopsies, and SEANET will report those results as soon as we hear of them. In the meantime, we hope that the folks in the Topsail Beach area continue to keep their eyes and their minds open about the situation. While the current mortality event may be due to the same causes as the last one, something entirely different may be at work this time. We hope the fine pathologists at SCWDS can work their magic on this one.

Dead Bird (and other) Quiz Answers

21 04 2011

Only one taker on this quiz; Libby Rock sent this email:

“Here are some wild surmises for the EXCELLENT dead bird quiz this week.

Bird A:  Thomas says Great Blue Heron; I’ll go along with that.

Bird B: I say Cooper’s Hawk; Thomas says Harrier.

Other dead thing: I say Harbor Seal; T concurs.”

Not bad, Libby and Thomas. Bird A is a bit tricky. The shape of the beak and the sheer length of the neck (note the drinking-straw like trachea trailing off to the left) suggest a heron like bird. The reported culmen length of 97mm is rather large, but not quite into Great Blue Heron territory, which sport bills of 130-150mm. While it is somewhat difficult to accurately measure culmen in a mummified skull-head like this, 40mm would be quite a large way off. What of other herons then? Black-crowned Night Herons have culmen lengths between 73 and 84mm (a bit small) and Great Egrets lie between 104-116mm (still a bit large). Outside of herons, what other possibilities are there? We must entertain the loons with a chisel-like bill like this, and their culmen lengths are closer: 74-91mm. But take a look at these photos:

Common Loon: The bill looks about equal to, if not slightly shorter than, the head.

Great Blue Heron: Bill is substantially longer than the head itself.

The loon’s head is a good deal blockier than the heron’s, and the bill appears deeper than the more spear-like heron bill. So certainly, we appear to be dealing with a heron species in our Bird A. Based on the culmen length, and without any plumage to examine, Great Egret appears closest to the mark, so let us go with that.

As for Bird B, Cooper’s Hawk was one of my initial guesses as well, based on the barred tail. But on closer inspection, particularly of the feet, it appears that this bird is a member of the buteo group, rather than the accipiter group. Buteos, such as Red-tailed Hawks and Red-shouldered hawks, are generally heavier bodied, with much more robust feet. Accipiters, like Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks, are overall slimmer, and their toes and talons are particularly long and slender. Accipiters tend to prey on birds, while buteos tend more toward rodentine prey. Bird B looks to me most like a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. When young, this species lacks the eponymous rusty red tail, and instead sports a brown, barred tail.

A living juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk. Note the barred tail.

Buteo foot versus accipiter foot. Bird B appears more the former.

Finally, other dead thing. Yes, a seal. Beyond that, I profess no particular knowledge. Barbara Grunden, who found the specimen, tells me that a professional from the marine mammal stranding outfit up there in Maine told her it was a Grey Seal pup. All I know about seals can be summed up thusly: Harbor Seals are very cute. Grey Seals are kind of creepy looking. Now THAT is scientific. So I will defer to the pro and say Grey Seal pup.

Dead Bird Quiz Plus

14 04 2011

Two dead birds and a dead not bird for you today.
Take a guess and post as a comment. Official word from on high will come early next week.

To my Massachusetts and Maine friends, Happy Patriots’ Day weekend; we bow our heads in memory of those brave minutemen.

Bird A: Found by Ruthellen Piepert in Florida on February 25. Culmen: 97mm.

Bird B: Found by Linda McCallum in Massachusetts on March 19.

Other Dead Thing: Found by Barbara and Charlie Grunden on April 9.

SEANET and college students hit the beach–woooo! Spring Break!

13 04 2011

Our own Dr. Julie Ellis (blue coat) holds these students in her thrall!

OK, it wasn’t THAT sort of trip. Julie Ellis and I headed out to Revere Beach in Massachusetts today (just north of Boston) to meet up with Tufts University’s OneHealth class. 20+ undergraduates joined us for a mini-beach walk and staged carcass encounters.

We are extremely grateful to Seanetters Linda McCallum and John Galluzzo, and SEANET alum Andreas Eleftheriou. The three of them made the trip to Revere to give their individual perspectives on our program and what it means to them. Having already made the basic commitment to SEANET walks, they have now gone above and beyond and have attained the status of SEANET superstars.

While they spoke, Julie and I raced about burying a trash bag’s worth of carcasses in the sand. After this comically surreptitious activity, the students worked in small groups to locate, unearth, and identify the birds. They put the Beached Bird Field Guide to good use, and did an excellent job identifying the species despite having little, if any, birding experience.

Even the most squeamish among the students sidled up eventually.

The students asked thoughtful and thought-provoking questions, and I hope they had as much fun as we did. They also were compelled to check out the blog as part of their course, and had a great many complimentary things to say about it, for which I am sincerely grateful.
Thanks finally to Gretchen Kaufman and Michael Reed, the course directors who showed dubious judgment in inviting us out. We hope you are not now slumped over a bar somewhere trying to erase the episode from your scarred minds.

The Tufts One Health crew!

Cruising for the eiders

7 04 2011

I failed to post anything on the blog earlier this week, and I will blame a prolonged recovery from a most excellent event this past weekend. The local (Massachusetts) chapter of Delta Waterfowl, a duck hunters’ organization, hosted a fundraising cruise of Boston Harbor on Sunday. Bill Lyons, the group’s chair, generously invited yours truly to speak briefly to the group about the common eider die-offs on Cape Cod and the current status of our research. Local chapters of Delta are permitted to contribute a portion of the money they raise to regional conservation efforts, and our research is one such endeavor they are interested in funding.

The next steps in our eider research program involve a good deal of field work, including capturing live eiders in the Boston Harbor area and obtaining blood samples from them to test for antibodies to a virus that seems to be a major cause of the recurrent die-offs in these birds. Not only has Delta committed to helping fund the work, local duck hunter Jack Renfrew (known generally as Capt. Jack) has offered his boat and guide services for the project. Jack has been committed to this study since the start and we are excited about the prospect of working with him and with Delta, and getting a few interested hunters out into the field with us to see conservation research in action.

While my fellow wildlife veterinarians and my conservation-minded friends often look at me incredulously when I describe my affiliation with hunters and hunters’ groups, I say from personal experience that these folks are among the most dedicated conservationists I know. It’s hardly as incongruous a partnership as it may seem. Hunters spend more time outside than most anyone I know, and they rely on healthy game populations and healthy habitats to maintain those populations. That combination produces a whole lot of people with incredible natural history knowledge and a commitment to preserving the ecological communities where they hunt.

"Old Ironsides" as seen from the Delta cruise.

Your blogger wants to thank Bill and all the folks on the Delta cruise for a beautiful day out on the water. My son, Malcolm, came along for the ride, and was delighted by the sights, most particularly the U.S.S. Constitution  and the underside of the planes taking off from Logan Airport. A good time was had by all, I am quite convinced.