SEANET returns to the mainland

25 05 2011

Gull trappers Cassie Biron and Justin Stilwell at work.

After nearly a full week of unmitigated bad weather, your SEANET blogger/part-time gull bander is back in mainland New Hampshire to regale you with tales of our exploits on Appledore Island. While much of the week remained cold, raw, and rainy, we got one good day for banding and the team was raring to go. UNH undergraduates Justin and Cassie worked the traps tirelessly, and we banded 22 birds in one day. After that, the weather took a turn again and banding activities ceased through much of the weekend.

On the sole good day we had, the team ventured out to Sandpiper Beach on the west side of the island. While I was crouching in the rocks awaiting the delivery of birds from the traps, I looked down to find around 15 of the sewage disks that were discharged into the Merrimack River from a waste treatment facility in Hooksett, NH. These things really get around; I first shared the story with you, dear readers, back in March when the release first occurred. Nothing like plastic that’s been stewing in human waste to sully a lovely beach.

Now, the usual humdrum SEANET routine sets in again, and content will again revert to the more interesting activities of Seanetters in the field.

My deep thanks to the entire gull wrangling crew–Tracy Holmes, Rob Crooks, Bill Clark, Justin Stilwell, and Cassie Biron. You were all (mostly) uncomplaining in the face of challenging conditions, and I was pleased with what we were able to accomplish. Thank you!

Dead birds need jobs too!

20 05 2011

The "Ghost Gull" hard at work.

Another cold, raw, wet day out here on Appledore Island. We got a few hours of dim sunshine and a respite from the winds yesterday afternoon, and were able to band gulls for a short stint. This morning, the winds have picked up again, and the fog has settled over us. But even here, we can’t avoid dead birds. One high profile dead bird has even been put to work: here on Appledore, there is a bustling bird banding station. The banders run several nets set up in the brush, and in one of the lanes they use, a gull had made its nest. The banders have attempted to move the nest to a lower traffic location, and to deter the bird from returning to its accustomed spot, they have set up a dead gull effigy. Now termed the “Ghost Gull,” he never tires, never complains, but just stands guard, wordlessly. My respect for dead birds is ever waxing.

Follow up on last week’s dead bird quiz!

18 05 2011

Stephen Brezinski, who found what appeared to be a Wild Turkey wing on his Maine beach (featured in last week’s DBQ) has sent us a picture of this rare bird in life: Turkus marinus, the marine turkey, seen in this photo frolicking in the surf, as is its wont.

Stephen and Roberta sent this email to accompany the photo documentation:

“Hi Sarah,

We finally think we identified the carcass of the beached bird we found during our last walk on Winslow Park!   The rare Turkus Marinus (see attached photo), a rather rare wading coastal bird native to Maine which is found most commonly nesting off the Island of Dr. Moreau, just north of Bar Harbor.

We hope you (continue to) have a great and interesting day.

Stephen & Roberta Brezinski”

They additionally pointed out that, “The empty can of cranberry sauce next to the carcass should have been a dead giveaway.”


SEANET savors Spring off the coast of Maine.

17 05 2011

The view from the safety of indoor environs on Appledore Island.

The chill has settled into the bones of your SEANET blogger as she writes this post from Appledore Island in Maine. Helping out with the gull banding project of one Julie Ellis, I crossed the roiling waters from Portsmouth, NH, avoiding vomiting through sheer force of will. Now, a nasty weather system seems to have hunkered down over us here, and we can’t do a whole lot of banding in these conditions–taking the birds off their eggs in cold, wet, weather can place the developing embryos at risk.

So, our team is waiting out these conditions and hoping for better days ahead. Look forward to posts with more action and excitement later this week, I hope.

Dead Bird Quiz answers

12 05 2011

Well, I held out as long as I could, hoping someone would offer up some guesses on this quiz. Alas, no takers. So here’s the deal on these two birds.

Bird A, in my humble opinion, is a wild turkey. Compare the remains in the previous post with this image from the Puget Sound database of spread wings.

Nearly extirpated from North America by the 1900s, reintroduction programs beginning in the 1940s were so successful that the birds not only re-established themselves in their previous range, but expanded their presence into entirely new areas. Though much more widespread in the eastern U.S., Alaska is the only one of the 50 states that is wild turkey free. Which is no way to be, in this New Englander’s opinion.

Wild Turkey wing. Note the heavily barred appearance of the primaries and secondaries.

Now, Bird B. A very duckish face on this one. Though I am stretching the truth a bit to say that Bird B even has a face. What we’ve got here is a bill on a skeletal head, then the entire spine, and even the synsacrum, which is the fused pelvis and lower vertebrae in birds. The bill suggests one of our more common ducks–likely a mallard or American black duck. How to narrow it down from there?

Female mallards have a yellow to orange bill with variable dark splotches. Not consistent with our Bird B. In male mallards, the bill is a clean yellow with a black tip in breeding birds, and a yellow to greenish color in males not in breeding plumage.

Male mallard in eclipse (non-breeding) plumage. Bill is greenish yellow.

So non-breeding male mallard is a possibility here. How about that black duck though? There isn’t a whole lot of difference in appearance between the sexes in this species, and in both, the bill ranges from yellowish to greenish gray, but is overall muddier in color than is typical for mallards. Additionally, culmen length in female American black ducks range from 45-53mm, so Bird B’s 50mm culmen falls in that range (the males are bigger, ranging from 52-58mm).

If forced to place money on the identity of Bird B, I would place my bet on female black duck. But I invite your queries and challenges on that.

American black duck: our Bird B?

Dead Bird Quiz: thoroughly mangled edition

5 05 2011

Bird A: Found by S. Brezinski in Maine last month.

Bird A was reported by Seanetter Stephen Brezinski, who appended a note reading “Our first bird corpse!” As I told him, I can never find a greeting card that expresses the right sentiment on this occasion, and so, I am featuring said corpse on today’s quiz instead. No measurements on this one, but to give you a rough sense of scale, the ruler in the photo is about 6 inches long.

Bird B was found by Dianne Salmonsen who walks in Ipswich, MA. We have a culmen length on this one, but, for obvious reasons, no other measurements. I know you Seanetters will be undaunted, so please, bring on the answers!

Bird B: Found by D. Salmonsen. Culmen 50mm.

SEANET on the road to Connecticut

4 05 2011

My sincere thanks to Lorrie Shaw and the Menunkatuck Audubon Society down in the New Haven area of Connecticut for hosting the SEANET dog and pony show last yesterday evening. Your SEANET blogger was most gratified to speak to an extremely enthusiastic, receptive and, by SEANET standards, HUGE, crowd! Several of the folks in attendance may be real, live SEANET recruits, including two high school students with interests in wildlife biology and ornithology. Perfect!

The Menunkatuck folks even fed me cookies, and some cider from the local Bishop’s Orchards. Delicious stuff. And as if the cider and cookies weren’t sufficient reward, they even made a most generous donation to SEANET! Your SEANET blogger had a marvelous time, truly, meeting you folks at the very darling Guilford Free Library. Thank you to all who attended, and hopefully we’ll be posting embarrassing photos of you soon on your SEANET beaches!

To cap off the glory, your blogger also delivered eight monofilament recycling receptacles which will be distributed to various sites throughout the area. All in all, a complete success!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all in attendance and to Lorrie and the Menunkatuckites!