I am trying to write intelligibly despite the maddening itch of a gazillion black fly bites. (The black fly being the state bird here in New Hampshire.) In any case, we got a formal guess on this week’s quiz from my dear, good sport of a friend, Sarah Kern, who is not even a Seantter, but who is a dead animal enthusiast. Her guesses (Double crested cormorant and eider) mirror all the emailed guesses I got from people too shy to post their guesses on the blog. HAHA! I have fooled you all! Both birds here were quite tricky though. Bird A is a Greater Shearwater. How can I tell? Well, the tube structure on the bill is just barely visible in this photo. The head does, at first glance, look like a cormorant, but that seems to be because all the feathering and skin have decomposed in the chin area, causing it to resemble the chin patch of a cormorant. Other clues that this is a shearwater are the feet. Shearwater feet are rather dainty, and fold up into a very slender bundle of grayish toes. Cormorants, on the other hand, have robust, black feet with all toes being webbed. Their feet never really fold up and look as skinny as the feet of the shearwater in this photo. Finally, cormorants have an all black wing, including the underwing. Greater shearwaters have a black upperwing and white underneath.
Summer is the time that Greater Shearwaters (which breed in the southern hemisphere) come up to our waters for vacation. In some years, we see sizeable numbers of the birds washing up dead on east coast beaches from Florida to Massachusetts. We’ll see if this specimen is an early indicator that this will be such a year.
Bird B is a Long-tailed Duck (at least by my reckoning), but could easily be confused with an eider. A duck with striking black and white plumage should always bring to mind a male Common Eider. But our Bird B is too small. The wing chord in this guy is only 22.5cm. Common Eider wings range from 25-30cm. Aside from that, our Bird B has a rusty brown color to the underwing coverts. While live bird field guides generally show the underwing of Long-tailed Ducks being all dark, those of us who spend time in the company of dead birds know that the brown color can be appreciated up close, and when the bird is lying upside down in the sun.
The other telling detail is the black band running along the mid-back down to the tail. It’s hard to appreciate it in Bird B’s current state of dishevelment, but compare it to a more put together specimen found on another beach on another day.