Dead Bird Quiz answers

2 06 2011

Bird A was a Greater Shearwater

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.


A dead Long-tailed Duck from another beach. Note the brownish underwing coverts.

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.

An intact, dead Long-tailed Duck. The black band extending to the tail is still somewhat visible in our Bird B.

Dead Bird Quiz, and those disgusting discs!

1 06 2011

First off, the quiz. Guesses please, and results will be posted on Thursday.

Bird A: Found by Ray Bosse along Buzzard's Bay in Massachusetts this month. Measurements are provided on index card in picture.

Bird B: Found by Barbara Grunden in Maine earlier this month. Wing chord 22.5cm.



And now, more travelogs by the sewage treatment filtration discs released in Hooksett NH back in March. Either the discs swam the Cape Cod canal, or they rounded Provincetown and headed southwest, because Ray Bosse who walks down in Westport, MA along Buzzard’s Bay, found about 100 of the discs on his beach, and Doris Briggs, Seanetter in East Matunuck, RI, also spotted some in her neck of the woods. Our more southern SEANET friends should keep an eye out and expect to see some of the innocuous looking little buggers any time now. After all, plastic is forever, so these things will be around for some time yet.

Disc sightings. Larger icons depict sightings over the last three weeks.