Dead Bird Quiz

26 04 2012

It’s that time again! Another Dead Bird Quiz for your amusement and edification. Bird A was found in southern Maine by Kristen Lamb and Michelle Gorayeb, and they report a wing chord of 11cm, a culmen length of 25mm, and a tarsus length of 37.5mm. Bird B was found by Libby Rock along Buzzard’s Bay in southeastern Massachusetts. Wing chord was reported as 21.5cm and culmen 30mm. I anticpate an absolute onslaught of guesses, so I will brace myself. Bring it on, Seanetters!

Bird A: Found by Kristen Lamb and Michelle Gorayeb on March 20th in Maine.

Bird B: Found by Libby Rock in Massachusetts on April 21st.

Clean up the beach!

24 04 2012

Each year, the Ocean Conservancy coordinates the International Coastal Cleanup event. On the third Saturday of September, or thereabouts, people all over the globe participate not just in a simple cleanup of beaches, but a large scale effort to collect debris on shore, in the water, and even via scuba dives. Volunteers don’t just pick up trash either; they document, item by item, all the debris they collect, down to the individual cigarette butt. This is what sets the ICC apart–it is a data-driven endeavor creating a marine debris snapshot from sites across the globe.

The Ocean Conservancy is the umbrella group coordinating the worldwide effort, and they, in turn, rely on countries, states, and local groups to organize the efforts on the ground. September may seem a long way off, but many states are already beginning to organize cleanups and recruit volunteers. You can even organize your own local cleanup! Massachusetts has begun publicizing their efforts, known as coastsweep. If you’re up here in Mass, check their list for existing events (I’ve signed up for a cleanup on Salisbury Beach), or suggest a cleanup of your local beach.

As new events in various states are added, I will keep you posted. Spending time on the beach in the name of science is close to every Seanetters heart, after all. Here’s to data-driven beach trips!

Free film screening in Massachusetts this weekend

19 04 2012

Thanks to Ellen Jedrey for letting us know about this screening; if you’re in the neighborhood this weekend, I encourage you to attend!

Is your life too plastic?  That’s the question asked in the award-winning documentary, Bag It, presented by the Cape Cod Wildlife Collaborative.  What started as a documentary about plastic bags evolved into a wholesale investigation into plastics and their effect on our waterways, ocean, and even our bodies.  Following the film, there will be a panel discussion on marine debris and its impact on our world’s ocean by local scientists, educators and activists. 

When:  Saturday, April 21
Time:  2 – 4 pm
Where:  Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Blinn Hall (along the canal), 101 Academy Drive, Buzzards Bay
Cost:  FREE

SEANET on Cape May in May!

17 04 2012

Can't wait to visit the Wetlands Institute next month! I love my job.

On Saturday, May 19th, at 10am, the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ will host a SEANET training! Your SEANET blogger, yours truly, Sarah Courchesne, will give the spiel on what SEANET is all about, why we do what we do, and how to become a volunteer. We would love to get a whole slew of new beach routes going in southern New Jersey, so please help us spread the word! You can RSVP directly to our hosts at the Wetlands Institute using this link. After the presentation and question and answer session, we’ll be heading to a nearby beach for a field session (dead birds guaranteed!) So please, help make the trip worth my while and my travel grant funds, and share this info far and wide. Hope to see you in Jersey next month!


Marine Bird Cooperative news!

12 04 2012

No really, I'm excited about the report. We puffins always look like this.

The Northwest Atlantic Marine Bird Conservation Cooperative has released its report on the past year’s activities. Members of the group are working on everything from wind development, to foraging strategies in seabirds, to, yes, dead Common Eiders. There’s always a lot going on with this dynamic crew, so have a look!

The Black-capped Petrel: hope for an imperiled species

10 04 2012

Black-capped Petrel in flight

Having lived my whole life in New England, SEANET has offered numerous eye-opening opportunities for me to learn about species not known in my home region. One of these is the endangered Black-capped Petrel. This seabird breeds on the island of Hispaniola on both the Dominican Republic and Haiti sides. It now appears likely that small numbers of the birds may nest on Cuba as well. These seabirds are nocturnal and give eerie calls when on the nesting colony; these behaviors are likely responsible for the bird’s Spanish nickname “Diablotín,” or “little devil.” Even while raising young, the birds make long foraging journeys out to sea, and their full range extends from Brazil up to the northeastern United States.

The bird being rare overall, and being pelagic the vast majority of the time, the chances of a Seanetter finding the carcass of a Black-capped Petrel are slim, but not nonexistent. They are regular visitors to the waters off the Carolinas, and with our recent expansion efforts in that area, it seems timely to share information on this species with you Seanetters. You can follow the efforts of the Black-capped Petrel working group at their website, and also read the conservation action plan they published earlier this year. The threats to this bird will sound familiar to most, if not all of our seabird loving readership: a combination of habitat loss and degradation, and nest predation by introduced predators (cats, rats, etc.). The potential impacts of offshore oil and natural gas development on this struggling species have brought close scrutiny to proposed projects off the coast of South Carolina. Nocturnal birds of all sorts are at risk of colliding with lighted structures like cell phone towers, oil platforms and wind turbines, so the night-flying Black-capped Petrel could suffer more than many other seabirds from the contruction of these tall obstacles.

Both the nocturnal habits and secretive nature of this species has made it difficult to determine the extent of their breeding range, and their use of underground burrow nests make finding them difficult in the high mountain forests where they breed. Thus, a major focus of the conservation plan is simply to get a better sense of where the birds nest, and how many breeding pairs remain. Night-vision cameras are in use at known nests to monitor for visits by feral cats and other predators. By clearly delineating the habitats the birds use, and the nature of the threats they face, scientists can better choose the most beneficial tactics from among many potential conservation actions.

Home range of the Black-capped Petrel in blue, nesting range in yellow.

Dick Jordan is leaving us!

5 04 2012

Dick Jordan (right) out on the beach with the USDA's Randy Mickley during an eider die-off.

It is with a heavy heart that I report Dick Jordan’s departure from MA_21, a rugged, isolated stretch of Cape Cod that only the hardiest Seanetters might ever attempt. But attempt it he did, walking the nearly two and a half mile route often two or three times a month since 2010. Dick and his wife successfully sold their home on the Cape and will be moving up to my home state of New Hampshire. No word yet on whether or not they will choose a seaside location so that Dick can continue Seanetting, though my fingers are crossed.

MA_21 on Great Island in Wellfleet is the epicenter of the annual Common Eider die-offs, and Dick’s consistent, year-round reporting from that site gave us our first solid numbers on when the die-offs begin, how many birds are involved, and when the mortality slacks off again. While we have been able to enlist (and pay, though not well) a couple of interns to help quantify the die-offs, Dick was the only volunteer we have ever had for this difficult location out on an exposed spit in Wellfleet, accessible only by foot, boat, or ATV.

Prime SEANET real estate now available on a bracing, isolated peninsula. Are you tough enough to take over MA_21?

While I will certainly miss Dick’s data, and will strive to find a replacement walker for MA_21, I will mainly miss our correspondence on all things beached and dead. Dick has consistently challenged me with pictures of odd things on his beach, questions about eiders, and bird disease, and ecology, and natural history. Most of the time, I can’t answer, but he always leaves me thinking about the subject for days afterward. So, congrats to Dick and Tracie on their speedy real estate transaction, best wishes for the move, and thanks for the many hours spent trudging through wind-driven sand for us. I’m going to miss you, Dick Jordan of MA_21!

No free rides! (for aquatic organisms in ballast water)

3 04 2012

Ballast water being pumped out at sea.

The Coast Guard has released new rules for the treatment of ships’ ballast water in an effort to safeguard our aquatic ecosystems. The regulations have been in the works for over a decade, and aim to reduce introductions of non-native, and potentially invasive species along our marine coastlines as well as in the Great Lakes. Ballast water is suspected to have introduced some of the most notorious alien invaders such as the zebra mussel and the Asian shore crab. These species, facing no natural predators in their new digs, can drive native organisms to the brink of extinction and lead to plummeting biodiversity.

Not every non-native species will spread and outcompete its native cousins, but we don’t have a way of knowing which creatures will turn out to be bad actors. Compounding this uncertainty is the stealthy way that these animals and plants make their way into our waters. One might think that simple visual inspection of ballast water would detect something as obvious as a crab or a mussel stuck to the ballast tank wall, and it’s true: the adult forms of many of these organisms are readily detected. Unfortunately, most of these hitchhikers are sucked up into the ballast tanks as free-swimming larval forms–just one more tiny member of the planktonic community. Carried across the ocean, these tiny larvae are released into their new homes when ships discharge their ballast water upon arriving in port.

Intruder alert! Asian shore crabs are believed to have arrived in our waters via ballast water.

Ballast water is necessary for ships to maintain balance and the right buoyancy, so the Coast Guard has been working within that constraint on how to minimize the risk of invasive species introductions. Up to now, the only feasible solution was ballast water exchange (BWE) where ships take up ballast water in port, but then discharge it while underway and exchange it for water from the open ocean. The theory here being that coastal organisms will generally not survive when dumped in deep water, and in turn, any plankton picked up in the open ocean will be ill-suited to life in the nearshore environment of the ship’s destination. The trouble has been getting ships to practice BWE, which has been a voluntary procedure. BWE isn’t always practical or safe; since a ship discharging ballast water is not optimally stable, the exchange cannot be performed in rough seas or foul weather.

The new rules set forth by the Coast Guard require treatment of ballast water rather than simple exchange. Methods of treatment would include chemical means (biocides), filtration systems, or UV zappers to irradiate the water. Discharged ballast water will be required to contain less than a set maximum number of organisms per milliliter. These maximums have drawn criticism from environmental advocacy groups who recommend standards far more stringent. At present, the Coast Guard has stated that it will pursue further research into the achievability of such standards based on current or developing treatment technology, as well as the feasibility of detecting such low levels of organisms given current testing capabilities. Undoubtedly, the shipping lobby will vehemently oppose requirements for more refined and powerful systems once they have invested in currently available technology, so the environmental groups’ point is well taken: the standard set now is likely to be the standard we live with for years hence. Here’s hoping it’s substantial enough to make a difference.