Dead Bird Quiz: advanced edition

25 10 2012

This quiz is advanced in a dual sense: both these birds are in an advanced state of decomposition/disassembly. This adds a layer of difficulty to the i.d., making this quiz also advanced in terms of the i.d. skill set required. I have my best guesses as to species in mind, but there is a wide margin of uncertainty here. I am curious to see what you, dear readers, can come up with on these two. The first photo, submitted by Jerry Golub of New Jersey, is quite intriguing. This pile of disconnected bird parts presents an intriguing puzzle. Are all of these parts even from the same bird? If not, how many species do we actually have here?

A grisly scene in New Jersey. (photo by Jerry Golub)

The second photo shows a somewhat intact carcass found by Kathy Kelly in Maine. But even so, this carcass is so dessicated that a number of its features are obscured or obliterated. So, challenge issued, Seanetters. Now give a blogger a little help, won’t you?

Weathered carcass in Maine. (photo by K. Kelly)

Cover bird contest!

23 10 2012

I’ve been working on the introductory sections of our Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States lately, and I have been casting around for the perfect cover photo. I would be delighted if the photo could be by one of our Seanetters, and particularly delighted, of course, if that photo could be from our southern contingent.

The perfect photo would be a bit of a departure from the close range, bird splayed on sand with ruler sort of image we like to see when making a species i.d. The cover photo I seek would ideally capture the essence of your beach, and might or might not include a dead bird. This photo, for instance, would be ideal for the cover, but it was taken on Long Island. Not exactly capturing the essence of the southern beach.



This second photo of a dead loon on Pea Island in North Carolina certainly qualifies as southern, but just doesn’t captivate in quite the same way. Clearly, I give a lot of thought to the aesthetics of bird carcasses.

If no serious alternatives emerge, then photo 2 will likely end up being the cover image. But I have faith that some of you, my dear readers, will come up with a superior alternative. You need not be a Seanetter to try for the prize, but your photo should be of a beach somewhere south of Virginia. Let your friends know too–who’s to say they don’t have some pictures of dead birds on the beach hidden away somewhere?

If your photo is selected for the cover, I will send you a free copy of the book once we get it published, so the stakes are high! Bring on the images!

Online atlas of marine Important Bird Areas

18 10 2012

BirdLife International has just released a marine conservation e-atlas outlining areas of the world’s oceans that are of particular import to seabird conservation. Such a project is overwhelming in scope, as individual seabirds can range over thousands of miles in a single season, and entire species or species groups are even more far flung. So pinpointing which areas of the oceans and which phases of the birds’ long travels are most critical to their survival is daunting to say the least. BirdLife has been at work on this project for 6 years and has brought together countless collaborators. The result is a publicly available atlas of over 3,000 Important Bird Areas (IBAs). The criteria for designating an IBA emphasized its use by threatened or endangered species, and large concentrations of individual birds during at least one phase of their lives. Breeding colonies and the foraging waters around them rank high on the list, as do dense congregations of wintering birds, or migration “bottlenecks” concentrating large numbers of birds into a narrow geographic area.

As you SEANET readers explore the atlas, you may be surprised to find that no IBAs are confirmed or proposed along the U.S. east coast from Maine to Florida (though Bermuda is one). While our initial reaction to that may be to ask why no one is protecting “our” birds, the atlas really serves to drive home just how truly global “our” seabirds are. The gannets our Cape Cod walkers see spent the summer on the islands off the Canadian maritimes. The Greater Shearwaters that range up along the Carolinas and into the New England coast in June and July came up from tiny islands midway between the tip of South America and the tip of Africa. This is the very reason why we need international groups like BirdLife. More than any other animals, seabirds cross and recross international borders easily from day to day and sometimes hour to hour. In order to truly protect these species, we have to take an international approach and collaborate in defending these birds during all the phases of their remarkable lives. SEANET applauds BirdLife for the immense and ambitious project, and we think you will enjoy the virtual tour of seabird hotspots that this e-atlas affords.

SEA expedition underway in North Pacific

16 10 2012

The Sea Education Association (SEA) sent out its latest research team earlier this month. While the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” has received vastly more attention over the past decade, SEA has long studied the issue of plastic contamination in the North Atlantic. In 2010, they sailed from Bermuda out into open water collecting data on the nature and extend of plastics in our home ocean.

Earlier this month, a SEA research vessel headed west from San Diego bound for Honolulu. While underway, the scientists and students on board are collecting samples, data and (inevitably) a lot of plastic from the waters of the North Pacific. The expedition’s website is a great resource for students, scientists and Seanetters alike, and is a blend of sailor’s journal (“Those of us in A watch have just finished dawn cleanup…), photo gallery, data repository, and email exchange with students all over the United States following the expedition from land.

There’s a little something for everyone, so I encourage you to check it out. After all, it may be happening on the Pacific, but I don’t have to tell you readers that ours is truly a world ocean, and there’s no problem in the Pacific that isn’t also ours on the Atlantic. So this SEA expedition too, is one we should all share.

Portrait of a Seanetter

9 10 2012

Just a brief post today; I couldn’t resist sharing this photo posted to the database by Maine Seanetter Nancy McReel. Nancy found this dead gannet, and her photo, with the bird posed in perfect SEANET posture, and with her own feet just in the frame captured the very essence of Seanetting.

Nancy McReel and a dead gannet. A Seanetter’s self portrait.

Reptiles of unusual size, north and south

4 10 2012

By chance, I received emails this week from two long-time Seanetters who both had close encounters with the reptile kind. Dennis Minsky, walking in Provincetown, MA, found this enormous sea turtle shell and partial skeleton upturned and, I hear, quite malodorous on the sand. It is clear that gulls are undeterred by the stench, and the sand around the remains is a continuous carpet of gull prints.

Advancing decomposition in the remains of a presumed Leatherback Turtle. (photo: Dennis Minsky)

Being largely ignorant of sea turtle identification, I was relieved that Dennis was able to inform me that this was most likely a leatherback. Leatherbacks are enormous when fully grown, and one recently made the news up here when it was successfully released into the wild after stranding on the Cape in very dire straits indeed.

Down south, Martin Vanoy who walks for us in Florida, sent me a report of a 9′ alligator inhabiting a local canal. Martin tells me that he has seen deer carcasses left out for the gator by (presumably) well-meaning but profoundly misguided people.

Martin snapped this photo and sent it to me in an email with the subject line: “Alligator (Big guy!)”

As a result of the supplemental feedings, this gator has lost its wariness of humans and could become a grave danger to pets, kids and other people venturing too close to the canal’s edge. Now, through no fault of its own, the alligator will be harvested by wildlife officials. It’s the same story we see over and over with bears, gators, and all sorts of animals people feel compelled to feed. Hopefully the fate of this alligator will be publicized enough to get at least a few people to understand the consequences of acclimating wild animals to handouts.

Beached Bird Field Guide: roundup of Flickr photo contributors

2 10 2012

While some slippery species continue to elude me, I have been thrilled with the willingness of complete strangers to share their photos of dead birds with us. The photo sharing site flickr has proven a veritable trove of photos, and I have been pleased to find so many other people with an affinity for dead birds. All the photographers allowing us to use their images will, of course, be noted in the published Guide itself, but I wanted to give our readers a wider sense of the variety and depth of work some of these photographers exhibit, whether professional or amateur.

The first, known on flickr as “picklerevenge,” shared the story behind a series of photos of salt-encrusted American White Pelican carcasses:

“I’d be honored for you to use my picture, no problem. I wish you could see the place the photos were taken- it’s the far north end of utah’s great salt lake at a place called the spiral jetty. It’s just like mars there and it is a giant pelican graveyard, really beautiful and unique place. Anyway, just thought I’d give you a little background on where the picture is from. Good luck with your project, sounds interesting!”

Picklerevenge also has an entire photo series entitled, elegantly, “Dead,” and in it, I think all Seantters will recognize a kindred spirit.

Another talent discovered via flickr is Matthew Rodgers. Matthew takes beautiful shots of (mostly living) birds, and it was my great good fortune that he also encountered a dead Black-legged Kittiwake and took a picture of the bird in the most flawlessly ideal SEANET posture I could have asked for.

A third, Johnnylondon, is not exclusively or even primarily a photographer of birds living or dead, and his photo stream seems a reflection of all the interesting things he encounters in his daily travels. Lucky for us, one morning one of those things was a dead mallard he found under some power lines.

A winsome cow. One of Johnnylondon’s fine images on flickr.

I’ve tracked down photos from all sorts of strange places, and as I continue work on the Guide, I will share more of those with you, in recognition of our many generous contributors. I encourage you to visit the Flickr pages of everyone else who’s helped us out (thanks maddog04666, Hart Walter and Born.Free!) and see what else, aside from dead birds, these shutter-happy folks have posted of late.