Merry Christmas, SEANET!

25 12 2012

To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas from me and the Christmas lobster buoy of MA_24 (Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts)!


Razorbills irrupt!

20 12 2012

Last week, a non-Seanetter (a civilian, if you will) contacted me via this blog. Scott Clark, fishing off the Florida coast was the first to alert me:

“I was out fishing in my boat off a place called Peck Lake off Stuart FL about 50 yards off the beach I was catching spanish mackeral when I noticed a bird that was flying/swimming under water it reminded me of a penguin I had never seen a bird like it before it hung around the boat I threw it some pieces of fish and it readily ate them when I got back I started to look up what kind of bird it was the closest thing was a razorbill but the bird I saw did not have white in its beek when I ran across your website and saw the picture of the razorbill in winter plumage That was the exact bird I saw I guess its prity lost  we are used to snowbirds here in FL just not real ones.”

Scott went out fishing again a few days ago and reported seeing small groups of 7-8 of the birds foraging, as well as one dead one floating in the water.

Razorbill found in NE Florida. (photo courtesy of Birding Aboard).

Razorbill found in NE Florida. (photo courtesy of Birding Aboard).

Sure enough, Scott was observing a larger phenomenon, and Razorbills are being seen on both coasts of Florida. Local news has picked up the story, citing eBird’s Marshall Iliff on the event. We are, of course, in the business of tracking dead birds here at SEANET, and if you find a dead Razorbill during a planned SEANET walk, that data will be captured in our database. But we and other wildlife groups including the US Fish and Wildlife Service are interested in capturing a broader scale on this irruption. So, to our southern readers, if you see live Razorbills, I encourage you to report them to eBird so both numbers of birds and their geographic extent can be recorded. And if you see dead Razorbills while not on a designated SEANET walk, please report them to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter.

Our Facebook friends at Birding Aboard tell us that the Florida Museum of Natural History is interested in any specimens for their collection, which has been, up to now, rather thin on Razorbills. That may not be the case for much longer. If you find a specimen, please wrap it up in a plastic bag and keep it frozen. Contact the Museum to see if they are indeed interested. And remember, even specimens in rough shape can often be useful for their skeletal remains.

Keep your eyes and ears open, dear readers, and keep us posted on the latest and greatest news on RAZOs!

Thanks to retiring volunteers!

13 12 2012

The year is drawing to a close in more than one sense for many Seanetters. Quite a few of our volunteers are nearing the one year’s service mark, and not unexpectedly, some volunteers are finding it time to give up the SEANET regimen. Though volunteers often refer to it as “quitting SEANET” I want to assure them that we do not see it as quitting. A multi-year study like ours relies on a constant influx of new volunteers, and expects the regular departure of others. For anyone who has given us a full year’s data, we couldn’t ask you for more. So we see your departure as a retirement after good service. A few such volunteers have retired in the last month or so, and I want to formally recognize them here.

Philip and Rubie Nesbit walked Wadsworth Cove in Castine, Maine for SEANET for almost three years, and Philip tells us that at 80 years of age, it’s time to hang up the calipers.

Jan and Bob Filgate walking Goose Rocks Beach in Maine report that they “enjoyed our many trips up and down the beach in many different temperatures and winds,” but that the time has come to retire.

And Howard and Beth Fowler have completed a full year’s walks on Oak Island in North Carolina and will now turn their attention to other activities and demands on their time.

Whether it’s one year or three, we cannot thank our volunteers enough. I sometimes find that retiring volunteers are apologetic, as though we would be disappointed in them. While we are always sorry to lose a devoted walker, we ask only a full year’s commitment, and once that’s met, we fully expect many of our volunteers to move on. Many do not, and those “lifers” are an unlooked for gift. But everyone who volunteers at least a year has given a full seasonal cycle’s worth of data and we couldn’t ask for more than that.

So to our departing volunteers, thank you for the time and dedication you chose to give us despite the weather, the work and the occasional drudgery. Please keep in touch, keep up the good work we know you do for other groups and causes, and accept our gratitude for all you’ve done!

Seaduck season!

6 12 2012

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 10.44.06 AMI’ve been making pleas for photos of dead birds for the Field Guide lately, and lucky for me, we’re into seaduck hunting season again when I have a good chance of acquiring some pictures of trophy specimens. In service of this goal, I emailed our friend Jack Renfrew of Coastline Guide Service, who is part of the network of hunters emailing each other photos of their takes. Thus, I am hopeful that Jack can dredge up some of the pics we still need for the Field Guide. Jack also wrote an article on hunting sea ducks in Massachusetts for this month’s Coastal Angler Magazine, South Coast edition (check out page 32).

Jack is a true outdoorsman and a responsible steward of the environment, as you will sense when you read his piece. I am writing about Jack today partly to remind everyone of the partnership and shared goals between SEANET and hunters. Sometimes, when I travel around speaking about SEANET to conservation groups, they pull affronted faces when I mention our work with hunters. I suppose that, as hunting has grown less common, some of these people have never had a positive experience with a hunter and think of them all as destructive, bloodthirsty brutes blasting away at everything that moves. I know many of you don’t think that, but I do want to help correct the misperception. It’s deer hunting season now, and my house is surrounded by woodlands on all sides. We grant permission to hunters to use our land, and they often head into the woods in the afternoon, stay out there for several hours, and most of the time, never fire a shot, emerging after dark empty handed. All that time, they are sitting quietly in the woods, observing. This quiet observation of the natural world is what we’re losing as a society. Kids aren’t going outside much at all, let alone spending hours in the woods, or the fields, or out on the water. Hunting is one way to get them out there. And we all know that people will protect only what they love and what they understand.

So aside from the scientific uses of the specimens we acquire from hunters, I group them with the birders, the hikers, the photographers, the backpackers, and all the other people getting out there and bringing other people along with them to teach them about the world around them. Jack is a guide and a teacher just that way.

It wouldn’t do justice to Jack’s personality if I didn’t leave you with a lighter note. Should you try to find Jack’s article on sea ducks by googling “Seaducking in the Bay State,” Google will ask, “Did you mean seducing in the Bay State?” This may not be too far from the truth; one of the most popular features in Coastal Angler Mag is the monthly “Angler Babe.” She certainly looks outfitted for a day out on the open water, yes?

Cape Wind and the literal impacts on birds

4 12 2012

capecodmapThe Cape Wind project, a large wind farm to be sited offshore in Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, has been on my mind of late. My husband works for the Conservation Law Foundation, and that organization announced their support for the Cape Wind Now! initiative in October.

Cape Wind itself has been obligated to fund studies on the potential literal and figurative impacts on birds crossing the Sound. This week, I got an email from a scientist working on these issues for Cape Wind. They were interested in our historic data on beached birds along the southern reaches of Cape Cod. Once again, the value in a long-term, baseline study of avian mortality like ours becomes clear: without knowing where and when birds die before a project like this, one cannot know how many bird deaths to attribute to the project after it is implemented.

So, I spent most of my morning dredging up old coordinates, maps, and descriptions of routes. It was a somewhat tedious exercise, but one that restored my faith in you volunteers, if it was ever lacking. Your accuracy and level of detail in your beach characteristics forms made it possible for me to recreate these routes even years after they were last walked. So, as usual, I thank you for making our data so reliable, repeatable, and useable. You guys are the best.