A call to you, O Seanetters!

29 01 2013
Why do we walk? When it's -5 and blowing a gale?

Why do we walk? When it’s -5 and blowing a gale? (author’s self portrait on MA_23)

We’ve had a press inquiry, Seanetters! Teresa Carey, a freelancer for national sailing publications will be featuring our humble program in an article she’s working up. She’s got the basic facts about what we do, but she’d like to get a more personal dimension direct from you, my dear volunteers, if you would be willing. If you have time to offer responses to any (or all) of her listed questions below, I know she’d appreciate it. And you can tell the truth, even if it is to decry the despotic tendencies of your tyrannical captain. I admit, I too am curious to hear what you have to say via email or via public comment here. So please, comment early and comment often, my throngs of beachwalkers!

Teresa’s queries:

1) How can participating in data collection with SeaNet enrich the volunteer’s experience of the ocean?
2) Why is it important to you to study the coastal and seabirds? Why do you love it?
3) Has the data you’ve been collecting ever been surprising?
4) What has been a highlight of your experience with SeaNet?
5) Please tell me of a significant moment (either funny, surprising, or informative) that you experienced during data collection.
6) Please tell me your name and role in the organization.





Winter beach treats

24 01 2013

Though we never rejoice over death at SEANET, we do rejoice when interesting things that die happen to wash up where they may be found. This is the case with two classic New England creatures that turned up dead on Cape Cod this month.

The first, too gaudily obvious to serve as a good Dead Bird Quiz, was found by non-Seanetter but dedicated beach walker Nancy Braun. We hope to one day recruit her to our cause.

Atlantic Puffin! (photo by N. Braun)

Atlantic Puffin! (photo by N. Braun)

Our second featured creature was brought to my attention in an email from Seanetter Dennis Minsky under the subject line “Invertebrate.” Relieved to find that it was not a missive decrying my own spinelessness, I was further delighted to see this image of a lobster carrying a full freight of eggs.

Forgive me for the New England-centric nature of this post. It’s 2 degrees outside my house today, and I am trying to remember all the many reasons I really do love living here.

Lobster! (photo by D. Minsky)

Lobster! (photo by D. Minsky)





Death by hair elastic: the sad case of a dead duck

16 01 2013

Are you feeling too happy? Is your mood unacceptably elevated? Are you experiencing a sensation of optimism over the nature of humanity and the future of our environment? Well let me fix that for you.

A gull at work, cleaning up the mess. (photo by D. Tracey)

A gull at work, cleaning up the mess. (photo by D. Tracey)

Seanetter Dan Tracey went out for his walk on Salisbury Beach State Reservation in Massachusetts last month. At the waterline, he saw a Great Black-backed Gull tearing into a fresh carcass. Turns out, that gull had been banded by Dr. Julie Ellis, but it flew off before Dan could get its i.d. As he approached the now abandoned dead bird, he found it to be a gorgeous male Red-breasted Merganser. On closer inspection, he found the depressing part of the story: a hair elastic was wound around the lower bill and head of the duck, rendering him unable to eat. Presumably, he starved to death, ending up as a meager and interrupted meal for that banded gull.

Hair elastic fatally entangling a merganser's bill and neck. (photo by D. Tracey)

Hair elastic fatally entangling a merganser’s bill and neck. (photo by D. Tracey)

I sometimes incur the amused or irritated dismissal of friends when I talk about the impact of balloons released into the air, or plastic bags discarded by the road. Most things find their way into the oceans, and this dead bird is only one of many suffering lethal impacts from seemingly insignificant bits of human trash. People may dismiss our pleas, or laugh off the issue, but I am hoping that pictures like this one will affect at least some folks out there. The birds we find dead like this are only a small fraction of the birds that die, so I assure you, this is a big issue. The solemn lesson this bird gives us: Keep track of your crap, everyone! And spread the word far and wide!





“Why are eiders dying?” talk well attended on the Cape

14 01 2013
Bird enthusiasts scan Wellfleet Harbor with the expert assistance of Mark Faherty.

Bird enthusiasts scan Wellfleet Harbor with the expert assistance of Mark Faherty.

This past Saturday, I drove out to Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod to give a lecture at the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This Sanctuary is close to my heart as it’s one of the places my family and I camp each summer, and to visit in another, less populous season is always a pleasure too. Beyond the beauty of the place, it was most gratifying to find a room full of people eager to hear about the Wellfleet Bay Virus (WFBV) and its impacts on Common Eiders. Several of those in attendance were Seanetters: Mary Myers and Diana Gaumond were there, and I got to meet Jerry Hequembourg and Steve Gulrich for the first time. Two prospective volunteers approached me about taking on Great Island and Jeremy Point for SEANET, and I was barely able to contain my excitement, given our lack of regular coverage there since the departure of Seanetter Dick Jordan.

To top off an already fine day, I signed up for the “Searching for Seaducks” program led by Mass Audubon’s Mark Faherty. We stopped at Wellfleet Harbor, where we saw Horned Grebes, Common Eiders that were alive (!), Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye (a first for me). Then we headed for the ocean side of the Cape and watched the surfers in their ninja-like dry suits, as well as Razorbills, scoters, and loons of two varieties. A one hour program turned into a two hour tour, but no one was complaining. Finally, we headed back and made my trek back home to New Hampshire.

Searching for the elusive Razorbills in Wellfleet.

Searching for the elusive Razorbills in Wellfleet.

I hope to have more breaking news for you, dear readers, and for everyone interested in the progress on Wellfleet Bay Virus research. The various labs and universities involved in the research are scheduled to hold a conference call on their work next month, and I will report on that as soon as it occurs. All the more reason for you to keep an eye on this blog, friends. We are a font of seaduck knowledge!





Winter is the time for tagged gulls

11 01 2013
Hard to miss: large format wing tag on a juvenile gull.

Hard to miss: large format wing tag on a juvenile gull.

We’ve had a rash of emails in the past couple weeks asking about tagged and banded gulls. Non-Seanetters observing a gull labeled in some way seem to find us here at the blog when they search “tagged gull” online, which is gratifying. While SEANET does not do the tagging, we do keep an eye on the work of gull researchers and are happy to direct these inquiries to the right people. The most conspicuous tags, day-glo colored wing shields bearing an alphanumeric code, are associated with Dan Clark and Ken MacKenzie’s wintering gull study. Dan and Ken work for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Their work seeks to keep the Quabbin and Wachusett drinking water reservoirs clean and as free of bird wastes as possible. The tagging project looks to study gulls’ daily and seasonal movements, what they eat, where they sleep, and their population dynamics. The large, conspicuous tags were chosen because they are so readily readable by people without binoculars. Since many of these gulls are seen in parking lots, around dumpsters, on soccer fields, and other human-made environments, the researchers know that very often it will be casual observers–non-birders–who are most likely to encounter these animals.

Sure enough, the birds we’ve heard about from people writing to report them were all loafing around docks, piers, or parking lots. Every sighting of these birds is valuable, so whether you are seeing it for the first time, or it’s been in your grocery store parking lot for a week, Dan and Ken want to know. If you see one of these gulls, please note both the letter and number on the tag if you can, and report the info to Ken.Mackenzie@state.ma.us (508-792-7423 x313) or Dan.Clark@state.ma.us (508-792-7423 x215) with wing-tag information.





Dead Bird Quiz answers

7 01 2013

I love doing Dead Bird Quizzes! I learn something new every time. Bird A had been nagging at me. When I see a dark wing with white tipped secondaries, I generally think alcid, and I’m generally right. I was initially inclined to call Bird A a murre, but something about it just didn’t feel right. For one, the underwing was grayer than is typical for a murre, and for two, the overall shape of the wing didn’t seem pointy enough for me. But I was at a loss as to what else this bird might be.

Bird A: upper wing.

Bird A: upper wing.

American Coot wing (credit: Slater Museum, University of Puget Sound).

American Coot wing (credit: Slater Museum, University of Puget Sound).

Then, in swoops Wouter, super-awesome dead bird identifier, with what appears to be the answer: American Coot! This fits very well with the rounded profile of the primary feathers (explaining the lack of murre like shape to the wing). If you take a look at this murre wing on the Slater Museum’s website, you’ll see what I’m saying.

I am persuaded, and completely delighted to have Wouter helping us out!

Bird B, I am pleased to say, I figured out all on my own, and Wouter’s assessment aligns with mine. This bird has a very long humerus, meaning it’s a large species. Also of particular note, the “wishbone” or furcula of this ex-bird is firmly fused to the top of the squarish sternum. This fusion between sternum and furcula is common to pouchbills like gannets and pelicans. Given the overall shape of the sternum, the size of the wing, and the geographic location where this was found (Florida), both Wouter and I think this is a Brown Pelican.

Bird B: See the wishbone on the right fused to the sternum?

Bird B: See the wishbone on the right fused to the sternum?





Dead Bird Quiz: balmy south edition

4 01 2013

Some wings for you all, as well as “just bones advanced challenge”:

Bird A has a wing chord of about 21cm, and was found by John and Wendy Stanton in North Carolina last month. Bird B, “Bonesey” to you, is what it is. Jerry Golub, whose New Jersey beach was obliterated by Hurricane Sandy is now wintering in Florida and found this partial skeleton there. He reports that the long bone was about a foot long. Believe it or not, it is possible to make a species identification from this, so give it a go, my dear readers!

Bird A: upper wing.

Bird A: upper wing.

Bird A: underside of wings

Bird A: underside of wings

Bird B: The bones of Florida.

Bird B: The bones of Florida.