Dead Bird Quiz answers

26 04 2013
Who's got two wings and is probably our Bird A? This guy!

Who’s got two wings and is probably our Bird A? This guy!

It was very fortuitous that Bird A came in right as I am mired in writing the duck section of the Beached Bird Field Guide! Otherwise, I don’t think I would have had a chance at this i.d. What caught my eye on this wing were the pale primaries and secondaries contrasting with a darker forewing. This first brought to mind a scaup (and blog reader “Captain Eagle Eyes” also thought so. But scaup have a dark band at the tips of the secondaries, creating a border around the lighter speculum. Bird A’s secondaries are mostly pale gray, but actually have a band of almost white at their tips. There is also a hint of black and white barring evident up toward the shoulder which suggested male Redhead to me. Check out the wing of a Redhead here, at the Slater Museum’s website.

Friend of the SEANET blog Wouter concurs with the Redhead i.d., which makes me feel even better.

Bird B was universally recognized as a subadult gull. The slate gray mantle is much too dark for a Herring Gull, but is consistent with a Great Black-backed Gull. As Wouter pointed out, the dark on the mantle contrasting with the brownish wings suggests that this bird is between its 1st and 2nd years. I find it interesting that the characteristic checkered black and white pattern seen in younger birds of the species gets so muted and muddy by this age, looking more like the smeary brown wing of a young Herring Gull. Gulls are so gloriously confusing to me. But a Seanetter always welcomes a challenge, no?

Dead Bird Quiz

24 04 2013

About time for a DBQ. Though of course, any time is a good time for a DBQ. Here are a couple challenges for you. Bird A was found at the end of March on Pea Island in North Carolina by Wendy Stanton. The bird had a reported wing chord of 23cm. I have a tentative thought on this one, but I want to tap into the vast knowledge of you, my dear readers.

Bird A: upper wing (photo by W. Stanton)

Bird A: upper wing (photo by W. Stanton)

Bird A: underside of wing (photo by W. Stanton)

Bird A: underside of wing (photo by W. Stanton)

Bird B was found on Long Island in April, 2012. Wing chord reported as 45cm. Whaddya think?

Bird B: Found on Long Island by the NPS team.

Bird B: Found on Long Island by the NPS team.

Coming up on real time data verification!

19 04 2013

Thanks to a dedicated effort by Christine Hubbard, our SEANET work-study student, we are closing in on finally verifying the last 20 outstanding beach walk reports. Due to staff (my) time constraints, I had reluctantly been forced to let many records languish, unlooked at, for years. Now, the prospect of eliminating that backlog means that you Seanetters will hear from me with my pestering questions and requests for photos of dead birds right away instead of getting a break! The real boon is that the Wildlife Health Event Reporter will now contain all SEANET data since we first started in 2002, and you can view or map every report of any dead bird found in all that time. I have the reasonable expectation that I will now be able to keep up with all your reports as they come in and get them verified and up on that map right away.

All the Razorbills reported to WHER this winter. All the SEANET data is in there now too!

All the Razorbills reported to WHER this winter. All the SEANET data is in there now too!

Thank you Christine for all your work; I quite literally couldn’t have done it without you, as evidenced by the fact that I hadn’t.

I also want to thank everyone who sent emails, or posted comments, or offered other support to me, my family, and all of us here in Massachusetts this week. I joke that in dark times, I turn to dead birds for solace, but that solace really comes, of course, from all you people who love the oceans, the coast, and the seabirds. I’m glad to know you, and you’ve made this hard week a little easier.

Struggling back toward normal

17 04 2013

IMG_3582This is not the post I had planned for today, but I wanted to issue a widescale apology for any delays or lapses in my communication with you all this week. Monday, my husband ran just about all of the Boston Marathon, getting to around mile 25 before the course was closed. My kids and I were farther out along the race route, but they heard and saw things I wish they hadn’t. We’re trying to get back to normal now, but it’s slow going.

What will not surprise any Seanetter is that the first place I went yesterday morning was to my SEANET beach for my monthly walk. My younger son came along, and while we found no dead birds, we hung around listening to the harbor seals creaking and groaning out on the rocks in the river, and picking through the tidepools for periwinkles.

I am working hard to field all the emails and phone calls coming in from friends and relatives checking on us, and also trying to get my head back above water with SEANET. I have not forgotten you all, and being part of this program is one my great joys. I plead for your patience and understanding, and I promise, I’ll be back online with a Dead Bird Quiz before you know it!

Spread the word: reports of dead birds urgently needed!

10 04 2013
Hundreds of Common Loons have turned up dead in the mid-Atlantic.

Hundreds of Common Loons have turned up dead in the mid-Atlantic. (photo by W. Stanton)

As we are scrambling to keep tabs on mortality events involving puffins, razorbills and common loons from Florida to Maine, some of our colleagues have an eye toward writing up these strange occurrences both for immediate release to the public, as well as for future, more measured (and peer-reviewed) scientific articles. While we are actively performing necropsies to try to determine cause of death in any fresh specimens found, a major focus of the work right now is simply getting a handle on how many birds are dying or have died, what species, where and when. I have email chains and voicemail messages, and facebook posts and blog comments from all over the east detailing dead birds discovered on beaches, and I am determined to get these reports all funneled into a single database that is publicly available for all to see.

That single resource is the Wildlife Health Event Reporter. It takes only a moment to set up a (free) username and password, and it is simple to use. You can even upload photos (assuming they aren’t too big). If we can get everyone to report to this one place, we can start to map what’s really happening out there.

If you have been in contact with me directly the past few weeks, I have probably personally pestered you to use WHER. But we need this message to be spread far and wide, to anyone who might receive either birds (wildlife rehabbers, museums…) or reports thereof (biologists, federal and state agency folks…) so please, share this post with your friends (facebook and otherwise) with rehab facilities, with anyone and everyone associated even loosely with the coast. The more of these reports we get into this database, the more powerful the data become. I am fairly well connected in the seabird world, but my list of contacts is woefully insufficient to accurately capture mortalities over this kind of geographic and temporal scale. So let’s harness the power of this new-fangled internet to do some old-fashioned counting, shall we?

Dead loons on the beach, some with bangles

5 04 2013
A banded bird found on Cape Cod by Mary Myers.

A banded bird found on Cape Cod by Mary Myers.

We’re following an uptick in loon mortality right now, where dozens of common loons have been found on beaches from North Carolina to Cape Cod. Several birds have been shipped to the National Wildlife Health Center for autopsies, and we are trying to track the mortality both via formal SEANET surveys and by encouraging people to report dead loons to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter.

We also have a request to make of you, Seanetters and casual beachgoers alike. Dr. Mark Pokras at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has been studying loon mortality for many years. The core of his research is autopsy data on loons. Since he has a particular focus on the detrimental impact of lead and other fishing gear on loons, he does not necessarily require fresh specimens. Even a mostly decomposed, partially skeletal specimen may still retain a lead sinker, or bit of shot, or a fish hook in its body, and this data is invaluable. Mark also emphasizes the recovery of banded birds. These birds generally have a known, at least approximate age, and some data on where they may have hatched or nested in the past.

So, the plea to you all is to consider collecting the bodies of dead loons for Mark’s work, especially those banded birds. For those of you affiliated with a nature center or other environmental group such as Mass Audubon or the Lloyd Center up here in New England, this may mean simply transporting the bird to their freezers. If this is not an option for you, you can also get in touch with Mark directly and ask him if he’d like you to collect the bird and how to go about getting the bird transported.

If you find a banded bird of ANY sort, the first and best thing to do is to report it to A whole lot of banded birds are never found after they die, and knowing the time and place of death is a great boon to the data.

And the loon's backstory. You can get one of these too, if you report a banded bird!

And the loon’s backstory. You can get one of these too, if you report a banded bird!

Dead Bird Quiz answers

3 04 2013

Hoorah! Lots of answers proferred on this latest quiz! For Bird A, everyone responded with scaup. But what kind of scaup? We don’t see a lot of scaup generally, so I don’t have a great deal of experience with these i.d.s, but fortunately, I have found one detail to latch onto in making the distinction between Greater and Lesser Scaup: just how much white is in the wing? In the Greater (refer to this photo in the fabulous digital collection at the Slater Museum out at the University of Puget Sound), the white in the wing clearly extends well into the primary feathers. In the Lesser (as in¬†this photo), the white fades out rather quickly, leaving only a light brownish color in the primaries. Thus, I feel fairly certain that Bird A is a Lesser Scaup.

The weird face of the American Woodcock.

The weird face of the American Woodcock.

Bird B threw a lot of people for a loop. Is it a godwit? A heron? Or a bird with no business being on a beach, like…an American Woodcock?! A friend of mine who works in downtown Boston found three dead Woodcock on the ground outside her heavily windowed building. They likely struck the glass and knocked themselves dead. This species is good at that, since their eyes are located almost on the backs of their heads so they tend not to see in front of them all that well. Because of this incident, I had the species on my mind when I looked at our Bird B. I do think Bird B is a Woodcock, though it’s a little difficult to make out its facial features from this angle. But the eyes do appear to be quite a bit farther back on the head than they would be in a godwit or other shorebird (though the forest-dwelling, earthworm-eating¬†Woodcock is, itself, a shorebird by classification). The bill on Bird B is quite long, but straight, rather than upturned as in a godwit, and the white tips of the underside of the tail feathers are also a hint, recalling the displays of live Woodcock who tip their tails up in display like such. One of my favorite species, so I might be susceptible to seeing them where they aren’t, but I really do think this is our Bird B!