The field guides are finished!

7 11 2014

SEGuideFrontCoverIt is with no small degree of personal pride that I officially announce the completion of the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States by me, Sarah Courchesne. Of our initial print run of 720 books, 500 will go directly to our funder, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, for distribution to biologists and other folks both in that agency and with National Parks, or NOAA, or USDA or what have you. John Stanton will be deciding which lucky guys and gals get those. The remainder will be for us here at SEANET to decide. What I would like to offer is first dibs to any Seanetter who has put in at least a year of beach walks. You need not live in the southeast, but should I get inundated by requests, precedence will go to the southern contingent. For those who qualify, I will ask only that you pay for the shipping. Please contact me if you are one such SEANET veteran interested in a guide, and I will give you specifics on how to order it.

Once I have distributed those, I will offer up the remaining books as thank you gifts to anyone who makes a $30 or more donation to SEANET. Could there be a better Christmas gift, I ask you? I think not.

Thanks to everyone for their tolerance and forbearance over the course of this multi-year project, and I hope you all enjoy the finished product. Many, if not most, of the photos in the guide were submitted by you folks, so don’t be surprised to open up the book and see your own name, whether you actually walk in the southeast or not!

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Data entry portal is down!

22 10 2014

Many of you have found your attempts to enter your surveys online stymied in the past week or so. I have also noticed this, and it appears that something is amiss with the server that usually dishes up our website. I am trying to track down the problem and have it remedied, but until I do, please be patient and also be assured that it’s not your fault–the error appears to be at the source.

To distract you from that though, I have the good news that my basement now hosts 720 copies of the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern U.S! Most of these will be distributed to biologists for official use, but we should have enough to get out to any interested Seanetters too. More details to follow!





Back in action!

3 09 2014

My dear Seanetters, 

Thank you for your forbearance during my shockingly long break from blogging. Vacation was a big part of it, but I also finished the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States (in the hands of the printer right now!) and I also started a new job, which has caught me up in a whirlwind of activity. I am just now beginning as an Assistant Professor in the Natural Sciences Department at Northern Essex Community College in Massachusetts. It’s where my mother got both her associate’s degree and her nursing degree, and several of my relatives are current students, so already, it feels like home. 

For some reason, many chairs are being stored in the office I share.

For some reason, many chairs are being stored in the office I share.

I want to assure you that I plan to continue my direction of SEANET, and I will back in tip top blogging form starting now. I expect to be able to maintain my (sometimes inadequate) level of attention to SEANET even with my now full time teaching responsibilities. I hope you will continue to bear with me, and thanks for your patience over the years! 

Just like my student days, making out my class schedule.

Just like my student days, making out my class schedule.





Reviewers needed for Beached Bird Field Guide!

2 07 2014

Thanks to the strenuous efforts of Beth Mellor in the Tufts Media Services department, we are approaching a full proof of the Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern United States! Now, before we go to print, I need many willing pairs of eyes to look it over at any level of thoroughness. If you would like to have an early look at the book, and help me find errors, awkward or confusing points, or stylistic issues, please post a comment or send me an email, and when we have the complete draft, I will send it your way.

Thank you in advance for your aid in this endeavor! I am getting very excited about the imminent printing of this thing. Our dear Dr. Julie Ellis beats me out by having an actual baby this summer, but this was the best I could muster.

Sample page. Beautiful, no?

Sample page. Beautiful, no?





Dead Bird Quiz answers

17 12 2013

Alright, so Bird C was a gimme–big yellow raptor feet, black body, white head and tail: gotta be an adult Bald Eagle, and so it was. Gil, who found the bird, reports to us that the carcass was transferred to US Fish and Wildlife via North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

Birds A and B, being incomplete (mere wings, in fact) presented greater challenges to our intrepid quiz players. Bird A, on first glance appeared tricky. A dark wing covered in sand, it was a bit hard to make out the identity of the species based on the upper wing photo. Fortunately, we had a closeup of the details of the underwing, which was light overall, but with a small brownish line of feathers near the wrist. That appearance is distinctive and marks this bird as an American Black Duck. Fortunately, you needn’t take my word for it, since both John Stanton and Wouter van Gestel rang in and concurred on that one.

Bird B: White arrow points to the long, luxurious tertials that mark it as not a Dovekie, which has short, businesslike ones.

Bird B: White arrow points to the long, luxurious tertials that mark it as not a Dovekie, which has short, businesslike ones.

Bird B was a tricky one and not a species we see reported everyday. At first glance, it appears we have a nondescript dark wing with a slightly lighter, though still gray, underwing. Plain dark wings with dark undersides generally bring a short list of possibilities to mind: ducks (surf scoters and black scoters, for instance) and cormorants. But in this case, there was one marking that leads us in a different direction. Looking at that underwing, one can see a whitish color to the ends of the secondary feathers. So, now we have a dark upper wing, dark underwing, but with some white to the secondaries. In our upcoming Field Guide to Beached Birds of the Southeastern U.S., I’ve devised a key to severed wings, and when I use that guide on our Bird B, it takes me to Dovekie, which wouldn’t be a bad guess, except for some outstanding discrepancies. First, based on the ruler in the photo of Bird B’s wing, the wing chord is too long to be a Dovekie, which have very small wings (11-13 cm). Our Bird B looks to be in the 18-20cm range instead. Also, if you look at the underside of Bird B’s wing, you can see the primaries are dark, the secondaries have a white band, and the tertials are rather long, protruding well past the secondaries. This is typical of many duck species, but also of a bird that does not appear in the new Field Guide primarily because it’s not truly a seabird. The American Coot is, I would posit, the most likely identity of this bird. I am bolstered in my opinion by that of Gil Grant, who found it, and also thought it was a coot, and by Wouter, who said the same.

American Coots are not typically on my mind when I’m reviewing SEANET walks. It’s not that we don’t have them up here in New England, but they just aren’t regular finds (though a little farther south, Jerry Golub in New Jersey has found several in his tenure with us). This Bird B was a good reminder of how even unusual birds can be accurately identified: first, look at the specimen and see if it fits with a common species. If yes, you’re probably all set. But if there are characteristics that don’t jive with your list of usual suspects, focus on those details and see where they lead. Sometimes, it might be right down the path to the elusive and secretive coot.

American Coots in action with wings still attached. (Photo: Wing-chi Poon)

American Coots in action with wings still attached. (Photo: Wing-chi Poon)





More on trying out the wing key

7 10 2013

I’m getting some feedback on the wing key, and while it’s never encouraging to get a litany of the things that are wrong with it, I knew there would be problems and I am most grateful for the assistance in finding them!

I had a couple of requests for the underwing of Bird 1, so here that is:

underwing, Bird 1.

underwing, Bird 1.





We’re playing a new game!

4 10 2013

I need your help readers! You need not be a Seanetter to play this game, or even know a single thing about seabirds. In fact, it may be better if you don’t.

What I need is help testing out my new Key to Severed Seabird Wings. You can view the beta version of this key as a Powerpoint at this link. Once you have that in front of you, I would be delighted if you could run through the key using these wings and see what you come up with. If, along the way, you hit dead ends, or other clear errors, please note them and let me know either via email or via public shaming in a comment on this post.

This set of wings is only the first; if this goes well, I’ll give you another set. Feel free to try them all, or just one. The more eyes on this the better, so recruit all your friends and family too! And also, even if you know what the wing is right away, please try the key anyway to make sure it works and gives you the right answer.

Now go!

Bird 1. Wing chord 27 cm.

Bird 1. Wing chord 27 cm.

Bird 2. Wing chord: 26 cm.

Bird 2. Wing chord: 26 cm.

Bird 3, upper. Wing chord: 38 cm.

Bird 3, upper. Wing chord: 38 cm.

Bird 3, underwing.

Bird 3, underwing.

Bird 4, upper. Wing chord: 33 cm.

Bird 4, upper. Wing chord: 33 cm.

Bird 4, underwing.

Bird 4, underwing.

Bird 5, upper. Wing chord: 50 cm.

Bird 5, upper. Wing chord: 50 cm.