Statelessness and decline in seabirds

23 09 2015

This week, I read an article in the Guardian about global, severe declines in the majority of seabird species. The impacts have been worst in open-ocean birds like albatross, petrels, and shearwaters. Though the causes of such a broad and precipitious decline are myriad, one particular factor caught my eye–the remarkable globe-trotting of these birds and their utter lack of respect for political boundaries. People marvel at feats like the globe crossing migrations of terns, or the zig-zag path of Greater Shearwaters as they bounce from North America over to Africa and down to the farthest south Atlantic. But this fligth prowess puts there birds at risk. While they may be well protected under one nation’s conservation policies, as soon as they pass into another country’s waters, those protections may fall away. This is not to mention the lawlessless of the high seas–the open ocean where many of these birds must make a living. Plastic pollution, overfishing, entanglement: these mutiple factors all converge on the open ocean species.

In my biology classes, I like to show my students, many of whom are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, this image of the island of Hispaniola.

The border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right) where forest protections are much more stringent.

The border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right) where forest protections are well enforced.

In many cases, we know what we need to do to protect seabirds; longline fishing techniques, for instance, can be modified to avoid catching albatross. But issues of compliance and enforcement are myriad. We know that overfishing can be addressed and that fish populations can rebound quickly in some cases. Several years ago, Senegal banned the export of fish caught in its waters and rescinded the fishing licenses of many EU and Asian boats. This was done mainly to protect subsistence and artisanal fishing in that country, but it has successfully boosted fish stocks. Each nation makes its own laws, of course, and even then, the ability to enforce those laws varies wildly between nations and continents. Threading their way through all these borders are the seabirds. Unless we can get some semblance of an international approach, it seems we can anticipate further declines across these species groups. I am congenitally optimistic, but my realist side does wonder…

Back in the saddle!

18 08 2015

I spent the first two weeks of August on vacation in Maine. We were well away from the coast, staying on Long Pond in scenic Rome. We did run into a few waterbirds, including bald eagles harassing loon chicks, an osprey seizing fish, and the usual ring-billed gulls loafing about. We also saw a young and confused looking double-crested cormorant sitting atop a pine tree.

The flashiest bird we saw was this one, in Wilton, Maine, where we stopped off for their Blueberry Festival and town wide yard sale. We couldn’t resist pulling off the road for a photo op.


The boys astride their glittering mount.

Now, the fun is over, and I am back at my computer getting back to work on SEANET and prepping my syllabi and materials for the beginning of the fall semester. Lovely to be with you all again.

Back from the brink!

14 07 2015

It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, dear readers. We crammed a lot of vacation into a short span. After a stint in northern New Hampshire camping, we headed to the easternmost point in the United States, to hike the fogbound coast in Lubec and Cutler Maine, Way Downeast, as the region is known. We even briefly set foot in Canada, on Campobello Island, summer home of the FD Roosevelts. Now, it’s back to the grindstone for a few weeks before we take off again for two weeks in central Maine. I have to bank these memories for the dark days of winter when my teaching job consumes almost every hour, bleeding into evenings and weekends. Ah, summer. Here are a couple of gratuitous photos from the end of the (American) world. Next post, back to business. And dead shearwaters.

Backpacking on the Cutler Preserved Lands.

Backpacking on the Cutler Preserved Lands.

Scrabbling on the shores of Campobello.

Scrabbling on the shores of Campobello.

Carolina! (in my mind)

16 06 2015

Tomorrow, I will be giving a virtual volunteer training to new recruits on Bald Head Island in North Carolina. The good people of the Bald Head Island Conservancy had invited me down in person, but alas, travel was not in the cards for me, so we are availing ourselves of wondrous technology in order for me to connect with these new volunteers. You can be sure I will also be sending them a whole box of the Beached Bird Guides to get them going.

Given my focus on NC this week, it seems a good time for me to share with you a couple of items out of that region. John Stanton put out this SEANET Carolinas newsletter last month, and I failed to post it here until now, I am just noticing.

And well before that, Wendy Stanton forwarded this very cool poster on life in the wrack line. Check it out!
Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 8.07.59 AM

I suppose it’s best that I won’t be going in person. Lori Porwoll, who walks in South Carolina, tells me it’s in the 90s down there. It hit 75 up here the other day and I went scurrying off to the White Mountains to seek cooler temperatures at higher elevations.

Finally, if I can’t get down south, at least John Stanton will be coming up north! He just had a poster accepted to the Waterbirds meeting this summer in Maine! Huzzah!

Back in the game!

12 05 2015

My dear Seanetters and friends,

Thank you for your patience and forbearance during my teaching semester. Now, I am finished grading, and as a kickoff to the summer, I attended a 3 day workshop on forest stewardship here in New Hampshire. In addition to opening my eyes to a whole new way of seeing my environment, we were also introduced to the The Stewardship Network, a clearinghouse of volunteer and citizen science opportunities here in New England. If you’re in the area, and SEANET just isn’t enough citsci for you, I urge to check out the offerings on their site. I know I will be signing up for some of these programs and work days for sure.


These activities already had me enthused to jump back into SEANET with both feet, and to top it all off, I received a request this week for a work up of our data from the winter of 2012-2013; you may remember that alcids were hit particularly hard that season, and I am contributing your data to a manuscript on the subject.

Total data immersion.

Total data immersion.

It’s a good thing I have enthusiasm for the project, because I certainly lack expertise in Excel, so the going is not swift, but it is steady. After that data is wrapped up and shipped off, it’s back to the mill for the backlog of regular old baseline data you all are diligently collecting.

So thank you for bearing with me, and I hope you’ll stick around here to see what we get up to this summer!

Short one today

9 02 2015

Seanetter Jerry Golub sent a picture of *gasp* a LIVE bird for us to consider. What do you think of this one?IMG_0165
Apologies for the brevity; it’s another snow day here in New Hampshire and my kids are going stir crazy. Time for some sledding.

Some light reading

21 01 2015

On last week’s Dead Bird Quiz, we ended up with more responses than I had anticipated! Edward and Wouter engaged in a bit of back and forth in the comments, and both concur that this specimen, pathetic as it is, is too small for an oystercatcher. Their verdict ended up being some sort of plover–most likely semi-palmated or Wilson’s (and they can be hard to distinguish even when there’s a lot more left than some wrung out old wing pieces). The reported wing chord on our mystery bird was 11cm, which would place it in the range for plover and sandpiper types to be sure. Oystercatcher is not in either of our Field Guides, so I had to go searching for the wing chord data, but the fabulous American Oystercatcher Working Group has those data readily accessible, and there I find just what Edward and Wouter both pointed out–wing chords for AMOY would be more than twice the length of the little wings we have here. So, we will leave it in the database as “Unknown plover” and go off feeling pretty good about ourselves.

Now, the light reading. Though the preceding wasn’t exactly hard hitting either…

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe did a (very) short piece on the Common Eider die-offs and our own Dr. Julie Ellis’ work to get the Northeast Wildlife Disease Cooperative up and running. Check out the article, which also mentions SEANET!

Julie Ellis amidst and ecletic collection. (Photo A. Boghosian/Boston Globe)

Julie Ellis amidst and ecletic collection. (Photo A. Boghosian/Boston Globe)

I also wanted to share with you this article in National Geographic on whales and dolphins and the potentially fatal results of ingesting ocean plastics. In late February, I will be participating in a panel addressing the issue of trash in the environment generally. For those of you on Cape Cod who might like to attend, details shall be forthcoming.


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