In the midst of dead alcids

22 02 2013

We are currently observing a couple of different mortality events on both SEANET beaches, and civilian beaches here on the East Coast. These events have been puzzling in the way they have coincided. The first, a die-off of Dovekies, was relatively narrow in its geographic range. Dr. Bethany Rottner, of the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hampton Bays, NY wrote to me asking if we’d seen a lot of dead Dovekies on SEANET beaches starting in December. We had not seen anything particularly unusual, and have not since. But their rehab was inundated with more than fifteen of the little birds. Dr. Rottner also relayed reports from rehabbers farther west on Long Island. Outside of Long Island, we did not see anything out of the ordinary background mortality of Dovekies.

Razorbills reported in February to the WHER.

Razorbills reported in February to the WHER.

Not so for Razorbills. Back in December, we started receiving reports of dead Razorbills all the way down in Florida, where they do not normally spend time. By January, a handful of birds had been found dead in North Carolina. The mortality wave continued to recede northward, with dead Razorbills reported in New York in early February, and then Rhode Island and Massachusetts by mid-February. We continue to get reports from Cape Cod of yet more Razorbills, and our tally is almost 30 birds total for the winter. Compare this with a more typical year, where we might see 3-5 Razorbills reported dead, and they only in the Northeast, not in North Carolina or Florida.

Mary Myers always finds dead birds, but this is unusually cool.

Mary Myers always finds dead birds, but this is unusually cool.

Atlantic Puffins have been the superstars of this winter’s weirdness though. We almost never get any reports of puffins at all, maybe one every couple years. This winter, beginning in January, we started to hear of puffins, both live and dead, turning up on Cape Cod. WildCare in Eastham, MA is currently caring for a couple of puffins who showed up after the big blizzard a couple weeks ago. The birds seem to be making good progress. We did have one report of a dead puffin found well before the storm, but the rest have turned up in the days immediately after. We are watching to see if they continue to be affected, and if we will ultimately see the numbers we’re seeing of Razorbills. Unlikely, and we expect Razorbills to continue to be the winners of this dubious honor of deadest group.

A lucky Razorbill ready for release at the Evelyn Alexander Center. (photo: B. Rottner)

A lucky Razorbill ready for release at the Evelyn Alexander Center. (photo: B. Rottner)

How can you help? If you’re a Seanetter, and you find a bird on your beach, that bird is automatically reported to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter (WHER). If you find a bird on a non-survey beach walk, or if you’re not a Seanetter at all, you can also report to WHER. It takes only a moment to set up an account, and you can report any and all sick or dead wildlife you find anywhere in the world! We are trying very hard to fully capture the duration and extent of these various mortalities, and we need your help! Visit WHER to report, or just to check out the data. It’s publicly available and cool to play around with.

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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!