More on puffins

2 03 2013

We’ve had an email from Dr. Tony Diamond of the University of New Brunswick’s Atlantic Laboratory for Avian Research. Tony was pleased to read of the monitoring our Seanetters are doing in the face of this alcid mortality event, and he has is also keen to find out as much as possible about the Atlantic Puffins turning up dead along Cape Cod and elsewhere.
In particular, he has reiterated the call for anyone who finds a banded puffin to report that band to the federal banding lab. These banded birds, with known histories and often known ages, are invaluable to puffin researchers, and each report adds to the knowledge base about their travels and travails.
There have been three banded birds found so far, and these birds are now highly sought after. On Monday, I was in dead bird nerd heaven on a research visit to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Thanks to the assistance of Jeremiah Trimble, Ornithology Collection Manager, I spent 4 hours photographing specimens for our Beached Bird Field Guide to the Southeastern United States. Jeremiah tells me that puffins of known age (like some of the banded birds found) are a boon since only by knowing the bird’s age with certainty can information be gathered on the nature and timing of molt in puffins.
I will be collecting several puffins and razorbills for necropsy later this month, but it seems only fair that we turn over at least those known age birds to Jeremiah and the MCZ. We’ll still have plenty of birds to dissect and try to determine cause of death where possible, and the cause of defining molt in puffins will be advanced as well. Win-win.
Once again, you can help. If you find a dead puffin and it is not suitable for collection or collection is impossible, a good, close-up picture of the wing can aid researchers in determining what age groups have been involved in the die-off.

(photo by Doug McNair)

Variability in the appearance of puffin wings. (photo by Doug McNair)

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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.





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)