On the lookout for Razorbills

26 12 2013

Bad as this tired old seabird joke may be, it is timely. Christmas-time coincides with the presence of large numbers of alcids off the shores of the east coast, and this year is no exception. Doug McNair counted 4-5,000 Razorbills off Cape Cod on December 20th, and Tony Diamond, seabird scientist at the Atlantic Laboratory for Avian Research at the University of New Brunswick tells us that a Razorbill was found beached in Florida as well. Normally, Florida would be fairly far afield for these northern birds, but after last year’s unprecedented southern irruption, nothing would surprise us.

Razorbills and guillemots on the water. (photo geograph.org)

Razorbills and guillemots on the water. (photo geograph.org)

So we’re putting out a plea to Seanetters and non-Seanetters alike: keep your eyes peeled, go birding on the beach, and report what you see. If you SEANET, great! If not, and you only want to report live birds, please sign up for an ebird account and start reporting! And if you’re not a Seanetter and you find a sick or dead bird, report it to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter. We’re eager to see how this winter compares with last, and we’re counting on you all to help. Let us know what you spot!

Where have all the razorbills gone?

4 09 2013
A Razorbill fitted with a solar powered satellite tag!

A Razorbill fitted with a solar powered satellite tag! (photo by L. Welch)

Do you lie awake at night wondering where alcids go when they’re done raising their young? Given this winter’s mortality events in puffins and razorbills, I sometimes do. And thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I can slake my curiosity. Linda Welch and her team at the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge have deployed satellite tags on ten Razorbills, and it looks like all but one are still going strong. (That bird, known as “Roosevelt,” has, evidently, not been heard from in weeks.) You can track the individual birds at this study link, and even sign up to get daily updates from the project. The purpose of the work addresses a perennial problem in seabird research; for a short and focused period during breeding, the birds are accessible and relatively easy to study. Once they leave the breeding colony, however, they are largely lost to follow up and our knowledge of their behavior and ecology becomes hazy indeed.

With the satellite tags, each bird’s precise location can be determined instantaneously, giving information on both small scale, daily movements, and large scale migrations. After this past winter’s unprecedented irruption of Razorbills all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, it will be most intriguing to see where these birds go this winter. By tracking their movements, and knowing more about where they like to spend time foraging and which areas they only pass through briefly, these researchers can be in a better position to advise developers of offshore wind projects how best to site these farms. Welch and the USFWS team recognize the immense value in renewable energy, but they also want to do right by seabirds. And SEANET applauds them!

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!