Update on eider research

30 10 2014

It’s fall, and on Cape Cod, that often means piles of dead eiders rather than piles of rustling leaves. In the multi-year investigation into why so many common eiders turn up dead around Wellfleet most years, the USDA, USFWS and numerous other groups have partnered up and pooled their skill and resources to try to get to the bottom of what’s happening. Right now, the researchers are wrapping up the live bird sampling phase of this fall’s work; they have been trapping birds as they arrive from their breeding islands–some from as nearby as Boston Harbor, some from nearer the Arctic. The idea is to sample their blood and feces to see if they arrive in Cape Cod Bay already having been exposed to, and possibly even shedding the virus. The birds are also banded so that if they ultimately die (of any cause) and are found, we will know what their viral status was as of the beginning of the overwintering season. The Cape Cod Times has posted an article with some rather delightful photos of this work.

Cape Cod is a SEANET hotspot, luckily for us, and many of our dedicated volunteers have offered to help in any way they can. Up to now, biologists were interested in hearing where and when eiders were arriving from the north. With the sampling work completed, the focus will now shift to documenting and collecting dead birds. Anyone, Seanetter or not, can help with this effort, so if you see more than a few sick or dead eiders (and this is not just for Cape Cod), please contact Randall Mickley (randall.m.mickley”at”aphis.usda.gov or 413-658-7113).

The other critical thing to report is any banded bird found dead. Here is a timely time to reissue our dead bird flyer! Please encourage all your friends and neighbors to jot down any band numbers they find and report them. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable those data are!



“Why are eiders dying?” talk well attended on the Cape

14 01 2013
Bird enthusiasts scan Wellfleet Harbor with the expert assistance of Mark Faherty.

Bird enthusiasts scan Wellfleet Harbor with the expert assistance of Mark Faherty.

This past Saturday, I drove out to Wellfleet, Massachusetts on Cape Cod to give a lecture at the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. This Sanctuary is close to my heart as it’s one of the places my family and I camp each summer, and to visit in another, less populous season is always a pleasure too. Beyond the beauty of the place, it was most gratifying to find a room full of people eager to hear about the Wellfleet Bay Virus (WFBV) and its impacts on Common Eiders. Several of those in attendance were Seanetters: Mary Myers and Diana Gaumond were there, and I got to meet Jerry Hequembourg and Steve Gulrich for the first time. Two prospective volunteers approached me about taking on Great Island and Jeremy Point for SEANET, and I was barely able to contain my excitement, given our lack of regular coverage there since the departure of Seanetter Dick Jordan.

To top off an already fine day, I signed up for the “Searching for Seaducks” program led by Mass Audubon’s Mark Faherty. We stopped at Wellfleet Harbor, where we saw Horned Grebes, Common Eiders that were alive (!), Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye (a first for me). Then we headed for the ocean side of the Cape and watched the surfers in their ninja-like dry suits, as well as Razorbills, scoters, and loons of two varieties. A one hour program turned into a two hour tour, but no one was complaining. Finally, we headed back and made my trek back home to New Hampshire.

Searching for the elusive Razorbills in Wellfleet.

Searching for the elusive Razorbills in Wellfleet.

I hope to have more breaking news for you, dear readers, and for everyone interested in the progress on Wellfleet Bay Virus research. The various labs and universities involved in the research are scheduled to hold a conference call on their work next month, and I will report on that as soon as it occurs. All the more reason for you to keep an eye on this blog, friends. We are a font of seaduck knowledge!