Ornithologi

A studio for bird study

Tag: water

Just Published in Marine Ornithology: Unusual Foraging Observations Associated with Seabird Die-offs in Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

 

Above is a short video that I produced to supplement a paper I, along with colleagues at US Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS, just published in the journal Marine Ornithology. The video shows behaviors that we describe in the paper, and will hopefully help the reader visualize what we experienced ourselves.

The Bering Sea region is changing in many ways, but among the most sobering are the mass die-off events that are impacting the regions birdlife. These die-offs continue into this year. Since we put together this publication of the observations that I and colleagues made in 2016 and 2017, the trend has continued and is likely to continue into the future. Furthermore, on my most recent trip to the region I documented further evidence of the ongoing change that is occurring across the bering sea ecosystem. There is and will continue to be more to report.

Some of the change, such as the evidence of starving and ill affected storm-petrels that are the subject of our publication, is sobering and concerning. It hits hard on the hearts of those of us who so passionately pay attention to bird life across the globe. We care deeply about the well being of these creatures that fascinate us so much.

Some of the change, such as some of my most recent observations in the region, are exciting and stoke curiosity, as the birdlife of the region responds to the impacts of ecosystem disruption.

Ultimately, there will be winners and losers as life navigates anthropogenic driven change throughout the world. Mass die-off events will become the norm for some species, until their populations can no longer sustain such losses and they are eventually lost to our world. Others will adapt in ways we cannot yet imagine. Such adaptations will undoubtedly open our minds to processes and function in ecosystems that we are yet to understand.

Yes, climate change is a problem. It is a problem that still is not unanimously recognized. It will change our world, our way of life, and probably not for the better. But, as we experience the change, we can document what is happening for the future inhabitants of our perturbed ecosystems. We can make record of the oddities, the aberrations, so that we leave a paper trail of first observations that will help us understand when things started, and how they developed. Hopefully, as these records build the evidence of change will become insurmountable to the point that the overwhelming majority of our society cannot and will not deny that the world is impacted by our daily choices and we ourselves need to change. And when we do, hopefully it will not be too late.

This is why I want to publish notes such as this, to make a record that will add to the evidence of an increasingly disrupted world. More to come…

You can find the paper detailing our observations of odd foraging behaviors here:

http://www.marineornithology.org/PDF/46_2/46_2_149-153.pdf

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Birding Kachemak Bay, Alaska, by Boat

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) with a bill full of fish to take back to its burrow to feed young. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I had the pleasure of taking a few days to visit Homer, Alaska and get in some much needed birding on the southcentral Alaskan coast. I was after Alaska state bird additions, as well as a few potential lifers. I needed to get on a boat so I scheduled a trip with Bay Excursions for a morning around the bay.

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Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

I was after both Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) and Red-faced Cormorant (Phalocrocorax urile). Karl, who leads the trip and captains the boat, mentioned concern that it was too late for Kittlitz’s and that the cormorants were scarce in the bay this year. With the poor forecast, I still thought it equitable to make the trip and gain experience with other birds. Anytime on a boat, in good weather, is equitable.

Homer is great. There are plenty of camping spots right on the spit. I camped on the shore, woke up in the morning, and had a five minute walk to the boat ramp where I boarded and we set off. Joining me were the expected crew of older folks with cameras and an excitement for seeing wildlife. But they weren’t necessarily birders, so I knew that I was outnumbered and would have to accept that we wouldn’t be spending much time studying murrelet behavior, shearwater ID, or following any curiosities I’d have. Such is birding on a boat I suppose.

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Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus). Paler individual on the left cause pause in hopes of it being a Kittlitz’s, but no luck. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

Immediately out of the harbor we began to see murrelets. I checked every bird, and for a while Karl paused to give the folks on the boat good looks at the endearing birds. After a short time the group grew tired of the murrelets so we unfortunately cruised by too many groups that I wanted to spend a little more time with in hopes of a random Kittlitz’s popping up amongst the marbled.

I was able to get the boat stopped for some shearwaters. I caught a handful of birds cruising about 1 km west, and once the boat had stopped a few had circled us and I was able to ID them as Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea). We spotted one set on the water that happened to be a Short-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna tenuirostris). With my limited experience observing procellariids on the water I felt satisfied with the short encounter.

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Juvenile Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) alone on the water. Kachemak Bay, Alaska.

One of the neatest birds we found on the water was a juvenile Horned Puffin. It’s bill was extremely small, nothing like the ornate bill of a matured bird.

Some of the strangest birds to encounter from the boat were Song Sparrows on every island we passed. I also caught a Steller’s Jay in the air above a larger island with some conifers. Island living passerines, neat to see.

Overall I was happy with the few hours on the water. I do think that the trip deserves more time, as I could have likely spent another few hours on the bay watching alcids and looking for a Red-faced Cormorant. I also would have liked to venture a bit farther out of the bay to encounter more shearwaters, and whatever else we might have happened upon farther out to sea. In the end I missed my two hopefuls, but the time on the water was excellent. I’ll be back again when the time is right for the missed species.

 

Western Grebe with Young

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Western Grebe (Aechmophorous occidentalis) with young. 11 x 15″ Gouache painting. Copyright Bryce W. Robinson

I really enjoy the strange behaviors found in the bird world. The Western Grebe (Aechmophorous occidentalis) is then naturally a favorite, due to a few behaviors that are on the surface quite strange.

The first is the rushing, or the synchronous courtship dance where a pair runs in contorted posture across the water. I’ve never painted, photographed, or filmed this behavior but I hope to this coming spring.

The second is the behavior pictured above. Young grebes ride on their parents back, situated between the wings. The parent dives for fish with young in tow, then surfaces with a catch and feeds it to the young.

The third is perhaps the strangest of the behaviors. Grebes eat their own feathers, and parents feed their feathers to their young. There are many hypotheses of what they may do this, but perhaps the most plausible is to line their stomachs. Grebes of course eat fish, yet their gizzards may not fully crush the bone. To protect the soft tissue of their proventriculus and perhaps parts of the intestines, grebes then eat a large amount of feathers that line their insides.

Rather incredible….