Beach Chair Birding

While enjoying the pleasures of beach chair biology, it would be a real shame to overlook the wide variety of coastal birds that can be observed from a comfortable lean. I know, I know those seagulls may be obstructing your view, but if you head out at the right time of day or year, and if you look closely enough, you’ll find a wide variety of different birds to study and learn about.

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
 This little beauty is found all over the world, as long as there are beaches nearby. Its harlequin pattern makes it beautiful in and out of breeding season, but the patterns that emerge when this bird is breeding are unforgettable. So, I’m afraid, is its call, which is rattling most of the time and quite obnoxious when it transforms into the alarm-call.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)
These fun, freckled shorebirds are most often found in North and South America, although one will occasionally make his way into Europe. They not much for flying, usually choosing to foraging for their food and building their nests on the ground, but they can put on a show, catching insects in mid-flight.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliated)
I’ve always found Oystercatchers to be sort of silly looking, but like most birds they’re beautiful in their own way. Their long, thick, orange beak is perfect for breaking open mollusks, which is how they got their very descriptive name. They’re most likely to be found along the Atlantic coast of the US and the Pacific coasts of South and Central America.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
This particular avocet is a member of the stilt family, and it’s thin, gray legs earned it the nickname ‘blue shanks.’ It is most likely to be found on the North American Pacific coast, but it will move inland as far as the mid-west during its breeding season. They’re migratory, making their way down into Mexico during the winter, and they’re also quite social, forming breeding colonies with dozens of pairs, and then grouping into huge flocks when the season is over.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana)
I saved this for last to reward you for reading all the way through. I’ve been a birder for many, many years, and I find pleasure in just about every aspect of it, but sometimes the names we give to the creatures around us just make me smile.

The Wandering Tattler is a somewhat plain-looking bird without much pattern on its back at all, just dull gray wings. Their breast is covered by a scaly pattern, but otherwise they’re what we used to call ‘Plain Jane.’ They migrate from Alaska to Australia, so depending on the time of year they can be found along the costs of North and South America.

Wandering Tattler

Wandering Tattler

They are wading birds and feed mostly on crustaceans and marine worms, but during mating season they’ve been known to expand their diets to include a variety of insects. They may be plain in color, but their foraging process more than makes up for it. They have a tendency to bob in and out of the water, giving the Oystercatchers a run for their money when it comes to silliness.

Ernie Allison is a freelance writer for PerkyPet, which makes high quality bird feeders to bring a little more nature to your backyard.

If you’re interested in guest posting for Beach Chair Scientist, please email info@beachchairscientist.com for more information.

12 bite-sized shark posts (holding the hokey here)

Ok, maybe not so much in the title. Did you know sharks have roamed the earth for 400 million years and have been instrumental in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems?  They’re amazing creatures and in case you’re actually interested in learning about sharks (instead of becoming frightened by them while watching Shark Week), here are 12 of the most popular posts about sharks on BCS from the past five years.

  1. What I know about whale sharks (March 2013)
  2. CITES recognizes marine species (March 2013)
  3. Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species (September 2012)
  4. Sink your teeth into this: 20 facts about shark teeth (August 2012)
  5. 10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week (August 2012)
  6. What is shark finning? (February 2012)
  7. 5 most dangerous shark species (June 2010)
  8. The sixth sense (August 2009)
  9. What do sand sharks eat? (February 2009)
  10. What are the rarest shark species? (February 2009)
  11. Do sharks have bones? (January 2009)
  12. What is the biggest fish in the sea? (November 2008)

Also, feel free to email any questions to info@beachchairscientist.com if you have additional questions!

A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum

Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives
Discovery brings SHARK WEEK viewers on a search for a massive killer Great White shark responsible for a rash of fatalities off the coast of South Africa. One controversial scientist believes that the shark responsible could be Megalodon, a 60-foot relative of the Great White that is one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. Our oceans remain 95% unexplored, and this massive prehistoric predator has always been shrouded in secrecy, but after a rash of newly discovered evidence, authorities are forced to investigate and hunt for the predator long thought to be extinct. A crew of scientists and shark experts examine evidence and fearlessly seek answers to the many questions surrounding one of the last great mysteries of the deep ocean while creating the largest chum slick in history. (http://bit.ly/SharkWeek2013-programming) 

That’s the way Shark Week feels to me these days, like a big, multi-platform chum slick…a greasy, fetid soup of fear and fascination that titillates more that it educates. Is that over the top? Yeah, probably, but then it will fit right into a line-up that includes titles like: I Escaped Jaws, Great White Serial Killer, and Sharkpocalypse. In all honesty, most of these shows will not be nearly as bad as their titles suggest. My primary beef is (and continues to be) the lack of shark diversity during Shark Week.

But hark, what’s that? A bioluminescent beacon of light from the deep? On Thursday, August 8, Discovery’s feature program is Alien Sharks of the Deep. Reading that title out loud makes it sound worse than the rest…like an early draft of the robo-monster blockbuster Pacific Rim. But no, this program appears to explore the weird, wonderful, and diverse sharks of the oceanic abyss. Could this restore my faith in the potential that is Shark Week? Think of some of the possibilities:

 Goblin sharks: Goblins have been known as tenguzame, after tengu, a fantastical creature of Japanese mythology often depicted with an elongated nose or beak. Goblins are fantastical in their own right, with long, blade-like rostrums and slingshot protrusible jaws that have to be seen to be believed.

070209-goblin-shark_big

Goblin shark

 Taillight and lantern sharks: Many deepsea sharks are bioluminescent, creating light with specialized organs called photophores. Many of these sharks use their photophores to hide in the downwelling light by erasing their shadows through counterillumination. Tailight sharks also secrete a blue luminescent fluid from their, um, ‘tail end.’ Since the species is known from only two specimens and has never been seen alive, no one knows exactly what this fluid is for.

 Megamouth: Not to be confused with Megalodon. In fact, the two couldn’t be less alike. Large Megalodon teeth may be 5-7 inches long (about the size of your hand), megamouth teeth 5-7 millimeters (half the size of your pinkie fingernail). Whereas Megalodon likely fed on whales and other large marine mammals and turtles, megamouth is a plankton specialist. There have been only 55 confirmed sightings of megamouth sharks since 1976, and only a handful of these have been examined by scientists.   

Megamouth-shark

Megamouth shark

 Frilled sharks: Frilled sharks are a freak show. They hardly look like sharks at all. Well, they do, just more like sharks from hundreds of millions of years ago. The long, eel-like body, terminal mouth, unusual teeth, fins, and other anatomical features are all distinctly ancient. 

Frilled-shark-showing-specially-adapted-teeth

Frilled shark

 Rough sharks: Rough sharks are another group that breaks the stereotypical shark mold—small and hunchbacked, with large spiny dorsal fins. They may be fairly common in the deep waters where they’re found, but still, we know very little.

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

 Six- and sevengills: Cow sharks are another group with distinctly ancient features. Many have seen sevengills in public aquariums, but the larger sixgill sharks don’t do as well on display. Sixgills are broad, ponderous creatures, with large specimens more than 16 feet long and as big around as a Volkswagen (as one diver describes them). These normally deepwater denizens have been occasionally spotted right under pier at the Seattle Aquarium. Puget Sound’s deep, glacier-etched profile provides a unique opportunity to observe and study these sharks without the need for research vessels or submersibles. 

Bluntnose six-gill shark

Bluntnose six-gill shark

 Cookiecutters: Interested in learning about a glowing foot-long shark that feeds on whales, tunas, swordfish, and squid? So are scientists, as they don’t seem to agree on how this small, slow-swimming shark seems to manage it. While they might not have the physique for the feat, they have the oral equipment. Fleshy lips and a strong tongue create a suction grip that buys time for the cookiecutter’s large, triangular lower teeth to cut a plug from its unsuspecting victim. 

Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

Cookie cutter shark. Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

 Cats and dogs: The deepsea is really the realm of dogfish and catsharks…dozens of species, some with names alone that inspire curiosity. Don’t you want to know more about lollipop catsharks, mosaic gulper sharks, birdbeak dogfish, spatulasnout catsharks, velvet bellies, demon catsharks, frog sharks, pajama sharks, pocket sharks, and pygmy ribbontail catsharks? Me too.

 I’m excited for Alien Sharks in a way I haven’t been for Shark Week programming in a very long time. Wednesday night I’ll have trouble sleeping with visions of lanternsharks dancing in my head. There is soooo much more to sharks than white sharks and tigers and bulls (oh my). How can we encourage more programming that highlights this fascinating diversity? We can watch.

 That’s my call to action. Watch Alien Sharks of the Deep on August 8, 10:00/9:00 central. Ask your friends to watch. Throw an Alien Sharks party. Dress up like an Alien Shark for work. Live tweet #AlienSharks like the second coming of Sharknado (you can follow and tweet at me @jimwharton). Show Discovery your love for Alien Sharks and beg them for more. Be as pathetic as you like. Let’s send a message that it’s a big wide world of sharks out there and we want to see more of it…and we’ll be happy to swim through an ocean of chum to get there.

Test your knowledge: Marine mammals

SeasideNaturalistCoverIt’s time for another “Test your knowledge” quiz. This time it’s brought to you by page 211 of one of my favorite books, Seaside Naturalist (written and illustrated by Deborah Coulombe). Here’s a true/false quiz all about those marine mammals we all know and love … well, take the quiz and see how well you know them. First 3 people to submit all correct answers below as comments (before I post the correct answers in a week) will get a free DVD of Ocean Frontiers.

1. Whales sweat profusely while diving.
2. The blue whale is the largest animal ever known on Earth.
3. Whales can drown.
4. Whales can be told apart by the way they spout.
5. Whales never sleep.
6. Baby whales are born tail first.
7. When whales breach, they jump completely out of the water.
8. Whales spout by blowing water out of their blowhole.
9. In Japan, dogs eat whales meat.
10. Manatee are the only vegetarian marine mammals.

Know anyone that might want to share a passion a marine science, environmental education, or ocean conservation by writing for Beach Chair Scientist? Guest posting is always welcome!

12 truths about diamondback terrapins (please, see #8)

  1. Each diamondback terrapin is a work of art. Their skin color ranges from pale to dark gray, or even black. The underside of their shell (plastron) ranges from yellow to green, or even black. But, those variations aren’t the reason for its name. If have the opportunity, be sure to check out the mesmerizing diamond-shaped growth rings on top of their shell (carapace).
  2. normal_ian-symbol-malaclemys-centrata_iandotumcesdoteduDiamondback terrapins are native to the eastern and southern United States (just like me)! They are distributed from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Corpus Christi, Texas.
  3. Diamondback terrapins have feet just like Ashton Kutcher. Their feet are robustly webbed, enabling them to be strong swimmers – which they need to be since they live in coastal areas with fluctuating tidal changes.
  4. There is only one terrapin native to the United States that lives exclusively in brackish saltwater marshes and bays … you guessed it, the Diamondback terrapin!
  5. Diamondback terrapins have a mid-life crisis at 20. They can live upwards to 40 years.
  6. Female diamondback terrapins are gladiators compared to the males. The shell of the females will reach up to 12 inches while the males typically reach 6 inches.
  7. Diamondback terrapins feast on meat. That’s right … they’ve only accidentally ingested vegetation (just like my 2yo).  They prefer to dine on blue crabs, snails, mussels, clams, barnacles, or whatever else in common in their range. They are pretty industrious in their ability to crush shells with their uber strong upper and lower jaw.
  8. Female diamondback terrapins might live in the marsh, but they prefer to lay their nests (2 to 3 a year with up to 20 eggs a clutch) on the sand beach from May to July. This is why you’ll often see female terrapins tentatively crossing causeways linking mainland and barrier islands. Please drive the speed limit and slow down (stop!) for nesting female diamondback terrapins. This is the most important fact in this list.
  9. Diamondback terrapins take time to meditate. Ok, well, they remain dormant and slow their metabolism down when they hibernate during the winter by burrowing in the mud of the marshes.
  10. Female terrapins like it hot. A higher temperature of the nest produces more females.
  11. After hatching, young terrapins take their time adapting to life. Some remain in the nest during the winter although the majority enters the nearest body of water.
  12. Habitat loss, boat/car strikes, nest predation (1 to 3% of the eggs laid produce a hatchling), and crab pots are all threats of diamondback terrapins.

Resources/additional information:

http://www.vims.edu/research/units/programs/sea_turtle/va_sea_turtles/terps.php

http://www.aqua.org/explore/animals/diamondback-terrapin

http://www.defenders.org/diamondback-terrapin/basic-facts

 

Nudibranchs: The elusive butterflies of the sea

The 3,000 species of nudibranchs (noo-duh-brangk) boast more colors than a box of Crayola crayons and most nudibranchs “live no more than a year and then disappear without a trace, their boneless, shell-less bodies leaving no record of their brief, brilliant lives”.

These sea slugs are found all over the world and range in size from a quarter of an inch to just about a foot. The word “nudibranch” means “naked gills”. A name appropriate since their gills are exposed prominently outside of their bodies (not covered like other sea slugs).

These gastropods are remarkable for their defense mechanisms. A listing and description of some are listed below along with some select images of these brilliantly colored sea slugs.

Warning coloration: Bright, contrasting pigments warn prospective predators they’re are inedible.
Skin: They can be can be tough-skinned, bumpy, and abrasive.
Toxic secretions: Some feast on poisonous sponges and then absorb the toxins into their body which are secreted later when disturbed.
Stinging cells: Some accumulate the stinging cells (nemocysts) from their prey (e.g., fire corals, anemones, and hydroids) and then the stinging cells are emanated from their own body when distributed.

http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/photos/strange-underwater-creatures/

nudi2

nudi3

Nudi4

Nudi5

I must admit that the title and inspiration of this post came from the book “The Highest Tide” (2005) by Jim Lynch. If you have time this summer it’s a must read if you think you might enjoy an homage to Rachel Carson secretly embedded in a coming of age story set along the coast of Puget Sound.

Image (c) top to bottom:

http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/photos/strange-underwater-creatures/http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/05deepcorals/background/chemical_ecology/media/nudibranchs.htmlhttp://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.cfm?med_id=71085http://www.nationalgeographic.com/wallpaper/ocean/photos/nudibranchs/nudibranchs02-tritonia/http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/spanish-dancer-nudibranch/

Horseshoe Crab Round Up: May 2013

And, we’re concluding the first month of the horseshoe crab mating season for 2013. Over the past couple of weeks, many articles have come through the great worldwide web including some new creative introductions on the relationship of Limulus polyphemus and shorebirds, captivating expose on the capture of two horseshoe crab poachers, updates on the plight of the species after Hurricane Sandy, the discovery of a new bait that could reduce the horseshoe crab harvest, and even a information on raising awareness of the role horseshoe crabs since they play a role with QC endotoxin detection tests (but, read more to see that there may be a sustainable alternative). If you have anything other interesting reads for May please post a comment below.

Limulus polyphemus and Shorebirds (including efforts on tagging, etc)
Journey of shorebirds, horseshoe crabs to shore linked through the ages – May 1, 2013
Protecting ancient undersea creatures – May 9, 2013
Being ‘crabby’ might benefit mankind – May 10, 2013
Tagged Horseshoe Crabs at Big Egg Marsh Queens NY… – May 25, 2013
Shorebirds, Horseshoe Crabs and Stewards… – May 26, 2013
Volunteers help tag mating horseshoe crabs on Harbor Island – May 28, 2013

 

The Poaching Adventure
2 arrested for poaching horseshoe crabs from NY – May 28, 2013
It’s Dark, but We See You: Release the Horseshoe Crabs – May 28, 2013
NYPD Busts Horseshoe Crabs Poachers After Chopper Chase – May 29, 2013

After Hurricane Sandy Habitat Restoration
Restoring hurricane-damaged horseshoe crab spawning beaches on Delaware Bay – May 11, 2013
Workers race nature to rebuild Shore habitats before mating, migration season – May 20, 2013
After Sandy, a race against time to save an endangered shorebird – May 25, 2013

New Bait Alternative for Eel and Whelk
New bait may cut horseshoe crab bait use – May 30, 2013
New artificial bait could reduce number of horseshoe crabs used to catch eel, whelk – May 30, 2013

QC Endotoxin Detection Tests
Lonza Not ‘Shellfish’ When it Comes to Endotoxin QC Testing – May 21, 2013

Earth Day, Every Day

I tend to be a little quiet and not post often in April. With Earth Day as a central theme for so many organizations this month, what more can I offer? Well, I can share 50 simple ways to make Earth Day, Every Day! These small actions will have you thinking more about how we’re affecting our oceans and local waterways and get you thinking about the animals and plants that live in marine ecosystems. Feel free to comment below with any questions you may have so I can be the Beach Chair Scientist and “bring a simplified perspective to your beachcombing inquiries”. Have a lovely weekend!

EarthDayEveryDay_BCS

For more ways to live (and die) “green” check out http://beachchairscientist.com/2012/04/15/100-ways-to-live-and-die-green/

Guest post: Cherilyn Jose of Ocean of Hope (where “Marine Animals Voice Their Wishes”)

I was honored she Cherilyn Jose asked if I could do a guest post for her, but not too shy that I didn’t ask her to reciprocate (I love the information she puts out there on her blog so I thought it was worth a chance!). She kindly did so, and am I ever thrilled! Here’s a bit of background on her and some prose on a favorite West coast species of her’s – the Dungeness crab.

Cherilyn Jose blogs at Ocean of Hope: Marine Animals Voice Their Wishes. She is a marine biologist, writer, and nature and underwater photographer. She is also an avid SCUBA diver and home aquarist. She asked me to do a post for her, but I told her … “only if you reciprocate”, and she kindly did so!dungenesscrab

Help! It’s Dungeness crab (pictured right) season here off of California, Oregon, and Washington. California’s crab season runs from November to June. Unlike many other ocean species that are in decline due to overfishing, Dungeness crabs are not in short supply. It may be due to females producing up to two million eggs at a time. I passed through 6 larval stages before becoming an adult and settling on the sandy or muddy seafloor.

The abundance of Dungeness crabs may also be due to my food preference, or lack thereof. I am a scavenger and I will eat, well, anything edible I come across. There is an increasing amount of plastic in the ocean, and I unfortunately can’t tell the difference between that and my real food sometimes. Plastic can be large like plastic grocery bags, or small like the microplastics that start at the bottom of the food chain and insidiously work themselves up into the bodies of top-level predators. Did you know that you carry several pounds of plastic in your body?

It is so tempting to get the “free” food from the crab traps and hoop nets, but I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t pass them up on a regular basis. It doesn’t help me that SCUBA divers are allowed to take us by hand while diving too.

Fortunately females are not allowed to be taken, as well as any crabs that are too small. Those crabs that are tossed back ensure another generation of crabs ends up on some human’s dinner plate. In the meantime, I’ll play the odds that I will survive another day past June-after all my lifespan can be up to 8 years!

 

5 photography contests for nature lovers

If you’re anything like me, you love to snap pictures when you’re outside. It’s a great way to relive the tranquility you get from being outdoors once placed back into reality. It’s also a powerful way to share how you see the world and what matters to you with those near and far!

In an effort to evoke that everlasting sense of appreciation for nature, many environmental organizations engage the public with photo contests – usually with epic prizes.  Here are 5 photography contests that might spark you’re inner Ansel Adams:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) Photo Contest: CBF is are seeking photographs (from professional or amateur photographers) that illustrate the positive aspects of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.
Deadline: April 12, 2013
Prize(s): First Prize: $500; Second Prize: $250; Third Prize: $150; Viewers’ Choice: $100. In addition, the first-prize photograph will appear in CBF’s 2014 calendar. And that’s not all: All winners will also receive a one-year membership to CBF and will have their photos displayed on CBF’s website, in a CBF e-newsletter, and in CBF’s Save the Bay magazine.

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) Earth Day Photo & Essay Contest: From April 22-29, students in grades 5-8 should take a photograph of something that is changing in their local environment, then submit the photo and explanation.
Deadline: May 10, 2013
Prize(s): In addition to having their photos featured on the IGES website, the top three winners will receive a digital camera, digital photo frame, and a digital photo keychain. Also, the top 10 winners will receive a photo book featuring the top 10 photos, with his or her photo on the front cover.

National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Wildlife Photo Contest: Photographers of all skill levels ages 13 and up are invited to enter the 43rd annual National Wildlife® Photo Contest.
Deadline: July 15, 2013
Prize(s): Winners could be featured in an upcoming issue of National Wildlife® magazine, alongside images taken by the world’s top nature photographers and could win a once-in-a-lifetime expense-paid trip for two to photograph polar bears, cash prizes and more!

Nature’s Best Photography (NBP) Windland Smith Rice International Awards: The editors of Nature’s Best Photography magazine invite all photographers (professionals, amateurs, and youth) to celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature through the art of photography, and to use this far-reaching medium as a creative tool for encouraging greater public interest in outdoor enjoyment and conservation stewardship.
Deadline: May 15, 2013 (Note that there may be an entry fee for submission)
Prize(s): Winners in each category and a selection of the Highly Honored photos will be displayed as large-format prints in the annual exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., one of the most widely respected and highly visited museums in the world. In addition, all of the winning images will be published in the Fall/Winter 2013 Collectors’ Edition of NBP.

Picture Our Planet Photo Contest: The Rainforest Alliance is pleased to announce the launch of the 2013 Picture Our Planet photo contest. This year’s contest celebrates sustainable tourism and the power of images to capture the world’s most beautiful places.
Deadline: June 30, 2013
Prize(s): One grand prize winner will receive an eight-day, seven-night trip for two to Costa Rica. Also, one winner will be selected from each of the six categories and will Polaroid high-definition pocket digital video camcorder and an honorary one-year membership at the $100-level to the Rainforest Alliance.

Have fun and good luck! If you’re in need on some inspiration, feel free to check out the pictures I’ve taken while out and about on my Flickr account (below is my attempt at being artsy with driftwood).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/beachchairscientist/