New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Special days in early February (Part 1)

A Tribute Fund-Raising Carving, a CT. Alcid/Pelagic Trip, and a New Standard in Seabird Books

    White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi).  In my opinion the most beautiful seabird along the Atlantic coast of the US. The spectacular images below were taken on a pelagic trip off the North Carolina coast by Douglas Koch (   ) and are displayed here with his permission; Thanks Doug!

     Special Tribute  promotion to the COA (Connecticut Ornithologists Association- )  COA is an all volunteer organization with the mission of promoting interest in Connecticut birds, and collecting, preparing, and disseminating the best available scientific information on the status of Connecticut birds and their habitat. While COA is not primarily an advocacy organization, they work actively to provide scientific information and to support other conservation organizations in the state. COA looks to the future and works closely with other conservation organizations to protect the state's birds.
     Four officers, a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, as well as a board of directors with 18 members oversee the day-to-day functions of the association and its many committees.
    COA publishes quarterly the highly regarded journal, The Connecticut Warbler, and the newsletter, COA Bulletin.
     Each year the COA Annual Membership Meeting is held to conduct Association business and to present educational and entertaining programs by regional and national speakers. Additionally, various workshops and lectures are held throughout the year.
     An organ of COA, the Avian Records Committee of Connecticut (ARCC), maintains the official state list of bird species and adjudicates submitted records of species new or rare in Connecticut.
     The many talented people who make COA work are dedicated to promoting ornithology in our state and to making Connecticut birding the best it can be. These individuals make COA the leader in the world of birding in Connecticut.
      I carved this White-tailed Tropicbird sculpture for the COA’s fundraising efforts. This decoy sculpture will be part of the special raffle at the COA’s annual meeting on March 24, 2012 as a tribute to this very special seabird.

     Last years special raffle ((Fork-tailed Flycatcher) winner  Buzz Devine looks at this years Tropicbird carving in the parking lot at the Avery Point UCONN campus after the CT Pelagic trip on Saturday, Feb. 4. Thank You to Tina Green for accepting the carving for COA and taking care of it until the event.

    Ct. recorded its first official record sighting of a White-tailed Tropicbird last August sent to us by special delivery courtesy of Hurricane Irene. For the complete story see Greg Hanisek’s blog report

     This ethereal seabird is not indigenous but native to Bermuda and is its national symbol, an honorable symbol just as our Bald Eagle and the Resplendent Quetzal of Guatemala.  The White-tailed Tropicbird - or Longtail known locally in Bermuda - is a traditional harbinger of spring and considered one of Bermuda’s most beautiful features of their summer coastline. The Tropicbird nests from April to October in holes and crevices of the coastal cliffs mostly in the Castle Harbor Islands; where it is safer from human disturbance and predators. It is the only native seabird to have survived in numbers on Bermuda. In 1978, at least 3,000 nesting pairs used to breed along most of Bermuda’s smaller islands coastlines but the numbers have declined steadily due to coastline development, increased disturbance from an expanding population, predation by dogs, cats, and crows and the ever present threat of oil pollution at sea.  In September 2004, Hurricanes Felix and Adrian destroyed many nests and filled others with rock.

    There was a Longtail nesting site crisis. To help offset this, Longtail nesting igloos were invented in 1997 as an emergency measure to provide alternative nesting sites.  35 Longtail igloos were introduced on Nonsuch Island and worked well. Tropicbirds like their cousins the Frigatebirds are unable to walk on land so they do all their nest searching on the wing. Tropicbirds are often observed flying back and forth along the cliffs searching for their nesting locations. Although Frigatebirds cannot swim, Tropicbirds are excellent swimmers. Their aerial courtship display, involves touching the tips of the long tail streamers together in paired flight.

     The single purplish-red speckled egg is laid in April and hatches in late May. The chick takes approximately 65 days to fledge and departs to sea on its own in late July or early August. Longtails do all of their feeding far out on the open ocean where they plunge dive for fish and squid like Gannets. During the winter months, the population disperses throughout the Sargasso Sea and remains out of sight of land.

     The carving process. When the COA staff decided on this species for this year’s event, I was very pleased. I have been wanting to carve a White-tailed Tropicbird ever since I saw Greg’s report of the successfully rehabbed bird that was found in CT. delivered to us by Irene. 

     After I drew the pattern and selected the wood, it was time to cut the blank out on the band saw. For this decoy sculpture, I selected tupelo wood which is a very stable wood species found in the swamps from North Carolina to Louisiana’s bayous. My supply of tupelo comes from North Carolina, and being that this species is seen off the North Carolina on pelagic trips, my wood choice was appropriate. After I drew the pattern onto the wood block (both side and top views…..

    …… it was time to cut the blank on the saw.

    ….. I always do a little bit of preliminary shape carving on the saw . Because the Tropicbird displays long central tail streamers, I considered different ways to reproduce them. I always like to use wood as much as possible over metal alternatives. I ended up cutting the long tail streamers from Atlantic White Holly wood. Holly is a very strong wood and is used most often as an ivory substitute on piano keys and chess sets. I built the long streamers from three separate lineal lengths of Holly, and glued each section together with epoxy and secured with inserted brass pins.

     …..and then smooth out those cuts on a pneumatic bladder sander. The blank is now taking on the look of its naturally shaped body.

     I carved the bird to its nearly completed stage and “penciled-in” the details to help project bird’s look and character.

     The bird is carved completely including the carved bill and added eye rings which add the life-like expression.

     Because I envisioned this bird to be displayed on a delicate carved base, I wanted to make sure the bird was light enough (by weight) to help with the balance of the sculpture when it is affixed to its base component. If the bird was too heavy, the bird would be out of balance and it wouldn’t sit correctly on the base and topple over. As with many decoys that I make, the bird was now hollowed out (like two bowls placed together rim to rim) from the bottom. Hollowing a decoy adds two very important features; lighter weight for floatability and wood longevity. Many wood species if left solid will split and crack in time, Although tupelo is very stable and will stand up through time without usual wood breakdown, weight was the feature I needed to address in this sculpture.

    The decoy was hollowed out from the bottom of the carving using a drill press with Forstner’s bits and my usual carving tools to remove the excess. When the decoy was completely hollowed, the large hole in the bottom of the decoy needed to be plugged. I use thin wood  for this inserting feature on he bottom of the decoy. I always try to use wood species from the bird’s geo locations. Since this species is known as a Caribbean species, I selected three wood species for this sculpture: one for the bottom insert plate and two for the base. The wood bottom plate species is spalted Tamarind (Tamarindus indicus) which I purchased from a supplier in the West Indies. (All of my wood that I purchase is not from indiscriminate cutting- it comes from storm salvage, sustainable tree farms, and controlled forestry culling). The patterns of this very blonde spalted wood was the perfect compliment choice for this white plumaged bird.

     The sculpture sealed with shellac and ready for primer.

     Now that the bird is ready to be primed and sealed, I wanted to design and carve the base component to the bird carving.  I wanted to project the feeling of the ocean with this sculpture so I added a very abstract wave shape to the base. I also wanted to have the bird slightly off balance giving the feeling of motion of a bird swimming on the waves of the sea. For the base components I selected two highly figured and beautiful Caribbean wood species: Pilon wood (Hyeronima alchorneoides) for the arm, and West Indies Laurel (Cordia ssp) for the foot of the base.

     The bird is primed with multiple applications of flat white sign painters enamel.

     Pre-painting-  Since this bird is a pied plumaged species, I blocked in the black feathering  with flat black enamel before I started the actual oil painting. This technique is called “Grisaille”  or “blocking in” the colors, markings and patterns in black, white and grey before you begin the oil painting process.

     The oil painting begins….. I first painted the tail and primaries highlighting the black edges of the anterior webbing of the primaries.

    The tertials, secondaries and wing coverts were now painted…….

    ……followed by the soft blending of the scapulars, mantle and side pockets.

     The head and bill were painted, and then I enhanced the softness of the white feathering by introducing soft glowing highlights of warm yellow ochre to the hind neck and chest of the decoy. The bird was now set aside to dry overnight.

     With the paint now dry, I added  a few details such as feather edges and feather splits to finish the carving.

     The completed decoy…..

    …..and softly illuminated by the glow of early morning on the beach.


CT Alcid/Pelagic Trip- Feb. 04, 2012
    This morning 42 birders went on a chartered boat trip out of Groton, CT in search of  alcids that have been in the eastern Long Island Sound. We spent the first half of our trip following the CT/NY line down the sound from the Thames River westward into the area where all of the sightings of Common and Thick-billed Murres were noted near the cross Sound ferry route. 

    Unfortunately it appears that the alcids and the fish that the birds were feasting on have moved out of the sound.  This area was almost totally devoid of birds except for a few Northern Gannets, and very few loons and gulls.

     The second half of the trip was spent cruising the state line back east to Stonington.  We had better luck here with 9 Razorbills and more Northern Gannets.  All of the Razorbills would have been visible from land with the best spot for viewing being Ender's Island in Mystic.  All in all, it was a lot of fun and it was really great to see so many CT birders together in the field.

Phil Rusch
Chaplin CT

Here are a few images from the day-

The Vessel Project Oceanology-

Boarding the vessel-

All on board- a few of the CT Birders- a few names you might recognize

Patrick Comins-

with his son Max. (A possible future Gull expert)?

Paul Desjardins-

Jan Hollerbach (left) and Tina Green (left)-

Brendan Murtha- ( )......

.....and his Dad; Sean, an accomplished and gifted Wildlife Artist (

on the upper deck- (from l to r) Julian Hough, Nick Bonomo and Glenn Williams)-

   Oh yes, I forgot; our host Phil Rusch-

     Heading out of the Harbor. These three Red-breasted Mergansers pass by the distant Pequot Lighthouse on New London Point-

The famous "haunted" New London Ledge Light-

New London Point, Pequot Lighthouse-

The first birds to appear were Oldsquaw-

And the first Gannets appeared-

and a few Common Loons-

     When we turned around an headed to the eastern end of the Sound, more Gannets-

     with Race Rock Lighthouse in the background-

     a handful of Gulls like this Greater Black-baked Gull flying over the vessel-

and more Oldsquaw-

     ....with Little Gull Island in the background.....

    ........and Latimer Reef Lighthouse-

.....and this drake Oldsquaw flying by two Razorbills-

     A few Harbor Seals were seen on the trip-

     ......and a few Red-throated Loons-

     Morgan Point Lighthouse-

   These images were taken by Bill Asteriades. They were posted with his permission.

   Surf Scoters-

     Great Cormorant-

     Flock of Dunlin on the Stonington Breakwater-

     Common Eiders on the Stonington Breakwater-

    And of course; the Razorbills-

     Immature (left) and Adult (right)

     Back in the Harbor- Kris Johnson (extreme left), (going right) Julian Hough, Patrick Comins, Max Comins (in front of Patrick), Mark Szantyr (with camera), Nick Bonomo (with Yale cap), Paul Wolter (center-right, green jacket black watch cap), Denise Jernigan (extreme right).

     Disembarking the vessel-

   The gang!

Totals for the day-
Brant 3
Common Eider 18
Surf Scoter 55
White-winged Scoter 4
Oldsquaw 18
Red-breasted Merganser 12
Common Loon 15
Red-throated Loon 11
Great Cormorant 14
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Northern Gannet 16
Razorbill 9   All of these birds were probably viewable from shore with the best viewing spot being Ender's Island in Mystic
Dunlin 35
Purple Sandpiper 3

The best book on Seabirds-

Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds
   Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel
     When I saw the box with the UK address in my PO Box, I didn’t make it out of the Post Office before it was unwrapped. I had it half “thumb-throughed” before I unlocked my truck door! In my hands was what I consider the finest book on seabirds available: Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds- Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel. All the information you will ever need about Storm-Petrels are beautifully outlined in the pages of this book which is the first volume in a planned four volume set.

      A half  hour had passed before I turned the key on the ignition of my truck. This book captivated me. I skimmed through it again and again from front cover to back, and then from back cover to front. I alternated from reading the exceptionally articulated text to admiring the brilliantly displayed high quality images, to inhaling the breathtaking illustrations. The book also includes two DVDs; I couldn’t wait to get to my studio to watch them! Authors Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher have produced what I consider the finest book on sea birds available; in fact I would call it the Seabirders Bible!

     Book 1 features the Storm-Petrels, and subsequent volumes of other seabird families are planned and in the works (see list below). I contacted one of the authors Ashley Fisher to both praise him for their great efforts in producing this monumental book, but to also inquire about the other volumes and their publishing dates. I am usually a very patient man, but I honestly can’t wait until the other volumes come along! Mr. Fisher kindly replied to my very anxious email:

Hi Keith

We don't have an exact date for our next guide on the pterodromas, but
work is well underway - we have just seen a first draft of some of the
illustrations and they are superb! We are hoping to publish as soon as
possible - probably August/September...



    For me (and everyone who has this book) “its gonna be a long spring and summer waiting for Book 2”!

The book has two hundred twelve pages featuring very detailed descriptions of the birds such as this one from the book:

     Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) this is a classic profile of WISP in traveling flight. It has a medium-length body with an evenly proportioned head. The wings are medium-length with short broad arms, medium-length hands, and pointed wing-tips. The leading edge is moderately angular and smoothly rounded at the carpal joints. The trailing-edge is more or less straight. The caudal projection is long, with a long base, fairly long tail, and an obvious toe projection. Couple this with pattern-B plumage aspect (pale upperwing-covert bars, white rump patch and thigh patches) and identification as WISP is straightforward.”

    Each species is described with comprehensive detail featuring every aspect of the species from anatomic descriptions, natural history, flight patterns and behavioral dynamics,  plumages variations and descriptions, moult cycles, ranges, subspecies comparisons, confusing species comparisons and much more. Here is an example of what material is covered for our most common Storm-Petrel in the northeast; the Wilson's. Subspecies, Other Names, Conservation Staus, World Population, Atlantic Range, "Jizz" of the species, Size, Plumage aspects (including upperwing-covert bars, underwing-covert and auxillary panels, thigh patches), Flight Behaviors (traveling, foraging and collectiong), Structure (traveling flight, foraging and collecting flight), Descriptions (sat on sea, body build, bill shape and proportions, wing formula), Moult, and so much more.

     As a professional avian artist/sculptor, I carve birds and have carved birds exclusively for nearly thirty-five years. The type of birds that I carve/sculpt range from the most simplistic form of decoy to the highly detailed realistic pieces which I compete with at the World Championship Competition each year. Simply, to compete at this level, the bird sculpted from wood must project realism down to every micro-detail; realism is the standard. These highly detailed pieces are carved to the standards and dimensions of the living bird; every detail must be acutely reproduced. You need to know every aspect and nuance of the bird "inside and out"-"forward and backward"!

      The "thumbnail" stages to such a realistic sculpture include accurate measurements of the overall body structure, plumage markings and coloration (all factors considered), pterylography, feather anatomy and topography, moult, etc. But more important is the personality and behavioral traits of the subject species- the "jizz"! The perfectly reproduced sculpture will only be successful  if the true character of the species is successfully assimilated into the piece. For me as an artist, this book/DVD's offer me every detail needed for me to realistically reproduce a species in wood: anatomy, measurements, topgraphy, structure, etc. But it also gives me the all those important species specific characteristics, behavior, life styles- the "jizz"! 

     This book/DVD set will paint a complete picture to each species for you. You will know every aspect of each Storm-Petrel species through the images, video footage and illustrations as well as the highly detailed, descriptive and articulated text.   

    Inside you will also find:

Clearly defined Topography plates-


Moult information-

     One hundred and thirty-five amazing images, with most never before published depicting the birds in various postures with descriptions-

Range charts-

Species anatomical details-

     Forty-one stunning Illustrations by Ian Lewington including multiple postures by activity, and comparative confusion pairs-

     And one hundred twenty minutes of footage at sea of all the species which includes in-hand and at-colony footage of some of the species packed into two DVD’s. The DVD’s allow cross-referencing to the book and enables the user to apply that knowledge learned from the book.

Disc 1: Group Introduction, Identification, Confusion pairs and Identification challenge.

Disc 2 includes: Species accounts (all species listed in the book).

Book-1-  Storm-Petrels- species included: White-faced, Wilson’s, European, Black-bellied, White-bellied, Band-rumped, Leach’s, Swinhoe’s, Matsudaira’s, and Bulwer’s Petrel.

Other planned volumes will include: 

Future Volumes- Book 2 Pterodromas: Petrels- Trindade, Kermadec, Fea’s, Zino’s, Soft-plumaged, Bermuda, Black-capped, Jamaican, Atlantic, and Great-winged.

Book 3- Albatrosses, Procellarias and Shearwaters- Albatrosses-Wandering, Black-browed, Grey–headed, Yellow-nosed and White-chinned Petrel.
Shearwaters- Cory’s, Scopoli’s, Cape Verde, Great, Sooty, Manx, Yelkouan, Balearic, Audubon’s, Boyd’s and Barolo’s.

Book 4- (I can’t wait for this volume to be published)-Tropicbirds, etc.- Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbird. (Sulidae)- Northern Gannet, Boobies: Masked, Brown and Red-footed. (Fregata) Tropicbirds: Ascension Island, Magnificent and Lesser. (Phalaropes)-
Red-necked and Red Phalaropes. Also including South Polar and Great Skua, Pomarine, Parasitic and Long-tailed Jaegers, Sabine ’s Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake.

(Maybe we can convince them to add Fulmar to this extensive list-and hopefully there will be a Book 5- Alcids and Pelagic Gulls)!- KM

     As I stated above, this is the best and most comprehensive book (and series) available on seabirds. When you open your book you won’t believe the incredible amount of information packed in between the two covers of this book. I have seen countless Wilson’s and Leach’s Storm-Petrels over these years, usually from the stern of cod boats. But in looking at this book, there is more to learn. This book enhances your knowledge or builds your knowledge with clear and  inclusive species details and illustrates these details in/with images, video footage and fine illustrations. This book is a MUST for any seabirder, or for those who are venturing into seabirding!

    Besides the cover to cover complete species profiles, what makes this book (and series) such a monumental work is its broad appeal. Every seabird enthusiast from Ornithologists, Scientists, serious and casual birders, and those who like myself are passionate about seabirds and their marine environment will relish this book.  

     You can obtain your copy by clicking on the link above. It is a decision you will be glad that you made. Thank you to Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher for putting this book and the series together. We are anxious for the continuing books in this series. Well done!

Keith Mueller
Killingworth, CT.