Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The oil-soaked cormorant died in the water

It's been two weeks since my last post, but it's not because there wasn't something to talk about; it's because I haven't had the words to describe the sadness I felt when, three days after I had spotted the cormorant on shore, two days after I had seen him again in the water near Port Hueneme Pier, I found him dead on the beach. I had missed a day in between because there had been a rainstorm. More than likely, he died of hypothermia. It was a lot for me to take in, the grief hard to bear, knowing I could have saved him if I had known he was in trouble. I should have made my plan, and executed a rescue. I'm so sad about the bird. He really was a magnificent creature.

I took his picture because the sorrow was important. It will always be important. The two bird deaths here in Port Hueneme happened as a result of the oil spill 30 miles up the coast--the Santa Barbara County oil spill near Carpinteria on December 7th. I found the oil-soaked grebe on December 10th already dead, and the oil-soaked cormorant died sometime before the morning of December 19th.

I will post again, as there are other things I want to discuss, like the dredging of Port Hueneme Harbor, and the clay-looking oily, rocky blobs left on shore as a result.

But I wanted to leave this post with a little hope:

Today I saw a pair of cormorants diving for fish today out beyond the breakers. I didn't take photos, as I haven't been taking my camera to the beach lately. I will return in the morning to check on them, and bring my camera just in case. But from now on, it is my first priority to make sure the birds are okay before snapping photos.

My husband and I rescued a young seagull with a broken wing two weekends ago. I had spotted him on the beach following sunset a couple of days before, and didn't think I could handle the rescue. When I approached him, he would run away--fast. So when we saw him again, my husband helped me corral him. I made the handoff to Liz, who had rescued two other seagulls the same day near Channel Islands Harbor and was taking them to a bird care facility. It was Liz who told me that mine was a young seagull, because he was brown-colored. I didn't have a camera at the time of his rescue, but I did go out the following day and take shots of the different-colored seagulls. I am including two:

All these wild birds deserve to have a clean ocean in which to live.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

International Bird Rescue Research Center

Santa Barbara spill update: 3 oiled birds in care

Three live oiled birds are now being treated at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro. This is OWCN's (Oiled Wildlife Care Network) largest oiled bird response facility in Southern California.

The oil-soaked bird standing on shore was a cormorant

I sought help after my last post, to find out what kind of bird I had seen last Friday standing on Port Hueneme shore. It was a magnificent-looking seabird, except that his body was covered in black oil.

Liz, a volunteer bird rescuer for Wildlife Care of Ventura County, wrote back to me, and identified the bird as a cormorant. She had just rescued one the day before. She said they were a bit more aggressive than the grebes, but that they could still be caught by throwing a towel over them. And unlike the grebes, they usually stand if they come to shore (grebes cannot function or survive on land). It's also not necessary to make a donut-shaped cushion for the cormorant to sit on, like you need to do for the aquatic soft-bellied grebes. Liz cautioned me about the beaks of the cormorants; they have little hooks at the end. I would need to be careful if I were given a second chance to rescue this one, or another cormorant in the future.

Liz also instructed that, once I throw the towel over him, it would be good to try and grab his head out through the towel, so he doesn't wriggle out. And if a bird is oiled, the best thing to do is put them in a box and keep them warm, and get them to someone who knows how to take care of them ASAP. Some oiled birds go straight to Malibu, as the Ventura/Santa Barbara facilities are not as equipped to handle this kind of injury. Liz told me she had also seen a seagull whose body was half black from oil the day she rescued the cormorant. She reiterated my thoughts exactly, "It's so sad what happens to our poor wildlife."

I also received a second confirmation from Anna Reams, Director of Wildlife Care of Ventura County, that this bird was a cormorant. After viewing the photos in my previous blog, she gave me additional information based on how the cormorant was swimming. Anna said that he was definitely covered with oil because he was submerged, and not floating on top of the water; that's a clear indication he is oil-soaked. I was so sorry to hear about that, as I had not known what to look for, even though once he had gotten back into the water, there wasn't anything I could've done. I am still sorry I had not tried to capture him.

The following day I went out to the beach on what I have come to call my daily Bird Watch Beach Patrol (BWBP). I think I spotted the same cormorant, and it seemed like he was still holding on, though he was swimming low in the water. (bird on left)

He was hanging out near the end of the Port Hueneme pier. I climbed the steps and walked out to see him.

I could feel the vibrancy of his spirit. I know that sounds a bit crazy, but sometimes I can read energy, and I was darn sure it was the same cormorant. It was like I recognized his personality.

But that was the last time I saw him. I have looked for him in the past four days, but he hasn't been out there. I will be on the lookout for more of his kind, and I'll know what to do next time I see one of these beautiful birds covered in oil.

An additional side note about catching seabirds: Always get between them and the ocean before approaching them. Then you can chase them up towards the sand, because once they get back in the water, they're almost impossible to catch. They can dive under the water and slip out very easily. *But with an oiled bird especially, going back in the water may mean they will suffer from hypothermia and die. When birds get their feathers soiled, they cannot maintain their body heat, and the water seeps below the outer feathers and soaks the downy ones underneath. They die from being cold. Anna cautioned me that when I see these guys compromised like this on the beach, the best thing to do is to have a plan in my head before I attempt a rescue, because they will use the last bit of their energy to get back into the water. "You will only get one chance," she said.

Thank you Liz and Anna for all your valuable information.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oil Spill off the coast of Santa Barbara County

On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 2008, the oil spill was reported after platform workers discovered oil had leaked from a finger-sized hole in a pump line. I don't know how many birds were affected in Santa Barbara County, but I found one dead oil-soaked grebe yesterday (December 10th), and another bird--a species I have not seen before--standing on the Port Hueneme shore this morning, soaked in oil. See series of photos below.

This was the same platform that was responsible for an 80,000-barrel spill that killed 3,686 birds in 1969, and that underestimation did not include the birds that had died at sea, or whose carcasses had not been recovered. It was an environmental disaster of gargantuan proportions.
Santa Barbara's 1969 Oil Spill

I am including this photo of the dead grebe I found, because the sadness of even one bird being affected by this kind of petroleum-based mishap is worth acknowledging.

Two days after the spill, congresswoman Lois Capps, representative from the affected district, pledged to work with the Obama administration to protect the coastline from further oil development. She also called the oil spill another "painful reminder that drilling for oil is a dirty and dangerous business."

We have got to look to other fuel sources, and soon. As I walked the Port Hueneme beach (about 30 miles south of Carpinteria) yesterday afternoon and this morning, I could smell petroleum in the air. Maybe it was the incoming and outgoing ships into the only deep sea port between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but it was the first time I had noticed this level of oily pungency in the air. I imagine, though, that all those huge ships floating in and out of the harbor are powered by fossil fuel.

This was the bird I couldn't identify. As I moved closer, he went back out to sea. I thought he was just black-feathered, but on closer inspection of my photographs, it looked to me like this one had oil smeared on his feathers, too.

I wouldn't have been able to catch him, I don't think. He took off for the water as soon as I got near him. I just hope he survived out there. I read in the Malibu Surfside News that any soiling, or even just one drop of oil on a sea bird will compromise its feathers' protective structure and allow wind and water to reach the bird's skin. The article states, "There’s an old wives’ tale that a bird’s feathers are coated with a protective oil which makes water bead. This is not the case. A bird’s feathers are like shingles on a house. They are structured just so and aligned in such a way to protect the bird from the elements."
Here's a link to the article:
Malibu Surfside News: Rescuer Says Latest Oiled Sea Bird Event Points Out Shortcomings

I'm going back out to the beach in the morning, to see if this bird returned.
I'm worried that he will get too cold and die if it stays out to sea.

12-9-08 Oil spill article:
Oil Spill Off California Reminder of Offshore Drilling Danger

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The grebe that got away...

It was a good thing, too. (By the way, this is a Western Grebe. )

On the last day of November, my husband and I first spotted this young grebe swimming between the pilings under Port Hueneme Pier. He seemed to be having a good time, but still, we were concerned, as he was coming in close to shore.

My husband ran back to the condo to retrieve a box and a donut cushion made from paper. The little grebe meandered a good distance north of the pier by the time my husband returned. The grebe kept sticking his neck under the water bobbing for fish.

And the young grebe finally did come to shore.

But he realized all to quickly this was not for him, and he had way too much energy to put up with me trying to rescue him.

He spent about thirty seconds on the beach before hightailing it back out to open sea. I was relieved to know he was okay.

His wings spread and helped lift him to freedom.

Swimming back out to sea.

I did, however, shoot a couple of photos during his brief visit to Port Hueneme beach. I am quite proud of the one below showing this grebe with a seagull. You can see the difference in the anatomy of these birds.

Good luck, little fella.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to spot a grebe in trouble...

Port Hueneme, California - November 25th, 2008
The second grebe I rescued this week, I knew was in trouble. By now I had learned that if a grebe is coming close to shore, something's wrong. I took this photo of him in the surf, and then rushed back to my condo to get a towel and a box to put the little guy in. It was clear he was too exhausted to swim back out to sea.
By the time I got back, the grebe was beached. I felt like I had to act quickly.
But in my haste, I made a mistake! As painful as it was to see this poor water bird trying to escape over land, I thought it important to try to get a photo of it as a reminder to myself and others what NOT to do when trying to save a beached grebe. A grebe's anatomy does not allow them to walk on land. They are an aquatic bird. In fact, even sitting on the sand is harmful to their delicate underbellies. The last place a grebe wants to be is on shore. The bird became frightened when I approached him. Seeing him try to hop on his aquatic legs over the sand to get away from me was heart wrenching! (Later, I had to forgive myself for this stupid mistake. )
I backed away, hoping he would stop. After three times of lifting himself up to try and get back to sea, he gave up again. He had exhausted himself further. This time I knew what to do. I removed my shoes, hiked up my pants, and waded out beyond him in the surf, to come at him from ocean side. He did not try to run this time. But be cautioned, grebes can take out an eye with their long beaks. It's best to throw a towel over them, and then gently lift them into a box.
The first thing you need to do is provide a donut-like cushion for them to sit upon in the box, and then get them as warm as possible. Here, the little guy is sleeping under our bathroom ceiling heat lamp. Later, I rendezvoused with a volunteer from Wildlife Care of Ventura, and made the hand-off. The little guy (or girl?) is still doing okay.

I will post again when I receive an update on both the grebes I rescued in the last week.

Again, here is the website for Wildlife Care of Ventura: http://www.wildlifecareofventura.org/

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rescuing grebes in Port Hueneme

I've rescued two grebes (water birds) in the last week. One is still sitting under a heat lamp in the master bathroom. He will later be transported to Santa Barbara, where he will be under the care of a volunteer from "Wildlife Care of Ventura County." They will work to bring the little guy back to health. The first grebe I rescued survived, and is doing much better.

Visit http://www.wildlifecareofventura.org/ for contact information.

Here's a link to an article from February 2008 which gives you good information about how to capture grebes safely (for you and them), and how to care for the grebes in the interim, while you wait for the wildlife rescue helper:
Malibu Surfside News: Rescuer Says Latest Oiled Sea Bird Event Points Out Shortcomings