As most of you know, boats are an essential tool for many oil spills to reach and collect affected wildlife. OSPR and OWCN maintain a fleet of vessels that is dedicated to wildlife recovery during spills, and staff periodically attend trainings to review boating safety and skills and learn how to operate new equipment.
I recently had the opportunity to join some of my OWCN colleagues for two such trainings. The first was the Motorboat Operator Training Course (MOTC) refresher. The MOTC is a comprehensive 3-5-day course that covers safe boating operation, which should be taken by anyone who is regularly boating or may be a primary boat operator. A 1-day refresher class is required every 5 years to refresh knowledge and skills. During April I had the privilege of joining Kyra, Wendy, Jamie, and Jennie for an MOTC refresher through UC Davis in Bodega Bay. We reviewed things like field safety planning, vessel safety checks and inspections, knot tying skills, maintenance and record keeping, and did several practical exercises on the water. The course was tailored to the type of vessel operations we might use for wildlife recovery during a spill, and it was extra beneficial because I was working side by side with my OWCN colleagues, just as I would during a spill.
The second training was one I’ve been waiting for since I started in my current role with OSPR in 2011. The Airboat Operations Course hasn’t been offered through CDFW since 2010, so I was ecstatic to finally be able to take it. I had never operated an airboat before, so I had a lot to learn. The course covered pre-operation checks, maneuvering, loading/unloading, and, of course, safety. You might think that if you’ve driven one boat you can drive any boat, but the operation of an airboat is much different than the small skiffs I traditionally operate. One of the primary considerations is being aware of your wake and making sure it doesn’t come into the boat when you stop or turn. I was also surprised to learn that airboats maneuver much more smoothly on mud or wet vegetation than on water. This training was just the beginning of my journey of becoming an experienced airboat operator, and it was great to share it with Wendy and Jennie. I was also lucky to have Tim and Randy (retired, formerly with OSPR) as two of the 8 wonderful instructors. Although I hope we never have a situation requiring use of airboats for an oil spill, I am grateful to be more familiar with their use and operation should we need them to access shallow or muddy wetland or marsh habitat. Until then, I’m looking forward to many more trainings with my OWCN colleagues.
Colleen is an Environmental Scientist for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. Her primary job duties include oil spill contingency planning for sea otters and other marine wildlife, maintaining response equipment and working as part of the Wildlife Recovery team during spills.
Our final region spotlight is the “Central” region, which is the middle of our state from the western Sierra Nevada foothills to the coastal counties of Monterey and San Luis Obispo. Much of this region consists of the San Joaquin Valley which has some interesting facts of its own. Together with the Sacramento Valley, it forms the Central Valley which according to the US Geological Survey, contains 17% of the nation’s irrigated land and produces 25% of our entire nation’s food. This is vital for our food supply but perhaps not for the species that live or had once lived there.
Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:
Region 1: Northern
Region 2: North Central
Region 3: Bay Delta
Region 4: Central
Region 5: South Coast
Region 6: Inland Deserts
Region 7: Marine
Our OWCN Member Organizations in this region are:
Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center (Hughson, Stanislaus County)
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, Monterey County)
SPCA for Monterey County (Salinas, Monterey County)
Pacific Wildlife Care (Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County)
California Living Museum (Bakersfield, Kern County)
This region has a very diverse range of habitats from pine forests to naturally dry and artificially irrigated valleys, to coastal areas. As such, it is home to a wide variety of species, many of which are endemic and of conservation concern. Featured below are some of these plus another that is one of my favorites.
There are many salamander species in this region, but two of them are State Threatened and endemic to Kern County. These salamanders belong to the Plethodontid family or the “Lungless salamanders”. They are land dwellers but do not have lungs to breathe, rather they respire through their skin and the linings of their mouth. Because of this, they need a moist environment to keep from drying out. Within this family, are the genus of “Slender salamanders” which have 4-digit hind limbs as a feature which distinguishes them from other salamanders.
The State Threatened Tehachapi slender salamander is only found in the drainage area of Caliente Creek to Ft Tejon in the Tehachapi Mountains. It can have different color variations and look similar to the Black-bellied salamander that is also found in this area but the Tehachapi slender salamander is short and stocky.
The State Threatened Kern Canyon slender salamander can look very similar to the Tehachapi slender salamander but has a different home range in northern Kern County in the Kern River Canyon. When threatened, both these salamanders use defense tactics such as coiling and camouflage, coiling and springing/bouncing around, as well as dropping their tail to distract the predator while they flee.
This region is also home to Kangaroo rats of conservation importance. Although these rats look nothing like the non-native Black rat or Norway rat, other species of native mice and rats may look similar to non-native species. Although not always the case, many species of our native mice and rats often have the characteristics of a more furred, bi-colored tail, white bellies and feet. While sometimes they may not have these features, especially young ones, if they do have them, they are likely native.
The Morro Bay kangaroo rat is only found in south Morro Bay. This State and Federally Endangered species inhabits fine sands among coastal scrub vegetation in relatively open areas. The Fresno kangaroo rat is also State and Federally Endangered and mostly found in southwest San Joaquin Valley. The Tipton kangaroo rat is the third State and Federally Endangered rat that is only found in Kern and Tulare Counties. While these three important rats have the typical furred, bi-colored tails, white bellies, and white feet, they can be difficult to visually differentiate from other native kangaroo rats other than being smaller.
Once down to 22 remaining in the wild, the endangered California Condor has rebounded to an estimated 334 according to the National Park Service. They can be found in other neighboring states and Mexico, but in California they mostly inhabit the mountain ranges of the southwest San Joaquin Valley. A female will lay a maximum of a single egg each breeding season. If she does so, it then takes over a year for that baby to fledge and over 6 years to reach breeding age. Mid-morning as the fog lifts along the cliff lookouts of Big Sur you may be lucky to see one!
The Blunt-nosed leopard lizard is yet another State and Federally Endangered endemic species of this region. This species looks similar to the Long-nosed leopard lizard except for its blunt snout. Once found throughout almost all of the San Joaquin Valley, the extensive conversion of the area to agricultural land has diminished their habitat to small and sparse populations.
The last animals featured for this region aren’t endangered or threatened but are listed as a Species of Special Concern and are very interesting to me. These are the California legless lizards. Because they have no legs, they look and move like very small snakes, but a glance at their head and you can tell they are a lizard. If you look even closer you will see that like other lizards, they have eyelids and external ears!
Some legless lizard species can be quite long, however the ones native to California don’t get much longer than 6 inches. Different species are found from the Central region south into Region 5, however 2 species and 1 subspecies are only found in Region 4. In Kern County there is the Temblor legless lizard and the Bakersfield legless lizard. The melanistic subspecies of the Northern California legless lizard (Black legless lizard) is an inhabitant of the Monterey Bay and Peninsula.
It has been an enjoyable journey covering the different regions. They each have their own unique features and many fascinating animals that live there. I hope to learn even more about these areas and someday see them in person!
I may not have known it at the time, but it turns out I was preparing to join the Oiled Wildlife Care Network many years ago. As a bright eyed, zealous marine biology major from UCLA, I jumped at early volunteer and internship opportunities to get my feet wet in an aspirational wildlife career. While I had great interest in all aspects of marine science and wildlife conservation, I was bitten by the charismatic megafauna bug and found myself drawn to the captivating world of marine mammals. This led me to an internship with the California Wildlife Center (CWC), helping them rescue stranded marine mammals from the Malibu coast, followed by yet another internship with the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) marine mammalogy department to work directly with their captive California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals and Southern sea otters (coincidentally, both CWC and AOP are current OWCN Member Organizations!)
Following my internships and a few great years at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, I found myself working at another OWCN Member Organization, this time The Marine Mammal Center. Starting in the stranding department, I focused on coordinating the rescue efforts of stranded marine mammals (a much larger rescue range than the Malibu coast!). Surprisingly, my love for hands on work with marine mammals began to shift, as I found myself drawn to organization wide personnel coordination and operational logistics which led to me being hired as their first full time Volunteer Resources Manager. I spent the next few years immersed in an amazing community of over 1,200 dedicated volunteers and staff.
So when seven years ago an opportunity for a Wildlife Response Specialist popped up at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis, I couldn’t resist. I was blessed to join an industry leader in oiled wildlife spill response including a professional management team of amazing individuals paired with a Network of passionate, devoted and highly skilled Member Organizations. (Fun Fact: just after my interview, I was mobilized to the Refugio incident as a Volunteer Coordinator, while still at TMMC. I like to call it my slightly stressful working interview).
During my time at OWCN, my personal growth has exceeded my own expectations simply due to osmosis. I am surrounded by a Network filled with intelligent, driven, empathetic wildlife advocates who whole-heartedly believe our small actions today can drive monumental change. I am now disaster proficient in ICS lingo, understand the true value of collaboration (special shout out to our CDFW OSPR colleagues!), know more about PPE than I ever thought possible, and have assisted in the rescue of oiled CA native wildlife ranging in size from a tree frog to a brown pelican to a sea lion.
But through it all, I am often reminded that while the wildlife may have sparked my initial passion for this work, it is absolutely the people who have made it so special and unforgettable. I wish to thank each and every one of you for your positive influence, selfless contributions, and patient sharing of knowledge and expertise. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network, in my opinion, is the gold standard of community, coordination and cooperation.
If you made it this far (and endured this sappy blog), I hope I’ve adequately shared just a shred of my gratitude toward this amazing Network. I am sharing these thoughts today as I have accepted a new position as the Associate Director of Logistics with the California Veterinary Emergency Team (CVET) with the One Health Institute at UC Davis (starting later this month). I won’t be going too far physically, as OWCN also resides within the One Health Institute, but will be focused on this new emergency response program and thus no longer involved in daily OWCN operations.
I will miss my regular interactions with you all, but look forward to admiring OWCN’s inevitable advancement forward as you all continue doing your amazing work. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this Network.
For this week’s blog I decided to delve into the world of grebes, a species that I grew to love (and lose sleep over) during the Pipeline P00547 Response. Grebes were the most abundant, most vocal and most problematic patients, however they were also some of the most fun.
Although the most common species we worked with during the Pipeline P00547 Response were Western grebes, there are actually 22 different species within the genus Podiceps. They can range in size from 120 grams (Least grebe) to 1.7 kilograms (Great grebe), no pun(s) intended. Grebes are migratory and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. In California we have four species of grebes including the Eared grebe, Pied-billed grebe, Clark’s grebe and Western Grebe.
Grebes are aquatic diving birds who spend their entire lives on water (unless they are forced on land by something like…an oil spill). Nearly everything about their anatomy has evolved for life in/on water. They have large feet with broad lobes, shifted toward their hind end, all of which facilitate skilled and precise swimming and diving. Unlike many other water birds, their wings are small and let’s just say, flying isn’t their strong suit. As such, they will dive to evade predators rather than fly away. Grebe beaks are long, sharp and pointy, perfect for impaling small crustaceans (also eyes…don’t forget your safety glasses!).
Another unique adaptation is their dense plumage with strong interlocking barbules and hooks. Anyone who has ever tried to part a grebe’s feathers in search of underlying skin knows what I mean. When their feathers are fully intact, grebes are completely waterproof, which allows them to maintain their temperature despite living in water. Grebes can even adjust the angles of their feathers to alter the amount of air trapped between their feathers, thus changing their buoyancy. In order to keep their feathers in tip top shape grebes regularly preen. They also swallow some of their discarded feathers (and even feed them to their young) to aid in digestion. Now when I say “some feathers” I actually mean a surprising number…think a cat hairball but sub in gooey feathers.
These adaptations are GREAT for a grebe living in water, not so much for a grebe forced onto land. Why might a grebe be forced onto land? [cue drumroll] … OILING. Oil disrupts the waterproof barrier that is their feather structure. Water then seeps between their feathers and comes into contact with their skin. They then lose body heat and buoyancy VERY quickly. Imagine a wet suit with tears all over it. In order to preserve warmth, grebes will find their way to land.
Once on land grebes can’t eat or drink – resulting in dehydration, loss of body condition and gastrointestinal issues. Due to the position of their legs, they have difficulty walking so they lay hunkered down in one position—resulting in keel sores and foot and hock lesions. And don’t forget they’re oiled and hypothermic (cold).
By the time an oiled grebe finds its way to a primary care center, it already has at least one (if not all) of the above listed ailments. As the veterinarian my goal is not only to treat the existing problems but also to prevent new ones. Sounds simple, right? They gray hairs on my head would beg to differ. We can correct dehydration and loss of body condition with supplemental fluids and nutrition. Gastrointestinal issues are a constant battle due to the absence of a natural diet, stress, parasites, decrease in preening or clean feathers for consumption, absence of sea water, or any combination thereof. Because of their oiling status and thus need to be out of water temporarily, we house our grebe patients in “net bottom pens” (exactly what their name describes) where they stay through pre-wash care and the early stages of conditioning. Only once they are waterproof can they go back to living in water full time. We use keel cushions, booties and various treatments to fight the seemingly never-ending battle with keel, foot and hock lesions.
Despite their many ailments and complexities as patients, I’ve truly grown to appreciate their unique anatomies, personalities and even the (in)famous grebe scream. Click here (and turn up your volume) if you’d like to too!
We have something a little different for you this week! Come along with me (Sam Christie-wildlife care specialist) and Dr. Jamie Sherman (care veterinarian) as we road trip south to visit three of our member organizations. And check out our tiny road trip buddies 👀 🐾
There is a long history of informal coordination and collaboration among the world’s leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations. Although intentions were always positive and well received, barriers still existed – mostly centered around funding and the availability of time to focus on projects to benefit everyone. Following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon/Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico there was a historical shift, which I will try and briefly summarize for you, so here goes!
In July 2010 the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) formed the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG). This group initiated a major review of oil spill preparedness and response activities to identify key questions to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident. This group included representatives from major IOGP member companies, the Ipieca Oil Spill Working Group, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), and other key stakeholders. As a result of that process in May 2011 the Joint Industry Project (JIP) was initiated and developed 19 recommendations and a newly defined essential capabilities of tiered preparedness and response. Oiled wildlife response was identified as one of those 15 essential capabilities that constitute industry good practice. Formally recognizing wildlife as part of industry-wide good practice was a major milestone since historically there hasn’t been a formal international (or Tier 3) framework, coordination, dedicated resources, response objectives or capability requirements defined for wildlife response. More information on the development of the GIRG can be found by viewing the Macondo: 10 years on video.
Acknowledging there was a gap that needed to be addressed Sea Alarm Foundation (SAF) coordinated a meeting with the wildlife response community at the 2011 International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) to discuss the possibility of a more formal collaboration. In 2012 SAF and key industry representatives hosted a major stakeholder meeting that included representatives from leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations, industry partners, and governmental bodies and later developed a written proposal. In December of 2013 the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project was accepted and awarded short-term funding through Ipieca as JIP-20, which commenced in 2015. This project, coordinated by the Sea Alarm Foundation through 2019, includes the OWCN/UC Davis and nine additional professional oiled wildlife response organizations from around the globe – Aiuka (Brazil), Focus Wildlife International (U.S.A),International Bird Rescue (U.S.A), PRO BIRD (Germany), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (U.K), SANCCOB (South Africa), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (U.S.A), WILDBASE/Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Centre Ostend (Belgium).
Between 2015 and 2021 this two-phase project, which was initially funded by the JIP via Ipieca and later funded by OSRL, would meet regularly to create an international framework for Tier-3 oiled wildlife response. During this time deliverables included the development of the “Key principals for the protection, care and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife” technical support document, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), governance arrangements, readiness systems, guidance material for industry, equipment recommendations, and overall increased awareness regarding the importance of Oiled Wildlife Response. These accomplishments didn’t come without a small amount of confusion and some roadblocks, including the idea that GOWRS was a formalized deployable response service (versus what it was – a project envisioning how that could come about) as well as a lack of clarity around preparedness needed to operationalize an oiled wildlife response. Now that we’re up to speed let’s talk about what’s next for the GOWRS – drumroll please!
This service, expected to launch later in 2022, is a guaranteed 4-person Assessment Team drawn from leading wildlife response experts who will be available 24/7/365 to rapidly deploy for a four-day boots-on-the-ground evaluation of the incident. Each member of the 4-person Assessment Team will have a designated role that functions to evaluate in-country capacity and feasibility of a response.
This team will provide recommendations to the Incident Management Team (IMT)/Responsible Party (RP) on the need and appropriate scale of a wildlife response that are in alignment with the above-mentioned Good Practice standards. Additionally, annual funding will be available for the 10 previously mentioned organizations to develop and maintain internal readiness and deliver the remaining GOWRS project strategic goals. This funding will also allow remote inclusion into industry-led exercises and contribute to the advancement of Tier 1 (local) and Tier 2 (regional or national) capacity, therefore enhancing the ability to meet the needs of a Tier 3 incident. This is especially important in areas of the world where response capacity for wildlife is limited. A huge win for wildlife and a big Thank You to OSRL for supporting this effort. Here you can more about OSRL’s Wildlife and Emergency Preparedness & Response.
Having been part of this project since 2016, I’m excited to see how far we’ve come. Not only have we strengthened relationships, but we’ve raised awareness and built the foundation for a long-term journey that reinforces the importance of including wildlife in response planning. Oh – and we may have enjoyed a few beverages and went badger watching along the way (right, Mike!).
Cheers to a new chapter for wildlife response and a big thanks to Dr. Mike Ziccardi and Paul Kelway at OSRL for helping to confirm I had my facts straight!
The UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) is recruiting for the staff position of Care Facilities Specialist. Under the direction of the Senior Manager – Care Operations of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), this position will oversee and maintain care facilities and equipment for the WHC and OWCN, serve as the liaison with the facilities management staff at Network facilities and ensure that OWCN facilities and equipment are maintained in a constant state of readiness for oil spill response. As a key member of the OWCN’s spill response team, the Care Facilities Specialist will travel to facilities throughout California to inspect and evaluate systems, perform repairs and updates, and make recommendations for repairs and maintenance. They will transport various types of specialized response equipment (including towing trailers, boats, and ATVs) to the spill site, lead facility activation, and act primarily as the Site Safety Officer during spill response. During non-spill times, they will also assist with OWCN trainings and presentations.
In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, ensure all primary care and field stabilization facilities in California are maintained and are spill response ready. Conduct annual inspections of facilities throughout California to ensure structure soundness and proper functioning of major systems. Recommend, direct and/or perform repairs. Identify/oversee local contractors for major repairs, such as roofs, facility expansion and major systems. Identify, diagnose, and implement corrective action for potential and existing malfunctions pertaining to specialized wildlife rehabilitation/care systems, including animal holding pens, rehabilitation pools, hazardous waste removal systems, pumps, filters, boilers, water softeners, and HVAC systems.
Develop, prioritize and implement short and long-range plans for facility maintenance, repairs, and renovations, as well as a system by which to manage facility repairs and maintenance requests. Obtain bids & oversee new facility construction. Perform physical plant (including custodial and grounds) operations. Oversee/assist with operations/maintenance performed by staff of OWCN partner organizations for facilities operation during non-spill times.
Write, maintain, and update written documentation with regards to facility use and maintenance, including but not limited to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), facility evaluation and maintenance manuals, facility use and activation plans, and facility health and safety plans, as requested. Ensure that safety equipment and manuals are available at all primary care facilities.
In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, maintain OWCN spill response equipment, supplies, and sample storage equipment, including spill response vehicles and trailers. Determine short and long-term equipment needs and maintenance/replacement schedules as well as a system by which to manage repairs and maintenance requests. Design or purchase new specialized spill response equipment, including developing technical specifications and negotiating pricing from vendors. In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, keep accurate records of equipment and supplies. Write, maintain, and update written documentation with regards to equipment use and maintenance such as SOPs, as requested.
Maintain WHC animal care research equipment (-80 freezers).
Attend spill response drills, trainings, and conferences.
OIL SPILL RESPONSE (10%)
Immediately activate animal care facilities and equipment when and where needed. Tow specialized mobile animal care equipment and supplies (including field equipment) to spill site. Identify locations for primary care and set up mobile units as needed.
Enact SOPs for rapid facility activation to receive oiled wildlife. Make recommendations/implement plans for temporary facility expansion including rental of tents, modular structures, refrigerated trailers, heaters, generators, portable rehabilitation pools, & utility needs (generators, lighting, waste disposal containers, etc.).
Identify and supervise outside contractors/volunteers needed for immediate facility improvements and expansion as well as specialized animal holding areas. Monitor expenditures and facility equipment and supplies purchased during spill events. Oversee immediate return of primary care facilities to pre-spill state.
Work within the Incident Command System as Site Safety Officer for OWCN animal care spill response activities to provide essential support of oiled wildlife operations, including the storage and removal of hazardous waste, dead wildlife, decontamination of vehicles and equipment exposed to hazardous materials, and advising OWCN Group Supervisors on facility safety/security matters.
Depending on spill scope, assist with animal care operations (primary care, rehabilitation) and/or field operations (operation of capture vehicles, ATV’s/UTV’s, boats, mobile field stabilization trailers, animal capture equipment).
OUTREACH AND TRAINING (5%)
Assist with outreach by creating and giving presentations (via PowerPoint and other modalities) for wildlife responder training classes and other conferences/meetings and by contributing content to outreach materials on oil spill preparedness (with regards to response facilities and equipment), including newsletters, websites, blogs, and brochures.
Represent the WHC and OWCN at various local, national, and international meetings, including industry response drills and exercises.
Develop and maintain relationships with facilities operations specialists from OWCN primary care and stabilization facilities.
SAFETY AND EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT (5%)
Lead the OHI/WHC/OWCN inventory management (through the UCD systems) and act as the Safety Officer for OHI and WHC.
Maintain/ensure maintenance of MSDS records for hazardous materials for the OHI and WHC. In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, identify safety health hazards, implement periodic inspections, and comply with recordkeeping requirements for the campus Injury and Illness Prevention Program for the WHC and OHI.
Ability to obtain 24-hour HAZWOPER certification within 30 days of employment and HAZWOPER for Supervisors and 40-hour HAZWOPER training within the first year.
Combination of education and/or experience in engineering, architecture, facility maintenance, industrial technology, or related field.
As I write this blog on March 23, it is already close to 70o F at 10am. With temperatures getting into the 80s for the next week, with more to come as summer approaches, it is important to lay out a few reminders for all of us: reminders as we go about each day, and also reminders for during spill times, whether we are out in the field or working within a facility. So, read on!
Warmer days means a lot of things: tank tops, shorts, flip flops, pools or bodies of water with turquoise-colored water, popsicles, ice cream, watermelon…these are just some of the things that come to my mind as the weather heats up. In addition to these pleasant memories and things of yet to come, it is always good to remember that with warmer weather there are other, more serious things that we must keep in mind.
The human body is amazing at being able to regulate temperature – heating up if it is cold or cooling down if it is warm. But this only works within a certain narrow temperature range and for certain periods of time. If a human is exposed to elevated temperatures for extended periods of time, it can overheat, and just like an overheated radiator in a car, it quickly stops functioning correctly if signs of overheating are ignored and not mitigated in time. This can lead to serious injury or even death. So, with that in mind, here are a few temperature savvy reminders:
Always check the forecast so that you know what to plan and prepare for, whether you are going to the ocean, on a hike, camping, or working at a spill. There are many sites or apps that report forecasts, but a reliable one that I usually use is the National Weather Service.
In hot weather, always drink plenty of water, and have a ready supply to replace what you are drinking. Running out of water on a hot day is never pleasant and can be very dangerous. A recommended amount is 1 quart per hour. If you are going out in the field and will have limited water refilling options, it is important to plan accordingly.
Have access to shade and take frequent breaks. This cannot be overemphasized! We all want to play the hero part and push ourselves beyond what our bodies are telling us. Listen to your body! If you feel lightheaded, you are sweating profusely, you have a headache, or just feel wrung out, take a break in the shade (hopefully you can find some shade).
Know and recognize the symptoms of heat illness – in yourself as well as in others around you. Sometimes it is easier to recognize symptoms in others than in ourselves. Generally speaking, there are four levels of heat illness, categorized from mild to severe. Heat rash and heat cramps are considered the more mild types, although if someone is exhibiting symptoms of either of these, it is recommended to take immediate action so it does not progress to the more severe heat illnesses: heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Let’s explore them in a bit more detail:
Heat Rash = also called “prickly heat”, which is a skin irritation that causes a rash.
Heat Cramps = painful spasms in your muscles caused by an imbalance in electrolytes in your body.
Heat Exhaustion = symptoms are heavy sweating, fast and weak pulse, and rapid breathing. Caused by too few fluids and long exposure to high temperatures.
Heat Stroke = a life-threatening illness, which happens when your internal temperature is above 106o F. This is when your body has surpassed its ability to cool down and immediate medical assistance is needed. Some symptoms include not sweating, even when feeling too hot, fast breathing or shortness of breath, feeling confused, loss of consciousness.
It is important to know that one of the factors that can cause heat illness, or make it worse, is high humidity. Typically, humidity that exceeds 60% makes evaporation challenging, as evaporation is one of the body’s methods of cooling itself. If humidity is high, evaporative cooling is less effective; therefore, it makes it difficult to cool down. Wash rooms at a facility are hot and humid environments, and the responders that are in the wash room are also wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This makes the wash room an area of especially high risk for heat illness, and it is important to be aware of this risk and to take frequent water breaks, stepping into cooler air outside the wash room, and keeping an eye on each other.
Other areas at the Primary Care Facility that do not immediately come to mind as potential high risk areas for heat illness are Intake & Processing and Pre-Wash Care areas. Because the oiled birds that arrive at a facility are usually hypothermic (“cold”), these areas are typically kept at elevated temperatures. In addition, responders are wearing full PPE, which makes it more difficult to keep cool.
Whether you are scheduled to be in the field or in a facility during a spill activation, it is very important for all of us to keep this information in mind as we go into the warmer months, making sure we take precautionary measures, and watching out for symptoms of heat illness in ourselves and others around us.
When people hear there has been an oil spill, a lot of concern immediately focuses on the wildlife. It’s the megafauna that captures the attention. We often think of the dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, sea otters, seals, and shore birds and worry about what will happen to them. But what about in an inland response? What do people think of then? Bears, coyotes, foxes, and rabbits are what I hear most often. However, these eye catching animals are often not the ones primarily impacted by spills. Often, it’s the smaller species that are impacted the most. The amphibians and reptiles whose home ranges are small and whose survival depends upon the water that is now contaminated.
Amphibians and reptiles are often hard to spot and difficult to catch. Despite being oiled, the majority of them can still run, jump, or swim quite well, and in the muddy, oily water it can be incredibly hard to follow their movements. Lizards are especially hard to catch because they often quickly disappear into slits in rocks, or holes in the ground. However, Madi Boynton and her colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife might have just created a very clever way to spot these hard to see species. Madi and her team have created a camera trap setup that will allow us to capture close up photos of amphibians and reptiles. This could be extremely useful to us during spill responses. First, capturing photos of the amphibians and reptiles in the area could aid us in developing a better understanding of what species are present. Second, depending on the oiling status of the individuals, this could also help us better understand if these species are oiled.
So how does the set up work? A Reconyx HyperFire2 Trail Camera, a 7-gallon bucket, acrylic top with heat reflective tape, a strap, duct tape, and shade cloth are used to create the camera setup, and a drift fence is used to funnel the animals toward the camera, where their picture is taken. The bottom of the bucket is cut out, and the camera is then mounted to the reflective sheeting with the camera facing downward into the bucket. A hole is cut into the bucket at the top so that when the bucket is turned upside down, it creates an entry way into the bucket. Wooden guideboards are placed on either side of the entry to create a funnel into the bucket. The Reconyx camera’s focal point has been adjusted to a closer range so that the photos taken from inside the bucket will be clear. The bucket is baited with mealworms to entice animals inside.
I believe this setup has a lot of potential for us to improve our response capabilities during a spill response where amphibians and reptiles are impacted. If you are interested in learning more about this study, the camera design, or to see photos of what the drift fence and camera contraption look like, please check out Madi’s paper by clicking on the link below!
This week’s blog highlights Region 2, the “North Central” region. This is the location of the OWCN offices here at UC Davis, and currently includes one other member organization, the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) in Chico.
Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:
Region 1: Northern
Region 2: North Central
Region 3: Bay Delta
Region 4: Central
Region 5: South Coast
Region 6: Inland Deserts
Region 7: Marine
Similar to the Northern and Inland Desert regions, the areas within this region can be more remote and difficult to get to. There are areas that have been designated as high hazard for railways and locations of sensitive species, especially along the Feather River from Roseville to Chico, the Sacramento Valley, and areas in San Joaquin County.
When I first moved to Davis a couple years ago, one of the first things I noticed was there were a lot of species of birds I hadn’t seen down in Southern California. Not only are the resident species different, but the Sacramento Valley is an important route for migratory birds on what is known as the Pacific Flyway.
There are only a few conservation-listed species endemic to the area but there is such a wide variety of interesting species because of the wide range of habitats. Here is a spotlight on a few of the interesting species in this region:
Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo
The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a Federally-Threatened and State-Endangered summer resident that migrates to California during South America’s winters. It is a secretive bird that frequents habitat along streams of the Sacramento Valley for breeding and nesting during June to September.
It’s a long but small and slim bird that appears noticeably different from any other songbird I am familiar with in California, with brown feathering on the top of its head and back, a white chest and neck, and oval white circles on the underside of its tail. It also has zygodactyl feet like our owls and woodpeckers, differing from the anisodactyl songbirds.
What are the different types of bird feet you ask? Here are some examples and a diagram!
Most passerines (songbirds) have anisodactyl feet
Parrots also have zygodactyl feet
Only Trogons have heterodactyl feet
The Belted Kingfisher is an example of a bird with syndactyl feet
Some swifts have pamprodactyl feet. It allows them to direct all their digits forward and hang from walls
Waterbirds have even more special names for their feet based on webbing and lobation
This State-Threatened hawk migrates in large flocks of hundreds of birds all the way down to Argentina for the winter and returns to the Great Basin and Central Valley areas from March to September for breeding.
Outside of migration they are still a social species so you will often see them in groups near large open fields. They look similar in shape to Red-tailed Hawks and are easiest to identify while flying and seen from below with their white wing coverts at the front of the wing and contrasting dark flight feathers toward the back.
Great Gray Owl
The Great Gray Owl is a State-Threatened non-migrating resident of the pine forest mountain areas of north to central eastern California from Plumas County to Yosemite. It frequents areas of dense conifer trees that line adjacent meadows, usually hunting from dusk to dawn but sometimes during dark overcast days as well. They will even listen for and dive after prey that is tunneling beneath the snow!
This owl is easy to identify. It is the largest owl in North America by size with a mostly gray body with brown streaks, and a white “bow tie”. It has a very large facial disc (the round “face”) which helps for hunting by directing sound to asymmetrically situated ears. Nocturnal owls that greatly use their hearing for hunting are species that can still do well in the wild with only one good eye.
An interesting note of medical importance is that birds have “scleral ossicles”, which essentially make their eye sclera (the white part of human eyes) hard like a bone. This helps protect their eye, but in owls it also contributes to the shape of their facial disc. So whereas in mammals if you needed to remove an eye, you would do an enucleation including removing the sclera; but in owls, we would keep that scleral ossicle intact to preserve the shape of their facial disc and instead remove just the inner part of the eye, which is called an evisceration.
Marysville California kangaroo rat
Finally, there are 3 species of conservation importance endemic to this region. The first is the Marysville California kangaroo rat. This California Species of Special Concern (SSC) is found only in the Sutter Buttes area north of Sacramento. This rat tends to be solitary and territorial outside of breeding season so not one we would want to house with others in rehab.
Mice and rats are often difficult to identify by species, but recall that in general, most of our California native species have tails much longer than their body that are furred and bicolored along the length.
The Federally Endangered Mammals of Caswell Memorial State Park
The final 2 species highlighted are both Federally-Endangered and only found in the area of Caswell Memorial State Park along the Stanislaus River in southern San Joaquin County. Both of these species only exist within an approximately 200 acre habitat.
Riparian Brush Rabbit
The Riparian Brush Rabbit is also State-Endangered. It has a similar appearance to the common Desert Cottontail but has smaller ears and does not have the dark top outer pinna color. This species is always found close to dense brush as cover and ready to escape. It has a very small home range, especially the females, which can be less that 15 x 15m!
Riparian (San Joaquin Valley) Woodrat
The Riparian woodrat is also a California Species of Special Concern (SSC). This species has physical characteristics similar to other native rats, with a long furred bicolored tail, but are distinguished from other woodrat subspecies by being larger with a light grayish coat and having white, rather than darker colored hind feet.
They are also good climbers and spend a lot of their time in trees. If you recall from a previous spotlight on woodrats, they like to build very large stick homes at the bases of trees or within them and close to water.
I’d like to say that I’ve made an attempt at seeing some of these animals or at least made it out to their habitat areas, but I have only seen Swainson’s Hawks here in Davis thus far. But I now have a good pair of binoculars and am hoping to see much more!