Introducing our new Care Veterinarian!

This week, I am excited to announce the new addition to the OWCN Management Team, Dr. Jamie Sherman!

Dr. Sherman with black bear cub

Jamie’s passion for working with wildlife began during a research abroad program in South Africa, as a part of her undergraduate studies at Syracuse University. She then obtained her Master’s degree from UC Davis, where she conducted research in conjunction with the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to advance California black bear population health. In addition to her research (and later, during her veterinary studies), Jamie spent 10 years working for CDFW, caring for orphaned and injured wildlife and assisting with large-scale population field studies of bighorn sheep, mule deer, and elk. Jamie obtained her veterinary degree from UC Davis with a focus on wildlife and zoological medicine.

Dr. Sherman with a big horn sheep

Following graduation, Jamie moved to Reno, NV where she has served as a veterinarian for a mixed animal veterinary practice. As a small and exotic animal veterinarian, Jamie has provided advanced preventative, clinical and surgical care for cats, dogs, companion exotics, and zoological collections at the Sierra Safari Zoo and Animal Ark Wildlife Sanctuary.

Dr. Sherman with a flamingo

Jamie is excited to return home to UC Davis and join the Oiled Wildlife Care Network team. As Care Veterinarian for the OWCN, she is looking forward to influencing the care of wildlife affected by oil spills, expanding response capability through training and public engagement, and advancing research in the field of oiled wildlife science.

We are so excited to have Jamie join our team and can’t wait to share our amazing Network with her!


Is Climate Change Intensifying the Natural Disasters that Affect Wildlife?

Here at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care to wildlife affected by oil spills in California. But while our efforts to help wildlife are focused on oil spills of anthropogenic origin, our work shares some similarities with other disaster events that can affect wildlife and the environment. Response to natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms, and floods can end up looking a lot like an oil spill response. Due to the many parallels between oil spills and these natural disasters, we at the OWCN try to keep our finger on the pulse of wildlife disaster response, even when the disaster event isn’t “directly” caused by humans. And I say “directly”, because as anyone can see—in recent years, weather events are becoming more severe and destructive. The mounting scientific evidence tells us that this trend is likely the result of our changing climate.

Wildfires are growing in magnitude and frequency. Drought conditions in parts of the world are devastating both human and animals alike. And just last week Texas faced an unprecedented drop in temperature leaving millions of Texans without heat and power. Climate change, of course, is one of the most complex and even divisive topics of modern day. But one undeniable fact is that we have seen an increase in weather anomalies in the last few years and experts are concerned that this trend indicates that we’ll see even more unpredictable weather in the future.

There are two recent climate-caused wildlife disasters that I’d like to highlight today. One due to heat and one due to cold. In both cases, the affected wildlife were given a chance at recovery thanks to the hard work of some very determined wildlife rehabilitators.

The first disaster has been unfolding annually at wildlife refuges along the California-Oregon border. Avian botulism is a natural occurrence in wetland habitats around the world, but in recent years severe outbreaks of the deadly toxin have been ravaging wild birds along this critical portion of the Pacific Flyway.

“Botulism is a natural toxin produced by a bacterium ( Clostridium botulinum ) commonly found in the soil. There are several types of botulism toxin some of which can affect humans who eat improperly canned foods. Birds get their own kind of botulism that does not affect humans. Botulism is concentrated in aquatic invertebrates that filter feed sediments or water. When birds eat the invertebrates, they get a concentrated package of toxin. A bird-to-bird cycle can also exist where maggots feeding on dead birds can concentrate the toxin and can then be eaten by and poison other birds.”

The United States Geological Survey
Photo credit: Field Manual of Wildlife Disease – General Field Procedures and Diseases of Birds; The USGS National Wildlife Health Cent

So why then, if this is a naturally occurring event, is it necessary for humans to intervene and try to save the affected wildlife? The answer is a complicated one. First, you should know that botulism outbreaks tend to favor wetlands whose water bodies become shallow and hot during the summer. Receding water levels force the invertebrate-seeking birds to congregate in order to feed. And what are they feeding on? That’s right. A lethal dose of botulism toxin disguised as a tasty maggot. Yikes, okay, well it’s tasty for the duck! And so after its meal, the duck eventually succumbs to the effects of botulism and its carcass attracts more maggots which attract more ducks and the cycle continues. And continues. And continues. Until! The wetland dries up or floods. This changes the environmental conditions enough so as to stop the production of toxin by C. botulinum. This is where things get tricky from a responsibility standpoint.

If botulism outbreaks are worsened by decreased water availability, then we humans are already inextricably linked to this disaster event. Water is a human-managed resource in many parts of the world and it’s in scarce supply. When drought conditions prevail, water has to be rationed between a number of stakeholders, including residents, farmers, ranchers, and refuges. With limited options for supplying water to these affected wildlife refuges, another tactic for mitigating a botulism outbreak is removing the dead and dying birds from the environment to break the cycle of infection. Deceased birds are disposed of, but what is the fate of the birds collected live, yet paralyzed by the deadly toxin? Luckily for the birds near the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, there is hope.

A small, but industrious group of experienced wildlife rehabilitators have banded together along with refuge volunteers and wildlife trustees to formulate a plan to help these sick birds recover. This group, led by Bird Ally X, is rising to meet this seemingly insurmountable challenge year after year. In 2020 alone, they were able to treat thousands of botulism birds with a very high success rate. The 2020 animal numbers dwarfed those from the botulism response in preceding years. This discrepancy is largely believed to be tied directly to water availability and refuge managers are working on securing more water for the upcoming season in the hopes that an outbreak can be avoided or minimized.

So come hell or low water, Bird Ally X will be preparing to rescue more botulism-affected birds this year and probably for years to come. Unlike with some oil spills, there is no responsible party to foot the bill of the wildlife response. If you’d like to make a contribution to Bird Ally X’s botulism response efforts, click here.

Scientists at NASA have uncovered evidence that human-generated emissions influence global-scale drought conditions. And what’s more, climate models predict that droughts will become more frequent and severe in the years to come. Of course, botulism outbreaks are only one of the countless ways that droughts affect wildlife.

Shifting over to another extreme, we’ll now dive in to a climate-caused wildlife disaster that’s still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. You may have seen this story on the news or social media. The images are distressing—thousands upon thousands of sea turtles resting on the floors of a conference center in South Padre Island, Texas. If you’ve ever had the privilege of spotting a sea turtle in the wild, you surely took notice of their grace in the water. But on the beach, they are vulnerable—practically defenseless. So to see them lining the halls of a building that normally houses expos and symposiums is quite a shock.

Photo: Sea Turtle, Inc.

The sea turtles have been stunned by the sudden blast of cold temperatures that hovered over Texas and Louisiana in the middle of February. Cold-stunned sea turtles are typically found in more northern waters, but there have been previous occurrences of large numbers being affected along the shores of Texas. In 2018, more than 3,500 sea turtles were cold-stunned in Texas, but this year’s numbers already exceed 5,000 individuals. So what exactly does it mean for a turtle to be “cold-stunned”?

With recent drops in weather and water temperature, many communities on our coasts are seeing hundreds of sea turtles, many of them dead, washing ashore. This phenomenon, known as cold stunning, refers to the changes sea turtles experience when they are exposed to cold water for an extended period of time…

… Sea turtles are reptiles, relying on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperatures. When turtles are cold stunned, usually when water temperatures reach 50 degrees and below, they will experience a decrease in heart rate and circulation causing them to become lethargic. Cold stunning may lead to shock, pneumonia, frostbite, and potentially death, as they are not able to migrate to warmer waters.

With the help of many groups, cold stunned sea turtles can be transported to a rehab facility, placed in a dry tub and evaluated for any other existing health concerns. They will be warmed up slowly and, when appropriate, placed in water and closely monitored by rehab staff. Once fully recovered, the turtles are released.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN)

Kemp’s ridleys, hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks and green sea turtles were among the endangered chelonians that washed up on the beach or had to be rescued from the sea. Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation, conservation, and education organization in South Padre Island led the rescue efforts which drew support from the public, boaters, and even SpaceX who donated a massive generator to heat the still powerless convention center. Texas’s February arctic blast wreaked havoc on humans and animals alike. Why? Because that kind of extreme cold is just not expected in that part of the world. As the climate changes, weather patterns are bound to shift. But why such a sudden and extreme weather change for Texas? Scientists suspect that the out of place arctic temperatures were the result of fluctuations in the jet stream, a band of winds that blow west to east and provide a barrier of sorts between cold, arctic air and the warmer mid-latitudes. While some variation of the jet stream can allow cold air to reach more southern latitudes, scientists warn that Arctic warming could result in an increase in these episodes.

I had the privilege of visiting Sea Turtle Inc. last year. Their sea turtle facilities were world class, but 5,000 sea turtles would surpass any one facility’s capacity. This begs the question: What will happen next year and the year after? Already endangered and facing numerous climate-related threats, such as skewed sex ratios due to rising incubation temperatures, sea turtle populations can be significantly impacted when breeding-age adults succumb to cold-stunning. Sea Turtle, Inc. has already released more than 2,200 recovered sea turtles following February’s record-breaking cold-stun event. Rescue efforts of these proportions could mean salvation for the endangered species. If you would like to contribute to Sea Turtle, Inc.’s lifesaving work you may do so here.

So is climate change intensifying or—at the very least—increasing the frequency of these disastrous weather events and the effects they have on wildlife?

As casualty records continue to be broken and these grand-scale rescue efforts become more and more common, we shall soon have our answer. Climate change and wildlife disasters are heavy topics. As I wrap up this blog post, I’m finding that I need a little positivity to keep me going. Maybe you do too? So I’ll leave you with the wise words of Mr. Rogers…

So look for the helpers. And maybe even become one of them!


Care Ops with the Wildlife Disaster Network (WDN)

Now that we’re out of fire season, I can take a moment to tell you a little bit more about the Care Operations side of the Wildlife Disaster Network.

This blog is part 3 of 3 providing insight into the new network that we previously blogged about here and here.

As you may remember, Scott introduced us to this inspirational new Network (which is modeled after the OWCN) and Duane described the ecosystem effects of California wildfires and our field efforts to locate wildlife in need. Now I’m going to tell you about what happens when injured wildlife are found.

Aside from our team’s reconnaissance efforts, many wildfire-injured wildlife are reported and/or brought in to local rehabilitation centers by the public or by workers who are authorized to enter fire evacuation zones (such as PG&E, CalFire, search and rescue, and others).

In 2020, the majority of wildfire patients were housed and treated at Gold Country Wildlife Rescue in Auburn, while the large predators were cared for at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab in Rancho Cordova. A number of other organizations, including Napa Wildlife Rescue, Wetlands and Wildlife, Project Wildlife, and the Oakland Zoo (to name a few) took in burned animals as well.

Burned paw pads of a bobcat

Patients, the majority of whom were medium to large mammals in 2020, tend to present with severe burns to their paws, often with their entire paw pads missing, and sometimes with digit bones exposed or even missing altogether. With such maladies, these animals cannot ambulate well, cannot catch prey, and subsequently succumb to dehydration and starvation if left in the wild.

Patient treatment generally involves pain medication, antibiotics, vitamin supplementation and extensive wound treatment, including cold laser therapy, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, topical antiseptics, topical anesthetics, and bandaging. It is this multi-modal approach that has proven to be the most effective in treating these severe and extremely painful injuries.

Performing treatments on burned paws of a black bear

Treatment and diagnostic procedures for a wildlife burn victim can be a big event (depending on the size of the patient). Most animals must be sedated or anesthetized due to the discomfort and length of the procedure. Once asleep, a flurry of veterinarians, techs, and assistants descend, each taking a paw to assess and then treat, while still others work to provide additional treatments and run a slew of diagnostics. Such tests include radiographs (x-rays) of the chest (to screen for inhalation injuries), basic labwork (to screen for biochemical indications of toxic effects of wildfire smoke, as well as for any concurrent illnesses), a cardiac troponin level (to screen for cardiac effects of thermal burn injury and smoke inhalation), and often, an echocardiogram (also to screen for cardiac changes).

Certainly many of you have by now heard of the infamous tilapia skin bandages donned by many of our wildfire victims as well. Attaching these biological dressings provides a matrix for the patient’s own cells to move across and begin to grow new skin, and the high levels of collagen have also been shown to offer a nearly immediate reduction in pain in some patients.

Before and after tilapia skin bandage placement on the burned paw of a bear cub

For our medium mammals, a set of new bandages adorn their feet when they awake. For our large mammal patients however, normal bandage material is no match for their teeth and curiosity, and natural bandages of corn husks and rice paper must be placed  to protect the tilapia skins (if they eat these natural products, no harm will come).

Bandaging the burned paws of a bobcat
Coyote with bandages on all four burned paws
Bear with corn husk natural bandages over tilapia skin biological bandages

Our patients typically remain in care for several weeks, sometimes longer. It is a rigorous process, at times hard to watch, but when you see an animal gradually transform from being recumbent from its injuries to one that can gingerly walk and then eventually fully bear weight on its feet again, there is no question it’s worth it.

With the creation of the Wildlife Disaster Network, 2020 saw the most wildlife successfully treated of any fire season thus far.

Our patients in 2020 included:
•    A bear from the North Complex Fire
•    A mountain lion from the Bobcat Fire
•    A bear from the Zogg Fire
•    A coyote from the LNU Complex Fire
•    A bobcat from the LNU Complex Fire
•    A fox from the North Complex Fire
•    A bear cub from the Zogg Fire
•    A coyote from the Glass Fire
•    A mountain lion kitten from the Zogg Fire

But we know there are more out there. If you see any wildlife that has been injured in wildfires or any other natural disaster, please call the WDN hotline (800-942-6459).

If you’d like to support the Wildlife Disaster Network, please visit: or visit our Crowdfunding site here where we are currently raising money to boost our reconnaissance capabilities for this coming fire season (link valid until Feb 28th)! Any amount helps!


Drumroll Please….Our 2021 Virtual Events Are Live!

The OWCN’s 2021 Event Calendar is here!

We are pleased to share our tentative events calendar for the upcoming year. Why tentative? Well, as we continue to monitor the ongoing pandemic we will be revisiting this calendar regularly to consider the best (and safest!) way to offer trainings and connect with our Network. For now, all events will continue to be held on a virtual platform.

As you view the calendar you will see some familiar events, such as the Basic Responder Training and some new offerings, starting with our first event, the New Responder Engagement, coming up on February 18th. Keep an eye on those inboxes! All active responders will be receiving an e-mail with more information on our upcoming events very soon.

You can also learn more about our upcoming events by signing into your responder profile and clicking on the “Opportunities” tab. Interested and eligible responders can sign up for events, but please remember there is a second, important step for our virtual events. Once you are signed up, please head to the “Schedule” tab, click the “i” icon on the right, and register for the Zoom event itself via the link found in the activity description.

Not an active OWCN responder? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. To be eligible to join the OWCN you must be 18 years of age and an active member of one of our 45 Member Organizations. For more information on eligibility and how to join the OWCN please contact us at

Hopefully everyone is safe and enjoying the New Year. We hope to resume in-person events as soon as it is safe to do so. In the meantime, to get us excited about brighter days to come I will share a photo of the not so distant past (March 2020, pre-pandemic) where we hosted 20 or so responders at UC Davis to complete our Oiled Wildlife Manager Training!

Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (pre-pandemic)

Stay safe and see you soon!


What Firefighting and Spill Response Have in Common

Volunteer firefighter performing one of the tasks during his physical test, pre-pandemic

About a year and a half ago, when I moved from Davis to Winters, CA, I decided to apply to become a volunteer firefighter with the Winters Fire Department.  I thought it would be a relatively simple process: you fill out an application and they accept you.  After all, you are a “volunteer”, not getting paid, and dedicating your own time to helping out, right?  I couldn’t have been more wrong! I did fill out an application, then had to show up in person for a pretty strenuous physical test that involved completing different tasks within a certain amount of time…in full turnout gear. After passing that, I had a fairly formal interview with two of the captains, then had to schedule a comprehensive medical exam, get fingerprinted at the Police Department, attend a volunteer orientation, take an oath, and then, and only then, was I “accepted”.

Swiftwater rescue training on Putah Creek in July 2020

Then the real work began: getting all my gear (and there is a lot!), getting fit-tested for the face piece of the SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, sort of like a SCUBA tank and regulator but for above water), and attending the twice month Wednesday evening trainings. This was right around the time that COVID began, so attendance to trainings involved several modifications to insure that we were all protecting ourselves and others as much as possible from COVID exposure.

Trainings at the fire station have included skill-building exercises, such as learning how to put on and operate the SCBA, hose layouts, swiftwater rescue, victim search and rescue at night, learning how to drive and operate the various fire engines, etc. And that is just the training piece. There is also on-the-job training that happens when you are at the fire station, with never-ending tasks in between calls.  It has been a steep learning curve, and continues to be, although my time at the fire department (mostly on weekends or days off) has been incredible.

I have only been a volunteer firefighter for a year, and yet I have learned so much during that time.  So, what does firefighting have to do with oil spill response, you might ask?  The answer is that there is a lot in common between the two, when you think about it (and I have thought a lot about it during the past year). Some of the similarities that stand out for me are the following (and this is by no means an exhaustive list).

Incident Command System (ICS for short)

Firefighting and spill response both operate under this system. The ICS is an organizational management structure that originated for response to fire incidents and has since been adapted for many other emergencies such as spills, floods, missing persons, storms, etc. The ICS has many uses and many benefits, including being able to expand or contract depending on the magnitude and evolution of the particular emergency. The other significant benefit of ICS is the use of common terminology, which helps make responding to an emergency much more efficient and organized, since everyone is using the common language.

Variations on the same theme: one example of an ICS layout

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)


Oiled Wildlife Responders during Refugio Oil Spill in 2015

Prior to 2020 most people did not know what “PPE” stood for, yet this acronym was being thrown around in media outlets left and right. COVID-19 has certainly changed that! PPE is meant to protect from many things (depending on the type of PPE), such as viruses, oil, hazardous chemicals, fire, etc. Most people now know that PPE refers to supplies that help protect you, and PPE can refer to anything from masks, gloves, to goggles, hard hats, face shields, etc.  As an oiled wildlife spill responder, you certainly learn about different types of PPE and which ones you are required to wear either in the field capturing an animal or at a facility while washing oil off an animal.  As a firefighter you also learn about PPE – not only the medical type used to help protect first responders from viruses, bacteria, blood borne pathogens and such, but also the type of PPE that helps protect from heat (turnouts and boots), smoke (SCBA), and physical impacts (helmets, goggles, gloves).



Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (pre-pandemic)

The effectiveness and success of a response system, whether that be firefighting or spill response, is highly dependent on ensuring that the personnel responding to an emergency have the proper training.  Training not only builds capacity and skill, but it also builds confidence as well as less tangible outcomes such as interpersonal relationships and trust-building within a team. These are just as important as learning skills, since teammates that trust each other and have good working relationships (that can only be achieved prior to an emergency), are usually more efficient than teams that have never worked together or have not had the time or opportunity to build trust with each other. Just as training is an important component of firefighting, the OWCN training program is a huge component of our overall program and as such, the OWCN Management Team dedicates a significant portion of our time on planning, preparing, and delivering different trainings throughout the state (or virtually). We consider these trainings to be so important for keeping our responders up to date on protocols, procedures, and skills. Finally, because oil spills that impact wildlife don’t happen every day in California (thankfully!), we often participate or conduct oil spill drills or exercises to help prepare for the real thing.

Emergency Response

This is the reason for our existence! When we are called upon during an emergency, such as to help someone that is in cardiac arrest, to put out a fire in a chimney, or to rescue wildlife that is covered in oil, we are there! Our goal is to be quick to respond, and fully armed with the necessary tools and skills to help out when and where we are needed.

Animals rescued during the Cuyama River Incident in 2020

Passion for Helping

Finally, firefighters and oiled wildlife responders are passionate about helping alleviate suffering and lending a hand where needed. That is why we make the decision to do what we do. No regrets, no apologies. A simple passion for making the world a better place. And that alone is a worthy goal.


Notes from the Field: Camarillo Springs Incident, Day One

Picture this, a small pond that has been mostly drained of water, with a thick layer of oil covering the surface. Not far from the eastern bank is someone’s back yard. In fact, there is a whole neighborhood that creates the eastern border of the golf course. As you approach, you can barely make out the shapes of frog heads poking out of the oil, but there they are, lots of them. They’ve been dead a long time. Their bodies are bloated and gross, and they are too far out from the bank to reach them. The oiled mud is too thick and sticky to wade out into the pond to retrieve them, so their removal will have to wait. You don’t know it yet, but these frogs will later be identified as African Clawed Frogs, an invasive species. This area is simply known as “Pond 7”.

Pond 7 at the Camarillo Springs Golf Course – the site of a spill that OWCN was recently activated for (Photo by J. Hawkins, OWCN)

You make your way over to the next pond, “Pond 6”. There is much less oil here. Boom has been deployed on the northwest side where the oil entered the pond through the culvert. You see mostly surface sheen and lots of birds. A Mallard, a Pied-billed Grebe, a Ruddy Duck, and lots and lots of American Coots. They’re everywhere. All over the golf course, on the banks surrounding the pond, and swimming about in the water, without a care in the world. Unconcerned about the oil sheen that is coating their feathers, but very much concerned about your presence. Wary of your approach, and even more wary about your apparent desire to get close to them. So, they swim away from you, or dive below the surface and disappear for what feels like an eternity. It amazes you how long those little creatures can hold their breath for, and how well they can navigate such far distances underwater without making even a ripple on the water’s surface, only to reappear at the farthest point in the pond away from you.

A view of Pond 6 with sorbent pads to absorb oil (Photo: J. Hawkins, OWCN)

If you look closely, toward the north end of the pond, you see a turtle’s head break the water’s surface, stay for a moment, and then disappear again. “What are you?” you wonder aloud. On the east side of the pond are some very tall reeds that provide excellent cover for wildlife at night. You make notes in your notebook about all these things you are seeing. You write down all the different species, the times and locations at which you see them, their gender (if you can tell), how much oil you see and where it’s pooling. You make note of where you’d like to place your trail cameras to give you the best chance of getting up close and personal with these animals, and any others that may come to the pond after dusk.

Trail camera set up by Pond 6 (Photo: J. Hawkins, OWCN)

You check your watch. It’s getting late. The sun is already beginning to set behind the mountains and you still need to get your trail cameras set up on both ponds, and your hazing devices out before it gets dark. So, you head back to your truck, grab all of your equipment, and make your way back to Pond 7, where the biggest concern lies. There is lots of exposed oil, and as of yet, no physical way to keep wildlife away. At least not for tonight. So now the real work begins. You have your fox lights, predator eyes, and trail cameras in hand, and lots of work to do. You take a moment to just sit and survey your site. You notice how the small songbirds seem to really love the dead grass vegetation along the banks at the north end of the pond. How the really thick goopy product is more concentrated at the southern end. Here the golf course management has erected a temporary wire fence in a square shape in hopes of keeping wildlife out. It is covered with black plastic fencing. However, this fencing has lots of holes in it from stray golf balls flying through it. So, you see small songbirds flittering through and coming very close to the oil. Gripping onto the grasses and pecking around.

As you are scouting the area, you notice there are some animal tracks that wander along the banks and into the muck, crossing through the water completely in the shallow end, but only just entering the water’s edge in the deeper areas. It is then, with all of this observational information, that you begin to formulate your plan. With your coworker you discuss the different options and mull over the important questions. Where should your hazing devices go? How far apart should they be? Do you alternate devices? Which way should the cameras face? How many do you want to put out? What settings do you choose? You talk things over, create your plan, and get to work. You two decide that you’re going to alternate the fox lights and predator eyes and place your cameras so that some are facing the banks where you saw the tracks, and others facing the water so you can see if anything flies in while you are away. You place enough cameras, so you are satisfied that every part of the pond is covered.

Raccoon tracks seen in the mud of Pond 7 (Photo: J. Hawkins, OWCN)

Finally, you head back to Pond 6. The sun has set, and dusk is giving way to darkness. So, you find the places you had noted earlier in your notebook that looked like good spots to place your cameras. Along the banks, into the water, near where most of the coots enter and exit the pond, and near the reeds. You pound in the t-post, attach the camera to the mount and place it on the post, get the camera to the correct height and angle you are looking for and tie it down. You turn the camera to the set-up mode and make sure everything is correct, then you turn it on, close the door, and seal it tight, hoping that in the morning you’ll find something interesting. It is only then, when all your cameras have been set, that you feel comfortable heading back to the hotel for a much-needed rest so that you can start fresh the next day.

Note: These observations were made during an active spill response. As of this posting, the drained pond has been cleaned and new wildlife exclusion measures have been implemented.


Highlights of a few species in Region 6

While the life of every animal is valuable, certain species may hold greater importance due to their conservation status and the implication for the survival of that species.  You likely have heard the terms “Threatened” and “Endangered”.  This status can relate to a federal level (the Federal Endangered Species Act; ESA) or at a state level, in this case the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).  You may also have heard the terms, “Species of Special Concern (SSC)” or “Fully Protected (FP)” which are protective designations bestowed on certain species by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The CDFW divides California into 7 functional regions: Northern, North Central, Bay Delta, Central, South Coast, Inland Deserts, and Marine Regions, each represented by a number 1- 7 (see map below).

One of the least known regions is Region 6, the Inland Deserts Region. I have lived in California for over 14 years and visited the state many times prior to that, but I had known next to nothing about this region – the southeast corner of our state.  I had also never heard of the Salton Sea, nor did I realize that the Colorado River actually divides California and Arizona in that area.  Recently, I found that this area is a very important part of the state with regards to conservation, with many interesting but imperiled species.  It is also noted as “yellow” by CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), meaning it is at moderate risk for an inland oil spill.

Just over 8% of all California’s conservation listed inland species (Federal/State Threatened or Endangered, or CDFW SSC or FP) are restricted to just this small area of the Colorado River Valley habitat, making it an area of great ecological importance. I thought it would be important to provide a few interesting profiles of species that inhabit this regionL the Gilded Flicker, the Elf Owl, the Desert Mud Turtle, and the Amargosa Vole.

Gilded Flicker

This bird belongs to the family of woodpeckers.  It looks very similar to the more common Northern Flicker when perching, but if you are able to see the undersides of the tail and wings, they are colored red in the Northern Flicker but yellow in the Gilded Flicker.  This State Endangered bird is only found along cottonwood and willow forests of the Colorado River area of Riverside County.  An interesting thing about this bird is that while most woodpeckers feed on insects on trees, this bird is mostly a ground feeder, feeding predominantly on ants.

Elf Owl

The Elf Owl is the world’s smallest owl, weighing only about 40g which is roughly twice the weight of a House Finch.  Its coloring is brown with white speckling and distinct white “eye brows”.  This bird is also known to have a distinct call that sounds like a puppy and that you can often hear during breeding season during its most active times, just after dusk and before dawn.

A couple other interesting facts about this bird is that it is a migratory owl that often travels in large groups.  Also, if you are familiar with handling owls, the Elf Owl often feigns death when caught as a means to escape once a predator relaxes its hold.

Desert Mud Turtle

desert-mud-turtleThis turtle is just a little smaller than the Western Pond Turtles we more commonly know and work with.  It has yellow mottling on the dark skin of its head and legs.  It is active day and night throughout the year but becomes nocturnal during hot summer days. 

Although it is a CDFW Species of Special Concern, it may now be extirpated from California since it has not been seen in many years even though suitable habitat still exists in the region.  It had been found in ponds and slow-moving waterways along the Colorado river.

Amargosa Vole

amargosa-voleAdjacent to the Colorado River Valley area is the Mojave Desert, and along this desert’s Amargosa River is the habitat for what is often considered the most endangered mammal in North America.  Both Federally and State Endangered, the Amargosa Vole is found only in the Tecopa watershed.  It is a very large and docile vole with a grayish-brown coat and a white “mustache”.

California voles are unable to concentrate urine, so their body cannot conserve water and thus require constant access to a water source.  Although it is active year-round throughout the day, it is seldom seen because it remains well hidden beneath its wetland bulrush habitat.  Much of the loss in species numbers has been caused by conversion of wetlands to farmland and redirection of water sources.

Hopefully, oil spills and other disasters can be avoided in this important region, but being as prepared as possible can help prevent devastating effects to these populations, many of which are already few in number.  I plan to visit this area soon, hopefully not for a spill, but just to experience its beauty.


Building Capacity: Update from the OWCN Facilities Team

Tim and I, like I’m sure many of you, welcome 2021. As such, we wanted to take a minute to highlight a few of the projects that we hope to take on this year.


COVID hasn’t stopped us but it sure has slowed us down. Here at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are required to test negative for COVID-19 once a week and satisfy a health survey each day that we plan on working on campus. 

As you can imagine, keeping all of our equipment ready for response and completing many of our projects can’t be done from behind our home desk or via ZOOM. And having to physically distance as well as minimize contact with each other pushes us to prioritize tasks and rethink how we do things, at least for now. We must prioritize and review risks in order to move forward. We are constantly in phone or video contact with each other and kicking around ideas. If nothing else, these challenges have pushed us to think outside the box and optimize the way we regularly do things!

The OWCN Equipment Parade During Pre-COVID Times

Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital 2 (MASH2)

You all are probably familiar with our MASH (our 20 foot stabilization trailer that we have been using since 2010). What you may not know is that we are adding to the MASH family by finalizing the plans for our new MASH 2 so we can proceed with construction. After review and consultation with our new Field Veterinarian, Duane Tom, we have decided to change a few things that we feel will better serve our goals. We are changing the size and placement of our sink, providing a larger wet workspace that is important for function at the front (tongue end) of the trailer. This will also keep most of the plumbing in one area. Unfortunately this will eliminate a much needed and desired workspace that would be used for response documentation and planning. To adjust for this and provide a comparable working space we’ve designed the drop down exam table at the end of the trailer so that it also adjusts to a good working height that can accommodate travel chairs. This allows us not to give up any valuable working space and equipment storage.

San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) Expansion

We are in the process of expanding our footprint at the SFBOWCEC. We will be placing a much needed new 36’ x 60’ modular building on the connected undeveloped lot. The building offers a large conference/training room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and 1 office.  We will also be constructing a 40’ x 60’ steel garage building on the lot to be used for equipment storage and much needed workspace.

Tim is in the process of securing all the required permits from Solano County so we can finally break ground on the job. We hope to have the bulk of the project ready for use summer 2021.

A new space at SFBOWCEC

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) Breaks Ground 

One of our Member Organizations, the SBWCN, has very recently broken ground on their new Wildlife Hospital! The new hospital has a clinic, offices, spill response supply storage area and oiled animal wash and drying areas. SBWCN expects completion in about a year.  It’s very exciting! Congratulations SBWCN!

We wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year!

Tim and Wendy

Goodbye 2020. Welcome 2021!

As we say goodbye to 2020 and welcome a New Year I can’t help but reflect on how extraordinary 2020 was for the global population. We were faced with so many unforeseen challenges and had to explore a lot of new territory. I truly believe we are all stronger, more aware, better connected to ourselves and others, and are without a doubt more technologically savvy.

As a Network, the OWCN also had to navigate new waters. The management team had to transition from an office environment to working from home. All meetings and events were either cancelled or moved to a virtual platform, which meant A LOT of Zoom, Skype and Teams events. But, I believe the most challenging aspect of 2020 was figuring out how we would respond to wildlife in need during an active pandemic. I couldn’t be more proud of the management team, our colleagues at CDFW-OSPR and our Network of responders for stepping up to the plate, being amazingly resourceful and also very patient during these unprecedented times. The safety of our responders remains our number one priority. We are very fortunate and thank you for your ongoing support.

As we transition into a New Year we will continue to monitor the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and respond to any wildlife in need under the guidelines of our OSPR approved COVID-19 response procedures. Additionally, we will continue to work hard to serve you, our OWCN community of responders. Keep an eye out for the first version of our 2021 training and event calendar later this month. We are excited to kick off 2021 with some new and improved virtual offerings.

In the meantime, we wish you health and happiness for 2021 and look forward to brighter days ahead.

~ Danene

…And, That’s a Wrap!

As this year rapidly comes to a close and most of us breathe a collective sigh of relief for having made it through such a difficult year, we want to send a sincere thank you to each and every one of you for continuing to be a part of the Network. With your help and support we made it through 2020, by remaining flexible, resilient, and never losing sight of the goal. We met by Zoom several times for drills, Town Hall meetings, and various trainings, and we even responded to a few spills where we helped impacted animals while at the same time did our best to also stay safe from COVID.

So as this year winds down, we are so grateful for your continued passion for helping to make this world a better place, despite the speed bumps along the way. We will be taking a break until after the new year, so we wanted to wish everyone a most healthy and happy holiday season. May this season bring you an abundance of peace, magic, and hope for the new year. Onward!