This week we successfully launched our first of six lectures as part of our “2022 Lecture Series”. On Monday, JD Bergeron, CEO of International Bird Rescue, gave an excellent presentation that highlighted International Bird Rescue’s 50th Anniversary. If you did not join us for Monday’s presentation, please mark your calendars for the upcoming lectures, as we have some really cool topics, as you can see below:
If you are an active OWCN responder and miss any of these lectures, we will be posting the recorded lectures online. Details regarding access will be emailed to responders once the recordings are posted.
Since I began working here within the OWCN, I’ve had a fascination with the hazing side of spill response. I mean come on, what a cool concept! The number one goal is to try to come up with creative ways to keep creatures out of danger. Not only are you trying to keep minimally impacted wildlife from becoming more impacted, but you’re also trying to prevent additional wildlife from becoming impacted at all. So, you come up with something you think will be “scary” enough to keep them away, but then days later you have to come up with something “scarier” so those animals don’t want to come back for the duration of the clean-up efforts. Talk about an ongoing battle of wits!
In hopes of gaining a better understanding for myself of what techniques work best, I recently read a report from the Island Conservation’s Farallon Islands Restoration Project study that looked at Hazing Western Gulls on the South Farallon Islands (Grout et al. 2013). It contains a lot of incredible information regarding the safe, yet productive, hazing and deterrence of wildlife, and I thought I’d share their findings with you all in case any of you find the concept of hazing/deterrence as cool as I do.
The purpose of this study was to test various tools that would haze, or deter, Western Gulls from the South Farallon Islands in order to reduce the risk of exposure to a rodenticide pellet. This trial was conducted between November 27th and December 15th, 2012 as this was the approximate time of year that was proposed to conduct a future mouse eradication project in which rodent bait would be placed on the islands. It was determined that this period would be ideal for the eradication as the majority of marine birds were off the islands, Western Gull numbers were low, and it was prior to elephant seal breeding season. Prior to these eradication efforts being implemented, a study was needed to determine if hazing efforts would be effective at keeping the remaining Western Gulls on the island out of the eradication area where bait would be placed. Additionally, information was needed to understand if these tools would negatively impact other wildlife inhabiting the islands. Thus, this trial was launched! To be clear, no eradication efforts were conducted during this trial. This trial was needed to determine if such hazing tools would be useful and effective during the actual eradication, which to this day has not been implemented.
There were 19 different hazing tools tested during this study, including passive and active hazing measures. When individual tools were used to clear the gulls from an area, they would fly from the spot they were hazed from to another part of the island. Therefore, it became apparent that multiple hazing/deterrence tools would need to be used at one time so that when they were hazed from one area, they could not just land elsewhere, they would actually have to leave the island. Overall, it was determined that the greatest results are achieved when using a combination of tools at the same time such as helicopters, pyrotechnics, amplified biosonics (including birdguard devices, marine wailer, Long Range Acoustic Devices), and lasers. The most effective pyrotechnics proved to be the long range CAPA rockets, which unfortunately are no longer available. What surprised me the most was the impact of lasers. The lasers were not only used to dissuade gulls from landing but also used to clear roosting gulls and prevent them from coming back. In addition, they were effective over long line of sight distances and could be used out of the helicopter or from the lighthouse on SE Farallon, which provides a full vantage point around the islands. The biosonic devices were used to clear large areas of the islands with ease and appeared to have negligible impacts to the pinnipeds present.
Despite the consensus that the combination of sound and motion is most effective, there was one exception: effigies. When you hear the word ‘effigy’, you probably think of a plastic owl or other raptor placed on a fence post or mounted to a roof or other object. However, in this case, effigy refers to naturally deceased Western Gulls that were found on the islands. The researchers discovered that if these effigies were attached to a pole 8ft high, they acted as an excellent deterrent to prevent other gulls from coming to that area. These effigies not only deterred the gulls for a few days, but they successfully deterred them for several weeks which is incredibly uncommon when deploying hazing/deterrence devices. Other tools assessed that proved to be less effective included mylar streamers, balloons, kites, and zon guns. The mylar, balloons, and kites seemed to have little impact on gull presence and generally did not withstand the weather conditions present on the islands. The zon guns, while sometimes effective at close range, had limited use in this scenario given the pinniped presence and weather conditions.
Throughout the course of this study, hazing/deterrence impacts to other wildlife on the island were also noted. Species that were being monitored included Brandt’s Cormorants, Common Murres, Brown Pelicans, Black Oystercatchers, and other overwintering shorebirds. All of these birds were sensitive to the hazing tools used, so any of these methods used on the gulls are likely effective on these species as well. Even though pinnipeds were not the focus of this study, their behavior was monitored closely when testing hazing techniques on the gulls; therefore the researchers were able to observe that pyrotechnics, helicopters, and humans were the most disruptive, whereas Birdgard, Long Range Acoustic Device, lasers, and Marine Wailer had minimal impacts.
Thus, there are a variety of tools one can implement to effectively haze/deter various species. I believe that as long as we vary the tools we are using, we can successfully reduce the impacts to wildlife during an oil spill response. This study has provided great insight into the effectiveness of combining tools that use sound and motion to haze/deter wildlife from an area, and I hope we can effectively implement some of these ideas next time they are needed.
Speaking of which, I know there are quite a few of you out there who are interested in getting more training and experience in the hazing world of oil spill response. My personal goal for this upcoming year is to focus on OWCN’s hazing program, beef it up, and give all of you who are interested, an opportunity to receive additional hazing specific training. If you are a creative person who loves to experiment with ideas, and you think the hazing/deterrence side of oil spill response sounds like something you would like to participate in, please shoot me an email at email@example.com.
For more information on this study and to read the full paper, please follow this link:
Grout, D. R. Griffiths, M. Pott, R. Bradley, P. Warzybok, W. Vickers, D. Milsaps and G. McChesney. 2013. Hazing Western Gulls on the South Farallon Islands. Appendix E: South Farallon Islands Invasive House Mouse Eradication Project: Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Federal register #FWS-R8-NWRS-2013-0036http://www.regulations.gov
It’s been a while due to the responses we’ve been having, but for this week’s blog, I’d like to get back to our region highlights, with Region 3, the “Bay Delta”. 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
Region 3 consists of the Bay Delta counties from Sonoma and Napa in the north, east to San Joaquin, and south to Santa Cruz and Santa Clara
With 19 Member Organizations within this area, it contains our most represented region:
The Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa
Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County in Petaluma
Point Blue Conservation Science Headquarters in Petaluma
Point Blue Conservation Science Palomarin Field Station in Bolinas
WildCare in San Rafael
Estuary and Ocean Science Center in Tiburon
The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito
International Bird Rescue (North) in Fairfield
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo
The Wild Neighbors Database Project
Contra Costa County
Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek
San Francisco County
Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco
Greater Farallones Association in San Francisco
California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
Golden Gate Audubon Society in Berkeley
San Mateo County
Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA in Burlingame
Santa Clara County
San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory in Milpitas
Santa Cruz County
University of California – Santa Cruz
Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz
Native Animal Rescue in Santa Cruz
While this region is highly populated and urbanized, it is also spread out over large areas of wetlands and mountains that surround the San Francisco Bay. I got to see more of this area and its wildlife this past weekend when OWCN responded to a spill in the area of Fremont/Coyote Creek. Thankfully the spill was of gasoline so it dissipated rather quickly, but we could see how difficult the situation could have been as much of the area is a network of vegetation-lined streams and mudflats. This region is home to many endemic species, including some that I find particularly interesting:
Alameda Island Mole
This Species of Special Concern is found only on Alameda Island. And even if you were there looking for it, it’s unlikely you will see any because they have a fossorial lifestyle (live most of their life relatively deep underground). Like other moles, their tunnel openings at the surface have a volcano-like appearance that differs from what you usually see with burrowing rodents (gophers, ground squirrels, voles…). They also do not typically form collapsing burrow tracts that you see with voles which burrow shallower to feed on the root systems of plants.
Point Reyes Mountain Beaver
Another seldom seen animal of Region 3, this Mountain beaver is endemic to the Point Reyes area. Mountain beavers are often considered the most primitive rodent species. But why are they called “beavers”? They don’t frequent the water or build dams like the beavers we typically think of, and they don’t look like them either. Their similarity comes from chewing down trees, or at least stalks and saplings.
They are nocturnal, active year-round and territorial, remaining close to their burrow to defend it. Like other Mountain beavers, their primitive kidneys are unable to concentrate urine, so they require a constant source of available water. Their Preferred Optimum Temperature Zone (POTZ) is a chilly 40-60F. And they have opposable thumbs!
San Francisco Dusky-footed Woodrat
This endemic Species of Special Concern of the Bay Area can be found from Point Reyes to Santa Cruz, and inland to Mount Diablo and Pleasanton. This species prefers heavily wooded areas that have a good amount of undergrowth and it builds distinctive large stick houses, usually at the base of or within a tree that is in close proximity to water.
Salt-marsh Harvest Mouse
There are 2 subspecies of the State and Federally Endangered Salt-marsh harvest mouse, with the South Bay subspecies having a dark brown fur above and a lighter brown fur coat on the belly and the North Bay subspecies having a lighter cream-colored belly. Like many of our native mice, it has a bicolored tail. This mouse makes its nests out of grass and sedge on the ground and is usually associated with areas of Pickleweed.
While we were doing our wildlife surveys at Coyote Creek the other day, Scott Buhl had been talking about the elusive Salt-marsh harvest mouse and when Tim Williamson pointed out the Pickleweed lining the banks, it jarred my memory that this was the habitat I had learned about! Although, we still did not see any of those elusive mice.
San Francisco Gartersnake
This State Threatened and Federally Endangered snake is endemic to the San Francisco Peninsula from San Francisco County to Northern Santa Cruz County. It is mostly active during the day in wetlands and grasslands near water, often fleeing into the water when threatened. It is also active at lower temperatures than most other snakes.
California Ridgway’s Rail
Another species that is often associated with Pickleweed habitat is the California Ridgways’ rail. A State and Federally Endangered species, this large chicken-sized bird is a resident of the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays and Suisun Marsh. Like many of the other species mentioned here it is very reclusive and not often seen; however they may theoretically be a species easier to catch since they prefer to either freeze and hide under vegetation or run away rather than fly.
Santa Cruz Black Salamander
And we should always include a herp, so the final spotlight species is the Santa Cruz black salamander. This amphibian inhabits mixed woodland and conifer forests of Santa Cruz, Santa Mateo and Santa Clara counties. If you were to see this salamander, it would likely be either at night or on the ground in damp areas under rocks, logs or in talus. It is also aggressively territorial to others of its species!
I hope everyone is having a nice holiday time with family and friends and remembers to think about the really cool wildlife that we are fortunate to live amongst!
Looking back to December 2020, I can’t help but reflect on how far we’ve come. This time last year many of us were planning on spending the holiday season “pandemic style”, which essentially meant being physically separated from our friends and families. For me that resulted in many Zoom gatherings instead of traveling to the East Coast to see my family. Although it wasn’t easy, everyone did their part to keep their colleagues, friends and loved ones safe. Throughout the year we slowly started to get a glimpse of “normalcy” and were able to gather in small groups and consider traveling to see friends and family. As 2021 comes to a close, I am hopeful that everyone will be able to safely enjoy the holidays and re-connect with at least one holiday tradition they missed out on in 2020.
As a Network, 2021 brought levels of uncertainty, but we stepped up and remained resilient. Although we weren’t able to safely host many in-person events we still came together during our virtual Town Hall’s, trainings, and engagement events. Oh, and we can’t forget the multiple spill responses, including the Pipeline P00547 incident where we had greater than 90 network responders assist with the response efforts. Honestly, I was so happy to see so many of our Network members IN PERSON (although I wish it was under different circumstances). We are very grateful for all of your hard work during these unprecedented times and can’t thank you enough for your continued resilience, patience and commitment to the OWCN’s mission and California’s wildlife.
As we prepare for the New Year we are cautiously optimistic that we may be able to resume some in-person events. We will continue to monitor the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the emerging Omicron variant. The safety of our Network responders is our number one priority and we will continue to pivot as needed. In the meantime, please keep an eye on your inbox for announcements regarding upcoming events, including our first virtual event, which will be on January 10th, 2022 from 12:00 – 1:00 PM. We are excited to have JD Bergeron from International Bird Rescue (IBR) kickoff our new 2022 monthly Lecture Series. He will be highlighting IBR’s 50th anniversary, so please save the date! Zoom webinar information will be available soon.
On behalf of the OWCN Management Team, I wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season and all the best for 2022.
As many of you know, the year of 2021 proved eventful in many ways including a pair of recent Network activations during a global pandemic. But through it all, the OWCN Management Team remains committed to providing our Network ample training opportunities, even if many must remain in a virtual or hybrid format.
Our team recently met to review our 2021 training efforts and map out our 2022 OWCN Training Program Calendar. (Final OWCN Training Program Calendar will be hitting your inboxes in very early January!). As you can see via the graph below, we were able to virtually engage and train many of you this past year and we appreciate your patience and enthusiasm as we transitioned much of our content online.
As we move forward into 2022, we remain cautiously optimistic that we can offer many virtual opportunities paired with a few select hybrid events with small, in person components. In an effort to give you a preview of what’s to come, we have listed all the training types we plan to offer next year. Exact dates and locations will be shared soon. (Please note: to access the OWCN training program, you must be 18 years of age, affiliated with one of our 44 Member Organizations, and have a responder profile in our database; contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions)
New Responder Engagement (Virtual)
A great place to start for new responders, if you have recently joined our responder database and seek some assistance in getting started, please join us for this virtual engagement hosted via Zoom. We will provide an overview of our training program, drills and exercise opportunities, and host a Q & A session.
Core Webinar Series (Virtual)
A must for all new responders, these three webinars provide the perfect introduction to our OWCN operations and are available 24/7. After viewing the OWCN Overview, Spill Basics and Responder Involvement content, you must pass the Core Webinar Series Exam, and then you are officially one of our Core Responders!
Basic Responder Training (Virtual & In Person Options)
The Basic Responder Training (BRT) is a one day training that covers common concepts and skills applicable across all areas of oiled wildlife response. The elements are designed to help participants navigate spill response in a prepared manner (i.e. safety, spill structure, core animal handling concepts, etc). Upon completion of this course, you are officially an OWCN Basic Responder and gain access to priority volunteer sign up during incidents. We plan to offer both virtual classes hosted via Zoom, as well as in person classes in 2022.
Oiled Wildlife Specialist Training (Hybrid; 1 Day Virtual & 1 Day In Person)
The Oiled Wildlife Specialist (OWS) Workshop is a two day class for individuals with moderate to advanced hands-on experience related to at least one aspect of oiled wildlife response. It is open both to species specialists and multi-species responders, and is intended to give participants a deeper understanding of spill response operations, broaden the applicability of the responder’s existing skills, and increase consistency between responders. We currently offer 5 specialization options including Field Operations (Hazing & Recovery), Field Stabilization, Intake & Processing, PreWash Care and Cleaning & Conditioning. We plan to host Day 1 of this training virtually via Zoom and then offer the 2nd day of instruction in person for hands on components.
Oiled Wildlife Manager Training (In Person; Invitation Only)
The Oiled Wildlife Manager (OWM) Training aims to better prepare our veteran and highly experienced responders to fill leadership positions within the Wildlife Branch, including Strike Team Leader, Area Coordinator and/or Group Supervisor with limited supervision. This course is by invitation only.
HAZWOPER Courses (24hr In Person; 8hr Refresher Virtual)
24hr Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Training is a three-day course and an OSHA health and safety requirement for working in the hot zone during oil spill response. It is required to fill certain OWCN positions within Wildlife Recovery, Hazing, and Field Stabilization, and it is a prerequisite for some advanced training opportunities as well. We are working with OSPR to offer two in person 24hr HAZWOPER training opportunities in 2022.
8hr HAZWOPER Refresher Training is only available to those who have already completed the 24hr HAZWOPER Training course, as this certification must be annually refreshed. The 8hr course is available online 24/7 with online recorded content and a final exam that you must pass.
Lecture Series (Virtual)
New for 2022, we will be offering an online lecture series from January through June, with one lecture hosted via Zoom each month. Stay tuned as final dates and topics will be shared in the coming weeks.
Oilapalooza 2022 (Hybrid)
Oilapalooza is OWCN’s biennial oiled wildlife response conference, and is a chance for responders to meet one another, learn about recent responses, new technologies and procedures, and practice hands-on response skills. Oilapalooza 2022 will take place at UC Davis in Davis, CA on October 22-23. We plan to offer both in person and virtual participation opportunities.
And as a reminder to all of our active responders, the OWCN requires engagement with our training program to maintain active status (at least every 3 years for Core and Basic Responders; annually for our Specialists and Managers). Attending any of our options listed above, as well as participating as a volunteer at a drill or spill, refreshes your CE.
Looking forward to a fantastic 2022, and hoping to even see a few of you at an in-person training event!
A disastrous oil spill, a feathered victim, a rescue team, and a happy ending. The story certainly has the makings of a solid Disney movie. I’ll give you that. If you were following the news coverage of the Pipeline P00547 Incident aka the Orange County Oil Spill, then chances are you have already seen this photo of the “Happy Duck”. The image was shared widely by news outlets who referred to the ruddy duck as “Happy Duck” to depict the lighter side of response efforts as people worked together to clean up the environmental disaster. Well folks, here is where I must be the bearer of bad news. This photo does NOT depict a happy duck. This, in fact, is a decidedly unhappy duck. But don’t worry, Unhappy Duck still gets a happy ending! Let me explain.
You see, I took the infamous “Happy Duck” photo and I can testify that our ruddy duck patient was actually a simmering ball of feathery rage. Why? Because he had been abducted by terrifying primate predators and was being held against his will! (I’ll refer to Ruddy as a he, but truthfully he/she was in a phase of molt when gender is indeterminable) You see, wildlife and humans tend to mix about as well as–humor me–oil and water. For a person, an encounter with a wild bird can be an awe-inspiring, lifelong memory! Something to share with friends on social media for sure! But for a wild bird, an encounter with a much larger human would be terrifying, life-threatening, and something to avoid at all costs!
I snapped the photo in question the day after our lively little ruddy duck went through the cleaning process. As the first patient recovered during the oil spill, it was important to document his progress. During a large spill like this, the media and the public are watching closely. They want reassurance that the wildlife is being cared for and the OWCN is glad to provide that transparency. So following the de-oiling bath (which was probably the absolute scariest experience of his life) I seized the opportunity during his regularly scheduled exam to snap a quick progress photo. Ruddy’s transformation was remarkable! Where there had previously been thick, tarry clumps of oil and sand adhered to every inch of Ruddy’s body, there was now only a coating of supple tan and brown feathers. Perhaps most shocking was Ruddy’s drop in weight. Pre-wash, Ruddy was 560 grams. Now clean, Ruddy’s weight dropped to 440 grams. Usually weight loss is a concerning sign in wildlife rehabilitation, but in this case it meant that Ruddy was probably feeling much better after shedding over 100 grams of oil and sand! Surely this means he’s happy? No. But he’s smiling?! Wrong again.
This is a good time to check in with one of the core concepts of wildlife rehabilitation. As wildlife caregivers, it is crucial that we maintain awareness of the stress level of our patient. How can we tell if an animal is stressed? There are many indications, but they largely depend on the species and its natural defenses. In this case, ducks and geese are known to hiss and posture defensively when they feel threatened. Ever been strolling through the park when you’re suddenly approached by a hissing goose? That goose wasn’t being a jerk, she was protecting her family. A lot of people hate geese, but honestly–they’re one of my favorite birds. You’ve got to respect an animal that demands respect! You wouldn’t encounter a hissing ruddy duck at your neighborhood park though. Unlike Canada geese, ruddy ducks steer clear of humans. But when cornered by a human? Ruddy is going to defend himself in the only way he knows how. Hissing, posturing, and snapping. And that, friends, is exactly what Ruddy is doing in the photo.
Alright, alright. Jeez, Sam–way to ruin our harmless illusion of the Happy Duck. Yeah, I know–sorry. But the thing is, it’s not always harmless illusion. Wildlife can and often do suffer at the hands of people who mistake stress and fear for sweeter emotions. We humans have a proclivity for anthropomorphizing animal’s in order to relate to them.
Anthropomorphize: verb. to attribute human form or personality to things not human.
This isn’t to say that animals aren’t capable of experiencing happiness, love, gratitude, etc. But don’t fall into the trap of assuming that YOU can accurately interpret a wild animal’s emotions. Wildlife caregivers and other keen observers of the natural world may have an easier time of deciphering a wild animal’s reactions. But for the general public, decoding these signals often goes awry and leads to an animal being subjected to undue stress. People love a feel-good story of rescuing an animal in need. And I am by no means discouraging anyone from helping animals in need! Instead, I am offering a small dose of honesty for the sake of the wild animals who you might help someday. The take home message here is this: Wild animals do not know you are trying to help them. They are terrified of you. Good intentions are wonderful, but informed good intentions are even better! Act from a place of respect and do everything in your power to minimize their fear and stress. It makes a difference!
So without any further ado, here are 5 signs that the wild animal you rescued actually hates you (or at least fears you!):
Hissing, chattering, chirping – pretty much any kind of vocalization directed at a human. This indicates a very fearful and defensive wild animal. Wild animals often vocalize to distract or scare-off a predator that is pursuing them.
Puffing up their fur or feathers. Posturing to make yourself appear larger is a common strategy when faced with a dangerous predator. It’s even recommended that humans use this technique if they encounter a mountain lion.
Flipping onto their back. Chances are, a wild animal doesn’t want to harm you. If given the choice, it would much rather flee. But if injured or trapped, it may resort to defending itself. For species like raptors, this could mean flipping onto their back to use their sharp talons on you.
Freezing in place or accepting petting. The fight or flight instinct is strong! Some animals will always choose to flee and if fleeing isn’t an option, they will completely freeze in fear. This isn’t an invitation to coo softly and pet the distressed animal! This means it’s time to either give them space or place them in a safe, quiet container for transportation to a permitted rehabilitator.
Staring into your eyes. This is a time when eye contact is discouraged. That injured hawk isn’t trying to form a soul connection with you. He’s trying to anticipate your next move. He’s expecting you to attack him and he wants to be ready.
Have you ever rescued a wild animal? Or have you seen one of those popular, feel-good internet videos where someone saves a wild animal from certain death? Did you observe any of these signs of fear or stress? I hope you’re not too bummed to learn that wild animals are a lot less thankful for our help than you previously thought. Having a greater awareness of an animal’s stress response is a GOOD thing! It means we can adapt our way of helping to better suit the needs of the distressed animal. This is exactly what we do as professional wildlife responders at the OWCN. We carefully consider the stress of our patients and constantly seek ways to mitigate it for the sake of their health and wellbeing. A stressed animal might reject food, injure itself with repeated escape attempts, take longer to heal, or worse.
For Ruddy, we implemented a variety of things to minimize stress. Our care team always spoke minimally and with hushed voices around him. We prepared all necessary supplies ahead of time so that Ruddy’s treatments were quick and efficient. We provided a species-appropriate diet and caging. Once Ruddy was de-oiled and waterproof, we moved him outside to a pool so that he was disturbed as little as possible. Finally, when Ruddy was rehabilitated and ready for return back to the wild, we transported him in a quiet car and released him back to the wild!
Following his release, the media asked “Do you think he is happy to be back home? Do you think he is grateful for being rescued?” Well, to the first question – I’d like to think the answer is yes. If nothing else, he was happy to be out of my hands and back on the open water! But to the second question, I’d have to say no. I don’t think he will look back on his time with us as anything other than a terrifying ordeal he barely survived. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve done hundreds of releases and I’ve never had an animal turn back and give me one last, grateful look before they fly off into the sunset. Plenty of released animals have turned to face me to make sure I’m not chasing them, but alas, no “thank you’s” or “warm wishes” were had. And that is OKAY! Helping these animals recover after an oil spill is our job and we are glad to do it, thanks or no thanks.
Want to make sure you are putting your best foot forward when rescuing a wildlife? Here are 6 ways we can all be better helpers to wildlife in distress:
First question – Does the animal really need my help? Handling a wild animal should always be avoided when possible. Make sure you are intervening as a last resort and that the animal really does require assistance. Is it a baby bird simply learning to fly? Is it a fawn nestled quietly beside a tree? Is it a nest of baby bunnies without a mama in sight? If so, leave them alone! Wildlife rehabilitators are flooded with healthy baby animals every spring who were kidnapped by the well-meaning public. There are many good resources online to help you determine if a wild animal needs your help. Still not sure? Contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center.
Leave the rehabilitation to the experts. Unless you are a permitted wildlife rehabilitator or you are working with one, your job is to get the animal to the people who have the skills, experience, resources, and legal ability to help. Find professional help for injured/orphaned wildlife by clicking here. Do not try to feed or provide medical attention to distressed wildlife without first consulting a rehabilitator.
Keep children and pets away from wildlife! This one always surprises me. What seems like common sense to many is lost on a few. Your cat or dog, no matter how sweet, is not a good companion for the wild animal you are trying to help. Cats have deadly bacteria in their saliva. A single puncture in an animal’s skin will likely bring on a fatal infection. Your dog might be very motherly and want to cuddle the baby bunny, but your neighbor’s dogs might want to eat the bunny. Don’t teach the bunny to be friendly with dogs. And kids. Please don’t encourage your kids to handle injured or orphaned wildlife. Parasites and zoonotic diseases aside, the animal is in need of care by a qualified adult. Unnecessary handling from kids is the last thing it needs.
Safely contain the animal. For most species, the best way to pick them up is by draping a towel over them and gently lifting them up with the towel. Place them into a box with some air holes. You want a box big enough that the animal can easily turn around, but not so large that they have room to jump around. I’ve seen animals arrive to rehabilitation centers in all kinds of wacky containers. Sometimes you’ve got to be creative, but the important thing is using a container. Carrying the animal on your lap prolongs the scariest part of the experience for the animal–handling by humans.
Minimize disturbances. Keep things quiet. Turn off your music in the car while transporting and put your barking dog away. Dim the lights if possible. If you aren’t able to transport the injured animal right away place their container in quiet spot. There’s no need to check on the animal every five minutes. Doing so is only going to stress them further.
Try to prevent human-wildlife conflicts. Often times, human activity is the root cause of a wild animal’s injury. Whether they’ve been contaminated during an oil spill, attacked by a domestic cat, collided with a window, ate a poisoned rat, or were hit by a car, today’s wildlife face an unprecedented number of threats due to the actions of humans. Consider how your daily routine, home, and pets might be a positive or negative impact on wildlife. Being a helper to wildlife can come in many forms!
To all of you out there who have been helpers of wildlife–we salute you! Whether the animal thanked you with a hiss, a scratch, a well-aimed poop, or in no way at all–I’d just like to say:
Over the past two months you’ve heard a lot about the Pipeline P00547 oil spill. The spill has been featured in hundreds of news articles (local and national) as well as on social media and our very own OWCN blog posts. Thank you to Jennie and Danene for highlighting the hard work of our first and foremost VIP’s(very important people) of the spill, the 90+ field and care responders representing approximately 1/3 of our member orgs. I’d like to take this blogging opportunity to highlight the other VIP’s(very important patients) of the Pipeline P00547 spill, the western snowy plovers.
All about Our Western Snowy VIPlovers
The western snowy plovers (Charadrius nivosus) were the smallest patients in our care throughout the spill, weighing in at a whopping 35-40g, or roughly the size of a large chicken egg. The Pacific population of these little shorebirds can range from southern Washington, all the way down to Baja California, Mexico.
Western snowy plovers can be spotted year-round on coastal beaches, peninsulas, and even bays, estuaries or river outlets up to 50 miles inland. You might find them displaying the classic “run-stop-peck” in which they forage for crustaceans, worms, and other small marine invertebrates that they find in wet sand and kelp. When they are not running along the shoreline, snowy plovers seemingly disappear into their surrounding landscape. Western snowy plovers are masters of camouflage with their sand-colored feathers along the top part of their body and sand-speckled appearance of their eggs.
Masters of camouflage….
Snowy plover clutches typically contain 3 eggs and some plovers can lay two clutches per year. Females may breed with more than one male. In fact, after their eggs hatch they will often leave chick rearing duties to the male in order to re-nest with another male if there is adequate time left in the season. Snowy plovers display high site fidelity, and are often spotted at the same nesting locations year after year. Snowy plovers communicate to each other with “chirp-like” calls. They also use body language, such as drooping a wing or limping to signal the presence of a predator. Click here to listen to some common snowy plover calls.
Did you know that newborn snowy plovers leave their nest within 3 hours of hatching and immediately begin foraging on their own?
So, why was this little bird such a big deal? Well, in 1993 the Pacific population of western snowy plovers was listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Factors such as human disturbance, predation, inclement weather and encroachment due to urban development have played a large role in the decline of active nesting sites, and subsequently reproduction. From March to September snowy plovers establish nesting sites in small depressions in the sand. Human activities such as walking, jogging, off-leash pets, horseback riding and vehicle use can disturb these sites resulting in nest abandonment. Goals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Western snowy plover Recovery plan include: (1) achieving well-distributed increases in numbers and productivity of breeding adult birds, and (2) providing for long-term protection of breeding and wintering plovers and their habitat.
Left: Oiled western snowy plover; Center: Stabilization enclosure; Right: Western snowy plover being examined by veterinarian prior to release. Photo credits OWCN/UC Davis
Even though western snowy plovers don’t live in water, oil can still have a big impact on their ability to waterproof and therefore thermoregulate. Given their small stature and nearly non-existent fat stores, they rely on their feather structure to keep warm, especially during inclement weather. When western snowy plovers get cold they have to expend their energy getting warm, instead of foraging for food or running away from predators. They can quickly become emaciated and dehydrated, resulting in severe debilitation. During the Pipeline P00547 spill, our initial snowy plover care focused on getting these tiny patients warm, hydrated and eating. Once stabilized we were able to focus on secondary concerns including skin burns and minor injuries.
Fortunately all 7 of our VIPatients made a full recovery and were released back to their native habitats where they can continue to contribute to the recovery of the Pacific population of western snowy plovers!
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the safe capture, care and release of these special little birds!
For more information about the western snowy plovers we cared for during the Pipeline P00547 oil spill check out this video and article by UC Davis.
As we begin to wrap-up primary care operations at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care & Education Center (LAOBCEC) I can’t help but reflect on the amazing effort that the OWCN responders have put into the Pipeline P00547 incident. Since being activated, our Network responders have worked tirelessly to meet the OWCN’s mission of providing “best achievable capture and care to oil affected wildlife”.
To put that into numbers, since the beginning of October, approximately 90 unique responders have clocked over 6,000 hours of time directly working with and for the animals collected during this event. More than half of those hours represented the dedicated team of individuals that were assigned to the Care & Processing Group. This Group was responsible for the documentation and rehabilitation of any animal that our incredible Field Operations Group sent our way. We were met with some unique challenges (or injects as we like to call them during drill time) and I am honored to have worked alongside such a dedicated and talented group of individuals.
With that, I thought it would be great for our readers to get a first-hand glimpse to what it’s like to be an OWCN responder. Here’s what a few of them had to say regarding how they got involved with the OWCN.
“I became a member of the OWCN back in 2008 when I started working at International Bird Rescue. International Bird Rescue is one of the primary care facilities and long-term members of the network. Since then, I have participated in the numerous online webinar courses and in-person training opportunities provided by the OWCN.”
“The organization I work for, Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), has been responding to oil spills since 1971, playing a lead role in many spills in oiled wildlife processing (species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management). In 1997, after I had just completed an internship with Point Blue, I was offered the opportunity to respond to the Kure spill in Humboldt Bay, and that was my first response, conducting wildlife processing. At that time the work was done by Point Blue under OSPR but in close collaboration with OWCN. Shortly thereafter, processing fell directly under OWCN’s umbrella and we began to work even more closely together and have ever since. I’ve been responding to spills for 24 years now, and during much of this time I have been the response and preparedness coordinator for Point Blue, one of OWCN’s many member organizations.”
“I got involved with OWCN back in 2015 during the Refugio Oil Spill Incident. I had been volunteering at the International Bird Rescue (IBR) Center in San Pedro at the time of the spill, having been working in the capacity of animal care/support volunteer since 2014. During the spill response, I served under the guidance of OWCN and IBR staff at the IBR center, assisting with washing oiled wildlife and providing overall clinic support. I decided to take my 24-hour HAZWOPER Training subsequent to that as well as the OWCN Basic Responder Training to ensure that I would be eligible to be activated to the field should volunteers be needed for help in another oil spill response.”
Diana Burke, OWCN Responder
Dr. Duane Tom & Kylie Clatterbuck examine a western grebe. Photo: OWCN
Depending on the complexity of a response there may be just a few or many roles to fill. As the response expands and contracts individuals may be asked to shift around, sometimes filling multiple roles to meet the demands of the incident, such as those described below.
“During Pipeline P00547 I was part of the animal care staff who stabilized, washed, and conditioned the animals affected by the oil spill for release back into the wild. As Center Manager of International Bird Rescue, I also worked on logistics and alongside the OWCN team members to coordinate responders.”
“Care Vet and Intake and Processing” (Duane also worked as Wildlife Recovery Staff and was the Field Stabilization Group Supervisor before joining the team at the Primary Care Facility.)
Dr. Duane Tom, UC Davis/OWCN Management Team
“I was the Processing Strike Team Lead, overseeing a small team of biologists who conducted the species identification, data and evidence collection, and evidence management of the oiled wildlife – predominantly the birds – collected during the response. We were responsible for doing this for all the birds found dead, while working alongside the Care staff to help collect this for the live birds, in order to allow them to focus as much as possible on the animal care side of things.”
“My role at the Primary Care Facility was to assist the OWCN and IBR oil spill responder staff with anything they needed, whether that be assisting in replacing and refilling buckets of water during a bird wash, setting up or cleaning enclosures, preparing food and gavages for tube feeding, etc.”
Emergency response can be challenging yet rewarding. When asked to reflect on their favorite and most challenging part of the response here’s what members of our team had to say:
“The hardest part is the need for speed, efficiency, and accuracy that are all critical to a successful response, and the pressure that comes from working in such an environment. The pressure can be intense during a response, but it also a challenge that it is exciting to have to rise to, as it is a privilege to be able to participate in this capacity and to know that ultimately what we are doing is in the best interest of the wildlife impacted and to future wildlife and natural resources.”
“Although it didn’t take place at the Primary Care Facility, probably my favorite experience was when I was able to attend the release on Huntington Beach of some of the Snowy Plovers and Sanderlings that had been rehabilitated and cleaned.”
“One of my favorite parts of the response was getting the chance to work more closely with Snowy Plovers. I also really enjoyed getting to meet and work more closely with many of the newer team members of the OWCN.”
“The hardest part of any response is taking the time to insure you are maintaining a good self-care routine.”
Favorite Part: “Getting to work with all the great people at IBR”
Hardest Part: “The intricacies of Processing. And NOAA Chain of Custody forms!”
Dr. Duane Tom
“One of my favorite experiences during the response was my assignment as a field operations volunteer. I reported for duty at the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center field operations staging area in Huntington Beach and was paired up with an amazing veterinarian from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Dr. Alissa Deming, to survey a designated part of the beach looking for oiled wildlife.”
“Undoubtedly, the hardest part of the oil spill response for me was having to accept that it is not always possible to rescue every bird which may need care.”
After each response we go through a process of outlining “what we learned”, “what went well”, and “what can we do to improve future responses”, AKA the “hotwash”. Following this process, we always walk away with lessons learned, such as:
“I had better be sure to get the species correct the first time for processing because correcting it after the fact is very involved!”
Dr. Duane Tom
“For me, I learned to slow down a bit and take the time needed to provide for these nuances and appreciate the challenges that come with each type of animal.”
“A million! I am so impressed by how prepared California is to respond to oil spills, and how seriously the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, that I am a part of, takes that preparedness; in fact, we do a lot of work outside of actual spill response so that we can meet the next event with an even stronger response, and even better “best practices”.
“The number one lesson learned was that although I strive to do my best as a responder, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be possible for me to rescue all wildlife which I come across in an oil spill response. It is a heartbreaking fact, but it’s something I have had to learn to accept.”
As we approach the final phase of the response, Demobilization, I reflect on how fortunate we are to have the support of CDFW-OSPR and our amazing Network of responders. We thank YOU for your ongoing dedication to the OWCN’s mission.
I’d also like to give an extra special shout out to our Care Veterinarian, Dr. Jamie Sherman who is the currently the last deployed responder. She is currently in San Pedro providing care and veterinary oversight for the last few patients.
Take care, and for those who were deployed – get well deserved some rest!
Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations
Although the Pipeline P00547 Incident has not quite come to a close, the majority of the field recovery teams have been sent home. We still have a few “hotshot” teams on standby to respond to calls of confirmed oiled animal sightings, but the rest of us have been demobilized to blend back into our everyday lives. Thus, I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the incredible people who helped make our field response to this oil spill possible.
There were about 37 responders from our network from various member organizations who helped in the recovery of oiled wildlife, both dead and alive, throughout the duration of our field response. Each responder was immensely valuable to our recovery efforts, and I’d like to share some unique perspectives and experiences of several of them. So, sit down, relax, grab a cup of coffee, and let your imagination wander to the Southern California coastline as our responders take you along the beaches of Orange County.
Field teams attending the daily safety briefing. Photo Credit: Eunah Preston
Steffani Jarrett, CIMWI :
“We were sent to the harbor docks to check on an injured and oiled pelican. By the time we arrived the bird had moved to the bait dock, which, unfortunately was only accessible by boat. After a few calls, the harbor patrol agreed to give us a ride. As we approached the dock, the deputies told us (a little late) that the bait dock workers don’t like them and will not allow them to dock. After some shouting, we were allowed to dock, and the pelican jumped in the water as soon as we stepped on the dock. Using fish bribes from Wetlands Wildlife we were able to safely capture the pelican. The last hurdle was that the bird was very cold, and our crate only fit in the truck bed. So, we wrapped the bird in towels and wedged it into a cardboard container and transported it in the backseat for treatment. Despite all our troubles, the pelican did not appreciate our efforts and displayed its frustrations. However, we felt good knowing it was going to get the help it needed.”
Tamara Tamburro, CIMWI & now, new PMMC volunteer too:
“I’m a grandma who decided to get her Masters in conservation biology late in life. I moved to Ventura during the UME for sea lions and started volunteering for CIMWI. While at CIMWI I became involved with OWCN. I have been training with you guys for several years hoping you wouldn’t need me, but ready if you ever made the call. I just moved to Newport Beach 3 months before this awful spill happened. I live in the Bluffs above Upper Newport Bay so this happened in my new “backyard.” I was very motivated to help, and I got partnered with Susan (Kaveggia) from IBR. It was awesome working with a bird expert; I think we made a great team. We walked lots of miles, got super tired, and I made a new friend. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but hope I never have to. We thankfully didn’t find any oiled wildlife, but it was still an amazing experience just being there. I think the thing that touched me most was all the donated food, including goodie bags.”
Colleen Young, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (OSPR):
“I had a funny interaction with a reporting party who had called to report an oiled bird to the hotline. I called the reporting party back to get more info about an “oiled duck” in Newport Harbor they had seen. When I told him I was calling him about the oiled duck he reported, he said, ‘It’s not a duck but it’s a bird type duck.’ Thanks, that really clears it up! When I asked him if it looked oiled, he said he wasn’t sure but ‘he’s been in the same facility for over 24 hours, and that seems highly unusual.’ Riiiiiight…whatever that means! With that kind of great information, you can imagine we weren’t that surprised when the animal turned out not to be oiled and not to be a duck, but rather the juvenile yellow-crowned night heron that had been frequenting that area. We were glad that it didn’t end up being oiled and to have a chance to see a new bird (we don’t have them on the central coast and from what I understand they are somewhat rare in southern CA as well).”
Gayle Uyehara, UC Davis Wildlife Health Center:
While deployed, what were the days like?
Hot…… I got the hot days……
What was the hardest part?
Trying to keep pushing through the heat and towards the end of my support, the long day walking.
What was your favorite part?
Getting to work with a longtime family friend (Susan Kaveggia) doing something we are both passionate about and knowing we had each other’s six. Our rescue experience adds up to many years so if there was something to be found, alive or dead, I had confidence we would find it in our search areas.
Did you use any special techniques to capture something?
No, but we did have a method to our searching – and parking in a strategic spot while back-tracking to the car (basically hop-scotching ahead to park) allowed us to make sure we covered our area.
What aspect was the most fun?
Actually, learning about the coastal area (specifically the 4 marshes we covered) to the point where I’ll go back and join the local conservancy group in order to draw and paint the endangered flora.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
I forgot what it was like for the general public and their genuine thankfulness that we were there for the birds took me by surprise. I know we train in the event of a spill but there are rewards that go beyond the ability to help the animals during a spill.
Carleton Eyster, Point Blue Conservation Science:
While deployed, what were your days like?
Awesome! From start to finish.
What was the hardest part?
Navigating the hundreds of cleanup personnel (& vehicles!!:) while trying to target individual oiled birds. Isolating a bird for capture is hard enough on a quiet beach, with no disturbance, and is usually best done with just one or two people.
What was your favorite part?
The amazing coordination and dedication of so many people for a united cause! Our final capture of the hard-luck banded female exemplified this effort, with 5 or 6 of us, from different orgs and parts of the state, collectively herding her over the noose mats! Just brilliant! Oh, and the best Philly Cheesesteak west of Philadelphia!
What aspect was the most fun?
Seeing a net gun used successfully on a small shorebird (two, in fact!).
An oiled Snowy plover captured by Carleton Eyster. Photo credit: OWCN
Monica Frank, International Bird Rescue – South:
“The most ‘interesting’ day I had was with Susan Kaveggia when we unknowingly walked a nude beach! We went down to San Onofre State Beach and after walking the length of that beach decided to check the southern end on Camp Pendleton property. As we started to walk the trail one gentleman in front of us said he’d be “respectful” and wait for us to pass before he undressed. Not quite sure what he meant by that, we then started to see bare bums and knew what we were in for! We stayed on mission with eyes focused on the shoreline. One friendly gentleman walking towards us with only his walking stick stopped us to ask us about the spill. We kindly engaged in conversation with eyes up!
It was my first time being deployed for Wildlife Recovery and I really enjoyed it. Though I didn’t capture any live oiled birds, I enjoyed contributing to the recovery efforts by recording the flighted oiled birds seen, picking up dead birds and walking miles and miles of beach. And it was nice to go to beaches I’d never been to before.”
Maria Gracza, SeaWorld San Diego:
“I was deployed within the first few days of our oil spill response, and it was a memorable experience. I am very experienced in marine mammal rescue, and very inexperienced with bird rescue. Upon seeing my first oiled bird, I was determined to catch it. Unfortunately, birds are very hard to capture when they still have good use of their wings and can fly far away. After a few failed attempts the first day of capturing oiled birds, I was feeling a little defeated, although I still had scoured miles of beaches collecting important data. The next morning, I found an oiled western gull who happened to have some fishing line around its body so its flying abilities were impacted. After running around on the beach for what seemed like a very long time, I was eventually able to net it and transport it back to Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center for stabilization. It was a great feeling and made the miles of scouring the beaches afterwards more enjoyable! I would help with another oil spill anytime.”
The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is still currently activated and responding to the Pipeline P00547 Incident. We are on Day 13 of response, and our Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and Care & Processing Groups continue to provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of all oil-affected wildlife. To view current wildlife numbers, please visit our website here.
While the spotlight often shines on our resilient wildlife patients, there is an army of wildlife champions behind the scenes providing some serious world class effort. To date, we have utilized more than 90 affiliated and pre-trained responders filling Incident Command System (ICS) response roles, ranging from volunteers all the way to Deputy Wildlife Branch Director. These responders are representing over 15 of our 44 OWCN Member Organizations, and making us all very proud! (click here to view all 44 OWCN Member Organizations)
In addition to our Network, we work in close collaboration with numerous federal and state agencies during an oil spill response regarding wildlife. We are in step from the beginning with our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), as we are activated by this state agency from the very beginning and they usually fill the Wildlife Branch Director role as well as lead Wildlife Reconnaissance efforts (including manning the Hotline). We also are in close communications with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) in preparation for any potential oiled marine mammal or sea turtle patients. And we consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding our wildlife response plan for many threatened or endangered species potentially affected by the incident. And a special shout out for this incident to the CDFW Natural Resource Volunteer Program for providing us with personnel and a vehicle for wildlife transport!
As the OWCN Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I spend A LOT of my time attempting to prepare the Network for potential incidents just like this one. We recruit talented wildlife professionals, provide ample supplemental oil spill training, and conduct realistic, large scale drills. With all of this done in advance, our ability to respond quickly and efficiently is fine tuned. But even with all the preparation, when a call hits the hotline with the potential for significant wildlife impact, my heart skips a beat. Are the oiled wildlife facilities ready to fire up and begin receiving patients? Are the local 24hr HAZWOPER certified wildlife recovery responders able to head out into the field immediately on such short notice?
While the initial pace was intense, and yes, at some times a bit chaotic, all of my worries were answered with a resounding YES! We were ready to respond and remain ready to help any wildlife in need. So thank you OWCN responders for all your hard work over these past two weeks, and thank you in advance to those who will continue to contribute their time to get us to the finish line.
Each and every Responder should be proud of your own personal readiness, allowing you to quickly jump into action. Your Member Organizations are proud of your tireless efforts. And we, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Management Team (on behalf of the entire Network), are extremely proud and thankful for your dedicated commitment to our wildlife.