Boat Training With Our Colleagues

As most of you know, boats are an essential tool for many oil spills to reach and collect affected wildlife. OSPR and OWCN maintain a fleet of vessels that is dedicated to wildlife recovery during spills, and staff periodically attend trainings to review boating safety and skills and learn how to operate new equipment.

I recently had the opportunity to join some of my OWCN colleagues for two such trainings. The first was the Motorboat Operator Training Course (MOTC) refresher. The MOTC is a comprehensive 3-5-day course that covers safe boating operation, which should be taken by anyone who is regularly boating or may be a primary boat operator. A 1-day refresher class is required every 5 years to refresh knowledge and skills. During April I had the privilege of joining Kyra, Wendy, Jamie, and Jennie for an MOTC refresher through UC Davis in Bodega Bay. We reviewed things like field safety planning, vessel safety checks and inspections, knot tying skills, maintenance and record keeping, and did several practical exercises on the water. The course was tailored to the type of vessel operations we might use for wildlife recovery during a spill, and it was extra beneficial because I was working side by side with my OWCN colleagues, just as I would during a spill.

Colleen, Jamie, Jennie, Wendy, and Kyra during the MOTC Refresher Class at the
Bodega Bay Marine Lab

The second training was one I’ve been waiting for since I started in my current role with OSPR in 2011. The Airboat Operations Course hasn’t been offered through CDFW since 2010, so I was ecstatic to finally be able to take it. I had never operated an airboat before, so I had a lot to learn. The course covered pre-operation checks, maneuvering, loading/unloading, and, of course, safety. You might think that if you’ve driven one boat you can drive any boat, but the operation of an airboat is much different than the small skiffs I traditionally operate. One of the primary considerations is being aware of your wake and making sure it doesn’t come into the boat when you stop or turn. I was also surprised to learn that airboats maneuver much more smoothly on mud or wet vegetation than on water. This training was just the beginning of my journey of becoming an experienced airboat operator, and it was great to share it with Wendy and Jennie. I was also lucky to have Tim and Randy (retired, formerly with OSPR) as two of the 8 wonderful instructors. Although I hope we never have a situation requiring use of airboats for an oil spill, I am grateful to be more familiar with their use and operation should we need them to access shallow or muddy wetland or marsh habitat. Until then, I’m looking forward to many more trainings with my OWCN colleagues.

Colleen Young (Guest Blogger from CDFW-OSPR)

Colleen is an Environmental Scientist for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz. Her primary job duties include oil spill contingency planning for sea otters and other marine wildlife, maintaining response equipment and working as part of the Wildlife Recovery team during spills.

The Central Region

Our final region spotlight is the “Central” region, which is the middle of our state from the western Sierra Nevada foothills to the coastal counties of Monterey and San Luis Obispo.  Much of this region consists of the San Joaquin Valley which has some interesting facts of its own.  Together with the Sacramento Valley, it forms the Central Valley which according to the US Geological Survey, contains 17% of the nation’s irrigated land and produces 25% of our entire nation’s food.  This is vital for our food supply but perhaps not for the species that live or had once lived there.

Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

Our OWCN Member Organizations in this region are:

  • Stanislaus Wildlife Care Center (Hughson, Stanislaus County)
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, Monterey County)
  • SPCA for Monterey County (Salinas, Monterey County)
  • Colibri Ecological Consulting (Fresno, Fresno County)
  • Pacific Wildlife Care (Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo County)
  • California Living Museum (Bakersfield, Kern County)

This region has a very diverse range of habitats from pine forests to naturally dry and artificially irrigated valleys, to coastal areas. As such, it is home to a wide variety of species, many of which are endemic and of conservation concern. Featured below are some of these plus another that is one of my favorites.

There are many salamander species in this region, but two of them are State Threatened and endemic to Kern County.  These salamanders belong to the Plethodontid family or the “Lungless salamanders”.  They are land dwellers but do not have lungs to breathe, rather they respire through their skin and the linings of their mouth.  Because of this, they need a moist environment to keep from drying out.  Within this family, are the genus of “Slender salamanders” which have 4-digit hind limbs as a feature which distinguishes them from other salamanders.

Tehachapi Slender Salamander

The State Threatened Tehachapi slender salamander is only found in the drainage area of Caliente Creek to Ft Tejon in the Tehachapi Mountains.  It can have different color variations and look similar to the Black-bellied salamander that is also found in this area but the Tehachapi slender salamander is short and stocky. 

Kern Canyon Slender Salamander

The State Threatened Kern Canyon slender salamander can look very similar to the Tehachapi slender salamander but has a different home range in northern Kern County in the Kern River Canyon. When threatened, both these salamanders use defense tactics such as coiling and camouflage, coiling and springing/bouncing around, as well as dropping their tail to distract the predator while they flee. 

This region is also home to Kangaroo rats of conservation importance.  Although these rats look nothing like the non-native Black rat or Norway rat, other species of native mice and rats may look similar to non-native species.  Although not always the case, many species of our native mice and rats often have the characteristics of a more furred, bi-colored tail, white bellies and feet.  While sometimes they may not have these features, especially young ones, if they do have them, they are likely native.

Fresno Kangaroo Rat

The Morro Bay kangaroo rat is only found in south Morro Bay.  This State and Federally Endangered species inhabits fine sands among coastal scrub vegetation in relatively open areas. The Fresno kangaroo rat is also State and Federally Endangered and mostly found in southwest San Joaquin Valley.  The Tipton kangaroo rat is the third State and Federally Endangered rat that is only found in Kern and Tulare Counties. While these three important rats have the typical furred, bi-colored tails, white bellies, and white feet, they can be difficult to visually differentiate from other native kangaroo rats other than being smaller.

California Condors

Once down to 22 remaining in the wild, the endangered California Condor has rebounded to an estimated 334 according to the National Park Service. They can be found in other neighboring states and Mexico, but in California they mostly inhabit the mountain ranges of the southwest San Joaquin Valley. A female will lay a maximum of a single egg each breeding season. If she does so, it then takes over a year for that baby to fledge and over 6 years to reach breeding age. Mid-morning as the fog lifts along the cliff lookouts of Big Sur you may be lucky to see one!

Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard

The Blunt-nosed leopard lizard is yet another State and Federally Endangered endemic species of this region. This species looks similar to the Long-nosed leopard lizard except for its blunt snout. Once found throughout almost all of the San Joaquin Valley, the extensive conversion of the area to agricultural land has diminished their habitat to small and sparse populations.

The last animals featured for this region aren’t endangered or threatened but are listed as a Species of Special Concern and are very interesting to me. These are the California legless lizards.  Because they have no legs, they look and move like very small snakes, but a glance at their head and you can tell they are a lizard.  If you look even closer you will see that like other lizards, they have eyelids and external ears!

Temblor Legless Lizard
Close-up of a Legless Lizard head

Some legless lizard species can be quite long, however the ones native to California don’t get much longer than 6 inches.  Different species are found from the Central region south into Region 5, however 2 species and 1 subspecies are only found in Region 4.  In Kern County there is the Temblor legless lizard and the Bakersfield legless lizard.  The melanistic subspecies of the Northern California legless lizard (Black legless lizard) is an inhabitant of the Monterey Bay and Peninsula.

Bakersfield Legless Lizard
Black Legless Lizard

It has been an enjoyable journey covering the different regions. They each have their own unique features and many fascinating animals that live there.  I hope to learn even more about these areas and someday see them in person!


Indebted to this Network

I may not have known it at the time, but it turns out I was preparing to join the Oiled Wildlife Care Network many years ago. As a bright eyed, zealous marine biology major from UCLA, I jumped at early volunteer and internship opportunities to get my feet wet in an aspirational wildlife career. While I had great interest in all aspects of marine science and wildlife conservation, I was bitten by the charismatic megafauna bug and found myself drawn to the captivating world of marine mammals. This led me to an internship with the California Wildlife Center (CWC), helping them rescue stranded marine mammals from the Malibu coast, followed by yet another internship with the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) marine mammalogy department to work directly with their captive California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals and Southern sea otters (coincidentally, both CWC and AOP are current OWCN Member Organizations!)

Following my internships and a few great years at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, I found myself working at another OWCN Member Organization, this time The Marine Mammal Center. Starting in the stranding department, I focused on coordinating the rescue efforts of stranded marine mammals (a much larger rescue range than the Malibu coast!). Surprisingly, my love for hands on work with marine mammals began to shift, as I found myself drawn to organization wide personnel coordination and operational logistics which led to me being hired as their first full time Volunteer Resources Manager. I spent the next few years immersed in an amazing community of over 1,200 dedicated volunteers and staff.

So when seven years ago an opportunity for a Wildlife Response Specialist popped up at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis, I couldn’t resist. I was blessed to join an industry leader in oiled wildlife spill response including a professional management team of amazing individuals paired with a Network of passionate, devoted and highly skilled Member Organizations. (Fun Fact: just after my interview, I was mobilized to the Refugio incident as a Volunteer Coordinator, while still at TMMC. I like to call it my slightly stressful working interview).

That is me in the white hat!

During my time at OWCN, my personal growth has exceeded my own expectations simply due to osmosis. I am surrounded by a Network filled with intelligent, driven, empathetic wildlife advocates who whole-heartedly believe our small actions today can drive monumental change. I am now disaster proficient in ICS lingo, understand the true value of collaboration (special shout out to our CDFW OSPR colleagues!), know more about PPE than I ever thought possible, and have assisted in the rescue of oiled CA native wildlife ranging in size from a tree frog to a brown pelican to a sea lion.

But through it all, I am often reminded that while the wildlife may have sparked my initial passion for this work, it is absolutely the people who have made it so special and unforgettable. I wish to thank each and every one of you for your positive influence, selfless contributions, and patient sharing of knowledge and expertise. The Oiled Wildlife Care Network, in my opinion, is the gold standard of community, coordination and cooperation.

If you made it this far (and endured this sappy blog), I hope I’ve adequately shared just a shred of my gratitude toward this amazing Network. I am sharing these thoughts today as I have accepted a new position as the Associate Director of Logistics with the California Veterinary Emergency Team (CVET) with the One Health Institute at UC Davis (starting later this month). I won’t be going too far physically, as OWCN also resides within the One Health Institute, but will be focused on this new emergency response program and thus no longer involved in daily OWCN operations.

I will miss my regular interactions with you all, but look forward to admiring OWCN’s inevitable advancement forward as you all continue doing your amazing work. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of this Network.

Scott Buhl, Readiness Coordinator – Field Operations

SoCal Road Trip Vlog

We have something a little different for you this week! Come along with me (Sam Christie-wildlife care specialist) and Dr. Jamie Sherman (care veterinarian) as we road trip south to visit three of our member organizations. And check out our tiny road trip buddies 👀 🐾


It’s Been a Long and Winding Road: Celebrating a Major Milestone for Wildlife Response

There is a long history of informal coordination and collaboration among the world’s leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations. Although intentions were always positive and well received, barriers still existed – mostly centered around funding and the availability of time to focus on projects to benefit everyone. Following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon/Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico there was a historical shift, which I will try and briefly summarize for you, so here goes!

In July 2010 the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) formed the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG). This group initiated a major review of oil spill preparedness and response activities to identify key questions to prevent a recurrence of a similar incident. This group included representatives from major IOGP member companies, the Ipieca Oil Spill Working Group, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), and other key stakeholders. As a result of that process in May 2011 the Joint Industry Project (JIP) was initiated and developed 19 recommendations and a newly defined essential capabilities of tiered preparedness and response. Oiled wildlife response was identified as one of those 15 essential capabilities that constitute industry good practice. Formally recognizing wildlife as part of industry-wide good practice was a major milestone since historically there hasn’t been a formal international (or Tier 3) framework, coordination, dedicated resources, response objectives or capability requirements defined for wildlife response. More information on the development of the GIRG can be found by viewing the Macondo: 10 years on video.

Technical support document developed as part of the JIP, authored by the GOWRS Project partner organizations and published in 2017.  

Acknowledging there was a gap that needed to be addressed Sea Alarm Foundation (SAF) coordinated a meeting with the wildlife response community at the 2011 International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) to discuss the possibility of a more formal collaboration. In 2012 SAF and key industry representatives hosted a major stakeholder meeting that included representatives from leading professional oiled wildlife response organizations, industry partners, and governmental bodies and later developed a written proposal. In December of 2013 the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project was accepted and awarded short-term funding through Ipieca as JIP-20, which commenced in 2015. This project, coordinated by the Sea Alarm Foundation through 2019, includes the OWCN/UC Davis and nine additional professional oiled wildlife response organizations from around the globe – Aiuka (Brazil), Focus Wildlife International (U.S.A),International Bird Rescue (U.S.A), PRO BIRD (Germany), the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (U.K), SANCCOB (South Africa), Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research (U.S.A), WILDBASE/Massey University (New Zealand), and Wildlife Centre Ostend (Belgium).

Between 2015 and 2021 this two-phase project, which was initially funded by the JIP via Ipieca and later funded by OSRL, would meet regularly to create an international framework for Tier-3 oiled wildlife response. During this time deliverables included the development of the “Key principals for the protection, care and rehabilitation of oiled wildlife” technical support document, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), governance arrangements, readiness systems, guidance material for industry, equipment recommendations, and overall increased awareness regarding the importance of Oiled Wildlife Response. These accomplishments didn’t come without a small amount of confusion and some roadblocks, including the idea that GOWRS was a formalized deployable response service (versus what it was – a project envisioning how that could come about) as well as a lack of clarity around preparedness needed to operationalize an oiled wildlife response. Now that we’re up to speed let’s talk about what’s next for the GOWRS – drumroll please! 

Introducing the Global Oiled Wildlife Service, which will become part of OSRL’s Service Level Agreement (SLA).

This service, expected to launch later in 2022, is a guaranteed 4-person Assessment Team drawn from leading wildlife response experts who will be available 24/7/365 to rapidly deploy for a four-day boots-on-the-ground evaluation of the incident. Each member of the 4-person Assessment Team will have a designated role that functions to evaluate in-country capacity and feasibility of a response. 

This team will provide recommendations to the Incident Management Team (IMT)/Responsible Party (RP) on the need and appropriate scale of a wildlife response that are in alignment with the above-mentioned Good Practice standards. Additionally, annual funding will be available for the 10 previously mentioned organizations to develop and maintain internal readiness and deliver the remaining GOWRS project strategic goals. This funding will also allow remote inclusion into industry-led exercises and contribute to the advancement of Tier 1 (local) and Tier 2 (regional or national) capacity, therefore enhancing the ability to meet the needs of a Tier 3 incident. This is especially important in areas of the world where response capacity for wildlife is limited. A huge win for wildlife and a big Thank You to OSRL for supporting this effort. Here you can more about OSRL’s Wildlife and Emergency Preparedness & Response.

Having been part of this project since 2016, I’m excited to see how far we’ve come. Not only have we strengthened relationships, but we’ve raised awareness and built the foundation for a long-term journey that reinforces the importance of including wildlife in response planning. Oh – and we may have enjoyed a few beverages and went badger watching along the way (right, Mike!). 

Cheers to a new chapter for wildlife response and a big thanks to Dr. Mike Ziccardi and Paul Kelway at OSRL for helping to confirm I had my facts straight!


Danene Birtell, Readiness Coordinator – Care Operations

We’re Hiring!

The UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) is recruiting for the staff position of Care Facilities Specialist. Under the direction of the Senior Manager – Care Operations of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), this position will oversee and maintain care facilities and equipment for the WHC and OWCN, serve as the liaison with the facilities management staff at Network facilities and ensure that OWCN facilities and equipment are maintained in a constant state of readiness for oil spill response. As a key member of the OWCN’s spill response team, the Care Facilities Specialist will travel to facilities throughout California to inspect and evaluate systems, perform repairs and updates, and make recommendations for repairs and maintenance. They will transport various types of specialized response equipment (including towing trailers, boats, and ATVs) to the spill site, lead facility activation, and act primarily as the Site Safety Officer during spill response. During non-spill times, they will also assist with OWCN trainings and presentations.

Specific Responsibilities: 


  • In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, ensure all primary care and field stabilization facilities in California are maintained and are spill response ready. Conduct annual inspections of facilities throughout California to ensure structure soundness and proper functioning of major systems. Recommend, direct and/or perform repairs. Identify/oversee local contractors for major repairs, such as roofs, facility expansion and major systems. Identify, diagnose, and implement corrective action for potential and existing malfunctions pertaining to specialized wildlife rehabilitation/care systems, including animal holding pens, rehabilitation pools, hazardous waste removal systems, pumps, filters, boilers, water softeners, and HVAC systems.
  • Develop, prioritize and implement short and long-range plans for facility maintenance, repairs, and renovations, as well as a system by which to manage facility repairs and maintenance requests. Obtain bids & oversee new facility construction. Perform physical plant (including custodial and grounds) operations. Oversee/assist with operations/maintenance performed by staff of OWCN partner organizations for facilities operation during non-spill times.
  • Write, maintain, and update written documentation with regards to facility use and maintenance, including but not limited to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), facility evaluation and maintenance manuals, facility use and activation plans, and facility health and safety plans, as requested. Ensure that safety equipment and manuals are available at all primary care facilities.
  • In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, maintain OWCN spill response equipment, supplies, and sample storage equipment, including spill response vehicles and trailers. Determine short and long-term equipment needs and maintenance/replacement schedules as well as a system by which to manage repairs and maintenance requests. Design or purchase new specialized spill response equipment, including developing technical specifications and negotiating pricing from vendors. In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, keep accurate records of equipment and supplies. Write, maintain, and update written documentation with regards to equipment use and maintenance such as SOPs, as requested.
  • Maintain WHC animal care research equipment (-80 freezers).
  • Attend spill response drills, trainings, and conferences.


  • Immediately activate animal care facilities and equipment when and where needed. Tow specialized mobile animal care equipment and supplies (including field equipment) to spill site. Identify locations for primary care and set up mobile units as needed.
  • Enact SOPs for rapid facility activation to receive oiled wildlife. Make recommendations/implement plans for temporary facility expansion including rental of tents, modular structures, refrigerated trailers, heaters, generators, portable rehabilitation pools, & utility needs (generators, lighting, waste disposal containers, etc.).
  • Identify and supervise outside contractors/volunteers needed for immediate facility improvements and expansion as well as specialized animal holding areas. Monitor expenditures and facility equipment and supplies purchased during spill events. Oversee immediate return of primary care facilities to pre-spill state.
  • Work within the Incident Command System as Site Safety Officer for OWCN animal care spill response activities to provide essential support of oiled wildlife operations, including the storage and removal of hazardous waste, dead wildlife, decontamination of vehicles and equipment exposed to hazardous materials, and advising OWCN Group Supervisors on facility safety/security matters.
  • Depending on spill scope, assist with animal care operations (primary care, rehabilitation) and/or field operations (operation of capture vehicles, ATV’s/UTV’s, boats, mobile field stabilization trailers, animal capture equipment).


  • Assist with outreach by creating and giving presentations (via PowerPoint and other modalities) for wildlife responder training classes and other conferences/meetings and by contributing content to outreach materials on oil spill preparedness (with regards to response facilities and equipment), including newsletters, websites, blogs, and brochures.
  • Represent the WHC and OWCN at various local, national, and international meetings, including industry response drills and exercises.
  • Develop and maintain relationships with facilities operations specialists from OWCN primary care and stabilization facilities.


  • Lead the OHI/WHC/OWCN inventory management (through the UCD systems) and act as the Safety Officer for OHI and WHC.
  • Maintain/ensure maintenance of MSDS records for hazardous materials for the OHI and WHC. In coordination with the Field Facilities Specialist, identify safety health hazards, implement periodic inspections, and comply with recordkeeping requirements for the campus Injury and Illness Prevention Program for the WHC and OHI.

Minimum Qualifications: 

  • Ability to obtain 24-hour HAZWOPER certification within 30 days of employment and HAZWOPER for Supervisors and 40-hour HAZWOPER training within the first year.
  • Combination of education and/or experience in engineering, architecture, facility maintenance, industrial technology, or related field.
  • Skills in physical plant/facility operation, preventive maintenance procedures, design, and/or facility modifications/repairs.
  • Problem solving skills to anticipate and analyze problems, devise solutions, and implement change.
  • Ability to maintain accurate records.
  • Good written and oral communication skills and ability to understand and compose general written and verbal instructions.

Position Close Date: 14 April 2022 

To apply: Visit 

For Additional Information: Please contact Lorraine Barbosa at 


Photographing the Often Overlooked

When people hear there has been an oil spill, a lot of concern immediately focuses on the wildlife. It’s the megafauna that captures the attention. We often think of the dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, sea otters, seals, and shore birds and worry about what will happen to them. But what about in an inland response? What do people think of then? Bears, coyotes, foxes, and rabbits are what I hear most often. However, these eye catching animals are often not the ones primarily impacted by spills. Often, it’s the smaller species that are impacted the most. The amphibians and reptiles whose home ranges are small and whose survival depends upon the water that is now contaminated.

 Amphibians and reptiles are often hard to spot and difficult to catch. Despite being oiled, the majority of them can still run, jump, or swim quite well, and in the muddy, oily water it can be incredibly hard to follow their movements. Lizards are especially hard to catch because they often quickly disappear into slits in rocks, or holes in the ground. However, Madi Boynton and her colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife might have just created a very clever way to spot these hard to see species. Madi and her team have created a camera trap setup that will allow us to capture close up photos of amphibians and reptiles. This could be extremely useful to us during spill responses. First, capturing photos of the amphibians and reptiles in the area could aid us in developing a better understanding of what species are present. Second, depending on the oiling status of the individuals, this could also help us better understand if these species are oiled.

So how does the set up work? A Reconyx HyperFire2 Trail Camera, a 7-gallon bucket, acrylic top with heat reflective tape, a strap, duct tape, and shade cloth are used to create the camera setup, and a drift fence is used to funnel the animals toward the camera, where their picture is taken. The bottom of the bucket is cut out, and the camera is then mounted to the reflective sheeting with the camera facing downward into the bucket. A hole is cut into the bucket at the top so that when the bucket is turned upside down, it creates an entry way into the bucket. Wooden guideboards are placed on either side of the entry to create a funnel into the bucket. The Reconyx camera’s focal point has been adjusted to a closer range so that the photos taken from inside the bucket will be clear. The bucket is baited with mealworms to entice animals inside.

I believe this setup has a lot of potential for us to improve our response capabilities during a spill response where amphibians and reptiles are impacted. If you are interested in learning more about this study, the camera design, or to see photos of what the drift fence and camera contraption look like, please check out Madi’s paper by clicking on the link below!


The North Central Region

This week’s blog highlights Region 2, the “North Central” region.  This is the location of the OWCN offices here at UC Davis, and currently includes one other member organization, the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) in Chico.

Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

Similar to the Northern and Inland Desert regions, the areas within this region can be more remote and difficult to get to.  There are areas that have been designated as high hazard for railways and locations of sensitive species, especially along the Feather River from Roseville to Chico, the Sacramento Valley, and areas in San Joaquin County.

When I first moved to Davis a couple years ago, one of the first things I noticed was there were a lot of species of birds I hadn’t seen down in Southern California.  Not only are the resident species different, but the Sacramento Valley is an important route for migratory birds on what is known as the Pacific Flyway.

There are only a few conservation-listed species endemic to the area but there is such a wide variety of interesting species because of the wide range of habitats.  Here is a spotlight on a few of the interesting species in this region:

Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo is a Federally-Threatened and State-Endangered summer resident that migrates to California during South America’s winters.  It is a secretive bird that frequents habitat along streams of the Sacramento Valley for breeding and nesting during June to September.

It’s a long but small and slim bird that appears noticeably different from any other songbird I am familiar with in California, with brown feathering on the top of its head and back, a white chest and neck, and oval white circles on the underside of its tail.  It also has zygodactyl feet like our owls and woodpeckers, differing from the anisodactyl songbirds.  

What are the different types of bird feet you ask? Here are some examples and a diagram!  

  • Most passerines (songbirds) have anisodactyl feet
  • Parrots also have zygodactyl feet
  • Only Trogons have heterodactyl feet
  • The Belted Kingfisher is an example of a bird with syndactyl feet
  • Some swifts have pamprodactyl feet. It allows them to direct all their digits forward and hang from walls
  • Waterbirds have even more special names for their feet based on webbing and lobation
By Darekk2

Swainson’s Hawk 

This State-Threatened hawk migrates in large flocks of hundreds of birds all the way down to Argentina for the winter and returns to the Great Basin and Central Valley areas from March to September for breeding.

Outside of migration they are still a social species so you will often see them in groups near large open fields.  They look similar in shape to Red-tailed Hawks and are easiest to identify while flying and seen from below with their white wing coverts at the front of the wing and contrasting dark flight feathers toward the back.

Great Gray Owl 

The Great Gray Owl is a State-Threatened non-migrating resident of the pine forest mountain areas of north to central eastern California from Plumas County to Yosemite.  It frequents areas of dense conifer trees that line adjacent meadows, usually hunting from dusk to dawn but sometimes during dark overcast days as well.   They will even listen for and dive after prey that is tunneling beneath the snow!

This owl is easy to identify.  It is the largest owl in North America by size with a mostly gray body with brown streaks, and a white “bow tie”. It has a very large facial disc (the round “face”) which helps for hunting by directing sound to asymmetrically situated ears.  Nocturnal owls that greatly use their hearing for hunting are species that can still do well in the wild with only one good eye.  

An interesting note of medical importance is that birds have “scleral ossicles”, which essentially make their eye sclera (the white part of human eyes) hard like a bone.  This helps protect their eye, but in owls it also contributes to the shape of their facial disc.  So whereas in mammals if you needed to remove an eye, you would do an enucleation including removing the sclera; but in owls, we would keep that scleral ossicle intact to preserve the shape of their facial disc and instead remove just the inner part of the eye, which is called an evisceration.

Marysville California kangaroo rat 

Finally, there are 3 species of conservation importance endemic to this region.  The first is the Marysville California kangaroo rat.  This California Species of Special Concern (SSC) is found only in the Sutter Buttes area north of Sacramento.  This rat tends to be solitary and territorial outside of breeding season so not one we would want to house with others in rehab.

Mice and rats are often difficult to identify by species, but recall that in general, most of our California native species have tails much longer than their body that are furred and bicolored along the length. 

The Federally Endangered Mammals of Caswell Memorial State Park

The final 2 species highlighted are both Federally-Endangered and only found in the area of Caswell Memorial State Park along the Stanislaus River in southern San Joaquin County.  Both of these species only exist within an approximately 200 acre habitat.

Riparian Brush Rabbit 

The Riparian Brush Rabbit is also State-Endangered.  It has a similar appearance to the common Desert Cottontail but has smaller ears and does not have the dark top outer pinna color.  This species is always found close to dense brush as cover and ready to escape. It has a very small home range, especially the females, which can be less that 15 x 15m!

Riparian (San Joaquin Valley) Woodrat 

The Riparian woodrat is also a California Species of Special Concern (SSC).  This species has physical characteristics similar to other native rats, with a long furred bicolored tail, but are distinguished from other woodrat subspecies by being larger with a light grayish coat and having white, rather than darker colored hind feet.

They are also good climbers and spend a lot of their time in trees.  If you recall from a previous spotlight on woodrats, they like to build very large stick homes at the bases of trees or within them and close to water.

I’d like to say that I’ve made an attempt at seeing some of these animals or at least made it out to their habitat areas, but I have only seen Swainson’s Hawks here in Davis thus far.  But I now have a good pair of binoculars and am hoping to see much more!


A Fresh Perspective

Returning to work at the Oiled Wildlife Care Network after being away on maternity leave for the past few months certainly has its way of putting a fresh perspective on things. It’s hard sometimes to not get caught up in the minute details of everyday life, to avoid dwelling on the negative – especially the things you can’t do anything about – and to remember to look at the bigger (and often more positive) picture. So when I headed out of the office on October 1st to start my leave, I thought it was an excellent opportunity to clear my mind.

Unbeknownst to me, I had ducked out only one day before the P00547 Pipeline spill in Huntington Beach, which of course ended up being our largest oil spill response as an organization since I’ve worked here (oops!). Once my guilt subsided, I was able to sit back, relax, and…well, let’s be honest, there was no real relaxation happening; I was 9 months pregnant and pretty darn uncomfortable by that point…but I was able to pace about the house, and watch our team (the OWCN Management Team AND all of the amazing OWCN responders) carry out their incredible, dedicated, and meticulous work – rescuing animals, stabilizing them, and nursing them back to health. I may have been out of the loop in terms of the hands-on animal work, but I was still privy to the behind-the-scenes GroupMe messages being sent back and forth between the Field and Care teams while they coordinated animal capture and care and gracefully managed and mitigated any dilemmas that arose. A few weeks later, I paced the house once again, reading aloud to my new baby reports of our team releasing the first lucky survivors back into the wild. I was a proud mama for sure.

OWCN responders from International Bird Rescue washing a gull during the Pipeline P00547 incident. Photo credit: Eunah Preston/OWCN

The amount of coordination involved in a spill of this size (25,000 gallons) was immense. However, on January 15th, two even larger oil spills (each more than 10 times as massive) struck South America – the first just off the coast of the famed capital city of Perú and the second not two weeks later into the Coca River in Ecuador’s pristine Cayambe Coca National Park. Being newly returned to work from maternity leave, I was eager for our team to jump back into action. But once again, I found myself pacing the house, watching the response from afar, fighting the urge to self-deploy not only because we always tell our responders not to and we can’t go setting a bad example, but because we knew our greater oiled wildlife response partners were called upon and were en route to carry out the coordinated response work that was so critically important. Also, because we understand more than anyone how critical an organized response really is, and how having numerous teams running around in a disorganized fashion would not only not be helpful but could even hinder a response.

Oil spill cleanup at Cavero beach, Perú. Photo credit: Martin Mejia/Associated Press

Back at home however, there was lots to think about. Was there more we could be or should be doing? Are these types of disasters going to become more and more frequent? Will our wildlife, people, and ecosystems ever truly recover from these catastrophes? The list of questions goes on and on…until I realize I have spiraled again and that I have to pull my head out of the gutter. I have to believe that there is still hope. I think back to the Pipeline spill and how our broader OWCN team was on site and en route before the very first oiled animal was recovered, and how over 90 responders came together to serve wildlife in the midst of a global pandemic. I am so thankful that we have such a well-prepared and coordinated effort here in California. It did not come quickly or easily though. It has taken time and dedication to cultivate this vast and amazing Network, to gain widespread public support, and to promote legislation to develop and fund such an incredible program.

So, as I pace the house with my newly cleared head (clothes drenched in newborn spit-up and ears ringing from the exuberant but relentless singing of my 3-year-old), I can look at things from the bigger and more positive picture, at least for the moment. I’m sure by next week I’ll be neck-deep in some nitty gritty formatting battle with my Microsoft Word document, but for now, I am happy to know that I am part of an organization of amazing people who work so tirelessly to make this world a better place for current and future generations. Proud mama once again.

Lorraine (Proud Mama and Sr. Manager of Care Operations)

First, Do No Harm

Anyone who has watched episodes of the great (and not so great) medical dramas – ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, MASH – has heard the classic saying, “first, do no harm.” Originating in the nineteenth century, in Latin, “primum non nocere” is often quoted as part of the famous Hippocratic oath. To this day, the Hippocratic oath, or a modernized version, remains a symbolic rite of passage for medical students as they embark on their careers as physicians. While doctors of veterinary medicine (aka veterinarians) recite a similar oath upon entering the profession, I believe that the ethical construct of “first, do no harm” extends far beyond the medical community.

American Veterinary Medical Association Veterinarian’s Oath: Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.

Wildlife rehabilitators are all too familiar with the story of a concerned and well-meaning member of the public showing up on their doorstep with an “orphaned” baby bird, bunny, etc. Although there are instances of abandonment, more often than not these baby animals have been left alone temporarily or fallen out of a nest, and in turn were kidnapped rather than orphaned. This is the perfect example of how anyone interacting with or trying to help wildlife can and should imbibe the principle of “first, do no harm.” If we rewind this scenario…..I’m a member of the public and I find a baby bird under a tree in my yard. What’s the first thing I do? Pick it up and HELP it, right? WRONG. That could actually do the animal HARM. My first step should be to ASK for help from the professionals. There are ample resources available for individuals who want to help wildlife by “first, not doing harm,” for example the “Help, I found a [insert species]!” and “Find a Wildlife Rehabilitator” tools from the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association.”

Now you may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with oiled wildlife? Well, let me pose a similar situation, with a few tweaks. I’m a member of the public and I come across a bird (or birds) covered in oil. What’s the first thing I’m going to do? I’ve seen the Dawn commercials – I’m going to pick it up and wash off that toxic oil right? WRONG. That will do the animal HARM. My first step should be to ASK for help from the professionals (aka the Oiled Wildlife Care Network)!

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network and our network of member organizations go through extensive training in order to “first, do no harm” when helping oiled wildlife. We follow scientifically and experience driven protocols to provide the best capture and care of oiled wildlife in a manner that is both safe for the animal and the [human] responder.

Going back to the situation above, a member of the public without training in oiled wildlife care might think that the first step in the rehabilitation process is to wash the animal. But, did you know that in many situations oiled animals are stabilized for two to three days before being washed? This may come as a surprise because oil is toxic right? While that IS true, there are other things to consider. For example, most oiled wildlife come into care starving, dehydrated, cold, weak and anemic. If we immediately put them through the very stressful wash process, we actually risk doing MORE HARM. Instead, the first few days of an oiled animal’s care is focused on replacing fat stores, rehydration, thermoregulation and replacing blood volume. Once an animal is strong enough, then it is ready for wash (which is performed by trained professionals).

The top 5 things you can do to “first, do no harm” for oiled wildlife

  1. Do NOT attempt to rescue or wash oiled wildlife yourself – you risk harm to both the animal and yourself.
  2. If you see an oiled animal, REPORT it to the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 1-877-UCD-OWCN (877-823-6926). Take a photo with your cell phone, note your GPS coordinates and keep your eyes on the animal until you are able to speak with a wildlife professional.
  3. Stay SAFE by keeping yourself and your pets out of affected areas – oil is toxic!
  4. Consider becoming affiliated with an OWCN Member Organization so you can help at the next spill.
  5. If you cannot become a pre-trained volunteer, consider donating to your local wildlife rehabilitation organization, which helps injured wildlife year-round.

So, with that I ask that the next time you are faced with a situation where you want to help wildlife in need, remember to “first, do no harm.”

~ Jamie