A little bird with a BIG impact

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.


~ Jamie, owcn response veterinarian

Ask a Vet: Getting to know your new Care Veterinarian – Dr. Jamie Sherman

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a wildlife veterinarian? How about what it’s like to work with giant or dangerous species? For Jamie’s first ever blog post, we asked YOU what you’d like to know about our new Care Vet.

What is your favorite land species? Marine species? 

Every time I get asked this question, I like to share a little anecdote – When I was around a year and half, my family went camping in Sequoia National Park. As my parents were packing up the car to go home, they put me in my car seat atop the campground picnic table (which also had items left out for one last lunch). All of a sudden, they heard some rustling and when they turned around they saw a bear helping itself to our lunch, right next to my car seat. My parents didn’t want to spook the bear into noticing me or knocking me off the table, so they calmly waited as the bear finished our salami sandwiches, chips and Oreos, then continued on its way. My sister who was 4 at the time watched the whole ordeal from the car with my parents, and to this day she remembers being terrified…but mostly because she didn’t want to share her Oreos. I like to think of this as the first sign that American black bears (Ursus americanus) would become an important part of my life. Since that first encounter, I’ve dedicated nearly a third of life to studying black bear populations and rehabilitating orphaned/injured bears across California. I even have a black bear tattoo! My favorite marine species is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) because…I love bears. 

Jamie (far left) camping with her sisters in Sequoia National Park
Jamie at the San Francisco Zoo

Fun Fact #1: Jamie was born in California but grew up on the East Coast, until she moved back to California for graduate school. 

What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever worked with?

The largest animal I’ve ever worked with is also the largest animal to walk on land – the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Did you know that African elephants can weigh up to 6 tons and stand over 11 feet tall? I had the opportunity to work with these majestic species during an undergraduate study abroad program in South Africa. As a part of this program, I worked 1-on-1 with wildlife veterinarians from the Kruger National Park to perform health assessments on African lions (Panthera leo), black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and of course, elephants. Don’t worry, they were all safely sleeping (anesthetized) for their exams!

Fun Fact #2: Jamie was featured on a PBS documentary entitled, “Teens Behind the Wheel.” She was named the safest teen driver, a title she still boasts about today. 

What is a usual day like for you?

One thing (of many) that I love about being a wildlife veterinarian is that there is no such thing as a “usual” day. Although every day might be a little (or a lot) different than the last, the daily tasks for an OWCN veterinarian come back to the four “R’s” – Readiness, Response, Research and Reaching out:

  • Readiness – maintaining and updating inventories of medical supplies, developing and evaluating protocols for any and all species that might be affected by oil, attending continuing education trainings in order to keep our veterinary skills fresh, participating in drills, nurturing relationships with OWCN member organizations, primary care facilities and volunteers
  • Response – deterring animals from entering oil-affected areas, safely collecting and providing first aid to oil-affected animals, diagnosing and treating concurrent diseases or injuries, washing oil-affected animals, rehabilitating animals post-wash to ensure complete return of fitness, and the ultimate goal…release
  • Research – writing and reviewing research proposals, obtaining funding for primary research, ensuring appropriate and humane care, use and treatment of any animals involved in research, including correct permitting
  • Reaching out – conducting trainings for OWCN volunteers, writing for the OWCN blog, teaching/training veterinary students, responding to media requests, publishing research

Fun Fact #3: Jamie was afraid of dogs until she was 14 years old!

What research would you love to conduct?

I love doing research because it empowers me to think of a question, figure out how to answer that question, and disseminate those results to the community. Research is an integral part of OWCN’s mission to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife and I currently have a few ideas up my sleeve. I am really interested in the use of infrared/thermal imaging for evaluating waterproofing in feathered marine species AND for determining oiling status of hairless/featherless species such as amphibians and reptiles. 

Fun Fact #4: Jamie has traveled to 5 out of the 7 continents.

If you had one piece of advice for someone interested in working with wildlife, what would it be?

My best advice for someone interested in a career in wildlife is, GET INVOLVED. Find a way to shadow or volunteer with someone in the field or an organization you are interested in. And don’t be discouraged if you get a few “nos” before you get a “yes.” Your first experience “working with wildlife” may entail filing paperwork, cleaning cages, preparing diets, sweeping the floors, or just watching, but it is a foot in the door. Every opportunity is an opportunity to learn and grow. If you show respect, enthusiasm, and a good work ethic, that door will eventually swing wide open! If you are interested in hearing more about how I applied these principles to my career path, check out this Evotis article.

Jamie with her first bear patient who had a severe case of mange, but with treatment made a full recovery!


Thank you to everyone for submitting your questions! If you have any burning questions that weren’t answered, or were sparked by this blog post please leave a comment or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Your new Care Vet, 

Jamie 

OWCN in the Classroom

OWCN staff in front of Davis High School sign

Scott and Jennie visit Davis Senior High School. 

It’s no surprise that educational outreach is an important part of OWCN activities, given our affiliation with UC Davis. OWCN management staff recently visited four K-12 classrooms in Davis, sharing the impact of oil on wildlife and the environment, the role of OWCN in responding to a spill, and perhaps an obligatory cute otter photo.

Students listen to presentation

Scott discusses the impact of various oil products on wildlife.

Responder specialist, Scott Buhl, gave a presentation at Davis Senior High School as part of an Earth Day speaker series in teacher Sherri Sandberg’s Chemistry in the Community course. The series was organized by two student clubs, RISE (Recycling is Simply Elementary) and the Environment Club. Despite the presentation being optional and during the lunch hour, more than 30 students attended.

Putting himself in the student mindset, Scott described the challenges of maintaining a constant state of readiness for a spill, saying, “It’s like preparing for a test every day. We’re always trying to improve.”

Scott fielded several questions after the presentation, including how often spills happen, how long responders stay at a spill site, and what students could do to get involved.

“The classroom was filled with environmentally conscious and inquisitive students who spent their lunch break eager to learn about oiled wildlife response,” said Scott. “Our visit left me motivated and impressed about the power of the next generation.”

OWCN staff in front of Da Vinci sign

Kyra and Jennie visit Da Vinci Junior High.

Kyra Mills, deputy director of field operations, and Jennie Hawkins, field operations specialist, visited three 7th grade science classes at Da Vinci Junior High in Davis. During the presentation, students learned how sea otters rely on their fur, rather than blubber, to stay warm in cold ocean waters, and how oil compromises that ability. Students had an opportunity to touch a sea otter pelt to understand its fur density (from 250,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch!) first hand.

Kyra explained that a key responsibility of the field operations team during a spill is to observe an animal’s behavior to determine if it has been affected. Bringing that lesson to life, students were formed into four-to-five member “field ops” teams. Each team received a pair of binoculars and a clipboard with a survey log, and then headed outside to a nearby lawn to “observe” a variety of animal displays and identify whether they were oiled or not.

Student uses binoculars to look at otter picture.

A student uses binoculars to identify an otter “in the wild.” 

“We just finished a project on ecology and endangered species, and our next project is on natural resources, so this presentation and exercise fits in perfectly,” said Da Vinci science teacher Sean Glantz.

Survey log

A completed survey log.

What’s next for OWCN K-12 outreach? We’ve got a full schedule, including a spill drill exercise with an undergraduate One Health club at Cal Poly-SLO, a booth at Bird Day LA, State Scientist Day at the State Capitol, a visit to an elementary school and a Take our Sons and Daughters to Work Day event in Sacramento. Plans for new educational activities and teacher resources are also in the works. Stay tuned on the blog for updates, and in the meantime, learn more about how we reach out to students, the public and scientific communities.

— Kristin

 

And the next Oilapalooza will be – wait for it…

Scott, Greg, and I are on our way back from the latest Basic Responder Training at the Marine Wildlife Care Center, located on Humboldt State University’s campus in Arcata. The last time I was in Arcata was nearly 20 years ago for the predecessor of the BRT, which was called Advanced Supervisors Training. Interestingly, this was the first time I met Greg. We only know this because of photographic evidence – neither of us actually remembers meeting each other, but we have actually known each since 2001, not 2010.

The Basic Responder Training brought in members from Shasta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Humboldt State University, and a strong showing from Bird Ally X @ Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. We actually have a lot of Network members in this region. We had the chance to visit the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and check out the new location of the Institute for Wildlife Studies – one of our hazing and collection Network members that is also based in Arcata.

IMG_1517

I forgot just how much is happening in this area, and just how beautiful it is. The drive up through the redwoods was stunning. We arrived early the day before the BRT, which gave us plenty of time to check out the incredible facilities of our hotel – the Best Western Plus, Humboldt Bay Inn located in Eureka – which has a solarium with a pool table, a swimming-pool-sized hot tub with a waterfall, and tikki bar with fire pits. Just a couple blocks away is old town Eureka, which has an incredible food Co-op and a lot of great restaurants.

You may be wondering right about now why I’m rambling about hotels and towns in this distant refuge behind the redwood curtain. That’s because this is where we’ll be hosting the next Oilapalooza, this October 16-17th!!! With the improved highways and direct flights from LA, access to this beautiful destination will be much easier for all of our member organizations.

As if the Network partners, natural beauty, and incredible wildlife (not to mention the spill history) of this region weren’t enough, we’ve already started planning for some incredible workshops, lectures, and hands-on experiences. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, save the date: October 16-17th2019. Additional information and registration details coming soon.

oilapalooza is coming

Hope to see some of you in Humboldt County!!

~ Danene

DaneneBirtell-2

Danene Birtell – OWCN Readiness Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Kicking the Tires

Happy Friday, Friends!

Over here at OWCN central, we’re in the final phases of preparation for next week’s full deployment drill.  Just a few more “i”s in need of dots and “t”s in need of crossing.

drill intake

Intake personnel practice with decoys

Drills are our opportunity to kick the tires on our program.  They’re the best way, short of responding to an actual event (knock on wood), to find ways to improve and keep our personnel in top fighting shape.  In tabletop drills we make decisions and plans, run through paperwork, and virtually work through our procedures.  In a more targeted area drill, we’re able to test out very specific portions of our facilities and procedures in great detail.

Next week’s drill is a “full deployment drill”, which means we’re testing out all four of our response streams – Wildlife Recovery, Hazing, Care & Processing, and Field Stabilization.  We’ll be working with staff and volunteers from 19 organizations, and we’ll be responding to a variety of species, including both birds and marine mammals (although exactly what and how many our Wildlife Recovery folks will bring in is a secret known only to our Director – and Drill Master – Mike Ziccardi).

 

Drill Briefing

2012 full deployment drill participants receiving a briefing.

This year, the drill will be taking place on the central coast, hosted by two of our wonderful Member Organizations, Pacific Wildlife Care and The Marine Mammal Center – San Luis Obispo.  It’s not easy accommodating an event of this size while still continuing normal operations, but these wildlife professionals don’t shirk from a challenge.

drill inject

“Injects” like this help to simulate the unpredictable, frequently challenging events of a real oil spill.

If you have a few minutes, I strongly recommend checking out their websites and blogs (linked above), where you can find stories about their wonderful operations–and if you’re inspired, you can support their heroic work through volunteering or donations.

I don’t know exactly what will happen during the drill next week, but I do know we’ll have an amazing opportunity to check our program for holes, work together with our Network partners, and brainstorm ways to keep the program current and constantly improving. 

What more could we ask for?

Steph

Destruction Isn’t Always Black and Slimy

A balloon drifts by a nesting colony of the endangered California least tern. Photo credit: Marie Travers

A balloon drifts by a colony of endangered California least terns.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

During the Refugio Incident oil spill, I had the honor of spending time at the field staging area with some of our field responders. These folks spent their 12-hour workdays trekking up and down beaches, searching for and responding to reports of oiled wildlife.

Trash collected from a 1000 ft stretch of beach, among nesting least terns and snowy plovers. Photo credit: Marie Travers

Trash collected from a 1000 ft stretch of beach, among nesting least terns and snowy plovers.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

But even when they didn’t find oiled wildlife on their outings, they never returned empty-handed. Instead, they brought back handfuls of trash and litter, everything from plastic bags and bottle caps to fishing line and wire.

At the time, our staging area was located at a closed campground near a protected beach – protected because of the endangered and threatened species that could be found there, including a least tern colony and nesting snowy plovers. I’d estimate hundreds of species called that protected bit of beach home – there’s always far more wildlife than you see, and we encountered mallards, ruddy ducks, scoters, stilts, avocets, horned grebes, pelicans, gulls, harbor seals, sea lions, and… well, you get the idea.

Twice a day, we would walk that beach, searching for oiled animals and picking up trash. We never left empty-handed.

This isn’t unusual, and it isn’t good. As icky as we find litter like this (and it does have negative effects on the economy and human health), it’s downright devastating to wildlife. Fishing line causes terrible entanglement issues, animals can get stuck trying to get the last smidge of food out of a poorly-shaped yogurt container, and bits of plastic and foil are mistaken as food and ingested by many species. These things can and do result in injury and often death.

Entanglement Photo credit: Marie Travers

Entanglement in particular causes severe damage that does not always respond to treatment, though there are plenty of uplifting stories as well.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

We like to think that litter like this comes from careless people who can’t be bothered to find a trash can, and I’m sure some of it does. But the truth is litter comes from all sorts of places – many of which you’d never think of.

Photo credit: Marie Travers Sad that a symbol of celebration and victory can cause such unintended destruction!

Sad that a symbol of celebration and victory can cause such harm.
Photo credit: Marie Travers

Balloons for example – how many times have you seen an escaped balloon floating away from a kid at a fair, and thought about the danger it poses to wildlife? It seems pretty innocent, but once those balloons are out of sight, they don’t cease to exist. They end up in beautiful places like our protected beach, where they stick around for a long time (especially the mylar ones; those things are nigh-indestructible). Then wild animals can encounter them.

So how can you help?

  • At home, dispose of items like balloons, plastic bags, yogurt containers, and fishing line properly.
  • Reduce the use of these items, and you’ll reduce their presence in the waste-stream – for example, use reusable shopping bags and washable containers.
  • You can consider volunteering with a beach clean-up program, like the California Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday Sept 19, 2015 – but really, no need to wait, just pick up any trash you see when you go out to the beach!
  • Stop and help/report entangled or trapped wildlife; allowing permitted wildlife rehabilitation professionals to provide the care they need.

Be well, and thanks for caring about the animals!

Steph