I've been wondering if the people who read this blog to check in on Robb's recovery are getting annoyed with reading about my work with the birds affected by the oil spill. I figure that the blog is usually about Robb's long recovery from a traumatic incident with a little bit of birding thrown in for spice. The last week and a half has been the opposite. Birds recovering from a traumatic event, with a bit of Robb for good measure.
Hopefully, both the birds and Robb will make a good recovery!
The focus at the rehab hospital has shifted. Most (but not all) of the oiled birds have been stabilized and washed. Of the ONE THOUSAND AND FIFTY birds brought into the center (not all of whom were oiled), seven hundred and forty have been washed, four hundred twenty four have died or were euthanized, and seventy three have been set free. Most birds at the rehab center are recovering in pens and pools and aviaries.
That is a lot of birds.
I heard that there were around four hundred birds in the outside pool area, where I have been working. (I returned to full-time work at Berkeley Rep, and am still volunteering in the evenings.) Taking care of these birds is a huge undertaking, and the people overseeing all of it are nothing short of heroic. Everyone is still totally committed to their tasks, but you can see the strain of exhaustion. People are a little less swift, and a bit more clumsy. One woman got her bird-catching net tangled around a button on her pants, and had to be cut free. Nevertheless, everyone's training in animal care is clearly evident.
I've been paired with a number of professionals, and it it fascinating to see the uniformly high level of skill being brought to this rescue effort. I'm also being allowed a level of proximity to the birds that I could never have imagined. There's no time to be timid. Volunteers are shown what they are expected to do, and thrown right in. Of course, the more experienced workers are always monitoring our techniques and offering guidance. We are expected to rise to the task and, remarkably, we do.
I was working with my primary supervisor, Megan, last night. She was netting Western Grebes, wrapping them in towels and handing them to me to put into a temporary holding pen (sort of like a birdie bassinet). As I've mentioned before, these birds are quite a handful. Fierce and equipped with serious anatomical weaponry. Once all the birds were caught, they had to be individually medicated. I had to pick them back out of their pen, wrap them up and hand them back to Megan, who gave them drugs and returned them to their pool. Looking into the pen was daunting. Each of these birds was intent on defending itself, and if looks could kill, these birds wanted me dead. After a few false starts, I quickly developed a technique where I separated a single bird from the writhing mass of necks and beaks and caught it without being bitten or pecked by its neighbors.
Prior to this week, I would never have had the confidence to do such a thing. I would have been too worried about hurting the birds, hurting myself, or doing something wrong that I would have vacillated and been useless. In addition to helping the birds, this experience has helped me face my own fears about not doing a good enough job. In the past, I would just freeze up, and hope that someone else would bale me out. On a project of this magnitude, there's no time for hesitation. I have to do the job, and do it as well as I possibly can.