Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For the Birds


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.


Gothknits said...

I see it as about more than just Robb's recovery. I see it as a blog about life for the both of you. Remember, it is ok that it has morphed from it's original intention. Good art always does.

terrie said...

I really like your observations about how your abilities to handle the birds have grown (and being reminded of what that's like). I know what you mean about worry about hurting the birds, or hurting yourself. Developing that confidence with something that once seemed daunting is an amazing process.

You've done some great work...when you see a Western Grebe (or Surf Scoter, or any of these) in the wild now, it will be even more special!

Anonymous said...

Hm, give your level of familiarity with birds now, I suggest you have Robb design you a chicken coop on one of his good days. Then build it and put it on your roof and expect fresh eggs every day! I would suggest having chickens rather than your wild waterfowl, but it's up to you at that point.

By the way, your story about the bird lady being cut out of her pants made me smirk. Did you know that in England young ladies are called "birds" and the main occupation of men is to get the birds out of their pants! Tee hee! You naughty thing, you! Leave it to me to make bird cleaning duty into something "dirty".

In case Robb is feeling neglected, have him go down to the beach and roll around in the oil, so he can be hauled back to the bird recovery unit and then get hosed off. How many bottles of Dawn would it take to wash Robb off, anyway? On a really dirty day, I myself would need at least 2 bottles.

Make sure you name each bird you work with, and I expect you will be able to identify them later on during your nature walks, eh? I call my birds breakfast, lunch and dinner.


gollygee said...

I have really been enjoying reading about your work helping with the birds from the oil spill. It makes me feel a little better about not being able to do anything from this coast, knowing you're there helping them. :)

greg said...

I for one am enjoying hearing about the ongoing recovery effort (both waterfowl and Robb). The national news has moved on to other issues (like the spill on the Black Sea); it is great to get the continuing story from a journalist working in the medium of gonzo bird blogging.
Seriously, I check every day to find out the latest news or links to the latest news.
Your effort is appreciated!


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your blog and I think your pictures are awesome.
Also the way I look at this situation is that Robb must be feeling at least ok, or you would be letting us know.
Your very commendable for giving your time to work with these beautiful creatures. Thank for sharing your experiences with us :o)

Pam / Cannonball

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this blog via a comment you posted on the IBRRC blog (my spouse is on staff there).

That was 4 hours ago - somehow I have spent 4 hours pouring over the last year of your lives. great writing, pics, story ... a love story between two people who were meant to travel through life together.

Likely won't post again, but I'll be reading. You're both an inspiration - in how you've dealt with tragedy, in how you live, in how you love.

Cara said...

Lisa, I love following your story. I really want this chapter to turn into a book. I have this idea that it would be something for kids to understand why oil spills are such a huge travesty. And it is so amazing that you can come home and share with us (thank you!). Does the awe of holding a bird in your hands ever wear off?

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Does the awe ever wear off? Never.

I'm in awe of the world in which we live.

Marg said...

I just found your blog because of the oiled bird recovery-I must go back and read about Robb now but I figure it's good he's out there too

Edmund said...

Lisa, I'm a proud father of a wonderful girl. What you do now is wonderful. Keep up the good work.

Love Dad


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