Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

February 21, 2020

Patients of the Week: Northern Fulmars

Dr. Rebecca Duerr

A white morph Northern Fulmar. In the outdoor pools, these seabirds need to be monitored carefully as they are quite cantankerous and prone to squabbling. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

Every few years we receive quite a few of one of our favorite species all at once, namely Northern Fulmars. These oceanic birds are small relatives of albatrosses, and are adored by many wildlife rehabilitators for their beautiful faces and intense musky smell that no two of us will describe the same.

Some of the 17 Northern Fulmars that have come into Bird Rescue’s two California wildlife centers.

Since January 2020, we have received 17 fulmars – 13 in Northern California and 4 in Southern California. All have been anemic, underweight, and most have had trouble thermoregulating. Critical care for them involves thermal support to help them stay warm, fluid therapy, and tube feedings until they feel like eating again.

Currently, three birds are showing signs of a disease we have seen before, where the birds have often-severe anemia, hemorrhages and inflamed blood vessels in their feet, and are at risk of dying from secondary infections. In 2012, during our last large influx of fulmars, we were able to contribute to the discovery of a novel fulmar virus that may be responsible, as the closest relative virus causes similar symptoms in chickens. Much remains to be discovered about the disease challenges of wild seabirds! Read the paper here

Once they are able to stay outside in our pools, they can be quite cantankerous and prone to squabbling; hence, we often have to monitor them carefully to make sure individual birds are getting along. Despite fulmars stranding in horrible nutritional shape, once they start eating, they often gain an enormous amount of weight. Three birds have already recovered and been released as plump, vigorous birds back into the ocean.

Donate to help care for Northern Fulmars

Dark morph Northern Fulmar. Photos by Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

February 7, 2020

Success Stories: White Pelican Back In The Wild After Months in Care

Dr. Rebecca Duerr

This American White Pelican is a survivor. He was released at McNabney Marsh in Martinez, CA. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

After 143 days in care this resilient American White Pelican is back in the wild.

This huge bird came into care in September 2019 and it was finally released last week. He was originally found in Santa Rosa, CA with a smelly, infected, open fracture of the wingtip. It was treated at our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center

On examination, we found a deep tunnel full of infected material open to the fracture zone. On radiographs, we could see that the bones were shattered right next to the proximal metacarpophalangeal joint. Two wingtip bones that are normally fused were not only broken free of each other, but had infected debris in the space between them.

White Pelican wing tip x-ray

Initially, clinic staff and veterinarian focused on getting the infection under control while simultaneously stabilizing the fracture with a splint/bandage combination. Infected tissue was removed under anesthesia, and the wound healed very well. Unfortunately, the bones did not fuse to each other like they need to do in order for the bird to fly. The bird had what is called a non-union, where fragments of bone persist in staying separate, and this non-union is one our vet had not encountered before. Consequently, she decided to try pinning it, inserting threaded cross pins in an ‘X’ pattern to force the two bones to be immobilized in relation to each other. Thankfully it worked.

After the pins were removed, our staff had to help this patient regain strength in its wings to prepare for release. White pelicans can be a bit difficult to get to fly in an aviary even when there is nothing wrong with their wings, and this bird was no exception. He just didn’t want to cooperate. So for this bird, Wildlife Center Manager Isabel Luevano made his physical therapy progress a personal priority and several times a week made him flap strongly while being safely supported in hand, and then would boost him over the pool, thus encouraging him to fly and land on the water; no small feat with a huge bird. All of the hard work by staff and volunteers paid off!

During recovery, the White Pelican received generous pool therapy at the San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center. Photo: Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

 

February 1, 2020

Would you like to help design the next great Bird Rescue shirt?

Russ Curtis

Some of the current Bird Rescue t-shirt designs. See the store

Calling all graphic designers. We want to invite YOU to help us create a new Western Grebe T-Shirt!

Inspiration #1: Western Grebe

Bird Rescue is holding a design contest for our new shirts to be released in April 2020. This contest is open to all members of the public and the details are as follows:

• Contest opens on Feb 1, 2020, and artwork must be submitted by March 20, 2020, for consideration. Semi-finalists will be selected and notified by March 27, 2020.

• Artwork must feature the Western Grebe. The style should be in line with International Bird Rescue’s signature look and style.

• Artwork can utilize no more than 4 colors.

• No copyright infringement. All designs must be your original artwork.

• Shirts will be full-front screen printed with the Bird Rescue logo on the back.

• By entering this contest, you are granting International Bird Rescue the exclusive right to print and reproduce your artwork on our merchandise, marketing and social media channels.

• This contest is open to all ages. Minors will need the authorization of a parent or guardian to sign over use of the design if theirs is chosen as the winner.

• We will accept a maximum of 3 submissions per person.

HOW TO ENTER:

Please send your artwork via email to contest@bird-rescue.org. The initial submission should include your design in .pdf/.jpg/.png format. Please include the following information:
Full Name
Email Address
Phone Number
Mailing Address

*If your artwork is selected as a finalist, a ready-for-print vector file (.ai/.eps) will need to be submitted to us by April 1st. Minor edits/revisions to the artwork may be requested.

GRAND PRIZE:

The winner’s artwork will be prominently featured on the new Western Grebe shirts set for release in April 2020. The winner will receive two free shirts, be featured on our Bird Rescue Blog, and have the opportunity to tour one of our wildlife centers with up to 3 guests. Sorry, but we are not able to cover your travel costs. The winner will be selected and notified by April 10, 2020.

Inspiration #2: Western Grebe chick

January 28, 2020

Send A Special Valentine’s Day Card To Your Loved Ones

Russ Curtis

Do you love birds as much as we do? We suspect you do! And what better way to share that love than with a special Valentine’s Day card for your loved one?!

For a minimum $25 donation, we will send a beautiful handwritten card to someone you love letting them know a gift was made in their honor.

Complete the donation by February 10th to ensure that the card reaches your special someone by the holiday. Better yet, do it today!

In the meantime, watch our new video For the Love of Birds

 

January 12, 2020

Patient of the Week: American White Pelican With Back Injury

Russ Curtis

One month of care and healing for this White Pelican is very visible. Photos by Angie Trumbo – International Bird Rescue

What a difference a few weeks of care can make!

In mid-December 2019, this young male American White Pelican was found in a Long Beach parking lot, cold and anemic, with a huge wound across his back and a small pouch laceration. We suspect he may have been struck by a vehicle. He was brought to our Los Angeles Wildlife Center where our team members assessed the pelican’s condition and provided him with IV fluids and tube feedings to stabilize his condition.

His major injury involved the skin of his back over his shoulder blades, which had been ripped off completely, with a deep scab covering the whole area. Part of our assessment included finding out if the bones of this bird’s shoulders were damaged in a way that would impact his future ability to fly, and our veterinarian currently doesn’t think so. Pelicans are such good healers that we are hopeful that the muscles and other structures needed for flight in the wound zone will continue to heal well. Usually, once pelicans regain their enthusiasm for eating, they can heal surprisingly severe wounds with help from their caregivers.

Since his intake, staff members have been regularly cleaning and dressing the pelican’s large wound, and now, after several weeks of care, it is showing great improvement! The pelican is also proving to be a voracious eater and (see video) has already gained over 1,800 grams since he arrived! We currently feed pelican patients Peruvian Smelt, which typically costs $1.50/lb, and this particular patient can eat about 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of fish a day. Fish choices for our patients are a balance of quality, availability, palatability, nutritional needs of current patients, and cost.

You can help feed this beautiful pelican and the dozens of other birds currently in care by making a donation today!

December 31, 2019

So Many Birds To Celebrate This Year!

Russ Curtis

Dear Bird Rescue Supporter,

As this year comes to an end, we want to remind you that we have a lot to celebrate in 2019!

With your support, our accomplishments became yours:

• In July our team mobilized as a mission of mercy to rescue nearly 100 baby Herons and Egrets from a fallen tree in Oakland.

• Because of a band return, we learned that an oiled King Eider from a spill in 1996 we helped rescue, treat and release, lived another 23 years in the wild. From all reports, this beautifully colored male sea duck may be the oldest lived King Eider. This band return underscored our long held belief that properly treated oiled birds can and will live long lives beyond capture and cleaning.

• With loving, restorative care, a majestic Brown Pelican with severe pouch laceration is again back in the wild.

Before time runs out, won’t you make one more tax-deductible gift this year?

With your encouragement and generous donations, our life saving work will continue to grow in 2020!

With best wishes for a Happy New Year,

JD Bergeron
Executive Director
International Bird Rescue

December 28, 2019

2019 Patient of the Year: Brown Pelican Y41 With Severe Pouch Laceration

Russ Curtis

The results are in. It was a tight race, but a victor has emerged!

The 2019 Patient of the Year is the Brown Pelican with the severe pouch laceration. It clearly made the biggest impact on our Bird Rescue family this year, winning 30% of the overall public vote.

“…The bird’s pouch was laid open on both sides up and back onto her neck, completely cut loose from the rest of her mouth. Although she survived the initial injury, she was starving to death because she was unable to eat…”

Blog post Oct 2019

This pelican is not only a prime example of the impacts humans can have on wildlife, but also the remarkable resiliency of these majestic creatures. It also shows that the best efforts by concerned individuals can give a gravely injured bird a second chance at life.

Thank you to all of you who voted, to the skilled staff and volunteers whose attentive care got this pelican (blue-banded Y41) through to release, and to the generous donors without whom this work would not be possible.

This patient was just one of more than 3,500 birds we helped this year! If this story inspires you to take action, and help other birds get a second chance, please join us: Make a donation to International Bird Rescue today to help us continue to rescue waterbirds in crisis and create more success stories like this one!

For our 2019 Patient of the Year contest, we asked you WHY you voted for the bird you did – many of you provided us with inspiring answers. This is Wordie graphic using your own words describing why these birds & our work matters to you. Thank you!

 

 

December 24, 2019

Warmest Holiday Greetings From Bird Rescue

Russ Curtis

Dear Bird Rescue supporters,

As we close out 2019, we would like to wish you the happiest of holidays!

May the New Year be filled with warmth, peace, happiness, and harmony with each other and our natural home.

Thanks again for all your generous support of our mission,

Sincerely,

Team International Bird Rescue

 

December 20, 2019

Oldest Known King Eider Found 23 Years After Oil Spill Care

Russ Curtis

Male King Eiders are super colorful sea ducks commonly found in Arctic waters. CC photo by Ron Knight

A new bird banding report shows something truly remarkable: the oldest known King Eider – a species of sea duck – was a 24-year-old oil spill survivor cared for by International Bird Rescue. This finding proves once again that rehabilitated, formerly-oiled birds can survive many years after treatment and release back to the wild.

The latest discovery involves a male King Eider that was oiled as an adult during an oil spill in Alaska in 1996. The recovered bird survived 23 years after oiling and release, and according to federal banding information, this may well be the oldest known King Eider.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bird Banding Lab, which administers the scientific banding or ringing of wild birds in the U.S., the previously oldest recorded King Eider was an unoiled female that was at least 22 years 1 month old when she was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Nunavut, Canada.

In 1996 rescued King Eiders were cleaned of oil after being flown to Anchorage from the Pribilof Islands. Photo © International Bird Rescue

This important news underscores what Bird Rescue has been advocating from its beginnings: oiled birds can and DO survive to live normal lives when rehabilitated after oiling, with appropriate resources and skilled staff. This is especially true when wildlife experts follow the protocols that have been refined over our nearly 50-year history.

Watch the video: Every Release Matters

“Bird Rescue has developed and remains at the forefront of the State of the Science for oiled wildlife treatment and rehabilitation,’ said Catherine Berg, NOAA Scientific Support Coordinator for Alaska. Berg was one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Alaska Oil Spill Response Coordinators. (Ron Britton was also worked as the National USFWS Oil Spill Coordinator and managed the Citrus spill along with Pamela Bergmann at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Environmental Policy & Compliance, and Claudia Slater of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.)

“Seeing this kind of evidence of rehabilitated bird survival is truly a tribute to their dedication to the advancement of the science and to improving the care of injured birds.” Berg added.

The long-lived eider is also a testament to both Bird Rescue’s and the State of Alaska’s commitment to the successful concept of having a centralized response center to care for affected wildlife, rather than attempting the care and cleaning of animals in a remote, inaccessible location. All the birds from this spill were transported from a remote island for care in a centralized facility run by Bird Rescue in Anchorage.

The long-lived King Eider carried the Federal Band #1347-54951.

The reported King Eider was originally oiled during the M/V Citrus Oil Spill that began in mid-February 1996 in Alaska’s Pribilof Islands around St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, approximately 300 miles from the nearest mainland, and 750 miles from Anchorage. One hundred eighty-six birds, mainly eiders, were rescued near St. Paul and transported by U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft to Bird Rescue’s Anchorage emergency response center. After medical stabilization, washing, and rehabilitation, the cleaned seabirds were again transported (a four hour flight) back to St. Paul Island, where their release was celebrated by the community and with the participation of schoolchildren.

Bird Rescue is proud of its work and the body of knowledge regarding the care of oiled wildlife that it has cultivated and shared since its inception in 1971. Data such as band returns on these species provide critical feedback to our rehabilitation processes, and clearly we are on the right track.

The deceased eider (Federal Band #1347-54951) was taken near English Bay on St. Paul Island earlier this year. The metal band number was reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab and they shared the information with Bird Rescue.

Male King Eiders are known for their very ornate and distinctive plumage. The male’s black and white feathers are accented by a reddish orange bill, bluish crown and greenish cheek. They are found in Arctic waters.

This is the fourth King Eider from the 1996 spill that has been reported through the Bird Banding Lab.

December 15, 2019

Vote for the Bird Patient of the Year 2019

Russ Curtis

This year at International Bird Rescue, we have cared for over 3,400 birds and counting! We have selected five of our favorite patients from 2019, but we need your help to decide which will be Patient of the Year! Take a look at their stories below, and then click the vote button to let us know which one you like best!


 

Baby Lesser Flamingo

International Bird Rescue sent two teams to South Africa to help care for baby Lesser Flamingos abandoned due to severe drought conditions in the area. The little flamingos had to be carefully hand fed and receive regular checkups to monitor their development.

This little flamingo was the smallest one in the flock at the rescue station where Center Manager, Kylie Clatterbuck, was stationed. She gave him special attention and made sure he was getting plenty to eat and growing up as well as all of the others.

Bird Rescue was happy to be able to help our partners on the opposite side of the globe as they took action to rescue these birds in crisis!

 


 

Oakland Heronry Rescue: Black-crowned Night-Heron

This Black-crowned Night-Heron was rescued when Bird Rescue team members rushed to the scene of a fallen heronry tree in downtown Oakland in July of this year. He was brought to our SF Bay-Delta wildlife center along with 89 other young herons and egrets and raised in our care.

A voracious eater from day one, this little one quickly began gaining weight. As he grew, our staff carefully monitored his progress and provided him with daily nutritional supplements to make sure he was developing properly.

After more than a month in care, this young Black-crowned Night-Heron was successfully returned to his natural home in the wild!

 


 

Baby Western Grebe

This fuzzy Western Grebe hatchling stole everyone’s hearts when it arrived at our wildlife center. While we care for hundreds of adult Western Grebes each year, their babies are very rare patients for us.

This unusual patient required our team of staff and volunteers to be innovative with care techniques and housing setups because they had to balance the baby’s need for food and interaction with her need to stay wild and maintain perfectly waterproof feathers.

All of the hard work and creativity paid off as the baby grebe was soon full grown and ready to return to the wild. Our team drove this special patient up to Santa Barbara where she had originally been found to release her near a large flock of fellow grebes.

 


 

Laysan Albatross

Albatross were on our minds this year as 2019 began with our Executive Director, JD Bergeron, assisting in the 2019 Nesting Albatross Census on Midway Atoll.

Much to our surprise, a Laysan Albatross was brought to our wildlife center in Southern California in April after it had been found stowing away on a boat. After a brief stay and a few good meals, the albatross looked to be in excellent shape and was ready for release.

Laysan Albatross need to be released out at sea, so we teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard to take this special patient out on a boat and return it to its natural home in the wild. See a video of the release HERE!

 


 

Brown Pelican

In September, an adult female Brown Pelican was brought to us with a gruesome bilateral pouch laceration. With her pouch hanging in tatters and the back of her mouth laid open, she was unable to feed and would have soon starved to death had help not come along.

Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, has repaired scores of pouch lacerations over the years, from simple straight cuts to complicated shredded messes. Her experience treating these types of injuries helped this pelican’s repair and healing go exactly as planned, and this gorgeous bird healed her devastating wound like a champ.

After two surgical procedures and a few weeks of recuperation, this Brown Pelican was successfully released, now sporting a bright blue band reading “Y41”.

 


Three (3) lucky voters will be selected to receive a FREE Bird Rescue 2020 calendar! Vote and enter your mailing address.

November 27, 2019

Patient of the Month: Laysan Albatross

Angie Trumbo

A Laysan Albatross that arrived into care at our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center is our patient of the month. The bird was originally found at Marina State Beach and transferred to us by our friends at Monterey Bay SPCA.

After stabilization, the Laysan Albatross had its dirty feathers washed. Photos and video by Cheryl Reynolds – International Bird Rescue

On arrival, the albatross was alarmingly underweight, very anemic, weak, and dehydrated. The intake exam found multiple wounds and swelling on the birds feet and that the patient was unable to stand. The bird is very small in stature for a Laysan Albatross, so is likely a female. She had two discrete abscesses at the bottom of her painful foot, hence we started her on antibiotics and pain medications. After several days of intensive care, the bird was strong enough for us to treat her foot abscesses and take radiographs to check for skeletal or internal abnormalities. Our veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Duerr, reviewed the radiographs and had a few important findings: the abscesses thankfully did not appear to involve the bones of the foot joint, plus she had two fractures, one of the tibiotarsus (the longest of the 3 leg bone in birds) literally at the knee and another fracture of the fibula. Bloodwork showed her to have substantial muscle damage and an elevated white blood cell count.

In the last few weeks she has made remarkable progress, going from 1359 grams to ~2000 grams. Her leg is still weak and the fractures have been slow to heal, but the foot abscesses have resolved. The anemia has largely resolved, and she has transitioned to living in a large outdoor pool during the day, and indoors at night in a beach-like sand-bottom pen. In the pool, our staff created a submerged “island” for this special patient, giving her a place to float with the weight off her leg while being able to stand in a semi-supported way. At night she can rest on sand like she would if she were on an island.

The albatross’ improvement these past few weeks has been amazing to see, and has been driven by our staff’s constant communication and shifting care decisions that keep her moving in the right direction towards recovery. Although she is not out of the woods yet and our vet has concerns about her ability to eventually walk comfortably considering the nature of the knee injury, her improvement so far has been remarkable. We hope this beautiful bird continues to heal and will soon be able to return to her natural home in the wild!

If you would like to support this bird’s care, please consider a donation to Bird Rescue.

 

November 14, 2019

Barbara Callahan Honored With Oil Spill Task Force’s 2019 Legacy Award

Russ Curtis

Barbara Callahan in action – leading a wildlife response training. Photo by Ken Wilson, APSC

Barbara Callahan of International Bird Rescue was honored this week with a 2019 Legacy Award by the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force. Barbara is Bird Rescue’s Senior Director of Response Services. She was recognized for her sustained excellence in devoting more than 25 years of her life to oiled wildlife response and for her leadership role at many of the major oil spills throughout the world.

The Legacy Awards honor individuals and organizations that successfully implement exemplary oil spill prevention, preparedness, or response projects. We define such exemplary projects as successful efforts that go beyond regulatory requirements to prevent, prepare for, or respond to oil spills.

The award was presented at the Oil Spill Task Force‘s annual meeting on November 13, 2019 in Bellingham, Washington.

Barbara Callahan has spent more than 25 years as a leader in wildlife oil spill response.

Barbara has a wealth of international experience working in the emergency wildlife response and management. She received her B. S. in Biological Science from the University of Alaska. She has worked in oiled wildlife response, response management and rehabilitation of aquatic animals over the course of 20 years and is certified in Federal Emergency Management.

Since 1997 she has been the Response Services Director at Bird Rescue and has held the position of Bird Unit Deputy Leader in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010; the Incident Command Wildlife Coordinator for the Rena Spill in New Zealand in 2011; and has been the on-scene coordinator in numerous other national and international spill events.

Barbara has authored multiple papers on seabird rehabilitation and oil spill response. She has also nationally and internationally presented at wildlife and other conferences.

Barbara Callahan working during the 2000 Treasure Oil Spill response in South Africa. Photo by Jon Hrusa – IFAW

November 12, 2019

People Who Care

Russ Curtis

In this new video meet some of International Bird Rescue’s dedicated wildlife rehabilitation staff and volunteers who act every day on behalf of sick, injured and orphaned wild animals.

Our mission is to inspire people to act toward balance with the natural world by rescuing waterbirds in crisis.

We dream of a world in which every person, every day, takes action to protect the natural home of wildlife and ourselves.

It all began in 1971 after 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the bay, concerned individuals led by a registered nurse named Alice Berkner jumped into action, bringing International Bird Rescue (“Bird Rescue”) to life. We have always had to pave a road where there is none. Staff and volunteers work with tenacity alongside clients, partners, and the public to find solutions.

Today, we research best practices at our crisis response hospitals in California and Alaska and share them worldwide.

 

November 8, 2019

A Bird Lovers Night Of Generosity & Masquerade Fun

Russ Curtis

Attendees strike a pose with their Night-Heron Masquerade masks at a Bird Rescue fundraising event in San Francisco. Photo by Gary Wagner

Shirl Simpson, left, the Branch Manager of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Oakland, CA with JD Bergeron, International Bird Rescue’s Executive Director. Photo by Gary Wagner

The Night Heron Masquerade was a huge success and we are proud to announce that event raised over $80,000! The October 26, 2019 event was filled to capacity as 150 attendees cam to support International Bird Rescue’s ongoing wildlife programs.

Thank you so much to all of those who attended and who donated, and a special thank you to our event sponsors and silent auction donors. We had a fantastic time celebrating with such a fun group of supporters, staff and volunteers. Each attendee took home a bird mask of their choice and a poster from the event in San Francisco.

Shirl Simpson, the Branch Manager, of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Oakland, CA was given special recognition for her efforts in helping support the Oakland Heronry Rescue. Nearly a hundred birds, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Snowy Egrets were rescued after a tree snapped in front of the post office sending baby birds and their nests tumbling to the sidewalk.

A big thank you also to Gary Wagner Photography for the great attendee photos, to Tony Corman & Laura Klein for providing the live music, and to Michael Warner for creating the event artwork!

Executive Director JD Bergeron was master of ceremonies. Photo by Russ Curtis–International Bird Rescue

Handmade bird masks were handed out to each attendee. The masks were created by volunteer artists. Photo by Gary Wagner

November 5, 2019

Photographers in Focus: Rory Merry

Russ Curtis

Margo Pellegrino rescues a cormorant suffering from Domoic Acid poisoning at Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove, CA. Later the stricken bird was picked up by the Monterey SPCA and transferred to our San Francisco Bay-Delta Wildlife Center.

In this latest Photographers in Focus feature, we are delighted to highlight photographer Rory Merry from Pacific Grove, California. Rory’s work came to our attention after we saw his dramatic photo of a Margo Pellegrino, who was visiting the area from New Jersey, as she waded into the Monterey Bay surf to rescue a stricken cormorant.

Born in Ireland, Rory is a professional photographer and world traveler and has been capturing people, wildlife, and events for nearly 60 years. He is represented by the Zuma Press photo agency.

We hope you enjoy all his photographs of the extraordinary beauty of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and its wildlife inhabitants.

Question: The photo of the women rescuing the cormorant is pretty amazing. What’s the story behind that image?

Answer: I was taking my usual morning walk along the coast by Asilomar State Beach in Pacific Grove, when I noticed five or six people off of the path on a rock outcrop looking down at the rocks below. As I got closer, I saw a woman climbing over the rocks.

Margo Pellegrino waded into ocean at Asilomar State Beach to rescue a sick cormorant infected with Domoic Acid.

I thought to myself that it was another collector. “Oh no, not another collector.” Then I saw something splashing in the water some distance from the shore. I could not make out what was going on with the naked eye, so I looked through my camera’s 300mm lens. At first I thought it was a cormorant and a sea otter fighting it out.

In the meantime, this woman was climbing out over the rocks and then into the cold water up to her waist. She kept going out further and further until she finally reached the splashing. By then I realized that the woman (Margo Pellegrino) was on her way to rescue a cormorant that was in serious distress suffering from Domoic Acid poisoning.

She was pretty far out and well above her waist in the cold water of the Northern California Coast. She was wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Meanwhile the cormorant was floundering around. She finally reached the cormorant, grabbed the bird and started to make her way back to shore. She chose a different route back to shore. It looked like to me like a passageway between rocks where I feared she would run into deep water. All the time I was taking images not in continuous sequential shooting mode, but one frame at a time as I saw the story unfold.

The cormorant was later transferred to Bird Rescue where it unfortunately had to be humanely euthanized because of its severe neurotoxin poisoning.

Suddenly she was in deeper water, hence the splash in the photo. I got it. Of course, she could not use her hands for balance because she was holding to the cormorant. She was actually hugging the bird for dear life. She never let go of the cormorant and finally reached shallower waters. The total sequence is made up of 59 frames. In frames 40 to 51, Margo is actually smiling. No doubt because she realizes she has actually saved the cormorant and herself included. Mind you, she is still up to her waist in water in frame 40.

See: Monterey Herald story: Woman saves cormorant with domoic acid poisoning at Asilomar State Beach

The images were shot with a Nikon D800E with 300mm AF 300mm f/4 ED. Sadly, it’s not a Vibration Reduction (VR) lens. I processed the RAW images in Nikon Capture NX2 with no manipulation and no color enhancement; just processing as per the World Press Photo Competition Rules.

Normally, I would shoot with a Nikon D4s and a Nikon 300 mm 2.8 VR. However, I had decided to sell my 2.8 to pay for my last photo adventure. I was not actually shooting anything that required a 300mm anyway. Due to being evicted from my apartment in Berkeley, I came to live in my house in Pacific Grove. Walking along the shoreline every day, I realized I really needed at least a 300mm to shoot wildlife. I found just such a lens on Ebay for $145. The seller said it had dust and fungus. It also had an aperture ring issue, which I repaired with dental floss.

Snowy Plovers (Charadrius nivosus) dance across the sand.

Q: How did you get your start in photography?

A: My father was a magazine publisher and thought all the photographers could not take a decent photograph, so he bought himself a Rolleiflex TLR Zeiss Tessar 1:3.5/75. This was in Ireland. I was ten years old. He bought me Kodak Brownie, which is a basic box camera made of thick, leatherette-covered cardboard introduced in 1911 by Eastman Kodak. The camera shot film 2 1/2 x 4 1/4 size negatives.

This was great as my father also bought me a photo printing set for my birthday. It was a simple set with a frame for holding the negative and photo paper to make a contact print the size of the negative. This is the same as the processes used today for printing digital negatives on photographic paper to make silver gelatin prints.

In 1958 when we went to Belgium to the Brussels World’s Fair where I photographed a model of the Sputnik space capsule in the Russian pavilion. I eventually got my father’s Rolleiflex and just kept on photographing. My first professional photo was published in 1969.

Short-billed Dowitcher’s (Limnodromus griseus) in flight.

Q: What’s are some of the challenges you face in your bird and nature photography in general?

A: I like to shoot without a tripod whether it is birds in nature, portraits or whatever, so holding the camera steady (or cellphone for that matter) is always an issue AND really the most important part of photographic technique. All camera manufacturers including Nikon, Sony, and Cannon have spent millions of dollars perfecting some form of Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to reduce camera shake. Nobody wants a blurred photograph, at least not too often.

I also shoot on manual mode, so forgetting to change my setting from one scene to the next is an issue.

Getting close to my subject without disturbing the creature in nature photography is always difficult. Whatever I do, I don’t want to disturb the creature or bird. It is fine if the bird is conscious of my presence, but that’s it. I shoot what is see as I come across the situation. I walk. I don’t sit in a blind hide out waiting for the shot. I go about my daily life and shoot whatever interests me. Obviously, I do cover situations where my presence is preplanned, but with birds or nature photography it is all up to the birds.

Q: We know great photography is more than big name brand equipment. But that being said, what lens could you not live without and why?

A: Well, that is a good question all right. The issue of being close enough to your subject is always critical no matter if it birds, bees or humans. You really need a minimum of a 300mm lens for bird or any nature photography. Sometimes I use a 1.7 Teleconverter with a 300mm lens this make the lens 510mm. However, a 1.7x teleconverter will lose 1 1⁄2 stops of light making the effective wide aperture f/4.5, which is not bad for a well-lit subject. To be honest, I have shot bees with a 105mm macro f2.8 and even a 14-24mm f2.8. I am always experimenting.

The eyes of a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

Q: If you could give beginning nature photographers just one (or two) bit of advice, what would it be?

A: Don’t disturb the birds or animals you photograph. Since I shoot in the open, the birds do see me, but I keep my distance. A lot of my shots are action, so the birds will be flying by keeping an eye on me. Don’t be fooled. The wildlife has its eye on you.

Always carry your camera, keep the camera steady, the lens cap off and the lens hood on the correct way. One day you will get the shot of a lifetime.

Q: What bird photo projects are you working on in the future?

A: I am always trying to get shots of birds in flight, hence no tripod. I like nature in action. One shot I am after is from a boat. You know the way the pelicans and cormorants fly along just above the waves. The pelicans use the updraft from the waves to save their energy. Well, I want to be right there with them as they come towards me, pass by and glide away. The pelicans fly so close to the waves that their outer most feather sometimes touch the water. I got that shot once from the beach, but the image was not crystal sharp. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Q: Who is one of your favorite photographers?

A: Richard Avedon

Q: How has working in nature enhanced your life?

A: When I walk along the Pacific Ocean in Monterey Bay during the mornings, I see the most beautiful sights on the planet. I see pelicans and cormorants flying in formation, vultures circling around waiting for breakfast, deer grazing, gulls fighting over pieces of food, Snowy Plovers dancing in unison in and out of the surf, rabbits hopping along, deer mice peeping out of their homes, egrets standing on kelp half a mile out in the ocean, Sea Otters lounging around in the kelp, and Sea Lions popping their heads out of the ocean for a quick look around and take a breath of fresh ocean air. I hear the sound of the waves crashing in the rocks.

Black Oystercatcher foraging for food.

When one looks at all this going on around you, all of one’s troubles go away. The images fill one’s mind like the feathers at the end of a pelicans’ wings for precise flying. Sea lions can see above and below water. Cormorants can see above and under water too. They can fly, swim and walk on land. Nature doing what nature does.

When I pick up my camera and put it to my eye, I only see the images in the viewfinder. No thoughts in my mind. I am in the present and experience a Zen clarity of mind. No mind. Just like nature itself.

When on live in the city, which I did for 40 years, one does not see nature. One is divorced from it.

I have always loved nature of that there is no doubt, but now that I see nature in the wild every day, I am adamant about preserving and protecting it.

I am featured here because of my photographs of a cormorant rescue. To be that close to a wild bird was an honor. When I process my images, I get to see them big and in detail on my computer screen in every detail: eyes, claws and individual feathers. When I see the creature again, all of sudden I am flying with the Pelicans gliding along with the flock up and over the waves, flapping my wings, zipping along at 35 miles per hour and skimming over the ocean with my friends, the cormorants. I talk to the sparrows as they fly around the sand dunes of Asilomar State Beach, “How are you this morning, Mr. Sparrow?” I am a part of nature.

Graceful beauty of two California Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) in flight.

California Brown Pelican skims the water in Monterey Bay.

Deer forage for food at water’s edge at Monterey Bay.

All photos © Rory Merry