Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Archive for December 2007

December 30, 2007

Update: New Year’s "Jazz for the Birds" concert

Do you want to show your support for the birds this New Year’s Day? Then attend the benefit concert “Jazz for the Birds” this Tuesday, January 1, 2008 in Oakland featuring grammy-nominated pianist Matt Herskowitz.

The mostly jazz concert will be held at 7 PM at the Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. Oakland 94611. The suggested donation is $10-$20 per person. The venue holds 200 people, so please don’t be late!

Map to concert site

The updated list of musicians includes Herskowitz, flutist Carol Alban, vocalists Kenny Washington, Laurie Antonioli and Mary D’Orazi, cellist Suellen Primost, flutists Nancy Tyler, Antonia David and Ann Licater, bassists Dave Lockhart and Randy Marshall, drummer Greg German and Ed Bell on sax. (Matt Herskowitz photo, right)

All money raised will go for IBRRC’s local and international bird rescue efforts.

For more information, please call: (510) 542-7517. Or see the following websites:

Benefit for the Birds

Matt Herskowitz site

December 29, 2007

2500 bird deaths in spill

As the Cosco Busan spill response finally comes to an end, the official tally for bird deaths reached 2,500. This includes 1,851 birds collected dead since the November 7th oil spill. Another 649 birds died or were euthanized during initial treatment at the joint OWCN/IBRRC wildlife hospital in Cordelia, CA.

On a happier note, 404 of the birds oiled in the San Francisco Bay spill were cleaned and successfully returned to the wild.

December 29, 2007

Any oil at the bottom of San Francisco Bay?

To be on the safe side, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will check to see if any oil settled on the bottom of San Francisco Bay near the site of last month’s Cosco Busan 58,000 gallon oil spill.

According the corps, the swabbing of the bay’s bottom will give it a better idea how far the bunker oil spread when the Cosco Bussan side-swiped the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007. The resulting spill spread through the bay and ultimately oiled beaches south past Pacifica to north around Point Reyes.

The oil spill was especially tough on birds in the bay. At least 2,500 birds died during the response.

Read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle

Full coverage of Oil Spill

December 22, 2007

Rest and be merry

This blog is going to take a break. After seven weeks of trying to keep things current, a hoilday break is order. Yes this olde blogger is tired.

Before I rest, I want to acknowledge all the incredible volunteers that have supported IBRRC’s efforts during the Cosco Busan oil spill and the Mystery Spill that hit Monterey Bay. Without the tireless help of a squadron of dedicated volunteers, the spill response would have been much worse. Everyday people took time off from work, changed their vacation plans and even skipped Thanksgiving to help care for the birds. As of this week, some were still helping out at IBRRC/OWCN center in Cordelia.

While the center is slowly being decommissioned from the spill, the lasting effects from the November 7th oil spill will most likely linger for years to come. Nearly 2,500 birds died and more will surely be found dead – some fear the number may reach 20,000. Many of us weeped at the shear number of animals harmed by this man made mess. But the trained rehabilitators carried on…searching for and capturing oiled birds; Washing the stick mess off the birds and then ultimately releasing the ones that made it through a delicate but stressful situation.

Many of staff of IBRRC have been involved in 100-200 spills in their lifetime and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Each spill has its own character set with the political and social constructs. Add the frailties of the human abilities and spirit and you’ve got one great “Movie of the Week”.

However, each spill is reminder that more people care about the natual environment than we often realize. They contribute time and money, question our government’s effectiveness and response and make it know that birds are as important to the world as the air we breathe. For this we’re grateful.

Have a great holiday.

December 21, 2007

Good riddance: Cosco Busan sails out of port

Chased by lawsuits, the Cosco Busan ship that side-swiped the San Francisco Bay Bridge, finally headed back to South Korea.

The ship sailed out of San Francisco on a crsytal clear day on Thursday morning. Numerous lawsuits will follow the owners of the ship, including a big lawsuit filed by the city of San Francisco.

The Hong Kong based Cosco Busan spilled 58,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay after it struck the bridge on November 7, 2007. Nearly 2,500 birds were killed in the spill.

It had been at a Pier 70 ship repair yard to fix the 230-foot gash in its port side. Regal Stone, the owner of the 900-foot ship, put up a $80 million note to cover the maritime release bond. Most of that bond will help pay the total cleanup costs on the spill which have been estimated at more than $60 million.

(Coast Guard photo of the gash; Yes it’s been repaired)

December 19, 2007

Birds released hits the 400 mark

This week the release of cleaned birds back to the wild hit the 400 number mark. On Tuesday morning December 18, a team from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network released 4 birds – 2 horned grebes and 2 surf scoters – at San Pablo Bay. All the birds came in from the Cosco Busan oil spill that struck San Francisco Bay on November 7.

Rehabilitation continues for those birds in care with secondary problems, including
hock, keel and foot lesions. Releases will continue as birds come off of
medical care.

December 15, 2007

New Year’s Day benefit concert: "Jazz for the Birds"

IBRRC is pleased to announce a New Year’s Day benefit concert “Jazz for the Birds” in Oakland featuring grammy-nominated pianist Matt Herskowitz. (See his photo on the right)

The concert will be held Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 7 pm at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. Oakland 94611. The suggested donation is $10-$20 per person. Map to concert site

The mostly jazz program features Herskowitz, flutist Carol Alban, guitarist Jack Gates, vocalists Laurie Antonioli, Mary Fineman, Alvenson Moore, Jeff Suits and Mary D’Orazi, flutists Nancy Tyler, Antonia David and Ann Licater, cellist Suellen Primost, bassists Dave Lockhart (upright) and Randy Marshall (electric), drummer Greg German and other surprise guest musicians.

All money raised will go for IBRRC’s local and international bird rescue efforts.

For more information, please call: (510) 542-7517. Or see the following websites:

Benefit for the Birds

Matt Herskowitz site

December 14, 2007

Angel Island reopens with an asterisk

At least six weeks after the Cosco Busan oil spill struck San Francisco Bay, the popular beaches at Angel Island will reopen on Saturday.

The reopening is with an asterisk. State officials are warning visitors there still may be tar balls of oil remaining on the island beaches. The same oil killed thousands of birds and marred miles of coastline.

Angel Island is the largest island in San Francisco Bay. It’s beaches were closed shortly after the November 7, 2007 oil spill. The spill was caused when a South Korea bound container ship, the Cosco Busan, struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge dumping 58,000 gallons of bunker oil.

There are some bay area beaches that are still closed, including Rodeo Beach and Pirates Cove in Marin County. Point Isabel and Eastshore State Park are expected to open by the end of next week.
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Some other areas of the bay have been slow to be cleaned. In fact in the East Bay, many locals and bird watchers are still complaining of insufficient cleanup around the shoreline in Richmond. See the CBS-5-TV report

December 14, 2007

Banning bunker fuel: Tread lightly expert says

An environmental chemist looking into the rush to ban the use of bunker fuel on ships, says the alternatives, especially diesel can be harder to cleanup. Christopher Reddy’s Open Forum piece in the San Francisco Chronicle and is worth a careful read:

“…Bunker oil is highly viscous, sticky, and floats. Bunker oil spills are visually obvious but the very nature of this product allows it to be cleaned up easier than diesel fuel. It can be boomed, skimmed and oil-covered objects along shorelines, often called dirty bathtub rings, can be removed. Diesel fuel is less viscous and harder to contain and recover. Once in the water, diesel insinuates itself into the lifecycles of plants and animals. Toxicity is always difficult to define, but in a relative manner, diesel fuel is significantly more lethal than bunker fuel.

Pure vegetable fuels and biodiesel are attractive alternatives but are not perfect. One marine spill of vegetable oil in Europe left behind a polymerized residue that one scientist argued was more persistent than petroleum fuels. Another spill of vegetable oil in Canada resulted in a large kill of birds. Biodiesel is used to formulate a range of mixtures from B2 (2 percent biodiesel mixed with 98 percent petroleum diesel) to B100 (100 percent biodiesel). While the biocomponent of biodiesel mixtures is much safer and less persistent in the environment, anything less than B100 will contain petroleum diesel with the same negative attributes…”

Read onward

December 13, 2007

Cleaned of oil, Red-tailed Hawks back home

In the “lets make it right” category. Please take a look at the wonderful release of two young red-tailed hawks oiled in the aftermath of the Cosco Busan oil spill last month. They were cleaned of oil at our facility in Cordelia and spent weeks in treatment at WildCare in San Rafael.

As many know already, raptors saw the spill as a golden opportunity to feed on oiled, weak and dying birds along the San Francisco Bay shorelines. What came natural to theses hawks probably has killed many more.

The release of these lucky red-tails this week is testimony to the power of humans trying to heal the balance of nature that we all have altered.

The photos and audio are from Jeff Vendsel a gifted photographer at the Marin Indepedent Journal. See the slide show

Read the full story

December 12, 2007

A tough year for birds

From IBRRC’s Dec. 11, 2007 press release:

The numbers of birds affected by the Cosco disaster and other factors continues to rise. “Every time we think we have a break, something starts up again,” said Jay Holcomb, Director of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC). “The end of 2007 has been very hard on aquatic birds off the coast of Northern California, with a multitude of species being affected by oil as well as other issues, one of which we have never encountered before.”

Birds rescued from up and down the coast continue to arrive daily to The San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center in Cordelia (SFBOWEC) a specialized rehabilitation facility for oiled birds that is managed by IBRRC. The reasons range from crude oiling to healthy adult birds that have lost their waterproofing due to a mysterious algae dying off and creating a slick on the water surface.

From tiny Snowy Plovers to Endangered Brown Pelicans, the number of species affected keeps climbing. How many birds have actually died will never be known because not all bodies are recovered and many are scavenged or taken out to sea on currents.

Over 40 species, including three endangered species, rarely seen pelagic birds like fulmars, rhinoceros auklets and common coastal birds like Western and Clark’s grebes have been brought to the SFOWCEC since November 7th when the first spill victims were rescued. “We thought the domoic acid event off the coast of Southern California in April 2007 was bad; now that pales in comparison to this as far as the amount of live birds we have received,” said Holcomb. It’s been a tough year for both birds and wildlife rehabilitation experts alike.

Less followed in the news has been a mysterious event about one hundred miles south of San Francisco in the Moss Landing/Monterey Bay area. On November 10, grebes, surf scoters, loons and other near-shore birds began beaching themselves. Something on the surface of the water, possibly related to an algae bloom, caused the birds to loose their waterproofing. First thought to be a clear vegetable or fish oil, possibly dumped by a restaurant or boat, tests came back negative for oil.

As of today, 565 live birds and 82 dead birds have been logged in as “Moss Landing Mystery Spill.” Holcomb adds “To date 340 of these birds have been rehabilitated and released.”

See the complete press release

December 9, 2007

A month after spill: Dozen new oiled birds found

A month since the the Cosco Busan spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay, a new group of oiled birds has been found. At least a dozen dark-oiled birds have been found in the Half Moon Bay area and south toward Santa Cruz.

The oil could certainly be remnants from the November 7, 2007 spill. The birds, mainly Common Murres, are in care at various locations including the Cordelia bird center.

Until feather samples are analyzed, the oiled bird are being logged as Cosco Busan oil spill casualties.

On Sunday morning, a “hot-shot” team will be dispatched to cover Pillar Point Harbor south, evaluating and collecting oiled birds.

December 6, 2007

Update: 347 birds released back into wild

Nearly a month after oil spilled into San Francisco Bay, oiled wildlife experts continue to rehabilitate and release oiled birds. To date, 347 washed birds have been set free. Video of bird release

There have been nearly 2,400 confirmed deaths since the Cosco Busan container ship struck the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on November 7 and spilled 58,000 gallons of bunker crude oil. At least 1,750 arrived dead following the spill. Another 650 died or were euthanized during care at the OWCN/IBRRC Cordelia bird center.

Avian experts and biologist fear that 5 to 10 times the amount of bird deaths may actually end up taking place. That death figure estimates are based on birds that may have landed in the oil and then flown out of the area to die. San Francisco Chronicle story

My thanks to IBRRC volunteer Jean Shirley for the bird release photo and video.

December 3, 2007

Notes from survivor of Exxon Valdez spill

From Riki Ott’s commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The oil spill in San Francisco Bay also hit people in my hometown of Cordova, the native village of Chenega, Port Graham, Kodiak, Chignik – and all other of the 22 Alaskan communities directly affected by the Exxon Valdez spill more than 18 years ago.

The reason Exxon Valdez survivors literally “feel your pain” is that disaster trauma is stored in memory with no time tag other than “present.” No matter what else of significance happens in a person’s life, trauma memory is able to trump it all in an unguarded moment.

As an Exxon Valdez survivor, the intensity of emotion that flooded over me when I learned of the spill in San Francisco Bay was as real as when I first experienced it two decades ago…

Note: Riki Ott, Ph.D., is an marine toxicologist, activist and author of “Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.”

Read the entire commentary here

Also see the Anchorage Daily News: Legacy of a Spill It contains stories, photos and maps on the spill.

December 1, 2007

With proactive capture and quick care, oiled birds CAN be rehabilitated

Special message from Jay Holcomb, IBRRC, Executive Director:

Hello friends and supporters,

First I want to say thank you to all of you who have donated to our efforts. Secondly, I want to answer some questions that have I have been asked recently, by the media and concerned people, to set the record straight. My time is limited so I will start with one question and add more as I can.

1. Do rehabilitated birds in oil spills survive once they have been released?

I wish I had a yes or no answer but it just is not that simple. The truth is that, yes, many have a very good chance of survival. We have documented many survival stories but it is very difficult to follow up on sea birds that live in colonies in remote areas and who basically look the same except for little silver bands on one leg. In most cases we receive less than a 1% return rate on banded birds and especially sea birds that live in colonies that sometimes range in the millions. But we are always working to establish and apply any post release studies that we can. Some of the best “post release” information to date has come from the ongoing study of bird species that are just plain easier to study; Snowy plovers, African Penguins that live in predictable areas and waterfowl that are hunted to name a few.

Oiled Penguins

In 2000 IBRRC, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), based in Cape Town, South Africa, joined forces to rehabilitate 21,000 African Penguins. The birds were oiled when the bulk carrier, Treasure, sunk between two large and important penguin colonies on Dassen and Robben Islands off the Cape Town coast.

Collectively our team turned a vacant train warehouse and six surrounding acres into an oiled penguin rehabilitation center. Within three months, using our proven oiled bird rehabilitation methods, we released 19,500 healthy viable penguins back into their colonies. It was truly a miracle and we were as astonished as anyone that we were able to accomplish this under great odds. Every released penguin was flipper tagged and birds have been studied aggressively since that time. All post release studies have shown that these birds have survived, and reproduced equal to non-oiled penguins.

The rehabilitation of oiled penguins is now considered by Cape Nature Conservation as one of the most important management tools used in the survival plan of this vulnerable species. These findings can be found on the group’s website and I strongly suggest you read them.

Oiled Shorebirds

In 1999 IBRRC responded to the New Carissa oil spill on the Southern Oregon coast at Coos Bay. During that spill we captured and rehabilitated 32 oiled snowy plovers; a species of great concern. It is important to point out that snowy plovers are small shorebirds. Biologists and others who know little of the details in rehabilitating oiled birds believed oiled shorebirds could not be rehabilitated. This perception is completely incorrect and unfortunate.

We have successfully rehabilitated and released many healthy shorebirds; dunlin, sanderling, piping plovers and now snowy plovers. In fact, these birds do the best of many of the birds we receive, if they are captured before they become weak and sick.

Of the 32 oiled snowy plovers that we captured, washed and rehabilitated during the New Carissa oil spill, all were released as healthy birds and were studied extensively showing that their life spans and breeding activity were the same as non-oiled plovers. Once again proving that the rehabilitation of oiled shorebirds can work when they are given a chance and it is done correctly.

The most important factor in all of this is initiating a proactive and aggressive capture program before the birds get to weak and succumb to hypothermia and predators. It was exactly those factors that made people believe shorebirds could not be rehabilitated. Prior to aggressively capturing these birds, we would only get sick, weak and dying birds in the center; therefore, high mortality. However, with a proactive approach, professionals with the proper tools and capture methods, many oiled shorebirds can be captured and rehabilitated. These shorebirds do very well in rehabilitation as they are ravenous eaters and seem to handle the stress of the process very well. We typically release over 90% of the shorebirds we proactively capture in oil spills.

Oiled Waterfowl

Most of our band returns from oiled birds that were rehabilitated and released come from waterfowl. Unfortunately waterfowl are hunted; but at least we get some feedback on our released animals. This group includes all ducks and geese and hunters are supposed to return the bands.

We have had oiled rehabilitated ducks hunted years later from many places in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Utah, Nevada and Canada indicating that many survived, sometimes for many years before they were shot.

One of our most important pieces of information came from the band returns of five hunted king eiders from a spill we did in Alaska in the remote Pribilof Islands in 1996. 180 oiled king eiders were sent to our center in Anchorage for rehabilitation, a six-hour trip for these wild birds. Once rehabilitated, they took another six hour flight and were released back in the Pribilof Islands. In the following six years, five of them were hunted by local native hunters and the bands were reported. This by no means suggest that they all lived but these five birds went through the same treatment as the other 175 or so and survived indicating that this species can be rehabilitated and survive the logistical time delays that required them to travel in cages for long hours. See also: IBRRC Pribilof Spill Response Report

One other important spill was a spill on the Santa Clara River in Southern California where we captured and rehabilitated 175 very heavily oiled mallards, widgeons and other waterfowl species. Over the next six years, six of those ducks were hunted and reported. It may seem like a small number but it was significant to us, as we knew what those animals endured being covered in very heavy and thick oil. You can read about this on our web site under Band Returns/Santa Clara River spill, 1991.

There is much more to say about this topic and I will pick it up in future messages. For now I need to get back to the birds.

Thanks for reading,

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC