Every Bird Matters
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Archive for November 2011

November 22, 2011

First Penguins Released After New Zealand Oil Spill

49 Little Blue Penguins oiled in the spill from the grounded cargo ship Rena were released today in New Zealand, after rescue and rehabilitation by emergency response teams, including International Bird Rescue, organized through Massey University’s New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre.

In preparation for the release we set up three aviaries with a salt water system and gradually raised the salinity to that of seawater. We sorted the penguins into “tribes” according to their location of capture, their state of waterproofing and their estimated time until molt. We are relieved to be getting most of them out before molt. Ecologist and Dotterel expert John Dowding also performed a final evaluation of habitat to start releasing some of the Dotterels who were captured to the south. Hopefully by the time Dr Brett Gartrell, the Wildlife Centre Manager, returns in a week, we will be down to 225-250 birds in care.

Christmas is already in the air down here. Since New Zealanders don’t celebrate Thanksgiving there is nothing to stop Christmas creep. There is already talk of our Facilities Manager Bill Dwyer’s annual staff Christmas party and we are even seeing a number of posters for New Year’s events.

It’s a bit hard to get into the Christmas spirit for those of us not used to worrying about sunburn in November, but it is starting to look like we may make it home with some time left to do our Christmas shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Curt Clumpner
Preparedness Director
International Bird Rescue

November 17, 2011

Washing Penguins in New Zealand

I have been home just a few days and am already feeling nostalgic about the time I spent in New Zealand. It is safe to say that no one really hopes for an oil spill. However, when you get “that call” asking for your availability, various emotions and thoughts immediately occupy your mind. All the while the present, day-to-day reality seems to quickly fade away in a surreal manner.

Deirdre Goodfriend, Mike Ziccardi and I joined up at the Auckland International Airport early in the morning and took a short flight to Tauranga. After a brief stop at the Incident Command Center (ICC) to receive our work identification badges, we were shuttled to the Wildlife Center.

We hit the ground running. I joined Michelle Bellizzi in the Wash and Rinse Room. We washed 26 birds that day and 42 the following. As birds progressed through the system, there was a need for one of us to perform conditioning/waterproofing duties outside at the pools. Michelle called “dibs.”

As the days and weeks proceeded, I became increasingly pleased with the wash and rinse team that was being formed. In between teaching them about washing and rinsing, I tried to make some time each day to get to know each of them. We had several countries represented in our room, from the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany and Italy to Australia and of course New Zealand.

Oil spills are extremely stressful and at times depressing. I started each day with a smile and thanked everyone at the end of each day for helping the birds. I tried to keep our “wash and rinse world” a pleasant, peaceful, and zenful atmosphere.

In Michelle’s previous blog, she mentions the challenges in washing Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor). Yes, there were some minor technical adjustments that had to be made when dealing with a bird that has virtually no neck and relatively small wings. Also, penguins have more feathers than most other birds, with about 100 feathers per square inch, so this makes the wash and rinse process a little more demanding.

With all this being said, I departed the New Zealanders, my fellow response team members, and the penguins feeling grateful and privileged to have assisted in this world team effort and especially proud of being a member of the International Bird Rescue Response Team.

Susan Kaveggia

November 15, 2011

Yellowstone River Spill – A Last Look

Dear Friends,

As many of you remember, International Bird Rescue responded to the Silvertip Pipeline break in the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana on July 2, 2011. On October 15 we completed work on this spill after being on-site for 3 1/2 months. It was an interesting and different spill response, and I wanted to share with you our observations.

Eagle with Smudges of Oil Being Monitored

To understand the scope of the spill it’s best to say that it played out in three parts. The first was a somewhat typical river response where we went into action and began the search for oiled wildlife. The river was at a very high flood stage and extremely dangerous when we arrived and that impaired our ability to search the heaviest oiled areas that were within the first few miles, just below the pipeline break. As the water receded within the first month of the spill, we did manage to capture 4 birds and monitor a few Bald Eagles that were partially oiled. All captured birds were rehabilitated and released, and the eagles were observed throughout the summer. They raised their young and did well.

Part two of this response was about looking low down into the debris left by the flood while we continued to search for birds and mammals. As the river continued to recede we began finding many oiled toads, snakes and frogs living in the logs and debris left by the flood. There seemed to be minimal impact to bird and mammal species, but the oil continued to impact the reptiles and amphibians that use these muddy areas of the river. These reptiles and amphibians handled washing and rehabilitation well and were released very quickly.

During the last part of the spill we continued our search and collection efforts, but as we moved downstream, looking for oiled wildlife and finding none, we continued to discover areas of oil that were hidden in the river bed and high up on islands where the flood left bits of oil in the vegetation. We therefore became part of the scat team, helping to locate oiled vegetation and tag it so that the clean up teams could locate and remove it.

In the end we cared for 131 animals:

1 Canada Goose
1 Coopers Hawk
1 Robin
109 Woodhouse’s Toads
10 Western Terrestrial Garter Snakes
6 Leopard Frogs
1 Bullfrog
1 Common Garter Snake

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue

November 11, 2011

Reflections from Alaska on New Zealand

As many of you know, I was deployed with our team to the oil spill in New Zealand in early October to assist Massey University’s New Zealand Wildlife Health Centre staff manage the Rena oiled wildlife response. My job was to support the team by working in the Incident Control Center (ICC) to provide Massey Veterinarian, Kerri Morgan, relief by standing in as Wildlife Manager. For the last several years with International Bird Rescue, my job on spills has usually been either in the Command Center as Wildlife Branch Director or Bird Unit Deputy (as it was for the Deepwater Horizon spill) or helping to manage the logistical side of having a team on the ground.

When I first arrived at the ICC, I was amazed that while I had never been to New Zealand there were many familiar faces there to greet me, and even the National On-Scene Commander came right over and with a big smile and kiss on my cheek said, “Babs, great to have you here!” For those of you who know me, you’ll understand that not many people (basically NOBODY) get away with calling me anything but “Barbara!” The point is, I was warmly and heartily welcomed into the fold. In the days that followed, I settled into the job of overseeing the coordination of the Search and Collection Teams, as well as the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center activities, while Kerri and her staff got a much needed rest.
I knew that this would be a unique experience when I attended my first morning brief and found that it is started each day with a prayer and song by iwi. In New Zealand society, iwi form the largest everyday social units in Māori culture. Iwi are fully integrated into the command structure of the spill and liaise with spill managers in all areas. I was fascinated to attend a cultural brief so I could better understand responding to an oil spill in an area that has been significant to iwi for hundreds of years. It was clear to me that the daily, communal prayer and song brought a moment of serenity and calm to what is usually a chaotic and sometimes mind-boggling place to work.

I echo my colleagues who have filled this blog space before me in saying how well managed this spill response has been, and what a testament it has been to all the hours Maritime New Zealand and Massey University spent planning, training and practicing for an event like this. Because the spill response plan they had was well thought out, resourced, practiced and trained for, it made it that much easier for us to step in so that the New Zealanders could take time away from the spill and rest.

After nearly three weeks of working in the ICC, as I finished my last day and gave my end of day brief, the Deputy National On-Scene Commander called me to the front of the room while iwi said a special prayer blessing for me because I help animals which are of central importance to their culture. The Maritime New Zealand Commanders also presented me with an official desk clock and Maglite key chain as parting gifts! That night, as our team gathered in our hotel’s lobby to have a farewell drink, we were joined by the Commander and a dozen or so others from the ICC and Wildlife Health Centre, and I was given a beautiful field guide to New Zealand birds from all of the staff at the Centre who have been colleagues for some years, but who are without a doubt now friends! I feel extremely privileged to have been part of such an incredible response.

Barbara Callahan
Response Services Director
Regional Representative, Alaska
International Bird Rescue



November 9, 2011

Raising the Profile of Oiled Wildlife Response in Brazil

Dear friends,

With staff situated across four different States in the US, International Bird Rescue’s team is spread out at the best of times. Our oiled wildlife response activities, as many of you know, take us even further afield – including New Zealand at present, where we continue to support Massey University’s wildlife rescue efforts following the Rena oil spill.

As we deployed a first wave of personnel to New Zealand we also had to keep in mind an important prior commitment in the Southern Hemisphere – this time in Brazil – where our Response Services Director, Barbara Callahan, had been scheduled to speak at the Santos Oil & Gas Conference as a guest of our Brazilian oiled wildlife partner, Aiuká. When the oil spill happened we redirected Barbara to Tauranga on New Zealand’s North Island to join our response team and I had the privilege of representing International Bird Rescue in South America in her stead.

International Bird Rescue is partnering with Aiuká for ‘tier three’ oil spill response in Brazil. In other words, in the event that a large oil spill overwhelms their in-country resources International Bird Rescue will be called in to work with Aiuká and to help manage the wildlife rescue effort. In turn, International Bird Rescue may call on Aiuká’s highly skilled veterinarians to support our own oil spill response efforts in other parts of the world, making this a true collaboration and a great example of mutual aid within the oiled wildlife response community.

Oil exploration and production has rapidly expanded in Brazil since the discovery of the pré-sal (below the salt) oil fields and conservative estimates now put the total recoverable oil from Brazilian waters at 50 billion barrels. Attending this major oil industry event in Santos was an important part of Aiuká’s ongoing and essential work to raise the profile of oiled wildlife response and to ensure that there is sufficient consideration of wildlife in Brazil’s oil spill planning efforts.

International Bird Rescue was proud to be given an opportunity to address the conference in Santos on this important topic. Our key messages to the audience were words we repeat often – that wildlife rescue efforts should be considered an essential component of any oil spill response, and that their success depends greatly on advance planning and preparation.

Massey University’s highly effective wildlife response to the Rena oil spill in New Zealand is a great example of what’s possible when both of these key elements are in place. International Bird Rescue is excited to be partnering with an equally-skilled group of people in Brazil, supporting Aiuká’s vital efforts to prepare for the kind of disaster they hope will never happen in their country – but one that remains a very real possibility.


Paul Kelway
Executive Director


November 7, 2011

Update from New Zealand

It is always a bittersweet time when you leave an oil spill response. If you leave in the middle, it is even more so. There are feelings of joy and relief because you will soon be home to get some rest and see your loved ones, mixed with feelings of guilt because you are leaving a job for others to finish. Either way it isn’t easy. This week those of us who will remain in New Zealand, Michelle Bellizzi, Erica Lander, Bruce Adkins, Wendy Massey, and I said goodbye to Julie Skoglund, Deirdre Goodfriend, Susan Kaveggia and Mike Ziccardi.

The ship is holding together; the weather is a mix of rain, wind and sun; and, as they said on the ‘telly’ this morning, it is a good day to pump oil. Friday was Guy Fawkes Night, and although Oiled Wildlife Response Coordinator Kerri Morgan managed to get the planned fireworks display at the raceway/event center behind the wildlife facility canceled, there were still many explosions and lights in the sky. Kerri called me at about 9:00 p.m. after seeing the fireworks near the center from her hotel room across the bay. She went out to the center and found the Dotterels to be fine, the continuous roar of sprint cars muffling the intermittent bangs of the fireworks. Phil Goff, the leader of the Labor Party (the opposition party in New Zealand), visited on Saturday to see the Center and work with the press, and Kerri and I showed him around. He was quite friendly, interested and well-briefed.

We have 3 oiled birds at this point, and are getting a new oiled bird every couple of days or so. They are mainly lightly-oiled and can be washed in a few days time. Most of the birds are in the aviaries now, and about 60 more post-wash birds will likely join them in the next few days. It will then be more of a captive bird management situation, as we try to fatten the Penguins up to prepare for molt. We hope to release them before molt as keeping them in captivity through that stage will present all kinds of new challenges. There have been some changes in the caging and care of the Dotterels to alleviate potential problems with their feet. Dr John Dowding, the Dotterel biologist, noted that we have been more successful than he had initially hoped, with all of the Dotterels still alive and doing well (fingers crossed).

Our staff responsibilities are changing as the animals’ needs change. Michelle is overseeing the swimming in the pools with Bruce helping her there when he is not in the wash room. Wendy is overseeing the management of the aviaries, working with Pauline who is overseeing the animal care there and Barry who is filling in for Bill Dwyer on Facilities. Erica is in the drying/ICU tent with Micah, one of the Massey residents. All of the team are doing a great job, are fitting in, and getting on with it.

More when we know more.

Curt Clumpner
Preparedness Director
International Bird Rescue



November 7, 2011

Notes From the Field, New Zealand Oil Spill Response

Michelle Bellizzi, our San Francisco Bay Wildlife Center Manager, has worked for International Bird Rescue for 11 Years. She has responded to many oil spills, including one off the coast of southern Argentina in 2008 during which she learned a great deal about washing and caring for oiled Penguins. Her Penguin and general rehabilitation experience make her an essential part of the New Zealand oil spill response effort.


I’ve been in Tauranga, New Zealand since October 14. Tauranga is pronounced “Toe-wronga” with a soft “g” (I practice at night, but I still can’t say it right). I now understand why one of International Bird Rescue’s first interns, a New Zealander named Gary Ward (now a keeper and breeder at the Jersey Zoo in England), always pronounced my name differently, and have also realized that his enthusiasm and passion is truly a part of his Kiwi culture.

When we arrived, I was taken aback by the welcome from everyone at the center. It was instantly as though I were welcomed into a family – an amazing, passionate, fun, capable, and hardworking family. They were already caring for incredible birds (as all birds are) at the facility:  Little Blue Penguins, Pied Shags, Dotterels, Terns. The Penguins are tiny by Penguin standards, weighing in at ~1kg, but they’re not just called Little Blues because of their size – the feathers on their backs are really blue/green, and intricately patterned.

A little blue penguin gets the star wash treatment at the Oiled Wildlife Response Centre. Image credit: Maritime New Zealand

I was assigned to work in the bird washroom, where over 100 birds had already been washed. During times when the washroom isn’t busy, our team also become bird “tubers” (gavage-feeders), cage cleaners, pool siphoners and general handypersons. Washing is one those things that is the same just about everywhere, even though our washroom here is a tent which shakes violently in the spring wind, and washing Penguins requires extra attention to detail. Compared to those of other birds, Penguin feathers are very tightly packed, and the ones on their wings (which look like flippers) are very, very short. After a few days together with Massey University staff, we had trained several others to wash and rinse the birds, and I became a member of the “Washed an Oiled Endangered Dotterel Club” (so far, there are two members!).  Thankfully, the washes went well and the birds are recovering, hopefully no worse for wear.

I am incredibly honored to work with each and every person and bird.

Michelle Bellizzi


International Bird Rescue still has 6 response team members stationed in New Zealand to help Massey University manage and operate the oiled bird rehabilitation center that has been set up after the cargo ship Rena hit a reef and spilled oil into the ocean impacting hundreds of seabirds.

November 2, 2011

Exotic Stowaway Bird Flying Home, from LAX

An exotic seabird that arrived in Los Angeles as a stowaway aboard a ship from Korea is taking an unusual flight home to Hawaii this week having been rehabilitated at International Bird Rescue’s Wildlife Center in Los Angeles. The Red-Tailed Tropicbird, a solitary plunge-feeding seabird which rarely fishes within sight of land and nests on offshore islands in the pacific ocean, cannot be released from the Continental US and is instead heading home by plane with a one-way ticket on a commercial flight to Hawaii. The bird will depart from LAX on Thursday for Honolulu where it will be picked up by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agent and then immediately flown to Midway Atoll to be released back into the wild.

International Bird Rescue, which specializes in the rescue and rehabilitation of seabirds and other aquatic birds, has provided care to many other seabird stowaways in its 40-year history – primarily Laysan Albatrosses and the occasional Frigatebird. The stowaway phenomenon is generally considered to be a simple case of mistaken identity. Laysan Albatrosses looking for new nesting islands during breeding season can see the flat surface of a cargo ship as the perfect new home. They sit quietly among the cargo containers and are not discovered until the ship is unloaded. These birds are often brought to one of International Bird Rescue’s Wildlife Centers in California, where they are evaluated, and within a few days are released off of the Coast to fly back to Hawaii, Mexico, or wherever they choose. However, the Tropicbird, which does not soar long distances like an Albatross, needs a helping hand in order to return to its remote feeding and nesting grounds.

Red-tailed Tropicbirds nest throughout the southern Pacific Ocean, from the Hawaiian Islands to Western Australia as well as in the Indian Ocean. They disperse widely after breeding, and birds with numbered leg bands from Hawaii have been discovered as far away as Japan and the Philippines.

To catch their prey in the wild, mostly flying fish and squid, the Tropicbird flies high into the air and dives with wings half-folded into the water. However, in aviaries they cannot fly high enough to plunge for food, and consequently remain sitting on the water and must be force-fed. The bird has been in quarantine in its own private pool at International Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center in San Pedro since September 27, and has now passed all of its required health tests and has been approved for release.

“We are very fortunate to have a specialized rescue facility and trained staff here in Los Angeles with the skills and experience to give this Tropicbird a second chance,” says Jay Holcomb, International Bird Rescue’s Director Emeritus. “We have also had great support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA, who have helped ensure swift and safe passage back home for this beautiful seabird.”

While this bird’s story is special, International Bird Rescue believes that every bird matters, and does everything it can to give each of the seabirds and aquatic birds that pass through its doors all that they need to survive and thrive. International Bird Rescue welcomes donations to help offset its expenses for not just the Tropicbird, but each of the 5,000 birds that arrive at its centers every year.
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