Sunday, January 3, 2016

No more murres

Volunteering at the Bird Treatment & Learning Center allows one to be around birds you never thought you’d see up close, much less hand-feed or handle – swans, eagles, owls.

We've had a lot of owls this past year, it seems.  This one was a Boreal and beautiful. 
Lately we’ve had a lot of common murres brought into us.  They mostly seem to be starving, although the latest batch seems to be more a victim of storms with high winds that have kept them on the ground, or blown them inland.  These are not inland birds.  They are birds that spend their time in the cooler northern oceans, nesting along rocky cliffs and spending their winters at sea. 

Common murres are beautiful, looking somewhat like penguins, having dark and light-colored feathers.  They also are the owners of sharp beaks, that can easily penetrate the human skin, as I so quickly and unwillingly experienced.  Such are the hazards of working at Bird TLC, and one of the reasons I had to have a tetanus shot prior to starting there.  You never know when a beak or talon will get you. 

Tetanus shots and Betadyne are my best friends sometimes.
The murres feed on fish, and may dive to depths of more than 150 feet when foraging.  But, while the birds we are seeing may be victims of bad storms, the sad reality is that many are blown inland because they are weak due to a lack of food.  There are a couple of theories for that, but a better story is that Bird TLC has been treating and releasing many of those who have been brought to us.

I received the honor last week of releasing about 10 of them at Point Woronzof.  I had three dog kennels containing the murres, and drove on out to the point.  I unloaded one kennel and started down the path toward the beach, and became quite a person of interest as people wandered over to see what was in the kennel.  I explained to them who I was, a volunteer, and what I was doing, releasing birds. 
Let us out, let us out.
 Offers of help came immediately and I took two of them up on it.  Nick and Charlotte took the other two kennels from my vehicle and carried them down the path, warning me that it was quite icy and slippery, especially as there was ice also under the dirt on the path that wasn’t always noticeable.  They were right, but I slipped and slid down and finally got to the bottom, my kennel of murres none the worse as I had protected them well.  However, I was also wondering how I’d get back up to the top.  I’d worry about that later.

We walked over the ice and other debris and took the kennels near the water so the birds could easily walk out and begin to float.  I released one of the kennels and asked the young folks if they’d like to release birds, as well.  Yep, they did.

Charlotte releasing some of the murres.  (Photo courtesy of Peter Richter.)

Peter releasing more murres.  (Photo courtesy of Peter Richter / his camera and Charlotte Tunley photographing.)
Success.  All were out of the kennels and into the water.
They appeared happy to be back in their natural kind of water habitat.
The birds were all released and quickly floated in the water.  I watched and then saw a group of them come together and back to the shore.  Ah, man.  Please don’t do that.  The murres decided they didn’t want to be on land, and once again floated out.  I had another mission, to photograph the 100stones exhibit, and after that, I looked one more time for birds.  The murres were out of my sight.
Charlotte and Nick had taken the kennels back to the top and left me with a pair of ice cleats to help me navigate the shoreline as well as crawl back to the top where the parking lot is.  When I returned to the top the kennels were all set neatly by my vehicle and Nick was there, introducing me to his grandmother.  What a great way to have your belief in humanity and young people confirmed.  Thank you, Nick and Charlotte.

Bird TLC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and runs almost entirely with volunteers and donations, having only two paid employees who go well above and beyond to keep the place running.  Volunteers prepare food and feed, build and clean mews, do presentations, help provide medical and rehabilitation assistance, and strive to release rehabilitated sick, injured or orphaned wild birds back into the wild.  Some may not be releasable and are used as education birds, going to presentations at schools and other events, and some are shipped to other parts of the United States to be used in that way as well.

If you would like to donate … unprocessed salmon or red meat, or dollars … to Bird TLC, check them out at