Friday, September 28, 2007
My story is set, not at the Aquarium, but at Catalina Landing. The offices of the Aquarium’s ‘dry side’ overlook the landing. The story begins with the recent unseasonable September rain storm. As is usual, the rain resulted in a runoff of debris, (Styrofoam cups, juice boxes, balls, vegetation, tree branches, etc.), from up-river urban communities. And as is usual, much of the urban runoff ended its journey down the Los Angeles River floating on the surface of Catalina Landing waters.
There are three and one-half characters in my story: Andrew, an Aquarium graphic designer, amateur photographer, and our webmaster; a Snowy Egret, a medium-sized wading bird in the same family as herons and storks; and an agent of Long Beach Animal Control. I am the half a character.
On September 25th Andrew was walking around the landing to take photos of the runoff for possible use in conservation messages about urban pollution when he noticed something white that was larger than a Styrofoam cup floating on the water’s surface. Getting as close as he could, he determined that the object was a bird floating spread eagle, belly-down. Occasionally the bird very weakly lifted its head a few inches above the water but Andrew could not discern any other movement. He was able to tell that that the bird was an egret. Now I, the half a character, come into the story.
“There’s an egret out there trapped in the weeds”, a concerned Andrew said when he appeared at my desk. “What can we do?” The occupants of the dry side know about my involvement with the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge; hence, I was the question’s target. We went out to survey the scene and surmised that the bird was either ill or injured and had somehow become trapped in debris. Egrets are not swimmers. We decided that Andrew should call Long Beach Animal Control, which he did. We envisioned a long wait for a rescue. We were wrong.
Within 15 minutes an agent from animal control appeared. She climbed over the fencing to get to a pier close to the bird where she was able to use a long-handled net to pull in the seemingly lifeless animal. The net was handed to Andrew while the agent climbed back over the fence. She told Andrew the bird was young, apparently exhausted, did not have a visible injury, and that she would take it to Long Beach Animal Hospital where there is a program for handling wild birds in trouble. All we know about the egret’s condition at this time is that it has not yet walked. We will try to get what we hope will be favorable updates on the bird’s progress for you.
A chapter about Snowy Egrets. They were almost hunted to extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the result of being hunted for their wispy plumes that develop in the breeding season. The plumes, used to trim women’s hats, were called aigrettes. The approaching extinction of the Snowy and Great Egrets was the start of the conservation movement in the US and the beginning of the National Audubon Society, which adopted the Great Egret as its icon bird. With the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act hunting of these egret species was prohibited. While the species has made a comeback in several geographic locations in the United States, in some states they are listed as threatened or species of concern because of loss of wetland and foraging habitats. Snowy Egrets like California’s weather so we have resident populations that are here year-round. Click here for more information about this species.
Last Chapter: Last year the dry side was a scene for the rescue of an American Kestrel that was stunned when it flew into the window outside Jerry Schubel’s office. It too was taken to Long Beach Animal Control and was released back to the wild after a day of observation. Perhaps you thought that the bird population flying near the Aquarium consists only of sparrows, gulls, and rock pigeons. Not true! During our journeys to and from the ‘wet side’ we frequently see roosting or foraging Great Blue Herons, Buffleheads, Black-crowned Night Herons, American Coots, Western Grebes, cormorants, and even an occasional Mallard. Isn’t it amazing how these wild birds have adapted to humans and an urban environment?
Do your part for endangered birds. Join as at the Aquarium’s annual Endangered Species Habitat Restoration Day at the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, March 28, 2008. There is a very good chance that you will see Snowy Egrets starting to think about breeding.
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