Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fourteen Birds in Trouble

Yesterday, Chalo and Valerie rescued 14 egrets who were desperately in need of help.  The birds ranged in age from about two-weeks old to nearly adult size (probably more than 6-weeks old). About half of them, the larger ones, had broken limbs.  Today we rescued 5 more.

Since the heat and pollution are not letting up, the presence of very young birds now can only mean that things are about to get worse before they get better.

We put out several troughs of water around the rookery, and the birds are using them. We saw one healthy bird actually sitting in the water, cooling off, yesterday afternoon. If the water in any of the troughs looks dirty, please replace it with clean water from the faucet by the side of the faculty parking lot. We will leave a bucket there for the Society's use.

Please, please, everyone, try to make a rescue trip around the rookery at least one day per week, no later than 4:00 p.m., and around lunchtime if possible.

Bring along gloves and a box lined with paper towels, and park your car (if you're in one) by the Memorial Garden. If you send an e-mail message before noon to "birdintrouble" to let us know your intentions, we can try to coordinate your trip with anyone else who has volunteered to do the rescues. They work better if pairs of people run them.

Also, if you find that you absolutely cannot deliver the birds to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on a particular day, let us know at "birdintrouble", and we will figure out some way to get them to Hutchins at 4:00 p.m.

The campus police know about us and have not been quizzing us as much this year as in the past, but if they should stop you and ask what you are doing, tell them that you are with the Heron and Egret Society and that you are rescuing distressed birds and plan to take them to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

They are generally satisfied knowing this.

In 2006, the last birds left in mid-September. One more month to go...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home Stretch?

Might we be nearing the proverbial home stretch?

So far today, there is just one rescue: a young cattle egret from Val who is not yet able to fly, had an awful case of the flukes, but will probably be all right.

Yesterday, there were just the usual eccentrics flying into the wrong places. One of them gave Diane a bit of a worry but turned up on top of a car and perfectly fine. I suspect these birds are beginning to watch out for us.... It is such joy to see them lift off!

On Tuesday, Claudia sighted a bird with a broken wing, but despite his handicap he was too slippery for her. There were several reports of cats skulking about the rookery. Since no one has yet seen a cat carrying a bird in his mouth or even staring at a bird, the evidence remains circumstancial and their activities a mystery.

On Monday, there were no rescues, probably because of Ruth's vigilence during the weekend, when she rescued one weak fledging, witnessed one death, and removed a number of carcasses from the grassy areas.

Claudia put up several posters in the parking garages alerting people how to handle finding a distressed bird. She has been diligently caring for the koi pond near the memorial but will be away until Monday. While she is gone, let us keep an eye of the water and make sure it stays clean.

Eveline, at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, gave me an entire set of wonderful photos of the egrets and the rookery area constructed for them at the Center. Everybody looks quite bright, happy, spiky-headed, and comical. I am keeping an album. Feel to stop by for some smiles.

Shall we try again for a noon meeting on Wednesday or Thursday? There was no response last time. As the birds prepare to leave and while they are away, there is much we can do to make their visit easier next year on them and ourselves. Also, this would be an excellent chance for us to get acquainted with each other.

Two of us could not attend the last meeting. Also, the Society has grown 30%!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Conversation With Grounds Maintenance Supervisor

The official position of the university about the rookery, based on advice that a representative of Texas Parks and Wildlife gave them after the last upheaval about the tennis courts, is to "let nature take its course" and not intervene.

The university sees the deaths of the birds as "nature's way of correcting itself" and reducing their number to one the rookery can support. They do not try to help the birds in any way because they feel it is impossible to know whether helping the birds in one instance might not cause greater suffering in another. For example, providing water to the birds might reduce dying from dehydration only to cause the birds to starve later from lack of food.
Interestingly, they have been supplying water to the rookery area. Though the university holds this position of non-interference, as private individuals and an organization independent of the university, it is perfectly within our rights to help the birds. Our work and that of the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center have been noted. There will be no interference with our efforts. Physical Plant will not remove the troughs of water that we have put out for the birds.
The rookery appears to be a source of sadness to some. It has more birds than it can support, they say, and the trees are dying because the volume of bird droppings is so great that the acidification of the soil is damaging to the trees.
Our idea of constructing a holding pen near the rookery elicited considerable talk about approval of structures by committees, bringing up the issue at meetings, etc.  So much for just a few stakes in the ground and bit of fencing.  Better not pursue this.
The Physical Plant's treatment of the grounds is actually quite careful. For the fireants, they broadcast a bait twice a year with a slow-acting insecticide. Otherwise, they don't broadcast insecticides or herbicides. They actually go to the trouble of doing spot treatments with herbicides, and they don't treat the grounds for grubs. They do broadcast fertilizers.
The hands off policy of Texas Parks and Wildlife is a necessary one. If the University cannot touch the rookery even to improve it, then there can be no excuse for putting up any more buildings, or constructing ball courts, culverts, etc. This is an entirely unambiguous policy. It is a good policy that protects the place as a sanctuary, and we must be careful to do nothing to change it. Unfortunately, this also means that:
(1) the damage already done cannot be undone,
(2) the university cannot help us.
As independent organizations, The Heron and Egret Society and the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center can help the birds. About the best the university can do is not interfere with us. They are already doing this. They are leaving the troughs alone.
The holding pen should probably never have been brought up. It is easy to guess what the answer will be, given current policy. We must make sure that everything we do is reasonable. It makes no sense to ask for permission. In fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife said exactly this  (unoficially, of course).
The birds are suffering from a combination of things: the extreme heat, crowding due to the destruction in recent years of several nearby rookeries, insufficient rain to dilute away the droppings and maintain a reasonable soil pH, the previous destruction of a large part of this rookery and, along with this, the rerouting of streams and sources of water previously available to the birds.
Virtually all of this is the result of human interference. It is easier to destroy than to build. We should build however little we can and help out our neighbors.
For now, here is the way we are playing it.  We will keep the university informed about what we are doing. I think the idea of this should always be, not to request permission, but to inform.
I would appreciate more input.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Rescue Schedule

I am pleased to welcome three new members of the Heron and Egret Society: Susan, Jessica, and Chris.

Though nearly everyone is complaining about rain these days, I, for one, am not, because the egrets are faring better this year. This is not to say that they do not need rescuing. Their problem this year is not lack of water but exposure to cold and assorted injuries. Therefore we must change what we do for the birds.

We are picking up an average of about 10 distressed chicks per week. They usually benefit from being placed on a heating pad ASAP. Some of the chicks have injuries that look as though they are being pecked by some of the adult birds as they wind up in the wrong nests.

We still need committments for touring the rookery and travel to Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (RWRC). Currently:
  • Claudia and Kelly are signed up for touring on Mondays.
  • Valery tours and delivers whenever she can but is committed to Tuesdays.
  • Chalo and I tour and deliver whenever we can but are committed to Wednesdays.
  • Heather tours and delivers during the weekend days.
We need more people, particularly for delivering the birds to RWRC. These deliveries are understandably difficult, since it sometimes takes over 30 min to get to Hutchins. However, the visit to RWRC is usually well worth the trip because of the wonderfully expressive birds and great work being done there.

We will be away from 6-16 July. Yes, we do hope that the rains and cool weather will continue to help out the birds. Please do all in your power to keep checking on them while we are gone. Feel free to contact each other to coordinate rookery tours and trips to RWRC.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Call For Help

The cattle-egret chicks just hatched, and there are thousands of them. They look suprisingly well, for now. We did find a tiny nestling yesterday who fell to the ground during the morning storm. Sadly, he survived only a few hours.
The great-egret fledgings are 4-5-weeks old. The younger ones cannot yet fly, and some are falling from the nests. About 7 died during the long weekend.
Since water is plentiful, we do not need to clean and refill any troughs this year. What we do need, however, is for people to commit to one tour of the rookery per week or one a trip to Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center per week. Please write to me and let me know your availability for:
  1. Patrolling the rookery (day of the week, approximate time).
  2. Making a delivery to Rogers (day of the week, approximate time).
If each one of us commits to a day for one or these tasks, the work load will be relatively light on all of us, and the birds will be helped. Feel free to coordinate with others in the group. I will get back to all of you with possible assignments.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Chicks are Here!

The great-egret chicks are here!

The memorial garden is a good site from which to see the parents feeding them. If you go there, you will notice the much noisier atmosphere. The concert of "quak-quak, quak-quak,....." is coming from the begging chicks. They cannot yet walk or fly. They are in the nests, from which they regularly pop up their very fuzzy little heads!

The smaller white birds with yellow beaks and blond chests and rumps flying around and walking in the grass are actually adult cattle egrets.

Still no work yet for us. Let us hope the cool and wet Spring continues a bit longer.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Parade of Late Arrivals

The Heron and Egret Society has a new member: welcome Heather!
So far, so good. Water is plentiful, and the egrets look well. I have jotted down some notes on developments at the rookery that I can now share with you.
The first egrets appeared this year on February 12th. I counted 12 great egrets on the canopy that day though there were none the previous day. A cold spell soon caused these few optimistic individuals to vanish. Did they return to the Gulf? I have no idea. It was wise to leave, though. Apart from the frigid weather, during the various storms the rookery lost quite a few trees.
The lasting bird returns really began on February 21. Sixteen birds appeared on that date. Their numbers about doubled the next day (30 birds) and the day after that (62 birds). By March 7th, I could count 120 great egrets on the canopy of the rookery. They have been mostly occupied with courting and nest building: much fluffing of feathers, bobbing, and transporting of twigs.
For several weeks, the population consisted entirely of the great egrets. Most of these birds are now incubating their eggs. Their chicks should hatch in about two weeks.
As one might expect, it takes all sorts. Some stragglers are not yet done courting. Others still can’t seem to get the hang of finding the right twigs for nest building.
By the way, even after their nests are built, the great-egret mates continue to bring gifts of twigs to each other, as part of their changing-of-the-guard ceremony. Great fun to watch!
It is usually at this time that the other species of birds begin to appear, in anticipation of recycling some of the nests “soon” to be vacated. I suspect they also come to celebrate the first hatchlings of the season. All is proceeding according to schedule.
I made my first sighting of a different rookery bird on the Saturday before last (March 24th): a little-blue heron flying overhead. Since then, it has been one group after another.
Last Friday (March 30th), about a dozen night herons flew by around dusk, heading, no doubt, toward their evening meal.
During a walk by the rookery today, I sighted several snowy egrets.
Small parties of cattle egrets have been passing all afternoon.
One of the more pleasant sightings of the day was a large flock of ibises (about 50 birds), just playing and swirling around in unison. They are the most gregarious of the lot, and they seem to relish flying together.
To summarize.

Within the last few days, the bird population more than quadrupled. Still, the birds seem happy, and our rescue services are not yet needed. The Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center can, of course, always use help, and there is much that we can learn from them about bird anatomy and rehabilitation. I know that some of you are already volunteering there. I recommend that as many of us as possible do the same. Of course, I also hope the rains will keep up, and 2007 will turn out to be a kinder year for egrets.
By the way, we have found some of the most experienced great-egret parents to be the ones nesting within sight of the Memorial Garden. The first hatchlings usually appear in their nests. If you notice any fuzzy little white heads bobbing in those nests (or anywhere else in the rookery, for that matter) please be sure to send me the news.

Monday, February 12, 2007


About 12 birds arrived today! They are not in the rookery proper, but on the canopy of several trees, near the parking structure across from building Y. They should be very visible from the top of the lot, if you want to see them.

Last chance to see the rookery grounds. Please, if you get a chance, just take a walk there, get a sense of the terrain, and collect any plastic bags lying around.

I wish I could throw a Valentine's day party to welcome the birds, but I have a deadline to meet at the end of the week.

Robert Frost said it best:

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep.
And miles to go before I sleep.
And miles to go before I sleep."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

They're HEEERE!

On Friday around 5:30 p.m., a great egret slowly flew by.  The elegant wing beats and curved neck were unmistakable. Despite the cold weather, I think this heralds spring.