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.