Last Sunday was the Christmas Bird Count for the St. Augustine circle. I am the lead compiler for the bird count and the section lead for the waterways. I was very fortunate to have the Guana-Tolomato-Mantanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM NERR) provide a boat for part of the waterway and St. Augustine Ecotours provide a boat for another portion. I was on the GTM NERR boat. We had a great day counting lots of birds, including many oystercatchers. At one point, it started to rain and we got wet. I had rain pants and a jacket. I waited until it started to rain and at that point did not want to remove my boots to put the pants on. Pick your poison. Wet feet or wet pants. I chose to live with wet pants.
Around the time the rain stopped, we found an injured loon on the shore. The captain of the boat pulled to the shore and I jumped out to get the loon. I threw my jacket around the loon and it was very easy to capture. That was not a good sign. I brought it back in the boat and held it in my lap wrapped in the jacket while we continued to bird. At one point, I needed to use my camera to document something and placed the loon in the boat. It was very docile and stayed there. I left it there for the remainder of our trip back while we continued to bird. It seemed content and even took a nap. At one point, it did its beautiful haunting loon call and immediately captured the hearts of the three of us in the boat. That is an unmistakable sound and hearing it so close while watching the bird make the call was an incredible experience.
On the way back, we noticed a large wound on the back of the bird near the tail. It was scabbed over, so it wasn’t fresh. The bird was in good spirits but clearly something was wrong.
When we got back to the dock, one of my boat mates went to the bait shop to get some fish for the bird. Once the bait shop knew the situation, they did not ask for payment for the fish. We brought the fish to the loon and it gobbled them down. I was hopeful this was a good sign.
I dropped the bird off at the emergency vet since it was Sunday. At that point, I had to wait to hear the outcome. If the bird could be saved, the Ark Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center would get the bird and that is where I volunteer. After dropping off the bird, I was wet and covered with sand and such from holding the bird. I was a mess. But, the CBC is only a one day thing and I headed off to bird another spot before the sun went down. I couldn’t wait to take a shower when I got home.
When I got home, my wonderful husband not only had dinner almost ready but he had made a huge batch of homemade shortbread cookies from a Hestan Cue recipe. After dinner, I didn’t hesitate to gobble down enough cookies to undo the 10 pounds I managed to lose over the last four months. Fortunately, I didn’t do too much damage. The cookies were delicious. There were too many cookies for two people that can’t share with their neighbors because COVID makes that a bad idea. We were stuck with eating them all ourselves.
The manager of the Ark contacted me the next day to let me know the loon was euthanized. It had a broken wing and a pelvic fracture and could not be saved. She said is was not uncommon to see injuries like this with loons. They can be attacked by large predators when they dive. I was heartbroken, but at least it did not die a slow death on the beach. The gift of the loon was to give the three of us a haunting and beautiful experience listening to its call up close an personal. It was a very sweet bird and I am so sorry it didn’t make it.
In the meantime, a few days ago, I got a male red-bellied woodpecker to care for until release. The little guy wound up covered in a sticky substance and in the process of getting it off him he lost a lot of feathers. He is in my care until he can grow his feathers back sufficiently for release. He is not fond of having humans near his cage. Unfortunately, he has to put up with me or Regis feeding him and cleaning out his cage every day. He is staying on our lanai and it has been cold, so Regis or I have to cover him every night since he doesn’t have all his feathers to keep him warm. We try to limit our exposure to him since we make him nervous. He has a log in his cage that he hides behind whenever I come near. He peeks out from the side to keep an eye on me. He couldn’t be more adorable. I wish there was a way to get his feathers to grow back faster so he could be released. He is getting used to us letting the dog out and he doesn’t panic as much as he is figuring out the routine.
I was just notified that I may be taking on some baby killdeer chicks if they make it through the next few days. I saw a video of them and they are as cute as can be. Its puzzling to me how the Ark wound up with killdeer chicks in December but who knows.