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The Real Story: Athos I Oil Spill, November 26, 2004, Segment 3

Updated on November 21, 2012
Map of Area Affected by Athos I Oil Spill
Map of Area Affected by Athos I Oil Spill | Source

Additional Events

Skipping to Sunday, Jan. 23, I arrived at the facility early and had to 4-wheel it in. The snow had stopped, but it had been hard getting off my street and the facility’s street was tough navigating. I was scheduled for both oil spill and clinic. The head of the oil team was both pleased and surprised that I was there to help her since she lived on the property and could respond easier than anyone to take care of the birds. She actually told me the day before that I didn’t need to come in, but since I was there for clinic anyway, it wasn’t a problem. Not only that, I had been working with these birds for so long, I would have missed them too much and felt guilty that I wasn’t there. They really were endearing little creatures.

On Monday, Jan. 24 when I left for the facility, the channel 6 news said that the wind chills were at -7 degrees F. I introduced the woman that I was working with to my goose friend from the new flight cage. She was enamoured by this little guy immediately. I showed her how the head bobbing went and how he followed me around the cage. I had expressed concern that when it was his time to be released, how he might not want to leave me. She said that it might be wise for me not to go on the release, but she thought that he would fly away with the rest of the geese without a problem.

The goose that I helped wash an hour after gavage was the one that had been brought in from the ball field. She was rather heavily oiled and got quite a bit of release agent before she went into the first wash tub's sudsy water. I held her throughout the wash and by the time she was in the third wash tub, she was sufficiently relaxed to stop trying to get away, not that she really tried that hard. She had been the weakest goose on the last retrieval. She actually seemed to enjoy the warm water. By the time she was being rinsed, she was so complacent and calm, I barely had to hold her. She just let me move her any way that I needed to do so. When it came time to towel her dry, she just enjoyed the drying and stayed on her inverted milk crate. When I put her in her warm playpen, only then did she hiss at me. I’m not sure if it was because I was letting go of her, or she was just worried about being in another strange area. She was the most complacent goose that I had ever handled on the wash line.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, I introduced one of the men that I was working with to my goose friend, who acted like this other body wasn’t even there. He just “talked” to me and treated me in his usual way, following me about.

Wed., Jan. 26, we had 19 birds in house, and since the previous night, there were several to be washed: 2 Canada Geese, a Red-Throated Loon, a Mallard, and a Ring-billed Gull. We had received a goose and the loon the day before.

Before the shift even began, I fed the geese and the Mallard in the paddock, who were very grateful. They seemed unusually hungry that morning. My little oil spill gull heard me coughing twice and gave me his greetings. For this bird to recognize my cough, I deduced that these birds tell one another apart by the sound of the voice. My favorite goose gave me the usual head bobs, low coos, and followed me about. He later presented me with a great honor: a feather at my feet.

Coast Guard Meritorious Team Award, Highest Civilian Honor From USCG

Award Pin from US Coast Guard For All Who Participated In AthoS I Oil Spill At Tri-State.  It Is the Highest Civilian Award Available from USCG, The Meritorious Team Award..
Award Pin from US Coast Guard For All Who Participated In AthoS I Oil Spill At Tri-State. It Is the Highest Civilian Award Available from USCG, The Meritorious Team Award.. | Source
Introduction Letter of Thanks From Tri-State Bird Rescue Regarding Coast Guard Award
Introduction Letter of Thanks From Tri-State Bird Rescue Regarding Coast Guard Award | Source
Folder Holding Paper Award
Folder Holding Paper Award | Source
Paper Commendation from US Coast Guard to All Involved in Athos I Oil Spill at Tri-State Bird Rescue.
Paper Commendation from US Coast Guard to All Involved in Athos I Oil Spill at Tri-State Bird Rescue. | Source

We had to thaw the PVC drain pipe for the pelagic pool, which we had to fill, as we had too many birds to comfortably fit them all in what we had open. We received 2 more geese and a Mallard.

We gavage fed the loon and the oiled Mallard. The loon was a new bird to me and a dangerous bird. Not only was the beak sharp enough to poke out an eye, they can also draw blood. The loon was also photographed for a leg injury, as well as the oil. He seemed to be a vocal one, too, calling several times through the day. We washed the gull, then put together the loon pen, which was basically a plywood box on legs. The bottom was PVC pipe with soft fishnet around it. Loons have very sensitive feet, so netting is what they need to stand upon. After a couple of other oil team members arrived, we washed the loon. I was taught how to pick him up and hold him. My job was to hold the head while he was being washed, to keep anyone from being bitten. These are very high stress birds, who have trouble being kept in captivity. They can get so stressed that they die. He did well!

Thursday, Jan. 27, was a very busy day, as well as very cold with a wind chill at 0. We gavage fed the loon, who was still vocal and doing very well. I picked him up like a veteran! Then we gavaged a sweet little Razorbill, who was just as his name implied.

I mentioned my little goose friend to one of the oil spill people today to see if she might be familiar with this behavior, the head bobbing greeting. She sure was! She said that the goose was showing me respect. I mentioned that I thought that he might be offering me friendship, but I was having a hard time figuring out what he was trying to say.

It was so wonderful to have learned this! This goose was one of the drugged birds that I had been tending for the past month. Respect made a lot of sense, now that I think about it. I showed him the sump pump and not to fear stepping over the hose. The geese learned that the wet-dry vac was a good thing, too. Some of them used to watch the water flow from the hose to outside the cage. They even saw what a coffee cup was, and how I used to drink from it. They respected me because I taught them things and more importantly, they would remember them.

Coming to an End

Friday, Jan. 28, the wind chill was at 1 degree F. Only three of us were working, and one person was going to be driving to MD for a release. Two of us were going to tube feed(gavage) the loon, but sadly, he had passed in the night. I asked why this had happened, as he seemed to be doing so well. I was informed that only a necropsy(an autopsy on an animal) would tell for certain, but her educated guess was that he passed due to the invasion of mold spores in his lungs, which is called aspergillosis. These birds are very sensitive, so normal interior mold that we are used to, could have been enough to cause his death.

We gavaged the Razorbill, a sea bird. They never come on shore, so the average person will never see one. This sweet little one was heavy headed and short necked and is the only living species that most closely resembles the extinct Great Auk. He had a large, arched black bill with a vertical white line near the tip. The bill resembled a small parrot’s beak. He also had a white line from the base of the bill to the eye. His upperparts were black, with contrasting white underparts that ascend to a prominent point on the throat. The tail was long and pointed and the legs and feet were black-grey. His call was interesting and resembled a low pitched growl. This little guy was very vocal, too.

Then we tarped the inside of a personal vehicle for a transport and gathered up the 8 geese to leave. My favorite goose was one of the birds leaving. I was given his blue tag #A157. His Federal tag was #117. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will see my little friend again one day…

Skipping to Tuesday, Feb. 1, the little Razorbill ate 13 silversides for me and watched my every move as he ate. He began eating the day before. We gavage fed a male Gadwall that also came in yesterday. Now this was a beautiful little duck known as a dabbler. This means that they feed in shallows primarily on plant material and walk very well on land compared to most ducks. He had a brown head and neck, brownish back, and black rear. His bill was delicate and black. He also had a white underbelly with a grey body.

On Wed., Feb. 2, the Gadwall was gavage fed, and didn’t regurgitate which was a good sign. He was doing better and was expected to be released soon. The Razorbill was fed in his little tub. The oil team supervisor showed me how to prepare his medication, an aspergillosis preventative. He was susceptible to that, too, being a pelagic bird. All I needed to do was inject the medicine into one of his silversides. He was in his tub and enjoying himself as I fed him. The Gadwall was also eating on his own.

Skipping to Friday, Feb. 4, the Gadwall was moved to another room, as the geese were trying to fly and were rather loud. They even frightened the Razorbill, who jumped out of his pool and was growling out of fear. Sadly, he passed on that night, most likely due to aspergillosis. He had so much personality and no fear of people, most likely because he had never seen any before.

May They Rest in Peace

Male Gadwall
Male Gadwall | Source
Razorbill | Source

In Closing

Skipping to Sunday, Feb 13, there were only 6 oil spill birds in house: four Canada Geese, one domestic duck, and one Ring-billed Gull. This was the final oil spill day for me. It was a fantastic learning experience to work it every day and incredibly rewarding, as you have read through these pages. I truly hope that I was able to paint a clear picture of the joys and sorrows so that you were able to get a good idea of what it was like for me. Perhaps you felt like you also experienced it, too, in some way. You know, I can still hear the 161 geese in the flight cage, the Laughing Gulls on Songbird Porch, the greylag geese honking loudly in 4C to one another, all happy sounds, to a tragic and unnecessary event that I felt honored to be privy to. All these wonderful, sweet birds that I was able to help in my own, small way really made a difference for them, so that they could continue living their lives undisturbed, brings a tear to my eye and a smile to my face, all at the same time.


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    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Well, Lucky Cats, when you find something that you like that is so rewarding, what can you do, other than to take the path where it leads you? I wish there was something here in OK...

    • Lucky Cats profile image


      6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Awwww...aviannovice...You surely did impart how it feels and the rewards of doing such important work. I am teary eyed at the separation of you and #117; this is the hard part. And the loss of the Razerbill and the Loon. Think of all you saved; I'd say you and the team were very successful...exceptionally so. Caring for birds, who are quite different than other animals, is a unique about which I am just learning. The proper way to feed (we use small syringes...left to right to bypass the glottis to avoid aspiration; aiming the syringe deep as the birds gape. Some live in incubators initially, or heat boxes or small cages filled w/bedding from the birds' natural habitat. No talking to the birds! Feeding time is determined using timers and, invariably, the babies will come to recognize the sound of their 'bell' and start chirping for food. Bird songs are played so that the birds will recognize and learn their particular song(s). Very very rewarding...You have done an amazing thig..very dedicated and loving work...thank you !!!! Up Awesome, Beautiful, Useful and Interesting...

    • aviannovice profile imageAUTHOR

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Joyce. I think we won more than we lost. I sure met a lot of geese, if nothing else, and yes, you never know.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Aviannovice, This is a wonderful hub. I'm and so sorry you lost the Loon bird and Razorbill. Hopefully you'll see number 117 and I'm sure he'll reconized you.

      Voted up awesome and beautiful, Joyce.


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