Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 207/365 Bird Brains

My dad is a fisheries biologist. When I was around 6 years old, he was teaching at LSU, and running grad student camps in the various National Wildlife Refuges located in southern Louisiana. Basically this means my mother and I were taken along on long trips into the Louisiana salt marsh.

I have a very vivid memory of helping to band birds, or trying to help. The basic idea at that time was to set up long net tunnels, flush the birds into the tunnel, then walk into the tunnel and try to attach tiny metal bands to even tinier bird legs, all without harming the bird. The bands have identifying information, which eventually helps to track migratory birds all over the world.

Mind you the birds don't just walk up and offer up their little legs for banding. They tend to flutter, fly up in your face, and generally induce visions of Alfred Hitchcock movies.

In my case, a grackel lost its patience with my 6-year-old hands, pecked me relentlessly, tore a hole in my glove, and caused a personal life-long dislike for birds.

But I digress.

In order to go about the business of banding birds, one is hauled into a pirouge (a Cajun flat-bottom boat), and begins a trip into the bayou marsh.

At sunset.

The further the pirouge slides into the marsh, the darker it gets.

Nothing like a marsh in the moonlight.

Of course there are lots of other creatures besides birds in the marsh.

And you can keep the boat in the middle by watching for the shine of the alligator eyes on the banks.

And sometimes right up by the boat. This is not the time to let your hand trail in the water.

Here's the rub:

Seventy percent of the birds in North America pass through the Louisiana marshlands. The southern Louisiana wildlife refuges are just that: refuges. This is the intersection of the Central and Mississippi flyways for migratory birds - the biggest birdie highway in the world. Every one of these millions of birds uses these wetlands to rest, feed and nest, then continues on its journey to Canada, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Colorado, and all other points north.

These birds include the ducks and geese for hunters, as well as the songbirds in your backyard.

Today, the most dangerous thing in the marsh no longer has glowing eyes.

Thanks to a careless corporate giant and an ineffectual government agency, we have a massive ecological catastrophe on our hands, not only for the Great State of Louisiana, but for the rest of the world.

Now what the hell do we do?

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