Counting avian blessings

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From the time I was old enough to catch a butterfly and get it into a jar (with appropriate holes punched into the lid of course) I have been fascinated by the wild world around me.

It is perhaps for this reason that I especially enjoy living here in the bayou country. A recent move from Houma to Bourg, which I really don’t regard as country but is close enough for now, offered great rewards.

Within 24 hours of living at my new address I observed an alligator swimming in the bayou beside my house. Within 48 hours I saw a snake go through the entire process of killing a big old fish and then dragging it down into the murky bayou depths.

And then there is the occasional sight of a pelican that traveled too far north, which has happened twice.

So it was with great anticipation that I drove for two hours to catch a boat with some people from the National Wildlife Federation and other non-profits, for a look at how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected south Louisiana’s flora and fauna.

A story arising from that tour is in today’s issue of our newspaper. Well, two stories, actually. The other is BP’s response to the tour and to a Federation report on the state of marine life four years after the spill.

I read the report carefully, about how dolphin deaths are through the roof and also sea turtle deaths, and how pelicans that didn’t even look oiled might have died.

I got to see some pelicans during the tour. We edged close to an island which was crowded with squawking, grumbling birds, many seeming to be seated on nests, others yawing at each other in what I can only presume are mating rituals. You know birds and those rituals.

There was also, as you will see in one of the photos taken by James Loiselle that appears in the paper today, a small group of roseate spoonbills, one of the most graceful birds to appear on the Louisiana coast, ever.

As we circled the island pelicans flew overhead, and they were so incredibly majestic in this odd, prehistoric way. I can see a direct link between pelicans and pterodactyls, if only by superficial appearance.

And I was loving every minute of it.

I knew, from a trip to a pelican island here in Terrebonne, that a great many pelicans might have been lost during the oil spill. The ones on the television that look like horrible mudded monsters with the oil all over them, they are easy to catch since they can’t fly and so get cleaned up. The concern the ornithologists had was for the birds that didn’t look oiled, but might have been poisoned while preening, and couldn’t be saved because they were so hard to catch, being able to take to the skies rather easily.

But the pelicans I saw last week appeared hearty and fit, and while I mourn for their lost relatives I am grateful that these survived.

BP trashed the tour in a statement issued late last week, noting that reporters were taken to one of the very few places where the effects of oil are easily seen. And they have a point, to be sure, as well as an agenda.

And the National Wildlife Federation has an agenda too.

And where these two agenda meet, some where in the middle, the message that emerges is this, so far as I am concerned.

The oil spill was a bad, horrible thing, and everything should be done in the future to prevent such things from happening. But the focus now, while a lot of that is still being battled out in court, is a larger picture.

Just last week somebody murdered a bald eagle in St. Bernard Parish. They may never find who did it but a big reward is being offered. Don’t even let me get started on eagles.

The point I really want to make is that I hope all of us can take the time out of our busy days to recognize and appreciate the beautiful avians that we are gifted with here. The grace of a great blue heron, or even the common egret, is something that should never be taken for granted.

We need to watch carefully to keep the environment they live in as pristine as possible. Right here, right now. Like we shouldn’t throw cans in the water or on the road. Beer cans are not bayou-degradable, as some of my friends have said.

We are blessed in south Louisiana to live with some of the most beautiful creatures ever designed right next to us.

And it’s a blessing that we need to count along with all the rest.