Friday, January 31, 2014

Mergus in waiting, round 3

If you are just tuning in, you may wish to investigate Mergus in waiting, round 1, and Mergus in waiting, round 2. 

I guess at some point I should clarify that this bathroom was in the midst of being destroyed for a remodeling project that stalled due to life. And the low lighting combined with mediocre iPod pics, eh, you get the idea. This is not art. Just be glad it's not scratch-and-sniff! As for the overall experience: would not try again. I mean, if I had to, but I don't suggest trying this at home. REALLY.

When post #2 last left Merg, she was floating, leaning heavily to the left. That was actually a bit improved over the previous day (she didn't get float-tested until day 3, so that pic may have even been from day 4). With a bird that is not landworthy (as opposed to seaworthy, which is at least a real word), one must be very careful about the keel: floaters are designed to float, with weight distribution, well, floating. Weight is on the surface of the feathers of the belly, mostly - not on feet, leg joints, and keel. That breast bone is prone to issues when improperly cushioned, so our most immediate non-hydration issue was to get the bird in its natural form. Floating.

The leftward-lean had been noticed in the box, but it wasn't clear just how BAD it was until the float test: I thought she was going to flip her canoe. Leaning so heavily to the left could have been caused by many things, but without x-rays, we'll never really never know. Her tail was generally a bit off-center to the right for the first few days, which I suspect had at least something to do with the float angle, but it could have been due to spinal injury, neurological issue, or... something. All I could do was work with the symptoms as presented. And call my rehabber constantly for reassurance. With the flu, she sounded pretty horrible, but her words of support kept things sane.

The right leg, sticking out? It doesn't actually stick out. She's just leaning to the left so much that it just happens to be there. Awkward. To get her equilibrium and merg-ness back, float time went from 15 minutes on day 3 (mostly to soak the poo off of her vent) to 30 minutes of float time after each feeding. To keep her keel and feet and leg joints happy, or at least as happy as we could manage when not floating, her box was padded with 2-3 layers of shelf liner - you know the kind: 
....that went under ~3-4 layers of paper towels. Since her strength was low, we didn't want to risk snagged toenails on actual towels, so her only exposure to real fabric was to dry off after float time on either t-shirts or pillow cases before going back into the plastic tub where we could leave her unsupervised. Float time was agony for the first few sessions: a duck too weak to keep her head out of the water is a drowned duck if you're not careful. Head mobility was also a concern, as
she seemed to only move her head left and right, never more than 180 degrees. At rest, as in the photo below, she would either turn her head slightly left and droop into the water, or straight ahead, and droop her beak into the water. When the nostrils would blow a bubble, I'd nudge her beak out of the water and she'd shake her head slightly before leaning back in. Not good.

Thankfully by the time we were able to have extended float sessions, feeding levels (via pipette down the throat) had increased enough to give her some energy. Energy, in this case, being what keeps the nostrils out of the water, and self-hydration, but not much more.

A note on chaos: I still have no idea where my rehab supplies are. I barely used them after leaving Illinois in 2005. Some things did at least make it to the Double Bacon (pipette, tiny tupperware, Tylan powder for House Finches with conjunctivitis, you know, stuff), but while they all likely survived the move, there's no telling WHERE in this house they are. Boxes, we still have to unpack a bunch.

Somewhere on day 1, I did make it to the local grocery store where I found canned sardines and canned ..something else. Grabbed everything that wasn't seasoned and took it home. Not ideal.

So it was the day before Christmas Eve when I made an Alpine run because surely the drug store in town would have eyedroppers and syringes and... yes, actually. But 1 ml is pretty tiny, as is 5 ml, but I snagged one of each and the adventure began. I probably should have grabbed cat food, but I wasn't thinking and 4 different brands of dog food at home served nicely as backup. The big pup had already donated eye ointment to the cause, and his fish oil supplements were hijacked as well. Small dog had the highest fat and protein content in her kibble, so that's what was added along with water and sardine chunks. Crushing the kibble before soaking was important, but it'd take a few tries to perfect the technique. With a bit more energy and a non-broken beak, the 2 day fast was over.

Photo above is FANTASTIC PROGRESS, whether it looks like it or not. Standing. Standing was probably around day 4... the tub has fogged a bit from the moisture of her bath: the lid is off center to vent, and the box on top is just in case. Also, the box on top was emptied once a day of the copious amounts of paper towels that we went through. Pretty much a roll a day. On average, there were 1-2 poops overnight, 2 after feeding (during float time), 1 mid-morning, 2 after feeding (during float time), 2 mid-afternoon, 2 after feeding (during float time) and then back to the night schedule. After-feeding poops varied. Let's just say that there were sometimes 3 water changes per day.

The double bath mats beneath the box were due to floor vibrations - even in the most isolated room in the house, Merg would turn her head when footsteps were felt. So, two bath mats, 2-3 shelf liners, ~3 layers of paper towels... that was a relatively cushy box. The only awkwardness was that across the bathroom, the red-eared slider we're fostering would clunk around.

Merg went from float time in a plastic tub to the big tub, but partitioned for initial use. Action shot above shows dabbling prior to drinking, and a rare moment of appearing to go forward and right. "Decoy-like" describes the first few floating sessions, aside from dabbling and drinking. This photo must be pre-feeding, due to everything being clean. So very thankful that the new house is named Dos Baños. 

At this point in time, however, panic is slowly setting in - there is a merganser, she is in our bathtub, our rehabber is in the first few days of flu that just knocked her hubby out for two weeks, we have no source of bait fish, the critter has not died yet (huge surprise, as almost everything dies overnight) - so this is excellent, but... now what?! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mergus in waiting, round 2

We last checked in with Mergus, the female Common Merganser (Goosander, if you will - Mergus merganser) on Dec. 21 / day 1 - her arrival - and with this post, we're pretty much still there. Here's the first post, in case you missed it.

Since then (it has been a month and week since she arrived!) we've reconsidered her injuries. We think she was not directly struck by a vehicle, so much as 'rolled.' Hindsight, we now have the luxury of time to ponder these things.

Her left eye, seen below, was what we used as our standard for 'normal' when assessing the right eye. The bloodied and dislocated beak, slightly weak left leg, but perfectly intact wings leads me to think that she was 'rolled' by a vehicle. Either sitting on, or next to the road, her wings would have already been tucked when jostled/tumbled by a passing vehicle. Beak/head are extremities, and not well padded, so more susceptible to being damaged making contact with the road.

Female Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), detail of beak: nostril, tongue, serrations.
When folks talk about serrated beaks, 'all the better to catch fish with,' they might as well be talking about feathery sharks: four rows of tiny steak knives, all pointing down the gullet. All the better to catch fish with, indeed: and for that reason, feeding time involved gloves. General handling wasn't hazardous* (take precautions anyway - every animal is different, and usually they go for the eyes!) because she was so lethargic, but there's nothing like fish-eater mouth-bacteria scraping bare skin... so avoid it.

Upper mandible and lower mandible (the collective 'beak') did not align when closed - not broken, but dislocated.
 Beaks and eyes are understandably very important for a bird: a one-eyed merganser could possibly survive in the wild, but if the beak was useless, it'd starve. Hydration being most important, and not having the fluids or needles required for subcutaneous administration, the 'rural medicine' method was pretty basic: water dripped on the tongue, every two hours. Roughly one teaspoon per session. Not enough, but couldn't do much more without additional stress. At least the exposed bit of lower beak and tongue served as an easy option for drips, without having to touch her, restrain her, or move her at all.

Merg's swollen right eye, day 1, pre-ointment.
The right eye, swollen and crusted shut, was something we could at least be mildly proactive about. Our big pup had been on eye ointment in the fall and hadn't needed it in a while: Neo Poly Dex - antibacterial anti-inflammation goodness. A tiny dab was applied, and the waiting game began.
 Glad we had it on hand, as the Sunday before Christmas is never a good time to call a vet. Or have the flu, but at least I was able to call my rehabber every 30 minutes with a new question!

Due to the very fresh nature of the injuries, and not wanting to aggravate or further stress a bird already likely in shock, the decision was made to otherwise provide water, darkness, warmth, and just wait. As folks who have been through major trauma can attest, sometimes time is half the battle.

Rehab is 10% headache and 90% heartbreak, so if she was alive in the morning, we'd take it from there. 

*** Texas is one of those states where you need permits for even transporting injured wildlife, so
we followed our rehabber's instructions and stabilizing the bird as best as possible with hopes that she could be transported with less risk (to her). Some states have a 'Good Samaritan Clause' for folks bringing injured wildlife to rehabbers - we wish TX would get on board with that.

* post is from a month after the fact

Sneak peek: she did wake up on day two! This pic is likely from day three, though...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mergus in waiting, round 1

21 December: Vehicle-struck female Common Merganser brought to us; body mass is good, legs are good, wings are good, rudder may or may not be good, but some pretty massive head trauma means survival odds are questionable. Common Merganser is not a big deal for Balmorhea, but given the lack of water in Brewster Co, she's a bit out of her element. Given that she was found on the side of Hwy 90, very out of her element. Fingers crossed that she'll stabilize enough for transportation to rehabber (and fingers crossed that our rehabber will recover from the flu in time to accept the merg!)

Photos by Matt York:

There's definitely an issue with the left eye, but for the time being, crusted closed is not a bad thing.

Both wings are in good shape, legs are kicky, plumage is in pristine condition (other than the ruffling from transportation).

Long road ahead - no pun intended - for this Mergus. Fingers crossed that she'll pull through.

*** Texas is one of those states where you need permits for even transporting injured wildlife, so
we're following rehabber's instructions and stabilizing the bird as best as possible so that she can be transported with less risk (to her). Some states have a 'Good Samaritan Clause' for folks bringing injured wildlife to rehabbers - we wish TX would get on board with that.

* post is not chronologically accurate, seeing as it's 2014 now.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Welcoming the New Year

Last year put us through the wringer in just about every way you can imagine: we're thankful that 2013 is behind us! The year did wrap up with a bit of a media flurry, however, and everything just hit at once: NPR beat the Wall Street Journal by one day (Jan 2 and 3), and the Cenizo Journal has just gone to press. Not bad for the first week of 2014, eh?

As in all things media, KRTS/NPR's Nature Notes started out loosely based around the "feathers" topic, and ended up re-written entirely a few times before being re-written again after submission. But, hey, my mom was really excited about it, and that's what counts! This makes a cumulative three instances in which Matt and I have ended up on KRTS in the name of birds/nature.
Click here to hear about feathers on KRTS. (Brown creeper context here.)

The Wall Street Journal piece was incredibly thorough: more than a dozen birders were interviewed at length and the results were comprehensive as well as... a bit strange. I spent a lot of time griping about how casual playback during a drought is irresponsible and could cost the birds their lives (no, really, there are a TON of dead bird posts from 2011 on this blog) so that wasn't really directly related to the Brown Thrasher anecdote. While Matt was not quoted, he was interviewed and contributed context.
Nonetheless, check it out: Birders Use Smartphones to Play Bird Songs.

Next up: we'll keep y'all posted as we hear more from the Cenizo Journal. It's a bit of a double-feature, weighing Aplomado Falcons and Great Horned Owls in the region!

(Our last print mention was in August 2012, in Texas Monthly. Keep scrolling, we're down there in the "Bookmark" section!)

Birding requires bins, boots, and a book. Camera optional. Actually, all of that is optional. Just get out there and enjoy nature with respect. We'll see you on the trails!