Balloons – they just keep getting worse

Here is a video taken by Carolyn, one of our volunteers. This large bunch of balloons were found along the shoreline of Lake Hodges. Half of them were full of mylar confetti. Why in the world they do that, I don’t know. You can’t see the confetti until the balloon pops. That’s basically deliberate littering. The confetti is very hard to pick up out of the water. And it shimmers and glitters just like little fish, making it very tempting to aquatic birds to try and eat. That would probably be certain death.

Please don’t buy balloons. They kill birds. Yes, they are festive and fun, but how festive do you think it is to die from entanglement in the strings; how fun is it to starve because you ate the balloon or sequins?

(For some reason, I add the balloon video above, but it displays the egret release video. Please bear with me as I try to figure this out.)

Rising to A New Challenge

We’re getting pretty good at clearing the shoreline of line and litter that might hook or entrap birds and wildlife. But an awful lot of the fishing line that is lost in the lake is lost beneath the water level. And it takes its toll, too. Grebes and cormorants are two types of bird that live full time at Lake Hodges. Both types of birds dive under water to catch the fish that they eat. Both types are vulnerable to underwater fishing line. We have found a number of grebes in this situation. One survived it, the rest died. Here are photos of the latest, found by volunteers Mark and Karen. (Below)

So our big challenge now is how to find and remove line that is underwater. It’s hard enough to find up in the brush, but this takes the challenge to a whole new level.

We have been reaching down into the water to feel for it at the base of stumps and dead brush for a few months. Our hands are vulnerable, but are far more sensitive than dragging a rake or hook through the shallows. Now we are experimenting with using Velcro to entangle underwater line. So far the results are “inconclusive.” Meaning that we have only found one or two bits of line with it and we were already pretty sure where they were. If it does work out, we are hoping to figure out a way to “troll” it up and down the lake. We will continue to work on it, but we really could use help and ideas.

Two grebes who drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line.

If anyone reading this has any good ideas about how to find and retrieve underwater fishing line (no swimming or diving is allowed in this lake) then please leave a comment or contact us directly. I’d especially like to hear if any other organization has figured out how to do this.

Here is the sad photo: two grebes entangled in one piece of line. Found on 11-14-2019.

For those who are grossed out by this, just think how we feel; having to disentangle these dead birds from the line when we put so many hundreds of hours into trying to save them from this kind of fate. If this distresses you, do what we do: try to prevent more of it from happening.

Great Egret rescue

Last Sunday Janet spotted something odd way out in the middle of the lake. Upon investigation we found a Great Egret floating in the water, apparently dead. But his head was just a little bit to upright, so she reached over and picked him up. He was alive, but just barely.

We pedaled quickly back to the truck then drove down to Project Wildlife with Janet wrapping him in towels and sweaters and herself, trying to warm him up. By the time we got there his breathing was more normal and he was moving a little bit. Project Wildlife did triage then transferred him to Sea World for rehab. Kim, at Sea World, told me that he appeared to have suffered an impact – and I remember seeing a very fast speedboat go by shortly before we found him. He was probably stunned, shocked, and hypothermic when we found him.

Rehab went better than expected and he was ready to release today. We met Jonathan, the rehabber, at Lake Hodges and he let Janet do the honors. The video tells the rest of the story.

We rescued this Great Egret on 10/27. He was rehabbed at Sea World and ready for release on 10/31. That’s fast!

It is difficult to rescue birds and we have a low success rate. That’s why our main objective is prevention. But it sure feels good to have a success when we can’t prevent the injury.

By the way, we did walk the beach and picked up a bunch of fishing line right there before releasing him. Had to be sure and give him the best possible chance.

Awareness.

Janet and I saw a Peregrine Falcon in a tree while out volunteering on Lake Hodges this morning. And it got me to thinking. We’ve seen another one recently – probably this same bird because there aren’t many of them around here. We’ll probably see it again and again if it hangs around for the winter. We’ll come to know its favorite morning perches (we’re out in the mornings) and we’ll get to the point where we know it at a glance without having to go closer and squint up our old eyes trying to make out its patterning.

I know this will happen because it has already happened with so many other birds (and coyotes) that we see on the lake. Do you know how many different ways a Snowy Egret can catch a meal? We don’t – yet – because we keep seeing new ones. Have you seen coyotes hunt and catch fish from the shore? Or heard the swishing sound of thousands of minnows leaping from the surface of the water?

Awareness of all of these details bring the richness of life into focus. This is one of the nice things about spending a lot of time in the same place. You get to know it more intimately than if you just go there once or twice a year and power yourself along a trail on foot or mountain bike. I urge you to try it. Pick a place you love and spend lots of slow time there with your focus outwards on the life around you.

And while you are there, do what you can to help that wildlife survive the onslaught of civilization. Bring back some litter, pull some fishing line out of the brush or rocks, pull some invasive weeds, etc. It may not seem like a lot, but you’re just one person. Do what you can. It is more than most people do. And it does matter.

You can still help

Yes, we have reached our limit of kayaking volunteers, but you can still help at Lake Hodges. The bank fishing areas are a constant source of fishing line and litter. And they are easily accessible on foot.

Just this morning Janet and I went for a hike along the Del Dios shore. At the end of our hike we dropped down to do a beach walk. We didn’t have a bag, so we could not bring back the trash, just the fishing line. Here is what we found on the beach in about 15 minutes:

Fishing line found in 15 minutes at the beach below Hernandez Hideaway
Here is the fishing line and tackle that we found in just 15 minutes on the beach below Hernandez Hideaway. We had no bag and so were unable to remove all of the trash.

There’s a lot more line there than it looks like in the photo!

That bright bluish looking line was a trotline. It was left tied to a branch at the waterline and had a baited treble hook on the other end. It was just left there and it is lucky we found it before a grebe did. Trotline fishing is illegal and we find a lot of trotlines at the lake. We’ve also found at least one bird caught on a trotline hook that some illegal fisherman just left out there.

You can do bank walks like this, too. Take an hour out of your day, come down with a couple of those reusable plastic grocery bags, and walk the shore. Take your time and enjoy being there. You may see the shorebirds that are returning south from their summertime breeding grounds, you will certainly see our year-round birds on the shore and in the water, and you will certainly experience the peace that can be felt when you amble along the shoreline.

You will also experience the pride of knowing that the lake shore looks cleaner, more beautiful and is much safer for birds and wildlife than it was before you came. So give it a try.

Recruiting success

I am happy to say that we’ve got about all of the kayaks we can manage for the time being. There are a couple of new volunteers still in the process of signing up, but the lake manager has asked me to limit it to the current number of boats, so I will not be needing any more volunteers. Every organization experiences attrition, so we may be in need of more help next spring.

The group of volunteers we have managed to recruit are really awesome. I was expecting a lot of people who just wanted more access to the lake for their kayaking. What we’ve got is 15 people whose highest priority is the birds, though most are also very happy to be using their kayaks to work from. With so many people, the lake is remaining very clean and we are able to keep up with newly deposited fishing line in a much more timely manner than we could earlier in the year.

So thank you to all of our new volunteers!

Making progress

Back in June I got really desperate. We were just one boat trying to keep up with quite a few miles of shoreline. And spring is especially hard because there are so many young birds getting into trouble. So I greatly expanded my efforts to get help. And it worked! We now have 10 boats and 13 registered volunteers. Everyone’s schedule is different, but most have been able to get out there at least weekly. The difference is apparent. We always find fishing line and litter out there and we probably always will. But we are coming back with a lot less each time. Especially from the heavily fished areas where the number of boats have allowed us to really focus our attention.

Thanks to everyone who has volunteered. We could still use some more pedal-drive boats because they have the range to go to the ends of the lake and work for two or three hours and come back without too much difficulty. If you would like the opportunity to use your kayak to make a real difference to the lives of the birds and wildlife around Lake Hodges, please contact me.

And if you are interested in starting a program like this at your lake or reservoir or bayou, or wherever you see lots of fishing, please contact me, too.

Why we do what we do

Even in our urbanized world, our lakes, streams, bays and estuaries are home to beautiful birds such as this Great Egret hunting at Lake Hodges. We remove threats from their environment to keep them safe.

Hunting Egret
Hunting Egret © Brian Caldwell, lakehodgesphototours.com, Used by permission.

Our aquatic birds are threatened by many things, and one might surprise you: fishing line. Fishermen lose their line, hooks and lures by snagging them in shrubs or trees, often below the water line where they are difficult to retrieve. Some fishermen are careless, but many try their best to retrieve their gear. A lot remains in natural areas, where birds and other wildlife get caught on hooks or entangled in line. Either is often fatal.

Great egret entangled in fishing line.

We found this Great Egret while retrieving fishing line one recent morning. We are sad that we could not prevent its death. This area had been examined carefully just two days earlier. We try hard to remove threats, but with miles of shoreline and fishing going on every day, we cannot examine every inch of shoreline.

We need more kayaks and walkers covering the shore. It is enjoyable work that anyone with a little patience can do well at. It’s beautiful and relaxing. Plus it feels great to prevent unnecessary deaths of beautiful animals.

We train all volunteers, whether they work from a kayak or the shore. If you are interested, please contact me or post your interest in the comment section. I take people out on Wednesday mornings for screening and training and I sometimes have a seat available on a Saturday or Sunday mornings. If you have a kayak, you can then go out alone. If you don’t, you can go out with me in our tandem kayak. Or you can walk the beaches where you see fishing from the shore and gather line and litter.

Introduction

We are a group of volunteers in kayaks dedicated to reducing bird and other wildlife deaths caused by entanglement in fishing line. Our approach is positive and hands-on. We focus on removing fishing line and other threats that accumulate along the shores of lakes and rivers everywhere, every day.

My goal is to share what we have learned with people all over the world who want to help wildlife. I wish to connect with similar organizations or help people to start them if they do not already exist. All of us can share what we have learned about the tools, techniques and philosophy of saving birds and other wildlife by removing threats that humans have placed in their environment. I have created a section called the Info Zone to help with this.