Audubon Oil Spill Response Team Update #6: Oiled shorebirds
Gretna, Louisiana, 3:27 a.m.
I saw it on a Dunlin first -- or, was it a Sanderling? -- and then a Least Tern.
Staining bellies that should gleam white, blotching them orange, as if these tiny, vibrant bits of life had slowly started to rust.
Because it is slow, this whole horrific disaster is slow, and even today I was in denial. Then -- as our data-gathering expedition took a nightmarish turn -- shock, anger, grief; now numbness and exhaustion.
I want to scream at the Sanderlings, the Dunlin, the knots -- GO, FLY, save yourselves from what we've done! Your lives span the hemisphere; why are you here, now, dipping yourselves in this deadly mess? GO!
The Least Terns have no choice. They are tied to this place, to these waves, now red with oil in the sunlight, to this sand, now piled with sludgy, tarry waste. All they can do -- and all they are doing -- is what they've always done, standing on the sand, dropping into the waves, bringing tiny fish to waiting mates.
And they're starting to rust.
Some will live. Some will die. Slowly. Because this whole disaster is slow.
Two Sanderlings are orange all over. Other birds show traces, patches. But it's only the second day, the second day of oil on Grand Isle, and we watched it washing ashore afresh, thick and wet, as if eager to augment the desiccating masses higher up the beach.
A Semipalmated Sandpiper probes for food in sand that's speckled with oil. A Sanderling lifts its feet, and I see that they are orange, and sticky.
This is our fault.