Wednesday, December 23, 2015 Murre Rescue

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:01 am, sunset 3:51 pm for 5 hours 49 minutes of daylight. Tomorrow will be 25 seconds longer.

Sunny all day with a blistering north wind bent on sweeping all the loose snow off the mountaintops. A high of 27 and low of 19. Snow/rain forecast for Christmas Day through the next week as temperatures climb to 40ยบ.

A friend called yesterday at 9 am about two live COMMON MURRES at Mile 8. He was headed north and could not help them. I weighed the pros (maybe save a life, check out the situation) and cons (probably too late, deprive forest scavengers of a feast, road hazards, etc) and decided to drive out there at 10:30. I found two dead ones just past mile 8, one already scavenged, the other attended by two RAVENS. I pulled over and tossed the carcasses off to the side so the scavengers wouldn't get hit.

On the way home, I parked at the Airport Road and walked back to the Three Bridges to pick up a dead Murre I had seen on the way up. To my surprise, it was alive! I scooped it up, tucked it in my arms, and walked back to the car where I wrapped it in a towel and tried to warm it up by the front heater. I drove to the north side of the boat harbor to get it out of the wind, and set it down by the water's edge. It took a few sips of water and then just sat there, gently bobbing.

I walked slowly along the little beach looking for a dead herring or other small fish to feed it. A live Murre paddled right over and matter-of-factly walked out of the water, upright, a perfect northern penguin. It awkwardly walked up the steep bank a bit, peered at a very scavenged Murre carcass that happened to be lying there, then at me, and calmly walked back into the water and paddled off, mission accomplished. Hello? G’day to you too!

I didn't find anything to feed the dying Murre, and so left it at the water's edge. It was too far gone to recover. Poor Murre! At least it didn’t die on the cold, alien road.

Today, a friend and I happened to drive down Port Avenue north of the harbor. Many Murre carcasses littered the road, driveways, and yards. Suddenly, we spotted a live Murre, sitting on the snow, its head up and alert. We pulled over and managed to throw a sheet over it. Then we walked over to the dock, unwrapped the bundle, and tossed it to the water. It immediately dove and disappeared. Yea! 

Looking around, we found more live Murres, on snow banks, stuck behind pallets, under stairs and other obstacles. It seems they flew, hit the building and wherever they landed, they were stuck. We caught and splashed 9 more birds. It was so great to see them dive immediately, or take a sip of water, stretch their wings, look around and then paddle off. Huh. So here I am, back home!

In the gathering twilight just after 2:30 pm as the sun set behind the western mountains, we saw a live Murre sitting on the boat ramp. At least eight more Murres were lying on the cold beach, sitting on the concrete ramp, or hiding under the boardwalk. What were they doing there? It was so cold on the ground and in that fierce wind! So strange!

We picked up a few and splashed them. Others we were able to herd towards the water. Some just bobbed, no energy left, spent and dying. Others paddled off and seemed to revive.

Last call! After thoroughly checking the area, we spotted a Raven peering down from a car roof, between two cars. Below on the snow, a defiant Murre looked back up at the predator. We approached the Murre, one in front, one behind, caught it, and splashed it. Off it went. Yea! I think we splashed 18 Murres in all today.

It may seem hopeless, as so many seem bent on suicide, flying north into the teeth of the wind to land and die even as we were catching and splashing their kin. But, I hope it gave at least a few a chance to live another day.
Here’s a great story on the same theme, adapted from “The Star Thrower” by Loren Eiseley: <>
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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