Sizzling in Paradise
The Heat Wave
On Labor Day we awoke from a restless night with hopes that temperatures would drop from record triple digits. A blood red sun cast an eerie glow over the Montecito hills.
California and the west was on fire. The sweltering heat wave in Santa Barbara County was an ominous backdrop. That Sunday was the hottest day with the National Weather Service reporting a high of 102 in Santa Barbara, 109 at Gaviota Beach, 112 at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden, 117 in Santa Ynez, and the winner, Lompoc, with a staggering 122.
NWS Meterologist Mark Jackson was nearly understated, calling it “an unprecedented heat wave.”
Arriving at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Center I discovered the heat had left two of our cherished cormorants dead. For some reason I figured that Labor Day would be a slow one. That injured, sick orphaned wildlife might take the day off, particularly in this awful heat. Wrong.
There were five phone messages waiting for me when I entered the trailer and immediately the phone started to ring. Two injured seals were lying in the heat, one of them an adult at Leadbetter Beach. “He’s just lying here,” the caller said, “and there and dogs around. I’m afraid they might hurt him.”
Then a second seal on a beach in Oxnard, young and small with deep lascerations: “It looks like a shark got him. I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
Both callers were instructed to call the Channel Island Marine Wildlife Institute.
Then from Goleta, an older gentleman with a skunk, raccoon, and possum problem: “They’re all nesting in my backyard. I wanna get rid of them, I don’t want to kill them.” We get such wildlife “nuisance” calls all the time and our suggestions have become rote: “Make sure no food is out, that you seal any openings into your garage, yard, or home. Also make sure you trash cans are covered.”
Then the manager at the Santa Barbara Ramada Inn with an injured mallard. “He’s just lying on his back,” he said. “I’ve never seen a duck behave that way, lying on his back, maybe it’s the heat.”
Then a hawk caught in bird netting at a ranch along Foxen Canyon in Santa Ynez. “My vineyard workers were able to cut him out of the netting,” the caller said. “It’s a big hawk and it was probably stuck in the netting all night, it’s a redtail I think. Looks like his wing is injured. We’ve got him in a box. I imagine he’s thirsty.”
We asked whether it was possible to bring him to our center in Goleta. “No, I can’t leave the vineyard. We’re harvesting this morning, nobody can leave right now.”
I called one of our center volunteers from Transporters and Rescuers who come from all over Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Katie promptly agreed to join me out there.
And then the phone rang again with one of those miraculous stories that make this job so gratifying.
“We were driving on 101 in Gaviota,” the rescuer said, “by the rest stop and we saw what looked like a large owl lying on the side of the highway and he looked at me as we drove by, and he lifted his wing, so I knew he was alive. So I got my husband to turn around at the exit and we drove back and picked him up and brought him in to you.”
“Yes, I see since then he’s had major surgery.”
“Yes, he’s had several procedures. We call just about every day to check to see how he is. He’s a remarkable owl.”
Then a call about two foxes from a woman named Pam at the Santa Barbara Cemetery. The heat affects everybody including wildlife, acting in unusual ways.
“The fox is right here in front of me,” she said. “There were other people out here watching this fox, but they had to go so I’m keeping an eye on him so nothing happens to him”.
“Ok, I’ll call Animal Control,” I replied. “Just please keep your eye on him. He’s probably thirsty, looking for water.”
Back at the Wildlife Center I went out to the parking lot to greet a lady who had rescued two baby doves. Adelia McFall had brought the birds from her home in Solvang.
“I just felt so helpless,” she said, visibly distraught. “Especially with my grandchildren, we’ve been watching these doves, the mom and her babies, day by day. Last night the nest fell out of the tree. We didn’t know what to do. We thought these babies were dead.”
She handed me the small box. One of the babies was indeed gone. The other wriggled signs of life as I rushed him to intake.
I returned to confirm to Adelia one of the babies was dead, but the other had survived. We shared a quiet moment. She spoke of her grandchildren again.
“We need these kinds of things to be a model for them, that we don’t give up,” she said. “That caring pays off. That sometimes caring can change the course of even a little life.”
What does this mean to you? I asked.
“That we should focus on the things we can do, that we don’t give up,” she said. “If we can get this baby back to his mom, it will be fantastic.”
Yes we CAN.
Yes we MUST.
Yes we WILL.