We took off from Lumcon in Cocodrie, Louisiana at 6:30 AM. The destination was Raccoon Island, one of my favorite colonial bird rookeries on the coast and part of the Isles Dernieres Barrier Island Refuge. On board five boats were twenty people from LWF, FW Service, Tri-State Bird Rescue, Gulf Coast IMT and some press. It was a bit of a rough ride as the wind was 10 to 15 knots out of the southeast and once out of the marsh and into the bay the boats were rocking and rolling.
Once on the island, the cages were unloaded. Rhonda Murgatroyd and Danene Birtell set up the release. The first was a ruddy turnstone, a small shorebird that hopped out, looked around, hopped a few more steps then took off to freedom. Next were two terns, one a sandwich and the other a royal. Both these species nest on this island in the thousands. It’s comical to see their nursery pods where a large group of young is watched by only a few adult birds so most of the parents can go find food.
The highlight was the pelicans. The first one didn’t stay long. It was an adult that took to wind after about a minute of walking on the beach and joined a wild pelican flying by. The next five were juvenile birds, born this spring and not able to fly when they were captured covered with oil. They were let out separately about two minutes apart. Each hung around near the people and as the next bird was released they immediately joined their fellow birds. You could almost tell they were smiling and happy as the group of five waddled together on the beach.
Home and free at last
Rhonda and Danene tried to herd them toward a pile of fish the helpers put out on the gulf side of the islands. The young birds did the opposite and headed for the bay and once in the water they flew and dove for fish like old pros.
I am guessing these birds were well prepared for the wild and will live just fine on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.