An environmentalist's dream, an airstrip's nightmare

Today Justin and I tooled around with Clark and Kenny, the USDA wildlife management guys whose job it is to keep birds and other animals away from planes on the airstrip here at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. During the summer business is rather slow, so when we went on the airstrip we just chased a couple of birds off the runway in the truck. Later, we got to fire off a couple of rounds on the pop-gun that they use to scare bigger flocks (with a little shotgun reinforcement once in a while). Apparently its not legit to use what Kenny termed "redneck radio talk." Words like "10-4," "over and out," and "roger that" are among those excluded from official Air Force parlance. So, as he takes his finger off the radio, Clark turns to Justin and says: "10-4 bubba, over and out."

As I said, summer is the slow season, so we took a little drive. Clark told us about an egret population that gave them quite a bit of trouble a while back, with a few thousand birds on the runway and nothing he could do to get rid of them. Since egrets are migratory, they're protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918! In terms of environmental regulation, it might has well have happened at the beginning of time. Originally between the US and Great Britain (i.e. Canada), the act has since been expanded to include Mexico, Japan, and Russia. Its a pretty strong law banning the ability of people to
"pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird."
So basically it says don't do anything to mess with these birds. Personally I think the law is incredibly awesome, but of course Clarke and Kenny don't feel that way. The egrets establish rookeries, basically huge breeding colonies, for several years at a time, but don't seem to be terribly picky about coming back to the same place if the habitat changes. Interestingly, they seem to really like small patches of forest surrounded by houses. Maybe they can see predators better, maybe the houses shield them from the wind, maybe its a fluke since N=2 so far. Anyway since he couldn't mess with the birds while they were around, Clarke decided to modify their habitat while they were gone and get them to pick a new spot to breed. Since they like rather dense forest, Clarke thinned it out, turning it into more of a field with some trees than a patch of woods.

When the birds came back that summer, they moved on to a different place far enough away from the base that they are no longer a problem. Having nothing better to do and with no animals on the airstrip, we headed out to see the new location. Again showing their preference for areas right next to housing developments, the birds have colonized a tiny patch of woods surrounded by apartments. Walking in and seeing the thousands of birds was an impressive sight, and an even more impressive smell! The birds were constantly chattering away, creating a cacophony that you had to shout over to be heard, even across the car. Justin got out of the car and got some pretty amazing shots:

Look Closely, and you'll see that this picture is full of egrets!

It wasn't all egrets, though. Here's a small heron joining the rook.

In this individual shot, the egret looks a bit pretentious, or maybe majestic. I report, YOU decide.

Someday I'll get caught up on these posts... :)

* Source: Migratory Bird Treaty Act
Photo Credit: The Radio pic came from

No comments: