Sunday, August 02, 2009

A bird-killin' river

Do you remember the recent reports about a large presence of algae in the newly-opened northern reach of the River Walk? It turns out the algae may not be just unsightly. It's deadly, too. At least to birds further up the river.
At least 40 egrets were seen Sunday afternoon in distress, bogged down in the San Antonio River at Brackenridge Park.

Philip Bell and Dan Chatfield said they tried to rescue as many as possible, and with the help of San Antonio Park Police they were able to take 20 to the Humane Society, but 15 others were dead in the water.

“They’re falling out of the trees. They’re all stuck in the muck in here because of the filth in the river,” said Bell. “And, there’s all these dead carcasses in the water, and there’s all these baby birds struggling to get out.”

The white feathered birds with their long necks could be seen trapped in a blanket of thick algae and other vegetation that San Antonio River Authority crews have been trying to clear away, but they said it’s been flourishing in the extreme heat.
(from KSAT-12)

They think the egrets escaped from the zoo next door. In any case, such a sight must not be encouraging to any picnickers that decide to brave the heat and do a little grillin' next to the river in Brackenridge Park. Matter of fact, it's probably downright disturbing.

UPDATE: The zoo says the algae is not to blame. In fact, it may be helping the birds a bit.
Instead of being bogged down in the thick blanket of vegetation in the San Antonio River, Ryan Gulker, the living collections manager at the San Antonio Zoo, said it’s actually helping young egrets stay afloat, although many die when they cannot be rescued.

“They land on top of the algae. They don’t necessarily get stuck in it,” said Gulker. “They’re actually floating on top of it. They just can’t get out because of the walls at the edge of the river.”


Gulker said there are so many egrets in the trees with so many young at one time, “they start to get aggressive with each other and the young, weak ones get pushed out of the tree.”


“These kinds of things happen in the wild every day,” said Gulker. “We just don’t get to see them.”
Gulker also said the egrets did not escape from the zoo. They simply migrated in and found a good spot to roost. It just happened to be next to the zoo hatchery.

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