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Elise Patkotak: Volunteers at Bird TLC in need of own place

Elise Patkotak

You've probably been following the adventure of the stranded Shell drilling rig Kulluk. We were lucky this time. No spilled fuel. No scenes of devastation on a once pristine beach. No video of contaminated birds trying to preen their feathers so they are again waterproof and able to withstand their cold environment.

What you probably haven't read about are some other groups affected by the grounding. But the reverberations do echo far and wide. They are hardly contained within any limited geographic area. I know this because I work a shift as a volunteer at Bird TLC, our local wild bird rehab center. I am the lead for the Tuesday shift. For those of you who were conscious on New Year's Day, you'll have noticed it fell on a Tuesday, when the Kulluk drama was just starting.

Whether the day was New Year's Day or not didn't matter to the sick birds we were treating at Bird TLC. So the Tuesday shift needed to show up to medicate, feed and clean the birds. Because volunteers are usually doing something they are so passionate about that they will perform tasks you would otherwise be unable to pay them to do, people from my shift and others showed up to get the work done so we could all get out in a reasonable time.

But then the people from California showed up, the ones representing the international bird rescue group (IBRRC), the ones who actually lease the space we use for our operations. Because of the Kulluk's stranding, there was a chance of a fuel spill that might result in birds being brought in for care. What this meant to Bird TLC was that we had to get our birds and all our property and equipment out of the international group's space so they could set up for emergency rescues.

An email went out from our executive director about midmorning asking for anyone and everyone who could come in to please come help us tear down our entire facility. You'd think on New Year's Day it would be hard to get a very immediate and hardy response to such a request. You'd be very wrong. By afternoon the clinic was filled with people hauling and pulling, shoving and grunting. Birds were boxed up preparatory to being moved to the flight pens at JBER, electrical systems removed from eagle mews, the mews themselves unbolted preparatory to being hauled outside. It was simply amazing. And remember, this was all happening on New Year's Day.

That's what it's like when you work with volunteers. After all, they survive Alaska winters, don't they?

I don't think I've ever been prouder to be part of any group as I am of being a Bird TLC volunteer. And I do not say that lightly. After all, I was once a member of the Ricky Nelson fan club.

We were lucky this time. No fuel spilled and so, no crippled birds. Eventually all was replaced and life started to get back to normal. And on the plus side, moving all that stuff out gave us a chance to wash those corners that stay dark for years on end.

The dream of all of us at Bird TLC is, first and foremost, that there never be another spill and that we never see another oiled bird struggle to survive. Our second biggest dream is to one day be in our own facility so we don't ever have to pull our current clinic apart in one day and see those dirty dark corners again. But that takes money and we simply don't have enough to make our dream a reality.

Meanwhile, this Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. you can visit our clinic and see just how clean we got those corners. You can meet some of our education eagles, have snacks, enjoy some family crafts and get to know the amazing people who call Bird TLC their passion. Then maybe when you're applying for your PFD, you'll remember that Bird TLC is on the Pick Click Give list and send a little of your windfall our way. The birds and volunteers will all be immensely grateful.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Website, www.elisepatkotak.com.


Elise Patkotak
commentBy ELISE PATKOTAK