A long, strange journey for a group of sick birds came to a glorious end near Sausalito Thursday.
With the Golden Gate Bridge lumbering overhead, and the bay waters off Sausalito beckoning, the group of Loons and Western Greebs took their first tentative strides toward freedom.
Just ten days ago, these same birds were in Oregon. They were among 10,000 birds sickened by a major algae bloom that left their wings coated in a strange foam. Those that made it to shore had a chance at survival. Those that didn’t, drown.
The number of sick and dead overwhelmed local vetenarians.
So the Coast Guard flew 400 birds to the International Bird Rescue Center near Cordelia. There, volunteers cleaned their wings with Dawn detergent, and fed them until they were healthy enough to return to the wild.
"It was an unexpected situation to see that number of birds coming," said Kelway.
The center has already released 200 of the Oregon birds. Then a week ago, it received 35 more birds coated in oil from the recent oil spill in the bay.
About a dozen volunteers turned out in Sausalito Thursday to help with the release. Four large cages each held a Loon. Smaller red and blue cardboard boxes each carried a Western Greeb. The group gingerly set them down along the edge of the shoreline and opened the cages and boxes.
Seconds later, the birds took to the water, stretching their wings and diving below the surface-- a good sign, said the volunteers gathered on the bank, applauding as each group of birds stepped into the water.
“It’s amazing that the journey these birds have been on," said Kelway. "And they have come out the other side.”