When I applied for the internship at MARS I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. All I knew was that I would be spending most of the summer away from my boring life in the city and that I’d be working with one of my passions in life, birds. I’ve always been interested in birds, ever since my first budgie many years ago, but have only recently decided to pursue my passion as a potential career.
I had been warned that it was hard work, with only one day off a week, but was I really prepared for what lay ahead of me? I sure found out quickly as I jumped right into feeding baby birds, going on pick ups and releases, tube feeding and not to mention cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. There was always dirty cages to be cleaned or maintained with fresh branches and berries cut from trees right on the property. At times just trying to keep on top of all the cleaning and laundry and tidying up was a challenge and I found it took away from time I wanted to spend reading and learning about birds. I did manage to squeeze some of that in as there was no shortage of reading material. The days there were long, starting at 7am (the other intern and I took turns sleeping in every other day) and ending anywhere from 7-11pm. Then there would be a whole new list of things to do the next day.
After a few weeks of winging it, I found myself relying heavily on the list I made, and others contributed to, each day. Good communication and keeping records on all of the patients was also very important, so that everyone can keep track of what’s going on.
I found a lot of the different cases that came in very interesting and sometimes challenging. Even though not all of them had a happy ending, they at least provided everyone with some learning experience. It was frustrating though to have something that you spent so much time and effort nurturing and caring for die suddenly. The hardest part, above all, were the hopeless cases that would never live as wild animals and had to be euthanised. That’s something you never get used to. But, there were also success stories to balance things out and it’s those cases that motivate you to continue on.
There was a young cat-caught Towhee that I became particularly fond of. It would stamp both feet, chirp and gape for food, and even after it was released from its small cage into global it would eagerly run up to me, and even climb onto me, to be fed. But one day, like all wild animals, it learned to eat on its own and wanted nothing more to do with me. It was a little upsetting, but then I realized exactly why Maj emphasized not getting too attached to the birds because they certainly won’t stay attached to you. I also became fond of a female Black-headed Grosbeak who was very alert, even snapping at water droplets midair! However, she just could not use her legs to move around and when it was determined that one of her legs was broken the decision was made to euthanise her. It was also heartbreaking when I personally had to euthanise a Northern Flicker with a broken wing. But on the other hand I witnessed and participated in many releases such as the Glaucous-winged Gull that stood there and looked at us dumbfounded before flying a short distance to land in the water amongst a whole flock of gulls. Or the Band-tailed Pigeon who had to be recaptured and released a second time before finally figuring out how to eat and survive in the wild.
During my time at MARS I got to experience a wide variety of things: from flying in a helicopter to giving injections, flipping baby deer in the middle of the night to tube feeding seal pups (sometimes in the middle of the night also) and performing necropsies on robins. I got a once in a lifetime experience when a northern fur seal came in and I drove it down to Nanaimo to be taken to Saltspring Island. I wish I could talk about everything that I did and saw and all of the birds that were there, but I’d end up writing a book. I found it extremely helpful to write down in my day planner a few main points about each day, as the days seemed to melt together and I sometimes couldn’t remember everything that I had done the day before.
All of the people that I encountered were wonderful. Maj and Keith are hard working and dedicated people that have the patience to constantly train new volunteers and interns every year as well as deal with the public. The volunteers that came in week after week and the other interns made my stay more enjoyable. There was always a friendly face there and someone to talk to. I met some of the local vets when I helped out in the clinic or when we would bring in one of our animals. The vets graciously volunteered their time, effort and equipment to diagnose and treat some of the animals whether it be a robin or an owl or even a deer.
There was also the physiotherapist, Shannon, who came out to work with our barred owl, who was recovering from a broken wing and was eventually released. Norm, the helicopter pilot, spent his own time and money to transport seals to the Island Wildlife Natural Care Centre for us and IWNCC thankfully accepted most of our seals. It was amazing to see all these people working together towards the same common cause not expecting anything in return. While I was there the Vancouver Foundation donated the money to have close-circuit cameras installed in some of the cages. Those were a lot of fun and they allowed us to view the birds without intruding on their space.
When my internship was finally over I was a little sad to be leaving a place that had begun to feel like home. I really enjoyed my time at MARS, through the good and bad, and I had a great time exploring the Comox Valley during my days off. The experience and knowledge that I have gained was definitely worth it and has motivated me to keep pursuing my interest in wildlife. I could even see myself becoming a rehabber some day. Whatever I end up doing, I will never forget my time at MARS, the people and the animals that have made this summer so memorable.
Lanaye Baxter 2004