Sabine, Pearl, and Pascagoula Rivers
One of the most graceful of the world’s soaring raptors and the largest of the kite family, the swallow-tailed kite looks like a star as it flies, with a deeply-forked tail spread out behind its long, narrow, angular wings in almost a 2-to-1 ratio (wingspan about 4 ft to body length about 2 ft). Black tips and trailing edges on their wings and their black tail contrast sharply with their white heads and underbodies, giving them a striking and distinctive appearance.
Or so the books said. It’s a different story flying 400 feet above the treetops in fog and mist looking for these elusive angels! Even with powerful zoom lenses and fast shutter speeds, it was a challenge to see and count them while maintaining enough altitude and flying quietly enough to ensure that we did not disturb them. Until we actually saw some swallow-tailed kites from the air, and our eyes and brains adapted to the small features we sought among the canopy of trees, it was pretty discouraging. The less experienced among us (myself included) began by eagerly calling out lichen, or egrets, once even a field of watermelon. But that just added to the thrill when we finally started finding the real thing. Check out the following pairs of photos: The photos on the left are what we saw with our eyes, those on the right are what the camera zoom lens showed us later. (The first two pairs of photos are swallow-tailed kites on the Pascagoula and Pearl Rivers, the third pair is a colony of egrets along the Pearl River.)
2013 July 19--August 21
Gulf of Mexico, offshore Louisiana
Bouma & Ewing Banks east to Mississippi Canyon
Our latest four wildlife survey flights in the Gulf of Mexico were full of unpredicted and unwelcome weather obstacles, but our persistence brought us some interesting surprises! We found whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, pods of spinner and bottlenose dolphin, sperm whales, what we think are Cuvier's beaked whales, yellowfin tuna and other large fish, and a few of our favorite leatherback turtles. We didn't find the numbers we had hoped to find, but it was reassuring to find at least some where we would expect them to be at this time of year.
We also found plenty of surface oil slicks and sheen, which we've come to expect in this area of the Gulf of Mexico. Where there are oil slicks, we do not see much wildlife. In an area larger than 6000 square nautical miles that we've been surveying since last May, we have had a larger number of significant sightings of surface oil than of wildlife. "C'est la vie" in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana!
Here are just a few photos to give you a taste of what you'll find below.
See all the photos and videos here!
See all the photos and videos here!
2013 June 30, July 1, July 2
Gulf of Mexico - Ewing Bank and Mississippi Canyon
After our stunning find of 24 whale sharks on and east of Ewing Bank last June 20, scientists made a dedicated long week-end's trip in a chartered vessel, the FV Annie Girl, to see if we could get a repeat performance and tag some more of these gentle giants. Alas, weather seldom cooperates with long-laid plans, and these three days that had held so much hope did not afford us calm or clear seas. As hard as we tried, blue water was pushed 30-40 nm farther south (offshore) than previously, and visibility both in the air and water was not great from the air. (Which meant it was even poorer from the surface.) But we made the best of it, and we did see some beautiful sights we'd like to share with you. And some not-so-beautiful sights, as in a few more significant oil slicks. So enjoy the photos and videos, and stay tuned for the articles from our subsequent flights -- July 19, July 31, August 04, August 20, and August 21!
Here are a few of our favorite photos: Dolphins, some huge baitballs, an enormous beautiful bird rookery northeast of Isles Dernieres, sargassum and various sea phenomena, gorgeous shots of the coast and wetlands, weather near the city of New Orleans and an awesome waterspout offshore, and last but not least (unfortunately), oil slicks and their associated emissions.
Lots more photos and videos in the article, witih maps of where we flew and where all of the sightings were, and of course our complete flight logs and links to download our GPS flight tracks.
See the full article, photos, videos and more here!
2013 August 23
Update on SKIP - one year later!
Recall that wonderful English Shepherd "Skip", whose saga of rescue took him all across the country, from Arkansas to Illinois and finally to his true forever home in Maine? (The original story was here, and the first update last March was here.) Well, his new family just sent us another update, now a year after we picked Skip up from a rescue in Arkansas and took him to his foster home in Illinois, before his forever family found him. Look at this dog now! His eyes have matured and mellowed, and he is strong and happy. He is living the dream life, for sure!
Read the update and see the rest of the new photos here!
2013 July 28, Sunday
Bayou Corne "sinkhole", Louisiana
In less than one week it will be one year since the residents of Bayou Corne, Louisiana were told to leave their homes and community because of unknown danger from explosive gases in a sinkhole formed when the wall of a nearby salt dome collapsed barely a mile away from the community. We first flew over this small sinkhole in August of 2012, when its area was just a little over one acre, and trees were just beginning to give way and disappear into the depths. Now, one year later, that sinkhole spans about 24 acres and as nearly as deep as four football fields end-to-end. What residents thought might be a 30-day precautionary evacuation has turned out to be the end of their community, the end of their retirement plans, the end of their lives as they knew them.
Relief wells were drilled nearby before autumn set in last year, and sensors were placed inside the cavern to monitor gas pressure and the integrity of the cavern walls. Natural gas is trapped in wet sand beneath the sinkhole, under a layer of clay. There are also caverns nearby (many tens of them are in this area) that have been used to store butane -- a gas that is highly flammable in its vaporform. As long as the gas pressure remains low enough it, the risk of explosion remains manageably low. But leakage of the gas, which helps keep that pressure low, has also meant that gas is appearing in the local aquifers and bayous, bringing the hazards of pollution and risks of possible explosion ever closer to the homes and community of Bayou Corne. Seismic sensors have been put in place, and almost weekly there are alerts of substantial seismic activity, which could signal further collapse and consequent build-up of gas pressure.
The situation is tense and uncertain in Bayou Corne. Many citizen volunteers have been present for months to try to help residents in any way they can. Ultimately though, Texas Brine, the owners of the well here -- which was actually plugged and sealed with cement in the summer of 2011, now two years ago -- will have to answer for the economic and environmental damage caused by the failed cavern that caused this sinkhole. And we all need to demand that appropriate regulations be adopted to enforce safety standards that will minimize the risk of damages like this happening again. Just as building codes are written to ensure lasting safety of structures and their surroundings, drilling codes must be written and adhered to, in order to ensure that activities do not compromise the short- or long-term health or safety of the environment.
Here are two photos from today's flight. Below them are two photos from our flyover on August 13, 2012, almost one year ago. A full-length video of today's flyover is provided below.
2013 July 25, Thursday
Gulf of Mexico, Hercules 265 Rig
The jack-up rig we videotaped and photographed on Tuesday as it was burning and smoking with natural gas exploded that night. It burned all day yesterday. Today -- the Hercules #265 drilling rig is just a carcass. Here are a few photos; a video and a gallery of more photos is below, with a personal word from us while we have your attention. (:--)
2013 July 23 Tuesday
Bayou Corne, Louisiana
We made a quick trip out to Bayou Corne, Louisiana today, after many concerned calls regarding recent seismic activity and potentially "explosive" levels of methane and other gases. From the air, these dangerous circumstances are not readily visible. What is apparent, however, is that the sinkhole has grown, and the lovely community to its west is virtually deserted.
We'll let these photos speak for themselves. Stay tuned for high-definition video as well. (Apologies for the delay in getting those processed and uploaded.)
2013 July 23, Tuesday
Gulf of Mexico, 100 nm south of New Orleans, LA
News came to us just as we landed from a picturesque six-hour flight on the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana tracking endangered swallow-tailed kites: the Hercules Offshore drilling platform #265 located about 100 nm south of New Orleans had experienced a blowout this morning around 10am CDT. Lifeboats were used to evacuate 44 workers, none of whom experienced serious injuries. We flew out there at around 2pm and found only about a mile of very light surface sheen to the east of the platform, which would support public statements that "only" natural gas is leaking at this time.
The rest of the facts will become clearer shortly, but for now, here are our photos from the site as of this afternoon. Stay tuned for our high-definition video to be uploaded shortly. As always, our high-resolution photos and videos are available for all uses whose intent is to benefit the Gulf of Mexico and her life.
Special thanks today to Peter Valdez, pilot and employee of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, for joining us on this spur-of-the-moment flight and helping both with photography and flying!
2013 July 10, Wednesday
Bayou Corne Sinkhole, Louisiana
We have yet to hear good news about the sinkhole situation in Bayou Corne, LA. Seeing it even once from the air is enough to make you realize that the hole isn't going away and the trees aren't coming back. But it's not possible to look at this picturesque community built so tastefully and discreetly along these beautiful bayous, and not wish that somehow the sinkhole could just go away.
Today we flew there from the south, after a mission over the Gulf. It is an incredibly gorgeous flight to approach Bayou Corne from the Gulf coastline. It is nonstop green wetlands, swamps, and trees, with graceful weaving brown waterways running through it. If we could close our eyes to this now enormous sinkhole, it would be like a scene from a fairy tale to suddenly see this enchanting little community nestled along the bayou. Did these people know that the adjacent areas had been drilled worse than swiss cheese? Probably not. Do we really think that all this beauty is here so that we can mine it and steal fossils long buried deep below? To see this from above, it is impossible not to realize that our society's priorities have become terribly skewed!
Sorry for to wax philosophical. But mark my words, if you want more action from those with authority to do something positive about situations like this sinkhole, if they are still in touch with their souls at all, bring them to Bayou Corne on a flight from the south. And let them weep.
See the video and the rest of the photos here!
2013 July 10, Wednesday
Isles Dernieres to Ewing Bank area, Gulf of Mexico
This was the day we flew out to document the leaking natural gas well in Ship Shoal Lease Block 225 (photos, video, and story of that are here), and the day we also flew over Bayou Corne for our ninth time (photos, video, and story here). But between those two pollution tragedies, we observed a lot of sea phenomena, wildlife, wetlands, and city! Hammerhead sharks, rays, turtles, dolphin; many dense bait balls near the coast and Isles Dernieres; and expanses of dark reddish-brown plumes suggestive of a large dead zone just off the coast. We also share here some classic photos of Louisiana wetlands, the mighty Mississippi River near New Orleans, and downtown New Orleans itself. Finally, we include here our detailed flight log and a link to our GPS Flight Track files. Enjoy!
See all the photos and read the full article here!
Ship Shoal Lease Block 225, northwest of Ewing Bank
Gulf of Mexico
UPDATE: Video has been uploaded -- see the full article!
A badly leaking natural gas well in the Ship Shoal Lease Block #225 of the Gulf of Mexico has spread an ugly, toxic mass of oily rainbow sheen over several square miles not far from the top of Ewing Bank -- an area once rich with marine life, especially large plankton feeders and many other species of marine life. We have flown that area in eight different five-to-six-hour wildlife survey flights just within the past three weeks, helping scientists find and study whale sharks. Today, despite mirror-calm seas, excellent water and air visibility, and clear blue water, we saw barely a trace of marine life in this area. In a couple of hours of searching that area, we found just one hammerhead shark, a few dolphin, a few small bait balls and some flying fish. Closer to shore, off the Isles Dernieres, we did see some cownose rays and small turtles, a few more dolphin and a few small bait balls, but still not much by comparison with years past. We are seriously starting to wonder where all the life has gone, and how the animals who remain are managing to find enough to eat.
But our report on wildlife in the Gulf waits for a separate article. Here we just want to share with you today's photos and videos from our flyover of this badly leaking natural gas well. It is one of sevearl owned by Houston-based Talos Energy LLC (who purchased them from Energy Resources Technology Gulf of Mexico LLC last February). The well and surrounding platforms are barely 25 miles northwest of the top of Ewing Bank, sitting in fairly shallow water not more than a few hundred feet deep.
Here are a few photos. Many more are included at the end of this article! (Photo credits: Billy Dugger with On Wings Of Care)
2013 June 19-20, & May 23-24Wednesday-Thursday
Gulf of Mexico -- Ewing Bank and Mississippi Canyon
UPDATE! MANY VIDEOS OF THIS NOW POSTED ON OUR YOUTUBE SITE!
For composite videos, see Part 1 and Part 2!
For short clips, see the index of our videos here!
Calm seas and a nearly full moon were too good to miss, so days ahead of schedule, we opted to continue our aerial whale-shark survey and tagging expeditions in conjunction with Ms. Jennifer McKinney and other researchers from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LWF). And are we ever glad we did! We “struck gold” this past Thursday June 20 in the Ewing Bank area, finding 24 whale sharks and helping divers get DNA and satellite tags on 10 of them -- limited only by the number of tags they had with them! The previous record for tagging whale sharks in one day was set when we helped Dr. Eric Hoffmayer a few years ago in the Gulf; that time they were able to get five whale sharks tagged in one day. So this is a major cause of celebration and congratulations to all. Judgment and readiness to go when weather and seas were most inviting, skills of the divers and the boat captain, and our experience with spotting and familiarity with the subsea terrain of the Gulf of Mexico combined to produce an unprecedented success -- and a downright magical day!
See all the photos (and videos soon) and read the story here!
UPDATE 2013 JUNE 16 SUNDAY
Chaz has a home! And his own family!
He's in love and so are they!
We looked long and hard for just the right family for this fantastic dog. He was growingmore fantastic with every week he spent with us! We turned down five interested families, and last week we were prepared to keep him longer with us until we could find the perfect home.
Check it out at the bottom of the original article here, and see his happy family!
2013 June 11, Tuesday
Ensenada, Baja Mexico to southern California
The transport by car and air took only a day, but the planning and logistics to save these lucky seven took us weeks! Some tireless true-hearted ladies in Ensenada have been working over hundreds of miles to help rescue young and small dogs in Mexico who find themselves homeless, starving, and in many cases injured from abuse and serious neglect. Mrs. Ana Villaescusa tends these innocents and works nonstop to network for their adoption to caring forever homes in the U.S. We, and many other rescue organizations in the US, receive and help network her pleas on a regular basis. This past couple of months she has pleaded for help with around 10 small dogs, many of them puppies but some pregnant females or new mothers and some adults who had been hit by or thrown from cars.
See all the photos and read about this trip here!
2013 May 13- June 10
San Bernardino, California to Baltimore, Maryland
Abner and Carmaline -- the names given by our heroes at the local "kitty Devore rescue" to these two cats who found themselves at the very-high-kill shelter in Devore, San Bernardino county, California. They arrived there May 13, 2013. Both were very thin and not in good health, born to be gorgeous Maine Coons but described by the shelter as "brown tabby domestic medium-hair cats." Worse, they deemed Abner as “Rescue Only” because he didn’t seem very social. But here’s a hint as to how this great story turned out -- check out these “Before” and “After” photos of Abner!
See the rest of the photos and read the story here!
2013 June 08, Saturday
Bayou Corne Sinkhole, Louisiana
Weaving our way through clouds and some feisty winds, we made a quick trip over to the Bayou Corne sinkhole again today. We were eager to see it, since learning a few days ago that the berm (built since the sinkhole started expanding significantly last August) on the west and south side of the sinkhole had collapsed. Indeed, as our video and photos from today attest, whatever false sense of security that berm provided is now gone forever. And with it, the residents' last remaining hope that the sinkhole could be contained and they might be able to move back into their homes and their lovely way of life. Some of our favorite photos are shown below this video; and below those is a larger gallery of photos from today's flight, our eighth flyover since August of 2012.
Let's preface this with a sobering comparison of a few photos taken today with some we took last August:
2013 June 03, Monday
Gulf of Mexico, 10-80 miles off the tip of Louisiana
Seas were calm and we had about 15 hours before we had to leave on travel, so we grabbed our clear shot between thunderstorms to the east and west and headed for the Gulf waters south of Louisiana to check on some gnarly-looking oil slicks we had seen out there on our whale shark flight last Friday May 24. For over 30 nautical miles we tracked that chronic oil slick from the old Taylor Energy site (a platform and more than 25 attached pipelines that were damaged in Hurricne Ivan in 2004). We were delighted to see a large adult sperm whale about 60 nm south of the Taylor slick, but no animals were seen near the Taylor slick.
We waited until today to publish this article, but we didn't wait to inform the US Coast Guard and give them all of our flight information and some helpful photos. (Our NRC report was #1049216.) As a result, the USCG put together a group to work on our information and planned a flight out there themselves for this morning, Wednesday June 5. We hope that conditions are good enough today for them to follow our information and see this pollution for themselves today.
Although we have been documenting the chronic pollution at the Taylor site for nearly three years, to date the USCG, the EPA, and other government enforcement agencies have not acted so as to effect the undertaking of repair or remediation. So the leakage has continued. Our short flight today proved that the sheen covers more than 200 acres (since we followed a line averaging 15 m in width for 30 nm, and 1000 acres is approximately 1 square nm or 4 square km). For oil to be clearly visible on the surface from about 1000' agl or higher, it is typically 1-10 microns thick. Hence the volume of oil just in the sheen we tracked was at least as many gallons as it was acres, and maybe ten times that -- i.e., at least 200 gallons. (One gallon is approximately 1 acre of 1-micron thickness.) However, daily NRC reports made by an unknown aircraft have, for well over six months now, been reporting that the Taylor pollution site amounted to just a few gallons of oil. We want the truth about the magnitude of the pollution here and elsewhere in the Gulf to be known and addressed properly, for the sake of the health and safety of all life associated with the Gulf of Mexico.
Very special thanks for this flight goes to supporters of Joyce Riley's radio show "The Power Hour" and to Mr. Jim Lodwick, whose recent donations we used to cover the costs of this flight. And to Brayton Matthews of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, who came along as photographer and whose company has helped protect and maintain our airplane since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf over three years ago.
See all the photos and read the full article here!
2012 April 05 Friday (published 2013 May 30)
Thank you all for helping make 2012 a terrifically productive year for us in the areas of rescuing domestic animals, bringing environmental facts and situations to public awareness, and protecting wildlife and natural habitat worldwide! Every penny you have donated to On Wings Of Care has been used for actual animal rescue and other field work. Your donations go solely to work we can't do or can’t obtain by trading for work we can do, such as paying for aircraft fuel and repairs, veterinary procedures, and so on. With your financial help and our amazingly passionate all-volunteer staff and friends, we have made good progress this past year in all aspects of our mission:
On Wings Of Care is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of wildlife, wild habitat, and natural ecosystems and to the welfare of domestic animals. We specialize in helping with searches, rescues, transports, rehabilitation, research, and public education. We also provide considerable humanitarian aid -- since humans are vital parts of this grand ecosystem, too.Read the whole financial report here!
2013 May 23 & 24, Thursday & Friday
Gulf of Mexico
As summer arrives and warm weather returns to the Gulf of Mexico, there are plenty of people yearning to know whether some very special marine life will be returning, too! The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries and scientist Jennifer McKinney are among them, and over the past three years they've learned that getting "a look from above" is a very efficient way to augment the occasional serendipitous sightings by fishermen and oil workers. They have used On Wings Of Care's well-developed skills and network of spotters on many occasions to help them keep whale sharks in sight long enough to have swimmers from dive boats fit them with GPS tags. This year they decided to augment the information from tagged whale sharks with some systematic surveys of areas that have historically had the largest number of whale-shark sightings. We began the first two such surveys this past week, flying an 1800-sq-nm grid over the Ewing Bank area on one day, followed by a similar-sized grid in an area south of Sackett Bank the next day. Each of these grids took us out over the Gulf about 160 nm south of New Orleans, well into the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Enjoy the article and the photos, and get all the details here!
2013 May 06 Monday
Bayou Corne, Louisiana
Today we made our seventh flyover since last August of the sinkhole in Bayou Corne, Louisiana. The pool of liquid did not seem too much larger than it appeared to us a month ago (April 2), but the dead and dying trees to the west were more evident. Appreciable amounts of rainbow sheen still cover the north and northeastern parts of the pool. Today the lighting on some ripples near center of the sinkhole gave an unusual foam-like appearance. We also noticed that while there was still much equipment placed all around the hole and especially near the birms and roads still under construction, there appeared to be little or no work in progress. This is consistent with reports of increased microearthquake and other seismic activity in the area during the past few days.
The recent rains have brought much water to the surrounding swampland. The tremendous amount of drilling in the area is more evident now than before, or perhaps we have just learned to recognize it! We flew in a counter-clockwise direction today. The community to the northwest of the sinkhole looked quite deserted. More photos and a video are provided at the bottom of this article.
See the video and many more photos here!
2013 April 07
Salton Sea, California
“I may be old, and I may be deaf. I may be blind, and more than a little arthritic. But my name is Pepper, and I don’t give up on life easily. I know my good times are coming, and if I have to wait right here for life to find me, I will!”
And wait he did. By the time Pepper’s first angel found him, he was sitting all alone in an empty parking lot in the hot dry desert near the Salton Sea. He was so weak and dehydrated he could hardly lift his head let alone walk, but she could see that he was alive. She called another angel, a woman named Joyce Lindsay, who took Pepper to the VCA Valley Animal Medical Center Emergency Hospital. They kept him for a few days and did lots of diagnostic tests, including x-rays and blood work. They told Joyce that Pepper was about 15 years old and assured her that Pepper had plenty of life left in him, he was just going to have to take it a little easy in his old age!