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Great Blue Heron Rescued from the L.A. River

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Blue Heron Rescue.jpg

At about 5:30 this morning, four volunteers braved the early rains, manned their stations along the Los Angeles River, and successfully captured a Great Blue Heron in need of emergency medical attention.

Dressed in a camouflaging ghillie suit, first responder Rebecca Dmytryk held a fishing pole-like device with a noose at the end, and placed it where Elysian Valley resident Grove Pashley knew he could lure the majestic bird, nicknamed Mr. Fred, by the Los Angeles River. In the meantime, nearby residents Steve Appleton and Agnieszka Pietruszkiewicz parked by the riverbank, explaining to early morning passers-by not to stop and stare, which would arouse Mr. Fred's suspicions.

The crew's preparations paid off. "He stepped right in the middle of the snare and got him the first time," said Pashley, whose one other attempt to catch the Great Blue Heron had failed.

Mr. Fred was bundled in a specially prepared cardboard box, punched with holes and lined with a towel, then driven to International Bird Rescue in San Perdo where the fishing line was removed and the bird was put under close observation.

The Great Blue Heron's condition remains uncertain. "Mr. Fred could go either way," reports Pashley. The leg, which had been wrapped in fishing line, was infected and rescuers are monitoring the situation to ensure that it doesn't spread to the bird's bones. "It could take months for him to recover," said Pashley.

Even if he does recover, it isn't certain that he would be returned back to the Los Angeles River, another loss for locals who love the majestic sight of the great birds along the waterway. Pashley regrets they were only able to give him the medical attention he needs today. "If I had gotten to him earlier, his chances would have been better."

Fishing line wrapped around the foot
Fishing line wrapped around the foot

About three months ago, Pashley, who would often observe the river from his home, noticed Mr. Fred (as he was called by a little girl living across Pashley) was limping. Only upon closer inspection did he see that Mr. Fred had been hobbled by a fishing line that tangled about one of his ankles. Ensnared, Mr. Fred's initial struggles and further movements only served to tighten the line around his appendage, cutting circulation off.

Not knowing what to do, Pashley decided to continue observing the Great Blue Heron and gaining the bird's trust as he fixed on a plan. Mr. Fred's injuries got progressively worse, and soon he would join ducks as passers-by would feed them bread. "That was not good. He must have been very hungry to do that," said Pashley, "He got progressively thinner, weaker, and more raggedy."

Further calls found Pashley being passed from one agency to another because none had the resources to help him capture the animal, until he connected with Rebecca Dmytryk of Wildlife Emergency Services just a week ago. Wildlife Emergency Services is a non-profit based in Monterey dedicated to wildlife emergency response. "Think of us as the paramedic services," said Dmytryk.

Though Pashley has witnessed only three birds with fishing-line related injuries over the past two years, Dmytryk says it is a very common occurrence. She says it would really make a difference if fishermen would just pick up their fishing line instead of leaving it about once it gets snagged.

Find out more about International Bird Rescue. Learn more about how to respond to animals in distress at Wildlife Emergency Services.

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