On the Water with Mississippi Oil Spill Surveillance Volunteers

The following is from Leah Bray, Mississippi Wildlife Federation Gulf Coast Surveillance Team Coordinator, who is working with volunteers in Mississippi to monitor the Gulf coast for impacts of the oil spill.

Last week, I took one on the chin for the volunteer coordinators of the Wildlife Surveillance Teams – I had to go to Petit Bois Island, one of the barrier islands off the Mississippi Coast, with a few of our team members for a little photo documentation. Of course, the goofy grin I couldn’t keep off my face may have given me away. I did catch one of the team members looking at me suspiciously, but I studiously raised my camera to distract her.

One of the bonuses of the trip was the extra team members onboard. We were blessed with Igor and Lee Vorobyoff, a semi-retired couple from California, who had traveled to the Mississippi Coast after the oil spill to help by monitoring wildlife. This was their last night before leaving town, and nature managed a good show for our awe-struck volunteers.

Photo: Lee and Igor studying a juvenile horseshoe crab shell.

Lee wanted to see dolphin, so we obliged by whistling up several pods for her (don’t try this at home). Although they were shy at first, we finally found a pod that wanted a little attention just south of the island. The group we finally managed to photograph numbered at least twenty plus a few calves.


When we first approached the island, a cloud of birds rose from the sugar-sand beach. Still a few hundred yards from shore, I called “look at that”! We watched as several clouds of birds lifted off the sand and then settled back down. This area of the island was covered in hundreds of birds, and we decided to stay in the water for a bit and tried not to look up with our mouths open.


Most of the birds on the west tip and south side of the island were royal terns, least terns and laughing gulls, although we did spot a few Oystercatchers. Schools of minnows (or minners depending on where you’re from) hid behind the boat as the birds hovered and then dove in delight as they spotted their prey.

We found pelicans among the terns and gulls on the northeast end of the island. The boom still in place corralled the fish and provided a feast for the birds.


When we finally stepped out on the island, we walked around for a bit as our boat captain, Wildlife Surveillance team volunteer Eric Richards explained some of the wonders of this particular barrier island. He pointed out an osprey nest in an area of dead trees – victims of Katrina surge. As we walked back toward the boat over the dune, we also found an alligator track, a small gator but a hopeful sign.


It was a beautiful day and a welcome way to spend it. We appreciate all our wildlife surveillance volunteers and their efforts to monitor our beautiful and valuable wildlife. And if you need to monitor the islands or any of our other scenic habitats, I’m sure you could twist my arm to come along for a little photo documentation.



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