Excitement surges through the flock as we approach San Francisco Bay. I'm exhausted from hours of non-stop flight, but I feel a tiny burst of energy just before landing. I keep repeating Jorge's last words "persistence and accuracy." I am so tired I can only follow the flock. Each wing beat is painful and is a huge effort. I don't know if I can make it.
San Francisco Bay should offer a number of good places to stop and refuel. There are tidal marshes, mudflats, salt ponds, seasonal, brackish or freshwater wetlands, tide pools, islands, rivers, creeks, as well as bay shoreline. But about 85% of San Francisco Bay's shoreline and tidal wetlands have been altered since the 1950's. This gives us fewer and fewer places to land and rest. Historically, many shorebirds have used the wetlands south of the San Mateo Bridge (South Bay). But this is also where humans built big buildings and where we want to rest and eat. How can we both use the wetlands?
Our flock swooshes down toward this marsh. Huge new condominiums greet us and we panic as we lose energy looking for a new place to feed and rest. There is no choice but to stop. We are too tired to go any further and we have no fat reserves left. We land in a marsh that borders the development and hope that there are no dogs or water pollution.
For three days we gorge ourselves non-stop on crustaceans and mollusks. All I care about is eating and eating and eating. I am not aware of much else around me.
On our fourth day at this marsh, I learn that the decision to stop here saved our lives. If we had tried to find a different wetland not too far away, we would have died. A local bird told us the sad news. Chemicals from a smoke stack were caught in clouds; they poisoned the rainwater and then poisoned marine life in that wetland.
Shorebirds like us depend on healthy wetlands for survival. When we hear about situations like this it seems like a miracle that we survive our migrations. This has been an exhausting several weeks. But there is still something that pushes me on - something beyond my ability to understand. All I know is that I must move on. My friends and my flock fly north.