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Volunteers collect oiled birds

Volunteers collect oiled birds

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PACIFICA, Calif. - Animal-rescue volunteers collected at least 25 oiled birds from beaches in Pacifica and as far south as Half Moon Bay this weekend, prompting fears that more are on the way as the oil slick from the damaged tanker headed down the coast Sunday.

News that the wind had shifted in a northwesternly direction on Sunday morning kept bird rescue volunteers busy monitoring beaches across San Mateo County for oiled western grebes and surf scoters.

"I think we're going to see a few more since the wind has shifted and the slick is moving this way," said Sue Pemberton, a local volunteer with the Peninsula Humane Society who personally picked up seven oiled birds Saturday in Pacifica's Esplanade Beach, Rockaway Beach and Linda Mar Beach, as well as Montara State Beach just south of Devil's Slide.

Rebecca Allen, assistant manager with the wildlife department of the Peninsula Humane Society, said her group had sent 15 birds out for treatment at the main animal hospital in Marin on Saturday, and collected another five from other beaches, including Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay, on Sunday. Some were already dead by the time her group was contacted, she said. Another five or six birds were collected from beaches around Pillar Point Harbor by the International Bird Rescue Committee on Sunday, said Allen.

"It's about what we expected. We know that they're out there, it's just a question of getting to them," she said.

In spite of Coast Guard officials' warnings not to go near the birds, Pacifica resident Penny Keating transformed her home into a temporary shelter for oiled birds that started showing up near her home at the southernmost tip of Pacifica State Beach on Saturday. She and her daughter caught and passed two oiled birds along to wildlife groups this weekend.

"They're just preening and preening," Keating said, describing the birds. "They're very awkward trying to get up on the rocks and stuff. We're just sort of watching them. We're trying to keep our eyes open."

On Sunday, the wind shifted for the first time since the oil spill. Gusts began blowing the current down the coast, and reports from the Coast Guard indicated that the oil slick had reached the southernmost tip of San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

Petty officer Jonathan Cilley cautioned that if the wind had shifted, it could shift again. He would not speculate on whether the oil itself would reach Pacifica beaches. He said no Pacifica beaches were under consideration for closure, and he had no information about any vessels headed in that direction to contain the flow.

Pemberton said she knew the Coast Guard "meant well" in asking people to stay away from direct animal rescue, but she decided to take action on her own when she saw how few official rescue workers were present on San Mateo County beaches.

"It's a little frustrating. It's hard to watch birds sit and suffer and die because they can't get their stuff together," said Pemberton. "Now that they're starting to see more birds moving south, they're sending more people, but the crisis is still in the Bay."

(c) 2007, San Mateo County Times (San Mateo, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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