July 15, 2018
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Maine birder finds creative way to give back to wildlife rehabilitators

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Updated:

With camera in hand, Laura Zamfirescu of Monroe was walking along the sandy shore of Sears Island recently when she spotted a bird struggling in the ocean’s waves.

“I think he was trying to fly off, but he couldn’t,” Zamfirescu, 37, said. “And I waited and waited. He was coming towards me, and I went after him. I took my boots off, and I went after him.”

Snatching up a piece of driftwood from the beach, Zamfirescu waded into the frigid saltwater up to her knees, slowly approaching the small, gray bird. On the surface of the water, she pushed the driftwood in front of the bird — which turned out to be a Leach’s storm petrel — and it climbed right on.

“I don’t know if they can shiver or not, but he was looking like he was shivering,” Zamfirescu said of the bird.

So she took off her jacket, covered the bird and carried it back to shore. She then lugged it back to her car, where she held the storm petrel in her lap and cranked up the heat. The bird was surprisingly calm, she said, and it remained that way as she drove to Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in the nearby town of Freedom.

It wasn’t the first time Zamfirescu has brought an injured bird to Avian Haven. A self-described “amateur wildlife photographer,” she spends a lot of time outdoors and appears to have a knack for finding birds — healthy birds and otherwise. In recent years, she’s delivered a crow, tree swallow and hawk to Avian Haven. But it was the storm petrel that inspired her to find some way to give back to the facility, which is run by a nonprofit organization and sees nearly 2,500 birds per year.

“Two or three days after I delivered the storm petrel to them, I was thinking I should do something for them because they’ve done something for me with all the birds I’ve taken to them,” Zamfirescu explained.

Zamfirescu knew she didn’t have enough free time to devote to volunteering at the center or transporting injured birds across the state — two common ways people support Avian Haven — but she had another idea. Gathering some of her favorite bird photographs together, she created two 2018 wall calendars, one including a variety of Maine birds and the other focusing on the hummingbirds she so often photographs in her backyard. She’s now selling these two calendars online for $15.99 each, and all of the proceeds are going directly to Avian Haven.

Fairly new to the world of birding and photography, Zamfirescu moved to Maine from Romania about eight years ago and lives in Monroe with her husband and young son. It was at their home where she was first inspired to learn more about birds and photography. In fact, she can pinpoint the day it all started, about three years ago, when a snowy owl showed up in her backyard.

“I didn’t even know what it was at that moment,” she said of the snowy owl, a large white owl that breeds in the Arctic and sometimes migrates south to spend the winter in Maine. “I had a small camera, like a point and shoot, and I took a couple of pictures of him. And inside I had a book with birds, and when I saw what I had in my backyard, I said, ‘Oh my word, I need a better camera.’ And that’s when it all started.”

Since then, Zamfirescu has upgraded her camera equipment several times and has become an enthusiastic birder and photographer, identifying as many as 122 species of birds in her own backyard in Monroe. Yet when she waded out into the water off Sears Island this November, she couldn’t identify the bird she rescued. She had never seen it before.

At Avian Haven, she learned the bird was a Leach’s storm petrel, which in November should have been much farther south. Dark gray with a forked tail, the species lives most of its life out on the open sea, feeding on crustaceans, small fish and invertebrates at the surface of the water.

The goal of Avian Haven, for each bird brought through its doors, is to heal the bird and release it back into the wild as soon as possible. However, they simply can’t save every bird, and that was the case with the storm petrel. One of the bird’s legs was injured beyond repair. It wouldn’t survive if released back into the wild, so it needed to be euthanized.

While plenty of sad stories take place at Avian Haven, there are also many uplifting stories, ones that end with a bird soaring through the sky, re-entering its natural habitat. The center shares many of these stories, happy and sad and always educational, through the Avian Haven Facebook page, which has more than 15,000 followers from around the world. On Nov. 22, for example, Avian Haven reported the successful rehabilitation and release of a short-eared owl rescued from Abbot in late October after being struck by a vehicle. The owl, which had a large wound on one wing, recovered over the course of a few weeks, and was released in a coastal marsh area by a volunteer.

Also on the Avian Haven Facebook page, the organization posted a link to where you can purchase Zamfirescu’s bird-themed 2018 wall calendars in support of the center at lulu.com with the search term “Avian Haven.”

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