Avian cholera takes toll on waterfowl along bay

March 03, 1994|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Writer

By early this week, wildlife division personnel in Maryland and Virginia had collected more than 4,000 carcasses of waterfowl dead from the recent outbreak of avian cholera.

Dead waterfowl, mainly sea ducks, have been collected from shorelines at Sandy Point and Kent Island as far south as Virginia Beach. The greatest concentrations in Maryland have been in Calvert and St. Mary's counties on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and at Tilghman Island and the south shore of the Choptank River in Talbot and Dorchester counties on the Eastern Shore.

Although mainly old squaws have been hardest hit, the infectious disease has had an impact on populations of scoters, buffleheads, goldeneyes, scaup, canvasbacks, tundra and mute swans, horned grebes, loons, shorebirds and gulls.

According to DNR Wildlife Division officials, the current outbreak may become similar to avian cholera epidemics in 1970 and 1978, when more than 50,000 ducks died.

Avian cholera is often present in populations of sea ducks, but under more normal weather conditions, deaths from the disease usually are isolated. The unusually large areas of ice this winter, however, have forced sea ducks, which are diving feeders, to concentrate heavily in areas of open water.

"What happens," said Joshua Sandt, director of DNR's Wildlife Division, "is that once these birds have to crowd together they expose themselves to the cholera and then it spreads quickly because the disease is discharged in body fluids and can live for a time outside the host. And, unfortunately, there is no easy way to stop it from spreading once it starts."

Luckily, populations of old squaw have shown in the past that they quickly can rebound from large losses in the population. However, infected carcasses pose a threat to other species of waterfowl and to scavengers who feed on carcasses.

Carcasses of dead waterfowl should be collected, bagged and buried.

Although the disease poses little threat to humans, anyone handling carcasses should wear plastic or disposable gloves. Birds should be picked up by the bill to minimize the amount of fluid discharged from their mouths, immediately placed in doubled plastic bags and buried above the high water line deeply enough to prevent scavenging.

Afterward, shoes, boots or clothing that has come in contact with the infected carcasses should be disinfected with a 15 percent solution of bleach and water and all skin surfaces should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

DNR's Wildlife Division asks that individuals who collect carcasses contact its offices to report numbers of birds gathered and buried.

Bass course this weekend

This weekend Howard County Community College is offering a two-day Bass Fishing Techniques Institute at the Smith Theatre. The headliner for the 16-hour accelerated course is Larry Nixon, the all-time money winner among professional bass fishermen and twice B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year.

Instructional sessions will include bass behavior and the use of electronics, color and scents to locate bass in seasonal situations, with the following instructors teaching the specialties:

* Nixon on developing plastic worm patterns year around and locating good waters in which to fish worms.

* Woo Daves, 12-time Bassmaster Classic competitor, on fishing and customizing the spinnerbait, flipping and pitching for inactive bass, shallow worm fishing and selection of lures and tackle for different situations.

* Rich Tauber, three-time Classic qualifier and winner of the $50,000 U.S. Open, on finesse fishing, crankbaits and jerk baits.

* Don Iovino on vertical tactics for deep and suspended bass and how to fish the doodle worm and the penny wobbler.

* Tony Bean, a smallmouth bass specialist, on seasonal patterns and tactics for large smallmouth.

* Danny Joe Humphrey, federation national bass champion, on top-water tactics for lunker largemouth.

Cost of the course is $74. For more information, call (410) 992-4823.

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