(VitalNews.org) – Lake Tulare, once the biggest freshwater lake in the whole of the Western USA, dried up after years of having its water diverted for use in agriculture. The lake re-emerged this year after California saw months of storms known as “atmospheric river storms”, a type of storm known for its narrow but long shape in the sky and the huge volume of water it deposits. The long spells of rain soaked the agricultural ground situated in the former lake basin, leaving it saturated. This, coupled with a record-breaking volume of meltwater from the Sierra mountains, resulted in severe flooding in the area.
It also resulted in an influx of migrating birds using the rejuvenated lake as a rest stop on their long and arduous journey. The 160 square miles of newly available water has proved attractive to the avian visitors, and millions of birds are expected to arrive in the area over the coming months. Far from being a safe haven for the birds to rest, eat and drink in before taking the next leg of their flight, however, the lake is proving to be deadly. Avian botulism, a toxin that normally does not affect humans but is fatal to birds, has been detected by Californian wildlife authorities.
This toxin causes paralysis in its victims by attacking the peripheral nervous system. The affected bird may lose function first in its wings and legs, then in its neck, before finally losing the ability to breathe. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has launched a series of aerial, water, and ground surveys of the area in order to monitor the outbreak and manage it. One way in which they are combatting the spread of the toxin, called Clostridium Botulinum, is by removing as many dead birds from the water as possible. The decaying bodies in the water create the perfect conditions for the toxin to thrive, so this is the first step in managing the outbreak, according to a statement made by a CDFW scientist, Evan King. The surveys will also aid the department in finding warm, stagnant areas of water, as these are ideal breeding grounds for botulism.
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