A flock of snowy plovers — an endangered species of bird native to the Santa Barbara coastline — is believed to be responsible for the death of one of the docents sworn to protect them.
Police say the body of Helen Carlson, 32, was discovered wedged into a snowy plover nest burrow last Wednesday, disfigured by peck marks consistent with the size of a snowy plover beak. Carlson had been reported missing a week earlier by her boyfriend, but was believed by law enforcement to have abandoned her post as docent and fled the county during the depths of an LSD-driven breakdown.
Officials were unconcerned by Carlson’s disappearance, as numerous snowy plover docents have a reported history of abusing lysergic acid diethylamide, the semi-synthetic psychedelic drug colloquially known as acid.
Stargaze Calvelli, Carlson’s boyfriend, said she will be dearly missed.
“Helen was the world to me,” Calvelli said. “She gave so much of her life to those fucking plovers, guarding their nests, sitting on the beach on LSD in her uniform… It just isn’t fair.”
After police discovered Carlson’s body last week, doctors at Student Health had difficulty determining if Carlson — whose extremities had been gnawed off by scavengers — was actually dead.
The Student Health team debated whether or not Carlson was simply “faking it,” ultimately deciding that Carlson’s lack of breathing for several days was conclusive enough to indicate she may have died. The autopsy revealed she had lost nearly 80 percent of her outer epidermal layer and was drained of nearly all of her blood by the time of her death. The coroner’s report also said small, beak-sized incisions covered her entire body and most major arteries.
Calvelli said the beak marks are a clear sign of trauma inflicted by small, endangered sea birds.
“I always got a creepy feeling from those little birds,” Calvelli said. “I always knew they were thinking about eating my brain and drinking my blood.”
Previously believed to feed on small insect, marine and plant life, the western snowy plover, Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus, is a shore-dwelling bird that inhabits beaches and lake shores. The Snowy Plover Docent Program was created in 2001 to help maintain a safe habitat for the tiny birds at the local Coal Oil Point Reserve, recruiting volunteers to educate beach users about sharing the reserve with the plover.
Steven Gutierrez, the last person to see Carlson alive, said Carlson stopped him at the plover preserve and reprimanded him for not properly leashing his dog.
“That bitch had it coming,” he said. “Why would you just sit around and watch birds all day? If I was a plover and someone was just babysitting me all day, I’d probably snap and eat them too.”