Every now and then we are given an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Those opportunities seldom seem like monumental moments of great accomplishments. The truth be told, they rarely seem significant at all but, to the one who needs encouragement or assistance, they can have an extraordinary impact.
As I was thinking about that truth an ice cream soda came to mind.
My wife was raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother loved ice cream sodas. While she was in her eighties and nineties we would often pop in unannounced and bring her a simple Dairy Queen ice cream soda. Judging by her reaction you would have thought we had presented her with a priceless jewel. That lady really loved ice cream sodas! (And we really loved that lady.)
I thank God that Grandma was there for a neglected four year old girl after her parents’ messy divorce. I thank God that there are wonderful, caring people in this world who see a need and take action. They get involved. They intervene.
Such an intervention occurred on January 8, 2017 in the life of a young, transient female Bald Eagle. This Bald Eagle.
Late one evening, in early January, our good friends at the Glen Helen Raptor Center received a call about a Bald Eagle that someone had spotted earlier in the day. The bird had been seen in the vicinity of Huffman Dam and it appeared to be unable to fly. Due to the lateness of the hour and the approaching darkness, the decision was made to try to locate the eagle early the next day. When the rescue team arrived that next morning they had no luck in locating the eagle. (Although eagles are large birds, they are awfully good at becoming inconspicuous when they are grounded. Hungry predators prowl the darkness and shadows become places of concealment and protection. An eagle on the ground that is healthy enough to put up a fight will do just that but without the ability to fly it cannot escape the threat posed by a hungry coyote. Without the ability to fly starvation, illness, dehydration and even parasites will eventually take their toll.) Unable to find the eagle the team returned to the nature center, disappointed and empty-handed.
Perhaps the bird was just temporarily stunned. That is not an uncommon condition in the avian world. Perhaps it had just been feeding on something. But perhaps, by now, something else was feeding on it. (Unanswered questions can be reassuring or frightening. It is disheartening to leave on a rescue mission with great anticipation and then return without success.) The only option for the team at this point was to await another report and to hope for the best.
Then several days later, there was another sighting of the injured bird! A Five Rivers MetroParks officer had spotted a grounded eagle near the top of Huffman Dam. Contact was made with Glen Helen and our Eastwood Eagle Watchers group. (As I was in Florida for the week my calls went to voice mail, but thankfully Roger was available. Huffman Dam is just less than a mile east of The Treetop Palace and there was concern that the downed eagle may have been one of our own.) Upon arrival at the dam the bird was still sitting in the grass just behind the guardrail that runs along either side of the bikeway that spans the large earthen structure.
A plan was quickly formulated as to how best to approach the eagle. As the team moved toward the bird she became weary of the gloved, net-bearing, blanket-toting humans and glided down the hillside to the field below where she landed in the snowy grass. (The glide down the hill instantly gave the rescuers a few clues. 1. She was strong enough to be feisty. 2. She could glide. 3. She did not flap her wings so there may be an issue there. 4. This not going to be as easy as they had hoped.)
The team slowly worked their way down the slippery slope where they were able to surround the bird successfully capture it without inflicting any further injury.
(Now I know that many of you have already wondered if this injured female could possibly have been Joy, the young lady that Jim had been seeing in December. Well we wondered that too. This bird appears to be the same age as Joy so the coloration is similar. She seems to be the same size as Joy. She was found just east of Jim’s nest. She was found about the same time that Joy disappeared and Hope arrived. But Jim and Joy had been seen together many times during the days just after this injured eagle had first been spotted. To settle our curiosity a close comparison was made between close-up images of Joy and this young female and there were distinct differences in the coloration of their beaks and head feathers therefore we concluded that this bird was not Joy.)
Examination of the eagle showed that she had suffered a fractured cortoid which had already begun to heal. This bone, similar to a human clavicle, is a needed skeletal structure for a bird to raise, lower and rotate their wings in flight. The fact that it was already healing showed that the injury had happened some time ago and reassured the Glen Helen staff that this was the bird that had been seen on the ground days earlier. For the next several weeks the bird was treated, hydrated, nourished and monitored at the raptor center where she responded well to the care.
This past week she had recovered sufficiently to be released back into the wild! The Glen Helen staff decided that Caesar’s Creek State Park was the best place for the release. Usually eagles are released as close as possible to where they were rescued if that area is practical for their survival. With Huffman Dam being so close to The Treetop Palace and Jim and Hope being close to nesting, releasing the female there may have led to an eagle to eagle confrontation. The Caesar’s Creek reservoir, some 30 miles southeast of Dayton, is a large lake within the state park. Although eagles are often seen on the lake, there are no known active nests in the immediate area. Arrangements were made with the park and last Wednesday, February 15th, several of us gathered for a short caravan to the release site. Knowing that few people are able to participate in such an activity, grab a jacket and ride along with me!
The air is brisk and biting as we make our way to the car. This promises to be an exciting day and our enthusiasm overpowers the chill in the air! We have started off on this adventure early enough to allow for a quick swing by Eastwood Lake to check on Jim and Hope. As we turn into the park we see that we are almost the only vehicle around. In fact, ours is the only car except for that familiar black Jeep at the other end of the entrance road. That Jeep tells us that Roger has beaten us here again. We make a quick stop to view The Treetop Palace where we find Jim and Hope tugging on sticks. On our way west, back on the entrance road, we pass Roger who reminds us that he will not be able to make it to the release but his “better-half”, Marcia, will be there. At the western end of the lake we find one lone juvenile perched atop a dead tree enjoying a fishy breakfast. As we pass he glances our way and then turns his attention back to his morning meal.
As we exit the park to begin our 35 mile drive to Caesar’s Creek we begin a wandering conversation about the growing eagle population in southwest Ohio and how blessed we are to witness it all. As we skirt around Xenia, Ohio we see a number of Red-Tailed Hawks hunting from perches along the roadside. There was a time when Red Tails seemed large to us but now they don’t seem quite so large as they once had. Perspective changes things and the recent upsurge in the eagle population has given us a different opinion of what “large” looks like. Making our way south on 42 we pass near Sugarcreek and comment on the eagle nest there. On the outskirts of the little town of Waynesville we notice a dozen or so White-tailed Deer in a farm field to the east of the roadway, foraging through the stubble of last year’s crop. As we turn east onto 73 and pass the first sign for Caesar’s Creek our anticipation grows. The sky is a crystal blue and the few clouds floating by look like puffs of cotton drifting in the wind.
We have arrived a bit early so we drive on past the visitor center, our designated meeting area, to check out the dam. There I spot a solitary adult Bald Eagle perched in a tree overhanging the lakeshore. “Do you see him?” I ask.
It takes a few seconds but soon you too can see the eagle as he sits quietly in the morning stillness adding to the solemn solitude of the scene.
The parking lot of the visitor’s center is filled with pickup trucks labeled ODNR Wildlife Officer. Apparently there is some type of meeting here this morning. We circle the lot and find a place to park. Soon we hear a familiar voice. Deanna, another eagle watcher, has pulled into the adjacent parking space. She is a Five River MetroParks Officer and was instrumental in the rescue of the injured eagle. As we chat we see Marcia’s pickup pull in. We greet each other briefly before retreating to the heated interiors of our vehicles. All eyes are on the driveway as we wait for the arrival of the feathered guest of honor!
Soon a familiar Subaru pulls in. Through the hatchback’s rear window we see a large travel crate covered with a blanket! Our pulses quicken for we know of the treasure hidden within it. The whole group now files into the visitor center where we are greeted by a friendly staff and introductions are exchanged. A short conversation follows, maps are laid out and an exact location for the release is agreed upon. Back in the cars we begin to form a small caravan led by a Caesar’s Creek van, then the Subaru with the precious cargo safely secreted inside.
The frostiness of the air is enhanced by the moisture of the nearby lake and the roadway is as barren as the leafless trees, except for our little caravan. Near the dam a hinged section of the guardrail is unlocked and the caravan ventures off road onto an old river levee where we find a suitable place to park. We step out into the chilly air and notice that there is a pretty stiff breeze blowing. All in all it is pretty nice weather for a mid-February day in Ohio, but it is chilly none the less. As Glen Helen staffers remove the crate we ready our cameras.
Another brief discussion begins as to how to best position the crate in the wind. By now almost everyone has produced some kind of camera, even if it just a cellphone. Employees, volunteers, eagle watchers all want to capture the moment when freedom is returned to one so perfectly designed to embrace freedom.
Now there is a bit of art and necessity built into this part of the process that causes things to move rather rapidly. As soon as the blanket is pulled back the apprehensive eagle within the crate will sense freedom. She will need a moment to acclimate herself to the surroundings and to face the doorway, but too much delay may allow her to injure herself. Human fingers are also in danger as the door is unlatched and opened. The eagle inside usually does not stay around to say “Thank you.” to her rehabbers but they understand. Their goal has always been to provide the proper care for her restoration with minimal contact, looking forward to this very moment! This is it! The blanket is pulled back. The eagle stirs and moves to the door. The door is opened. The eagle rapidly steps out of confinement. One or two more steps may be taken as wings are unfolded and takeoff is achieved. A few strong flaps and the eagle disappears back into the wild where it belongs. In the few glorious seconds that are about to pass we will witness something that few are privileged to see. The anticipation is almost unbearable. Rebecca, the director of The Glen Helen Raptor Center will have the honor of setting the captive free!
And then it happens! Just…like….this!
We watch as strong, capable wings gracefully carry the young eagle higher into the air, up and over the nearby treetops. We may never see this particular eagle again but we will remember her forever. Grateful hearts are happy hearts and as we turn the cars around, pass back through the guardrail and onto the roads that will take us home, we are grateful that this young eagle is now home where she belongs. Home in the wild. She is home because of the many loving hearts that were willing to make a difference.