Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rescue Mishaps: Not what you'd expect

I’ve done many rescues for the Wildlife In Need Center over the years and most go well, a few crazily wrong, but some turn out altogether not to be quite what they seem. Now that we’re coming to the end of the busy season I thought I would relate some of these adventures.

Decoys gone wild

Driving down Highway 18 east of Wales, on the way to Brandybrook Community Center for a fall volunteer meeting a few years ago, my eye was caught by a white owl sitting on a fence post in a field. Unless it was a rare albino, the only owl we ever see in Wisconsin that is white is a Snowy Owl. We do not normally have Snowy Owl in Wisconsin as they live in the Arctic. But sometimes in winter when there is a cyclical crash in their lemming food populations, Snowy Owls will come further south looking for food. I wanted a closer look to see what that owl was. I turned around, drove back and stopped my car before I got the owl. The owl’s back was facing me and across the ditch and field I could see barbed wire twined around the post and the owls feet appeared to be tangled in the wire. I quietly got out of my car (owls can hear a mouse the distance of a football field so I’m sure it wasn’t quiet to the owl), put on my leather handling gloves and grabbed a towel. I knew I would have to subdue the owl quickly because I did not want it to thrash its feet and shred them on the barbed wire. I crept up behind the owl and was almost ready to throw my towel over it when I stopped. The owl was a plastic Great Horned Owl decoy that was so weathered the paint had worn off leaving the white plastic showing through. The barbed wire was holding it to the post. Obviously it had been there for years and I had driven past many times never noticing it. Some wildlife professional I was to mistake a decoy for a real owl! When I arrived at Brandybrook I related my story to explain my lateness. When I told people that I had stopped for a white owl on a fence post, several said “It’s a decoy!” Apparently I was not the only one fooled by a decoy.

Flightless in the rain

A call came to WINC during a driving rainstorm. Someone had called someone else to report seeing a hawk hit by a car south of Waukesha on Highway 59 between Highway 164 and Highway XX. Because I didn’t talk to the witness I didn’t have an exact location. But I did have extra coverage in the office so off I went to see if I could find the hawk. I drove east on 59 looking on both sides of the road for a hawk in the rain. Then I saw a crumpled mottled gray form laying against the fast lane curb on west-bound 59. I drove to the next intersection, turned around and drove back. I parked on the shoulder, grabbed my gloves and towel, and waited in the pouring rain to dash across two lanes of traffic to grab – a dirty gray t-shirt, filthy from being run over, probably thrown by momentum of a vehicle against the curb in a vaguely hawk-like shape. I did rescue it so no one else would mistake it for an animal. I didn’t know if that is what the person saw or if they had actually seen a real animal hit, so I drove back and forth that section of road four times before heading back to WINC to dry out. Hopefully our hawk friend wasn’t injured and flew off to find someplace dry as well.

Volunteers at last year's basic rescue training class.

During last year's basic rescue training class volunteers wrangle our educational muscovy duck for practice.

-Guest Blogger LR

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