Osprey Chick Swallows Hook & Line

alpha-necklace-and-monofilamentRecently, Peg Magee and I conducted an educational program for the Women’s Club at Pelican Point.  During the presentation, I expressed a need for a security-style metal detector to help identify and locate swallowed hooks and other foreign objects.  I’m certainly glad I did because Maureen Senecal donated the money to purchase the detector and we had one less than two weeks later.  We had found very few ingested hooks and leaders until a couple of weeks later when a call came in on an osprey nest situation tailor-made for the use of this apparatus.

The WCV was contacted about an osprey chick that had swallowed a hook and line while in its nest amongst two siblings and its parents.  The nest platform was atop a piling in the inter-coastal waters of South Siesta Key.  Residents had been enjoying and watching the chicks develop when Tatiana Staats’ routine photos revealed evidence of a hook and line being swallowed by one chick as it was being ingested deeper and deeper until it was out of sight.  Another rescue team was contacted but this was a specialized job, one which we were not equipped for just weeks earlier.  Beyond a metal detector, we would require a sturdy boat, a competent boat captain, an extension ladder and extra pair of hands to stabilize the ladder.  All were necessary for me to tackle this job, especially in the rough choppy waters that afternoon, which is ultimately why the other organization had referred us.

Fortunately, WCV rescuer Jessi Leis’ recon of the situation located another condo resident, who was coincidently a boat owner and osprey nest platform builder.  How lucky could I be! Chomping at the bit to help, preparations began immediately for the afternoons’ big challenge.  I grabbed my tree climbing gear, a large rimmed net, an extension ladder, a large transport kennel and of course our new metal detector as I attempted to prepare for this unique situation. Before Jessi and I were off to meet our boat owners, John and Karen Hartrampf, I decided to invite friends at our local ABC news station to help film and document this rescue. We were hoping for a happy ending.

Upon arrival at the scene everyone came together.  Jessi and I gathered our gear and boarded John’s boat, as Tatianna and ABC photographer Rod Fetsch set up to film our efforts from a nearby dock.  Sure enough, the water was rough but John knew just where to have me drop anchor. As he coached this land lubber on what to do, I slowly let the line out as his bow approached the base of the piling as quietly as possible. Our biggest fear was that the chicks would be spooked out of the nest prematurely, possibly ending in drowning.  If swallowing hooks weren’t life threatening, we would never have attempted this at all.

Once John tied off to the piling and everything was as stable as possible, we quickly and quietly extended the ladder.    By this time both parents knew something was up and were obviously very upset.  It was now or never.  I grabbed the wide rimmed net and hung the metal detector from my wrist.  Halfway up the ladder, I readied myself and while ducking down crept up a few more steps, then sprung up and successfully netted and secured all three chicks.

With my feet still on the ladder and my torso overhanging the edge of this large, and fortunately stable, nest platform I switched from my rescue hat to rehabilitator hat.

I struggled to remove each chick one by one from beneath the net without losing the others in order to check their general health and look for any signs of swallowed hooks using the metal detector. In this very awkward position I gave them an exam, each patient gripping the net, each other, and sometimes myself.  To make matters worse the net formed a bond with the osprey parents beautiful nest.  I will always cherish this experience, despite the odor of rancid fish and guano.

Only one chick, the second examined, had set off the metal detector near its abdomen so I readied myself for the biggest challenge, the dismount.  With equipment in one hand and our patient in the other, I spent another few minutes dislodging the net from the nest and removing leftover fishing debris which, for obvious reasons, is a passion of all those aboard the boat.  Hoping to keep the other two chicks in the nest, I quietly descended largely hands free.

Jessi quickly took the osprey and placed it securely in the cage while John helped me secure our equipment before taking down the ladder during which both John and I nearly had an unplanned swim.  A little sweat and a few bruises later, we untied from the piling, lifted anchor and rejoined our friends on the main land.  With everyone thankful things went as well as they did, Jessi and I returned to the WCV and made an appointment for an x-ray and possible surgery.  Dr. Jack Landess of Nokomis Vet Clinic could not detect any hooks from the x-ray.  We made arrangements to return the chick to the nest wondering if the bird had passed the metal object while in our care.

John, our boat captain, was relieved as we were to know that the chick was okay and resultantly delayed his seasonal trip north to help us re-nest the osprey with its siblings and parents.  Now old hands at this and in much calmer waters, we repeated the process with net, metal detector and osprey in tow.  Just to be sure, I again examined the two chicks left behind with the metal detector.  Everything was going great.  Without carrying the osprey chick, the dismount was easier and everyone was elated.

Then just as we were dislodging the ladder, one chick took its first flight, and although it made it to shore it was nearly out of sight from our vantage point.  We scrambled to pack up and get to shore.  Just as we were arriving at the mainland, the original caller, Tatianna, saw our charges’ second flight landing near where we were located, still far from the nest and a little out of sorts after the ordeal.

Having been lucky so far, we decided to put the new twice-flighted youngster on a cleaning table on the dock.  We watched for awhile to no avail, but Tatianna assured me that those parents have fed their chicks on that table in years past, so we left the situation under their watch.  The next day John called expressing his concerns that the youngster had not moved and was worried it had not been fed.

Once again, rescuer Travis Menderak and I packed up the truck with equipment and mullet and headed to Siesta Key.  Not five minutes after arriving at the site for the third time, our osprey chick followed our plan, even if a day late, and was back with its family in the nest,  All of our well intentioned interfering was behind them as flight training and prey training began.  (Check out the footage of the first visit at the ABC news website.)

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