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Two Rare Birds and their Stories

1This summer the WCV received a peregrine falcon from Siesta Key and a crested caracara from Northeast Sarasota County near Myakka City. I got the call on the caracara after-hours from a couple that had discovered it in their back pasture struggling to free itself from a barbed wire fence on their property. I only have two volunteer rescuers that routinely take night calls for me. Fortunately Caron Gleason, the closer of the two was available. After a little coaching she was off and running. Once on scene she was able to cut the bird free with the help of the original caller, Wayne, leaving a deeply embedded piece attached to the underside of the bird’s wing. Caron put the caracara in the kennel and was again on the move to meet me at my flooded driveway at almost midnight to examine and hopefully dislodge what was left. Caron was not as lucky during this encounter as she was badly taloned in the hand by our not so enthusiastic patient, right through her driving gloves. To make matters worse, she’s a piano teacher. Once we got her free from the bird, we were able to dislodge the remaining barbed wire from the bird’s wing, although it was not easy. Caron then helped me wrap the hanging wing in a figure-8 wrap and put the bird away before she would allow me look at her own hand. You have to love the perseverance of our rescue team although I hoped her students forgive me for those weeks’ lessons. The caracara was released one month later to the day at the Old Miakka School by Caron and her mother, Bobbie Gleason.

The second rare bird was the peregrine falcon reported to be an injured hawk on Siesta Key’s very public beach. Longtime WCV rescuer Jan Steber responded to the call not far from his house. The bird had a broken wing and Jan quickly brought it to the center for treatment. Upon examination, I could tell that there was a fracture in either the radius or ulna just near the elbow and believed the fracture site to be self-splinting, but the proximity to the elbow was at high risk for calcification and compromised joint movement. This was all guess work based on what we could see and feel amidst a lot of swelling and bruising. 2
I carefully applied a figure-8 wrap to the body and administered anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers. I then made an appointment with Dr. Jack Landess at Nokomis Vet Clinic for X-ray and possible bone pinning for this very special bird that I personally haven’t seen in nearly a decade. Upon examination and X-ray, Dr. Jack verified my suspicions that the fracture was self- splinting and recommended leaving the wing in a figure-8 wrap for 2 weeks, instead of risking any surgery so close to the joint. Two weeks later we removed the wrap, extremely happy that the elbow and wrist still had a full range of motion, although understandably, its wing was still hanging a bit low. The peregrine was then moved to a 10’X10’ Eagle Scout Aviary to recover for a couple of weeks. Now being conditioned in our new Eagle Scout Flyway, the bird is flying beautifully, but the injured wing noticeably tires more quickly than the other. However, I feel with time that this small falcon, the fastest of all birds, will make a full recovery. Jan and I both are looking forward to that release. Caron already returned her crested caracara friend to the wild and now that her hand has healed she has a great story for the kids.

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.)