I had a lot of fencing work scheduled for today but it wasn't to be. Well, actually, some of it was, but only little bits and pieces.
As I drove along the fenceline to check cows this morning,
I spied an enormous bird perched atop a fence post. I pulled out my camera and slowed to a stop. To my delight and surprise the bird stayed put and I was able to quickly snap a few pictures.
I didn't know for sure but the bird looked like a Golden Eagle to me. I marveled at the fact that it was staying put, for I was within about 100 yards. In my experience raptors never let me get so close, and as soon as they see the pickup stop they take flight. Which makes it deucedly hard to get good pictures. At least for me and my (ahem) equipment.
I drove around in a wide circle to get a different sun angle, and I'll be darned if the big bird didn't stay put. I got a few more pictures before it launched into flight. That put a big smile on my face to start the day.
|Offering its opinion of meddling photographers.|
But the smile quickly vanished, replaced by (I imagine) a look of consternation. The bird wasn't flying well at all, and came to rest alongside the fence after only a few score yards of flight. Its wings seemed to be working okay, but something wasn't right.
I baled out of the pickup and approached on foot. The bird was hidden in tall weeds on the other side of the wire, and as I approached I wondered if perhaps it had a rabbit or some other prey there where it had come to earth.
But as I approached closer it once again took awkwardly to the air, and once again came down after a very short flight. This time it goofed the landing and sprawled in a very undignified heap. It eventually struggled upright, but something was clearly wrong.
|I thought you might wonder if that was a dragonfly in the previous image.|
|How 'bout that nictitating membrane?|
On the one hand. I had a lot of work I could be doing. Birds are part of nature and nature does what nature does. I had no training or knowledge about raptors, certainly not the kind that would allow me to help the bird in any way. Probably best to leave it be and let nature take its course. Better to first of all do no harm and all that.
On the other hand, I had a smart phone and was connected to the world-wide-world. I had a good idea who to call to find out who to call to see if anyone was interested in rescuing this bird.
So that's what I decided to do. The fence wasn't going anywhere, and my planned slate of fence work could be delayed.
First I called Larry Snyder, a local farmer who works with Nebraska Game and Parks and with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. He didn't answer (it's wheat harvest and he's a farmer, go figure) so I left a message. I called the Bird Conservancy and left another message. Next, I called Nebraska Game and Parks, who gave me the phone numbers of the "Raptor Rescue Girls." Wendie Henderson answered right away. She's from Alliance, but was in Scottsbluff taking her mom to the doctor. She said she'd get something coordinated and call me back.
I bent my back to fencing tasks and waited for the call. A couple of hours later the rescue team began to arrive; three from Colorado and one (plus me) from Nebraska. We put together a capture plan and drove out into the stubble field where the big bird was still grounded.
To cut to the chase, five of us encircled the bird, closed in on it, and were finally able to get a couple of blankets thrown over it. It wasn't quite that easy, but it was considerably easier than I'd expected.
What we'd captured was a big, beautiful juvenile (probably male, and probably last year's hatch) Golden Eagle. He appeared to have an injured leg, and this probably prevented him from hunting. My guess is that he was struggling with malnutrition and dehydration and had finally become too weak to fly away and escape.
By the time you read this the bird should be receiving care at the raptor rescue center in Fort Collins, Colorado.