Hancock here: Sidney Eaglet Rescue - May 19
Some days go well, others not so well. Today was superb.
Yesterday was exciting, full of hope and promise but ended with Donald/Flyer, the Sidney eaglet chick, still caught by a nylon fish line in his nest. By 6:45 this AM, already having received two calls of further assistance, I again felt the well of optimism.
By 9:00 AM the course was set. We had offers of heavy mats that would support the 65 tonne crane across the soft ground towards the eagle nest. Many media were clamoring for updates. How could they help in telling the story? This was not wasted words. It was the media yesterday telling our story of the chick caught on the fish line and how we needed many heavy mats to support the crane that got the early AM calls offering the mats. The question became, would the day yield results or again the false hopes of yesterday.
By 10:00 AM we were to have the first TV interview at the base of the BC Ferry Terminal. Richard and Karen took the vehicle ahead to get space on the ferry for Sidney on Vancouver Island. The TV cameraman then delivered me in time to join them. As we approached Epicure, the home of the Sidney nest, I knew the day was going to be different.
There were security guards at the gate to direct traffic -- cars and trucks and satellite antennae vehicles. I don't want to suggest chaos as the Epicure business is a constant hub of semi-trailers loading and unloading delicate herbs and spices and fascinating trinkets destined for world ports. But today was definitely different. The parade of press and cameramen were being directed down a dirt sideroad to our little eaglet's nest.
On our arrival the first truck of large mats was in place and more were on the way. As the press and cameramen crowded around we defined the challenge of getting the 65 tonne crane across the wet boggy ground so the crane, with its 165 foot tower, could litt us up and over the adjacent trees and carefully allow us to sidle into the old dead nest tree with its important inhabitants.
Watching all this was Ma and Pa Sidney who brought in a breakfast while we watched from below. Alternatively they sat in their nearby favorite perch trees. They looked down but really gave the gathering crowd little heed.
By 2:30 PM the crane truck, mat crews and the advancing armada of mats had advanced halfway across the moist ground. Then the truck sank to its axle -- oops -- was this the end? But no, the crane truck has horizontal stabilizers and out these went, the truck lifted itself up and the crew inserted more mats. We continued.
About this time I called my friends at Chopper 9 -- "If you left Vancouver airport now", I suggested, "the helicopter would get here about the time we got to the top of the lift and the nest. Again everything went as planned. Jeff and I got in the bucket and up we went -- an incredible field of cameras, people and vehicles disappearing below.
I heard yells from below and looked up. We were over 1/2 way up the tree and Ma was still sitting in the nest tree peering down. In seconds we were above the nest looking down at the 3 eaglets wide-eyed and staring back.
The two young chicks were to the east and Donald/Flyer, hooked by the leg, was to the west. More of my wild gesticulations to Lyal, the crane operator below, and we were up and over the nest and sideling carefully past the big supportive dead branch to the nest.
Now at eye level with the chicks Jeff and I were rather surprised that they showed no alarm -- not even a hiss or retreat movement as Jeff reached in to pick up Donald/Flyer. We looked at each other and both said, "They seem to be expecting us!" "What took you guys so long!"
With the line still wrapped around the toe we decided to first place Donald in the carrying box and then swing around to the other side of the nest. Minutes before going up I had a cell call from one of our site volunteers saying several viewers thought one of the other chicks was now also caught. This was next to verify but both Snuggles and Burrows were unincumbered and able to move freely.
The next task was to clean the "pooped-on" cam lens and then swing over to the other tree to try and reposition the wide angle cam. This was a most frustrating moment. I am trying to do this at arm's length but can't see down the line of vision. I made the best realignment and cell called Sharon who is always on call at moments like this -- but got only an answering machine. I called Richard at the bottom but doing all the things he was, he was unable to pick up that wide-angle cam. We tightened down the clamps and hoped for the best.
Now was decision time: bring down Donald/Flyer for treatment at the WildArc Rehab Center or can we undertake the necessary steps to insure his health up here so he can immediately be returned to the nest. We signalled the crane to swing us away from the tree and shut off its engine. 130 feet up we took him out of his holding cage for the all important evaluation.
First, the fish line was easily removed. Certainly the line had indented into the toe's flesh but no cut was apparent. The toe below the line was still warm and healthy. No permanent damage was detected at all. Donald/Flyer, all this time sat unprotesting in Jeff's lap. Certainly he was a bit thin but that is generally the case of the underdog chick. Of course he had been top-dog or top eaglet until he got caught on the line and could no longer bully his two younger siblings out of food.
The decision was unanimously simple -- Donald was ready to go back into the nest. This was our greatest hope and it was achieved. We washed the toe with disinfectant and got Lyal to again gently swing us between the dead supportive branches holding up the frail nest. Jeff placed him back with his siblings to a great roar swelled up from the crowd below. It was indeed touching as Jeff and I smiled to each other. So simple. So wonderful and yet so fraught with possible problems. Our little Sidney family was back together as though nothing had happened.
The descent happened in seconds and we hit the ground to a great cheer. The CBC reported from up on the hill by the Epicure buildings that Ma had returned to the nest tree before we hit the ground. The CTV Chopper 9 was headed over the horizon back to Vancouver. The Global crew, the many local newspapers and radio station rushed off to make deadlines -- the fields were left to the hard working crews that now had to get the big crane back out of the mud. The final departure was wondrous. Kelsie, the Epicure promotions manager was there giving out sample Epicure products and a thanks to all for saving their eaglet.
My departing view was of Ma standing in the nest feeding her young and Pa perched in the nest tree above. It was a good, beautiful warm sunny day in Sidney. Our 3 hour wait for the last Ferry was anti-climactic.
Hancock Wildlife Foundation
Special Thanks to:
First to Epicure Selections for tolerating this intrusion to their busy work day -- thanks to Sylvie who was on-route to Paris to administer to her incredible world-wide company -- sorry you missed the fun. And what a nice gesture -- everybody I saw got a complimentary gift bag of Epicure Selection delights.
Thanks Derek Rathwell of Drainscope, who not only provided the first mats, but who asked his own competition, Victoria Drain, to provide even more mats -- and the incredibly hard working crews who kept transferring the mats from back to front as the vehicle moved across the soft ground. Thanks guys. But the mat contribution had an interesting international twist. The plastic mats are very expensive -- and do have weight bearing limits. Would the 65 tonne crane damage them? Derek called the Pennsylvania manufacturer, described the eagle rescue, the heavy crane, the damp bog and pondered the risks to breaking his expensive mats. The owner of mat manufacturing company immediately said, "If this is helping our National Bird I will guarantee the risk." -- and the incredible mats arrived and held up the crane truck.
Again thanks to Laurie Broughton, of L.B. Crane, for responding so quickly and under trying circumstances. And thanks Lyal, his operator, who can manipulate a dangling bucket on the end of 165 foot waving stick with masterful precision. Not only do I feel confident in dangling from his hook, but more importantly, I feel equally safe in not bumping or banging a dead tree limb and dislodging our birds.
And thanks again to WildArc, the main animal rescue-rehab center in Victoria, for lending support. We were all glad the eagle could be treated in-situ and returned to the nest rather than be taken into rehab. And thanks to Jeff Krieger, of Alternative Wildlife Solutions, for accompanying me in the crane lift and helping evaluate the eaglet's condition. Not all people dangle well from 165 feet (though Karen, who usually goes up with me, was disappointed but recognized I might need stronger hands and another dozen photographers wanted up!) Also not many people have the hands-on feel of dealing with wild animals. If you need raccoons or squirrels removed from your attic -- Jeff's the man.
So many others, from our Sidney support team to neighbors like Mindy, who was so helpful with arrangement. Dave Saunders, the Mayor of Colwood, for helping with coordination, to Karen who took on so much of the media coordination as I fended off -- no that is silly -- I enjoyed the constant press calls and questions, all were so essential.
And we would have no cams or videos without our Richard to pull the technical elements together. His abilities to mend and splice, warp and distort or do what others says can't be done always amazes me. Seconds ago, as I am writing this, he called to say he was pulling together the high res videos I took from the bucket. The story continues to have many tentacles.
And then there are the unsung heros, those who are often only the recipients of criticism, who behind the scenes bend over backward to keep our environment -- or in this specific case -- our eagles well. Thanks for the decisions to help our eagles even though we all know "nature is best left alone, that there are times when we humans have interfered, the fishing line in this case, and that there are exceptions when it is justified to interfere again. In this case the human fish line was only going to be dislodged by more human interference -- and they allowed our eaglet to be that exception. But we all know that normally the wildlife is best left to fend naturally. Thanks Jack, Maggie and Helen.
And thanks to the viewers and eagleholics who continue to support our Foundation. It is only you who keep the cams going.
And thanks to the Sidney Elementary School for caring and naming our eaglets. I look forward to addressing the school later in the month.
Hancock Wildlife Foundation