Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rollercoaster birthday

This year has sure had its ups and downs for me. Early in the year I got the great pleasure of photographing a great horned owl nest with a chick for a couple of weeks only to see the chick die after it fell from the nest. I started this blog in April which has been very good for me but then in May got diagnosed with diabetes and started having to take insulin shots and watch my diet. On August 12th I turned 44 and this birthday had it's ups and downs just like most of the year has.
As part of my birthday celebration my wife indulged my desire to go on a birding trip up to Crex Meadows. We had taken some great trips to Crex in the early summer but our last trip in July had not been very fruitful. My hope was that some of the shorebirds might be migrating through and we would have a good trip. Unfortunately there were very little shorebirds to be found. The birding was not a complete loss though, we did manage to see trumpeter swans with cygnets, belted kingfisher, sandhill cranes, pied grebe, mergangser, egret, heron, goldfinch, northern harrier, eastern kingbird and others. This would have been a fun but pretty forgettable trip except for 2 incidents.

First the bad. During the trip my Canon 20d locked up and gave me an error 99. This is a generic error that I have received a few times before. I have found that taking the battery out and then putting it back in seems to reset the system and clear the error. This time though it did not work. When I placed the battery back in the shutter started going off continuously until I removed the battery again. I have since got the shutter to quit going off when I put in a battery but as soon as I turn the camera on I get the error 99 again. So for now I am using my wife's canon XTI until I can decide what I want to do about the problem.

Now the really good. While we were out shooting I spotted a large shape on the ground in the area that is the dried out Phantom Lake. We took a closer look with the bino and saw that it was an immature bald eagle. We took a couple pictures and watched it for a while and both Michelle and I began to get the feeling that something was wrong.
I have observed many eagles in my birding adventures but I have rarely see one sit on the ground for an extended period of time unless it was on a carcass of some sort. It did not look like it was eating anything but I decided to get out of the car to get a little higher view and see if I could see any kill on the ground.

Getting out of the car spooked the bird but instead of flying away it ran a few steps with one wing up and the other one down. At this point we figured that he had an injured wing so we went to the Crex visitor center to report our observation. Unfortunately the volunteers who man the visitors center on Sundays are typically retirees who do not have much experience dealing with wildlife and this Sunday was no exception. Next we tried to call the Raptor Center which is down in the Twin Cities. We reached their automated system which gave us an emergency number. We called that and got another automated system which gave basic directions on what to do if you found an injured raptor and then referred you to the website.

At this point we figured that we were on our own. It had been about 30 minutes so we went back into the park to check on the bird and found that he was still on the ground in the same spot. We then left the park and drove 20 miles to the nearest town. There we found a Walmart and purchased the largest animal carrier that they had, a pair of leather garden gloves and a sheet, since it was an emergency I forwent my boycott of Walmart for their bad business and environmental practices.

We returned to the park, over an hour had passed, and the eagle was still in the same spot. I headed out with the cage, gloves and sheet. I had Michelle stay at the road since the footing was not that great, being a dried up lake bed, and she took some pictures.

As I approached the eagle tried to run, but he tripped over his bad wing and ended up on his back. With his bad wing he could not turn himself back over. So I threw the sheet over him so that he would calm down.I then worked to gather him up so that I could place him in the cage. Unfortunately his wing was still out and while I was trying to get it folded back in his head came uncovered. He immediately panicked and used me to get himself flipped back over. I backed off not wanting to get impaled by his talons, I don't think leather garden gloves where meant to stop an eagles talon.He scurried away right to a depression in the ground that still contained water and mud.He tripped again and ended up on his back in the mud. This was a huge problem. I tried to cover him up with the sheet again to calm him down but as the sheet began to cover him he clawed at it with his talons and pushed himself further into the mud. His head went under the mud for a second and I was worried that he might drown. I tried to get down to him so that I could pull him out but I was sinking up to the top of my thighs before I could reach him. I backed off to let us both regain our composure. There was no way that I could get out to the bird without going into the deep mud and taking a chance of loosing my footing.

So I found a stick on the ground, slid it under the bird and used it to pull him out of the mud. He tried to push himself away from me and further into the mud but I would not let him go. I told him right there that I would not let him die. I moved the cage as close to the water/mud as I could to the left of the bird and then pivoted his head into the cage. I then covered his head up with the sheet to calm him down. I then folded in his good wing and had to lift the cage out of the mud to fold in his bad wing which was underneath him. Unfortunately he was half way in when he grabbed the cage door with his talon and would not go in any further. I put the stick that I used to get him out of the mud behind his talon to keep him from backing out and worked on getting his talons free from the door. When I freed one talon he let go of the door and clasped the stick instead. I then turned the stick and put it, along with the rest of the bird, inside the cage. The stick was too big to fit into the cage with the door shut so I left the door open with the stick protruding.

By this time Michelle came down because she was worried because she could not see what was happening. I was not happy with how the bird was sitting in the cage but I wanted to get it away from the mud before I tried to fix the situation. As I was carrying the cage to the road David and Debbie Oxendale pulled up in their SUV. David was a volunteer at Crex and had some experience helping with wild birds. He helped me to get the eagle straightened out on his back, we would have preferred to have him on his feet but we thought that turning him over might cause more damage.

Together with Dave and Debbie we took the eagle back to the visitors center. Dave then made some calls trying to find someone that was available to assist the bird. He talked with someone at the DNR and they suggested the Raptor Center. After a few times through the automated system he was able to get a hold of someone. Since we could not get a hold of anyone that could help out by Crex it was decided that we would take the bird to the Raptor Center. So we loaded the bird in the car, thanked David and Debbie for their help and drove back to the cities. We arrived at the Raptor Center just after 4pm. They took the eagle in and looked at him right away. It was obvious that he had a problem with his wing but he still had some fight in him when they took him from the cage, which they said was a good sign. They were very positive about his prospects to live which made all the work and stress of the rescue worth while.

The whole ordeal was pretty stressful and between the stress, exertion, and not eating until late my blood sugar dropped so low that I got dizzy and had to eat a piece of sugared candy. Despite all that I consider helping this bird live is the best birthday present that I have ever received.

I am currently waiting to hear from the raptor center on his progress and will update this post when I get word.

Update:

I just put up another post with an update on the bird and a photo taken by John Mikes at Weekend Shooter that might explain what happened in the first place. You can find the new post here http://ecobirder.blogspot.com/2007/08/eagle-rescue-update.html

5 comments:

Lynne said...

What an amazing, once in a lifetime experience you had. I'm glad you were there to help that eagle.

Scott said...

I have a 10D that started giving me the Err 99, and it did that whenever I tried to take a picture. The problem is usually the shutter, which they say is about a $200 repair. I never sent mine in though, instead I fixed it by getting a 30D.

John Mikes said...

Ya done good, man! I thought I felt happiness in The Force today.

Ecobirder said...

Thx everyone who has responded. The experience was very thrilling but at the same time it was pretty scary too.
I still have not decided what to do about the camera. I will prolly send it in for repair, and buy another camera so that I have more options in the future. I would love to get the EOS 1D Mark III but have a hard time justifying $4500 to my wife for a camera. The 30D is a little better then I had but I have read rumors that the 40D may be released at the beginning of September. So I will prolly just wait a week or two and continue using my wife's XTI.

I should get word back today on the condition of the eagle so stay tuned.

John Mikes said...

You might want to consider a used 1DII or IIn, or a new IIn. It's kind of a beast, but I think you'd like it just for the AF.

I sent you a pic (a bad one) of an attack on a juvenile eagle by an adult I saw at Crex a few days before your adventure. Pretty good chance that's how the bird was injured. It was about midway down Phantom Lake south of the east-west strips of water where the geese are gathering. The picture is from a long way away and out of focus to boot, but it looks like the right wing of the juvenile was bent back severely by the buzzing adult. I don't know if the adult was trying to hurt the youngster or just trying to drive him away from the female. I only got the one frame of the attack so I can't tell, but suspect the juvenile saw the old man coming (and he was really moving) and raised his wings to either take off or in a defensive posture. The adults talons were extended and probably hooked under the right wing as the adult went by. You can tell there was an impact by the way the adult is off balance.

I'll work on the pic and see if I can improve it, but I don't have much hope. Crap in equals crap out.