I’ve had remarkable opportunities lately to interact up close and personal with wildlife that I’d only ever appreciated from afar. The unfortunate thing is that two of those occurrences happened because the critters were injured due to human activity.
I don’t have photos. Sometimes I just have to live most presently and put what I see to memory and be grateful that I’ve had the experience even if there’s no one else around to share it with. In fact, sometimes I think those moments are more special than being able to whip out a photo album and show others what you saw. This way, I get to carry something extraordinary in my mind’s scrapbook that will forever evoke emotion and reawaken my senses. I’ll probably even remember what songs I liked this summer because they will be linked to and anchored by these experiences.
I will write each experience as its own little story so you can skip around and read what you’re interested in.
The first event had to do with a small hawk that had hit a car and was found along the road. I thought I was being given a dead hawk to dispose of but buddy handed me a very alive hawk with a serious beak on it. I wasn’t sure what to do. It obviously had a broken wing but still had lots of vigour. I’ve never killed anything other than fish that I was going to eat for supper so I couldn’t fathom trying to euthanize it, but neither could I imagine planting it in the forest somewhere on its own to possibly suffer and starve over several days. I started driving around getting more and more worked up about what to do and getting irritated that human beings have such a huge and often negative impact on wildlife with all of our technology and need for speed. That hawk should have been happily hunting away, not running smack into someone’s car or boat trailer.
Anyway, I remembered there’s a friend who lives in the bush away from town and decided (whether true or not) that he was likely more capable of putting the poor thing down if needed, but could keep an eye on it in the meantime in case it was able to recover on its own steam. Okay fine. I was a coward and dumped it on him. Sigh …
He wasn’t home when I got out there so I tried a few different things with the hawk. First I found a fantastic tree with a thick branch that was maybe 5 feet off the ground and perched it there but it fell out backwards. As I went to pick it up again it started screeching like they do and I can tell you it’s about enough to pierce your eardrums! We’ve all heard them do it from the sky and it’s sharp and stunning enough that it always makes you look up so to have it screech in my face was CRAZY!!! How does such a small animal make such an imposing vocalization?
In the end, I built up some firewood near a tree and tucked it in the hollow to rest. Buddy came home so I was able to show him the hawk and he said he’d see what he could do which is actually a whole incredible story of its own but not mine to tell. Sadly it turns out the hawk also had a broken back as determined by a vet and was humanely euthanized.
We have American white pelicans here. I think they’re pretty cool. They look so prehistoric and strange and it strikes me as amazing that they can fly so well when they look so disproportionate with the long neck and huge bill and stubby legs. I’ve seen many pods in my years of canoeing but never gotten up close enough to see the fine details.
Wednesday this week, I received a call that there was a pelican in distress on a large lake north of the town so I rounded up some help and we booted up there by boat to check it out. Once again, because of some human being’s need for recreational sport, who then cut loose a hook without retrieving it from the water, this gorgeous bird had the giantist fishing hook stuck in its body and bill forcing its head down and to the left.
The people who called in for help were there videoing apparently. I’d love to see it because I’m sure we looked RIDICULOUS at first. The pelican could still swim and it tried to evade us by swimming in tight circles which worked very well because our big boat couldn’t do as tight of circles. My buddy was driving and I was hanging off the bow ready to grab the pelican (after a 10 second “This is How to Catch a Pelican When We Get Close to It” lesson) getting dizzier and more nauseous with each doughnut in the lake while this poor pelican just kept spiraling. Very funny. Ha-ha pelican!
We took a new strategy that involved a sudden veering off to the other side of the bird at the last second that did work and I was able to put a net over its head and we pulled it in the boat.
The hook was about 2-3 inches thick and looked like a fish with a spoon on the front end and two claw hooks with three prongs each hanging down from it. It was about 6 inches long in total. Not your average lure for this area and so realistic that of course the pelican thought it was scoring dinner! One claw hook of three prongs had pierced through the top ridge-line of the wing and into the chest tissue while the other had gone through the bill and tongue. Thankfully the hook had mostly been de-barbed. There was one barb that still had an edge that got hung up in the mouth.
Anyway, selfishly, it was amazing. I got to spend maybe 30 minutes with a pelican snug between my knees while crouched in the bottom of the boat and hanging onto its head so it couldn’t thrash around and nip my partner. I got to look in its grey-green eyes and look at the bill that reminded me of pale orange fibreglass, and observe it’s rubbery feet as big as my hands with three toenails each and feel how strong an animal it was when it would decide to stand up in an attempt to get away from us. It was tired so didn’t put up much fight until we got the left wing loose of the first hook which freed its head from being pulled to the left and then it half-halfheartedly tried to bite my buddy’s bum when he went to look for tape to cover up the hook we had loosened before working on the second claw of hooks.
There were some feathers missing and two small areas of bone exposed along the wing and jawline from it thrashing to free itself but I didn’t think it looked too bad off. Remarkably, we think it might have just happened that day so the pelican was not starving and super weak or anything. I’m so thankful that those people stumbled across it on such a huge lake and were observant enough to realize that something was wrong and call it in.
We hoisted the pelican back into the water and it puttered off at a fair pace, swimming to a nearby island of rocks and reeds. We’re thinking the main concern will be if it lost too many feathers to recover in time for the migration south. In any event, it has a chance and we can sort of keep an eye on it as the summer winds down. A more hopeful conclusion for the pelican!
The winning line and pun for the day was, we had been talking about whether we thought the pelican would be able to fly alright and then carried on trying to get the hook out and then my buddy said completely inncocently,”Well at least we’re giving it a flighting chance.”
Last night I went for a solo paddle on my favourite little lake. The day had been hotter than it has been all summer and the breeze felt good out on the water. I’ve noticed the last two times that I wasn’t seeing any wildlife beyond beavers and I should have remembered what someone told me recently – If you see the deer around then the wolves aren’t close by.
During my first paddle this week I heard a wolf howl from the far side of the lake which was great but I didn’t expect what I got last night.
I had to pee so was looking for a spot to pull over when I realized a white mask was staring at me from the long shoreline grass. I was about 75m away. I thought, ah it’s just a deer, but then right away I realized the body was all wrong and deer don’t have white faces like that so I started getting excited. I paddled and drifted quietly towards the shore and sure enough it was a wolf standing there. I got about 30m from shore and we simply watched each other for several minutes. Then it wandered off into the trees.
So then I was pumped and I started just slowly drifting and paddling back down the shoreline and it paid off. I came across two more wolves, one a pup. The day had been hot – 30C – and I figure they were enjoying the slightly cooler evening by lounging on the muddy shore at the water just the same as me. Again, we all watched one another, the pup sniffing the air lots to try and figure me out.
After a few minutes they got up and nonchalantly moved off into the woods. I could hear a fair bit of crunching and cracking of twigs and branches breaking so I’m thinking there were more of them in the pack then I could see.
I’ve never seen wolves that close before and for so long. They let me get a good look at them and it was thrilling for sure!
MISCELLANEOUS WILDLIFE SPOTTINGS AND NEAR MISSES
I parked my car in a wood lot the other night after paddling and watched two fox kits, or I guess they’re really teeny boppers at this time of the summer, wrestling and romping. One even got curious enough to circle my car and peek up into the windows.
Driving home from paddling the same night, I stopped with two other cars because a large group of elk cows with calves were along the road eating grass and two of the spotted calves were playing tag. They were sprinting up a hill then back down through the ditch, up and across the highway into the other ditch, out around the field, back over the highway and up the hill again. They did that a few times until both were panting heavily and their mama was squeaking at them to settle down and get back home to her.
And the near miss that has me buzzing a bit. I drove to the lake to go paddling and when I got out of the car, my buddy who lives nearby the canoe dock seemed to sprint back inside his house. Honestly, I was a bit concerned and hurt that he wanted to avoid me so badly but I decided to leave it and headed down to the water. I thought I heard a bit of commotion as I paddled away but didn’t think much of it until he told me a story two days later. He saw me get out of the car to walk down to the canoe when he spotted a black bear bigger than me not 20ft away so he ran in the house to get something to chase it off with.
I never saw it and I’m so glad he didn’t yell “BEAR!!”! or I’d have probably done everything wrong and made matters worse. And it goes to show that a person should never judge someone else’s behaviour without talking to them about it first. HA! I’m such a loser!!
Well, those are my adventures with wildlife lately. Sorry, but not really, for not having photos to share. All I have are vivid memories living wild in my mind’s eye. One day when I’m old and stuck living in some care home, I’ll disappear into my inner scrapbook and I’ll be able to hear the wind blowing through the reeds and the waves lapping against the shore. I’ll be able to smell the scent of pine and campfire and hear twigs snapping as the wolves take their leave. I’ll be able to feel the hawk’s breath on my face and remember the intimate searching look of the pelican’s eye staring into mine less than a foot away. And maybe the staff charged with my care will only see a senile, helpless, old woman but what they won’t know is that I’ll be as free as bee and leaving them all behind. I’ll take myself for a paddle and not return, which is how I’d prefer it in the end anyway.