After 23 years of vacationing at the same spot on the Maine coast, this summer my family did something that we’d never done before: we called the local game warden.
My sister, my son, and I had gone for a walk on the stony shore at low tide, expecting to see the usual things — mussels, clams, oysters, seaweed, snails, gulls, starfish. We didn’t expect to see a bald eagle, snagged high up in a pine tree, hanging upside down by one leg, flapping its huge wings in frantic attempts to free itself.
We had a sudden, stabbing feeling that we had to do something. But what? We were in a remote location, the bird was easily thirty feet up, and whom to call? Instinctively, we each grabbed our phones and started searching. I don’t remember the search words I typed in. It was probably something like “wildlife rescue near me,” though our location wasn’t near any town of any size.
Those words brought up the Fish and Game Commission. Relieved when someone answered, I described the details along with the closest road and landmarks, wondering how they would possibly find us; we’d walked a long way from the cottage. My son had the presence of mind to provide GPS coordinates from his phone. “We’ll be out,” Brian said. Okay, fine. But when would that be? And the whole time the tide is creeping in.
Amazingly, Brian and another warden, Roy, showed up within half an hour. Shortly after, members of the local fire department scrambled down onto the beach to join them, along with a “climbing arborist.” (A new term for me.) The arborist climbed up to the branch from which the eagle was dangling, attached ropes, cut the branch, and the team lowered the bird to the ground.
While that was being accomplished, Roy had been on the phone contacting local wildlife rehabbers. As soon as the bird was packed into a carrying crate, it was taken up to a waiting truck and driven off. We worried about the bird, of course, but experienced such a huge sense of relief. We had no idea if the eagle could be saved, but we had done what we could. It was also incredibly heartening to see so many people come to the aid of one wild creature.
The next day, Brian texted to let us know that the bird had had to be euthanized. There was too much damage to its leg. But that’s not the whole story. As the wardens were down a dirt lane to access the beach, they had encountered another eagle struggling, exhibiting unusual behavior. And down on the beach near the tree where we’d found the first eagle, they discovered a third bird flapping around on the ground in a sort of a thicket. Three immature bald eagles – we’d noticed them flying past every day we’d been at the cottage – all stricken by something.
The wardens reviewed the possibilities. Lead poisoning from hunting ammo? It was months away from hunting season. Avian flu? The symptoms weren’t right, and why would the three birds contract it at exactly the same time? The most plausible answer? Rodenticide. The mother eagle might have brought her offspring a tainted mouse or rat and unwittingly poisoned them.
I know that this is not the typical topic for a gardening column, but I wanted to share it because the experience with the eagles has gotten me thinking in a different way about the choices we make and their potential ripple effects. How everyday decisions can potentially extend beyond us in ways that we would be unhappy with if we saw the results. Having come across that eagle has changed the way I look at things. It’s not comfortable, yet it’s somehow strengthening. I wonder where it will lead me.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to email@example.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” Pam’s nature-related books for children and families are available on Amazon, at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.