Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
As I stood and listened to the instructions that were being given to me by Carol, a Teaching Professional at a Lakewood golf course, I was aware of how odd the situation must have been for her. I mean, golf professionals typically tell people the best way to AVOID the rough, but she was directing me in the best way to get into it. As Carol instructed me to drive straight up the fairway and then turn left towards a large wooded ravine, fellow Naturalist Julie Stonefelt sat patiently in a nearby golf cart holding a large pet carrier on her lap. Inside the carrier a being waited patiently for his life to be restored.
Only moments before receiving directions from Carol, I had given her and her groundskeepers a brief glimpse of the wild creature that would soon be working the night shift on their course. Ordinarily at such pre-release previews it is necessary for me to remind people to keep their voices down and their movements slow. Carol, however, took on my usual role so convincingly that no further reminders were required. She was the first to view the contents of the carrier as I held back the cover and monitored the face on the other side of the bars for signs of stress. Focusing on the animal, I caught only a glimpse of Carol's physical reaction, but I was abundantly aware of the soft words of amazement that she spoke involuntarily, as most people do when something strikingly beautiful is revealed to them. Each member of the grounds crew then took a peek, and I caught flashes of wonder as I glanced quickly at each of their faces before returning my eyes to the cage door. Everyone was quiet and respectful and the demeanor of my charge had not changed by the time I replaced the cover on the door.
As I stood up after replacing the carrier cover, I suddenly noticed that one of the young men on the grounds crew was still standing next to me. He was holding up his left forearm and his hand was clenched in a fist. I stared, puzzled, at his smiling face until it finally dawned on me that I too was supposed to offer my forearm. He then gave me the modern version of the high five, the "forearm bump", before smiling even more broadly and then turning to walk away. I smiled as well, believing that the events of the evening would have a lasting impression on the small group of people that were present.
After striking a window in Kirkland, this Merlin was admitted to PAWS for treatment of head and eye injuries.
When Carol had finished giving me directions, I climbed into the driver's seat of the golf cart. I briefed Julie on Carol's instructions and we headed off into the fading light of dusk. Although I had experienced some difficulty with operating the cart when I had driven it to the parking lot earlier to pick up the carrier, everything was now going very smoothly. The cart's motor was relatively loud and the road was wet and bumpy, but there were no sounds of distress coming from inside the pet carrier. We drove to the end of the fairway and turned left at the pond...I mean, "water hazard", as instructed. I headed for a small patch of mixed woods on the edge of the ravine that Carol had spoken of. Slightly nervous about the possibility of getting stuck in the mud, I stopped the cart in an open area and Julie and I walked to the edge of the stand of trees. Julie placed the carrier on the ground and opened the door to free the barred owl that was contained within.
Exiting the carrier, the owl took a few short hops and stopped on the ground nearby to get his bearings. After a quick shake to realign his feathers, he began to scan his new surroundings. It was likely that he had been in this exact same area before. He had been sent to PAWS for treatment after being found, thin and weak, in the bushes of a veterinary clinic only 400 yards southwest of this patch of woods. Familiar territory or not, it took him several minutes to sort out his situation before he decided to fly to a higher perch in a nearby maple tree. His flight was strong and sure and he left no doubt that he had fully recovered from the weakened state that had brought him to PAWS.
Thin and weak, this Spotted Owl arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center on November 14th.
As a light rain started to fall, Julie and I decided it was time to head back to the clubhouse. A thick canopy of maple leaves sheltered the owl's perch, and the bird required no further supervision from the two of us. As we drove away, I silently gave him my usual wish that if we should meet again it would be on his terms rather than mine.
This release occurred on Wednesday November 6th, 2002. Thinking back on it, I really am amazed at the reality of what transpired. It can easily be summed up. Two Naturalists with no prior golf experience received instruction from Carol the Golf Professional that resulted in a birdie on the 9th hole...
Wildlife Release tally: October 29 to November 5, 2002
Wildlife Release tally: 2002 Year to Date
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