Thursday, August 14, 2014

Touched By An Owl

Joy had just arrived back to the Visitors Center when Kathy announced, "Guess where I'm going?" She was headed out to help rescue an injured owl.  Two visitors had reported seeing it on the side of the road between the US and Canadian border checkpoints.  They provided mile and kilometer post numbers and even showed Kathy and a picture of the poor little thing.  Technically, it was in Canada but the park ranger called and cleared it with the US Border patrol so that we could bring the bird back into Alaska for treatment.

We gathered up leather gloves, a box, several towels and a shirt.  We brought the shirt because it was lightweight but large enough to cover the bird's head, making him/her feel safer.  As we drove, we started wondering if maybe it the numbers were actually past the Canadian checkpoint.  We started worrying that we'd have to turn around at the checkpoint and that the owl would be left to fend for himself.

We drove on and stopped and asked a road construction crew if they'd seen the injured owl.  They reported they had not seen it in either direction so we continued to drive towards the Canadian checkpoint, eyes peeled on the left shoulder.   
Finally, Joy spotted something small and black.  We slowed down - it was a piece of tire.  The road was covered with fresh gravel and the shoulders were covered with fresh, deep gravel.  Finally, Kathy spotted the little guy, wings outstretched, yellow eyes gleaming sitting in the fresh loose gravel nearly in the lane of traffic.  Kathy turned the truck around and drove down the embankment and parked.  As Joy walked near him, he used his wings to scoot about five feet from where he'd been siting in a burrow he'd been creating in the gravel.  He scooted dangerously close to the edge of the shoulder, which dropped off about 5 feet to the tundra below.  Kathy put her gloves on as Joy warned her of the owl's talons.

We both approached the bird from opposite sides and, although owls can nearly turn their heads 360 degrees, he wasn't quite able to watch both of us at the same time.  He was surprisingly alert and, except for his inability to walk or fly, looked healthy.  As Kathy approached him, he turned to look at her, giving Joy the perfect opportunity to gently lay the shirt over his head.  He stayed still, didn't fight, and allowed Joy to carefully scoop him up and place him in the box.

He was much smaller than we'd thought - maybe a juvenile.  Safely in the box and in the middle of the front seat between us, the owl began the 90 + mile trip to Tok, where he would be turned over to one of the refuge's biologists and eventually delivered to a veterinarian for care. Kathy tried to ease the truck up the loose, deep gravel embankment.  The first try was cut short by on coming traffic so we waited.  Joy suggested she use four-wheel drive but Kathy just gunned it a little harder instead and, after digging some pretty good grooves into the freshly laid gravel, we were up the hill and back onto the road.  Kathy figures it was just a small payback to the cursed roads of Canada and Alaska.

After dropping Joy off at the Visitor's Center, Kathy and the owl, later named Blueberry, drove the remaining 85 miles to Tok.  Upon arriving, there wasn't a biologist to be found since it was Saturday night.  Finally, after about an hour, one of the biologist's (Kathy's favorite) arrived.  She gently removed Blueberry from the box, told Kathy he was a Hawk Owl, and looked him over for injuries.  It was obvious that his wing was damaged.  There was a small smudge of blood in the box but they couldn't find it's source.

The biologist watered Blueberry and eventually fed him chicken as they watched TV together in the refuge bunkhouse.  The next evening, a group of guests from Anchorage agreed to transport Blueberry to the bird rehab/sanctuary in Anchorage and off he went.

We wondered for a couple of weeks about Blueberry's status and asked the refuge volunteer coordinator to check on him for us.  She did just this morning and, sadly, Blueberry's injuries were too severe to be treated and he was euthanized.  The vet said that both Blueberry's leg and wing were severely fractured most likely due to being struck by a vehicle. The vet confirmed that he was a young bird, just as we thoughts.

With teary eyes we thanked her for the update.  Although it wasn't the news we had hoped for, we were grateful that Blueberry did not suffer on the side of the road, get hit by yet another vehicle, or eaten by a predator.  We are grateful to the refuge for supporting us in his rescue - he definitely touched us even during the little time we spent with him.

This is what Blueberry, when fully grown, would have looked like.

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