Fear of Flying

There are times when you have to decide, sometimes rather quickly, if you want to be the observer, the uninvolved documentarian of life around you. Or are you going to jump in to try to change the inevitable. And sometimes, it is not a choice at all. It is inherent. A part of your DNA.

You already know what is true about me. I come from a long line of lifeguards. Literally and figuratively. My Dad lied about his age to become the youngest, and best, lifeguard in Mantoloking, NJ. Or just ask a soldier my Mom rescued when he was a youngster in dire straights on our backyard Tarzan swing.

I have tried to make this blog informative, interesting, entertaining, positive and most of all, true – with a generous dose of ‘tongue in cheek’ humor. It has not always been fun and/or easy.

Life has a way of grabbing you by the heartstrings. We do not take lightly our stewardship of life on the marsh. The debate is ongoing regarding intervention to help nature along or interference with the natural order.

OK. Enough philosophy, back to the owlets!

Nancy texts Dale to let her know where I am…

I get a text from Nancy early Wednesday morning, March 26th. MiniMe is by the sea wall across from The ISLAND. Just sitting on the freshly mowed lawn.

The sun feels so good…

Why is MiniMe sitting on the lawn across from The ISLAND? Guess Hoo?

My Big Sibling is on The ISLAND!
Does the phrase “sitting duck” apply here?

MiniMe sits here, close to the sea wall, in the sun, seemingly without a care in the world about anything that is going on around it. ALL DAY. I repeat: ALL DAY.

We worry that it is going to make a move to go back to The ISLAND. The tide is going out. We set up a neighborhood  schedule of watch and see.

Waiting for the tide to go out?
Waiting for the tide to go out?
Am I getting tan yet?
Am I getting tan yet?
Maybe I should reconsider the cedar tree…

The tide goes out. Mm does not make a move. The tide starts coming in. Still just sitting in the sun. I am on watch now and am talking on the phone with my sister. I see a parent in one of the pine trees on The ISLAND.

My parent is watching over me…

And then…Why is there always a “and then...” with MiniMe?

Uh oh, I must have fallen asleep and missed the tide

I’m guessing MiniMe is getting hungry and there wasn’t any delivery or wait staff service on the lawn. Please, please MiniMe, do not try to go to The ISLAND! Pleeeease…..!!!!

MiniMe jumps!

Where is the ground?
Where is the ground?

I hang up on my sister, drop phone, glasses, take off jacket and then hold my breath to see if it can make it. Use your wings MiniMe!

I am trying! Really trying....
I am trying! Really trying….

I put down the camera. There is a long bamboo pole floating in the water near the floating dock. This is a very small floating dock, if I jump on it, it will make a wave that will wash over MiniMe. I am on my belly and still cannot reach the pole from the sea wall. The tide is moving fast now. MiniMe is trying to walk on water.

I run over to my neighbor’s boat shed and grab a net. Not for Mm but for the pole. I snag the bamboo pole, then gently climb  on the floating dock and throw the pole next to her. Grab on MiniMe!

Bamboo pole
Bamboo pole
I do!!!
I do!!!

Now what?

The creek is about three feet wide. It is mid tide so moving fast. MiniMe is grasping the pole with both talons. I want it to go to The ISLAND at this point. If it will just move along the pole away from me, it will reach thicker spartina grass and could make it to high ground, especially if it will use its wings! And it needs to go NOW. The situation is only going to get worse with the rising tide.

MiniMe and I discuss. Please MiniMe, go to The ISLAND. Your Big Sib is there. Your parents are there. You can do it. 

I watch MiniMe trying to collect itself. It makes small moves towards The ISLAND. I am thinking about what to do. I am by myself. It is a beautiful sunny day. I am a good swimmer. I know the marsh. I do not have gloves with me. Could I jump in and get a firm enough footing in the pluff mud and manage to grab MiniMe in my bare hands? It weighs nothing but has huge talons, a sharp, strong beak and a wing span now of almost four feet. Pluff mud is not quick sand. But you can sink in pretty deep. Could I control the owl? In the water? In the pluff mud? Without grievously hurting it or myself?

Please MiniMe. Go to The ISLAND. Please, please, please.

She does not go to The ISLAND.

I have changed my mind about going to The ISLAND
I have changed my mind about going to The ISLAND

Sometime during this internal debate I am having with myself, I pick up my camera. I take the shot above and the one at the top of the page. Here again:

Swan dive
Swan dive

OMG! What am I going to do?

Swim MiniMe! Swim!

Owls can’t swim. I run to my neighbor’s boat shed, again, this time for a paddle. If I can just get it to the same neighbor’s boat ramp. MiniMe tries to grab on with its beak, talons. It is sinking. The tide is moving it in the right direction. Don’t give up MiniMe!

I use the paddle to hold it up and carefully push Mm to the boat ramp. I do not want to break a wing or damage tail feathers. It is not moving. I run down the ramp and gather it up in my arms, tucking in the wings. It is breathing… barely.

My neighbor comes out and he helps me rinse MiniMe off with fresh water. I don’t think it will make it but it swallowed salt water and I am thinking that a quick rinse might help – if it survives at all.

I don't know if I can make it...again...
I don’t know if I can make it…ever…again…

This is bad. Really, really bad. Of all the things that have happened to MiniMe, this is the worst. By far.

I take one photo then run home to get towels and the box. I don’t even think about the red gloves. I run back. Still breathing, barely standing. I wrap it up in a towel and hold it like the baby it still is.

Yes, I am in tears. I have no idea of what to do. I cradle it to my chest. I talk in low tones, trying to achieve a calm voice, trying to convey that I care. That I will it to live. I do not put it in the box. I carry MiniMe back to my house and find the warmest, sunniest spot I can. We sit. I hold it dear. I think it will die in my arms.

Just when I am about to give up, I feel a slight wriggle. MiniMe is coming back! Fighting for life. I place it gently in the box, in the sun, and cover it like the Center for Birds of Prey advised. I retrieve my camera and assorted paraphernalia that my wonderful neighbor, Nancy, has already collected for me.

Warmest, best spot
Warmest, best spot
Don't think I can make it
Don’t think I can make it

It is touch and go for Mm. When Scott gets home, he puts up the ladder to the nest tree.

Ladder goes back up to the nest tree
Ladder goes back up to the nest tree

We don’t know what is best for MiniMe. She has touched our hearts and we are pulling mightily for it. Scott lobbies hard that the only chance it has is for MiniMe to reconnect with the parents. Me? I am searching how late Pet Smart will be open so I can buy frozen baby mice. Once again reason prevails. 

I am very, very weary...
I am very, very weary…

As gently as we can, we place MiniMe once again in the nest tree.

And I stay here almost all night
And I stay here almost all night

Where, oh where, will MiniMe be in the morning?

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Rebel without a cause

This is how I find MiniMe the morning after the kayak rescue. Tuesday morning, March 25th. After it recuperated. After it got all dried out. After it jumped out of the tree trying to get fed, in the cold, pouring rain. After checking on Mm until 2:30 am and finally going to bed.

Tuesday morning so, so pitiful
Tuesday morning: so, so pitiful

I am as beside myself as surely as MiniMe is. I find a window in my house, from which kneeling on a stool, I can observe it to see if a parent will come to feed MiniMe. They only feed the other, stronger owlet. The one that is in a tree, can fly from branch to branch and can climb.

This is nature. The survival of the fittest. Darwin. Adapt or die.

MiniMe does not move for over three hours. It is shivering. Shaking. It does nothing to help itself. Not even a weak peep.

This is it. Every time I look, I expect the worst.  Keeled over. I consider grief counseling. You know, the kind when a beloved pet dies. Then I finally come to my senses and get the electric heater.

Beginning to dry out
Beginning to warm up and dry out

Since it is raining, I am terrified that I am going to fry it, or electrocute it or myself. Now it is late afternoon. MiniMe has stopped shaking and is drying out. It hears a parent’s call.

MiniMe hears its Mother's call
MiniMe hears its Mother’s call

MiniMe picks itself up and walks into the garden to the sound of its Mom’s voice, squawking all the way. Tears of joy. Just maybe…I won’t need that grief counseling after all.

Scott came home not knowing if he would find me in tears, under the covers or building an aviary out of our back porch.

Mom arrives with dinner, a cedar waxwing
Mom arrives with dinner, a cedar waxwing
Mom feeds Big Sib first
Mom feeds Big Sib first

MiniMe manages to get through the garden behind the azaleas. Mom eventually drops in. I am afraid to even move inside the house. Mm desperately needs to be fed. Some of the photos are fuzzy, shot through glass or screens.

I am feeling much better now
Asking for divine intervention?
Asking for divine intervention? Thanking me?
Mm begins another journey, this time across land instead of the marsh
And  again, Mm begins another journey, this time across land instead of the marsh

I try to head Mm off. I explain that it is not well enough to travel, especially by foot (or talon). I am persuasive, calm but firm in my arguments but it is having none of it!

All I get is the blank stare
All I get is the blank stare

Does one of her pupils look dilated? Concussion? Owl drugs? Delusional? Mental health issues?

Once again, there is no stopping MiniMe. So once again, I go to sleep wondering where in the world I will find Mm in the morning….

I am not making this up. Not any of it. Not one single bit.

I would like to take a moment to explain that we have a whole group of neighbors along the marsh that have been on owl and owlet watch at all times of the day and night. We text each other, call, confer, commiserate, debate, search each others yards, walk and stalk the docks, borrow rescue tools from garden and boat sheds, lend support and binoculars and share experiences. And so far they have not called the folks in the white coats to come get me. Thank you. Thank you for your support, help, blog ideas, and humor – especially when things seem dire, your trust, your caring – for me and for the owlets.

No matter what happens, it has been an amazing, awesome experience. Every night for the past week or more, the question of the night is “Where will MiniMe be in the morning?”

I wonder….

 

 

Nobody understands me…..

A summary: I HAVE to get off THE ISLAND! Drowning in marsh. Kayak rescue. Big orange thing that swims. The blue blanket, the box and the red gloves. Boat ride. Back in a tree. Jump out of tree for dinner since still can’t fly and my Big Sib is getting all the rats. Screeching all evening. Parents trying to get me to climb up. Dale trying to get me to climb up. I prefer the ground. I am so tired of screeching. I identify as a marsh owl not a wood owl. No one gets me. I am so hungry. No one will feed me. Dale can’t sleep. Gutted. It is very cold and raining. My parents are fed up. Dale keeps checking on me. My parents keep feeding my big sibling!  But nobody is feeding me! I have to learn to climb……Dale is offering a nice warm box in the outside shower but no rats…Nobody understands me….I…am…really…really…hungry…

After an uneventful Sunday on The ISLAND,  and an early Monday morning check on MiniMe, I (Dale) am feeling more confident that MiniMe is truly doing OK on The ISLAND…BUT.

But I am not totally convinced. I just have this weird feeling. So I decide on a mid afternoon break and take a walk through the garden, along the marsh, check out the island, looking, listening. Something is not right.

I walk out my neighbor’s dock a bit further. OMG! This cannot be happening.

uh oh.
Uh oh. This can’t be good…

 

I am in big trouble here
I am in big trouble here

 

Tide is coming in, can't get back to high ground
Tide is coming in, can’t get back to high ground. It will soon be up to my beak…

I am stunned. MiniMe for some mysterious reason has decided to abandon The ISLAND. It is caught between the creek and high tide flooded spartina grass. It is too deep, the marsh grass too flimsy and its wings are too wet and too heavy. Talk about up the creek without a paddle….

But wait…I have a paddle! I call my husband, Scott. I don’t even know if he is home. He answers. He tries to reason with me. Intervention v Interference. Please, please come here quick. He does. He takes one look at MiniMe’s predicament and one look at my face and St. Scott goes home for the kayak. I run for the box, the blanket, the red gloves and a towel. Seems like a towel might be necessary.

I have no idea how this is going to work. My kayak is the float on top variety. Scott is taking  photos.

Looks like my foster parent
Thank goodness! Just in time! My foster parent, Dale, is coming with the box, the red gloves and a HUGE ORANGE looking thing!?!

 

i should probably just get in without a fuss
I should probably just get in without a fuss…

 

I complied
I complied…

 

So embarrassing. Kind of like that squirrel thing. My tide clock was off a bit too...
So embarrassing. Kind of like that squirrel thing. My tide clock was off a bit too…

 

Too bad my foster parent cannot fly as well as she can paddle
Getting back to dry land
Almost  back to dry land

 

Getting ready to go back in a tree

 

I can barely hang on. I really wanted to be a marsh owl.
Drying out and feeling better
Drying out and feeling a  little better…

 

Even my petticoat is getting fluffy again
Even my petticoat is getting fluffy again

 

My big sib is just sitting there watching, right above me!
My big sib is just sitting there watching, right above me!

This is hard to see but if you look closely, St. Scott and I have placed MiniMe just below its big sibling. Lately we have been calling it Big Foot. (?)

Big Foot is right overhead above me
Big Foot is right overhead above me

 

But, well, I don’t stay in the tree….

PS This is why Dale never gets a chance to catch up on her blog, or cook dinner, or do laundry (and she has a ton of muddy clothes), or go get her hair cut and colored, or do her real, paying job, or vacuum. I think there’s lots of marsh grass and stuff on her floors….Her human mother even asked if Dale was deliberately letting her hair go gray!?!

It’s all my fault….

To be continued…

 

Life on “The island”

We were all happy to see that MiniMe survived its first night on THE ISLAND. These photos were taken at various times during the day on Friday, March 21st.

Looking rather lion like
Looking rather lion like

This is really getting to sound like the sequel to Lost. Or Survivor. Or Desperate Owlets.

From a distance it is hard to tell Mm from stumps
From a distance it is hard to tell Mm from stumps
Meanwhile Big Sib is still comfortably in the Live Oak tree near our garden
Meanwhile Big Sib is still comfortably safe in the Live Oak tree near our garden
Is MiniMe looking a bit forlorn to you?
Is it just me or is MiniMe looking a bit forlorn to you?

Life on The ISLAND appears to have been a good choice for MiniMe. Its choice. You know how hard Mm worked to get there.

The next day, Saturday, March 22nd, MiniMe was in fine form.

I am fine.
Yes, I am just fine, thank you.

But friends and family were a bit worried about me. Empty Nest Syndrome and all that.  So my friend Celeste brought me a present.

Hi Mom!

My most favorite Owlet partner checked the empty nest for any leftover rats and facilitated the photo shoot of our new owlets.

Mar 22 my favorite owlet
My husband, Scott, cleaning out the nest

We checked on MiniMe later in the afternoon close to feeding time. We knew it was time for its dinner since it was squawking really loud which was the only way we could pick Mm out on the island.

I am hungry!!!
I am hungry!!!

And the peanut gallery watched and celebrated a good transition for MiniMe and me.

Yay! For MiniMe!
Yay! For MiniMe!

BUT…..

It didn't last long..........
It didn’t last long……….

To be continued…..

Marsh Journey to “the Island”

This is the rest of the story of what happened on March 20th. It was a very long journey. It was quite a distance on foot (er, talons) for an owlet and it took a really long time.

Trying to escape foster parent, Dale. Uh oh, she sees me…

We left off with MiniMe jumping out the back door of the nest tree, just hours after The Examination.

I had a very rough morning...
I had a very rough morning…
No, but you are bigger than me..
I really want to be a marsh owlet or maybe a marsh HEN. They don’t fly very well either. 
Foster parent, Dale , tries one more time to put me in a tree...
One more time to put me in a tree…

This would be the third attempt within two hours to get MiniMe off the ground and into a safer place. (Since The Examination). If I had not been observing it the whole time there is no way I would believe this is the same little owlet I found completely spent and bedraggled in the marsh in the early morning, defenseless with a rising tide.

Not my best morning
Not my best morning

Below is MiniMe immediately after jumping out of third tree into a pile of leaves. I am sitting nearby and hear this big whumph! I don’t even have to look to know what happened.

I am determined to be a marsh owlet
MiniMe jumps out of this tree too,  determined to be a marsh owlet

I laugh! There is no stopping this little owlet from trekking across the marsh. Where is it going? It’s destination? THE ISLAND. (I know, this is beginning to sound like the owlet version of the sequel to Lost!)

Oops caught
I seriously want to be an Island Marsh Owlet. Do not follow me

But of course I do! I sit on the out back deck in our garden with camera and binoculars. I have given up on the red gloves. I keep track of MiniMe’s progress, first through the needle grass and then across the open marsh. It takes long rests every 20 to 30 yards. The rests last from 45 minutes to an hour or more.

Journey to The ISLAND
Journey to The ISLAND
Getting closer
Getting closer

 

Marsh trek rest
Marsh trek rest. It is difficult to walk through pluff mud. I have talons not webbed feet…
Waiting for the tide to go out
Ditto
Ditto
Makes the crossing to The ISLAND
Making tracks crossing to The ISLAND
Made it across!
I made it across the creeklet, now negotiating through the marsh grass to high ground
Using wings to get through tall spartina grass
Using wings to get through tall spartina grass
Parent watching over the journey
My parent watching over my journey
Finally! I’m on the The ISLAND!
Discovering my new home
Discovering my new home

Pop the Champagne! 

BTW Big Sib has been in the Live Oak tree, in approximately the same place since its rescue from the marsh over a week ago, Saturday, March 15, 2014. The bigger owlet learned its high tide marsh lesson the first time. And it has been on especially good behavior since witnessing MiniMe’s Examination!

Not so much with MiniMe. To be continued…..

The examination

It is not as bad as it first looks. It is a live examination. MiniMe just has its eyes closed for this part. We left off last Thursday, waiting for expert help to arrive. MiniMe and me.  Debbie Mauney, the  Medical Clinic Director for the Center for Birds of Prey, arrived and donned gloves with long sleeves. This was particularly interesting to me.They were a dull gray, not fashionably bright red but much more practical.

Debbie Mauney retrieves the owlet from the box so she can examine it for injuries
Debbie Mauney retrieves the owlet from the box so she can examine it for injuries

We have set up a card table to make it easier to do an examination. A kind of mash unit.  MiniMe looks terrible. Soaking wet, feathers covered in pluff mud and sort of whimpering. It is in bad shape. Debbie patiently demonstrates how I can help with gently securing the little one so she can safely examine its wings.

Debbie demonstrates how to hold the owlet for examination
Debbie demonstrates how to hold the owlet for examination

First you need to take control of those talons. Good to know. Especially since that is the opposite of the situation earlier when the talons had control of me. See earlier post.

Control the talons first, then the beak. Wear gloves.
Control the talons first, then the beak. Wear gloves.

Debbie carefully extended the owlet’s wings, one side at a time,  to examine for fractures. None were detected. Good news.

Exam over, we tried to get MiniMe to climb the tree that the other owlet was in. It was watching all this time wide-eyed. Mom also flew in when the  owlet was whimpering. I don’t even know how to describe that sound. All I can say is that it sounded like a baby owlet crying. The mother owl did not fuss at us, simply observed.

We could not get MiniMe to grab onto the same tree as Big Sib, too vertical. So we placed her in the lichen covered Live Oak in our neighbor’s garden that is at about a 45 degree angle. MiniMe has been in this tree before. See an earlier post, she has been rescued so many times, I don’t know which post…)

After exam
After exam

The owlet is exhausted and pretty stressed out. It has been through a lot, not all of which we even know about. Debbie tried to gently coax it to climb a little higher. MiniMe tried. Mom owl communicated encouragement and MM tried again. Then.

This is really sort of embarrassing for a Great Horned Owlet to admit to happening, but it’s true. A squirrel, yes a squirrel, was protecting its nest and harassed MiniMe into jumping out of the tree!!!

Debbie retrieves MiniMe
Debbie retrieves MiniMe

Please look at the length of this little owlet’s wing span! Very impressive. As you can see, it has started to dry out, feathers puffing up and getting feisty. This is a good sign. Also impressive is how Debbie handles the bird – with authority and gentleness.

Now where to put it? We discuss. Not safe to leave on ground. Debbie likes the nest tree as best option. With the help of friends that stopped over, we set up the ladder to the nest tree. (yeah, I know, we thought we were done with ladder work too.)

Debbie climbs up and places MiniMe in the nest, a familiar and safe environment.

Back in the nest tree

MiniMe appears a little chagrined, but see how good she looks in just a few hours. The warmth of the sun is helping, as well as owl communications from Mom.

Debbie cautions me that sometimes chicks just don’t make it, despite all our efforts to help them along. We discuss intervention versus interference. It can be a very fine line. Her expertise, patience and moral support have been invaluable to me. And continues to be.

Thirty minutes after she left, MiniMe jumped out the back door of the nest tree!

MiniMe is heading back to the marsh!
MiniMe is heading back to the marsh!

This is one determined little owlet. And I warned you last post that this is a very long story. Remember that this is how I found her (below) just about 5 hours earlier.

It is hard to believe this is the same bird. But it is. And we are only half way through the story of what happened last Thursday, March 20th.

MiniMe looks dreadful. And hurt. In the early morning...
MiniMe looks dreadful. And hurt. In the early morning…

Not the red gloves…again…

There was a ruckus in the marsh very early Thursday morning. Not the “I’m hungry” squawking.  It was frantic. Crows were mobbing. And then there was a kind of scream.

Really? Am I just having a nightmare? It has been pretty intense and maybe I am delusional. (Some would say, more than usual!)

Scott leaves for work and I put on my muddy jeans and boots and head out to the marsh to investigate. MiniMe is hard to find but I follow its weak, distressed squawk.

MiniMe is hard to find
MiniMe is hard to find
MiniMe looks dreadful. And hurt.
MiniMe looks dreadful. And hurt. Lots of raccoon tracks…

I am by myself. I have the red gloves and blanket but not the box. I think it is injured. It cannot lift its wings in a defensive stance. It is not even fussing at me. The parent on watch from the tall pines is not making the hoot growl. Plus I had watched a video last night of a Bald Eagle killing a Great Horned Owl adult, which did not add anything good to my anxiety. I just can’t leave it here. I just can’t.

I wish I had photos of what happened. But I could not take photos and get the owlet. The blanket didn’t work, got tangled in the marsh grass and I had to get a grip fast to reduce the chance of injury to the owlet or to me. MiniMe grabbed onto my left red glove with both talons and would not let go.

We walked all the way back to my house like that. I left my camera in the marsh. I tried to get MiniMe to cling to a tree several times on our journey. It would not let go. And it was biting me!

I am trying to be calm, use a soothing voice, try not to yell out OUCH! (not too loud, anyway).

I tried to get it to let loose on my lawn near my garage. Will not let go. I need the box. It is in the garage. I am afraid to go in the garage with MiniMe attached to me. What if she let go? In the garage? It could be chaos. We discuss. MiniMe and me. I politely ask her to please stop biting me, to settle down and we will get the box together and call the Center for Birds of Prey for assistance. MM agrees.

Once in the box, it lets go of my red glove
Once in the box, it lets go of my red glove
I cover box with blanket to hopefully settle it down
I cover box with blanket to hopefully settle it down

This a very long story. I call my contact at the Center for Birds of Prey, Debbie Mauney, the  Medical Clinic Director. She listens carefully, asks specific questions and I am grateful that she will come over to examine MiniMe.

I retrieve my camera and binoculars from the marsh. (I left them there on high ground). I cancel my lunch meeting downtown. Get a cup of coffee and wait for help – expert help – to arrive.

I started to write this yesterday. It is Saturday morning now. I have house guests for the weekend and a neighborhood event in a few hours. I am not deliberately trying to leave you in suspense, I just can’t keep up!

My husband, Scott, suggested I say that due to technical difficulties, the photographer and writer are in hospital recovering from an owl/owlet attack. Funny, but not true. He is Scottish and has a, …well, Scottish sense of humor.

I am fine, so far.  And (spoiler alert) so is MiniMe, so far….

The parting shot until I can finish the story: Help did arrive. I am sure MiniMe was thinking, “Finally, someone that knows what they are doing!”

Finally, someone that knows what they are doing
Finally, someone that knows what they are doing

To be continued….

PS To Mom, my real, human, mother: Stop emailing me about what happened next. I am doing the best I can. Yes, Scott finished the job and no, the vacuuming is still not done 😉   Dalet