Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ode to Wildlife Rehabilitators by Carol Wallwork first posted online August 3, 2011

Walney Road (in autumn)

Friday, July 29th was the last morning of my granddaughter Daisie's vacation Bible school.  I was driving home on Walney Road, through E. C. Lawrence Park, when I saw traffic had stopped ahead.  Grrrrrr, my last few hours to wrap up errands has hit a snag!  I slowed to a stop.  There was one car ahead of me.  The problem:  A woman was meandering back and forth across both lanes (Walney's only two lanes, no shoulders) then I saw why-a white bird was fluttering on the ground, leading her in a Conga-like dance.  Every time she tried to scoop up the bird it would leap up about two feet in front of her then drop. 

At that instant I knew what to do.  My children had taught me--The bird needed a lightweight cloth dropped on it so the woman could pick it up.  For many critters out of sight is out of fright.  As a child our youngest daughter Molly spent a lot of time in this very park, doing her share to help lost critters, such as finding a giant domesticated rabbit, or a Dalmatian named Boomer who got lost when it's owner was out of town, or finding an injured chipmunk, etc. 

Turning off my car engine I got out to open my side door to look for something to help the bird.  Most of my bags are cotton grocery bag size--too small.  The huge plastic-coated Ikea bag would be too heavy and noisy.  There it was, a large, lightweight bag from William Sonoma that came with Molly's Mother's Day present.  Ugh, but it's a great size, very large, so all my other bags, umbrellas, first aide kit etc. fit in it, helping me to keep the car tidy.   Duty called.

I walked over to the bird.  It was on the ground in the middle of the opposite lane (by this time about 10 cars were lined up in each lane.  That's when a man jumped out of the car ahead of me with a silvery window reflector in hand.  One of the waiting cars elicited a halfhearted honk but otherwise the drivers were surprising tolerant.  

The man used the reflector to guide the distressed bird over to the grassy side of the road. Then I dropped the bag onto it and scooped it up in my hands.  I then presented the wrapped bird to the Conga woman.  She looked a little shocked.  I know that look.

I told her Walney Nature Center was only 100 feet down the road.  "They'll help you there," I said, pointing to the little house.  As we looked in that direction a Park naturalist was just then walking toward us.  The woman, holding the bird gently, started walking toward the naturalist.  The man and I got back into our cars.  He drove very slowly, keeping a cautious distance behind the woman with the dove.  Another sweet surprise.

Recuperating dove
After picking up granddaughter Daisie from VBS she and I stopped at the nature center on our way home to see how the dove was doing.  That's when I met ECL park naturalist Tony Bulmer at the Nature Center.  The dove was recuperating in his office.  Bulmer said the bird was a dove.  It took several hours to calm down.  Birds are like dogs, they pant when they're hot and stressed.  It was also dehydrated.  Northern Virginia is in the midst of a heat wave.  Today's temperature got up to 99 degrees Fahrenheit.  I also met park worker Hayley, who had taken the bird from the woman.  That's when I heard the rest of the story.   A park volunteer had been in the line of waiting cars, but because her small child was sleeping in the back seat she couldn't get out to help but she did call the park.  I'd wondered about Conga woman-how did she get there?  I can only presume she was a passenger in a car so got out to help the bird.  When the road had cleared the driver must have driven down to the first cross road to turn around as there was no room to do that on narrow Walney Road.

Hadley told me that the park was often used as a dumping ground for unwanted animals.  This was heartbreaking because Fairfax County Animal Control has an exceptional network of trained people to rehabilitate wild animals and a healthy number of groups to adopt unwanted pets.   

When my husband was a grammar school student in England, years ago, someone at his school tried to save an injured hawk.  Unfortunately it died.  Wildlife rehabilitators have studied what works such as what you can and can't feed critters, plus the signs of certain failure involving unnecessary suffering.  Their efforts enrich our animal neighbors and us too.  I commend their dedication and wisdom, specially today.

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