Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Long-eared Owl rescue and TRC

Recent article in the Rochester Post-Bulletin, from the author's viewpoint of what it is like being a part of a rescue and transport to TRC's clinic. (Text also copied here)

I lifted the box and sensed something wrong — I felt no weight, where was the long-eared owl?I was given the box with what I was told was an injured owl inside to take it from Winona to Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester. There, another volunteer would take it, and an injured great horned owl, to the Raptor Center in St. Paul. The Raptor Center is internationally known for its treatment of injured eagles, hawks and owls.

The staff of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Winona had shown me the bird, which a woman brought in after finding it injured near downtown Winona. The long-eared owl is a smaller version on a great horned owl. It has striking, yellow-gold eyes and beautiful brown plumage. It's a medium-sized owl, but still it should have had some weight when I picked up the box.Then I remembered once holding a goshawk while it was being banded. It too felt weightless, like it was made of the air it masters. The owl, with hollow bones and featherlight feathers, is the same way: It looks big but weights little.In that near weightlessness and beauty, however, is what seems a contradiction. The owl has the grace, power and agility that we find so alluring, but it also has talons that kill and a beak that can rip apart a mouse. That is the nature of a predator. What we might see as beauty could be efficiency, and predators, above all, must be efficient to survive.

So I loaded the owl in my car and headed toward Rochester, just one of a large number of volunteers who transport injured raptors to the center. Raptors tend to live, and get injured, in remote places, so the volunteers help by giving the birds a lift. That's what I was asked to do, though it was not in my plans for last Friday.

I stopped at the Houston Nature Center in Houston to interview director Karla Bloem. Are you heading back to Rochester but might also be going to Winona? she asked. They're looking for a volunteer.In fact, I did have some work to do in Winona and would be happy to pick up the owl. It sounded like fun and a way to help nature just a little bit.Once on the road with the owl, I faced the question of which route to take: much-used U.S. 14 or the back roads through the Whitewater Valley.I decided to give the bird a trip on the wild side, though it couldn't see it, and went through the blufflands of Whitewater. I have to admit, I took curves just a bit slower and tried to not make the abrupt stops at stop signs that my family hates. I had that owl in my backseat and didn't want to jolt it.

At Quarry Hill, everyone wanted to see the long-eared owl. For some reason, as Bloem often says, people are attracted to owls. The bird sat quietly in the box, not trying to fly because of an injury. The owl — a terror to small animals — was a docile, harmless bird in a box.From there, Alice Kerr of Rochester took both owls to the raptor center.On Wednesday, I got an email from Lori Forstie at Quarry Hill: "The great horned owl has a fractured radius and the long-eared owl has a fractured ulna; both have been treated and are eating well."

Staff writer John Weiss travels the region's back roads looking for people, places and things of interest for this column.

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