Second Chances

Posted by Jane N on

I think it is safe to say we have all had one of those days/weeks where we wish we could have a do-over. Stop time and go back and do things differently. Yuck, I had just such a week. This extreme cold gripping New England was making me crazy, I was spending to much time staring at the computer screen, in a virtual world I don't fully understand. I had to get out of this house and into nature!

The weather forecast for Saturday was for a New England heat wave! Temperature to climb up near 30 and sunny, thou the caveat was the very windy conditions. But no matter I decided I needed to head to Plum Island to clear my head or freeze it off in the process. I needed to see some birds!

I checked out the Rare Bird website and E-Bird to see what was out there to be found, I went thru my bird guide and marked the pages of some of the birds I hoped to get to see. There were reports of flocks of Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs being seen in the salt plains. And reports of as many as 50 Razorbills seen in the ocean just offshore and in the open waters under the bridge. As I drove over the metal bridge onto the island I saw in the water below what I thought looked like a flock of Razorbills bobbing in the icy waters. I have been trying to see these birds for two years, but they were on the opposite side and I couldn’t stop on the bridge to get a better look, oh well.

Well, the weatherman wasn't quite right about the forecast. The island was windy, cloudy, cold and gloomy. I stopped at all the usual spots scanning the ocean and salt marshes for birds. Nothing, hey the birds knew better than me, it was not a day to be out in the elements. I did get to see a Northern Harrier soar over the marsh and hover low in search of a meal. The wind was fierce but he held his own, but finally gave up and settled on a barren branch to rest. My mood wasn't improving, heck why bother, I decided to call it a day and head home.

I decided to stop at the new visitor/ranger station to pick up a program guide for 2014. I was determined to get out at least once each weekend, I wasn't going to get sucked into that virtual world, spending my time staring at a screen. As I entered the building there was a large sign it said “ Owl Release Today at 3 pm!”. Umm, that sounded interesting, I asked the woman behind the desk what it was about. She told me that a Snowy Owl had been rescued from Logan Airport earlier in the morning and that they were going to release it on the refuge. That we could watch the release if we parked at lot #1.

I told her I had just come off the refuge, I've seen the Snowy Owl before, that I had been out for a couple of hours already, I was cold and heading home. She wouldn’t accept that, she tells me when am I ever going to get to witness such an event again, be able to get up close to such a magnificent bird again? Yeah, she was right but I told her I really didn't feel like paying to get back onto the refuge, I was cold. The truth was I felt gloomy I just didn't care. She offers me a cup of coffee and tells me she will call the ranger at the refuge entrance and ask if since I just left could I show my ticket and get back to the island to watch the release. The ranger tells her that the ticket is good for the whole day just show it at the gate on my way back in.

I sat in the car deciding what to do. Do I really want to go back to the island? Heck, the woman was right, what a chance, could I really pass it up? I turned around and went back, parked at lot #1 and waited for the owl to arrive. I had about ½ hour before the release, I began to re-think this again, this was stupid, I turned on the car to leave. Suddenly I see a large flock of birds land in the dune grasses at the edge of the parking area. My birding brain took over, I grabbed my binos, jumped out of the car and crept up to the flock. They were Horned Larks! A life list species for me!

A crowd was starting to gather, all in anticipation of the owl's arrival. The Rangers drive up and establish a perimeter keeping the crowd back. A small blue hatchback drives in, a man lifts a wooden box out of the back and pushes back the cover, he lifts out with his bare hands a Snowy Owl. He holds the owl up while walking around for all to see. He tells us it is ok to take pictures, that we don't have to be quiet. He wants the owl to fear us, he wants the owl to learn to stay away from the two-legged creatures surrounding him. He tells us how he trapped the owl, then examined it, tagged it and gave him a meal of live rodents. Now it was time to release him to his new environment and hope for the best.

The man asks if there are any questions. He talks about how he became a raptor rehabilitator, that he has saved 500 owls, hawks and falcons in his lifetime. People ask why does the owl seem so calm right now, he explains that he has a full belly and doesn't know to fear humans. The owl is so beautiful, constantly scanning the crowd. As he walked by holding the owl I could look right into the owl's eyes, see the texture of each feather. Such an amazing bird.

A man from the crowd asks why did he get involved, why did he feel he had to remove the owl from Logan Airport. Why not just leave the owl alone, let what happens happen. Why did he feel he knew what was best for the owl and not that the owl knew what was best. The man says he thinks everyone made a big deal out of nothing, it wasn't his business to remove the owl. Others in the crowd express the same sentiment.

The rehabilitator stands still, holds up the owl over his head and says, “Do you see how large this bird is? Do you have any idea what would happen if he was to be sucked into the jet engines of an airplane?” “Do you want to be the one to not do anything and take a chance in many dying because one bird caused an accident?” The man from the crowd steps forward, he says. “I apologize, I applaud the work you do, I am thankful for caring people like you.”

The man holds the owl high and tells the crowd to count to three. He is going to release the owl. We all count 1....2....3....! The owl rises up, circles the crowd tips his wing towards us and soars off into the scrub brush of the dunes. The crowd cheers! The man yells “Don't we all deserve a second chance!”
“Thank you all for being a part of this special event.” Profound.....very profound. Was he talking to me?

As I head back over the bridge leaving the island I slow down, look over the edge and there in the icy waters below are Razorbills! Wow, I got a second chance, I got to see two new species to add to my life list. In my book, we all deserve a 2nd, 3rd, 4th,... to infinity chances. I can only hope to earn a second chance.

Happy Birding, Jane

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