I was excited to travel out to Western Mass to visit Katie, she had invited me to come and explore some of the natural areas around her in my search for the Great Horned Owl. She said she knew where the locations were that Ebird had listed as spots to find the owl. We tried a couple of the listed locations but to no avail, we saw some nice birds but no owls. Katie suggested we try out the last place listed, the Station Rd rail trail, she entered the location in her GPS and we headed out.
We arrived and it was a very nice spot, an old railroad bed turned into a narrow biking/walking trail. There was a large expanse of a swamp on one side perfect habitat for ducks and birds. We saw a couple of Hooded Mergansers with the male proudly displaying his crest in hopes of impressing the females nearby. The usual Mallards and Kingfisher were present, but no sign of any Great Horned Owls or active nests. The weather was overcast, windy & cold but we were having a nice day. I was really enjoying spending time alone with my niece just exploring.
We walked along the trail for a mile or so and decided to give up the search and head back. Katie mentioned that she saw a woman ahead of us that had stepped off the trail and was sitting on a stone bench looking out over the swamp, maybe she was a fellow birder and had some info on the owl's location. Good idea, I get most of my best sightings from fellow birders. We catch up with her (we named her the Cat Lady, ask Katie to explain) and she is a local and tells us where she has heard and seen the Great Horned Owl. Cat Lady tells us to go back about a ½ mile and just after the end of the swamp to look for a narrow side trail with some wooden planks across the marshy ground. She tells us in the pine woods is where she has seen & heard owls though she wasn't aware of any nests.
I look at Katie, I tell her I don't care either way, I'm fine if she doesn't want to look anymore and head back to the car, or I'm willing to push on if she is. Katie says it's only a little after 1 o'clock, we're here let's just give it a quick look. So we head back up the trail in search of the Great Horned Owl. We follow the edge of the swamp and find the wooden planks and cross onto the muddy side trail. A bit down the side trail I notice a set of footprints in the snow leading into a group trees. I suggest we follow them, they lead up to a large pine tree and I look up and there about 10 feet up is a large nest. Could it be true? Have we found the Great Horned Owl nest we have been searching for all day?
I strain to see the top of the nest but can't see anything as we are standing directly under the nest. We search around the tree on the ground for any signs of bird activity. I see some bird droppings, and a few fine feathers, I don't see any owl pellets. Katie notices a low branch with scratches across the top, where you might envision a large taloned bird sitting. All the signs were pointing to this being an active nest of a large bird. But we couldn't see anything in the nest.
We are both walking around the large pine talking, searching for a clue, Katie is at the back side of the tree, I can't really see her. She says “How about I climb the tree and see what's in the nest” I call back “Oh Katie I can't ask you to do that, you don't want to disturb the owls if they are in there” She calls back to me “You're not asking me, I want to see this owl” In turn I call out “No...Katie, I don't think that's a good....SNAP!!!! I suddenly hear the sound of a branch as it breaks.
I rush over to the back side of the tree, I'm calling “Katie are you all right!” She answers “Aunt Jane I think I hurt my foot bad” She is kinda leaning against the tree, I ask her what can I do for her, she says she just wants to sit down for a minute and catch her breath. I grab her and lower her to the ground. Katie has such a poker face I really didn't think she was hurt that bad, she said she just wanted to sit for a minute. She wasn't crying or grimacing in pain, she wasn't bleeding. I offered her a drink of water and a molasses cookie that I had in my pocket.
Right away I go into planning mode. Ok, how am I gonna get her out of these woods and back to the car about a mile away? I start to look around for a large branch I can fashion into a cane to help her support herself. I continue to talk to her, ask if she is ok. All I can find are dead rotten branches that keep breaking when I put weight on them, as I'm searching I ask her if she thinks she can hobble back using my shoulder for support. She answers...”Aunt Jane don't bother with that, call 911, I'm gonna pass out” I rush to her side and help her lay down, her face is pale, I keep talking to her as I'm reaching into my pocket for my phone.
I ask her what town we are in, she says she's not sure just tell 911 we are on the rail trail. I know that is a very broad location, there are miles of rail trails. I look at Katie, she is conscious, her color looks better, I tell her I'm gonna run back about couple hundred yards to the main trail where there is a trail marker for our location. As I'm running thru the bull rushes I hear the jingle jangle of dog collars, I call out for help as I see a man and his dog thru the bushes up on the main rail trail running passed. I explain my niece has hurt her foot, I am from out of town and have no idea where to tell 911 dispatchers we are. He takes the phone and explains to the dispatcher exactly where we are, town, street, mile marker in, he was great a help. Such a nice man, he offers to run back to the parking lot and wait for the ambulance.
I stay with Katie I tell her the EMT's are on the way is there anything I can do for her. I offer her some water and a molasses cookie from my pocket. She tells me she is getting cold, I take off my jacket and wrap her in it, of course she tries to shrug off the jacket telling me “Oh no Aunt Jane you need this your gonna be cold” I tell her not to worry the EMT's will be here soon I'll be fine. But minutes seemed like hours as we waited for help.
I look at Katie she looks OK, I tell her I'm going to go back again to the intersection of the side trail and the main trail and see if I can see the EMT's. It's not very far but the bushes and trees are dense. I continue to call out to Katie even when I am out of sight, to keep in touch. I get onto the main trail and I can just make out the flashing red lights way in the distance, I realize we were a lot further from the parking lot than I first thought. I call back to Katie “ The Calvary has arrived”. I run back to check on her, offer her some water and a molasses cookie from my pocket.
But minutes seemed like hours as we waited for help. I run back to the main trail again and it doesn't look like the ambulance is any closer, I'm puzzled. I look thru my binoculars and I can see the ambulance coming up the trail backwards and that two EMT's in fluorescent yellow coats are standing behind it. I was worried that they had stopped at the wrong side trail, we had passed a couple. I take off my sweater and begin to swing it over my head and I start to yell “Hey HELP, over here!” But they don't seem to see me. I run back to Katie to check on her, I tell her I can see the EMT's they'll be here soon. She says OK.
But minutes seemed like hours as we waited for help. I run back to the intersection of the side and main trail and the ambulance doesn't look any closer. I again swing my sweater over my head and yell. This time one of the EMT's waves back! Now I can hear the backup bells of the ambulance. I run back to tell Katie they will be here soon. I offer her some water and a molasses cookie from my pocket.
I run back to the trail intersection when we can see the flashing red lights thru the trees to guide them into where Katie is. An EMT is opening the back doors of the ambulance and he walks towards me with a blanket open motioning to wrap me in it, he says “Lady are you OK?”. I tell him no it's not me, it's my niece back in the woods and I motion for them to follow me. The EMT's quickly surround Katie and start to tend to her. One of the first things they want to do is remove her boot to check out her hurt foot, Katie has been so brave but I can tell she is getting scared it is going to hurt. I do the only thing I can think of to comfort her, I drop to the ground behind her and hug her tight from behind and tell her to hang on, it will be over soon.
One of the EMT's takes my jacket off Katie and hands it to me, he tells me I'm welcome to go back and get in the front seat of the ambulance to warm up. I know Katie is in good hands now so I go to warm up. Soon they are carrying Katie out of the woods and into the back of the ambulance. The driver jumps in and we begin the slow trip back to the parking lot. He again asks if I'm OK, I tell him I'm fine. He asks what we were doing out here and I tell him we were looking for the Great Horned Owl. We talk about birds as we slowly head back to the parking lot.
It was only after a very nice police officer helped me get Katie’s car to the hospital and I had checked on Katie that I went into the restroom and saw myself in a mirror that I understood why the EMT might have thought I was the patient. I was a mess! In the process of running back and forth thru the bushes, I did remember something poking me but paid no attention to it at the time. But it seems a branch must have caught the side of my pants and they were ripped open from my waist to my thigh and my granny panties were exposed for all to see. My hands were all scratched and my knuckles were bleeding. I was splattered with mud from my toes to my knees. I must have been quite a sight to the EMT's jumping up and down waving my sweater over my head.
I wouldn't share this story without Katie’s permission, she even asked me to document our adventure with pictures. They are her's to share if she sees fit. Katie said she was excited to be the center of one of my birding adventure stories. Katie, my actions may have seemed frantic but they weren't. I knew time was against us, we could only stay out there in the cold, wet woods for so long before hypothermia was a real concern, I was beginning to shiver that's why I kept running back and forth to stay warm. No way would I even think about taking my coat from you. I was really concerned that it was taking the ambulance so long to get to us that's why I felt I needed to make some noise and get their attention. I kept asking you if you wanted any water and a molasses cookie from my pocket to test you. You remained clear headed, you answered me, you laughed at me, you were ok.
The bottom line is Katie is OK. The hospital took x-rays and checked her over good, nothing is broken. She has some torn ligaments and must remain off the foot as much as possible and use crutches. I had a great day spending time with my niece, we had some fun adventures. Ask Katie about Megatron, and how she felt about my creative use of my black sweater. Obviously, if I could I would go back in time and erase the moment Katie attempted to climb that darn tree. Hindsight is always 20/20. But I wouldn't change anything else.
Thank you, Katie, for a special day. I Love You!