The call comes in at 6 p.m. Someone had seen an eagle on the ground at 10 that morning. He had called Florida Fish and Wildlife, but they did not have an officer in the area. Many calls later, he had finally gotten through to Peace River Wildlife Center, and they called me. Saturday evening. It will be dark soon. The caller is willing to wait for me. It’s about a half mile hike back into the scrub off the main trail. Really? I don’t think so. Maybe I’ve read too many James Patterson novels, but that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
First thing Sunday morning, I gather my gear and head for the “carefully detailed” location where the injured bird was last reported. “Back the trail (as if there is only one), where it goes around the corner of where the dried up retention pond used to be…” I get there and the first thing I see is three trails. I pick the one labeled “A”—seems an obvious choice to me. Of course it is the wrong choice. Of course I don’t figure that out until I hike for a good 20 minutes.
So, after another 20 minutes I’m back to where I started. Okay, plan B—trail B. I call the number for the man who found the eagle. No answer. I’m not really surprised. He probably doesn’t have good cell reception in the dungeon where he spends the wee hours of a Sunday morning honing the blades on his machetes and pick axes. The surgical instruments, I imagine, he leaves dull so that each cut is all the more painful. (Darn you, Patterson!)
Still dragging myself and my rescue equipment down the narrow and overgrown path, I am getting further and further away from civilization. I am looking for the plastic bag that has supposedly been tied to a tree near where the eagle was discovered. I see neither an eagle nor a bag. And we’re walking, and we’re walking…
Finally! A bag tied to a tree. Maybe there really is an eagle in distress here and not just an elaborate set up to procure an unsuspecting human sacrifice. I set down my equipment and start looking in earnest for the bird. Making ever widening circles around the immediate area, I feel like I have scrutinized every square inch of the place for miles around. Okay, maybe it was just a few feet, but I’m tired by now. And I’ve gotten myself so caught up in the villain’s scheme to abduct me that every time a branch cracks I jump three feet in the air, so I’m counting that vertical distance in my miles logged.
Not surprisingly, I do not find an injured eagle. I don’t find a feather, a footprint, or any other evidence that any living creature has ever set foot here before me. Well, there is the plastic bag. And maybe some raccoon scat, feral pig rootings, and a million different birds. Actually, all kinds of animals live out here. It really is quite beautiful. I suppose if this is the last place I see before the burlap sack gets thrown over my head, I’ll have that lovely image to sustain me through the first few days of torture.
I give up and keep walking. The retention pond is relatively empty at this time of year, just a mucky muddy bottom at the very middle of it. Its footprint is still quite large and the path encircles it, so I continue my hike, ever watchful for an injured eagle in case he has moved from his original spot. I make it back to my car with mixed emotions. I am disappointed to have wasted so much time and yet I am happy to still be alive. Maybe Kreeper McKreppison only comes out at night after all. But my overriding thought is how much I need a doughnut.
As soon as I get to the doughnut shop, my cell phone rings. It is a lady telling me that the eagle is still there and that she and her husband will be happy to guide me to it. Hmph. So my doughnut(s) and I are off again. This time when I arrive (10 minutes later, and the doughnuts are long gone) a perfectly normal-looking couple are waiting for me in the parking lot. They even have a perfectly normal-looking dog with them. Evil villains never have a nice dog with them.
We walk to where they had seen the eagle just minutes ago, but now we can’t find the bird. Did anyone see that coming?! So they let Boots off her leash and tell her to find the eagle. Maybe I was premature in thinking these people were perfectly normal. Do they really think they can hold intelligible conversations with their dog? Actually what I was wrong about was that the dog, Boots, is anything but normal.
Boots crashes through the underbrush for a few minutes, stops, lets out a single bark, and then returns to us. She then turns and leads us back to where the young eagle is hiding under a palmetto. A short chase ensues, but we are able to catch the eagle and take him back to PRWC.
The bald eagle is a first-year juvenile. She has probably flown into something while learning how to hunt. There is a slight swelling near her right shoulder, but x-rays show no broken bones or luxations. We are hopeful that after a little cage rest, this youngster will be able to go back home and take to the skies with a little more agility. Had we not found her, she most certainly would have ended up as dinner for some predator.
So I guess it turns into more of a Dean Koontz dog-saves-the-day kind of tale than a Patterson man-is-just-plain-evil exploit. Except that there were no government assassins, time traveling Nazis, or mad scientists. As far as I know. Those people did say they were from Vermont. Who knows what their real origin might have been. People don’t actually live in Vermont, do they? But I digress.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM