Trash and birds

Polly Pattison sent this email out a couple of weeks ago. Polly works for the Harris Center in Hancock NH and is one of the most emotionally invested people I know. She wears her heart on her sleeve for things that she cares about, and she cares a lot about wildlife and the environment. I read the email with great appreciation but no real surprise that she and her partner Jon Atwood would devote themselves to such an endeavor. A few days after receiving it, I came upon a scene in Alabama that brought her experience to mind. Read her email, and then have a close look at the photo at the bottom of this blog. Though both experiences were distressing, the good news is that this is a simple fix.


Some of you know bits of this story, because the HC was the first place I started calling for help two weeks ago yesterday. I had met a friend in the afternoon at the Ashuelot, hoping to catch sight of the Great Blue Heron who I used to see fishing by the waterfall around 4pm. I hadn’t been there for ages, so there are many mysteries connected with this story that will remain.

The heron flew in, as hoped, and even though he was quite close, I had to see him even better, through binocs, of course! To my horror I saw his feet and toes were both ensnared with fishing line, and worse still, his legs were attached together by the line as well. This hit me so hard, I had to do something. The problem was how to catch a large bird who was capable of flying.

This is when I began my phone campaign. I spoke with 4 fish and game officials, 4 wildlife rehabilitators, 3 vets and more over the next few days. I was told the only hope was to find a net gun, and then, after calling around, found there was only one in southern NH. which was in the possession of a F&G person on vacation for two weeks, and the other one was in Manchester and not in good shape. A few days after my discovery of the bird’s handicap I had found there was a F&G agent who had a net gun and made a plan to meet him at the dam with Maria Colby on hand to help with the after care. Unfortunately, because the bird flew off if anyone approached, in the end, the agent decided not to come at the last minute, because he didn’t think he could get close enough to the bird to fire the net gun and successfully capture the bird.

This haunted me day and night, and then Jon became absorbed by this as well and we were a gloomy pair. It became clear if the bird was to be released from all the line it was up to us. Yesterday, two weeks after I saw the heron to the day, and nearly to the hour, we caught the bird, after posting ourselves on either side of the river, communicating by phone and bandana, : ) for nine hours.

We both realize it was a total miracle we caught him. He came and went all morning and then we didn’t see him for about 4 hours, but never took our eyes off the spots he would swoop down onto. We started thinking of when next we could devote an entire day to attempt to catch him next, it began to look so hopeless.

First thing in the morning he came in and caught a fish by the dam that neither of us thought he could swallow. He did without trouble. Later that morning I learned he had caught three fish in five minutes the day before, so our fears that he was starving were assuaged. I had watched him many times over the two weeks previous and never saw him successfully fish, which was one of the reasons we thought it best to take him to Maria in case he was starving. We were elated to discover he was a well-fed heron. He only put both feet in the water once, over two weeks of watching him, and he was constantly tugging one foot from the other, but they were strapped together. This was really hard to watch.

Because the water is so low this year, there is an exposed grassy spit where we put up a mist net, and across the river, where he often stands, Jon put down a noose carpet he’d made over the last few days in case the heron landed there and we could capture him that way. In the end, miraculously, after watching the three spots, with binocs (what a hot and sunny day-insect-bites and sunburn to prove it) after an almost five hour wait for his return, he sailed over my head and landed in the net. I called Jon who was on the net side of the river, but couldn’t see the heron in the net, and he dashed to free him as I dashed around the river to help. He was quite the squawker, but totally fine. Not sure he liked being in the pillow case very much, but I got to cut the dastardly line off each toe and foot and leg and was thrilled beyond words.

In the end, due to his good health, and no evidence whatsoever of infection or cuts by the many strands of monofilament,(another miracle) we all decided ( we were in phone contact with Maria Colby at this point), to free the bird on his home turf. We were on our way to Henniker, but turned back and at long last watched him, with plenty more squawking, fly free and unfettered over the dam and away. It was a miracle!


Great Blue Heron, Guntersville AL

Great Blue Heron, Guntersville AL

I passed word of this bird to a local rehabilitator, but as with the above, catching it is the trick. The much easier option is to dispose of trash correctly in the first instance.

One Response to “Trash and birds”

  1. Eric Masterson May 31, 2017 at 6:45 pm #


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