I have two volunteer gigs, and they both involve unexpected telephone calls.
For the rural volunteer fire department, it will be a recorded voice saying something like, “We have a smoke report east of Highway 165 and north of Highway 78.”
That is followed by a sudden switch into Nomex clothing, either the yellow shirt/green trousers wildland-firefighting outfit or the slightly heavier all-yellow “interface gear,” a fine product of California’s prison industries. Then comes urgent radio chatter as I try to figure out who is able to respond and if someone can pick me up with the engine on the way or the fire, or if I have to drive down to the station — or if I should just slap the magnetic flashing light on the Jeep and head for the incident directly.
The other unexpected type of call might be from the director of the raptor center down in Pueblo saying, “Someone in [some town] has an injured hawk in their back yard. Can you go pick it up?”
Or perhaps it is it’s the area wildlife-volunteer coordinator: “A rancher in [the valley] found some abandoned fox kits in a hay stack. They’re at a veterinarian’s office up there. Can you go get them and take them to the rehabilitation center?”
And M. and I get gloves, pet carrier, capture net, goggles, flea powder — whatever we need — load the truck and go. Maybe I pin on my official Colorado Parks & Wildlife name tag (she never bothers), so I don’t appear to be some random animal-snatcher.
Last Monday, the 21st, was the second kind of call. This time, an injured sharp-shinned hawk was in a garage—the homeowner had found it outside, unable to fly, and shooed it into the building for its own safety.
I was able to catch it pretty quickly — always good when there are people watching, and there usually are people watching, because they made the original phone call, and they want to see what happens next. And I gave the usual reassuring speech that it would be at the raptor center that evening and evaluated by a veterinarian the next day.
I knew its prospects did not look good. A day later, we learned what had happened: broken humerus, dislocated elbow, possibly the result of being hit by a car. Result: euthanasia. The expert opinion was that this bird would never be healed well enough to live on its own. More than not, that is what happens.
But there was better news. A great horned owl chick that had been found in a certain hardware store in our county last spring had spent all summer learning to fly and hunt at the raptor center, and now it was ready to be released. Could we pick it up and take it back to the same general area?
Such calls — all too rare — are the pay-off for the rest. We picked up the owl in her carrier, and before many miles, M. had named her “Owlivia.”
“Willow Creek Road,” I suggested, thinking of a small canyon in the national forest where I had heard great horned owls before, one that offers a mix of habitats: deep forest, brush, and pasture. After supper, as night was falling, we drove up there and let her go. She did not hesitate.
M. and I have special feelings about owls. For several years, they helped put food on the table for us, when we spent many spring and summer nights hiking in the dark, counting them for the Bureau of Land Management. If you’re fond of owls too, the Cornell Ornithology Lab has a package of owl sound clips that you can download for free — at least through H-owl-owe’en.