Fwd: FW: Another "saving wildlife" story

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at ups.edu
Tue Aug 17 12:12:27 PDT 2004

This is a great story!

>-----Original Message-----
>From: Ben Yandell [mailto:by at insightbb.com]
>Sent: Saturday, August 14, 2004 12:16 AM
>To: Birdky
>Subject: [birdky] long story
>Sorry for the length of this, but I had to share.
>A few weeks ago I bought a kayak.  Late in the afternoon of August 7 I tried
>it out for the first time on still water. 
>I should have known I had interesting encounters ahead, because that morning
>at Reelfoot a ruby-throated hummingbird had hovered and then zipped back and
>forth and back and forth in front of the kayak on the roof of my car.  The
>kayak is bright orange, and I think the hummingbird was sure he'd found the
>mother lode, nectar-wise.  ("The biggest trumpet vine you ever saw!")
>A few hours later I was at the Jonathan Creek boat ramp.  I managed to get
>myself off the sloping concrete and into the kayak without flipping over,
>and decided to explore the side creeks before paddling out into the
>embayment.  I had the place absolutely to myself, and the creeks were quiet
>and dark and green and wonderful.
>Less than five minutes after heading out, I came across a great blue heron
>floating on the water like a duck.  I've seen great blues do this below
>Kentucky Dam, but never on water as shallow and as still as that of the
>I approached him slowly, thinking he'd take off any second, but he just sat
>and stared at me.  I began to wonder if he was injured, and when I got
>closer I noticed that his body feathers were completely saturated.  Then I
>saw the nylon twine running from a branch of an overhanging tree into the
>water below the great blue.  I realized he was tangled in the line or maybe
>caught on its hook.  How long had he been trapped there? 
>I apologized for my species.
>If you've tried to free a tangled animal, you know that it's tricky to do
>without inciting frantic escape attempts from the animal and injuring it
>further.  I paddled up slowly, talking softly (for what that's worth).  For
>whatever reason, the heron just sat and looked at me.  He made no noise and
>did not move, although he seemed healthy enough to do so. 
>Besides worrying about the bird hurting himself, I had to worry about his
>hurting me.  I've seen the great blue heron's speed and reach when spearing
>a fish.  Now I was within striking distance.  I was awed by the length and
>apparent sharpness of that impressive yellow-orange beak. 
>Not wanting to appear aggressive, I moved slowly and avoided eye contact
>except for brief glances.  I doubt I've ever made eye contact with a great
>blue heron at such close range, and as he stared at me with those yellow
>eyes (forward-facing eyes, the eyes of a predator), I was wondering how he
>and I were going to accomplish this thing.
>I had a pocketknife with me, so I grabbed the twine from the tree end and
>slowly pulled it out of the water.  Up came one of the heron's legs - the
>whole procedure an indignity, but one that the heron tolerated without
>The twine was tangled into a loose knot around the bird's "ankle" - which
>isn't really its ankle.  (Its "knee" is its ankle, which explains why birds'
>"knees" seem to bend the wrong direction.)  I decided the best bet was not
>to spend a lot of time on this step of the process, and I reasoned that
>leaving the heron with a loose-fitting twine anklet was better than
>combining a flailing heron and an open knife while floating in a kayak.
>(Although so far no flailing involved.)
>I cut the twine near the anklet, letting the heron's leg drop back below the
>muddy water.  I paddled backwards a few feet.  The heron did not move for
>several seconds.  Then he sank farther into the water.  His feathers were
>saturated, and the water was evidently too deep for him to stand.  He
>flopped his wings forward, and used them to paddle awkwardly toward a downed
>branch in the middle of the creek just ahead of him.  Using his beak as a
>grappling hook, he pulled himself onto the branch, and then threw his wings
>across the branch.  He looked for all the world like an exhausted swimmer
>hanging onto the side of a boat.
>He immediately started sticking his head across the branch and moving it
>deep underwater for several seconds at a time.  I thought at first he was
>starting to hunt, which I took as a positive sign.  I soon realized, though,
>that he was trying to maneuver his center of gravity over the branch.  As I
>watched this, I saw thrashing in the water farther down the creek.  I was
>worried that another animal was ensnared, but this time underwater, so I
>left the heron on the branch and paddled quickly toward the disturbance.
>About 30 yards from the new problem, I saw that it was two cottonmouths
>doing some form of mating ritual or combat.  They were thick, powerful
>snakes - dark-backed and cream-colored underneath, with the triangular head
>shape of pit vipers.  They would entwine like a caduceus, with their heads
>coming a full foot above the surface of the creek.  Using logic that
>mystifies me now, I reasoned that I needed to paddle past them, which at one
>point put me within a few feet of them. 
>When I was about 15 feet past past them, they split up, and one began to
>swim straight at me. 
>Man, those guys are fast.
>Now keep in mind, I'm up a creek with steep, wooded banks, and I am floating
>in a kayak that clears the water by less distance than this poisonous snake
>has just demonstrated he can master. 
>I'm a psychologist by education, and I was enjoying observing my own
>cognitions at this moment.  What exactly was I going to do if he decided I
>was a threat?  Better yet, what if he decided he'd like to explore the
>inside of a big orange kayak?  I was certain I wasn't going to stay in the
>kayak with such a passenger, but dumping myself into the creek with him and
>his mate/rival didn't seem so inviting, either.
>For the second time in less than 10 minutes, I found myself making
>uncomfortably close eye contact with an animal that could choose to remind
>me that I'm not really the crown of creation.
>The snake swam alongside the kayak.  (Have you ever really studied the
>interesting dark mark that cottonmouths have on their cheeks?)  Then - as I
>had been silently reassuring myself that he would - he headed down-creek,
>presumably with an interesting tale to tell his buddies.   
>I paddled back toward the heron.  He was still balanced on the branch, but
>not where I'd left him.  The branch was evidently not anchored, and had
>floated a few yards toward me and my newfound playmates. 
>It was obvious that I had not yet rescued the heron.  He was as calm and as
>in peril as ever.  I paddled to within a few yards of him to contemplate how
>to help him.  He clung to the branch, calmly staring at me with those
>forward-facing, yellow eyes, and it came to me as clearly as if he'd spoken
>it aloud.  He was staring at me and thinking, "You're an idiot."
>OK.  Now put yourself in my kayak.  Here's a large, saturated, exhausted,
>and potentially dangerous bird, stranded on a floating branch with no
>obvious prospects of escape.  Seriously.  Think about it.  You're so smart,
>how do you help this guy?
>Plan A
>I spotted a large tree that had fallen into the creek.  It wasn't that far
>away, and it looked like a place for the heron to stand and dry out.  Maybe
>the tree could even act as a bridge from the water to the bank.  I paddled
>over to the heron's branch, all the while thinking he would squawk and take
>off.  Instead, he just stared at me:  "You're an idiot."
>I positioned my kayak next to the branch and gave it a shove toward the
>downed tree. 
>Do you truly understand Newton's Third Law of Motion?  Branch and heron
>moved 1.7 cm.  Kayak and idiot moved 2.6 meters.
>Still, I persevered with this silliness, and eventually positioned the heron
>next to the downed tree. 
>You know the saying:  You can lead a heron to dry dock, but you can't make
>him disembark.  He clung to his branch, staring at me, thinking, "You're an
>I said out loud, "I'm the primate here.  I should be able to solve this."
>Plan B
>I've got a boat.  I've got a knife.  I've got twine hanging from the trees.
>I cut pieces of twine, tied them together, tied one end to the side of my
>kayak, and tied the other end to the heron's branch.  Soon we were headed
>upstream:  a big orange kayak towing a branch with a disgusted heron
>onboard.  (I like my Mother's description after hearing this story:
>"low-speed water-skiing.")   I kept picturing what this 20-foot-long
>assemblage would look like to anyone standing along the creek bank. 
>After ten minutes of towing, I found a low bank where I could deposit the
>heron on dry land.  I slowly swung the branch around toward the bank.  Even
>though the heron and I were within touching distance, he calmly clung to his
>branch.  (Staring.  Thinking, "You're an idiot.")  I positioned his branch
>so that he was next to the muddy bank, but again no action.  I nudged him on
>the back with my paddle.  His next move surprised me. 
>He stretched his neck out and buried almost the entire length of his beak
>into the mud of the bank.  He then dragged himself off the branch and almost
>out of the water.  He sat in this weird predicament, beak in mud, so I
>nudged him again.  (This cartoon balloon appeared above his head, "You're an
>He pulled his beak out of the mud stretched it out again, buried it in the
>mud again, and pulled himself entirely out of the water onto dry land.
>(Success!)  As he pulled his bloody legs up under his body, I noticed they
>were still tangled together with twine. 
>He's right:  I AM an idiot.
>I figured we were comrades at this point, what with the cruise we'd taken
>together and all, so I opened my knife, reached under him and pulled out
>first one leg and then the other, and carefully cut all the twine off him.
>Whether from exhaustion, understanding, or sheer exasperation, he never once
>tried to pull away, never once threatened me.  He just stared at me,
>thinking, "Finally."
>I knew he had to be hungry, so I tossed him a Nutri-Grain bar.  (Strawberry.
>Low fat.)  I doubt he viewed it as food - I barely do - but I had to try
>And yes.  I did unwrap it.  I'm not an idiot.
>I left him sitting on the muddy bank.  I hope he dried out.  I hope his legs
>are healing and he's OK.  I hope he warns his buddies about the ecological
>disaster humans have created by leaving unbreakable fishing line on every
>foot of creek, river, beach, and ocean on the planet. 
>Ben Yandell

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