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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