Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I strip for wildlife!

          My field season, where I am studying the American woodcock, brings with it many exciting adventures. However, this one beats all (thus far)! I was going out to my field site, at about 8 am, to complete vegetation surveys and I saw a hawk stuck in a barbed wire fence. When I say stuck I mean STUCK! Originally, I thought he was dead. Then, he blinked. I knew right then I needed to go do something. Instead of thinking it all the way through, I walked right up to it and grabbed it in a birder's grip (keep in mind I have little experience with hawks). Then, I went to grab it's legs before it could get me with its talons. I was not quick enough and then I was stuck to the hawk and by association stuck to a barbed wire fence. Now, keep in mind hawks DO NOT let go.

A picture of a cooper's hawk. Quite beautiful!
            Due to my inexperience, the only choice was for my field assistant to knock on doors as this hawk was not coming loose without us cutting the barbed wire. She went to the first house and came back with a rusty pair of pliers. That left us with a hawk, attached to my arm, and about a 3 ft long piece of barbed wire that was still attached to the hawk. We still could not get it loose so she went to house # 2 and came back with an even worse pair of pliers! These got us down to about 1 foot of barbed wire. Finally, I decided to knock on a person's door (as my field assistant was stuck talking) and ask the people who lived there for help. Keep in mind, I had a hawk stuck to my arm and it HURT. Amazingly, although the ladies had nothing to help me, they did invite me in. Following that, I went to their neighbors and he decided that he was going to save the eagle. And yes, you heard that right, the EAGLE. I can just imagine what my arm would have looked like if it had been an eagle!

A picture of an eagle.... Please compare this to the picture above. Hard to mistake one for the other!

          After 1.5 hours of this hawk being stuck to my arm we finally freed him. However, he refused to free me. So, I decided to lay him on the ground and tear the one talon left in my skin out and put it on my jacket. Then I removed my jacket and realized that he was stuck to my second layer of clothing. So, my field assistant nicely unbuttoned my 6 or 7 buttons (talk about awkward) and I removed that layer. Then believe it or not he was stuck to my final shirt and yes, I did what I had to. I stripped for wildlife.  Then I was left standing, in the cold and in a neighborhood, in my sports bra. We left all of my clothing there, I put on my field assistants extra shirt, and we went and completed our work. I am happy to say that when we got back the hawk was gone and I can only hope that he is off flying around and staying away from barbed wire and people's arms! The following is a drawing completed by one of my friends to honor this occasion.... and notice the smug look on the hawks face!

          On a more serious note, it is amazing how small aspects of what we do as humans can affect wildlife. Something as simple as a barbed wire fence almost killed that hawk, and he was just trying to get at food. There are multitudes of examples like this, such as pesticide use and the like, that affect organisms dramatically. So, next time you are thinking about putting in  barbed wire fence or manipulating the earth in any fashion, think about wildlife. You do not have to strip for wildlife, but just a thought is all I'm asking!


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