This story is the seventh in a series by Richard Spinney about his experiences transporting injured and sick wild birds for Avian Haven bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, Maine.
When this event occurred, I had been volunteering as a transporter of birds for Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, for over a year and had become a regular visitor there. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t use the word “visitor.” They don’t allow visitors, and they don’t give tours or open houses. According to state and federal regulations, human contact with birds in rehabilitation must be limited to staff caregivers.
So, let me rephrase that first sentence: I had been there frequently to deliver a bird or sometimes a group of birds. A couple times, I actually delivered a thousand earthworms (food for some of the birds) from a business in Orono.
At the time of this event, I was one of only two transporters in the greater Bangor area. I had become accustomed to my phone chirping like a bird and having Diane say, “Richard, are you available?” (Diane Winn is a co-founder of Avian Haven, which is a nonprofit facility. It operates on donations and grants only, but I digress.)
It’s my policy to accept any bird when I’m available. I don’t consider one bird’s life more important than any other bird’s life. So, the day my phone chirped and Diane said, “Richard, I have a mission for you if you wish to accept it,” it took me aback. I had visions of the television program “Mission Impossible,” which some people call “Mission Improbable.” I inquired what the mission was to be.
“I am trying to set up a relay to take a barred owl up to Perry,” she said. “I wondered if you wanted to be the first person.”
Perry, located in the easternmost corner of the state, is at least a 3-hour drive from Avian Haven.
When I replied “no,” there was silence. I could picture Diane’s mind whirling. I continued, “I won’t take it part way, but My Spotter and I’ll take it up all the way.” (I call my wife “My Spotter” because she often sees birds far sooner than I see them.)
So, that was the plan. Diane further explained that the barred owl had originally been found in the middle of Route 1 in Perry. It had probably collided with a car’s windshield. This often happens at night when a bird becomes blinded by an automobile’s headlights. The person who’d found it had met a volunteer transporter somewhere south of Perry. That person had taken the bird to Machias, where it was handed off to yet another volunteer. That volunteer took the owl to the rest stop on Route 9 just west of Beddington. There, I had gotten the owl and driven two hours to Avian Haven. I had forgotten about that particular trip. So, “in the middle of Route 1 in Perry” was all that was known about the rescue location.
Since then, the owl had recovered at Avian Haven. Healthy and strong, it was ready to be released back to where it came from.
The release would be a couple days away, and the owl would be released at dusk. Figuring the time from Brewer to Freedom, back to Brewer and then up Route 9 to Route 1 in Perry was relatively easy. On the computer, I started examining satellite images of Route 1 in Perry for a suitable release site. I selected three different sites that I thought would be appropriate on the basis of what the Avian Haven staff had described as good habitat for barred owls.
The day came for the release. On my return trip north, I swung by my home in Brewer, picked up My Spotter, and we drove to Perry. The satellite views of Perry were dated. There had been construction at each of the three sites. We continued to drive north, seeking a less congested site, and suddenly there it was: a cemetery!
The drive into the cemetery was a narrow dirt lane with tall trees on both sides. As expected, it opened up into a wide expanse of field with gravestones sprinkled about, and it was surrounded by thick woods. We placed the carrier on the ground, I stood some distance away, in front of the box and off to one side. As the barred owl took flight, I took several pictures, then I lost sight of it. I asked My Spotter where it was, and she pointed to a tree. She has eyes like a hawk!
From left: A barred owl perches in a tree in a cemetery in Perry after being released back into the wild; Richard Spinney, a volunteer transporter for Avian Haven, came across this monument while releasing an owl in eastern Maine. It inspired him to name the owl Halfway. Credit: Courtesy of Richard Spinney
The barred owl had landed in a tree in such a way that only its lower body was visible to me. I took a photo. Then, it obligingly ducked its head to look at us, as if to say “thank you,” and I took another picture. It remained upright for a few minutes, then took flight into the woods.
We wished him well, packed up the carrier and drove to Route 1. We noted a small park across the road with a monument. Curiosity being what it is, I drove across the road and read the engraving: “This Stone Marks 45o North Halfway From The Equator To The Pole ~ 1896.” So, I gave the owl its name, which was engraved in the center of the stone: Halfway.
Richard Spinney lives in Brewer with his wife of 48 years. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 20 years’ service, sold real estate for 23 years while also teaching adult ed algebra for 10 years, was a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist for a few years and the treasurer of The Maine Genealogical Society for 14 years. He has volunteered for Avian Haven since the summer of 2016.