Responding to a craving for some fall colours and fresh air, I decided to get away to the country for the weekend, up to my folks’ cottage. The sky was full of drama on the drive up – all sorts of cloud formations – and the leaves were exploding into their brilliant oranges, yellows and reds, especially through the Hockley Valley area.
While making sure to keep my eyes on the road, I am always on the lookout for birds. At one point, I pulled over to the shoulder and grabbed my binoculars and camera when I saw a gathering of large birds circling overhead. They turned out to be Turkey Vultures, likely on their fall migration towards Florida or Texas.
And later that day, I saw another bunch of them roosting in a tree at Sauble Beach.
Anyhow, I did not rescue a vulture, but rather a water bird that was not designed to move about on land.
Here’s the story. It was a beautiful day for a walk along the shoreline of Lake Huron, even warm enough for shorts and bare feet! So I did just that, and came upon a bird that was sitting a short distance from the water’s edge – facing the water.
My first instinct was to leave it alone, so I gave it a wide berth, snapped some photos, and continued on my walk. On my way back, of course it was still there, and seemed as though it was in distress, and couldn’t get up on its legs.
When I returned to the cottage, I got out my bird field guides and, reviewing the photos I had taken, easily identified it as a Red-necked Grebe. Then I proceeded to scour the phone book (Yellow Pages) hoping to find a wildlife rehabilitation centre. I tried the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, heck, even the OPP, and got nowhere. I was getting frustrated, and I wanted to accomplish something before the sun went down. I decided to start at the front of the Yellow Pages and go through page by page to see whether there was anything useful. And there, under the category of “Parks and Nature Trails” was a listing for the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory.
I have known about the BPBO for several years now, since my brother volunteered on their board, and I’ve supported the valuable work they do at the banding station in Cabot Head. So I called the number and from there was able to get in touch with the current administrator, Don Douma.
As soon as I described the situation to Don, he said “Well Grebes can’t walk on land, so I suggest you try to pick the bird up and place it in the water.” Wow, that sounded like a fairly simple solution! I got my work gloves out the car, and an old towel, and went back to the beach. I instinctively knew that, even though the bird seemed weak, he might try to jab at me with his substantial beak, so I distracted him with the towel (he went for it right away) and then put my hands firmly around his body and walked with him into the lake. I set him down gently in the water, and immediately he started paddling slowly off, away from shore. Whew!
I have no idea how this bird ended up stranded on the shore, but it was a big relief to be able to return him to the water before nightfall. If you’re interested in learning more about Red-necked Grebes, there are some interesting facts here.