Sunday, April 15, 2012

Baby owl bed check is dangerous duty

By David Horst 

NEW LONDON -- I've seen Don Baumgartner hold a bald eagle in his lap, the huge bird's treacherous talons stretched out in front of him.

I've seen him handle an adult osprey – a fish-killing missile – without breaking a sweat.

So when I saw fear in his eyes as we approached the nest of a great-horned owl, I knew this was dangerous duty.

Not dangerous for me. I was hanging back by the entrance to a large metal building shooting photos. Don – wearing two leather jackets, arm-length gloves and a European-style firefigher's helmet – prepared to climb a ladder up to the nest of a great-horned named Ms. Harvey and snatch her off of her three babies.

Great-horned owls are more aggressive than eagles, he said. "They kill everything." Ms. Harvey, in fact, smelled of skunk.

Don has volunteered with bird rehabilitator Pat Fisher for more than 20 years. We are in the woods behind Pat's home near New London. This is also the site of The Feather, her nonprofit shelter for injured birds.

The purpose of this fool’s errand was to check the health of the owlets, weigh them and band them so their movements can be tracked as they grow and leave the nest.