On my runs around the countryside of Lexington County, South Carolina, I occasionally come across wildlife. Most of the time, the encounter is the result of an automobile versus an animal situation where the animal has lost and it is too late for me to help. Recently, though, I came across a couple of live reptiles that were moving slower than I was which allowed me to help these box turtles across the road.
Box turtles don’t appreciate the help, though, and they hiss when you lift them. With these little guys, at least my fingers weren’t in danger like the time I stopped traffic to help a large snapping turtle across the road. Turtle moving tip: Always take turtles to the side of the road they are facing or traveling toward.
But my last name is Fowler, not Reptiler, and a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to live up to my name:
fowler [ fou-ler ] noun: a hunter of birds.
One hot August Sunday afternoon a few years back, when I actually rode my bicycle on the road and not the stationary trainer, I went out for a short ride. The plan was for about 30 minutes. I think we had some dinner plans so I didn’t have much extra time.
I was cruising along a four-lane stretch of Highway 378 near the south shore of South Carolina’s Lake Murray, minding my own business. I had just crossed the Jake Knotts bridge, a very scenic spot where I was envious of the swimmers and boaters enjoying the lake. Why had I decided to cycle in 100-degree temps? Well, because running in 100 degrees would have been plain stupid. Cycling might only be a little dumb, especially given the hills on Highway 378 I was about to tackle.
Anyway, as I crossed the bridge, I saw something moving up ahead in the median. From my vantage point on the far right side of the right lane, as I approached the form, it became obvious that the object was a large bird and it was about to mosey on into the lane of oncoming cars. Dumb vulture, I thought. Why don’t you fly? I’d seen plenty of turkey vultures on my runs with the aforementioned road kills. They don’t seem bright and will ignore vehicles when trying to snag their meals from the center of the road.
One car swerved to the right to avoid the bird, and as I closed in, I could see it wasn’t a vulture. This was a beautiful bird with white-tipped brown feathers and a white head. At first, I thought it was a bald eagle, but then realized it was an osprey.
He was trying to fly but couldn’t take off. I figured he must’ve been clipped by a vehicle already and had a broken wing. As another car traveling at 55+ mph narrowly missed the bird, I had to take action. If I don’t help, you’ll have more than a broken wing, I thought. You’ll.be a turkey vulture’s next meal. I checked for traffic and pulled into the median, dismounting my bike to block the bird from traffic.
Jake and the Bike Man
Now what? Greg, a bike, and a bird Not an ordinary bird, either – a large bird of prey with sharp talons and a sharp beak. In the middle of four lanes of 55 mph traffic. Didn’t think this one through, did you, Fowler.
Fortunately, it was a Sunday afternoon and traffic was light. I also realized that I could hear the calls of other ospreys from the nests that sit atop of telephone polls in this area of the lake. Was that Jake’s family calling? (I was now calling him Jake due to the proximity of the Jake Knotts bridge.) Maybe Jake was really Jackie, and the noises I heard were her babies asking when dinner was going to be ready? I was also slightly worried that this Jake/Jackie might have a significant other watching that could start diving at me, thinking I was about to cause harm. Crazy thoughts on a hot day…
I could plainly see that the safer place to be was on the side of the road, in the grass. But how to wrangle a bird of prey across two lanes of traffic and keep all 10 fingers? Also, death was not yet out of the question for either one of us.
And what about a snare? That would help. Well, I didn’t have a snare per se, but I did have a bicycle. Turns out, a bicycle is almost as good as a snare in this situation, especially when dealing with a bird that cannot fly. By keeping the bike between Jake and me, I was able to guide him safely across the road and away from high-speed traffic, kind of like a real live version of Frogger.
Now to the next level of the game. What to do with Jake? I knew there was a wildlife rescue center on Old Bush River Road, but that was at least 15 miles away, and there was the whole transport problem. I called them anyway, but the line went to voicemail: “Sorry folks, we’re closed. It’s Sunday.” UGH!
By now, I’d also called my wife to let her know I was going to be late. Fortunately, a good Samaritan soon pulled over. Not sure if she saw the bird or me or both. She and I discussed the situation, and she had the idea of calling the DNR – the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. They’re the fish and game police, and they usually have a few agents on the lake at busy times such as a hot August day.
So I called the DNR and asked for assistance. Sometime later, a gentleman showed up and didn’t seem the list bit phased by the need to catch a wild animal. And he did have a snare in the back of his truck – a large cage, perfect for the occasion. A few minutes later, we had Jake safely in the cage for his free ride to an animal clinic. The DNR man and Jake rode off, and so did I. Unfortunately, mine was all uphill at this point.
The next day, I made some phone calls and learned Jake had been taken to a raptor rehab facility in the Charlotte, NC area. I called them and learned Jake had a broken wing but was going to be OK.
I never heard if Jake had a return trip to Lake Murray or perhaps was given a new home at Lake Norman in Charlotte, but I like to think he’s back on the south shore hanging out with his family again. Every now and then I see an osprey as I drive near the bridge, and I swear he has a slight hitch in his wing flap. Hope that’s you, Jake. If not, I hope you’re safe somewhere.
Lake Murray Osprey webcam: https://www.lakemurrayosprey.com/
Thanks for reading,
PS – Grumpy Greg for the week: Going for two weeks in a row without a Grumpy Greg comment.
PPS – Current writing streak: 73 days.
Fiction words this week: ~1200-1300 net. Similar update as last week due to rewrites/revising the first draft. I’m probably at least a week behind my schedule goal. Definitely underestimated how slow this phase can be.