Day 9: Wild Life

It’s one of the best things ever when my trusty iPhone buzzes and I look down to see “Jay Coles” on the incoming call screen.

He’s my dear friend, yes. But in addition to that, he’s Executive Director of Carolina Wildlife Center, an organization here in the Midlands of South Carolina that works tirelessly to care for and rehabilitate orphaned and injured animals. Jay is a committed, passionate leader who always has interesting things going on. When I hear from him, I know it will be good.

“Whatcha doing?” he asks when I hit the hello button.

“On the treadmill,” I huff.

“Wanna go on a release?” he says.

“What kind?” I ask (as if it matters).

There’s a smile in his voice. “Purple Martin,” he says.

Oh yeah.

~~~~~~

A short time later he picks me up and we drive to the end of Old Chapin Road, just where it meets Lake Murray. “Know what that is?” Jay asks, pointing across the water to an island just beyond. “Bomb Island.”

Well, of course. Jay would know to bring the bird to this spot where, released to the wild for the first time after months of rehabilitation, it might just find a flock. A half million Purple Martins roost on Bomb Island for a few weeks in late summer, you see. So any minute now thousands of them will come flying across the water. Jay supposes that if we let our little guy go, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll find his way across the lake to join the others.

“Ready?” he says to me and I feel as nervous and giddy as if it were my maiden flight. “Let’s do it,” I say.

Jay gently lifts the top from the container. I look in, and sure enough, there he is.

 

Um. Hello?
Um. Hello?

 

You want me to do what?
You want me to do what?

 

I'm not so sure that's a good idea.
I’m not so sure about this.

 

release
Well, okay then!

 

Which way do I go?
Which way do I go?

 

Oh. There they are!
Oh. There they are!

 

I'm coming!
I’m coming!

 

 

If you’d like to learn more about Carolina Wildlife Center and their important work, click here. It’s a nonprofit I love and one that is significantly underfunded. With no state or federal money, CWC treats more than 3500 orphaned and injured animals a year, responds to more than 10,000 hotline questions, and presents animal and conservation education to thousands of children and adults–with many, many hours donated by dedicated volunteers and insufficiently funded staff. (So much of the donated money must go to supplies for the animals.) Needless to say, they are grateful for $$ donations of any size! They particularly love Sustaining Donors who give $10, $20 or $50 a month. More info can be found here. Also, follow Carolina Wildlife Center on Facebook. No matter where you live in the world, you’ll be delighted to see the precious animal photos and videos that will roll through your feed!

30 Days Of Fun III

Did you have some summer fun today? Leave details in the comments below, or better yet, send a photo to cathy@thedailygrace.com. You can also post to instagram with hashtag #30DaysOfFunTDG or to my TheDailyGraceBlog Facebook page. I’d love to share it here!

Want updates? Yay!


 

 

Day 3: Eight Minutes

A triple dose of joy hit me early yesterday morning.

JOY ONE: My sweet husband insisted I sit down right then to open the day’s remarkable Wordless News, adding you’re gonna need eight minutes and it’s so worth it. (I love it when he brings his enthusiasm and shares it with me.)

illustration by Maria Fabrizio
© Maria Fabrizio

JOY TWO: I clicked on the Wordless News link to find Maria Fabrizio‘s wonderful illustration of our South Carolina Purple Martins. You may remember two summers ago I joined the Carolina Wildlife Care Purple Martin Cruise and wrote about it here; year after year hundreds of thousands of these gorgeous creatures return to Bomb Island at Lake Murray to roost. It is quite something to behold.

Well, this year, something very mysterious happened. The Purple Martins didn’t come. After all these years, how do you explain the disappearance of a half million birds?

JOY THREE: NPR’s Adam Cole came to investigate. His story, told in video, is both fascinating and delightful.

GIVE YOURSELF THE GIFT OF THESE EIGHT MINUTES. START BY CLICKING HERE.

Thank you, Cole. Thank you, Maria. And thank you, Tim!

 

30 Days of Joy

The Daily Grace in your inbox? I say yes!


 

Heartbreak. And a little joy.

How will you ever write about this Eliza said in a quiet way that made it much more of a statement than a question. We were standing together looking down at the overturned birdhouse, and I could feel her heart breaking right alongside mine.

Just a few days earlier we’d giggled together as we said goodbye to the bluebird nestlings, a short beach trip in our immediate future. They’d been so rambunctious, those wild little creatures, their beaks stretching impossibly wide as they screamed for food. I hate to leave them I said back then (as if my being around would do anything to prevent a highly likely attack on the nest. Ha.). Danger lurked around every corner, that was for sure.

And so I took one more precious photo of the babies, wished them well, and along with Tim and Eliza, boarded a plane for Sarasota.

~~~~~~

We made the return trip home four days later. Even though it was quite late, I headed right down those steps the moment we arrived, eager to get a look at the birdhouse through the big studio window. They’ll be so big! I thought. I hope they haven’t fledged already—I would be so sad to miss that! And then I made my way to the window and looked in the direction of the nest.

There was nothing there, no birdhouse at all.

Oh No I thought.

I stepped back quickly and turned on the porch light, knowing my next move would need to be a trip outside. I was terrified of what I might see when I crossed over the door’s threshold. And sure enough there it was on its back, my bought-on-a-whim decorative green birdhouse, knocked to the ground two feet from the table on which it previously sat.

The cute little bird cut-out opening looked like a crime scene.

Oh my God I said out loud. What happened? Who did this? Are the parents around? Can the little ones still be inside? Is there a chance any of them survived?

And then I called out Hey babies, hey babies, are you in there?

There was no sound at all.

~~~~~~~

It took me a minute, I cannot lie, to look closer. But I knew I had to. And so I summoned both my courage and my iPhone light and shown it into the opening. There were birds in there, yes. But there was no sign of life.

I stood back a moment, in despair and disbelief. Where were the parents? What should I do?

I took one more look. This time I saw a tiny moment from one of the birds, a minute shift of the head and then breathing so slight I wasn’t even sure it was real. I bounded up the stairs.

Tim, Eliza, come help. Something’s happened to the nest. I’m afraid the bluebird babies are dead. And I ran back down, frantic, unsure, lost.

~~~~~~~

I didn’t know what to do. Should I try to get to the breathing baby, to remove him from that awful dark den? How would I even accomplish it? The only way in was through that small opening on the front, and surely I would further injure him in my attempt. Should I move the birdhouse itself?

WHERE WAS THEIR MAMA????

And so I dialed my dear friend and neighbor, Jay Coles, who just happens to be director of Carolina Wildlife Center.

You need to leave the baby where he is said Jay. But move the birdhouse back and set it upright. Put it where it was, so the parents can get to him. They’ll take care of it.

BUT I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY ARE I nearly yelled.

It will be okay said Jay in a voice so sure and calm. The parents will know what to do.

And so we carefully uprighted the birdhouse and we put it right back on that table and I went to bed praying (without much hope, if you want to know the truth) that the little guy would make it through the night.

~~~~~~~

I woke up around 6am, when I heard the call of a bluebird. I grabbed my shorts and ran down the stairs, making my way slowly and quietly into the dark studio. I sat still as a statue on my stool in front of the window. The birdhouse was still on the table, still standing. At least that’s something I thought. About that time I saw the Mama bird just to the left of the porch, clinging to the brick column. There was no food in her mouth, but she was looking toward the nest. In short order she flew to the perch and put her head inside the opening.

She was there a long time—at least it seemed a long time, as I was holding my breath—and then she flew away. What did she see in there I wondered. What will she do next.

In no time she was back, and this time she went straight to the opening and disappeared into it. Then she was gone again.

I made my way quietly out the door and tiptoed toward the birdhouse. All at once I saw this little head and snapped the photo as quickly as I could.

lone survivor
He made it through the night!

Then it was time to get ready to go to work.

~~~~~~

It was a long day away from that nest, unsure as I was to the goings-on there. When I finally got home this afternoon I found this joy.

3
One. Two! Three?

(In fact, I believe there are four surviving birds, although that is currently unconfirmed.)

I continued to fret, and so dear Jay made his way down the street to help me relocate the birdhouse to a higher spot. It is now attached to the brick wall making it all but impossible for the offending beast (cat? raccoon? possum?) to knock it down.

How grateful I am for this latest miracle. How in awe I am that just as Jay said, the parents knew exactly what to do.

Thanks and praise, is what I say. Thanks and praise.

night night
night night

 

Day 17: Purple Martins at Bomb Island

In the three hours we cruised Lake Murray, we saw four—five maybe?—other boats. So it should not have struck me as particularly noteworthy that our approach to Bomb Island was a solitary one.

Yet noteworthy it was, both in the fact that Purple Martins were coming, and in the delightful surprise that on this particular night, we were the only boat to witness it.

bomb island–the largest purple martin sanctuary in north america

There had been a terrible storm that afternoon, you see, weather so severe it downed trees and tangled power lines and laughed in the face of any soul foolhardy enough to climb out of a secure basement shelter. Still we headed for the water. Plans had been made, after all, curiosities piqued with the promise of the return of the Purple Martins. And in this case it wasn’t just the phenomenon of the birds themselves, I must tell you. What awaited us was a unique adventure, a narrated tour organized by (and benefitting) Carolina Wildlife Care, a Midlands organization with a great knowledge of and interest in these, and all, birds.

And so, in the rain, we set sail (proverbially speaking). We motored across Lake Murray, making merry with friends, sipping champagne, nibbling here and there on a bite or two of Dupre’s famous pimento cheese et al. And in no time we started our Bomb Island approach. (There may or may not have been a little lightening in the distance, who could say, what with the excitement of the promise of the Martins.)

They arrived, yes they did. In droves.

 

this may or may not be me and my partner-in-bird-obsession, cindy (t.coles photo)

It was magical. Just the hundreds of thousands of Purple Martins, and us—one boat filled with wet, awe-struck revelers.

Thank you, Carolina Wildlife Care, for an evening this bird lover won’t soon forget.

 

30 Days of Fun II

Day 6: a pod of opossums

baby opossums

I made a pitstop to see my friend Jay Coles, who recently landed the perfect job at Carolina Wildlife Care. You can’t believe the web of people in that small space tending to sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife—did you know they treat more than 3,000 animals a year? And that doesn’t count the tens of thousands of hotline calls they answer. This is a group of hearty souls committed to helping us all better understand the challenges our growing human footprint places on wildlife and the need in today’s world for true wildlife conservation. What a thrill it was to go behind the scenes for an up close look at their handling of birds, turtles, rabbits, snakes, raccoons, fawns, and squirrels. And oh, yes, Opossums. Precious baby opossums.

Did I show you the sign?

Yes. A great big feather.

30 Days of Fun II