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She Shall Be Released!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Liam arrived from Morgantown about dinnertime on Saturday, November 23 for his Thanksgiving break. He had a well-aerated cardboard carrier with him. And in that carrier was precious cargo: the redtail, coming home. All that care and medication and rehab had paid off and she was ready for release! He'd picked her up at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital that afternoon. I couldn't believe how smoothly this was all working out. 

The night turned wet and bone-chillingly cold, with rain changing to wet snow. I was happy that our mighty redtail was in our protected basement and not facing a night like that outside. I'm sure she didn't love being in a box, but I comforted myself by thinking about the 30 days she might spend in springtime, lying over her eggs. She'd be fine overnight, resting on soft toweling. 
Better there than in a freezing rain.

I'd been giving my Jemima book talk to Master Naturalists at the New River Gorge in West Virginia Friday evening. It was a blast. Stayed overnight at Opossum Creek Resort. Saturday morning, I took a last long hike with Curtis along the Fern Creek/Endless Wall trail (fabulous!) and headed home at midday. We hit the grocery store on my 3 hour drive home, and I proceeded to go totally Martha Stewart. Knowing that you're going to release a redtail the next morning is cause for celebration. Saturday evening, I cooked like mad, making kits for a couple of gouda and broccoli quiches, arugula salad and the piece de resistence, a persimmon custard pie. All to be assembled and baked on Release Morning, bright and early. 

I invited a few friends who'd been especially involved in her story. Tanya and Shila, who'd provided moral support. Chris, who drove her to Morgantown, took the first shift carrying her box out to the meadow where she had pinned me down a month earlier.

Liam took over as we neared the hayfield.

He set the carrier down in the middle of the open field. We wanted to give her room to fly, and we wanted to have her in view for as long as possible.
I very carefully opened the carrier, and she sat back and considered her situation for several minutes. 

We were all in a wide circle around her, our iPhone cameras at the ready. 

She didn't like that, so we pulled back a bit more. I used my 300 mm telephoto for these shots. 

Man, she looked beautiful, just ablaze with life. 

I tiptoed closer to check on her and she woke up and began to consider using the sudden space over her head. Shila was lucky to be standing directly in front of her when she finally took off, and professional photographer in her kicked in as she kept the camera rock-steady on the bird flying right at her face. She had set it to slow motion to capture the wing action and the pure magic of something we knew would spool out all too quickly. Well done, Shila!!

My real-time video, which Blogger will not accept, captured our heroine taking umbrage at my quick peek, and getting the heck out of that box, that meadow full of people, the whole scene. She was gone, brother, gone. Strong and beautiful and gone.  

She landed a few hundred yards away, in the woods, and roused her feathers a couple of times. Then she zigzagged gracefully through the trees, turning on her side once to make a narrow passage, and headed for Dean's Fork, where I bet she took a cold soaking bath to clean those soiled feathers. 

We have released the hawk! She lives to fly another day, to eat rabbits and refurbish her nest and raise some more hawks!  We high-fived and smiled fit to split our faces. Now we feast!  She'd been feasting for almost a month; this bird that came in at 2.4 lb. was now tipping the scales at 2.75 lb (1250 gm). Ack. That's a lotta hawk!

We repaired to the warm kitchen, where we filled up on delicious homemade things. It was a fine, fine morning, a great day with good friends. Part of me is still flying with that huge, ornery, gorgeous, terrifying, totally worth it redtail. 

Cue The Roches singing, "Persimmon Custard Pie...." in three part harmony

If you have enjoyed this multi-part story, please send your thanks to the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a small but mighty clinic in Morgantown, WV, with the best vets and volunteers you could find. They took in more than 400 creatures this season. Jesse Fallon and his devoted volunteers do this on their own time. He's a hard-working small animal veterinarian who cares about all wild things, and knows just what to do to heal them.

Thank you!!!


I'm not crying. You're crying! Just beautiful.

The local rodent population better get back on red(tail) alert status. It looks like she's ready for action.

Great job, Julie (and everyone else involved with saving this awesome bird)!


Don’t you just wish you could know what she’s thinking in her avian brain at that moment?.… is there any cognition of being helped/cared-for by humans, or is it just a jumble of strange, random events leading lo-and-behold to woodland freedom once again? Is it a story to tell her grandchildren? ;) In any event, very magical for we readers!

Wait, why is this tagged The Roches?

Posted by Lisa Hutton December 6, 2019 at 10:19 AM

Lisa Hutton read your captions girl

Beautiful story all the way through. I was just thinking about what that hawk was thinking when it came out of that box and realized it recognized the area. I bet it thought it just woke from one of its worst nightmares. Well done everyone.

Titles, headings, and captions - they all grab the eye.
Such a beautiful story and release experience richly told. Great job Shila on the photos capture!

And the released gal never got a name... but I suspect you'll see her again one day and you'll have one ready.

Kim in PA

A beautiful story that left me feeling good. Well done, Julie, and all your cohorts!

Posted by mimimanderly December 6, 2019 at 5:11 PM

Julie, I volunteer with the ACCA, so I knew her story, but still found myself holding my breath with hope and fear! You are a wonderful writer!

What a beautiful story with such an excellent ending. It’s not “by chance” that you run across these critters who need help. You have been Providentially gifted to respond and your willingness to put on the time and hard work are admirable. My Aunt Sally Hoyt Spofford would have loved this story!

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