Beanery Online Literary Magazine

February 25, 2010

Wildlife Wonders



Kathleen Clark

     “Where shall we go this weekend?” My mother would ask. Dad would raise one quizzical eyebrow, and I’d wonder whether she was planning an educational or a recreational trip.

     “Someplace new or someplace we’ve already been?” I’d ask.

     Yep, my mom’s responsible for turning me into a “wild child.” She steered me ‘off the beaten path” just far enough, so that I enjoy spending a Sunday morning gazing out my two by four foot porch into the lush green growth, admiring the birds and blooming buds, much more than sitting in the plushest pew in the finest church.

     At least once a month we packed a picnic lunch and headed down the highway to explore local places of interest—Falling Water, Powdermill Nature Reserve, the Flagship Hotel or Busy Run Battlefield. If mom was in a recreational mood, we’d grab our swimsuits and spend a day at Koozer or Keystone State Park.

     Every year dad bought us a summer pass to Mountain View Inn, back when there was a large oval shaped swimming pool behind the hotel, sporting two diving boards, one extremely high. Or perhaps we’d simply jump in the car and after driving down a familiar highway, my dad would come to a fork in the road, suddenly turn and say, ‘OK, which way shall we go now?”

      I’d point to the left or right. “That way!” and off we’d go.

     This “spur of the moment” sense of adventure was my introduction to some of the most popular sights of the Laurel Highlands area, and to environmentalorganizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Botanical Society of America. Mom in particular was a “nature buff” and enjoyed planting flowers, canning vegetables, bird watching and nighttime constellation counting in our country home, located a quarter mile from Twin Lakes Park. She regularly booked nature trips with these organizations, and though most members were middle-aged to my pre-teen, I still enjoyed the outings. We went on nature walks, attended pot-luck dinners, and the annual Christmas dinner was always fun!

     One elderly couple’s home, which we often visited, was in the Latrobe airport area. The main attraction was a large wooden-slat swing tied to a huge weeping willow tree. I loved pushing off, swinging in a high, wide arc across their circular driveway! It was like flying!

     Today, I still enjoy watching the seasonal flowers and trees bloom, or a bird on the wing. Therefore, I was thrilled, when in the spring of 2002, my balcony porch was chosen by a pair of Mourning Doves and I experienced the rewarding privilege of observing them raise their babies “up close and personal.”

     Non-traditional nest builders, doves usually choose ready-made nests or locations like hanging baskets, or in this case, my dirt filled 24” flowerbox, empty of last season’s flowers. A few twigs and loosely laid straws suffice for a nest.

     Once the eggs are laid, both male and female participate equally in the 24/7 nesting vigil, marked by a synchronized cooing and signaling process. I was alerted by the characteristic whistling of their wings, as they flew in and out; I could set my clock by their daily rhythms. This wildlife wonder totally engrossed me!  

      Incubation lasts approximately two weeks, and when the eggs hatch, the mother dove zealously guards them. The hatchlings are fed “crop or pigeon milk” which is regurgitated from the adult doves crop or digestive tract lining. Later, seeds are introduced into their diet. The entire process, from laying eggs to the fledglings flight, spans about thirty days.

     Personal attachment was unavoidable as these delightful doves serenaded me with their melodious cooing which was as familiar as morning coffee perking. I’d sit on the porch in my Adirondack chair, beside the planter; talking to them, writing poems, recording in my diary, photographing their growth and progress. Closeness breeds intimacy, so I decided to name them. I felt as if they were my children too!

     The first born I named Jasmine and her sibling, Jewel (aka Little J). They were so tiny, delicate and beautiful, I couldn’t help falling In love with them! Excited and enthralled, I reported their progress and shared daily with my friends. They began calling me the “dove lady.”

      After Jasmine tried her wings and fledged, I looked forward to Little J following her sister. Therefore, I was surprised to find her left alone in the planter for an entire day. As the evening got cooler I anxiously awaited her parents return—mom dove in particular, her overzealous nature showing one day when I got a little too close and she furiously flapped her wings at me. I watched several different doves come and go, Little J bravely flapping her tiny wings, beak expectantly uplifted for any food offerings. 

    Up on the three inch ledge of the air conditioner I observed an adult dove and yes, it was Jasmine, peering down and cooing softly. ..but strangely, no doves flew down to protect or feed Little J. I swallowed hard, an awful realization hitting me. ..something was apparently physically wrong with baby Jewel, something only her parents knew. She wouldn’t be able to survive, and nature’s plan was to abandon her. It was a “gut feeling.”

     The next morning I found Little J huddled beneath the planter, her tiny body chilled by the cool night air. Panicked, I desperately tried to revive her, (and surprisingly succeeded for a few hours) then remembered about a wildlife rehabilitation center only a few minutes from my apartment. I frantically phoned Wildlife Works, Inc, gently laid the baby dove in a shoe box and drove top speedto deliver her, praying it wasn’t too late. But later when I called to check on her, she’d passed away. Much like a bereaved parent, I cried for several days.

     Her passing generated my Dove Story poem.

     My fascinating experience with the Mourning Doves prompted me to volunteer the spring of 2003 with Wildlife Works, Inc.  I fed baby birds (my favorite job), turtles, ducks, geese, squirrels and rabbits, cleaned cages and pens. I often help with newsletter mailings, necessary small tasks and office work. The non-profit facility is licensed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Pennsylvania Game Commissions. Located in Youngwood, PA, it is staffed completely by volunteer Workers, and is funded primarily by donations and fundraisers. Established in 1991 and run by licensed wildlife rehabilitator, Beth Shoaf, it’s purpose is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured, ill and orphaned mammals, songbirds and (raptors) birds of prey.

     Most of these wild animals have experienced some form of human interference, environmental contamination or the untimely destruction of their natural habitats. Human assistance is needed until they can be successfully returned to their natural environment. Operated from the Shoaf’s home, volunteers come and go in four hour shifts from early morning to late evening. An ICU room in the ultra small basement holds extremely injured animals until they can be moved to the main room, then outside to larger cages, to finally be released to their natural habitat. The recovery length depends on the individual animals. The busy season, usually May through late August, means a high animal turnover. Often, a wildlife overload means no more animals can be accommodated and must be taken to other rehabilitators.

     Secluded by a dense line of roadside trees and tucked beneath a hillside, Wildlife Works isn’t visible from the main road, which makes it an ideal place for recuperating wildlife. A sizable mallard duck population cruises tranquilly across a pond and various ducks and geese waddle lazily across the yard, accompanied by a cacaphony of squawks, honks, whistles and bird calls. Squirrels scamper down tree trunks to scoop up and crack open shelled peanuts set out for them. Various bird species and raptors fly about in the larger outside cages, impatiently waiting for the day of complete recovery, when they can be safely released to freedom.

     Wildlife and co-workers mingle peacefully. There is a prevailing sense of serenity that comes from working with these animals.

     Such simple, peaceful pleasures are an important part of my western Pennsylvania roots, and reflective of my upbringing.

     Yep, I’m a “wild child.”





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Little Ears Are Listening



1 Comment »

  1. I enjoyed reading about your little excursions. I also felt very bad for your litte Jewel. We can get attached to our feathered friends and really be surprised at how much we miss them when they are gone. Thanks for using that experience to help out.

    Comment by CE Webster — March 1, 2010 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

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