Yesterday, among the many Saturday errands I was running, I picked up a wounded Great Horned Owl in West Northfield for transport to the Hope for Wildlife farm in Seaforth. On my way there, Allison at HfW called to ask if I would be interested in exchanging the owl with her for two rehabilitated Barred Owls in need of release on the South Shore.
Of course, this is the ultimate purpose of our work, that moment when those animals we can help are returned to the wild, still wild. We want them to flee from us, forget us and go back to the lives they were meant to have. So releases are special (and somewhat coveted among volunteers). I've never done one before, so to be offered two in a single day was really something, especially since one of them was 'mine', an owl I'd received from a DNR officer a couple of months ago and transported.
Allison and I met in Bedford to exchange the owls, and then I was off to Tantallon, where one of them had been found initially. It isn't always possible or appropriate to return rehabilitated animals to the region where they were found, but in this case both animals were going back to wooded places, so it was possible to take them 'home'.
I took the Tantallon owl into the woods there, gently tipped the box onto its side so the bird might walk out of it and opened the flaps. It fluttered out, flew onto a stone and then into a tree, where it was kind enough to pose for a few mediocre cell phone shots before taking to the heights. When it did finally fly away, there was a moment of release in me as well, a letting go as it left the circle of my care for a greater circle.
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The second bird, my bird, was going to a place about thirty minutes south of my house near Lunenberg, so I picked Sean up along the way. It was dark by the time we began traveling the country back roads of the county there, looking for a likely place, a safe place to release it. But eventually we found a snow-covered clearing well removed from any houses and parked the car so that our brights shone into it. Once again, I tipped the box onto its side and opened the flaps. This owl was ready to go. It hopped out, took to the air and circled above us before landing in the highest tree it could find. And once again, there was that moment of release in me as I watched its wings spread wide in the night. It never knew me; never saw me when I transported it the first time and didn't care about the hands that released it back into the wild. But I was a part of its life, a part of whatever it felt when it realized health and freedom again, and I get to carry that with me all of my days.