Joe radioed to say all three pilots had birds on the wing, and we were now on our own to collect the bird down in the forest. I returned, but could not spot Geoff or the colt. I was also having difficulty communicating with Geoff. I pulled out our tracking equipment and darted through the birds' transmitter frequencies while aiming the antenna in the last location I had seen Geoff and the bird.
I stopped on 12-11’s frequency, and sure enough, several loud beeps confirmed what I feared. 12-11 had again gone down, and quickly at that. This is when things got interesting. Geoff called to let me know we had a problem. The bird had gone down on the opposite side of a river, and it was unlikely we would be able to transport her across. I asked Geoff if he would stay there and keep a visual on her while I came around the other side with a crate. He agreed and I raced to the other side.
Based on my map there were two driveways that lead into the general area of the bird. Alas, it also seemed like her location split the difference between the two. In order to determine the best route I parked midway between the driveways and again pulled out the tracking gear. The equipment indicated I should take the driveway to the east. I followed the gravel road until pulling up at a residence. I was instantly relieved when I saw a Conservation Police vehicle in the driveway. If anyone was to understand my situation and be willing to let me trek onto their property it would be the owner of the vehicle.
After knocking for some time it was clear no one was home, so I decided to go for it. I loaded a crate onto my back and started trudging into the woods. The side of the river the bird had gone down on was high up with an abrupt drop - maybe twenty some feet - down to the waterway below.
I charged along the top of the hill. Some distance in I hit a barricade. There was a solid four, maybe five-foot fence blocking my path. I had to stop for a moment and consider my options. Quickly pacing up and down the fence I found there was no easy access through. I was obviously not going to be able to lead the bird through the fence, and even if I got the crate over the fence and to the bird, there was no way I would be able to bring the crated bird back over the fence without risking injury to the bird. This path was out of the question. I phoned Geoff and explained the situation. I told him I would attempt the other driveway.
As I marched back out onto the property I spotted someone in the driveway. Not to sound to romantic and fairytale-esque, but this man would be my Knight-in-Shining-Armor for the day. I quickly apologized for trespassing and explained the situation. He was incredibly quick to assure me I had done no harm, he was aware of the project, and was enthusiastic to lend a hand. Phew! This is when we introduced ourselves. This man was Ray Wichus, the conservation police officer and Game Warden for the region.
I explained where I believed the bird to be and that I had no clue how to access the area. We both made a few phone calls. Ray thankfully took charge. Ray thought that, based on what I had told him, he knew where the bird was and how to get there. We hopped in our vehicles and I followed him down a small, almost indistinguishable, road. He was well aware of what was needed, of the requirement for costumes to prevent imprinting, and how essential it was to keep vehicles out of sight.
Saying I got lucky doesn’t even begin to cut it. It’s amazing how fortunate I was to bump into Ray. We stopped some distance along the path and he told me it was likely 12-11 was just down the way. He volunteered to hang back while I got the bird.
I threw the crate over my back and walked down the path. Sure enough, Geoff came into view across the river, and just to the west of me was 12-11 fiddling with debris on the ground. She certainly seemed relieved to see a costume so accessible and followed me readily. I had hid the crate behind a brush pile moments before. As I walked up with her to the brush pile I filled in behind her. I could feel the adrenaline pumping a little, “You got this, you got this, don’t mess it up, don’t mess it up, I told myself over and over in my head.
As soon as we turned the corner I quickly grabbed her and moved her into the crate. The entire action lasted mere seconds. The door slid down and I knew she was safe. I peeled my helmet off and took some several deep breaths.
I waved to Geoff across the river to try and sign to him that everything was golden, the bird was safely in the crate and that I would be bringing her back over to camp shortly. At that point Geoff headed out to begin tearing down the travel pen.
I went back to ask Ray for some his assistance. He helped me carry the crated bird back to the vehicles and get her crate secured. I thanked him for his help and apologized for having to run off. He was very understanding. The rest of the day was, by comparison to our morning, a breeze, as Geoff and I packed up camp and moved on south.
I want to thank Ray Wichus again for all his help. I do not know how I would have / could have handled the situation had I not met him. Thank You Ray Wichus! You were a huge part in ensuring that bird's safety, and it meant a great deal to me and to our whole team!
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