August 01, 2012

Wildlife Taxi in a Flash Flood Zone

Fast-moving water fills the dry creek bed.
 Time: 2.5 hours. Distance: 56 miles. Passenger: Ferruginous hawk.

Another "wildlife taxi" run tonight. Some people in a semi-rural area of the next county north (5–10-acre plots, trailer homes, chickens and goats) had a found a ferruginous hawk huddled in their yard. Since there were loose chickens everywhere, that might explain why it was there.

They had caught it, put it in a cage, and called the Raptor Center. An earlier generation would have just reached for the shotgun, so sometimes there is such a thing as progress.

M. and I went through a strong thunderstorm on the way there, and it was still raining lightly as we headed home. Going into Nearby Town, there was a cop right on my rear bumper, and as we passed the city limits, he turned on his overhead lights.

I thought that I was only 1-2 mph over the posted limit, so I started mentally rehearsing as I pulled to the side: "Emergency!" "Sick bird!"  But he swung around and dashed on by.

Then my cell phone, sitting on the Jeep's center console, started beeping and buzzing. I had a warning from the National Weather Service about flash floods. I did not even know that it would receive severe-weather alerts!

Leaving town, I could see the cop's lights a couple of miles ahead. Then they halted. As we approached, I could see his cruiser parked at a junction and him struggling into a reflective vest while he waved me to stop.

A bridge ahead was washed out, he shouted.

I asked him about a rural gravel road further out on the prairie. It was open, he thought, so we turned around, backtracked a few miles, and then took the alternate route. I shot the photo by a bridge on that road, which was in no danger.

We made it to our rendezvous with the center's director, who squeezed the hawk's breast, said it was a juvenal (immature), which we had guessed, and that it seemed underweight. Maybe it had seen those chickens as its last hope for a meal. Instead, it ended up on a three-county road trip in a cardboard box. But, barring some illness that was not obvious, maybe it will bulk up on mice and then be released.

(Coyote Gulch reminds us that today was the anniversary of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.)

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