Eagle rescue was an impressive operation

A few months ago, while writing a story on wildlife photographer Sharon Fiedler, my colleague Aislinn Sarnacki confided (more or less) that Fiedler had shared the top secret location of an eagle nest with her.

The nest was in Bangor, Aislinn told me. It was on Kenduskeag Avenue, she told me. But like a diehard angler protecting her favorite trout hole, that’s as far as Aislinn would go.

She also told me, grinning, that I’d likely never find it on my own.

rent Bibles of Unity College climbs up in a 90' white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor on Monday to rescue two baby bald eagles who's mother fell ill and father died. Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

rent Bibles of Unity College climbs up in a 90′ white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor on Monday to rescue two baby bald eagles who’s mother fell ill and father died. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

She was right: I didn’t find it on my own. But on Monday morning, thanks to game warden Jim Fahey and a team of assembled experts who converged on the site, I did end up at that urban eagle nest. Aislinn, who is on vacation this week, was already there. So was Fiedler.

As you’ve likely heard by now, the female adult eagle that lived in the nest was found on a nearby sidewalk on Sunday morning, suffering from some unknown ailment. Later that day, the male adult eagle tried to land on a branch, missed its mark, and tumbled into power lines.

That eagle was electrocuted.

Biologists think both eagles ingested an unknown toxin.

Wildlife experts suspected that at least one eaglet was in the nearby nest, and decided to find a climber to take a peek.

Easier said than done.

The nest was about 90 feet up in a massive white pine tree, and seemed — at least to a ground-bound scaredy-cat like me — impossible to reach.

Marc Payne, Avian Haven bird rehabilitaion in Freedom,  grabs the bag holding two baby bald eagles as they are lowered out of the tree by Brent Bibles, Unity College, who climbed the tree to rescue them.  Their nest high was up in a 90' white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor and the babies were recued after their mother fell ill and their father died. Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

Marc Payne, Avian Haven bird rehabilitaion in Freedom, grabs the bag holding two baby bald eagles as they are lowered out of the tree by Brent Bibles, Unity College, who climbed the tree to rescue them. Their nest high was up in a 90′ white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor and the babies were recued after their mother fell ill and their father died. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

Enter Brent Bibles, an assistant professor at Unity College, who has spent years studying raptors in the western U.S. Bibles is a go-to guy for the DIF&W when they need a tree-climbing expert, and is also well-known to the folks who run Avian Haven, a bird rehabilitation facility in Freedom.

Many of us on the ground shared the same sentiment that morning as Bibles began the long climb.

Better him than me.

At one point, I sidled up to Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Brad Allen and told him that just watching Bibles climb the tree made me uncomfortable.

“It’s times like these,” I told Allen, “that I fully realize how terrified of heights I am.”

Allen nodded, either in agreement or pity. Either way, it seemed that all of us were glad that Bibles was the guy in the climbing harness, and we were the guys on terra firma, waiting for his report.

From the ground, the experts said they could hear at least one bird in the nest. Those of us who don’t know eaglet vocalizations very well thought we heard them, too, but a birder who was taking photos finally told us that what we thought was an eagle was actually a tufted titmouse.

So much for earning my birding badge while working on the story.

And eventually, Bibles passed along the good word: There was not an eaglet in the nest … there were two.

Marc Payne, a co-owner of Avian Haven, awaited the eaglet drop, and scrambled into action when an eaglet-filled satchel was finally lowered to the ground.

wo baby bald eagles were rescued from their nest high up in a 90' white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor on Monday after their mother fell ill and their father died. Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

wo baby bald eagles were rescued from their nest high up in a 90′ white pine tree on Kenduskeag Avenue in Bangor on Monday after their mother fell ill and their father died.
Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

A couple squirts of a solution of electrolytes, and the eaglets were carefully placed in a their own carrying bags for the trip to Freedom.

After some time to think about the day’s operation, I appreciate both the irony and the accuracy of that destination. Freedom.

For now, those eaglets, along with their mother, are not free. Not even close.

But due to the work of Bibles, the biologists, warden Jim Fahey, and Payne and his partner Diane Winn at Avian Haven, that’s exactly what those birds will be when they recover and are released back into the wild.

All in all, a great day’s work.

Not by me … I just got to watch and share the tale.

But the others — the ones that were truly involved — were impressive.

Thankfully, I remained on the ground and observed.

Just like a ground-bound scaredy-cat should.

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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.