The Guardian

Here I am in Mildale Hollow at the Waddell’s living in their driveway again.  Yesterday, morning walk, Shenandoah River, cloudy gray with rain.  The pile of feathers came to life when Lulu poked her nose into it.
Obviously startled, a huge Great Horned Owl pulled its head from under his wing and fluttered back a few feet.  Then, with wise yellow eyes sizing us up, it never moved and made no attempt to flee.
Harry Potter I’m not, but by some twisted fate this owl and I found each other.  Looking a bit like a mad wet cat, his head appeared to have been pushed into mud.   Something wasn’t right.  After the privilege of an unusually intimate photography session with the great bird, I let him be.  If he was OK, he’d be moving on by nightfall.
Today he was still on the hilltop clearing above the river.  Rita, another dear resident of the Hollow, had been visiting with the owl and was equally concerned.  This particular owl has been seen in Milldale Hollow for at least a couple of years now. Being nocturnal hunters, no healthy owl would remain in one spot through the night.  Together we called Blue Ridge Wildlife, a not-for-profit rescue and rehab center in the area.

“Great Horneds stand their ground so he might be fine.  Put a box or a sheet over him.  If he doesn’t fly off when you try, call me back and I’ll be right over.”  Rita rounded up boxes and I went back to the Airstream to ditch the dog and get some sheets.  Paul Waddell decided to ride back to the river with me “for the entertainment value” of watching two chicks chase an owl.

After my failed boxing efforts, Paul could no longer simply watch.  Now it’s two chicks and a dude trying to pin down an owl.  One disastrous attempt to throw a sheet over him and the bird flopped down the 20 foot steep bank to the river’s edge.  Obviously, he couldn’t fly.

Another call to Heather at Blue Ridge Wildlife, “take a left at the top of the hill, go past the house with all the Airstreams in the drive, we’re down at the end by the river.”

Paul’s entertainment now seriously devalued, he and Heather scaled down to the water.   I’m halfway down the bank straddling saplings and Rita is the cheering section on top.
After a risky series of maneuvers resembling a high angle SAR mission coupled with a Wild Kingdom-style water rescue, together Paul and Heather managed to pull a wet emaciated owl from the Shenandoah River.  Paul is trying to keep from falling in the river while holding a giant net full of owl on a stick.  Heather, already knee deep in water, is just looking for a way back up.  Geez, my camera battery is dead?  Really?
It was clear that the poor bird hadn’t had a meal in a while.  Heather and I worked together to get the owl up the riverbank and safely into a crate.  We chicks were high fives all around while Paul, whose entertainment value has completely plummeted, is yelling, “Hey! What about the guy still down here in the river?”
At least the Great Horned has a fighting chance now.  If rehab is successful, he will be released here again to be the Hollow’s guardian just as the American Indians so reverently esteemed.  That’s how life is in Milldale Hollow.

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