You’ll appreciate this.
You know how when things are going terribly wrong and someone says to someone “one day we’ll laugh about this”?
It’s one day.
The comedy of errors that took place must be recorded because it’s really too bizarre not to address. We can laugh about it now because, in the end, everything turned out all right. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction, and nobody could make this up.
It all started when my friend Mary Jane (she likes to be called MJ because she can’t afford the extra letters in her name) called me around 4:00 in the afternoon to say she had just driven over a small bridge and there seemed to be a blue heron in trouble. She was on her way to meet someone and couldn’t stop right then, but promised to call me back as soon as she was done with her meeting. She ended up meeting the person, cutting the meeting short, and calling me back within half-hour. She gave me directions to where the bird was, and I was off on a mission to save the injured bird.
There’s an amazing little gem in my hometown of Jupiter called Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. This is where sick or injured urban wildlife – an oxymoron if there ever was one – are brought for treatment, rehabilitation and release. It’s a true sanctuary, open to the public like a zoo, but there is no admission charge and the animals destined for release are never near the public. Only those who cannot ever be released and are permanent residents can be visited by the public. Many animal rights activists have criticized David, the director of the sanctuary, for keeping and displaying these animals, but I know his heart and soul are deeply rooted in his undertaking. He is indeed, a good man, and a good man to know when you have a blue heron in trouble.
So I get to the bridge and find this blue heron who is able to move pretty well, but cannot fly. It took some doing, but between the two of us, MJ and I were able to toss a blanket over the creature and rush it to the sanctuary. We looked like the Keystone Cops and I’m sure there’s a YouTube video of this little feat about to go viral. Note to Peta: we were helping.
David said the bird had botulism, which he would treat, and could be released after a full course of antibiotics. We felt pretty good about what we had done, and after a few high-fives, took off to celebrate at the nearest happy hour.
My phone rang as I was driving out of the sanctuary and David said a man had just called to say there was an injured seabird on the beach and asked if I could go get it. Now here’s where the story gets really interesting.
MJ had left her Lexus on the side of the road by the bridge so that she could drive my car while I held the bird for the transport. She was concerned the po-po would have it tow-towed. But she valiantly agreed to go with me to help this other bird, which, the caller said, was “like a seagull.”
She just had to make one quick stop at her house, which was sort of on the way, because she had taken her cat’s litter box out of the house to hose it down and the cat had no place to pee should the need arise. But on the way to her house, we got stuck behind a long line of traffic which we thought was rush hour traffic but turned out to be a three-car collision. We called the guy on the beach with the so-called seagull and advised him of our predicament. He said he’d wait. Twenty-minutes later, we were on the move again, stopped to take care of the cat’s elimination issues and continued on our way.
I was driving toward the beach when my husband called to tell me he was going out with friends after work. Distracted by the phone call, I made a left when I should have made a right, heading away from the beach. I was about to make a U-turn when MJ told me to just go on and we can get back on track when we hit U.S. One, which was less than a mile away. I was concerned about the drawbridge, but she assured me it would be fine.
Of course, we got stuck behind the drawbridge. An elderly woman dressed like a 16-year old in a white puffy mini-dress and driving a brand-new, white Bentley began flirting with the guy behind her and didn’t return to her car until she was good and ready, which was not the moment the drawbridge went down. We waited.
We hit every red light on the way to the beach. Of course we did. It took some doing, but we finally found a parking lot where we could park and have access to the beach. The parking lot was a good ¼ mile away from the beach access ramp. We hiked it. We get on the beach and there’s not a soul around. Way down the beach, at least a mile away, is a little blue dot coming towards us, waving. We trudged toward what turned out to be the man who called us, Peter, a person for whom English was not his first language. Communication issues notwithstanding, we finally met up with him and asked him where the bird was. He pointed to a tiny white dot on the beach even farther down, we’re talking at least a mile and half (after we had walked half a mile to meet up with him) and told us that the little white dot was his daughter, and she was with the bird. Reluctantly, we slogged down the beach and 15 minutes later Peter tells us that the bird has a wing span of “at least 4 feet.” This was our first inclination it was not a seagull. After another 25 minutes of huffing and puffing down the beach we finally reached a teenage girl keeping vigil over an enormous sea bird. “What is it?” we asked each other, “beats me,” we answered each other. I didn’t recognize the species, but the bird was in obvious distress so MJ and I, for the second time that day, tossed a blanket over a hapless animal and began plodding the 2 miles back to my car. Luckily, Peter is a big, strong German guy who was kind enough to carry the bird, all the while making jokes about how Thanksgiving was coming up and the bird could pass for a turkey. Black humor is good therapy at a time like this. The teenager was on her smartphone trying to identify the bird, and we ran the gamut from a boobie, to a type of heron, possibly a stork, or as MJ suggested helpfully, an albatross. “They’re extinct,” I managed to puff out before succumbing to the South Florida heat and passing out on the sand.
Forty-five minutes later, we get to my car where MJ takes the wheel and I ride shotgun holding one very pissed-off bird with a sharp foot-long beak. The unidentified bird may have been disabled, but was awfully strong while struggling under the blanket.
We decided to take a shortcut which brought us to yet another drawbridge which, as we approached, began to flash red lights and drop its gates. Seriously?
Did I mention that the beach and the sanctuary are a mere 6 or 7 miles apart but it took us two hours to complete the mission?
We finally got to the sanctuary only to find an enormous iron gate blocking our way since it was after hours. By now, MJ was certain her car had been towed, or ticketed, and I was covered in mites. Good thing I had a sports bra on, because I had to toss off my t-shirt to rid myself of the little rascals.
David finally answered on the third attempt to reach him and said he would be right up to open the gate. He uses a golf cart to get around the sanctuary and wouldn’t you know the battery was dead so he had to walk to the gate and that took another five minutes. MJ was fuming. We handed the bird off to David and took off like a bat outta hell for MJ’s car.
The car was there, the bird turned out to be a juvenile gammet, a migratory bird who apparently got separated from his flock after flying for hours, possibly days, over open ocean before collapsing, exhausted, on our beach. “He was probably born late in the season,” David said, “And didn’t realize what he was signing up for when he joined his flock for a little joy-flyover. Diagnosis: exhaustion and malnourishment. Treatment: rest, food and, when the migratory birds return in the spring, release.
It all started when MaryJane called me about an injured blue heron.