Nel flies free!
Bird care specialists from O.W.L. Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society accompanied Nel, the orphaned osprey who has been rehabilitating in Delta since July, to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park to release her back into the wild on Friday afternoon.
“I got to O.W.L. at about quarter to 7 this morning to pick up Nel. One of my co-workers went with me into the pool cage, where she was with her foster Mom. We made sure she flew, then she landed on the ground and I didn’t even need a net. I gathered her up no problem,” said bird care specialist Mindy Dyck.
“We took her and weighed her. She’s 1.710 kilos, which is perfect. A great weight. We made sure her band was correct, we put her in her kennel. She can’t see anything, so that keeps her calm.”
Dyck met the president of O.W.L., Karen Wheatley, at the airport. Pacific Coastal Airlines provided free tickets for Nel and her handlers.
“They took us out special and loaded us up. Made us feel like we were movie stars and off we went. It was a beautiful flight, calm.”
At some point during the ride the plane passed over the Highway 3 nest where Nel, along with her siblings, was born in early June. Her father was killed shortly afterwards by a high voltage power line nearby, which necessitated her rescue.
The webcam that recorded the first few weeks of her life has since been shut off, but the countless international fans she’s picked up continue to follow her progress and wish her well, posting their warm wishes on social media.
“A lot of birds come to me that are injured,” said Tammy Swan, a falconer from Salmo who helped retrieve Nel from the nest in June.
“They needed someone to come up and stabilize her, then send her down to O.W.L. Even as a tiny baby she felt like dried corduroy. She looked like a dinosaur. She’s quite feisty.”
Swan said all the work she does feels worth it when she sees her avian charges successfully rehabilitated.
“It’s always a rush. I’ve done this a number of times and every time it’s still like ‘wow’. She’s gone from this tiny fluff ball to this mature animal, and then to see them go? It’s still amazing.”
Dyck said Nel’s transformation from tiny, weak chick to fledgling osprey has been amazing to watch.Nel benefited from the assistance of an elder osprey who acted as her foster mother while she was at O.W.L.
“Nel has never been alone. But now that she’s grown up with a wild osprey, that osprey has taught her how to be wild. It was fascinating to watch the steps. We would give the mother fish and she would attack it, kill it, rip it apart. Nel would be standing there watching intently, and then the mother would flick her pieces. It was adorable.”
They have since learned that likely the foster mother osprey will not be able to return to the wild, due to a tendon injury in her wing. But that means she can continue to mentor injured birds that come through the rehabilitation centre.
“What you guys don’t know is we just got another osprey in from Nelson, a juvenile, and he’s missing his left eye,” said Dyck.
She said they’re expecting the foster mother to mentor the new arrival in much the same way she did for Nel.
“We have the facility for her, and she isn’t in pain or anything. We feel she’s a little senior, as well. So it’s good to have her there with the little ones.”
Wheatley said she feels particularly pleased about Nel’s rehabilitation, because things were looking so grim earlier in the summer. She originally learned of Nel’s plight while on vacation in Honolulu.
“I was watching my webcam on my laptop in my hotel room. Around then Pee Wee, the middle one, wasn’t doing so well and he passed away. I thought ‘I’ve had enough of this’. It’s a man-made tragedy, so it’s man’s responsibility to step up and help.”
Wheatley called Martina Versteeg, one of the bird care specialists at O.W.L. and together with Swan and Nelson Hydro, they were able to save Nel before she succumbed to hunger.
Recently, staff determined that Nel is female, judging by the markings on her feathers. They were originally unclear on her gender. The band fixed to her leg makes her the only banded osprey in the area around Nelson, which means biologists and observers will be able to identify her if she returns.
However, once she leaves the Kootenays she may fly as far away as Chile. And there’s no guarantee she’ll be back any time soon, if ever.
“She could be gone for years,” said Dyck.
But she believes the osprey, who has become Nelson’s unofficial avian namesake, is ready for the undertaking.
“Nel is full size now. She’s still got a few little things that show she’s a fledgling. The tips of her primary feathers have little spikes that stick out. That will go away after the first moult. But she’s a big healthy bird.”
Approximately 25 of Nel’s fans, including representatives from Nelson Hydro, were on scene to witness Nel’s return to the wild. Hidden under a blanket, perched in a small green kennel, she started to batter around her cage in the moments before release.
Once the blanket was raised, Nel peeked her pointed beak out to survey her surroundings. She hesitated for about 20 seconds before surging into the sky and soaring away. She was joined in mid-air by another fledgling osprey, who trailed her movements and circled overhead.
Nearby, the creek was choked with crimson-hued kokanee salmon in the midst of their spawning season. Observers remarked that she would have no shortage of food. Two black bears had been seen only moments before, crashing through the water to find fish.
“The biologist up here said all the fledglings in this area congregate around the kokanee spawning, so we figured that was the best place for her,” said Dyck.
As Nel swooped overhead, Wheatley and Dyck embraced each other and wept. People hurried to capture images and videos with their phones and cameras, chattering excitedly. She eventually settled in a nearby tree, curiously watching the humans below her.
“She’s saying goodbye,” said Dyck.
June 12, 13 and 15 – Three osprey chicks are born in a webcam-equipped nest beside Highway 3.
June 20 – A power outage is reported in Grohman Creek. The osprey cam loses service.
June 21 – Online fans speculate about the disappearance of Nelson, the osprey father.
June 23 – Nelson Hydro employees discuss options to help the mother and chicks.
June 24 – Nelson Hydro begins delivering fish to the osprey nest. The first chick dies.
June 25 – Employee discovers Nelson’s corpse under a power line during a ground inspection.
June 26 – Nelson Hydro commits to feed the osprey chicks until they’re fully grown.
July 3 – Second chick dies. Mother osprey stops feeding Nel.
July 4 – Nel is removed from the nest and transported to O.W.L Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta.
July 31 – Nel is moved to an outside enclosure with a foster mother.
August 11 – Nel pounces on her first live trout.
August 24 – Nel is relocated to an outside enclosure with a trout-stocked pool.
August 25 – Nel takes flight for the first time.
September 6 – Nel receives a tracking bad from O.W.L Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.
September 8 – O.W.L. announces plans to reunite Nel with her mother.
September 12 – Nel is released back into the wild in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.