Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Excitement on the Raptor Route

I should have known that my raptor run today might be exciting when I read the email from Nancy. Nancy owns Oregon Wildlife Center, a 500 acre sanctuary for endangered animals, mostly antelope, that is part of the 80 mile raptor survey route I run once a month. I wrote last night to tell her I would be coming through her place today. She replied, " Watch out for the rhino. They have been aggressive lately. Shouldn't be a problem but call me if you encounter any trouble. " And she gave me her cell phone #.

I replied, "Oh now that's a lovely thing to know. In my little hybrid car... I wonder if anyone else in the country has to dodge rhinos to do their raptor route?"

But I bravely took off with friend Carol. We were not halfway through the route and had not yet come to Nancy's when Johnny called and read me Nancy's latest message..."don't worry I just thought I should let you know that Uhuru has been chasing the 4whlr lately. If they are near any gates, i.e. red gate, or top of the driveway, call me. I am guessing you might not even see them. I am sure you will be fine. "

Well, we did see them. Both rhinos were at the very top of the hill, right alongside the fence dividing their huge field from the area around the main barn and office. But they were walking away from the gate, toward the woods. So we went on through the red gate and started up the hill. The rhinos disappeared from sight over the crest of the hill. As we came back over the top, only one rhino was in sight, with a giraffe on the other side of the fence. The other rhino must have melted into the trees. The one rhino was walking slowly toward the gate that we were hoping to drive through.

I called Nancy. She came out of her house and said, "Oh, I see you. It's okay. Uhuru is too far away to bother. Just keep coming, push the button to open the gate, drive through and stop and wait for the gate to shut." So I did. I did not really want to sit in my car waiting for the gate to shut in case Uhuru decided to sprint through and make mincemeat of my car... and us inside. But after driving through the gate, I was still on the phone with Nancy who said, "Stop! Stop! Wait for the gate to close!" So I stopped and waited. It closed. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on. Nancy instructed me to call again when we were ready to leave and she'd watch and make sure Uhuru was out of the way.

Raptors love Oregon Wildlife Center. Along with the usual Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels, we saw a White-tailed Kite, only the second one we saw on my route all day. Last month, we saw none. Carol and I were very excited that they may be moving back into the area for the winter. Also, to our delight, we saw many Lewis's Woodpeckers, spectacular birds with black backs, pink fronts and red faces.

When we were ready to leave, I called Nancy. She watched and said "Uhuru is far enough away. Go ahead and push the button and go through the gate. Then watch for the gate to close." This is because Uhuru loves to dash through the gate into the barn/office area. There are vehicles parked there that could be rather easily demolished if he got playful. Not to mention the people. Uhuru, Nancy has told me, is just a big playful puppy. A 5000 pound puppy.

Just before we reached the post with the button on it, Nancy hollered, "Stop! He's coming. I'll have to get someone to come help run interference for you." So she called the guy who works for her, who immediately dashed up in his white van, parking it close to the fence by the gate, jumped out and waved his arms and hat at Uhuru on the other side of the fence. Uhuru backed up maybe two steps. The guy ran across the drive, pushed the button, jumped into his rig and zoomed through the gate. Nancy meanwhile was telling me to do whatever this guy told me to do... only he had spoken not a word to us. Not waiting for direction, I zoomed through the gate after the guy and drove around him and headed down the driveway. "Slow down!" yelled Nancy in my ear. "Or Uhuru will chase you!" I slowed down. But I could see in my rear view mirror that Uhuru was paying attention only to the white van and the guy who was again out of it, guarding the gate. Brave man.

"Nancy," I told her as it appeared we were out of danger. "It was great to come here and great to leave... alive." She laughed and said, "I didn't tell you the whole story of Uhuru chasing the four wheeler. It died while Uhuru was chasing it and the people in it had to make a run for the woods."

As it turned out, she had also neglected to tell me that her own car has a dent in it from Uhuru. "Just a small dent," she said. "But try explaining that to your insurance agent."

In the photos, Uhuru is safely on the other side of the fence from us. I took these photos while we were waiting on the giraffe side of the gate for Nancy's employee to come rescue us. I could have had a really good close-up view of Uhuru with no fence between us if I'd stopped on the other side of the gate. But photos were not on the top of my list just then.

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