For years, I’ve been wanting to attend one of the raptor releases by Wings of Wonder, northern Michigan’s very own raptor rehab group located in Empire.
We finally had the opportunity on Sunday afternoon, when the nonprofit group released an eagle that was rescued on Lake Michigan after its wings and underbelly became iced up. He had somehow accumulated about 8 lbs. of ice while hunting. Hence, he was unable to fly with the eagle-friends with whom he hunted.(see rescue video at the bottom of this story).
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When Wings of Wonder announced that the eagle would be released at the Suttons Bay High School on Sunday, Feb. 10, I knew this would be a great opportunity for Tim and I to head out there and get some photos.
Several hundred people gathered at the high school, as representatives from a Native American tribe pounded a drum (very cool) and Wings of Wonder executive director Rebecca Lessard gently carried the eagle along the line of people so everyone could get photos.
Then she took the bird into the large space in the middle of the crowd, counted down to one, and let the eagle fly free. We all cheered and watched as the bird landed atop a pine tree some distance away.
But here’s the part that some folks may have missed. As everyone was leaving, Tim and I drove towards the pine tree, getting as close as we could. I managed to take some far-away photos of the bird, getting his bearings in that tree.
As I fixed my lens on the bird, I heard Tim say, “Hey, there’s another bird flying around up there.” Sure enough, we looked up, and there was not one, but two other eagles soaring around and calling to the released bird, still perched on that tree.
After a minute or two, the newly-released eagle spread his wings and joined the others in the air as they gave their “Northern Exposure” call and flew off to parts unknown.
We were amazed, shocked and delighted to see this little postlude to the big eagle release that day. A few other cars had pulled over to witness this, but most were already headed away from the release site.
It made me wonder if the eagle had somehow notified the other birds that he was there. He did make a few calls as Rebecca brought him out into the crowd. And are these the same eagles with whom he was hunting for food the day he got iced up and rescued?
I have to think that yes, they are the same birds, and what a cool thing to have witnessed on a cold, snowy February day.
So the next time you attend one of Wings of Wonder’s release events, make sure to follow the bird if it lands nearby and see what happens next.
Be sure and visit our sister site, Old Mission Photos, to see more photos of the eagle release, as well as purchase options (prints, downloads, keepsakes and more).
Wings of Wonder is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raptor education, rehabilitation and research. If there’s a release near you in the future, I highly recommend you attend with your camera. And be sure and donate at the events and on their website here, as they run solely on donations.
Here’s a video of the eagle rescue on Feb. 1, 2019, by local photographer and Wings of Wonder volunteer Ken Scott, who donned chest waders and ventured into the cold water to help the grounded eagle (and in the process discovered his waders had a leak – brrrr).
Were you at the eagle release on Sunday? Leave thoughts in the comments below!