An August rescue and release of a bald eagle on Middle Bass Island turned into an episode of Fear Factor for Back to the Wild’s Mona Rutger and her family.
It all started when the wildlife rehabilitation facility received a call on a July morning with a report of an immature eagle that had jumped from the nest too early, injured its wing and was found in a marsh on the island.
Bill Rutger, who works with his wife and responds to wildlife calls, took the ferry to the island to assist in the capture of the injured raptor near the island’s airport. After the eagle escaped one capture attempt, it landed in a nearby marsh. Put-in-Bay naturalist
Lisa Brohl trapped the eagle in a net — losing her shoe in the muddy marsh in the process — and needed Bill’s help bringing the eagle to dry land.
The eagle wasn’t the only wildlife in the marsh. Several of Bill’s biggest fears were also slithering through the water. “I just kept focused on the job,” Bill said. The two successfully brought the bird to shore, and Bill transported it back to Castalia.
During the next several weeks, the bird was nursed back to health with the help of a 150 foot, L-shaped flight enclosure and several pools of fish to help it learn how to hunt.
On Monday, the eagle was ready to be released back to the wild.
Mona, who has a fear of boats and planes, boarded the Miller Ferry driven by her husband, Bill, along with his sister, Sharon Parish.
Mona, like her husband in the marsh, kept focused on the job and not the swaying of the ferry as it crossed Lake Erie to Middle Bass Island and back.
On the journey to the island Sharon Parish saw a few of her phobias walking around with eight legs. Several daddy longlegs were teasing Parish along the deck of the Miller Ferry. “Those aren’t actually spiders” Mona said. “They’re arachnids, but not in the same family as spiders.” A spider has a head and an abdomen and daddy-longlegs, also called harvestmen, only have one body section, she continued.
This did not quell Parish’s fear.
The Miller Ferry docked under the facade of the former Lonz Winery, now Ohio State Park, and the green Back to the Wild van was welcomed by a throng of islanders and visitors waiting to see the eagle released. The release was extra special for Lynda David as it was done in memory of her late parents Carolyn and Richard.
The eagle was driven to the same spot it was rescued weeks before and about 75 supporters followed along. Mona and Bill hopped out of the van and gave a presentation with one of the center’s resident bald eagles. The 22-year-old eagle is permanently disabled after a bout with West Nile virus.
The eagle was then put away and the returning Middle Bass resident was taken out of its cage and prepared for release. Mona releases the birds into the wind to give them a better chance of lift and there was no better telltale on Monday than the Middle Bass airport’s windsock to show the way.
With a “1, 2, 3” the young raptor was released to a round of ooh’s, ahh’s and applause and several camera-phones and iPads recording the event.
Watch video of the release in the player below
As the 15-week-old eagle flew away it swirled in the air over Lake Erie looking like a kid just let out the back door to play. And Lynda embraced Mona to thank her for such a special moment.
“I felt like she was a guru and this was her fan club,” said Lynda. “I’ve never been this close to something like this, it gives me goosebumps.”
As the Rutgers waited for their return trip to the mainland an eagle, most likely the recently released juvenile, did one last fly-by giving a possible thank you to the Back to the Wild crew.
(Editor's note: Yes, this happened in September, but the author of this story didn't get the video put together until today and thought you would all still be interested in the story. Better late than never.)