Journey (almost) to Holliday Lake State Park – Feb. 28, 2016

Sunday, February 28, 2016 was beautiful and wonderfully warm, so we decided to go on an adventure.  Wayne suggested a trip to Holliday Lake State Park, which would be a new park for us, given that we have the goal of visiting all of Virginia’s State Parks.  I pulled up a Google map, plotted a “roads less traveled” route, printed the directions, and we pulled out of the driveway at 10:38 a.m.

As we started the drive, I told Wayne to keep an eye out for hawks, and said I thought it might be a “hawk day.”  He said that the day before he’d had a “hawk encounter” when a large one flew over the road in front of him.  Yes, we love our birds.

The first part of the trip directions seemed simple enough: down Rt. 29 South, and then onto Rt. 6 East, and then a turn onto another road.  After a few minutes we realized that our printed directions were actually taking us in a loop!  Worthless!  We made another turn, wound up on Rockfish River Road (always a pretty drive, so no worries) and returned to Rt. 29 South.

We stopped in Lovingston to check a “real” map and adjusted our route.  Where we were and where we needed to be were quite some distance apart, and there was no particularly easy way to get there…


After more than an hour of driving on unfamiliar rural roads, we finally saw a sign for Holliday Lake and made the turn onto Rt. 636.  We’d gone a couple of miles when I spotted something in the road up ahead.  It was a small/young Redtail Hawk!  I stopped, and the bird didn’t fly.  Its head was up and it was looking around, but it was “sitting” on its rump, with its legs extended in front of it and sort of leaning towards its right side.  Not good, not good at all. It was about 1:00 p.m.

Wayne gave me his sweatshirt jacket, and I approached the hawk from the front and then moved behind it.  It was alert and moved its head to watch me, but seemed unable to move, otherwise.  I put the jacket over its head and body, and gently lifted it into my arms while wrapping it in the jacket.  Now what?

We put it in the back of the CR-V and considered options.  We were smack dab in the middle of nowhere with an injured bird wrapped in a jacket.  If it roused up and fought its way out of the jacket, it could be injured further, or it could potentially hurt us.  There were no houses along the road. We had no cell phone service, and we still weren’t exactly sure we were on the right road to the state park.

We decided to keep going, however, because we figured they would have phone service at the park and might know of a wildlife hospital in the area.  We finally saw the park sign and started down the long entrance, but there was no one at the payment booth.  A tornado had come through this area–in fact right through this area–a few days before, and while the park was open, it appeared that no one was around.

Just then a female park ranger drove up from the opposite direction.  After flagging her down, we explained our situation.  She said she’d go back to the office to check for a box (which we’d asked for–to put the bird in) and she said she would call the Wildlife Center of VA to see what they would recommend.

A few minutes later another ranger drove up with a large cardboard box.  As we gently lifted the hawk into the box, we unwrapped it slightly to make sure it was still alive.  It didn’t move, but it did blink.  So far so good.  We gently wrapped it back up, and put it in the box.  We had some duct tape in the car and used that to close the top, leaving a bit of an opening for air.

The other ranger returned and said she’d called the Wildlife Center.  They’d checked and there really didn’t appear to be any wildlife facilities that were any closer than the center in Waynesboro, VA, which was 70+ miles away….

We thanked the two rangers (one of whom, it turned out, is a friend of one of our friends!) and started for Waynesboro.  As we left the park, I snapped a few quick pictures with my phone to show some of the tornado damage….




As I’ve said, we’re used to taking “roads less traveled,” but in this case we really needed to get where we were going as quickly as possible.  The Wildlife Center had said they wanted us to call them as soon as we had a signal for the cell phone, but we were just east of Amherst, VA on Rt. 60 when I was finally able to make the call.  It was almost 2:30 p.m.

The woman at the Center had checked–and confirmed–that they were probably the closest and best facility for an injured raptor, so we kept moving (quickly).  At 2:50, I heard the hawk make a sound–just a small, weak squeak–so at least I knew it was still alive.  We pulled into the parking lot at the Wildlife Center of Virginia at 3:30 p.m.

I asked the woman who met us if there was any way I could get a picture of the hawk, but she said not really, since she didn’t want to open the box in the main area and needed to take him or her back to the treatment area.

While I waited for her to return, I filled out a report on the details of the rescue, and then one of the center “super volunteers” came out with “Gus,” a 22 year old female Barred Owl.  I remembered seeing this bird when the Wildlife Center did an educational program at our school.  Gus is a permanent resident of the Center, and serves as one of their education animals.  You can read her story here.  I DID take her picture.  So beautiful!



When the woman returned, she said that the hawk seemed to have “good energy,” but she cautioned that they wouldn’t know the extent of its injuries until it had been examined by a doctor.  She said I could call on Monday to check on it, and I made a donation towards its care before we left.

We realized we hadn’t eaten anything, so we went to a Chinese restaurant in Waynesboro.  We were seated in a booth, and this, “coincidentally,” was directly to my right:


After we finished our meal, we walked out to the parking lot.  There were several buzzards in the sky, and then I spotted a bird–wait, four birds–with light bellies flying in our direction.  More hawks?!  No, they were …. seagulls!  Four seagulls in Waynesboro, VA, flying west…. That’s different….  And they were quickly followed by two honking Canada Geese (which have special significance to me).  Pretty cool. 🙂

But there’s even a bit more to the story… This evening Wayne called a musician friend to see how his show had gone the night before, and then he told him about our hawk experience.  The friend said that–“coincidentally”–the day before he’d found an old Canadian coin on the ground.  This morning when he really looked at it, he was said he was impressed with the image of a hawk on the reverse side.  Interesting!

Wayne then called one of his sons and started the conversation by asking if he’d had any hawk encounters in the last day or two.  His son said that indeed he had–this morning while sitting on his porch, he saw a huge hawk directly across from his house.  First time he’d ever seen a hawk there–in the city!

I hope that these “coincidental” hawk stories are providing of a circle of healing energy for the one that we found.  Please keep Redtail Hawk #16-0082 in your prayers!

And here’s the route we took. Red markers for the trip to the park; green for our trip back to the Wildlife Center:


Here’s a link to an interactive map:

UPDATE: Monday, February 29, 2016

I called the Wildlife Center to check on the hawk, and learned that it had been humanely euthanized due to the extent of its injuries.  I also learned that it was an emaciated adult Red-Shouldered Hawk instead of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.

Rather than being struck by a car, they said it had possibly been hurt by falling–from the sky or from a tree branch–after being SHOT.  They removed 18 BBs from its wing, head and body.  They estimated that it had been shot 5-10 days ago and had probably been on the ground since then (which led to its emaciated condition).

One of the BBs broke the radius in its right wing and the ulna was probably broken when it fell.  Its right leg was also broken, it had multiple bruises, as well as head and eye trauma.  Due to the seriousness of its injuries–most likely all attributed to being shot–the Wildlife Center has reported this to the game warden in the area.

I have no idea how it wound up in our path, given how severely it was injured.  And while I am so very sorry that this beautiful bird could not be saved, I am still thankful that Wayne and I were able to get it to a wildlife facility where it could be evaluated and then released from its suffering. :'(

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