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Precarious rescue saves bald eagle

Steve Harding of Campbell River rappels from a seaside tree in Royston to rescue a bald eagle entangled in kite line. The eagle was taken to the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Centre in Merville and is expected to be okay. - Leslie Kaardal/Special to the Mirror
Steve Harding of Campbell River rappels from a seaside tree in Royston to rescue a bald eagle entangled in kite line. The eagle was taken to the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Centre in Merville and is expected to be okay.
— image credit: Leslie Kaardal/Special to the Mirror

After dangling in a tree overnight, it didn’t look like the bald eagle was still alive.

Entangled in what appeared to be a thick kite line, the distressed eagle had flown to a fir tree by the beach in Royston where it had become further entwined in the rope.

On Tuesday night, a nearby resident contacted the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society in Merville to let them know, but with darkness approaching there was little anyone could do.

Help arrived Wednesday morning after another call was made to Campbell River tree specialist Steve Harding.

Harding, the owner of Timberwolf Tree Service, helped people save their homes from fallen trees during the big storm in March and he’s rescued umpteen cats who have climbed into tall trees and can’t get down.

He’s also developing a fine reputation for saving eagles.

“He’s a great guy,” says Maj Birch, the long-time manager at Mountainaire.

But this rescue would be difficult and it appeared doubtful the bird was still alive.

“This one was pretty sketchy,” says Birch, who brought along animal technician Reg Westcott to assist in the rescue.

By morning the line was wrapped around the eagle’s talons and one wing, and the bird was hanging upside down.

“He was in a bad way,” says Harding.

But Westcott managed to get the bird’s attention and when it started squawking, it was time for Harding to start climbing.

The big problem though was the tree leaned to one side and the eagle was dangling from an extended branch. In order to get at it, Harding climbed above the branch, secured himself to the trunk, and then rappelled to the eagle.

“Once I got up close, I had to contemplate what to do,” explains Harding, who spent many years volunteering for Campbell River Search and Rescue.

With dexterity and gentleness, Harding secured the distressed eagle with one of his ropes, cut around the kite line to free the bird, and then slowly lowered it into Westcott’s awaiting arms.

“He had some trauma, a few scratches, but his wing wasn’t broken, and then he was full of piss and vinegar!” says Harding with a chuckle.

It was the sixth time Harding has rescued a bald eagle and the animal lover was glad everything worked out.

“I was up all night worrying,” he says. “We were up at five o’clock and there by six…it was really rewarding…a good ending.”

Back at the Mountainaire recovery centre, the mature male bird was further examined and appears to be okay.

“He’s definitely stressed out – but he has good weight and he’s definitely feisty,” says Birch, who let the bird mellow out in a dark and quiet holding pen.

The plan is to further examine the eagle to see if it suffered any ligament or tendon damage, and if everything is A-ok, he will be good to go.

“Hopefully we can release him soon,” says Birch, who’s grateful for Harding’s expertise and reliability. “He did an amazing job.”

To learn more about Mountainaire or to volunteer, visit www.wingtips.org or call 250-337-2021.

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