Freeing a kingbird from the death grip of fishing line

Photo by Will Bosak
Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

It started with a bird pooping on my forehead and finished with me tipping over the canoe in a mucky, heavily vegetated part of the lake. The adventure was well worth it, however, as we successfully untangled and freed an eastern kingbird from the death grip of abandoned snagged fishing line.

Photo by Will Bosak
Kingbird rescue, Danbury, CT, 2019.

I was sitting in my home office writing away about something or another when I saw out the window my 12-year-old son sprinting up the road and turning onto the driveway. He was fishing with two of his friends at the nearby fishing hole so I briefly panicked that someone had gotten hurt; perhaps a barbed hook embedded in a thumb or something like that. 

I opened the window and yelled down: “What’s wrong Will?”

“There’s a bird stuck on fishing line dangling from a tree,” he said. “Come help it. It’s freaking out. I feel so bad for it.”

I rushed to the car and drove to the spot, even though it’s literally only a few hundred yards away. Nagging tendonitis in my foot has prevented me from making that walk — or any other walk for that matter — for weeks now. 

“I think if we go through the woods we can get to it,” Will said as he pointed out the bird.

I recognized the bird as an eastern kingbird. The white band at the tip of its tail gave it away. 

“I don’t think so, Will. All that vegetation is growing from the water so we’ll never reach it from land. We can probably get it with the canoe.”

I hobbled back to the car as quickly as possible and fetched the canoe. I used only one strap around the middle of the canoe to fasten it to the car since I was going such a short distance.

Back at the fishing hole, Will hustled to help me get the canoe off the car and to the shore. 

“I’ll sit up front, you sit in the back and paddle us to the bird,” I told Will.

“I’ll take photos, too, dad. Where’s your phone?”

Will got us into the weeds and immediately the frantic bird crapped right on my forehead above my left eye. I didn’t even notice it, but Will let out a huge laugh to let me know.

“Guys! The bird pooped on my dad’s head!” he called excitedly to his friends.

I didn’t care about it at the moment. I just wanted to help the bird, which was now even more frantic with us closing in on it. 

I grabbed some sturdy stems and pulled us into the vegetation even more to prevent us from drifting as I was soon to have a knife and, hopefully, a bird in my hands. We stopped right below the bird. I stood up carefully and extended for the bird. It was just out of reach.

“Give me the paddle, Will.”

I used the paddle to pull down the branch a few inches. I grabbed it and pulled the branch, bird, and tangled mess of fishing line toward me. Wow, that’s a lot of fishing line, I thought to myself. With my free hand I used the knife of my trusty Leatherman to cut the line above the bird’s wing. I closed the knife, tossed it on the floor of the canoe, and sat down with the highly agitated kingbird in my hand. It bit at my hand and made me thankful that it wasn’t a great blue heron. 

A length of fishing line immediately came free but there was still line wrapped tightly around the wing. I held the bird and pulled gently on the end of the line. Will used the knife to cut the line as close to the wing as possible. 

I dug in a little more to make sure there wasn’t a hook stuck in the wing. The kingbird obliged by extended its wing to expose the wound. Thankfully, there was no hook and the remaining piece of fishing line that had held the bird captive fell to the floor of the canoe. The wound did not look serious and I breathed a sigh of relief that a hook was not involved.

Satisfied that the bird was free from all fishing line I opened my hand to see if it was able to fly. In about half a second the kingbird burst out of my hands and disappeared into the woods. 

The kingbird was lucky. Lucky that Will went fishing that afternoon and was able to spot it. Lucky that we had a canoe handy to access the water. Lucky that it was tangled relatively close to the water instead of higher up and out of reach. Lucky it was only tangled and not hooked. 

I looked around and noticed that the trees in the area were riddled with abandoned lines, bobbers, hooks, sinkers, and lures. Will steered me to them and I pulled down the ones that were in reach. I pulled down the tangle that had snared the kingbird and noticed the bird’s nest was in a branch about a foot above the twisted line.

Thankfully we were only a few feet from shore when I got a little too confident in my reaching and swamped the canoe.  Swamped is a good term because we tipped over in thick, slimy aquatic vegetation. My legs felt for the bottom of the lake but only dug themselves deeper into a spaghetti bowl of slippery stems, roots and goodness knows what else. 

Will, thankfully, had the wherewithal to immediately take my phone out of his pocket and toss it onto the shore. The phone was fine and Will scored points with his father for acting so quickly despite being dumped into a mucky mess. 

We lumbered onto shore — me very gingerly on the uneven terrain — and dragged the half-full canoe onto land. Our legs were blacked by bits of partially decomposed leaves that fell into the water over the last several years. 

Once on land we had little laugh and rejoiced as two kingbirds flew and chattered among the trees just off the shore.

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Long-tailed Ducks in transition

Photo by Chris Bosak A pair of Long-tailed Ducks in transition plumage swims in Long Island Sound, April 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A pair of Long-tailed Ducks in transition plumage swims in Long Island Sound, April 2015.

Here’s a shot of a pair of Long-tailed Ducks transitioning from their mostly white winter plumage to their mostly dark summer plumage. Some birds looks the same year-round and some birds look different in the summer and winter. Most ducks (but not all) go through a few different plumages as the year goes on.

These Long-tailed Ducks (formerly Oldsquaw) will be heading to their Arctic breeding grounds soon. When they are along coastal New England in the winter, we see their white plumage. It’s one of the few birds, in my opinion anyway, that look more decorated in the winter than in the summer. Take the Common Loon for instance. It sports its famous black-and-white spotted plumage in the summer, but changes to a much more drab grayish plumage in the winter.

We are lucky to have many Arctic nesters spend their winters in New England. It’s interesting to see their plumage transitions, giving us a glimpse of what they look like when they are “up north.”

A few more northern New England photos

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014. This loon is transitioning between summer and winter plumage.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014. This loon is transitioning between summer and winter plumage.

Here are a few more shots from my recent trip to northern New England. I’m already looking forward to getting up there again.

I call this one “The one that got away.” I was canoeing on a pond in New Hampshire and focusing so heavily on the loon pictured above that I wasn’t aware of the rest of my surroundings. Suddenly I noticed a Bald Eagle flying away from scene. It had been perched on the top of a pine tree and I completely missed it — well, almost completely. I managed this quick shot of it flying away.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Bald Eagle flies across the autumn scene in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Bald Eagle flies across the autumn scene in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Finally, here’s an American River Otter. There were two of them and it was the first time in years I’ve seen otters while I was canoeing. Unfortunately, this particular morning was very dark and gray, hence the not-so-good quality of the photo.

Photo by Chris Bosak A River Otter looks around a small pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A River Otter looks around a small pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Gray Jay: Friendly bird of the northern woods

Photo by Chris Bosak A Gray Jay perches on a branch near a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Gray Jay perches on a branch near a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Gray Jays are quickly becoming one of my favorite birds. Their range does not stretch into southern New England, but on my last several trips to northern New England, I’ve seen these handsome and friendly birds. I have been visiting the northern reaches of New Hampshire for more than 20 years now and I started seeing Gray Jays only in the last few years. They appear out of nowhere and offer close views. They seem to be as curious about you as you are about them. From what I’ve seen, they hang out in small flocks (3, 4 or 5 birds.) Gray Jays are one of those boreal species that makes the Great North Woods so special. I took the above photo while canoeing on a small pond in northern New Hampshire. This one flew right up to the pond’s edge to check me out.

 

Great Blue in the Great North Woods

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron flies across the scene at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron flies across the scene at a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Here’s a Great Blue Heron I found while I was canoeing on a small pond in northern New Hampshire during my recent trip to the “Great North Woods,” as the marketers have dubbed the area.

Many of the birds there had already moved south, but a few bird species were still around. I’ve already posted photos of Belted Kingfishers and Common Loons, and now here’s a heron. I have a few more to post before closing the books on my annual trip up north.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Great Blue Heron hunts on the shore of a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Great Blue Heron hunts on the shore of a pond in northern New Hampshire, Oct. 2014.

Latest For the Birds column: Loons in the fall

Photo by Chris Bosak A Common Loon in transitional plumage swims on a pond in northern New Hampshire in early October 2014.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A Common Loon in transitional plumage swims on a pond in northern New Hampshire in early October 2014.

I recently took my annual trip to northern New England in the hopes of seeing moose and few boreal bird species. The moose were scarce _ I saw a grand total of zero _ and Gray Jays were the only real boreal species of birds I saw. Nonetheless I did see plenty of Common Loons, which makes for a successful trip in my book. My latest For the Birds column addresses loons and their summer and winter plumage (and in-between plumage).
The full column may be seen here. 

Over the next several days I’ll post photos from the trip, which included stops in central Maine and northern New Hampshire.