Eric M. Velez, an animal control officer with the T.J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center, holds a Barred Owl that had spent most of Thursday roosting at the entrance to the Holyoke Health Center on Maple Street. Earlier in the day, officials believed the owl would leave its perch once darkness fell. But, when it didn’t, Velez took the owl into custody as a precautionary measure. (c) Greg Saulmon / The Republican 2012

Every once in a while my interest in birds and my day job in the world of breaking news intertwine.

Today, I got a tip at the office that an owl was roosting at the entrance to the Holyoke Health Center complex on Maple Street, which is about a block from my apartment. I was tied up with other tasks, and finally got out there nearly two hours later. I was happy (and lucky) to find the owl still there, with a whole lot of people stopping by to take pictures.

An animal control officer eventually captured the owl later in the evening as a precautionary measure when the bird didn’t leave its perch after nightfall. After spending the night Springfield’s T.J. O’Connor Animal Control and Adoption Center, the owl will likely be transferred to the very capable hands of Tom Ricardi.

I’ll post more later — but for now, here are two stories and a photo gallery I posted over the course of my work day:

Barred Owl roosts, draws crowd at Holyoke Health Center

Barred Owl roosting at Holyoke Health Center rescued in joint operation by city fire and police, T.J. O’Connor animal control officer

Photos: Barred Owl makes appearance at Holyoke Health Center


I headed up to see Tom Ricardi‘s program at Mt. Tom today, and got a nice surprise when he released a newly rehabilitated Great-Horned Owl. A few shots from the release below:

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012

(c) Greg Saulmon 2012





Raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi holds a Golden Eagle during a presentation at the Village Commons in South Hadley on June 30, 2012. (c) Greg Saulmon 2012

As a student at Jackson Street School in Northampton, I was already betraying the odd traits of a budding young birder: I filled sketchbooks with crude drawings of birds; I spent hours glued to the windows at home watching birds at backyard feeders; I could sit very still and very quiet for a very, very long time.

Then one day a man named Tom Ricardi came to the school. He had a mustache and he brought birds.

The most beautiful birds I’d ever seen.

He was patient and kind with both the birds and the children. He showed us a Peregrine Falcon that I fell in love with.

All kids go through phases of intense, specific interests, like dinosaurs and pirates and robots. Usually that thing — whatever it is — has a lot of names and categories and traits to memorize. For me, birds fit the bill.

Sometimes those interests last, but more often they fade like imaginary friends.

Tom’s visit to my elementary school, I think, showed me that didn’t have to be the case. That a love of birds and birding could be a lifelong interest, and that it could be something passed down from one generation to the next.

When I called Tom a few weeks back to see if he’d taken in the injured female hawk from the Race Street nest in Holyoke, I told him I remembered his visit to Jackson Street. He told me the school is still on his annual schedule of presentations.

I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d get to see one of those presentations again, but last week Tom took his birds to the Village Commons in South Hadley for a talk sponsored by the Odyssey Bookshop.

Things you remember from your childhood don’t always hold up if you witness them again as an adult, but Tom’s talk was just as enthralling as that first time I watched a falcon perch on his hand.

An Eastern Screech-Owl batted its eyes, twittering and trilling as Tom gave audience members a close-up view. A fledgling American Kestrel found in Deerfield this year — which Tom will release once it’s strong enough to hunt on its own — still wore a cap of nestling fuzz. A Turkey Vulture nuzzled and nibbled Tom’s nose. A huge Golden Eagle that Tom took in 30 years ago pressed its chest against Tom’s, resting its chin on his shoulder.

It was probably the same eagle I’d seen as a kid, and Tom’s way with birds — and children — hasn’t changed at all.

After his presentation, Tom stuck around to answer questions and offer audience members a second look at a few of the birds.

A boy with blonde hair asked to see the falcon again. He told Tom he loved birds.

“Keep studying, and do good in school,” Tom told the boy. “That’s what I did. My parents were always trying to get me to play baseball or football — but I just wanted to read books about birds.”

See more photos from Tom’s presentation in the slideshow below.

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A Massachusetts Environmental Police officer holds an owl rescued on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Aurburn Saturday morning. Photo by Trooper Michael Golenski | Courtesy of the Massachusetts State Police | Click to enlarge.

When Trooper Michael Golenski arrived at the scene, he saw the Barred Owl in the Turnpike’s breakdown lane, trying and failing to fly.

Goenski is credited with saving the owl’s life as it begins its journey of healing from surgery for a broken wing at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton.

A motorist heading east on Interstate 90 in Auburn Saturday morning reported the struggling bird just before 10:30 a.m. and Golenski arrived shortly thereafter, Massachusetts State Police spokesman David Procopio said in a press release Monday. Golenski then requested the assistance of the state’s Environmental Police as he left to respond to a call for a stranded motorist a short distance away.

Twenty-five minutes later, Golenski returned to check on the owl. He waited with the bird until Environmental Police Sgt. Scott Amati and Officer Jason Dejackome arrived and took it to the Wildlife Clinic at the Tufts veterinary school, Procopio said.

“We hope that all will go well and [the owl] will be released when healed,” Robin Shearer, wildlife program assistant at the clinic, wrote in response to an email I sent Monday.

Tom Keppeler, associate director of communications for the school, told the Boston Globe: “He had a fracture in his humerus. [As of today] the owl is bright, alert, and doing fine.”

Shearer said veterinarians at the clinic performed surgery to insert pins in the owl’s broken left wing over the weekend and that, for the time being, the bird is recuperating in a small cage. Staff will check the owl’s progress regularly to determine when the bone has healed enough for a second procedure to remove the pins.

Then, the road to recovery continues as the bird prepares to regain its flight.

“After a little more time of cage rest the bird will be moved to a larger cage. The cage size will be increased until the bird and bone are strong enough to go into our flight cage. At that time it will stay until it regains it strength and endurance,” Shearer said.

Staff at the clinic believe the owl is a male, based on its weight, adding that while its age is unknown it is fully grown.

When asked whether the bird had earned any kind of nickname following its ordeal, Shearer reiterated her hope that the owl would one day return to its natural habitat. “We do not name the patients as they are wild and we do everything we can to make sure they can be returned to the wild — a name implies ‘pet’ or domestication, and we do not want to jinx them,” she said.

The clinic treated 61 Barred Owls in 2010,  and 48 so far this year. A total of 1,910 patients have received treatment at the clinic to date in 2011.