I’m sure glad I wasn’t driving when I got the txt-of-a-lifetime from Ben Wurst: “Would you have any interest in joining me to band Peregrine Falcon chicks on Sedge Island?” ANY INTEREST???!!!11!?? Well, there is a question that does not need asking. Longtime readers certainly know of Ben Wurst, the Osprey Hero, of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. If you see an Osprey in the wild somewhere in NJ, you can be pretty sure that Ben lovingly cuddled it when it was a baby. What you may not know is that Ben’s stewardship of wild New Jersey extends far beyond Osprey, and that he also lovingly cuddles Turtles and the most uncuddle-able animal on our shores: the Mighty Peregrine Falcon.
Ben Wurst truly lives the dream. His life is full of untold adventures, and all of them are for the high purpose of caring for wildlife that humans have inadvertently decimated, and of keeping our natural world a nice place to hang out in. Having been out with Ben before, I already knew things that are just-another-day-at-the-office for Ben are heart stopping adventures-of-a-lifetime for the rest of us. I explored options like yoga, religion, and medication to help me keep my cool while Peregrine Falcons attempted to tear Ben’s face off and I attempted to get pictures. I was ready for Greenheads to suck up to a pint of blood out of me while I stood knee deep in bay muck, crabs picking off bits of my toes. But I never saw this one coming:
Ready? We just have to climb up there. What? scared of heights? I’m pretty sure I mentioned we have to climb a 35 foot tower. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you which of the rickety boards you shouldn’t grab onto. Besides, you have to. I need you to hold the chicks while I band them.
The next 15 mins are a blur, erased, perhaps forever, in a post traumatic stress response. I vaguely recall the sound of Ben’s voice gently giving me climbing instructions more complex than a 12,500 piece Lego(tm) Set to get to the top.
“You just wanna’ kind-of wrap your left arm under that rusty iron thing while crossing your right arm backwards around your neck, then pocket your left heel in between those two rotting boards there, but don’t put your left foot on that one… put it on the other one… yeah, that one that is pulling off the tower and flapping in the breeze… it should hold your weight… I think, don’t worry”
It was a sick game of high stakes, mid-air Twister.
Hands shaking and body wracked with cortisol, we reached the top. But just one look in the nest box, and one touch of the hot, downy fuzz balls was all I needed to get reoriented and remember what this was all about. CHICKZZZ!!!!!!!
Banding these itty bitty terrors is important work. Sometimes, folks with a narrow view of things casually say stuff like “You should leave those wild birds alone. You shouldn’t interfere.” What those folks are missing is that good people like Ben are actually attempting to undo human interference. Left unchecked, we humans nearly eradicated these important predators completely. It has taken generations of dedication and intelligent, carefully strategized human interference to start to reverse the sloppy, careless, and dangerous interference of the past. Banding and tracking the population is a critical part of that work.
Another tiny job for Ben Wurst and the good people of the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey has just gone down as another unforgettable life experience for Readings From The Northside. Once again we are reminded that when we see some cool piece of wildlife down-the-shore, chances are we only have that amazing experience because a small group of dedicated heroes were willing to build, maintain, and repeatedly scale a Tower Of Doom to preserve these things for us. These two Furry Dinosaurs are not just two random birds. They are early forefathers (yes, they were both male) and important early seeds in repopulating the world with these bird mangling monsters. And that’s something I’m glad I put my fear-of-heights aside for. Put your fear of poverty aside and consider donating something to the CWFNJ. Every little bit counts. Just be sure to donate at least enough to build a less terrifying way up the Tower of Doom.