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Palm Coast Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 1 year ago

A story without an ending: Effort to rescue one bird is inspiring

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The city of Palm Coast hosted its third-annual Birds of a Feather Fest this weekend.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

As we made our way around the lake at Town Center on Feb. 12 for a beginners bird walk during the city of Palm Coast’s third-annual Birds of a Feather Fest, birding expert Mary Giraulo asked what was the best time to see birds?

“Day!” shouted my 7-year-old daughter, Ellie, who was the only eager McMillan child on this tour.

It was one correct answer, but Giraulo used it as a chance to teach us that birds come out most when insects are also out: early morning and late evening.

Giraulo then drew our attention to a woman who was kayaking on the other side of the fountain, as part of a rescue effort.

When the tour reached the opposite end of the lake, the woman was ready to stop for the day, and she glided into the reeds and stepped ashore. Her name was Valerie Hale, a volunteer with The Ark Wildlife Rescue Inc., based in St. Augustine.

For several hours already, she had been following around an easily spooked duck-like water bird called a grebe, which had gotten tangled in white netting. It appeared the grebe would not be able to eat anything until the netting was removed.

The bird had successfully eluded Hale all day, so Hale was going to come back another time. But she was hesitant. “It’s hard to drive away,” she said.

After speaking with Hale and admiring her passion for her work, I left her and caught up with the tour. When it ended, I got a phone call. It was Valerie Hale, apparently calling me as she was heading to her car.

“Is that my grebe?” she asked, directing my attention to a small bird in the middle of the lake. My birding knowledge is about the same as Ellie’s, so I got Giraulo to help.

With her binoculars, Giraulo confirmed that the small bird in the lake was indeed the grebe with the white netting.

Hale was pleased. “I guess I’m getting my kayak back into the water,” she said.

Unfortunately, she told me a couple of days later that she never did see the bird again; it likely flew away. “Hopefully unencumbered,” she said, “but we’ll never know.”

She then offered a summary of what The Ark Wildlife Rescue is all about: "No promise of success, no promise of a donation, but always a promise of a good night's sleep for having tried and done the right thing."

Hale’s and Giraulo’s affection for these birds was inspiring. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching that if the Father is aware of each sparrow, he is also aware of each of us.

Before I left the lake, I learned that Giraulo goes birding every weekend and often on her lunch breaks at work during the week. When she doesn’t, she gets “snippy.”

“My assistant notices it in me, so I know it's not just in my head,” Giraulo said with a laugh. “And don’t get me wrong: I adore my job. But I need nature.”

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