2016 Year in Review: Randy Huwa, Executive Vice President

It’s time to look back on 2016! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2016 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

August 20 …

I’m told that August 20 is the day we celebrate National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day [in August? that doesn’t seem right], Lemonade Day [that’s a better fit], Virtual Worlds Day [what?], and World Mosquito Day [we’re not actually “celebrating” mosquitoes now, are we?]. August 20 is the Day of Restoration of Independence in Estonia [hi, Madis!] and St. Stephens Day in Hungary.

In 2016, I marked NONE of those holidays. (Sorry, ’skeeters.)

But, even without a pecan pie, my August 20 was a memorable one.

It started with a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, called to order at 9:12 a.m. in the Center’s library.

Board members are the Center’s volunteer leadership, and they meet three or four times a year. The Board approves the organization’s budget, reviews financial and program performance, approves new policy initiatives … those sorts of things that help keep us on track.

The official minutes tell me that the Board’s meeting ended at 12:35 p.m. But, I was already long gone – on my way to my second stop of the day: the release of a Bald Eagle at Belle Isle State Park.

That’s about 160 miles from the Center – in Lancaster, Virginia, on the eastern shore of the Rappahannock River. MapQuest says it’s a drive of 2 hours 57 minutes. (I would like to just take a moment to thank Sirius Radio for the Tom Petty radio station, which makes three-hour car rides quite manageable.)

Sometimes people ask us why we schedule eagle releases in such remote locations. “How about doing an eagle release here in Waynesboro/Charlottesville/Richmond/Arlington/at my house?

Well … here’s the thing. For adult eagles, we generally try to get them back close to the area where they were rescued. For young birds, we try to get them into “prime” eagle habitat – where food is abundant and where there are lots of other eagles. [Young eagles learn about finding food and shelter by watching other eagles.]

So, Belle Isle State Park might be remote. For you. But, not for Bald Eagle #16-1474. For that eagle, it was the perfect place.

We accommodate “human” needs – roads, signs, parking lots, bathrooms – as best we can, so that folks can come out and watch the release. But, our primary motivation is finding good release spots for the eagles. And, what we’ve learned from our eagle-tracking program over the years underscores the importance of finding a good spot.

In the last five years, we’ve released 17 eagles [mostly Bald, two Goldens] outfitted with tiny transmitters that operate sort of like a cell phone. Those transmitters “phone home” from time to time and allow us to follow an eagle’s travels after release. And, as a rule, we’ve seen that eagles generally spend a few days – sometimes longer – near their release site.

The eagle being released on August 20 was found in early July, lying on the side of a road in Richmond County. Belle Isle was a good “close by” spot – on the river, with lots of good eagle habitat.

The release day was sunny. And hot! The Belle Isle Visitor Center is a great facility, but it sits in the middle of some agricultural fields – no trees, no shade. But the heat didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the 300 folks who had gathered for the release!

Ed Clark and Dr. Ernesto arrived a few minutes after me. They had the eagle. But, I had the cookies. Chocolate chip. Oatmeal raisin.

Ed selected the spot for the release, out over a bean field, and the spectators formed a long line looking out over the field. I did my best to provide phone updates to Ms. Congowings and those who were “attending” the release through our online Moderated Discussion.

One … two ... three! And the eagle was off. The bird flew out over the field, banked left, turned right, and disappeared behind a line of trees.

Let me just say this to anyone who thinks an eagle release is “too remote” to attend. It’s not. To see an eagle fly off, back to a life in the wild, is worth the drive. Every time.

By now, it’s 3:30 p.m. And, I’m off to Stop #3.

Maymont Park in Richmond, Virginia. The original home to Buttercup, our resident Black Vulture, and Wilson, our “painted” Eastern Box Turtle.

The occasion was an early-evening reception for members of the Center’s Legacy Society – those individuals who have told us that they have included the Center in their estate plans.

Our event was held in the Stone Barn – a wonderful place, built in 1908, with granite walls and exposed wood beams.

The Legacy Society event – now an annual tradition – is our way of bringing these important supporters up-to-date on the latest news from the Center ... and to thank them for their commitment. Legacy gifts provide a key source of funds for our ongoing operations and also help fund the reserves that will sustain the Center well into the future.

Joining us at this event, in addition to a few dozen Legacy Society members, was Christie Gove-Berg, a Minnesota resident and author of Maggie the One-Eyed Peregrine Falcon – a new children’s book about our Peregrine Falcon, another Wildlife Center ambassador from Richmond. For Maggie and Christie and Amanda Nicholson [the Center’s Outreach Director], the Legacy Society event was the final stop on a whirlwind three-day book tour that included appearances, interviews, and book signings at a Richmond brewery, the Waynesboro library, the Charlottesville Barnes and Noble, a children’s museum, and a live appearance on the morning TV news in Richmond.

[For additional information about joining the Center’s Legacy Society, check out here].

One day – three events across Virginia. About 360 miles on the odometer.

But, it wasn’t the mileage that made this day memorable. It was how the day so neatly shows the Wildlife Center in action ...

The crucial role that volunteers play, as Board members, as wildlife transporters and rehabbers, and in myriad other jobs they gladly take on for us …

The crucial role that our donors play, members of the Legacy Society and every other Wildlife Center donor who gives a little bit – or a lot – to support our work …

The crucial role that that our veterinarians and staff play in saving, caring for, and rehabbing wild animals …

All those roles come together, to make the Wildlife Center possible. Every single day.

But, on August 20, I saw them all come together with the release of a majestic Bald Eagle that got a second chance at life and a second chance in the wild, thanks to the efforts of them all.


Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!