Cartwrites: Seabird rehab clinic

Posted Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Features

Cartwrites: Seabird rehab clinic

by Steve Cartwright

FRIENDSHIP — Some people who inherit a seaside cottage would just kick back in retirement, watching the gulls, loons, ducks and osprey wheel and dive in the bay.

Not Cindy Mackie and Beth Settlemyer, who after lives elsewhere decided several years ago to share a vintage cottage on Muscongus Bay in the fishing village of Friendship. Last year, after much research, construction and investment of time and money, they opened On the Rush of Wings, a wildlife-rehabilitation center that is focused on pelagic, or open sea-dwelling, birds.

Standing on a ledge on the shore, Settlemyer said, “I’ve always been fascinated with flight.” She spent 12 years as a commercial airline pilot. After being part of an International Red Cross humanitarian airlift during a crisis in Rwanda, she realized something. “That changed my life. I thought, if I got out of there alive, I’d do something to help others.”

She has a master’s degree in wildlife diseases, and completed an internship at Avian Haven, a bird-rehabilitation facility in Freedom. She has passed required state and federal exams to become a certified wildlife rehabilitator.

Mackie contributed the waterfront land and works with Settlemyer in caring for the birds and handling administrative aspects of the center. Christine Welch of Damariscotta is staff veterinarian. In addition, a generous donor and many volunteers helped On The Rush of Wings become a full-fledged clinic.

The center’s primary focus is examination, rehabilitation and release of pelagic birds — taking advantage of the natural resources available because of its shoreline location. Saltwater is readily available and pumped directly into the large pools in the aviary. There are no similar rehabilitation facilities on the Eastern Seaboard that have this capability, the women said.

The pools must be pristine, with constant circulation, overflow and replenishing of seawater. A trap set in the water with lines running ashore allow the women to catch fresh fish to feed to their feathered patients.

Working with a contractor, the two women created a medical clinic where birds are examined and treated. The clinic is equipped with a heated therapy pool for preliminary waterproof evaluation before being taken to the aviary for final release monitoring. A second therapy tub is located in the aviary, as well as a brood cage for hatchlings. The clinic includes an egg incubator, cushioned and private cages for birds, and a laboratory. Both clinic and aviary were carefully designed and equipped for the sensitive and sometimes fragile birds, to protect them from any disturbance and keep their stress level to a minimum, they said.

The center officially opened last summer, and since then has treated gulls, shearwaters, a cormorant, common eiders and northern gannets. The first patient, a common eider downy, was found on the rocky shore, alone. After the chick regained some strength, Mackie and Settlemyer saw a brood of eiders offshore at dawn. They released the chick, and watched as it joined and was accepted by the flock.

On The Rush of Wings relies entirely on the generosity of those who believe the work that is done there is important and deserves their tax-deductible support. “We don’t get a penny for our services. It’s all donations,” Settlemyer explained.

Visitors are welcome at the center, located in Friendship, but are asked to call first. The telephone is (207) 832-5044.

A first annual “Happy Feet” benefit will be held at the Thomaston Café, Main Street in Thomaston, from 4 to 7 p.m. July 22. It will feature refreshments, live music, and a silent auction. For more information, go to www.ontherushofwings.org.

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