by Penny Moser
They shot out of the carrier and into the wild like rockets. Four mallard ducks – that once had a feather duster as mom – now dabble and splash in a fine pond. Next year, they’ll pair up and make more ducks. They have no clue they owe their lives to the kindness of Sag Harbor’s finest – our police force and highway department.
I suppose I’ve been living in and working out of Sag Harbor for the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons too long, because this is the time of the year when I think of us all as Meerkats. We who remain can stick our heads up out of our holes, look around, and see if it’s safe to come out again. I easily parked on Main Street this week.
So now my mind wanders back over this summer, and into the past, to contemplate the extraordinary kindness Sag Harbor demonstrates toward its wild neighbors. We should all know the unsung little things our village workers do for us.
Take the above-mentioned ducks. Now it could be argued that in the scope of things, four mallards don’t count for much. Yet these four, who had fallen eight feet into storm drains on Jermain Avenue, surely didn’t want to die the same week they had hatched. It took a miracle and hard work to save them.
The miracle was that some people were walking around the Otter Pond – neither talking on cell phones nor listening to I-Pods – and heard three fluff balls peeping beneath the busy street.
They called the Wildlife Rescue. I drove there and commenced what I call the “Ducklings Down the Drain Drill.” This starts with a call to the police, who faithfully respond.
On this day, we had extra drama when a well-meaning citizen, in the excitement of the moment, tried to lift one of the 200 pound iron grates. He succeeded only in dropping it way down into the sewer. The ducks were okay, but Jermain Avenue was not, now having a 2×4 foot hole in it. By the time Sergeant Paul Fabiano and Officer John Natuzzi arrived to assess the situation, a fourth duck was found in another drain.
It was Memorial Day Sunday morning. So we could only imagine how happy Village Highway Department Superintendent Jim Early would be to get this call on his day off. He’d be even happier when he learned he would need heavy equipment to put the street back together.
And yet, like always, he was there for us. Soon a crowd had gathered, and traffic was slowed. Highway worker Kevin O’Brien, obviously once an Olympic gymnast, was able to lower himself in and out of the drains with great agility, coming up with a duck or two each time. So maybe he did mutter a little bit, but he was there, our hero.
Within the hour, the four little ducklings were being warmed and rehydrated at the Wildlife Hospital in Hampton Bays, sitting contentedly under a feather duster, which substituted for mom.
Last winter, after a nighttime car-duck collision on Route114, a panicked driver found one of our street ducks, with a fractured leg, wedged into his grill. Our police carefully remove the female mallard. She was in a cast for six weeks and returned to the Harbor.
A number of animals find their way into our authorities’ hearts. Officer Barbara Mott once kept an injured squirrel in the office trash can until I could pick it up. The Chief has called about a baby catbird in distress, his brother, the Detective, alerted us to a crippled seagull. One night, I was most touched by a call that the police had a woman in the station’s lobby with a dying duck. When I got there I found her, crying softly, holding its bloody body against her pink, crocheted sweater. She was whispering comfort in Spanish.
Another time police called when a six-month-old fawn had been hit by a car and fallen on Jermain near Main Street. His little legs were fine, but he had serious head trauma. Quick treatment with anti-inflammatory steroids and IV fluids, and he was up the next morning, back in the wild the next day.
Maybe the most dramatic rescue I recall involved a Southampton Town officer who called for assistance at a residence on Ferry Road near the Haerter Bridge. When I arrived, a young doe, trapped in a “deer-proof yard,” had sprung back off a fence and impaled her entire body on a metal post. The outline of the post could be seen poking up beneath the skin on her back. She just stood there, with those big doe eyes, looking back at us. “I don’t really want to shoot her,” the officer said. “Just look at her.” He added that if the shot did not go well, the bullet could travel to the neighbor’s yard.
I tranquilized her, and in a burst of adrenaline, my husband and I lifted her body up off the post. It was almost a scene from a Woody Allen movie. The entire time, the homeowner talked about his investment strategies.
After antibiotics and minor surgery, this deer too had cheated a horrible death.
Over at the hospital we have two posters that I love. One, features our largest local pelagic bird, the Northern Gannet, with 60″ outstretched wings. Beneath it a 1965 quote from Chip Taylor of the Troggs: “Wild Thing. You make my heart sing.” Another poster is a Peregrine falcon — which can occasionally be seen in the village — pictured over a quote from 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant: “You can measure the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
We are blessed here with strong people with big hearts.