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BOWMAN: Pelican rescue highlights wild day

Meg Matthews carries an injured American white pelican from Green Bay wetlands Thursday. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Meg Matthews carries an injured American white pelican from a Green Bay wetlands Thursday. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 27, 2013 6:44AM

GREEN BAY, Wis. — So a woman walked in cradling an American white
pelican. She wore chest waders. The pelican sported a yellow Shedd Aquarium baseball cap pulled over its eyes.

Another woman and two men, all in chest waders, walked into Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary with Meg Matthews and the pelican.

Some days are wilder than others. Thursday was one of those days.

I drove to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to observe a broad-based study on migratory northern pike in Green Bay. I met Matthews, the manager of conservation communications for the Shedd; Solomon David, a postdoctoral research associate at the Shedd; Patrick Forsythe, an assistant professor in natural and applied sciences at UWGB; and Rachel Van Dam, a graduate student at UWGB.

That’s a study I will detail another day.

We got sidetracked while checking traps for young northern pike making their way down the ditches toward Green Bay.

David explained the challenges, including a ‘‘perch cloud’’ below a culvert. We ended up wading out of a ditch where Brown Road ends at a wetlands. David wanted to show us the treacherous journey for larvae pike to reach Green Bay.

When we waded to a mud flat, Matthews spotted the distressed pelican. She checked the pelican while Van Dam and I followed David, one of those hyper-smart people who are fun to trail.

He pointed at a minnow and said it was a banded killifish. He knew by my look that I had my doubts about anybody being able to identify a small fish (maybe all of 2.54 centimeters) from a distance. So he asked Van Dam to seine it. It was so tiny she barely could see it, but she scooped it. It was a banded killifish, a special-concern fish in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, Matthews had discovered the pelican was in distress because a fishing lure and line was tangled in its bill and wing. David circled around to help herd the bird. He is a big fan of bowfin (dogfish) and gar. Even so, he stuck to his bird mission despite spotting a bowfin in shallow water.

As Van Dam and I waded back toward the ditch, a sedge wren gave us hell. Near the ditch, we saw Matthews, a rather petite woman, doing a full-body carry of the pelican, one of the larger birds in North America with a wingspan to nine feet.

Back at the vehicles, David made a series of calls. Eventually, they decided to deliver it to Bay Beach. I drove Matthews’ car while she held the bird in the passenger seat.

‘‘I had a bald eagle in my lap in high school,’’ said Matthews, who worked at a wildlife place while growing up in Snohomish, Wash.

Before we drove off, she put her cap over the bird’s eyes to keep it calm.

‘‘It is one thing if it was attacked by a coyote or something,’’ she said. ‘‘But when it is caused by us, we have a responsibility.’’

I am not certain I completely agree with that. For better or worse, human intrusions have become part of the natural world.

After leaving the rehab center, Matthews asked David for a plastic bag, then stuffed her waders and the yellow Shedd cap into it.

It was time.

On Friday, Matthews sent this update: ‘‘Our pelican friend is swimming around in one of their large enclosures now. They said they got the hook and line out and cleaned out the maggots that were in the wing. Poor guy. Sounds like he’s going to recover.’’

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