2011 Year in Review: Ben Spence

Ben Spence, Animal Caretaker Preceptorship student:

It’s hard to pick one memory in particular for my time at the WCV. My preceptorship during the summer of 2011 was memorable for so many reasons, some of which were wholly unrelated to animal encounters at the Center, but ya’ll don’t want to hear about those.  I’ll forego the obvious incident with NZ since you probably know that one. 

My first big memory at the Center was when we received two Black Vulture chicks. They didn’t look so much like vultures as they did pudgy gremlins rolled in dryer lint. We kept contact down to a minimum with them because they imprint so easily, but every morning we still had to clean out their incubator. That was a job I dreaded. I like to think I have a strong stomach; it takes a lot to make me want to leave a room. But the odor from those stinky little chicks was beyond anything I’ve ever smelled.  We wore surgical masks to try to dull the odor, but it still brought tears to my eyes every time. It was the only time I ever felt like maybe this wasn’t the right line of work for me.

One of my first releases was a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. She came from a residential neighborhood in Staunton after she was attacked by a cat.  The hummingbird recovered well, and one afternoon after work several of the other students and I piled into my SUV and took a little road trip to Staunton to release her.  My fellow preceptorship student Travis continued to feed her on the drive over to keep her energy up for the release. This was quite a task – trying to keep the tiny bird from buzzing out of the box while we cruised down the bumpy road. 

We eventually reached the neighborhood where the hummingbird was rescued and began to scout out a spot to let her go. It was a bit of a hard decision, we wanted her to be able to get back to her potential nesting area, but we didn’t want to put her right back where the cat had found her. We settled on a property at the end of the street with an elaborate flower garden and canopy cover. The home belonged to a little old lady who was probably a little startled to have four strangers pull up in her driveway and approach her. We explained our situation and she was thrilled to have the bird released outside her house. It was great to see the bird go free and to make someone’s day like that.

My last memory is a little one, physically and metaphorically. I was coming in through the side door to the Wildlife Center animal kitchen one afternoon when I saw something little and black wriggling across the floor. First I thought it was a twig moving in the wind, and then I thought it was a worm, but THEN I realized it was a baby Ring-necked Snake. I recognized it because earlier in the season we had received a similar snake that had become entangled in thread and hair. This little guy had just crawled in through the open kitchen door. He probably heard that this was the place to hang out and get pampered. I scooped him up before he could get stepped on and proceeded to show off the tiny invader to everyone – snake- friendly or not.  Since he was a healthy little specimen and not a patient I then just took him back out into the woods behind the Center. After a few words of advice about not getting stepped on, I let the little fellow go.

Read about more “memorable moments” from our staff, volunteers, and students — 2011 Year in Review.