2020 Year in Review: Connor Gillespie, Front-desk Coordinator

It’s time to look back on 2020! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2020 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Although it has been a short year for me – I joined the Wildlife Center staff in September – I already have many unforgettable experiences here. One that stands out was helping Amanda find out what happened to Bald Eagle W20.

On December 2, Amanda reported that Bald Eagle W20, an eagle that had been rehabilitated at the Wildlife Center five years ago and that we had been tracking with a GPS transmitter, checked in at the same location in Spotsylvania County two weeks in a row. The bird’s lack of movement concerned Amanda, and she asked if we knew anyone who could go out to check the situation. I contacted one of our volunteers close to that area, but after a couple hours of searching the volunteer reported that the eagle was nowhere to be found.

The next day, the GPS transmitter reported from the same location again. After speaking with Amanda, I offered to check it out myself on my day off since I live close by.

A couple of days later, I made the trek out to Spotsylvania County. I got up early that morning and made sure I had all the equipment I needed: eagle catch gloves, protective goggles, blankets, a large box, and a map of the area with the GPS location marked. When I arrived, I made my way to the tree line and started my search. It was a dense strand of forest with lots of leaf litter, debris, and deep puddles, but after 15 minutes of looking, I turned a corner and spotted something familiar in the distance – the white feathers of a Bald Eagle’s head. Sadly, the eagle was deceased.

I had hoped to find the eagle alive, or that maybe its GPS transmitter had simply fallen off. But that wasn’t the case. I quickly set about documenting the scene, making sure to note the eagle’s location and take photographs in case they were needed. Then I collected the body and made the slow journey back to my car. Before heading to the Wildlife Center, I called Genesis at the front desk to let her know that I found the eagle and that I was bringing it back so she could inform Amanda and the rest of our staff members.

Although I was disappointed to find the eagle deceased, I was glad I was able to retrieve its body. I knew this would give the vet team a chance to perform a post-mortem exam and possibly figure out what happened to it. Later that day, the vets were able to determine that the eagle most likely passed away due to lead toxicity. This will help our Center illustrate the danger that lead toxicity poses to raptors; if even just one person that hears what happened makes the change to prevent lead from getting into the environment, then it might even save another eagle’s life. All in all, it was a trip well worth it.

— Connor, Front-desk Coordinator

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!