Newsletter Archive

Wild Bunch Newsletter – November 2006

Wild Bunch wishes to give you a brief update on our activities during the month of October. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Virginia organization devoted to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native wildlife. 83 acres in the Northern Neck of Virginia near the Rappahannock River serve as our wildlife refuge. The officers and directors are Erika Yery, Pat Crusenberry, Diana O'Connor, Charlene DeVol, and Bonnie Brown.

In the past month, Erika received no animals but continues to receive wildlife-related telephone calls concerning such matters as raccoons in attics and foxes with sarcoptic mange. At the refuge, Diana received 2 bald eagles, 1 barred owl, 1 blue heron, 1 cardinal, 1 duck, 1 goldfinch, 1 great horned owl, 1 house finch, 1 osprey, 3 raccoons, and 3 seagulls.

In October, as the leaves began turning colors and the temperatures became quite brisk, we began to notice another harbinger of fall: the dropping of acorns. When people began bringing Erika acorns for the raccoons in trash bags and boxes, we knew that this was a special year. We have since learned that this is one of the years when certain species of oaks (white oaks, chestnut oaks, swamp white oaks, and post oaks) are producing a bumper crop of acorns across large areas. Horticulturists call this phenomenon masting. Scientists have differing theories on why masting occurs. Some believe that it is a survival strategy for oaks and that it may take several years for an oak tree to build up enough reserves to seed heavily, thereby producing an occasional crop too large for animals that dine on acorns to fully consume. Another theory is that the trees may be seeding heavily as a result of prior stress from pests or drought. Whatever its cause, this winter, the fall’s huge crop of acorns will help feed all sorts of foraging wildlife, including squirrels, bears, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, turkeys, geese, and crows.

Along with the falling leaves, temperatures, and acorns, autumn is when we release the orphan raccoons that were born in the spring and have been in our care for several months. This year, because of the devastating illness that took so many of our raccoons, we had far fewer to release than we typically do. Thus, this fall’s releasetime was even more bittersweet than usual as we prepared our special survivors for their new wild lives.

We fondly referred to the group we released in October as Harry & Co. The group consisted of Harry (more formally called Prince Harry Lotor), Mama, Lucky, and the Baby. From the time he arrived at Erika’s, Harry was a favorite of his caregivers and of other raccoons. When he arrived, there were no other orphans his size to put him with. Mama was the first raccoon to become a member of Harry’s family. She and a brother had both fallen into someone’s fireplace and arrived at Erika’s weighing about 5 ounces. The brother had received internal injuries in the fall and soon died. The little girl was put in with 3 newborns which had arrived at Erika’s shortly after she did. Although she only weighed 5 or 6 ounces, the newborns weighed about half of that, giving the illusion that the little girl was huge. Thus we named her Mama. The next member of Harry’s family was a little boy who came to us from a shelter that, sadly, often euthanizes raccoons that come to them. He was dubbed Lucky. Mama and Lucky were smaller, younger, and much less mature than Harry when they joined him. When they were young, after the three were bottle-fed in the kitchen and Harry was ready for playtime, the two younger ones would usually crawl into the basin that sat on the kitchen floor and was used to carry towels and baby blankets to and from the laundry room. Harry would often go sit on the floor next to the basin and gently pat Mama and Lucky while they slept. A few weeks later, our vet sent us a young male raccoon. Again, there were no others his size so he spent a few days alone. He was much smaller than Harry and his group, but because they were such a gentle group, we decided to see how the new little one would do with them during kitchen playtime. The tiny raccoon took one look at Harry and apparently decided that he had found his mentor. Whatever Harry did, the tiny one would copy. Wherever Harry went, the tiny one would go. We made him a part of Harry’s group and called him the Baby. When the group was moved outside to the big cage, the Baby went, too.

One brisk Sunday in October, Charlene, Bonnie, and Erika loaded Harry & Co. into carriers for the trip to the release cage. Once we got the raccoons settled into the release cage where they would be cared for a few days to give them a chance to acclimate to the forest that would be their new home, we spent some time visiting and catching up with Diana O’Connor and her husband, Dennis. A special highlight of our visit was watching Dennis release two red-tailed hawks that Diana had been caring for. Both the adult and juvenile had come in injured and spent the better part of the summer recuperating and gaining the necessary strength to fly and hunt properly. We watched Dennis net the younger and smaller hawk in the release cage, carefully remove it from the net, carry it outside, and fling it in the air. The strong bird rose and circled several times overhead before disappearing from view. Dennis then repeated the process with the second and much larger hawk. It was an inspiring experience.

A few days later, Bonnie and Erika returned to the refuge to say our goodbyes to Prince Harry, Mama, Lucky, and the Baby and release them. After visiting with them for a few minutes in the release cage, we opened the window to their new life. As we had expected, Prince Harry was the first one to walk down the ramp from the window with the Baby following on his heels. When Harry quickly climbed up to the roof of the release cage where there are two nest boxes, Baby followed. Lucky was next out of the cage and immediately began a thorough survey of the surrounding area. Lucky zipped up trees and then descended headfirst as agilely as he had climbed up. For quite awhile, he seemed to be everywhere, at one point appearing inside a locked cage that had once been used as a feeding station. Eventually, he joined his "brothers" on the roof of the release cage. It took a bit of effort and cajoling to persuade Mama to venture out of the release cage. Because the window of the release cage will be open for as long as the newly released raccoons are using the cage, we like to see that each animal knows how to exit and reenter the cage before we leave them. Food and water will be provided in the cage during this transition period. Once out, Mama joined the boys in the nest box above the release cage. We were pleased to see her receive a warm reception when she arrived on the roof. All too soon, it was time for us to say goodbye and wish them happy wild lives.

After leaving the raccoons, we met with a forestry consultant from Tappahannock who had spoken previously with Diana about the benefits of doing a controlled burn of the meadow area of the refuge. What we had envisioned as a lovely wildflower, wildlife-friendly meadow had become overgrown with types of vegetation that is not attractive and, more importantly, is not useful to wildlife. Aware of how much harm a fire could cause, Erika, in the past, has not been in favor of intentionally starting a fire on part of the refuge. However, in order to make an informed decision, she wanted to meet with the forestry consultant.

We learned that prescribed burning is the deliberate use of fire under specified and controlled conditions to achieve a resource management goal such as improved wildlife habitat. Our primary goals would be to increase the food resources and cover available to wildlife. The forester discussed what preparations would need to be accomplished, how and when the prescribed burn would be carried out, and what the expected result would be. Erika then spoke with the Northern Neck farmer who plants crops on some of the refuge land since the farmer has the equipment that will be needed to prepare the area for the prescribed burn. The plan is for the forester, the farmer, and Erika to meet in a couple of months to finalize what needs to be done for a prescribed burn of about one-third of the meadow early next year.

In October, in conjunction with the Alexandria Animal Welfare League, Erika did a program on local wildlife at the Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria for fifth and sixth graders. She brought posters, photographs, puppets, and handouts. We have found that most people, including children, are surprised to learn how much wildlife, of many species, closely share their environment. Clearly, the students were impressed because as she was leaving, one young man enthusiastically told Erika "You rock."

Our True Story for November on the Wild Bunch website ( is "There’s a Wild Bunch in Warsaw," an article by Laura Emery which appeared in the October issue of Cooperative Living, a publication of the Northern Neck Electric Cooperative. We are grateful to Laura Emery and Cooperative Living for giving us permission to put the article on the Wild Bunch website. The article, which contains photographs of Diana O’Connor and several of the rehab animals at the refuge, discusses how Diana cares for the many orphaned and injured wild animals that arrive at the refuge.

We want to thank everyone who continues to help our wild friends. We are grateful for the donations that make it possible for us to help so many animals. We could not manage the large scope of work we must accomplish without your support. As the burden of wildlife rehabilitation increases, so do our expenses. Financial donations can be mailed to Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation, 402 West Alexandria Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-4204. In addition, donations via PayPal can be made directly on our website. We hope you realize how deeply we rely on your support and how much we appreciate everything you do to help us out.

As we have previously mentioned, Wild Bunch was approved to participate in the 2006 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) of the National Capital Area. The CFC is a charitable donation program for federal government employees. This annual charitable donation drive provides funds to a wide variety of nonprofit local, national, and international organizations. The CFC’s 2006 campaign began in late September and will conclude on December 15. We are hopeful that our participation in the CFC will provide much needed additional funds to support wildlife and our activities at Wild Bunch. Therefore, we would be very appreciative if you would encourage any federal employees you know to consider making Wild Bunch Wildlife Rehabilitation as one of their designated CFC charities. Our CFC National Capital Area "designation number" is 7600.