It was the 26th of June, 2018. My Girlfriend and I had stayed in Gevgelija, a small village on the border between Macedonia and Greece. It was a cloudy day and rain seemed imminent.
Taking this into account we made an early start on the bikes to head to the border, our destination today was the Greek coastal city of Thessaloniki and the promise of day off from cycling to go and explore the city tomorrow made us all the more eager. At the border crossing along the highway the clouds did let go of a small portion of their stores but not enough to get us too wet or dampen our spirits. We knew our luck wouldn’t last forever so once we had crossed into Greece we decided to stay on the E75 highway (known on google maps, at least, as Motorway “Friendship”). Cycling along highways wasn’t our usual first choice for many reasons: safety, noise, never much to look at, etc but in this instance a shorter, more direct route to the city (with a lot less of an incline) won us over.
It was only a short ride, maybe 15 or 20 minutes until we stopped again. After a double take my brain confirmed what my eyes were seeing. There was a bird (my first assumption was a Hawk, but he was actually a Kestrel) walking in the road by the central divider, dragging a wing and headed in our direction.
Unfortunately the bird wasn’t the only thing headed our way… There was a spate of traffic on the otherwise quiet and empty highway and a huge articulated lorry drove right over him..
I was stood adjacent to the event and saw it all happen, in slow motion, almost as if i was the one soon to be under the lorry.
My stomach dropped as i saw the First set of wheels roll past, narrowly missing the birds quite large, but still very delicate frame. I thought then that he may be small enough to pass right under the vehicle, but i was wrong.
A part of the undercarriage toward the rear of the vehicle clipped his head and sent him cartwheeling, beak over talon into the middle of the 2 lane highway. Miraculously he avoided the rest of the traffic and before I had found a place to stand my bike he limped almost right up to us.
I took a T-shirt out of my rear pannier and slowly approached the death defying, injured and no doubt petrified bird. He did not attempt to move away from me, but as I leaned in with a big, blue, old sweaty t-shirt he did take up a defensive position, quite possibly from the smell… and there was a little wrestling match to get him wrapped up burrito style in the shirt, his strength gave me hope for him.
Luckily for me I managed to avoid his small but sharp talons, and once he was safely cocooned in my shirt he calmed down immediately. My guess he was either glad to be out of that road, or dizzy from the smell of my clothes.
And thus it would be the second time a bird has graced my handlebar bag with their presence!
I removed all the things from my handle bar bag and rested him in as comfy as I possibly could. Then began those daunting thoughts – where can we take him? what will he eat? will he survive the ride?
The closest Veterinary centre was 70km (44miles) away, just outside Thessaloniki. We kind of knew that your average vet was unlikely to be able to treat a wild bird, but at the time we had little other choice. Plus to make things a little more interesting (if they weren’t already) those ripe clouds finally burst with a downpour of dense, heavy, warm and uncomfortable rain.
We continued to cycle for a good hour or so, but the rain just wouldn’t let up. It was here for the long haul so we took temporary shelter at a motorway services. I had rested the lid semi closed on my makeshift bird box in an attempt to keep him dry.
I had nothing to give him in the way of food, but my experience with Oscar had reminded me how to offer water to birds. You simply dip your finger then hover the droplet over their beak.
I was quite nervous to do this mind you, not so much because his beak would likely be quite sharp as a bird of prey. But also because I could see his upper beak was hairline cracked from the accident.
He was however quite accepting to the idea and took 5 or 6 droplets!
It was at this point I felt I had bonded with the little guy and decided to name him Icarus. Icarus in Greek mythology was the dude flew too close to the sun… This Icarus flew too close to the highway.
After his refreshing finger beverage the little dude was tuckered out. I am not sure whether he was just exhausted from the crazy day he’d been having or if he genuinely felt safe enough to rest.
I’d like to believe it was the latter.
Finally the rain let up enough for us to break away from our shelter along the highway and continue our journey into the city.
After 70 long kilometers and a small detour to avoid the crazy traffic along the main road into Thessaloniki we parked our bicycles outside of the veterinary practice, only to find a closed sign hanging inside the window.
Icarus was in luck though as someone was still there, and after some small deliberation they let us inside. The vet was incredibly helpful, although he could not do anything himself for Icarus he gave us an address for a wildlife rehabilitation centre only 10 kilometers away. He even phoned ahead to let them know we were coming.
We were very fortunate as the wildlife centre was the only one in northern Greece, the next one was hundreds of kilometers away.
With tired legs and high spirits we jumped back on the saddles.
The wildlife rehabilitation centre is great. I think this is their name in Greek, Δράση για την Άγρια Ζωή. It is also their link if you’d like to see more of what they do. There is a translate option on the lower right side if your browser does not automatically translate it.
They took Icarus in for an assessment and showed us around the place. They were caring for Owls, Seagulls, Storks, Pelicans, Kestrels, Tortoises, Hedgehogs and likely many others I have forgotten. They work on an entirely voluntary basis and will look after any animal bought in the door.
I think my favorite part of the whole place was the open air enclosure for the birds that were ready to be released. They could stay inside the safety of the enclosure for as long as they needed. Long enough to stretch their wings and regain their muscles at the very least. There is always food available and places to sleep so even when the animals take to the skies, they can always pop back for dinner or a nap.
As the evening was approaching fast and we still had some ground to cover – I exchanged details with them and it was back in the saddles, into the storm clouds that had swallowed the sunset and would inevitably rain down on us once more.
We covered just short of 100 kilometers that day. We got soaked to the bone – twice – and it was great. We got Icarus to the care he needed.
There’s never a dull day travelling by bicycle, however, this day was particularly interesting.
Icarus was confirmed to be an adolescent male.
He had suffered a broken wing, a fractured beak, a cut to the head and internal bleeding.
He died from his injuries 48 hours later. Id like to think we made a few of those short hours more comfortable for him.
R.I.P little guy.
A special thank you goes to my Girlfriend for helping me document this day.