WESTBOROUGH, MA (WCVB) — A Massachusetts firefighter found a falcon who went missing after her owner fell through ice at Cedar Swamp during a duck hunt.
Westborough firefighter Mark Boyer volunteered to find the $20,000 bird when he was off duty and, along with a falconer, was able to track her down with GPS, as the falcon was wearing a GPS tracker when she went missing.
“I was, like, armpit-deep in swamp water, so I was eye to eye with the bird at the time,” Boyer said. “So, I’m (thinking) this is going to go one of two ways. It’s going to be a nice reunion, or she’s going to get the better half of me. Luckily, it all worked out.”
The falcon’s owner, Bill Johnston, told WCVB that his bird was attacked by a red-tailed hawk in the woods and her right eye was nearly scratched out.
He brought her to the Cummings Veterinary Center at Tufts University in Grafton for treatment. Her right eye is currently closed shut, but she is expected to be OK and has been sent home to continue her recovery.
Johnston said he’s had the falcon, who is named Fiona, since she was 3 weeks old. She is now 15 years old.
“It’s phenomenal,” Johnston said. “I’m old and cynical, (but) it’s changed my whole attitude. I’m no longer as cynical. I’ve had an epiphany. There are so many good people out there, and these Westborough firefighters, they’re saints!”
On Thursday, firefighters worked for two hours and used rescue equipment to save Johnston.
Johnston, a master falconer, was deep in Westborough’s Cedar Swamp flying his falcon when he fell through the ice. The 78-year-old was able to call 911, but rescuers had a difficult time finding him because of thick brush and the muddy and icy conditions.
“I only had 1% left,” Johnston said about his phone battery. “When I called 911, I said, ‘I hope this goes through, or I’m going to die out here.'”
Rescuers used chainsaws to cut through the thick brush and specialized suits to protect themselves from the frigid mud and water. The work lasted about two hours.
While he waited, Johnston’s body temperature fell.
“You get so weak, you can’t stand. They were holding me up,” he said.
After the complicated rescue, Johnston was driven about half a mile up a dirt road in an ATV to a waiting ambulance and then taken to a hospital for treatment.
Johnston’s wife said he has decades of experience with falcons.
“Like any wife or any family member, I am very, very grateful it turned out the way it did,” she told WCVB by phone while on the way to the hospital. “I talked to him at the hospital. He said he’s warmed up. He doesn’t feel any distress whatsoever now that his body is warm.”
“These guys saved my life, it’s as simple as that,” Johnston said after the ordeal. “No question about it.”
Johnston said he fell into the ice when he tried to find his falcon, who had come to a rest on the edge of Cedar Swamp Pond.
He was back out searching for Fiona on Friday and, with GPS, was able to determine she was still in the same spot she was in Thursday.
Johnston said he fell through a roof a couple of years ago while trying to track down another one of his birds.