CAMDEN — Two teenagers exploring around the Knox Mill discovered a full-grown osprey trapped in the bottom recesses of the dark and locked smokestack Sunday evening. A waitress working at nearby 40 Paper restaurant overheard the boys tell a mother about the predicament and she — a former bird rehabilitator — went with them, helped pry a heavy metal door off its hinges, climbed in and carried the flagging bird back to freedom.
Emmett Acosta, of Rockport, and Thomas McClellan, of Camden and North Haven, were out early Sunday evening, May 25, having a pizza at 40 Paper.
"We were just parkouring around town after we had pizza, and we were jumping off of the stone wall on Washington Street,” said Acosta. (Parkouring means performing gymnastic maneuvers over or on man-made obstacles, like walls and buildings.)
“We saw the door open a little at the base of the smokestack, so we opened it,” he said. “Then we saw another door, a heavy metal one, on the smokestack. We looked through three little grates, and there were feathers everywhere."
The boys kept peering in, and McClellan said: "Emmett saw these feathers, so I looked around through thin slits, and then I jumped back. I was surprised. I saw these yellow eyes staring at me from way in the corner."
“They happened to catch its glance,” said Jana Halwick, who is Acosta’s mother.
They boys knew that the bird, which the believed to be an eagle, would die if they didn’t get it out of there. The bird had fallen down through the 180-foot tall smokestack and landed at the bottom, just where the boys found him.
The smokestack is part of the Knox Woolen Mill complex, which manufactured textiles through the late 19th and 20th centuries until 1988, when it closed. The mill buildings now house offices and condominiums. The smokestack rises over Camden’s downtown, and osprey and eagles hunt along the Megunticook River, which courses down beside the mill to the harbor.
“How they ever saw this thing is beyond me,” said Halwick. “You had to look carefully through the third grate to see it all. And it was so dark.”
Halwick then told staff of 40 Paper, and ran over to the Camden Public Safety building. She tried knocking loudly for police, but no one answered the door.
“I went over to a table to tell a friend about it, and the waitress heard me,” said Halwick. “She said, ‘Take me to the bird. I know birds. I worked with them for years.’ Talk about a coincidence. We had to take the door off of its hinges to get to it, and she entered the stack and came out with this magnificent creature. It was stunning! She walked it across the street, and set it free.”
Shelley Spanswick is the waitress at 40 Paper. She had worked for 11 years helping birds at at Avian Haven, in Freedom, and Raptor Trust, in Millington, N.J., and she knows them well. She picked up the osprey carried it to the parking lot by the Public Safety building and let it go.
Ospreys bite and use their feet in self defense. Spanswick held the bird firmly and cautiously as she walked it across the pavement.
At first the bird was so weak it barely flew, making it only to rest on a sign near the Riverhouse Hotel.
“It landed on the sign, hung its wings and bent its head forward,” said Halwick. “It looked so sad.”
The osprey was still for a few minutes, and then took off again, “so gorgeous, so huge,” said Halwick, as it flew toward the water.
Spanswick, meanwhile, went back to work because she had tables to tend to. But her rescue did not go unappreciated: She returned to a cheering crowd, receiving a standing ovation.
How the osprey fell down into the smokestack is a mystery, but managers of the Knox Mill said it will be prevented from happening again.
Spanswick said the bird was a little thin, “but not too bad.” It had not, she believed, been trapped for more than three days.
Because there were sticks at the bottom of the stack, she thinks the osprey, which is an adult, may have been building a nest, even though it is a little late in the season for that.
“Sometimes, they can be clumsy,” she said. “Maybe it sat on it and fell down.”
She believes the osprey will survive, once it regains its bearings and is in the fresh air.
“If it were in worse shape I would have definitely called Avian Haven and brought it there,” she said. “But there were no injuries to it. The bird was a little thin and a little stressed out. It was nice that those people were good to stop and help it.”