For more information about Rose Wolf Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Sonora, go online to For more about Tri County Wildlife Care, which serves Amador, Calaveras and eastern San Joaquin counties, visit the group’s Facebook page. To learn more about volunteer opportunities at New Melones, call (209) 536-9094 or (209) 536-9543.

A juvenile bald eagle was recently found with a fish hook down its throat, tangled in fishing line and pinned to the ground at New Melones, the federally managed reservoir that lies between Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

“She had swallowed a fish probably with the hook in it, and the hook was down in her esophagus,” said Pat Benik, who is caring for the young eagle in Amador County. She is a raptor team leader with the nonprofit Tri County Wildlife Care in Jackson.

“She was tangled in the line, the line was still attached to the hook, and she was tethered to the ground and she was stuck there,” Benik said. “We don’t know how long she was stuck there. I’m guessing it’s a female from its size. It is a juvenile, starting to get a little white on the tail. I’m guessing she might be about three years old.”

Kayakers spotted the young eagle in distress on July 29, a day with heavy smoke at New Melones, said Pat Sanders, a natural resources ranger employed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Sanders and another ranger took a boat to search the shoreline near Mark Twain Day Use Area, a fishing and swimming spot on the Tuolumne County side, within view of the Highway 49 Stevenot Bridge.

Unable to fly, eat or drink

The young eagle was barely visible against rocks on the shore, but the rangers found it and saw there was a piece of fish line coming out the side of its beak, Sanders said in a report. The line was wedged between two rocks, so it could not fly, eat or drink, due to the tautness of the fishing line.

The bird looked very thin, Sanders said. She put on gloves, used her left hand to break the fishing line from the rocks and secured the young eagle’s legs and talons. She then gently lifted the bird, climbed back into the boat and placed the eagle in a very large pet carrier.

The rangers took the eagle and their boat to the launch ramp at Angels Creek and met two wildlife volunteers from Angels Camp. The volunteers, Elissa and Mark Wall, transported the young eagle to Tri County Wildlife Care, and the bird underwent surgery the next day.

The young eagle was initially placed on pain medications and antibiotics after surgery, Sanders said. She has been eating well, thanks in part to people who have answered a Tri County Wildlife Care request for fish to feed the bird, Benik said.

“I’ve transferred her outside, and hopefully she’ll start flying in the next few days,” Benik said Monday in a phone interview. “She had lost a lot of weight and we’re feeding her and hoping to fatten her up.”

Tri County Wildlife Care put out a plea on Facebook and asked fishermen to give fish and they’ve had a tremendous response, Benik said. Twenty-five to 50 fish. Some people actually went to the store and bought fish for the bird.

The young eagle is recovering now in a large aviary cage outdoors.

“As soon as she’s strong enough and not before, we need her flying strong, then she will go back to New Melones,” Benik said.

Endangering wildlife

Elissa and Mark Wall, the wildlife volunteers who drove the young eagle from New Melones to Tri County Wildlife Care on July 29, also found a young Canada goose, a gosling, tangled in fishing line on June 25 at White Pines Lake.

It was their 24th wedding anniversary, and they went to the reservoir outside Arnold to picnic. A group of geese swam nearby, and the Walls noticed a young goose trailing behind.

“We could see it had fishing line wrapped around both legs and up to the chest,” Elissa Wall said Monday.

She said her husband caught it and they took the line off with a kitchen knife they brought for the picnic.

The rest of the geese waited and squawked around their feet.

“We let the young goose go and we were basically covered in goose poop,” Elissa Wall said. “But it was the best anniversary we ever had.”

The Walls have been volunteers for Rose Wolf Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Sonora for about three years, and they’ve been volunteering at New Melones since late last year.

Ongoing big problem

They’ve helped rescue other newborn and juvenile birds found dehydrated on the ground under trees, including three young red-tailed hawks at Glory Hole Recreation Area in July 2016, a pair of wild turkey babies found on May 28, by Ranger Sanders at a New Melones campground, and an orphaned baby kestrel, another type of hunting bird from the falcon genus, found at New Melones on June 11.

Also, in the spring of 2016, rangers at New Melones found more than 20 Canada goose eggs in four nests on an island, and water was rising in the reservoir. They called the Walls to come transport the eggs to Tri County Wildlife Care, where they incubated the eggs and 20 of 26 hatched out. The young geese were eventually released to the wild.

But it was the June 25 incident with the young goose tangled in fishing line that opened their eyes to how potentially life-threatening accidentally or intentionally discarded fishing line can be to migratory birds and other birds, including raptors like the young eagle that swallowed a fish hook.

“That’s when we started wondering how often this happens and there’s nobody there to rescue the birds,” Elissa Wall said. “That’s when we got concerned about all this. Like OK, this is obviously an ongoing big problem.”

Two firsthand experiences in one month underscored for the Walls that discarded fishing line and hooks have injured wildlife and would have killed the young goose and the juvenile bald eagle had rescuers not arrived.

“We feel awareness needs to be raised to not carelessly discard fishing lines and hooks as it is deadly to our local wildlife,” Elissa and Mark Wall said in a statement to The Union Democrat earlier this month.

The Walls are retired construction contractors who used to live and work in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County. They used to volunteer for Los Angeles Zoo near Griffith Park, where for four years they did food preparation for gorillas, orangutans and other tree-dwelling apes called gibbons, and for birds in the zoo’s aviary.

They bought a house in Angels Camp in 2011, before Mark Wall was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2013. Mark has since had a kidney removed and recovered, and the Walls moved to Angels Camp permanently in 2014.

“We needed to move away from the stress of owning a business in LA,” Elissa Wall said.

Contact Guy McCarthy at or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.