- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

OAKTOWN, Ind. (AP) - Wildlife rehabilitator Angel Lange stood in the light rain Tuesday afternoon and watched as the majestic bald eagle left its perch on his gloved hand and took flight, the sound of its wings flapping in the wind piercing the silence along the deserted country road.

Lange - and about a half-dozen eager onlookers - stood in stunned silence as the eagle dipped toward a nearby field, its wings brushing the tops of corn stalks left behind from last fall’s harvest, then soared toward an awaiting treetop.

As the eagle landed, hundreds of brown and black feathers finding their place once again tight against its large frame, Lange whipped around and gave a hearty, joyous laugh.

“How ‘bout that?” he asked with a wide smile.

In the last couple of years, Lange has taken on the rehabilitation of eight bald eagles, all of which were found either injured or sick and in need of help somewhere in southwestern Indiana.

Despite his best efforts, the first six died - each taking a little piece of Lange’s spirit with them when they went.

But the last two he’s been able to nurse back to health and release back into the wild.

Watching them soar away, he said, has brought those bits of his spirit back.

“It’s wonderful, wonderful,” Lange said, his voice trailing off. “It tickles me to death. It does.

“It’s well worth it when you see them take off like that.”

This particular bald eagle, a male weighing in at just under 6 pounds, was found just about 3 miles west of Oaktown on April 28 by Matthew Ashley while on a quick tour of his grandfather’s farm.

“It was just sitting there in a field about 20 feet off the road,” Ashley said. “So I called Angel, and he came right over.

“You sure don’t see something like that every day,” he said with a smile.

Lange said the eagle had a bruised wing and needed nothing more than a safe place to rest and recuperate.

The eagle before that, which Lange released in mid-April after having had it for less than two weeks, officials with the Department of Natural Resources believed had been poisoned.

Lange treated it with Pepto Bismol - that’s right, regular over-the-counter Pepto Bismol - and IV fluids.

“After a day or so, it was starting to move around and after a couple of days it was trying to stand up,” Lange said proudly.

Lange took the previous six eagles to a veterinarian in Lafayette who specializes in treating rare birds. But he wonders now whether the stress of the travel was simply too much for the already sick and suffering birds.

Keeping these last two at his home - a local oasis for animals both big and small - seems to have yielded much better results.

“I’m just using common sense,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Lange believed the eagle released Tuesday to be about 3 or 4 years old, as its head still showed some remaining brown spots. Once an eagle reaches full maturity, its head turns completely white, making it difficult to age thereafter, Lange said.

But eagles that young aren’t as rare as they once were in Indiana.

The white-headed, yellow-beaked birds have recently made a Midwestern comeback. They nested in Indiana until the early 1900s, when biologists believe a loss of wetland habitat caused their drastic decline.

Then, later, the use of industrial pesticides, which caused a weakening of their eggs shells and the loss of their eaglets, dropped their numbers to near extinction.

But thanks to strong laws protecting them and environmental regulations to preserve their habitat, eagles are back, especially in this area. DNR embarked on a restoration program in 1985 and released 73 bald eagles into the wild around Lake Monroe, about 10 miles southeast of Bloomington.

Local eagle enthusiasts now monitor about a dozen nests in the immediate area, and state DNR officials believe there to be more than 250 breeding pairs scattered around 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties.

But with higher numbers will come the need for trustworthy rehabilitation, which is why DNR finds Lange so valuable. He is one of only a couple of licensed wildlife rehabilitators left in this part of the state as new federal and state regulations - and no financial reimbursement - have discouraged others from coming on board.

“Angel is obviously a very valuable asset,” said DNR conservation officer Joe Haywood, who was there to witness and sign off on the eagle release Tuesday. “As we see those (eagle) numbers increase, the more injuries we’re likely to see, so those (rehabilitators) are going to be needed.”

But for Haywood, and those who gathered Tuesday to watch Lange set free his second successfully rehabilitated eagle, it’s about a lot more than just a job well done.

“Here’s a guy who has served our country, someone who is probably more passionate about wildlife than anyone I’ve ever known,” Haywood said of Lange. “And when you think about what that bird stands for, what it represents, that’s a special moment.

“All the frustration and heartache and unsuccessful rehabilitations he’s had over the last couple of years, and here we have two successes in the last month alone,” Haywood added. “I’m just so glad that he is getting to experience that.”

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Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://bit.ly/1T9cbJ7

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Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, http://www.vincennes.com

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