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Grand Central

All things bright, beautiful

By PATTY RYAN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2003

CHARLIE MASON, 60, has been touring the Bayshore with a giant net this week.

She drives 45 minutes from Indian Shores and 45 minutes back.

All because someone lost their fishing lure.

All because a bird found it.

THE BIRD: a cormorant. He's black, with a body the size of a football and large webbed feet.

Another notable feature: the 3-inch fishing lure, with three hooks on each end, lodged on his face and neck.

People gasp as he poses on the seawall of Bayshore Boulevard.

"They're frustrated because they don't know what to do," Charlie says.

Some wind up calling the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary.

That's where Charlie comes in. She's a retired school teacher who volunteers there.

CORKY Herritt, 43, was among the callers.

He owns Pinarama Bowling Lanes with his partner, Rufino Torrealday. The former Tampa Jai-Alai players were out on Bayshore Monday when they spotted the cormorant, on the sea wall across from the Academy of the Holy Names.

At first glance, Corky thought the bird was just having trouble eating a fish.

"He could dive and fly," Corky says. "I don't think he was in any pain. He was having fun, but he couldn't shake that lure out of his mouth."

NO STRANGER to birds in distress, Corky had Charlie's rescue cell phone number: 727-441-5601.

He had called her last month about a dove with two broken legs.

Charlie keeps the cell phone on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she says. She even sleeps with it nearby.

SOON, people will be calling about spring hatchlings that fall from nests. She'll tell how to help. Some days, there are 10, 15, 20 bird stories.

Birds get stuck on power lines, tangled in fishing lines, poisoned, shot, hit by cars.

"It's just one disaster after another," Charlie says.

This time the disaster was a fishing lure.

By the time Corky called, Charlie was already on the case.

CORKY WAITED 45 minutes for her, watching the cormorant rest on a waterfront drain pipe, hooked head tucked under a wing. Every 5 or 10 minutes, the head would come up. The bird would try to shake off the lure.

Charlie arrived with her big net.

She carefully advanced. Everyone held their breath. Just as the net dropped, the bird slipped away, leaving humans to scour the sky.

Sorry. No happy ending to report.

"He kept trying to go back to the sea wall," Corky says, "but every time, Charlie would be waiting."

CHARLIE says there's risk of infection if the bird isn't caught and treated. She fears he's flown away somewhere to die.

She warns people not to try to catch him bare-handed. His beak could slice a finger.

"You won't catch him without a net or perhaps an upside down laundry basket," she says. "Laundry baskets save a lot of birds."

Don't touch, don't gawk, don't go near.

Just call 727-441-5601. And count 45 minutes.

"This one is going to take timing," Charlie says with a sigh.

-- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or .

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