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New visions of life for naturalist John Hendrickson
Kathe and John Hendrickson have made big plans for 2013. The avid birders have set out to see more than 1,000 species this year. Their travel itinerary includes trips to Thailand, Central America and the Galapagos Islands.
Each bird they spot and document will help raise funds for the Woodleaf Foundation and for Okizu, a nature camp for children with cancer and their families, located outside of Oroville. The couple will seek sponsors in the coming weeks and months for their birding adventure.
The Hendricksons became actively involved at the nature camp — which was modeled in part on Woodleaf — during John Hendrickson's recovery from his own brush with cancer.
The nature lover's near-death experiences left a powerful impression.
"It puts more urgency in what you want to do," said Kathe Hendrickson. "You think you have all this time — but maybe not."
— Nancy Pasternack
John Hendrickson has a new appreciation for the underdog.
The falconer, naturalist, nature photographer and educator, who ran Woodleaf Outdoor School in Yuba County for much of his career, always had a soft spot for creatures in trouble.
He developed a sanctuary for injured raptors as part of Woodleaf, using the animals to help teach children about wildlife and environmental stewardship.
But when he was diagnosed with oral cancer in late 2009, he found himself in the same powerless situation as his birds.
"You go through a period where you say, "Why is this happening," he recalls.
Life changed dramatically.
Hendrickson and his wife moved to Palo Alto during six months of intense cancer treatment and recuperation at Stanford University.
Since age 12, he said, "I'd never had a day in my life without any birds in my care."
Now 63 — and symptom-free almost three years — he is back to birding, falconry, and nature photography, the profession he has enjoyed since retirement from Woodleaf in 2005.
On Thursday, Bodhi, a juvenile goshawk, accompanied him into the backyard of his Clipper Mills home, deep in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Hendrickson discovered the ill-fated raptor while watching nests near his home. He had hoped to find a suitable photo subject, but now says he found quite a bit more.
"Bodhi was in the worst-case scenario," he said of the smallest and youngest of three chicks born last spring.
Natural selection is tough on the species, Hendrickson says in the casual teaching style he is known for.
Eggs are laid several days apart, usually two per season. Each chick is progressively smaller, and females far outweigh the males. The first chick hatched is the first fed.
"But none has as challenging a life situation as the goshawk," Hendrickson says. "They're in the mountains and they don't migrate. It's very hard to be a goshawk."
The vast majority of chicks don't survive. And Bodhi, a male with two older and much bigger sisters, "didn't stand a chance," Hendrickson says.
If all goes well, the bird, which now hunts for some of its own food, will be released in the spring.
"This is his first snow," says Hendrickson, eyeing the squawking creature perched on his hand. "He's old enough to breed. If he's really lucky, he'll find a mate."
From an open window nearby, Hendrickson's wife, Kathe Hendrickson, watches the screaming bird take off, then return.
"The fatter he is, the more sassy, he is," she says, smiling.
Kathe Hendrickson had been a teacher at Woodleaf for most of her own career. Her recent stint as caretaker is one she is hoping not to repeat.
Looking out for Bodhi — whose name is Sanskrit for "enlightenment" — represents John Hendrickson's first big commitment after having his own health restored.
"It's hard to let go sometimes," Hendrickson said, taking a long look at the fearsome creature before returning it to its sanctuary. "But I want him to be wild."