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Student lifts falcon egg, faces charges
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Booth Haley speaks in exclamations and explains his yolk-related legal problems with a certain flair, including diatribes about living off the land and society's reliance on store-bought food.
The 22-year-old Haley is from Mercer Island, attended Mercer Island High School and is about four weeks from graduation at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. He was arrested April 7 for taking a special kind of egg from a nest sitting on a railroad bridge near campus.
To hear him tell the story, he was just a college student in search of a unique meal. To hear state environmental officials tell it, Haley was endangering a rare species, and maybe worse.
Haley was canoeing with a friend on the Connecticut River when the two men came across a metal ladder rising from the water. They decided to climb about 80 feet to the bridge, where they saw a nest sitting on the edge of an old iron control booth.
Inside were four small eggs, dappled brown, and Haley, a longtime climber and outdoorsman, decided to take one. To eat. "Probably scrambled," he said.
But a state conservation officer happened to be in the area and witnessed the grab. Haley and his friend were arrested and charged by Middletown prosecutors with third-degree trespassing, a misdemeanor, for walking on the bridge.
And the egg, it turns out, was from a peregrine falcon, an endangered species in Connecticut, state officials said. Only six pairs exist in the entire state, including those nesting on the bridge.
The two men could face up to three months in jail on the trespassing charge, and state officials are considering charges related to the egg pilfering. Federal officials are trying to determine if Haley planned to sell the egg on the black market.
Haley, described by friends and family as "mischievous," "careless" and "unusual," but no egg trafficker, says he was just hungry. He has been a longtime proponent of finding food in the wild, from oysters to snails, and the egg was something new.
"I thought, 'Wow, what a great opportunity! I'd like to try one and see what it tastes like,' " he said.
Connecticut wildlife officials aren't sympathetic. They understand how young people can sometimes do crazy things, but messing with the peregrine falcon is altogether different, said Dwayne Gardner, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
"Mischief is mischief, but when it threatens an ... endangered species, we have to take it seriously," Gardner said.
It is illegal in the state to take eggs from any wild bird, Gardner said.
Wildlife officials returned the egg to the nest, and it is developing normally, Gardner said.
Haley's friends have started a Web site in his defense (freebooth.org). They sell T-shirts with Haley's head coming out of an egg, reading, "Free Booth!" The site's front page says Haley faces criminal charges "for basically just being an idiot."
"It was a foolish mistake with consequences far greater than the actions deserved," said Ben Rogovy of Seattle, Haley's childhood friend.
Haley said he regrets taking an egg from a rare bird, but not the act of taking an egg in general.
The arrest generated a lot of media interest in Connecticut, and Haley still hears comments about it.
"Anyone who knows me has come to expect these playful adventures," he said, "and they think this is not at all out of character."
But, he added, "People who don't know me think I'm crazy."
Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company