Saturday, April 17, 2010

Proof that Earl is out to get me, any way she can

I spent the morning at RAPTOR doing some Spring Cleaning...

In other words, scrubbing poop out of my carriers and weeding out the moldy pellets from my education box. I sat in the warm sunshine, up to my elbows in Simple Green with owl poop floating in it and I couldn't have been happier.

People who don't work with birds of prey get understandably a bit oogie when I talk about the large amounts of rat guts to be peeled off a perch, the headless mice tucked away in the corner of a cage that must be dug out (some birds like to stash), the glistening puddles of hawk poop that collect at the base of the walls that will only come free with wire brushes.
Oh, and the vulture puke. There's always that.

Long time readers of the blog know Earl, and they also know just what Earl thinks of me.
For the newbies:
Earl is an imprinted 26-year old female Turkey Vulture. Imprints can be either a blessing (they are more than happy to do whatever you want them to, because they are so into you) or they can be a nightmare for the poor dope who has to handle them. Depending on who you talk to, this is what is going on with Earl:
Earl hates blonds.
Earl hates red-heads.
Earl hates women of any hair color.
Earl loves all men.
Earl is incorrigible.
Earl is trainable.
(Any number of people at the center can refute or back up any of those sentiments)

I can only speak from my own experience. In the beginning, (four years now!) Earl and I were buddies. She came along nicely with no crankiness. A few nibbles on my fingers (love bites, if you will) but she behaved.
A little puke, maybe. But that is par for the course working with vultures.

Something happened, though. One day, I went in to get her, sweet-talking as I usually did and offered her my gloved hand. Something snapped in her little bird brain and she attacked me.
Things haven't gotten much better since then.

When Andi, a past volunteer and extremely cool young lady, asked if she could come around on a Saturday while she was in town, I was more than happy to hang with her.
She has done work with Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, Common Black Hawks, and I forget what else.
Oh, yeah. California CONDORS.

So when it was time to put Earl back after a weathering period, she offered to grab a glove and do it.
Well, hell yeah. Keeps me from having to do it.
Other volunteers have been working with Earl doing some special positive reinforcement (Earl loves pinkie mice as a snack), but this was just insane to watch (and awesome, too).

Proof that this is all part of Earl's plan to psyche me out, shake my confidence and generally made me look like a boob:

1. Earl steps gently up to Andi's hand, like a little lady:
Andi and Earl 1
And Andi said at one point, "Earl, you're so little!" Of course Earl looks little. This woman handles CONDORS. Who weigh in at about 19 pounds or so, compared to Earl's dinky 4 1/2.

2. As Andi tries to untie the falconer's knot on the perch, Earl keeps her serene composure and acts like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth:
Andi and Earl 2

3. Earl stands like the perfect little princess she is as Andi wraps the tether around her hand. And it would NEVER occur to Earl to actually BITE someone, for goodness sake:
Andi and Earl 6

4. Andi glides across the uneven driveway like a ballerina with precious Earl spreading her wings in a heraldic pose as her graceful, willing and peaceful partner:
Andi and Earl 4

I mean, come on.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Why in the heck would you want to go to West Virginia?"***

Admit it. You WANT to rent a cabin from this man.
(photo by Jeff Gordon)

***I get asked that question a lot. It usually goes something like this:

Susan: "I can't do blah blah blah. I'm going on a trip that week."
Ignorant Person: (excited) "Yeah? Where ya goin'? "
S: "West Virginia."
IP: "Oh."
S: "Yeah. For a whole week."
IP: "Uh...okay. Umm...why in the heck do you want to go to West Virginia ?"

A birder learns fairly quickly where the birding hot spots are: Cape May, Magee Marsh , Point Reyes....

But other than learning its location and what the capital is in elementary school, I didn't think too much about West Virginia.
It's just that hilly state next to Ohio. It's that state that you cross into for about ten minutes on the way to Pennsylvania.

When we (the Flock, that rowdy and randy group of gals and one guy) decided to all meet up at last year's New River Bird and Nature Festival, I wasn't thinking about the birds too much, or any people other than my little group of rabble-rousers. It was party time, all the time. Or so we thought. Yeah, there would be birds, but really. How good could it really be?

Our eyes were opened in a hurry.
Thanks to the magic of email, I got to cyber-sit with Geoff Heeter recently, and I asked him a few questions:

(there are plenty of places to stay in that part of the state...but Opossum Creek holds a special place in our hearts. I was there last summer, just for an evening and it was fabulous. Silence...except for the wood thrushes fluting in the underbrush. And some crashing that might have been a bear. I highly recommend staying there.)

1. How did you come to live in West Virginia?

She tricked me.

2. Were you into birds before living in WV?

Yes I lived in Costa Rica for a year and my roommate was a ornithologist.

3. How did you get into this business?

We started with The Farm House and it bloomed from there.

4. Tell me about the cabins. Just how "green" are they?

Recycling takes on a whole new meaning when you are talking about houses and building new cabins. They are very green and so are our business practices.

From the Opossum Creek Retreat Cabin Rental's website:

"Back when we got started we didn’t know that we were building green or being eco-friendly or practicing the triple bottom line. We were just trying to be good neighbors, good stewards and good business people.

Giving back to your community, hiring locally, buying locally and using local materials all makes good sense. And for us, building the cabins to last and be efficient cost more up front. (Building a cabin with full grown trees just inches away from every side is much harder than using a bulldozer to clear a flat spot). If all it takes to make a difference is just a little extra effort, a little extra money, then we’ll continue to do that because it has served us very well so far."

5. Did you stick us way out in the Farmhouse because you knew how loud we would be? :)’s the only place that will hold all of you.

(Yeah, right Geoff. We know how boisterous we were. He totally dodged that question.)

6. Do you have a favorite place in WV?

It changes with the seasons and they change fast around here.

7. What do you think West Virginia's greatest asset is?

WV has personality.

8. How did the NRBNF get started? Have you been involved from the start?

Dave and I started it I thought it would be a one year deal... boy was I off on that guess.

9. Can we expect anything new this year at the festival?

Of Course... we are always listening to the feedback and trying to improve our Festival. We have new field trips, new food, new guides, new T shirts…..

10. Do you need a vacation after each festival?

No I just click my heels together and say there’s no place like home there is no place like home……and everyone is gone and all I hear are birds singing.

(I've had visions of all of them watching the last car pull away from the property and when it's out of sight, they all fall to the ground, twitching.)

In just ten days, a whole new batch of strange people...whoops, I mean strangers....and some old regulars will converge on the New River Bird and Nature Festival and behold the beauty, the wildness, the grandeur and the hospitality that is West Virginia.

This year's New River Flock is as follows:


Nina :)

Mary :)

Sara (yee!) and Kelly

Murr (OMG)

Molly :)

Debbie :) (She's driving...from COLORADO. Jesus, I hope we're worth it.)

Vickie :)

Added to that list are a few people who I don't know and haven't even spoken to. I hear they are good sports, so we probably won't scar them too much. And Kathi is going to be in the area at another event (slacker) and will be crashing the party on Tuesday, wherever it happens to be.

Even if you can't make it to this particular festival, do yourself a favor and visit West Virginia. You will leave a piece of your heart there.

And be sure to rent a cabin from this guy.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Owl networking

My local great horned owls, both at Lake Isabella and Symmes Township Park, seem to have taken the year off from parenting. This isn't uncommon, but I've been lost not having nests to watch obsessively.(Notice how I said they were "my" owls?)

When I read on Facebook (that evil place that is killing my blog) that Ann Oliver had spotted great horned owl chicks at Rapid Run Park and alerted Jeff so he could band them, I knew how to spend Saturday morning.

Disapproval starts early.

Ann has mad skills when it comes to providing a crowd with sweet breakfast assortment of danishes and donuts, coffee, juice,

...and this insanely awesome tablecloth.

And up Jeff goes:

I was thrilled to be able to actually assist in the banding today, helping with the raising and lowering of ropes, the bag containing the chicks, general go-fering. Since I want to be able to do this myself someday, it was great to get my hands in and really help. And learn.

Though I hold Sylvester all the time:(Of which he disapproves, but tolerates)
...I had never held a owl chick before today.
These chicks weren't the small and relatively docile age that I have seen before. These guys were approaching 5 weeks old, and they

This mantling is typical behavior, to make themselves appear larger.
But since these guys were older, they had better use of their feet and I had to watch out for a bit of lunging and biting, too.
I was over the moon, though. Being a part of this, handling these mixtures of cute and dangerous, well. It was flippin' fantastic.

Jeff mentioned a behavior he has observed in other nests that is as funny as it is mysterious.
The first chick is banded and then lowered to the ground. The second chick is banded and also lowered to the ground. They are separated for no more than a few minutes, but when they are reunited, they act like they have never seen each other before. They mantle and hiss as if a fierce war is about to commence.
Do they actually "forget" each other in those few minutes? Or are they just in defense mode, at any thing that is close by?

Ann was inspiring to watch. As dog walkers walked by, she engaged them in conversation, and let them look through her scope at the adult owl watching us from a distance.

Ann and the Owlet
Ann doesn't have a blog to link to. Yet another poor dope. :)

Through all the activity surrounding her nest and babies, Mama Owl sat in a nearby conifer and pretended to sleep.