Saturday, May 30, 2009

The "Yuck" Factor

Definition of Yuck Factor:
The amount of digustingness you can handle before you yarp.

If you have a Low Yuck Factor, you might want to skip to the end of this post.

Before I started working at RAPTOR, the only thing that really made me oogie was vomit. Having kids helped a bit...when they are sick, you just have to deal with it. But I still got a weird feeling in my throat when I had to clean it up.
Blood was never really an issue for me...I worked for a podiatrist for years and assisted him with in-office surgeries. You wouldn't even believe what kind of damage a person can do to their feet.
Non-compliant diabetics with huge ulcerations and crawling with maggots. You get the idea.

Working with birds of prey isn't like caring for a pet parrot. Or dogs or cats.
Birds of prey are meat-eaters and you can't just run down the A & P for kibble. Feeding them involves handing over mice, rats, day-old chicks and quail. Sometimes road-kill. If it's fresh.

Falling in love with the birds helped me get over the revulsion I felt, tossing a freshly-dead rodent.
I have said at programs that my "Yuck Factor" is gone.
I've enjoyed a "been there, done that" attitude.
I learned today that I can still get grossed out.

Our female American Kestrel Magnolia, decided to lay some eggs this year. They are infertile, since she was alone in her mew for months. This happens occasionally, and when it does, we addle the eggs, just in case (Shaking the eggs to ensure the egg doesn't allow a chick to develop). I try to keep this simple for people who ask during programs, and someone always does.
We do NOT kill baby chicks. We are a rescue and rehab facility, not a breeding center. There are raptor centers who have breeding permits. We have permits for rehab and education and that's it.
When the eggs are addled, we give them back to the female to incubate. If we removed eggs every time she laid one, she would continue to produce them until her body was exhausted.

We removed three eggs today, and I wanted to use them for my programs. (I have a box full of specimens...heads, wings, bodies, pellets)
But I had to remove the contents of the eggs first.
Ever blown out a chicken egg? You tap a hole in both ends of the egg and then blow out the insides.
kestrel egg 1
I was fine until I put my lips on the egg.
This wasn't a chicken egg. This egg came from the hind end of a kestrel. My mouth is on a falcon egg!!!!!
I blew hard into the egg and watched as gooey stuff sprayed out the other end. Oh my God.
Okay, Susan. You can do this. Just two more.
My throat tightened up as I finished the rest. God, this is gross!

I rinsed the eggs with water...then realized I had yolk on my lips.
Kestrel yolk. Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
(On the drive home, I was idly twirling my hair and realized that there was dried yolk in it.)

I focused on my education box (after scrubbing my mouth until I thought my lips would come off). I weeded out the ragged specimens and looked for some new ones. I found a barn owl head in another box. It was old and tired, but I decided to skin it, so I could add it to my skull collection.
Here I have removed the skin from the side of the skull, and the ear and eye openings can be seen:
Skinning barn owl skull 1
The large round hole in the front is the eye opening, and the dark irregular hole is the ear opening. The hole on the skull that looks fuzzy (from the cotton stuffing) is the aperture for hearing. Barn owls and others have asymmetrically set ear openings, and the openings are large and round. Owl beaks are flat against their faces to allow sound waves to travel undeterred to the ears. Strictly nocturnal owls have a very pronounced facial disc to increase the surface that sounds waves can travel.

I've said it before...owls are COOL.

barn owl ear opening 1
You can see it better here.

barn owl skull
Look at the eye sockets! Huge eyes, tiny brain.

GHOW and BNOW skull comparison
Comparison of Great Horned Owl skull (left) and Barn Owl skull (right)

To cleanse your mental palate, I offer up these goodies:
Priscilla (our program Barred Owl) had a vet visit this week to examine her left wing. She has been letting that wing droop more lately, and the vet says she just bruised it and she got a clean bill of health.
Barred owl with bars
Barred Owl...behind Bars.

There must have been something delicious in the driveway near the barn and Hackberry Emperors were all over the place.
I asked one to climb onto my finger so I could get a good look (and a good photo)
Hackberry Emperor
Pretty little things...this one tasted my fingers for about 5 minutes. I'm yummy!

Now everyone can go wash out their brains. Sorry for the yuckiness.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

All the creatures, great and small

The Dance begins with a single soul
Taking wing, upwards and points to the North
Back to a place they know, and remember

Perhaps where their tender life began?
On a hillside
Thick with brush and tree.

Definition of wild beauty, cradling a wide ribbon
That carves the stone, still.

Not to forget the tiny life that clings to every surface
British soldier lichen
Small yet complex

Big snail
Slow yet determined.

The leaf litter underfoot
Red spotted newt EFT
Teems with small wonders, seeking only safety.

We come to gasp and weep and observe.
Group at the Bobolink Field
Stopping here only for a too-short moment
To drink in that mountain, that life.

When the Dance comes back to the mountain,
Shall we again find our Perfect Day?
Will we find our mountain, one we thanked with our brimming eyes and clutched hearts?

Or will that mountain be gone?

As a victim of violence,
Changed forever?
Will all the creatures, great and small,
Lie buried under a tomb of avarice?

*From the OVEC website:
What took hundreds of millions of years for Nature to create is being decapitated by giant corporations who have highly paid, silver-tongued spokesmen, lots of money, and political influence. The mountain tops, once removed, have to be put somewhere, and often they fill valleys. Press releases and propaganda to the contrary cannot erase the truth about mountaintop-removal-and-valley-fill: the mountain tops are gone, the valleys are gone, the natural streams are altered or gone, the native trees are gone, and the soil is gone. *

There were 17 nature bloggers who attended the New River Bird and Nature Festival. There are literally thousands of people who read those blogs collectively. Those thousands of people, each know even more people.
Someone is trying to save the mountains and the homeowners living in these hills and valleys, homeowners who are being poisoned and filled with toxic chemicals...whose cancers rates are doubling...whose homes are being washed away in flash floods...whose water has to come from a bottle instead of the tap. This is happening in the United States, not some far away land that you can feel comfortable distancing yourself from.
Go here. Give what you can. Write letters to those who can change the future.

The only glimmer of Heaven I have ever seen, that one mountain at Muddelty, will probably not been there when the Flock returns next year. But we can rise as one, to save the others.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, a post about my job

*I'm reminded constantly, from sweet letters written by school children, or staring into the eyes of our birds, or hearing others complain about their careers...that I am very lucky to have something in my life that not only I am good at, but that I love to do...*

Sleeping barn owl
Have you been half asleep...

Lucy checks out the flycatcher
and have you heard voices?

Isis and me 2
I've heard them calling my name.

back of female kestrel
Is this the sweet sound
That calls the young sailors?

helen me and girls
The voice might be one and the same.

Sylvester and me

I've heard it too many times to ignore it.
It's something that I'm supposed to be.

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
Talking with Lucy
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Final post about New River?

I've been having fun showing everyone my take on the Flock's New River trip.
But I also miss it more and more with every post I do. I have programs next month very close to West Virginia, and it will be very tempting to take an extra hour or two to sneak over the state line.
Very tempting.

I'm calling this my last New River post....for now.

A dirty little secret I have: I have a deep-seated fear of bridges over water. Specifically, very TALL bridges over water. Kathi could make you howl with her impression of me driving over the Walt Whitman bridge from Philadelphia to New Jersey last year.

On the way to New River, I was able to find a route that took me well north of the New River Bridge, thus avoiding my fear.
It turned out that I had to cross it multiple times over the course of our visit. But I survived. Just like I survived seeing a real live wild bear. Fears are only as big as we let them grow.

On my way out of town, I decided to take the bridge one more time. And I thought videotaping it would be fun.
Watching this for the first time, I felt like I was going to be sick. From the camera's perspective, it seems that I am looking around, out the windows, etc....everything but watching the road.
I promise that my eyes never left the road, and all I was doing was panning with the camera and hoping I was getting a nice video.
Makes for a fun little movie. (Don't watch it if you get car sick) :)
You will also notice it was RAINING. I don't think I would recognize I was in West Virginia if the sun was shining.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A view from a program (i.e. when Susan is humbled by what she achieves)

This morning found me with our owls at Isabelle's school. I was to do a program for a kindergarten class, then Isabelle's after that. Her former kindergarten teacher had asked me if I could bring in some owls for her class, and she mentioned that some of her students were autistic, with one who was fixated on owls. I was more than happy to do a program for her, since she had been such a positive force in Isabelle's life last year.

The program went well; There were five students who asked most of the questions, and one little boy who was vigorously snapping away with a digital camera.
I then went up to Isabelle's room to do a program for her class. Before I was done, the kindergarten teacher knocked on the door and came in with the boy with the camera. He walked through the classroom, said "We have letters for you", and handed me a stack of papers.

When I got home, an email awaited me, from the kindergarten teacher:

I just wanted to thank you again for coming in today. The children really enjoyed learning about the owls. Although all of the children loved the show, I must tell you about how excited one student was.
This particular child is autistic. As you may or may not know autistic children have fixations and that is usually the way you create conversation with them. This child is fixated with maps and owls. If you ask him questions he responds, yes, no or I don't know. Never gives any details and certainly does not talk to people he does not know. However if you can strike a conversation about maps or owls he will actually converse with you.
After you left today this child was talking to just about everyone about his experience with the owls you brought. He told another kgn. teachers all about Storm who screams, and the Great-Horned Owl. It was also MAJOR for him to walk in front of a class and say we brought letters for you and deliver them to you. It makes me want to cry to see all of the breakthroughs in communication for him.

I cannot thank you enough!!!

Amy S.


So I think you could assume (and you would be right) that my heart is full to overflowing.
I love my job.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All it takes

After a crappy morning, I needed to un-blue myself. I just needed a bird. A "good" bird.
Now, they are all "good" (except for house sparrows and starlings, but I digress), but I just needed a brilliant flash of something I don't see every day.

Lake Isabella is my haven. I have "MY" corner, near the river. This little space tucked away from the fishermen and joggers attracts all the warblers this time of year, with the juicy caterpillars hanging from the sycamores and the relative quiet.
And red-tailed hawks, and gnat catchers, and waxwings, and the resident Great Horned Owl family.

Hearing a "zweet-zweet-zweet" overhead had me reaching for the iPod. Not a black and white warbler, but a similar cadence. (Those of you who were at New River can hear a B&W from miles away now, I think.) The "Squeaky Tricycle Wheel" sound. But this song was too loud, too slow.
A zip of blinding yellow helped me find the song on the good ol' BirdJam.
(Hi, Jay!!!)

Prothonotary warbler. A surreal yellow, with black button eyes that seem too big for its face.
I dialed up the song and played it. I got an immediate response, and was rewarded by the bird landing FIVE FEET above my HEAD. Luckily I had my camera in the other hand, and I got this photo:
Prothonotary warbler Lake Isabella

And it didn't just flit away into the trees as I expected. It sat there and observed me. It was a moment just for the bird and myself.

I let it watch me until it had its fill and popped away. I turned off the iPod (see here for ethical use of BirdJam software) and let the bird have the field.

That's all it takes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

We Wait

We wait

We listen

Shhh...we are wistening for burdies

In the verdant hillsides

Their songs

Trill upward

ovenbird singing

Hide and seek

In the dripping leaves

Bright yellow and deep blue

Flower petals that fly

Soaring oaks

Hold fierce secrets
A quiet mother holds fast to her creations

And dares all to come closer
Taunting with her stillness.

RSHA hawk nest


Passion for small lives

Hidden just beyond

Fills the hearts

Of those who listen

For just a glimpse we travel up and up

To heaven, and we do not want to return home.

Bend in the road Sugar Creek

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Altitude Sickness. Yep, that's what we will blame it on.

We were way above sea level. It obviously had an adverse affect on us....

Just random things from the Trip that make me giggle out loud, still...two weeks later:

Beth is like a Tickle-Me-Elmo. Except you don't have to tickle her to get her to dissolve into tearful laughter. Just look at her. That's all it takes.
I got to go out with her on our last day in the field...and she got me into trouble more than once with the Big, Bad, Scary Trip Leaders. I would just glance her way, and away we would go.
And she has a wicked sense of humor. We get each other, and that alone makes her a priceless friend.

A new saying popped up at the Farmhouse, and I wonder if we can make it a national thing?:
Riding on the van, back from Cranberry Glade (and praying aloud for Geoff Heeter not to drive the van over the side of the mountain), or was it sitting at the kitchen table? I can't remember...
I told a story about a boyfriend who asked me who the "Black Sheep" was in my family. I thought and thought about it, and couldn't come up with anyone...then I realized that the Black Sheep of my family was me. After finishing the story, Jane smiled at me, and said,
"Susan, you need to embrace your Inner Sheep."

We used that all week.

An interlude that I alluded to in some comments a few days ago:
I had too much to drink one night...and I needed to pee. Instead of walking alllll the way to the bathroom inside, I instead asked Lynne and Beth to spot for me as I ambled off into the bushes.
Just as I dropped trou, a car's headlights illuminated me. Lynne and Beth called out, "Car!"
I tried to get farther behind the bush, but with my jeans around my knees, all I could do was stumble further into the RASPBERRY CANES I was trying to pee behind.
(In case you don't know, raspberry canes have like....thorns)
I start yelling "OW! I'm in raspberry canes! OW!!!", peeing all over the place, yelling some more, "OWWWW! OWWWW!", then fell down into the canes "OWWWW!!!!" ...looked around the bush and Lynne and Beth are bent over in the road, hysterical.
Yeah. Thanks guys.

Saturday night, jamming to the Swinging Orangutangs, I heard Mary say that she didn't know how to "shake her shimmy" (i.e. jiggle the "girls", if you know what I'm sayin').
I was feeling loose enough to show her, bending over a bit and "shaking my shimmy"...
not realizing that I was "shaking my shimmy" right in the face of Jeff Gordon's MOM. (She's a lovely woman, by the way)...
I finally realized what I was doing, and I bent down to apologize to her. She said, "Oh, that's okay. I've seen worse."

In case you are thinking about migrating with The Flock next year to the wild, beautiful Heaven that is West Virginia, I warn you...
You will have the time of your life.
You will wet your pants with laughter.
You will see birds everywhere you turn.
You will be treated like family.
You will cry when you have to leave.
You will want to come every year thereafter.

(Photographing the Stone Chicken)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Paco, the Cabana Boy and other people we messed up for Life with our hyena-like yelping.

Opossum Creek Retreat has a very special employee. Whether you need cookies, or toilet paper, or an ice water while soaking in the hot tub...there's just one man to call.

Paco. The Cabana Boy.

When the gals at the Farmhouse ran out of TP, Paco ran out to Wal-Mart and got us some.
A TWENTY-FOUR pack of TP. Thank you, Paco.

When we needed more washcloths, Paco brought a stack of them high enough to make a bed out of. Thank you, Paco.

When Kathi and Kathie were relaxing their Warbler Necks away in the hot tub, Paco was good enough to drape a towel over his arm and hand-deliver some nice, cold bottled water. Thank you, Paco.

Paco the Cabana Boy
We even asked him for foot rubs and to put bubble bath in the hot tub, but I guess everyone has a limit.
Poor man...I wonder if the sight of EIGHT tipsy, giggly female birders begging for massages has scarred him for life? He did sprint to his truck when he left.

Geoff Heeter, give that man a raise.

We were loud and boisterous on this trip.
That's an understatement.
It would start as a simple, innocent statement between say, Mary and Lynne...then someone's exhausted brain would interpret it as something else, and the giggles would begin. Then they would just glance at each other and the van would start rocking back and forth with hyena-like howling and wiping of tears and wheezing for breath.
We got 'shooshed' by the trip leaders more than once. :)~

While driving back from My Perfect Day, Lynne was quiet...and I couldn't shut up.
We rounded a bend near the Farmhouse, and saw a man on a horse, with some dogs standing around. I said to Lynne, and I quote: "Oh, look Lynne! There's a man on a horse!".
And Lynne FREAKIN' LOST IT. I nearly had to carry her in the house, she was so out of her mind with helpless laughter.

Now, WE know that we had the time of our lives. And most people at the festival enjoyed us enjoying ourselves. More than once, people would come up to us at dinner and say, "None of you were on our trip today, and it was SOOOOO BORING! We were with a bunch of Sticks In The Mud!"
I only heard of ONE couple who didn't think too much of us. They didn't like "Those Blogger People". Snort.

Quickie video of Paco and Kathi, out at the hot tub:

Things I learned in West Virginia

Beth did a post here about some things she learned on our jaunt to West Virginia. Got me thinking about what I learned:

1. (I knew this already, but the festival really brought it home for me)
All birders are NOT stodgy, buttoned-up geeks.

(Tim plays the cowbell with the Swinging Orangutangs)

(Mary gets her freak on)

2. Some people can't read.
Keith is trespassing!

3. Some birders like to drink. A lot.
Wine pile number 1
Wine pile number 2
Wine pile number 3
Let me add: This was not all of the wine, only about half. This photo was taken in the middle of the week...we had burned through about 27 bottles already.

4. Birders are eco-friendly, and can be trusted to recycle.
Where the Wino slept
Coke, wine and bottled water. Breakfast of Champions.

5. After a long week of heavy birding, some birders can't take it anymore and they snap.
Do not throw things over overlook

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Susan Got Her Groove Back

When Real Life gets in my way, the best escape for me is Outside.

An hour at Lake Isabella did wonders for my mood.

I feel like the only person in the world when I am there.

The sycamores stretched upwards into a perfectly clear sky. I felt the cobwebs in my mind blow away.

Little Miami sparkle
A million sparkles in the Little Miami dazzled me and brought tears to my eyes.

I couldn't decide if I wanted to be out in the open or dappled in random beams.

Baby robin
Two scolding robins alerted me to one sweet baby, knobby head quivering on a wobbly neck, like a perfect yellow blossom nodding on its stem.

I tried to capture my glowing mood with a self-portrait, something I never do.
self miami river
Not even close.

When in doubt, go to the woods. And remember:
Be Yourself

Monday, May 11, 2009

More COWBELL ! ! !

The last night of the festival, we rocked out with the Swinging Orangutangs. Basically unheard of for a birding festival, we were treated to wonderful, loud music, and we reciprocated by getting on our feet and letting our hair down.
The big surprise for us was when Tim was asked to come on up and play the cowbell for a sizzling rendition of "Low Rider"....
I apologize for the low light, but you can make out details when the zillion Flock cameras are going off.
(The hyena-like yelps are the Flock, whooping and hollering for our "Cock of the Flock!")
(I also apologize for the bouncy videography. I think I had four too many beers.)
(In fact, this video is no good. So just sit back and enjoy the COWBELL!)

Introducing Tim, Cowbell-er Deluxe!

Moral to this post...Birders and rock music MIX very WELL!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I don't take many "portraits", thinking that candid shots can be so much more fun. The Flock's trip to West Virginia taught me that portraits or posed shots are very valuable.
Yesterday, my niece graduated from college...what? Wait a minute! She's just a baby!

Heather me grad day
She graduated a whole year early. Smarty-pants.
I do love that kid. She was born on my 15th birthday, and has been a pain in my &%$ every since. : )

Mom Heather grad day
My Mom and Heather.
I noticed a glaring void in the festivities yesterday. Dad should have been there. He would have been so proud of Heather. He never went to college, and I think he regretted that about his life. His buttons woulda burst, seeing his granddaughter walk up and accept a Bachelor's degree.

And now, Happy Mother's Day!
Mom and girls mothers day 09
Isabelle, Mom and Lorelei

Girl me mothers day 09
(I had to hold them down to get this picture. They are entirely too wiggly.)

Mom and me mothers day 09
Mom and me....sigh. If anyone ever wonders why I am the way I am, I point my finger at this woman. She of course would be proud of any good things you had to say about me, (if you could think of anything) and totally blame me for the rest.