Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book review: A Year on the Wing

"It is hard to sleep under a northern summer night. At midsummer in Shetland rain gallops on the roof. Outside, arctic terns and blackbirds keep up their noises through the darkless night, a troubling mix of scream and serenade, harangue and consolation."

So begins A Year on the Wing (Free Press, October 2009) by Tim Dee. As I held the book for the first time and started to turn its pages, I felt pulled into a world that was both familiar and totally alien. Though Mr. Dee lives in England, the birds he pulls from the literary air are similar enough to an American birder for us to instantly form a bond with what he is seeing.

This compact and filled to overflowing book covers a year in the life of birds. From June to May, we follow Tim Dee from Shetland and diving gannets, to woodcocks in Cambridge, to a lack of peregrine falcons at the Gorge at Bristol. A dip into North America brings him face to face with Western Bluebirds, which he paints for us:

" I saw a pair of science-fiction birds, Western Bluebirds, their electric blue marking them as birds from the future, or rather from an old color-saturated version of the future: a 1950s bird dreaming of the space race."

He takes us back to his three-year-old self, chasing his first swallows, onto a painful mental connection between peregrines and the death of a stranger, and the first time he held a wren for ringing (banding). This book holds more than the binding can contain: A world of birds and our desire and ultimate failing to make them ours.

Full of muscular language and unexpected pairings of ideas, this is a book to curl up with on a snowy weekend. It cannot be skipped through like a summer field, but sipped and savored as a flavorful, hot mug of coffee.

Get two copies: One to give to a bird-loving friend, and one to keep for yourself.

Susan's Score: Two Wings Up.
Click here to buy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some time on the scale, everything you ever wanted to know about raptor poop but were afraid to ask, and Lucy plays a game

Being a captive bird of prey at RAPTOR, Inc. is a pretty good life. Free meals, cage set-ups that keep most of the rain and snow out, and my winning personality which trounces in every few days to keep their minds active.

One of my duties as education director is to monitor our birds for signs of poor health:
Talon/beak issues: Captive birds have a limited diet, and talon and beak deformities can be a sign of liver trouble.

Swellings: Example...Lucy's tumor.

Breathing problems: Raspy, labored breathing could be symptoms of aspergillus, a fungal infection, or could be a sign of aspiration.

Bad breath: Really. It's true. Bad breath can be a sign of a crop that cannot completely empty itself. Lucy's breath, though, smells like Skyline Chili. Yet another reason I love her so much

Checking mutes (That's raptor poop, for you non-aficionados):
A healthy bird will shoot out nice, well-defined poop that is a white puddle of liquid (urate) a little pile of fecal matter (the consistency of toothpaste) in the middle and a clear liquid that flushes it from their system (the "pee"). Green or red liquid or solid is to be reported.

Weight fluctuations:
Birds weigh different amounts depending on the time of year or whether they have a full or empty crop. A full crop (say, 20 grams worth of mouse) can dramatically affect the weight of a 150 gram screech owl. Our birds are weighed periodically to track any drastic changes.
The other day, it was a parade of owls on the scale.

The scale is a simple table scale, like one you would weigh mail with, and a modified perch on top:
Storm on scale
Storm, our Barn Owl, weighed in at 460 grams. (If you forget how to translate grams into pounds, 453.6 grams equals 1 pound) His attitude says that he thinks he tops off about 275 pounds.
I lift the swivel ( the metal doo-hickey that we use to tether the birds to our hand) so that it is not being added to the weight.

Priscilla on scale
Priscilla our Barred Owl weighed in slightly more that Storm, just about 1 1/4 pounds.
Barred owls look huge, but in reality they are fluffy feather pillows with a stick in the middle.

Sylvester on scale
Big Man Sylvester topped the scales at 1500 grams, or 3.3 pounds. And unlike Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls are all muscle. They are feathered bricks.

Lucy our Peregrine Falcon, as it turns out, has a sense of humor.
Saturday, as I was doing my weekly visual check of all the program birds, I stopped in Lucy's mew. I asked her to step up and checked her wing. All was well there.
I let her step back onto her rock perch, and she leaned forward, turning her head back and forth. I usually hand feed her when I am there, so she was waiting for food to appear in my hand. I picked up a mouse from her feeding block, and offered it to her.
She grabbed it willingly...then leaned forward and let it drop to the ground at my feet. I bent over and picked it up. Offered it to her again, and the same thing happened. I watched her as I did it a third and fourth time, and she was practically leaning into my face, watching me every time I bent to pick up the mouse.
She was playing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Birds of prey in Autumn sunlight

I love the light of Autumn. It infuses everything with a richness that would be missed in other seasons.

Our new education screech owl, Thirteen...at this past weekend's Pumpkin Chuck:
(I didn't get to see any pumpkin chucking. I was mobbed by the public when they saw our birds)
Thirteen at Pumpkin Chuck
I sure do love that bird. He thinks he is 10 feet tall.

Sylvester was a peach, as usual.
The only thing that makes that bird react is nesting season. He is showing signs of it now...and it's not like he becomes a punk or anything. Just gets his feathers ruffled a bit more.
Good bird.
Sylvester at Pumpkin Chuck
(I even caught a circling turkey vulture above his head.)

Lucy was more than happy to demonstrate the art of raptor gourmet eating:
Lucy at Pumpkin Chuck
The quail never saw it coming.

This morning, a red-shouldered hawk awaited me as I left for the day:
RSHA Front yard
Glowing with that unique Fall sunrise.

It retired to the house next door as I pulled out of the driveway.
RSHA on Pams house
Ah, that red. More pure and more hot than any Crayola color.

And finally, take off:
RSHA take off no bands
"Look, Ma! No bands!"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

One Triangle Goose*

*A song that has been in my head for days. I hear it on the radio and can't make out what the chorus is. It sounds, to me, like "One triangle goose", and even though I know that's not what it is actually saying, that is what goes through my ears when it's on.

Speed bumps in life are inevitable. We need them to expand as a person, to force us from our comfort zone and grow in new directions. Life would be flimsy and unsubstantial without them.

Some of life's speed bumps are a fantastic shove into new realities....marriage, the birth of your children, finding the most perfect job you could imagine for yourself. These are pleasant, soul-thrilling experiences.

Other speed bumps can be soul-searing. The unexpected death of a loved one, divorce, major illness. These are the ones that can run the whole spectrum of character-building. They can build you up strong or knock you flat. It's your choice as to which it will be.

I'm no different than anyone else, when it comes to my life's speed bumps. I've tried to excel at the good and tried to roll with the bad. The choices I made have dictated the direction of my life.

I was a young, irresponsible person once. We all were. I made choices at some turns in the road that had far-reaching consequences.
There is a line in "Out of Africa" that I think of frequently...
"I think the world was made round, so we could not see too far down the road."

My life has been charmed lately....a stable life, two great kids, great friends and a position at an organization that fulfills me and allows me to hold my head up high, proud that I am making a difference in the world.

But what happens when a voice from the past turns up, and instead of reminiscing about the fun and the good, shouts into my face all the real and imagined wrongs I am guilty of? Things that I haven't thought about in years, because the person I was is not the person I am now?
How do I deal with that?


What is the statute of limitation on bad choices? Do I deserve to be punished for a bad choice I made when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, when I have spent my life since then doing my best to be the best person I can be?
It has me in a tailspin, this voice from the past. Not from what the voice is saying, but the feelings it has awoken in me. Am I a better person? Have I evolved into what I wanted to be?
When does my responsibility end for situations that I would handle in a completely different way now, than I would have 10 or 20 years ago?

And just like that song* that will not stop running through my head with the wrong words, I cannot stop my thoughts from running in the wrong direction...backwards. Toward those irresponsible choices, the mess I was. It has proven to be impossible to see the real and true parts of myself while the song of the past serenades me from around the wrong turn in the road.

And until I can rouse myself from this abyss, I will stare at the map.
Not to find out where I need to go, but to figure out where I am.
Bend in the road Sugar Creek

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A flock and a friend

An invitation from a friend took me to a quiet corner of perfection.

A local lake with a vast expanse of lotus, a full moon and a special gathering of special birds.

Around 200 vultures.
She had seen this spectacle the night before, and hoped to experience it again.

We approached as quietly as we could,
but the trees shook and cracked as the birds moved to another.

TV show1

Stiff wings created a whistling song as they transferred themselves to the opposite side of the parking lot.
TV show2
Tree after tree protested the weight of the vultures, each bird weighing about 4 pounds.

As the vultures settled for the night, we sat near the water, saying goodnight to the sky.

Trying different settings on my camera, to replicate the beauty that was unfolding around us.
(Had to sneak to catch sight of our Nina...She's in the lower left corner)

I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

We interrupt these posts to bring you randomosity

Isabelle's birthday cake:
Isabelles birthday cake
She wanted creepy and we delivered.


I think an orthodontist is in Lorelei's future.

Bird walk today with some friends:
Mary Ann, the dope with no blog to link to.

Kathi, aka KatDoc, aka everyone's favorite vet.

The fog burned off, thankfully...
foamy stuff field Armleder

Aww...is that a dead snake on the path?
Is it a snake

No. It's...a belt.
No it's a belt