Sunday, March 11, 2012

Face Time With Raptors

I just love birds.  Problem is, I just can't see them.  Even with binoculars.  Because of scarred retinas, each of my eyes sees something different, so the two can't resolve that distant blurry bird into one clear image.  But this weekend I had a chance to see birds up close at the Winter Raptor Fest in Ft. Edward, set amid the expansive Washington County grasslands designated by Audubon New York as an Important Birding Area.  The event featured live birds of prey -- owls, hawks, falcons, and one grumpy buzzard -- as part of a mission to raise public awareness of the many endangered species of birds that depend on this grassland habitat for their very survival.

I arrived at the fest too late to get a seat for a free-flight raptor show featuring trained hawks and owls demonstrating their amazing aerial agility,  but I could have climbed on a horse-drawn wagon that was taking groups on an exploratory journey around the birds' wide-ranging habitat.

I chose instead to visit the many exhibits set up inside one of the barns, spending most of my time at the site of a wildlife rehabilitation organization, where I could make eyes at this darling little Screech Owl.  The site featured two of these tiny owls, a brown-phase one in addition to this gray one, both of them too damaged by injuries to be released back into the wild.  They certainly made endearing ambassadors for the cause of wildlife protection and rehabilitation.

This charming little American Kestrel, our smallest native falcon, had never been injured, but because it had been reared from a chick by humans, it had not acquired the hunting skills it would need to survive in the wild.  Oh, such a pretty creature!

Maybe this TurkeyVulture has a face that only its mother could love, but it's quite a handsomely impressive bird in all other respects.

That vulture seemed a bit taken aback by the arrival of another feathered friend.  This fellow all dressed in the garb of one of the western plains tribes, was attending the Raptor Fest to promote a Native American powwow later this year.  He told me his tribe was from Wyoming, although he lives in this part of the country now.  Our native northeastern tribes would not have clothing decorated with this kind of beadwork, nor would they have worn such elaborate feather bonnets.

Another exhibitor at the fest was one of my favorite nature sites, the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.  Their exhibit featured a collection of animal skulls accompanied by descriptions of the animals' behavior and habitat, with the challenge to identify the name of the animal.  I am happy to announce that I guessed them all correctly!

Here, a crowd gathers at the edge of a field to witness the release of a Snowy Owl that had been successfully restored to health after injury. I was glad to see so many children attending the Raptor Fest, learning early how important it is to preserve the kind of habitat these splendid birds need to survive.

And here's that gorgeous creature, the Snowy Owl.  What a rare treat, to observe this lovely animal at such close range.  This particular species of owl is a rather uncommon winter migrant to our region, although more individuals than usual were reported as visiting this winter.   The bird looks very calm, resting there in the rehabber's arm, but now and then its long sharp talons would emerge from those fluffy feet, reminding us that this is a serious predator.

Free at last!   Released from the grip of its rehabber's grasp, the owl spreads its wings and quickly soars away, keeping low to the ground, as is its hunting habit.  I wish the dear creature well, hoping that it finds all the prey it needs here to prepare for its return to arctic regions for the summer.


June said...

At the Iroquois Museum a few years ago I spent some time exchanging blinks with a sweet little screech owl. Until the keeper told me that his blinking was a sign that he felt threatened. I left quickly. Poor little thing!
That snowy owl is just gorgeous.
Isn't Nature amazing?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Nice to hear from you, June. I'm happy to report that the little Screech Owl at the Raptor Fest was very used to humans and kept a steady gaze, never blinking the entire time I spoke to him.