Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birding and Blues

Yesterday, Saturday, Johnny and I spent all day at Pacific City's Birding and Blues festival. We only did the birding part of it, and only the presentations, not the field trips. This is our first time to go to this festival but not our last... we were impressed! I had heard that Noah Stryker would be giving his penguin talk and I'd been told it was great. I read Noah's fascinating blogs while he spent three months in Antarctica with Adelie Penguins. Then I bought the book he wrote about his adventure. His talk with slide show was even better than the book. Noah is a funny guy and those penguins adorable and so very curious. I bought another copy of his book just so he could autograph it. Now I have one copy to loan out. "Among Penguins" is a great read.

The other presentations were good, too. I learned lots from each one but alas, have already forgotten most of it. I should have taken notes. What I remember is not particularly useful, like the fact that the Black Oystercatchers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium are the most aggressive of all the seabirds there. They are highly territorial and attack the aquarium workers when they're banding the oystercatcher chicks. No great surprise there.

After the seabird and penguin talks, we, along with our friend Caroline from Road's End whom we had joined at the beginning of the day, left the warm community center and drove to Nestucca Wildlife Refuge where we stood in the cold and wind learning about falconry. It was worth it. I knew virtually nothing about this sport before. Of course, my fascination was for the weird stuff... like the crazy hoods these birds wear to keep them calm during transport and when they are near the other raptors. Those prongs are so the falconer can get the hood on and off relatively easily. She also fastened a radio antenna to this bird's leg so if the falcon decided to leave, she could follow her with her receiver.

 This falconer has mostly hybrid birds, all domestically bred. The handsome fellow below  is a cross between a peregrine (if I remember correctly) and a prairie falcon.

 This one is an "exotic" bird: a cross with the larger Saker falcon from Asia. He was quite happy to show off his lovely wings.

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 But the one she flew for us this day is a Peregrine, of which race I'm not sure. The yellow color is from the egg yolks she feeds them (along with pigeons she raises herself and rats and rabbits from suppliers).

 When not hunting with her falcons, which is her first love, she does abatement control with them on contract with waste treatment plants. That means she uses her falcons to chase off gulls, starlings and house sparrows. When she works, she wears this iridescent vest to keep from being run over by motorized equipment at the plants. So she wore it today since this was a training run for her peregrine, a bird she has only had three months.


The bird flew beautifully, obviously having a wonderful time, dutifully coming back to the lure when the whistle blew. Although the falcon could have flown anywhere, she chose to fly between the bystanders many times. What a thrill to have a peregrine zoom past within inches of my head. She certainly seemed to enjoy showing off. The bird's reward was a pigeon wing which she proceeded to defeather and eat.


By now we were thoroughly chilled by the icy wind, so headed back to the community center for one more presentation, this one by the Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene. They brought four birds for us to see, all birds that had come to their rehab and education center for one reason or another and, for one reason or another, could not be returned to the wild. The Red-shouldered Hawk had lost an eye and would not be able to fend for itself in the wild with such a handicap.

Birds imprinted on humans (by well meaning people who try to raise orphaned nestlings on their own) can become aggressive, or, as the young lady giving part of the presentation told us, imprinted birds think people are either food providers, potential mates, or competition for territory, none of which bodes well for their survival. This American Kestrel thought people were food givers and landed on a young boy's baseball cap at a baseball game. Fortunately, the boy stayed calm and his dad brought the bird to the Cascade Raptor Center, where it has become part of the educational programs.

 I don't remember the stories of the Western Screech Owl or the lovely Peregrine Falcon, but they made fine examples for the presenters to explain why it's important for owls to fly silently (so they can hear their prey move), why their ears are offset (the better to determine where the sound is coming from), and lots more facts about owls and also falcons, most of which I've already forgotten.

We elected not to stay for the last presentation of the day because we were hungry and Johnny and I still had to drive home where a goat was due to kid any moment. After supper at the Mexican restaurant in Pacific City, our customary stop after a day of monitoring Black Oystercatchers at Cape Kiwanda, we drove home. I stopped for a photo of Gunaldo Falls near Dolph Junction. It is barely visible through the trees but more visible now than it will be this summer, when the leaves are out and the stream is tiny.

Once home, I went directly to the barn and found that the pregnant goat had successfully delivered two kids while we were gone, one girl and one boy. The kids were dry and fed and happy. I love goats who don't need help at kidding time.

From beginning to end, it was a very good Birding & Blues day. The festival is actually three days, but we could only spare one. I had an order of trees arrive on Friday, the first day of the festival, so I spent that day planting. And then there was the doe that was due to kid... and did. Maybe next year we'll try for two days and take in a field trip. And next year, I'll take notes.

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