Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Birds everywhere, for a great cause

I'm not known for going to many fundraisers, although I did attend the SPCA Spay-ghetti feed a few weeks back.

However, since I've been volunteering for the Bird Training & Learning Center, and had donated an item for the upcoming fundraiser they were holding, I thought it might be fun to go.

These two ravens are current residents at the Center.  There's a third raven, a larger one, but he was moved to an area by himself as he was picking on what is assumed to be the male of this pair.  Ravens are characters, the tricksters, fun to watch, fun to be around, but absolute pigs when it comes to throwing food around in the cages.  That's why they have us slaves ... to clean up after them.  Haha!!
Dressed in jeans and something other than a Harley tee shirt (although I was wearing an HD hoodie), I drove on down to the Egan Center and found excellent parking right across the street. I was living right that day.

One-way ticket in ... to the Bird TLC fundraiser.
As I entered the Egan, there was a line of people waiting to hand over their tickets and sign in for the silent and live auctions, surrendering their names and addresses for yellow paddles on a stick with a number on each. Mine was 105.

I didn't go directly inside the ballroom. There were two volunteers with education birds out in the lobby, and so I had to visit with them and see the birds, an owl and a bald eagle. Each had a tarp under it, to take care of any droppings.

Eagles perched and their handlers talked to everyone, answering questions and giving out general information.  This eagle just looked around, alert but not appearing nervous with all the goings on and people circulating through the lobby.  Interestingly, there was a high school prom downstairs at the Egan, so there were lots of kids in their prom best, suits, sports jackets, strapless dresses, short and long dresses, and the mother lode in sequins.
The birds were very well-behaved although there were loads of people around them, looking at them, taking photos, asking questions. It's surprising how well the education birds behave mostly considering they are wild.

The owl's feather looked so soft it almost seemed like they were fur.  What a beautiful bird, but again ... the eyes ... they look through you and beyond.

A Peregrine Falcon was on display.  I was quite excited to see this bird as I'd just seen a piece on TV about them this very day, just before going to the fundraiser.
After a bit I wandered inside, where there were several other education birds and their handlers. One was a Peregrine Falcon. Just before leaving the house to go to the fundraiser there was a program on raptors, one of which was about Peregrine's. They can fly down to grab their prey at 260 mph, and have special openings in or near their beaks to slow the air intake to their lungs. Mostly the impact kills their prey, but if not, they have a special little hook-like “tooth” so that they can rapidly end the prey's life. It was fun to learn about some of the birds on display.

While this isn't the best of photos, it shows the beautiful wings the Peregrine has, with an intricate light/dark design from Mother Nature.
And of course, Kodi the “cash” crow was there, delighting anyone who came close. He will take money from your hand and put it in a jar, earning him a mealy worm, and entertaining those who watch. If one gave him $20, that person came away with a blue Bird TLC water bottle. As I looked around later, there were a lot of those bottles setting on tables. Kodi was earning his keep.

Gimme the cash, mister. 
I met up with another Bird TLC volunteer and sat at a table with her and her family. Then it was off to look at the silent auction items. There were long tables of goods, ranging from jewelry to bird books to paintings to sculptures to cloth bags to bags of bird feed to a beaded turkey feather to a basket of bread.

This eagle was inside the ballroom, ever watchful, but not appearing to be nervous.
There were gift certificates in abundance as well, from restaurants to fun things to do. There was literally something for everyone … you did not need to be a bird lover to find something that would strike your fancy. It was mind-boggling how much had been donated for this fundraiser.

The Golden Eagle also has a piercing stare.  Can you tell I really like the eagles?

Bill is one of the volunteers I usually work with when I'm at the Bird TLC.  He and his wife, Sharon, show some of the education owls.

Sharon is usually the lead person the day I'm at the Center.  She and her husband are two of the 80-plus volunteers, many of which work multiple days each week, showing incredible dedication for the care of the birds. 
A few separate tables had other items that would be live-auctioned, including hand-carved walking sticks … one by the Bird TLC founder, Dr. James Scott, a ride along with one of APD's K9 unit, an overnight Christmas stay in a yurt in the Eagle River Valley, a falconry training session. There were some wonderful items that were quite unique. And when they were auctioned there was lively action, right down to bidding wars. It was fun to watch and see that so many good people were doing so much good for the birds.

This eagle is in an outdoor mew at the Bird TLC.  There's just something about an eagle ...
There was one interesting fundraiser that I'd not seen before. A Powerpoint presentation showed the bird flight center out at JBER. It showed the eagles flying to get in shape for release. The flight center is in need of repairs, especially with the ravens flying in through the overhead netting to get a free meal. That made me laugh. There's a need to do pen repairs, replace the netting, water heaters for water and so much more.

The auctioneer asked who would be able to donate $1,500 toward the repairs. A few folks raised their bid cards. Then he asked who could donate $1,000, $750, $500 and so on down to $100. There were cards raised for each of these amounts. Every single dollar helps to get the job done. What a unique way to raise money, and you know that what you donated for the project would be used to make a better place for the birds being readied for release.

This magpie came in pretty battered from apparently hitting a window a few days before the fundraiser.  They didn't think he'd make it.  But the next day he was all chipper and ready to go.  Guy, the Bird TLC Volunteer Coordinator, is ready to release him outside the center.
Up, up and away.  Even watching a magpie being released is thrilling.  It's a life saved from what otherwise could be a fatality.  And that's why folks volunteer and work to save the birds, from the smallest one to the large raptors.
Throughout the evening a Powerpoint showed the volunteers working and many of the releases that have taken place. The releases show that those working to care for and rehabilitate the birds are doing good deeds … not only to the birds and the environment but for people who like to view the birds, and for some who might never see them without others doing this necessary and selfless task. Thank you to Dr. Scott, Bird TLC's Heather and Guy, and to the many volunteers who have sustained this wonderful organization for 25 years, and for the years into the future.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A busy month …

It's been one thing after another this month. The annual Spay-ghetti fund-raiser for the SPCA, the bike show at the Ben Boeke Arena. 

This was one of the more unique bikes at the show ... with lots of extras that had  been manufactured just for this motorcycle.

A very precious young lady, Katie, allowed me to photograph her on my bike.  What a charmer this one is.  Her mom, Darlis, rides, and we had some great chatting going on at the bike show. 
Add looking at Christmas party space for the Harley Owners Group, Building-a-Bear for foster care children, taking dogs to the vet for various reasons, painting ceramics, attending the APD search team meeting, playing bunco, refinancing, finalizing home ownership for a friend. There's so much to do all the time. I think retired people need more vacation time.
Stephen, Victoria and Chelsea.  Final count ... 42 bears for foster children in the area. 
Our very own Princess Shelby made two bears, one of which was a princess with its very own shoes, purse and sunglasses.
These two bears have Hobbs' name all over them ... a Marine (I named him Semper Fi ... thanks, Jim), and a hockey player named Jagomir. 
There was another event that was way different from the others … seeing a Golden Eagle released back into the wild. It had been brought to the Bird TLC, very skinny, a young bird that must not have learned to hunt very well. Bird TLC volunteers nursed it to good health, too good a health. It gained a bit too much weight and then really couldn't fly to catch food. It knew a good thing when it had it. So, the Golden had to be put on a bit of a diet. Finally, it flight tested perfectly and the day came to release it.

I asked a couple of friends, Flounder and Jaz, if they'd like to go to Palmer to watch the release at the hayflats. Yep. So, the day of we piled in Flounder's car and off we went.

We were early since we'd not been exactly sure where we were going. We were on paved roads, then dirt, then narrow, and ice-covered. It seemed like we were going to the edge of somewhere, but where? Around corners, down a hill, and into a parking lot, dirt, or rather, partly mud due to melting action.

It was a beautiful spring day, blue sky that went on forever, snow-covered mountains that rose to meet the blue, and a temperature made for walking. And we did … it was a lovely walk, crunching over the snow that covered the marshland, sinking in here and there due to the softness from thawing.

There is nothing like the splendor of the mountains in Alaska.
As we walked, cars started coming around the corner, heading down the hill, arriving and parking in the lot. The release was going to happen around 12:30 p.m. More and more vehicles arrived. Wow, this was a big deal. There must have been 40 people or more.

Typical Alaskan dress ... shorts and bunny boots.
Not only that, there was also a young eagle sitting up in a tree, watching everything. Yep, the term eagle eye fit perfectly. It wasn't at all nervous with the goings on, and never left the entire time we were there.

Then the bird arrived with his chauffer, Dave. It was in a large box, carried out into a clear area and set on a table. Attendees were able to put their name into a drawing. The winning name would open the box and let the eagle fly free. There was a feeling of carnival in the air … fun, mystery, and the wonder of nature about to be unleashed for all of us.

Setting up the bird in the box for the release.
Then it was time. Two people stood on either side of the box. The box opens from the top, and each top door had to be opened at exactly the same time … on the count of 3. 1, 2, 3. The doors opened, and the eagle lifted up majestically, both wings flapping, reaching its maximum wingspan extending out, then wings battering the air up, down.

A successful release.
Flying free ... as it should be.
The eagle's feet tapered behind, its head stretched forward. Up, up and away. It flew a ways, then banked sharply to the right, then back to the left and landed on the side of the hill. Of course, it could be that since its flight testing area is only 70 feet in length, it was resting. Or perhaps it was testing the area to determine if it really had no boundaries.

An eagle in flight is a beautiful sight ... even if the photo is not in focus.
Eventually it took off again, flying straight and never looking back at those who had cared for it, and then released it. It was a beautiful sight, and a privilege to see, to be a participant.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


I'd heard about a polar bear cub who had been taken to the Alaska Zoo for care after his mother had been killed. He's now a few months old and in late-March was put on display a couple of hours a day and I wanted to see him. Who can resist a small, furry bundle of joy?

On Tuesday, April 2, voting day, Hobbs and I went to the zoo. I'd been a year or so ago with friend Jaz to see Animal Lights during the winter, but otherwise, not for a very long time before that.

It was a beautiful day, sunshine, blue sky, with a little coolness in the air mixed with sunshine that warms you just a bit. It's the kind you often experience in the spring and fall, the kind we motorcyclists hope we have a lot of during the summer months when we are riding our two-wheeled beasts. Lovely, glorious weather.

There were a number of cars, but the zoo wasn't crowded, which was exactly why we went during the week. We're retired. We can.

The cub wasn't due out for a while, so we wandered around looking at the other animals and birds. We went by a few birds, and then wandered to the Siberian tiger enclosure. Oh my. They were napping, but what spectacular animals they are … and huge, even from a distance. They are not anything I'd want to run into out in the wild.

They may look like cute kitty cats, but if you run into one of these ... you would most likely become lunch.
We wandered by a couple of swans, one of which just happened to have something it had just picked out of the pond and was swallowing.

Swan buffet.
Up the hill we went, to the sheep pen. It was slippery in places due to the melting action. The path is gravel, but snow, water and freezing and thawing made moving around treacherous in places.

This little face was just waking up from a snooze.  He never even bothered to get up.
The snow leopards were out and you could just see a little bit of them as they lay on top of their rock cliff sunning themselves. No photo opportunity here as I couldn't see enough of them. Oh well. Another day.

Brownie playing dead.
Brownie was out, though. There were three brown bears and they were all out laying in the snow catching some rays. Two were being lazy, but the third was full of himself.

Ya ever seen a brown bear doing the worm?
I couldn't resist multiple photos of this bear playing ... rolling over like a dog.
You watching me?  You thinking I'm cute? 
The bear was rolling around, over and over, and then found a stick to play with. He was totally enjoying the day, the sun, the warmth.

This guy really must like having an audience because he just went from cute to overwhelmingly cute.  Too bad we couldn't have tossed him a fish for cuteness.
By then it was time to go back to the orphan enclosure to see Kali, the polar bear cub. When we got there he was still inside, waking up. The zoo employees who work with him put a couple of toys out, including a new one, a penguin dog toy. They like to change it up to keep him interested and not bored.

There were a lot of people gathered round, mothers and fathers with children, old people like us (actually I think we were the only oldies but goodies), and many others who wanted to see this prize. There have been nine cubs come to the zoo over the years.

We heard the little guy before we saw him. A big roar, at least big for his size, I thought. Then he came through the door, peeking out, coming out, stopping, looking around at the entourage that was there for him.

Kali was the bear in charge, once he got past having the people watching him.
He bypassed that old fake penguin stuck in the snow, quickly making his way to one of the handlers.
There were two handlers in the pen. He ran to one, and stood up holding on to his leg. When the guy moved, Kali followed him, just like a little duck following his mother.

Kali stood and grabbed on to one of the handlers.  I wondered how big his claws were even if he is a youngster.
He got used to the people around and then started playing and jumping and running, sliding across the snow. He had an audience and he was going to ham it up for us.

But the little guy has some pretty good-sized teeth.
Kali spotted the penguin setting in the snow. He went over to it, looked at it, backed off and then went for it. 

Hey, what's this?  A penguin?  Don't I eat these in the wild?
Yes, I do.  Think I'll just grab this tasty morsel and run with it.
He grabbed it in his mouth and finally was able to get it back into the area in the building. Maybe he thought it was food, but I got the feeling that is what they do in real life, grab it, run with it, take it to the den. Then out he came again, his penguin in tow.

Maybe I'll play with it for a while and give my audience something to see.
We watched a bit, then it was time to move along. Kali will be sent to the Buffalo zoo probably around the first part of May. There's another cub there he'll be kept with until he is sent to his final destination, which is likely to be the St. Louis zoo. They are building a polar bear enclosure but it isn't expected to be complete for a couple of years. Then Kali will go there if that is to be his home.

The camel was curious ... maybe he doesn't get enough visitors.
In wandering over to the coffee shop, we saw a number of animals, a camel, Tibetan yaks, musk oxen, a llama, a lynx.

We were lucky to see many of the animals that I usually haven't been able to see as they stay out of sight.  We saw the foxes, the lynx, the tigers.  It was an awesome day of viewing at the zoo.
The seals were swimming around, but the glass didn't make for a good photo opportunity, so we watched them for a short while and headed for the polar bear pool. They were who I really wanted to see.

Ahpun is a huge polar bear.  Glad I'm not a seal.

The two were playing together just as we arrived at the enclosure.
Look at the size of his head ...
Ahpun is a big bear, way larger than Lyutyik (Lyu for short), who was born in a Russian zoo. It was fascinating to watch them, playing in the water, and then Ahpun hauled himself out.

Ahpun was apparently tired of putting on a show.

But he showed off just a little first.
Lyu continued to play like a youngster, bobbing up and down in the pool, doing what I likened to polar bear calisthetics. There was a square of some material on the top of the water and she'd stick her head up and through the hold in the middle, then go down and swim around, then back.
That's a lot of bear moving around in the water, but she was weightless, and moved effortlessly.  Lyu was putting on a show and seemed to be loving it.
The polar bears completed what was a superb day at the zoo. 
I could have stayed and watched these antics for a long time, but it was time to go.  It was a great day to watch animals.