Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wild, Again

We huddled deeper into our thinsulate embedded parkas and bulky snow pants, but the eagles didn't care. They could smell the river, hear the calls of the wild birds from across the river. It was time to leave. One by one, a rehabilitator would step forwared, a bald eagle in their arms. At the apex of the platform, they would pause, allowing the eagle to target on the river. You could see the eagle focus, turn its gaze from the humans, and then ...

 A few hesitated, turned to look into the eyes of their human, but each in turn, took to the river. Free, once more. Someone asked, "aren't you sad to see them go?" "Are you kidding. This is what we work for. This is a celebration." These are remarkable humans.

After the first few birds were released, wild eagles began to fly. The excitement was building across the river. It was as if they wild were welcoming the new arrivals, leading them back to well positioned perches.  

I wanted to know why they were releasing the birds in the winter. The answer stunned me. This is the only time of year that eagles are not territorial. The group together, and tolerate the presence of their kind to survive the winter. But some of the young birds had never been free as adults. How could they survive this insanely cold winter? Simple. At this time of year, adults will teach unrelated birds to hunt. Think about that for a moment. A species, territorial for most of the year, but compassionate enough to save a struggling orphan from painful death. There is a lesson here as there always is when observing nature. I want you to take these words, roll them between your fingers, feel the power in the message of the eagles. Adults helping the young, regardless of relationship, helping each other to survive in brutal times. Then, when you're ready, swallow it whole, let it become part of you. The planet could use more eagles. 
Visit REGI, donate if you can. See their amazing photos. They work with more than eagles. Ninety nine species arrived at their center in 2013, including baby hummingbirds. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Incredible People, Awesome Birds

This is what drew me out into the cold. Eight bald eagles were graduating from rehabilitation to release. I was within an arm length of these birds. Each arrived in the arms of a skills and compassionate wildlife expert. The next photo shows Marge Gibson, executive director of REGI, Rapture Education Group, Inc. Look at her face. That smile never left her as she sent her patients one by one into the skies along the Wisconsin river. 

Interns, graduates with wildlife conservation degrees, joined her, each baring an eagle in their arms.
For the most part, the eagles never struggled. They suffered the indignity of human control for one last time as if they could smell freedom, just moments away.  

Notice the caution tape, I was front and center at the tape, snapping away as they paraded the birds around the perimeter for the hundreds of people assembled. The only rule, don't touch. I don't have the words to adequately convey the feeling of being so close to a wild bald eagle. 

The brown headed eagles are young, less than a year old, while the partially brown headed eagle is somewhere near 4. By the time an eagle is 6, the white markings we all recognize have filled in. 

Marge was mic'd and provided clever and informative banter while she shared her passion for bird rescue. Did you know that females are substantially larger than the males. She was holding a female and one of her interns, a male. They stood side by side for a moment. I missed the shot, but as Marge said, "this is why male bald eagles all say 'Yes Ma'am' ."
Before she was ready to release them, she would flip them on their back, and give them one last free meal. Beef heart, nearly devoid of fat was apparently what they needed. She explained that eagles can't digest fat properly. Think about it, fish is pretty lean. They things you learn when you listen. 

Not every bird was hungry, but Marge insisted. "You'll be glad you ate this tomorrow." As the day wore on, and later birds arrived for release, the beef heart started to freeze, but every bird left with a full crop. Marge took her time, acclimated her patients to the scene. None had been found in this part of Wisconsin, but this was prime bald eagle habitat. 

I have more post on this topic, you won't want to miss the conclusion of this series. I'll be here, waiting for you to drop by. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Fisherman's Tale

I have something extraordinary to share with you today. On January 18, 2014, I bore witness to one of the most inspiring events in my life. If you have been following along, you already know that I find the natural world to be the source of all creativity and awe, and this post will demonstrate why.

Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin, an hour north of my home, perches along the Wisconsin river. It's a small town, quaint downtown, not hemmed in by hills, but still, it chooses to skirt the broad river. Oh, and one other thing: a hydroelectric dam borrows the power of the muddy swirling water, and that's the pearl in this story. The water passes through the dam and pours out, to continue its travels, and what lives in the water: fish, but this is no fish tale.

Back to that downtown in Sauk Prairie. Nearly every business, streetlight, trashcan, and even city hall pays homage to not a fish, but the bald eagle. January 18, 2014 was part of the Bald Eagle Watching Days. Smack in the middle of the brutal winter of 2014, Sauk Prairie was celebrating its abundance, some may say glut of bald eagles. Why are they here? Let's return to the fish. Yes, bald eagles eat fish, but these birds have a secret. As the fish pass through the dam, they are stunned. Downstream, they float for a period or time, not dead, but disoriented and immobile on the surface of the open water. Enter the eagles.

It was snowing, and photography was a challenge, but here is a wild bald eagle, swooping low, coming up empty. Eagle experts were everywhere, and happy to share their knowledge. For example, at this time of the year, eagles spend 90% of their time doing ... nothing. They sit in trees overlooking the dam, waiting for an easy meal to rise to the surface, conserving their energy.

There is more to this story so come back later to see what really drew me out into the blistering cold. I promise the photos will impress. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hang On To Your Elephant

I was waiting for my flu shot today at the pharmacy. I knew it would be a few minutes so I took a seat. No sooner had I sat down then an elderly man got in line. He stood, bent over, leaning on his shopping cart as it was holding him up. He looked kind so I smiled at his cherubic, basset hound face. He smiled back with a puzzled look on his face. I knew he was searching his memory. He didn’t know me, but he sat next to me to wait. A moment later, another man walked in. They knew each other, but only by family. The old man says, “you’re a Jones right?” He, “yes, and you’re a Smith, right?” They proceeded to talk about the younger man’s orchard of 4,000 trees. This kind of thing happens in a small town where most people live and die in the same county. You can just tell who someone is by the looks of them. They finished their conversation and the old man turns to me and says, “are you still here?” “Just waiting for my flu shot,” I said.

The old man looked into distance. “I could give you a shot. I did that for years, but mostly on animals.” I figured he was a farmer or maybe a veterinarian. He had that look about him. Then he dropped a bomb on me. “Well—mostly on elephants.”
I was drawn in and ready to hear more. “I used to own an elephant,” he said. “A female, Asian elephant. I did a lot of dumb things in my life, but the worst was giving up my elephant.”

Now let’s stop and imagine that conversation. Dad, we love you and we sure love Lola (I don’t know the name of his elephant. It just sounds like it fits a pet elephant) but, you’re going to have to let her go. Let’s all be happy we don’t have to have that conversation with our aging parents.

He went on to tell me that he was the former director of the local zoo. I love our local zoo. This man was a treasure chest and could have talked to him the rest of the day, but my name was called and we had to part ways. So today’s lesson: Hang on to your elephant. She will keep you young.

Names changed to protect the privacy of my companions. I looked this man up. He was telling me the truth, but I still don’t know his elephant’s name. Maybe it was Bertha or Mabel or ...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Blanket Octopus

I've been bumming around on the internet today. Maybe I'm avoiding my writing, maybe I'm looking for inspiration, I'm never quite sure, but with a Green Bay Packer playoff game later today, I'm killing time. 

I rolled across this post by a writer friend. His subject: Blanket Octopus. I had never heard of these things, and believe me, they are weird supreme. 

The females are 40,000 times larger than the males, and when they manage to encounter one another, the male rips a tentacle that is packed with sperm from his body and hands it to the female. He drifts off to die. Talk about a need to breed. 

Anyway, if you check out the link below, you will see a video of a female. I can't decide if they remind me more of a mermaid to some sailor too long at see or a death eater from a Harry Potter movie. Crazy stuff out there if you go looking for it. 

Check this link to read more about them and to watch a creepy video. Tell me if you don't see what I see. (the first video has been removed, but the second one is what got me)