Birdie, You’re a Star

Continuing the theme of birds, on Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to Rock City, a local attraction on Lookout Mountain, to see the S.O.A.R. raptors perform.

S.O.A.R. performs regularly at Rock City throughout the warmer months, educating the public about the role raptors play in the ecosystem and giving people a close encounter with birds of prey.

I’d never seen the S.O.A.R. program before, so I plan to watch it twice. I’m hoping to collect enough photos to put together a screen saver we can use to raise money for the program.

One of the unique things about Rock City is that dogs are welcome. Unfortunately, dogs make birds of prey (and really, most birds) quite nervous, so while they are welcome in Rock City in general, they are not permitted in the vicinity of the bird program.  This meant that while Tisen got to come with us, he had to be escorted away from the vicinity of the performance before the show.  So, both Pat and Tisen missed out.

My goal for the first run was to learn the pattern of what they did so I could do a better job getting shots of the birds in flight during the second performance.  However, it’s almost impossible to sit with your camera in your lap and not shoot a single frame when you’re surrounded by super stars!

The performance is in a nice amphitheater large enough to accommodate probably 100 people.  It’s small enough to create an intimate setting.  It also makes it possible for Dale and John to walk through the entire audience with the birds, giving people an up-close view.  And, if walking around with the birds isn’t exciting enough, they fly a barn owl, Theo, a red-tail hawk, Cody, and a black vulture, Cayce, right over people’s heads.

While the birds are busy capturing the audience’s interest, John and Dale sneak in an enormous amount of information about the birds.  Between the live birds and several videos, people witness incredible feats that only birds of prey can perform.  And while it’s one thing to see a video of a Peregrine Falcon pulling in his wings to achieve a dive of over 250 MPH, it’s completely another to feel the wind from a raptor’s wings as it soars just above your head.

The thing that I really like about John and Dale’s approach is that they are serious about raising awareness about the importance of these birds to the highly interconnected network of life we are part of.  At the same time, they understand that to raise awareness, you have to get someone’s attention first.  And there is no one, I contend no one, who can fail to be fascinated by the kind of close encounter John and Dale provide.  If having a bird soar over your head doesn’t do it for you, petting a Screech Owl after the show probably will.

These birds have a special skill at attracting attention and keeping it.