Baby, You’re Not Quite a Star

Me making my way carefully through the crowd with Buddy and Jerry

Me making my way carefully through the crowd with Buddy and Jerry

Today’s photos are by my husband, Patrick Murray, shooting with the Canon Rebel T4i.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been in training on Saturday mornings.  I am learning how to be the assistant in the Rock City Raptor’s program so I can cover for a vacation.

The problem, of course, is that I cannot both perform in the program and take photos.  I was quite happy that my husband made some time to come up and watch a program and take some pictures.

John with Gilbert, the American Kestrel

John with Gilbert, the American Kestrel

It’s amazing how quickly things get confusing back stage–a DVD player failed a couple weeks ago and was replaced by a smaller one.  There are 2 DVD players and the one that failed was on the bottom.  The new, smaller one is now on top.  All of my notes refer to top and bottom.  This means having to do a mental flip-flop when I try to remember which machine I need to do something with.  It’s irritating how this small change can put my brain into what computer geeks call “thrashing.”

But, after many Saturdays, some things are starting to come together.  I am now, for example, able to walk around with both Buddy and Jerry on my glove and get through the Screech Owl script without forgetting much of it.  I’ve now managed to walk through the audience, stepping over people sitting on the steps, and stepping up on what can be slippery rocks without hurting myself.

John with Artie, the Barred Owl

John with Artie, the Barred Owl

Although, I did fall before the show because I was carrying Cody (the red-tailed hawk) next to a wall and was following instructions to keep my body between Cody and any objects that he might hit should he decide to bait (fly up from the glove), which he does frequently.  In my determination to protect Cody, I forgot that I was about to go up stairs and fell up the stairs.  Cody, ironically, stayed calmly on my glove through the whole thing.

I have a few days worth of Pat’s photos (I did quite a bit of post-processing), so here are just a few from the first few birds in the program.  The last image is a post-show image.  At the end of the program, I take Buddy (one of the screech owls) out and let people touch him.

This is probably my favorite part.  Since I don’t have to walk through the crowd, make sure the microphone is picking up my voice, or worry about saying the right things at the right time (so I cue someone else to do their part), I can really enjoy the looks on people’s faces when they touch an owl for the first time.

I also get to hear their stories and answer their questions in a more one-on-one kind of basis.  What’s really cool is hearing people comment about how much they enjoyed the program and, especially, the new things they learned.

Buddy wowing the crowd one last time

Buddy wowing the crowd one last time

Chatter

Jerry, an Eastern Screech Owl, Hipstamatized

Jerry, an Eastern Screech Owl, Hipstamatized

After spending a good hour or so entertaining a small crowd at the Little Owl Festival, the crowd began to thin out.  A handful or so hung around, petting Jerry the Screech Owl and asking the questions that didn’t get answered during the program.  A few stragglers wandered over in time to get a chance to see the birds.

In this moment of relative quiet, Paul with Artie, I with Gilbert, and Megan with Jerry lined up for a photo op.  We lined up in this order because Artie has a way of making Jerry nervous–in the wild, Jerry would be prey for Artie.

Gilbert suddenly started a shrill alarm call, looking around frantically.  One of the remaining fans spotted a Coopers Hawk in the woods.  It took several minutes of pointing and moving about for the half dozen or so humans hanging about to spot the hawk.  Gilbert had spotted his mortal enemy without so much as turning his head.  I remain bewildered as to how he noticed the hawk slip into the woods 500 yards away.

At the same time, Gilbert doesn’t have the same reaction to a Barred Owl sitting 3 feet away.  With me and Gilbert between Jerry, a tiny Screech Owl, and Artie, all would have been quiet were it not for the Coopers Hawk in the woods.

Lining up so Jerry can't see Artie

Lining up so Jerry can’t see Artie

Pat managed to get a series of shots in any case.  In the meantime, the last remnants of the crowd faded off to the next act, leaving us to pack up the birds and call it a day.  Pat and Dale had a face-off with the cameras before we went our separate ways.

Dale wins in the camera battle with her polka-dotted case

Dale wins in the camera battle with her polka-dotted case

I walked across the field back to our car feeling high.  I stopped to visit with the Audubon folks at the tent selling tickets and couldn’t stop smiling about how much fun it had been to share the birds with the audience.  I think they might have been jealous.

We loaded into the mini-van and headed down the road talking about where we should have lunch.  As we rounded a curve through the wooded neighborhood that surrounds Audubon Acres, we spotted a huge flock of wild turkeys, with what appeared to be a dozen toms strutting about displaying their plumage, competing for the attention of the hens.

I, of course, called to Pat to stop the van as I grabbed the camera, hopped out of the car, and tried my best to get a shot without scaring them off.  Wild turkeys are not very cooperative, I’ve found.  They look perfectly content to hang out in the open like they own the world and there are no predators they have to worry about until the moment someone shows up with a camera.  Then they seem to rapidly disappear.

My 24-70mm lens was no match for the distance the turkeys were able to cover in the time it took me to get lined up.  But, we enjoyed their show none-the-less.

Wild turkey toms doing their best to attract a mate

Wild turkey toms doing their best to attract a mate

 

Gilbert’s Sour Grape

In spite of our non-compatible species issues, Gilbert always makes me smile

In spite of our non-compatible species issues, Gilbert always makes me smile

Gilbert is a special boy.  He’s an American Kestrel who was “rescued” by some well-meaning people when he didn’t need to be rescued.  He became a “human imprint.” Perhaps you’ve heard stories about ducks following around a person after seeing them immediately after hatching, but imprinting behavior applies to all birds and isn’t limited to the first thing a newly hatched bird sees–a young bird can imprint on whoever its caretaker is after it hatches.

Besides not being able to survive in the wild, there are some other problems associated with human imprints.  Gilbert is experiencing one of those right now–he has biological urges.  But, as a bird who thinks he’s a person, this is rather complicated.

Poor Gilbert wants a girl, but he’s more interested in humans than he is in other Kestrels.  This seems to be true in spite of the fact that it’s not clear Gilbert can distinguish between a female human and a male human.  He talks continuously as soon as he hears a voice, clamoring for affection.

If Gilbert were a dog, we would say he was barking up the wrong tree.  Gilbert isn’t so different from humans in this respect.  While he may be suffering from species confusion, many of us humans suffer from equally self-destructive confusion when it comes to selecting a mate.  From what I remember, Gilbert could relate to human dating confusion such as:

Showing off Gilbert's wings and tail

Showing off Gilbert’s wings and tail

  1. Confusing being liked by someone with liking someone.  These are not the same thing.
  2. Trying to chase a potential love interest without appearing to chase.  This usually results in the kind of humiliating goofiness responsible for the creation of the movie genre called “romantic comedy.”  It’s much easier to maintain our dignity by just being direct about our interest.  Even if we get shot down, we don’t have to waste a lot of time delaying what was inevitably going to happen anyway.
  3. Becoming someone else.  If Gilbert could morph himself into someone much taller with longer legs, lose the beak, feathers, tail, wings, and, perhaps most importantly, trade his talons in for feet, he would have a better chance at landing himself a hot woman.  While we might laugh at the prospect of a tiny Kestrel transforming himself into a handsome, human prince, it’s amazing how often humans try to make similarly impossible transformations to win their love interest.  Really, the secret to happiness is to love someone who can love you back just as you are.
Small children were fascinated by Gilbert

Small children were fascinated by Gilbert

I wish I could explain to Gilbert why he needs to either figure out how to be attracted to female Kestrels or join the priesthood, but I don’t speak Kestrese.  In the meantime, Gilbert sings to me, telling me how handsome he is, how energetic he is.  He tries to convince me we will make a beautiful couple.  I don’t have the heart to tell him that he and I can never be together.

Instead, I make cooing noises and hope he finds it comforting.

Gilbert may have trouble getting a girl, but he sure is a crowd pleaser

Gilbert may have trouble getting a girl, but he sure is a crowd pleaser

 

*Note:  All photographs in today’s post taken by my husband; edited by me.