Theo sitting calmly while I walk and talk

Theo sitting calmly while I walk and talk

(All photos in today’s post by my husband, Patrick Murray.)

I have 3 parts in the Rock City Raptors program.  The first is with Screech Owls (see yesterday’s post).  My second is with Theo, a Barn Owl.  Theo doesn’t always want to sit on the glove.  He baits.  A lot.  When he baits, he spreads his wings and flaps.

Now, a Barn Owl looks small and innocent when you see him sitting quietly–head to tail they are about the same length as a crow.  But when he spreads his wings, which can be over 40” long, he suddenly becomes an enormous bird.

Part of my job is to keep him from hitting anyone when he baits. )Anyone, that is, other than me.  I’ve taken quite a few wing beats in the face of late.)

Theo and I facing the same way

Theo and I facing the same way

This can be rather tricky when you’re making sure you say all the right lines and stepping through a crowd with an owl on your glove.  To ease me into the part, at first I just did the talking while Dale walked through the audience with Theo.

This past Saturday was my debut at talking and walking with Theo.  He baited a few times, but I held him high enough that he couldn’t hit anyone.

The only real mishap was when I looked away for a second to find a place to step other than on the feet of an audience member.  When I turned back to Theo, it was just in time to see a something that looked suspiciously like a giant wad of wet owl poop falling directly toward the man seated below me.  I tried to do a check to make sure he didn’t get hit without missing any lines.  I’m not sure if I checked thoroughly enough, but I didn’t see any splatter–with owl poop, there will be splatter.

Theo in flight

Theo in flight

Since Theo is a finicky flier, we decided not to have me fly him this Saturday.  I handed him off to Dale so she could fly him with John.

We had done an educational program for a group of students earlier in the week and Theo had baited and baited and baited like he couldn’t wait to fly.  He smacked me in the face repeatedly as I tried to adjust my hand to get him in a position where he would settle down.

At once point, he got himself upside down and when I reached over with my bare hand to help him up, he accidentally grabbed my arm.  I was proud of myself for not panicking–I managed to extract his claws from my flesh with only a few minor scratches and the audience didn’t seem to notice.

Then, once it was time to fly, he suddenly sat back and relaxed on the glove like he would be content to sit there all day and nap.  So, it seemed like a good plan to hand Theo off to Dale to fly him.  He did fly for her at Rock City.  He flew like a champ.

Theo coming in for a landing on Dale's glove

Theo coming in for a landing on Dale’s glove

When Work is Play

Osceola (or "Ocie") seems fascinated by my camera

Osceola (or “Ocie”) seems fascinated by my camera

I have the opportunity to fill in for a friend of mine from Wings to Soar (formerly Save Our American Raptors) for a weekend.  I will be doing her part of the birds of prey show at Rock City–the Rock City Raptors.

In preparation for my debut as a raptor handler, Saturday morning I made my way (after a few wrong turns because I made the mistake of listening to my GPS instead of following the hundreds of signs that guide visitors from all over the world successfully) to Rock City for my first lesson on what to do back stage.  When you sit in the audience and take pictures, it all seems so simple.  Music plays.  A video plays.  Someone talks.  Birds appear.  Birds fly.  Everyone laughs and applauds and looks amazed.  Then we go home.

Buddy makes a great model when it comes to holding still--the only problem is getting her to look at the camera

Buddy makes a great model when it comes to holding still–the only problem is getting her to look at the camera

Back stage, things look a lot more complicated.  It never occurred to me that there was some pretty major choreography going on back stage to get that music and video happening and to keep the timing just right between the two presenters, Dale and John.

I took 5 pages of notes just on the transitions of media and movement of people and birds during the 45 minute show.  I didn’t even try to write down the things that John and Dale say about the birds during the show.  I’m counting on Dale to provide me a script for my parts for next weekend, when I get my second lesson.

These visitors take advantage of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their photo taken with a Hang Gliding Bald Eagle

These visitors take advantage of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their photo taken with a Hang Gliding Bald Eagle

Backstage, videos have to be queued up and started at the right time.  There are two machines to play videos and music and a mixer to manage the volumes.  There is a rhythm (I suspect–I haven’t found it yet) to popping discs in and out, starting them, stopping them, fading them out, etc.  In all, 16 discs are used during the 45 minute program.

I had trouble keeping up with all the disc changes, stops, and starts even when all I was doing was taking notes.

A family chats with John after the show, clearly fascinated by the birds

A family chats with John after the show, clearly fascinated by the birds

I, of course, didn’t have a chance to take pictures during the show.  It did, however, occur to me that perhaps I should try wearing a helmet video camera next week just to see what I get.  We’ll see if I can find the old Go Pro camera and get it charged and working again in time.  We’ll also see if John and Dale laugh at me so much that we find I can’t wear the helmet cam while working!

I did manage to get some shots after the show.  John and Dale always stay out with a Bald Eagle for people to get their photos next to and a Screech Owl that they can actually touch.  I grabbed a couple of quick shots during this time, but then there was just enough time to go to the restroom, pick up some lunch, and get ready for the next show.

Osceola takes a close look at Dale

Osceola takes a close look at Dale

The 45 minutes of that first show were the fastest 45 minutes I’ve ever experienced.

John pretends to lounge for about 30 seconds between shows in the backstage shadows

John pretends to lounge for about 30 seconds between shows in the backstage shadows

The Return of Dunwoody Fourscore

When my friend Dale (from S.O.A.R.) called me and told me that the Peregrine Falcon they recently released at Rock City was continuing to return for meals and that I might get some good close ups of him eating if I could come up to Rock City soon, I decided it was the perfect time to take Pat’s family (who was visiting) up to see the birds.

We arrived early and walked out to the feeding platform with John and Dale.  John tossed a chick into the feeding box while he looked for Dunwoody (as named by Dale and John because the falcon was found in Dunwoody, Georgia) Fourscore (as named by the Rock City naming contest in honor of Rock City’s 80th anniversary).  Pat and his family crouched further back behind a tree while I hid behind a bush closer to the feeding platform.  John walked around in the open, known to the bird and symbolic of breakfast, he figured Dunwoody Fourscore might be enticed to come eat.  However, the falcon was no where to be seen.

Since it was about time for the first Rock City Raptor show of the day, we all returned to the amphitheater.

Watching the intro video for the 4th time, I still got chills watching the birds maneuver through the air.  It’s an amazing feat to watch and the video shows just how agile these birds are in slow motion.  I could watch that video all day.

But, seeing the birds live is an even bigger thrill.  Cayce gave me a special treat by flying straight at my head.  Unfortunately, she got so close I would have needed extension tubes to get a good shot of her just before her tail rearranged my hair, causing the whole audience to take a collective gasp.  It’s always fun to be part of the show.

After the show, Pat and his family went off to explore Rock City and I followed Dale and John back to the feeding platform to see if we could find Dunwoody Fourscore.  The first clue that he had been by was the missing chick.  Of course, he’s not the only raptor in the area, so that wasn’t solid proof of his presence.  We walked around looking to see if we could spot him.  Eventually, John managed to spot him hanging out in a tree nearby.  He had his wings partially spread, trying to cool off.  It was about 102 degrees by then, a few degrees cooler than down in Chattanooga below.  Dunwoody Fourscore was making the most of the breeze coming up over the cliff.

Fourscore didn’t move while I circled underneath him.  Well, not quite a circle–a true circle would have taken me off the cliff.  As I came around to the other side of him, he switched his stance, looking down at me as if he was thinking, “What in the heck are you with that big glass thing growing out of your face?”