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


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


Family Act

Posing for Granma's Camera

Posing for Granma’s Camera

Sometimes I think I’m a bit odd.  Maybe just slightly kooky, a little nerdy, maybe even a bit eccentric.  Then, every once in a while, I discover how truly normal I am.  It’s almost disappointing, really.

For example, I thought maybe getting so excited about spending time with the wonderful birds of SOAR that it evoked childhood memories of the night before Christmas might be unusual.

Paul introduces Artie to one of the younger audience members

Paul introduces Artie to one of the younger audience members

But what I’ve learned is that it’s not unusual at all to grin ear-to-ear when encountering wildlife up close.  In fact, I believe every person I’ve seen attend any birds of prey program has responded with a similar grin.  It really comes as no surprise that my brother and sister-in-law, joining us for the weekend, also exhibited the same jaw-cramping grin while helping out with an intimate show at the Little Owl Festival here in Chattanooga this weekend.

Megan holds Jerry up for all to see

Megan holds Jerry up for all to see

The rain started early, turning into a light drizzle by the time we arrived at Audubon Acres for the festival.  The organizers were fairly certain it was going to be dry for the duration of the festival.  We were a bit nervous.  But, we chose a back corner of the meadow, as far from the train tracks as possible, and started setting up.

We waited to start the program until after the civil war re-enactor had fired his musket a few times.  Thankfully, one of the event planners thought to warn us so we left the birds in their carriers until after the smoke from the gun shots had cleared.

This birthday girl got quite a treat petting Jerry

This birthday girl got quite a treat petting Jerry

Once things had settled down, the small crowd that had braved the early weather headed our way and we got ready to start the show.  We had a small enough group to have them in a circle around us, which allowed everyone to get a front-row view of each bird, with time to pause for photos.

Megan was walking with Jerry, a Screech Owl, who was the only bird there that could be touched.  Megan got the added pleasure of seeing children’s faces as they touch an owl for the first time in their lives.  It’s a look that makes me smile so hard, my TMJ issues kick in and cause stabbing pain in my face.  It’s worth it.

Seeing my brother with Artie makes me smile, too.  I asked him what was going on in this image:

Paul trying to read Artie's mind

Paul trying to read Artie’s mind

He said, “He was looking at me.”  The angle makes it a little hard to tell, but my brother is still grinning ear-to-ear.  I kind of get the feeling that if Artie could grin, he would be, too.

By the way, I should mention that today’s photos are all by my favorite guest photographer, my husband.  I put my camera on Automatic and handed it to him.  Although I had to crop quite a bit because I should have put a longer lens on the camera, he did a fabulous job in a difficult shooting situation.

Paul squats to let the shortest audience members get a good look at Artie

Paul squats to let the shortest audience members get a good look at Artie

Raised Hands

Today’s photos provided by my guest photographer and husband, Pat.

Today, I did a volunteer gig instead of eating lunch.  The company I work for provided a grant to fund taking an educational program using birds of prey to underfunded schools that can’t afford special programs.  I’m psyched about having the opportunity to work with both the kids and the birds.

But, when I arrived at the school, I got a text message from one my best friends in the world, Gina.  She was having a bad day.  Her text to me was representative of something I feel all the time.  It was along the lines of “I feel invisible.”  Dismissed, unheard, unimportant, irrelevant.

These are the words that describe the worst feelings any person who regards herself as a valuable asset in the workplace can have, except maybe fired.  But, I suspect it’s the fear of being fired and what that represents to us that makes these feelings so difficult to deal with.  We all want to feel indispensable.  Invisible and indispensable don’t work in the same sentence (except, of course, this one).

I returned from vacation vaguely disappointed that the entire company didn’t come to a halt while I was gone.  It hurts my ego to realize the company didn’t even skip a beat.

But there I was, about to meet two 3rd grade classes with a bunch of birds and I’m getting this text that reminds me about my own fears of inadequacy in a corporate, adult world that often feels foreign to me.

I set my phone aside and focus on the event at hand.  The 3rd graders file in and the program begins.  The children are fascinated.  They smile, laugh, and look amazed.  Not mildly interested and politely faking amazement.  No, they ARE amazed.  And I don’t mean that in the over-used, can’t-think-of-a-better-word sort of amazed.  I mean they were surprised and delighted that something so wondrous as the opportunity to pet a Screech Owl and feed a Black Vulture was happening to them.

And then, they start raising their hands.  They want to be called on.  As each takes their turn, it becomes evident they often don’t know the answer to the question they volunteered to answer or they don’t actually have a question even though that’s why they were supposedly raising their hand.

I had the sudden realization that these were children who feared invisibility.  They raised their hands not because they had something to say but because they didn’t want to disappear in the crowd of their peers or the rules of their teachers who seemed to largely focus on making sure they behaved.

Behaving seemed to be an act of making oneself invisible.  But raising your hand, speaking out, those are acceptable actions that allow you to stand alone and be recognized.  A statement of being worthwhile, important, relevant, and noticeable.

It all suddenly seemed so simple–it’s all about raising your hand.

Owl Prowl

As my regular readers know, I love birds.  I can’t help it.  There’s something profoundly beautiful about birds.  I love watching them maneuver in the sky completely denying gravity.  I particularly admire birds of prey.

It only follows that I would end up volunteering for the Chattanooga Audubon Society.  And, when they scheduled an owl prowl, that I would sign Pat and me up.  (Unfortunately, Tisen is not welcome on the Audubon property–it’s a wildlife preserve and domestic animals and wildlife don’t mix well.)

Pat and I arrived just before 8PM, in time to deliver a load of bird seed I’d picked up for the feeders at the visitors’ center.  Then, Kyle, the property manager, gave a presentation on owls including their “songs” to remind us what we were looking for.

Kyle had been hearing Barred Owls on the property even in the middle of the afternoon; we were confident we would at least hear one.

Kyle had also recruited an owl expert to lead the walk who was extremely good at calling the owls.  Barred Owls are known for flying in to see who’s imitating them when called.  I once went birding with a group of experts in Columbus.  We started at 5:00AM.  The leader called twice and had 4 Barred Owls show up within minutes.  It was very cool.  I think the owls were just as amused by us.

However, here, the Barred Owls must have been up too much during the day–they had no interest in checking us out although our leader called and called.  Even in the area where they were most frequently seen, they remained silent.  He also tried Screech Owls, but we were not rewarded.  As our expert pointed out, it’s best to call Screech Owls first–they won’t go near Barred Owls (because Barred Owls will eat the much smaller Screech Owl).

While a Barn Owl might also find Audubon Acres a suitable place to live (especially if it could find a way into one of the many buildings), none had been spotted on the property, so we really didn’t expect to find any of those.

While the owls were not cooperative, we had started off the walk with an Indigo Bunting catching a late-night snack at the feeder.  We also saw many spiders and bats.  At one point, we were sure there was a silent owl in a tree, but it turned out to be a young opossum.  It blinked in our bright flashlights and gradually decided to move.  We watched it with fascination as it slowly made its way down the tree trunk.  Every part of it was help perfectly straight, including its tail, as is calmly made it’s way head down the side of the tree.

At the end of the walk, the moon was shining and we stood outside chatting.  While we talked, we heard a Barred Owl calling, “Who cooks for you all?”  Or maybe it was saying, “Who are the fo-ols?”