Time Out

This is my last day of a one-week vacation.  Instead of going somewhere, a friend came down for a week of hiking in the area.  I managed to disconnect from my day job completely.

The reality is that work is going on without me.  I may have a few messes to fix when I get back, but those messes probably would have happened whether I was there or not.  And if I weren’t there, someone else would figure out how to clean them up.

I choose to take from this the lesson that if there is time for me to take a week away, there is time for me to take a breath during the day.  There is time for me to stop at a reasonable hour and pick up again the next day.  There is time for me to take care of myself regardless of what messes come up.

I re-learned the truth of how important unplugged time is to me.  Going out into the wilderness where there were no sounds besides the wind blowing through the trees, water tumbling over rocks, and occasional conversation with my friend brought with it a sense of connectedness with the world around me that hours in front of a computer cannot achieve.

The computer, whether for work or just for fun, takes me away from the here and now.  Choosing footholds along a rocky trail puts me intensely in the present moment in a way that’s hard to achieve typing on a keyboard or reading an email.

I also re-learned the power of physical exertion.  The sense of aliveness and appreciation for every bone, muscle, blood cell in my body intensifies as the trail becomes more challenging.  The ability to move myself rhythmically up a steep rocky climb turns into a sense of power and wonder.  The body is a marvelous thing to inhabit when it’s working well.

And, I re-learned the joy of pushing limits just a little.  Hiking with a friend who hasn’t hiked much helped keep me from over-doing.  It kept the soreness to a minimum and allowed me to enjoy what I was capable of without suffering what might otherwise have been the pain of over-exertion.  Happy medium is called “happy” for a really good reason.

Taking time away also gave me the time and energy to consider alternative possibilities.  The freed energy led to imagination and my imagination went wild.  At the end of a week of time “off”, I find myself full of hope.  Hope that I can make time for what is most important to me.  Hope that anything truly is possible.  Hope that life can be joyful on a daily basis.  Hope that I can return to my “normal” life and make it a little less normal and a little more peaceful.  Hope that if I can do that, the world as a whole can be more peaceful, too.

It was a good vacation.


Final Curtain

Elvi and Bo

Elvi and Bo

One final post with guest photographer Patrick Murray (aka, my husband).

This will be the last post from the Raptor Experience with my husband’s aunt and uncle.  It was a great experience.  They came on a visit from Germany and the birds helped bridge any language gaps (at least for me–my husband speaks German just fine–it’s his first language).

Horst and Dante

Horst and Dante

Bo and Dante, the Harris’s Hawks, got to spend a little time learning German.  They normally don’t participate in raptor educational programs these days, although one of them may be making a debut soon, but during the raptor experience, they get to spend a little time visiting with participants.  Bo and Dante normally sit out on perches in the yard.  One of the first questions people ask is “what about coyotes?”  Bo and Dante don’t sit out on their perches unattended.  If no caretaker is going to be close at hand, they go back into their enclosures where they are safe.  But, they enjoy hanging out under the canopy of trees and are quite content.  They are also content to sit on a glove and look beautiful.

Elvi, Cayce, and me assisting

Elvi, Cayce, and me assisting

Harris’s Hawks are not found in the majority of the US.  Texas is the most likely place to find them, although they are also seen in New Mexico, Arizona, the most Southern part of Southern California, Louisiana, and, occasionally, Oklahoma and Nevada.  To see two in Tennessee is quite a treat–they truly are beautiful birds.  They’re also quite intelligent hunters.  They hunt in a cooperative fashion in small groups.  This has made them a favorite among falconers and they work very well with hunting dogs.

Elvi and I confer while Cayce heads off the other direction

Elvi and I confer while Cayce heads off the other direction

I have never seen a Harris’s Hawk in the wild, although they are not considered endangered or rare.  The just have limited territory in the US and I haven’t been where they are.  Just as I wouldn’t expect to see an Anna’s Hummingbird in Columbus, Ohio, it would be silly to think I’m going to spot a Harris’s Hawk in Chattanooga.  Sometime I’m going to make a trip back to Harris’s Hawk territory when I have time to go birding.

Cayce flies up to Horst's glove

Cayce flies up to Horst’s glove

As usual, in spite of the charm of the owls or the flying of the Red-tailed hawk, Cayce stole the show.  She refused to fly from glove to glove.  Instead she hopped along the ground, only flying up to a glove for a treat.  She’s a funny girl.  I wore my boots just in case she decided to try to bite my legs.  She chased me briefly, snapping at my calves.  I was happy I had my boots on.  I don’t know exactly what makes Cayce so universally lovable.  Maybe it’s just the surprise of getting to know a vulture and discovering that they’re so cool?  What ever the reason, Horst and Elvi appeared to enjoy Cayce’s antics just as much as if we were all speaking the same language.

Cayce lands on Horst's glove

Cayce lands on Horst’s glove

Cayce waiting for us to get our act together so she can hop onto Elvi's glove

Cayce waiting for us to get our act together so she can hop onto Elvi’s glove


Loaned Camera

There I am, sharp as a tack back by the car

There I am, sharp as a tack back by the car

Another post with guest photographer Patrick Murray.  I particularly like these images.  Why, you ask?  Well, I like the fact that while my husband had an incredible Red-tailed hawk flying right at him, he was focusing on me in the background.  🙂

But, for the budding photographer, there are several lessons here.  First, there is the “someone just handed me their camera and asked me to take pictures with it” lesson.  Had I planned better, I would have taken my husband’s camera, with which he is slightly more familiar.  Or, I would have at least turned off the back-button focusing setting on my camera, which was something my husband wasn’t used to (I am a huge fan of using back-button focusing instead of pressing the shutter button ½ way to find focus, but that’s another subject).

Yep, it's me again in focus in the background

Yep, it’s me again in focus in the background

I did think to put my camera in Aperture Priority mode (where you pick the aperture and ISO and let the camera pick the shutter speed) and set the aperture for what I thought would be a pretty good depth of field for someone who might not always focus exactly where I wanted him to.  However, I failed to change the focus point selection to a single focus point, which probably would have made it a little easier on my husband.

But then, he might have focused on the birds instead of me and I wouldn’t have gotten quite the same kick out of it.  🙂

I'm not really in focus in this one, but I have to laugh at me peeping around the corner!

I’m not really in focus in this one, but I have to laugh at me peeping around the corner!

I also set the camera in single-shooting mode when we started the raptor experience for my husband’s aunt and uncle.  This was appropriate because they were holding owls on their gloves who can’t fly.  These owls don’t move fast enough to justify continuous shooting mode.

But, this created a problem when we switched to flying the birds–he was getting finger cramps trying to press the shutter button fast enough.  Being in single-shot focusing mode also didn’t help.  Of course, since he wasn’t remembering to use the back button to focus anyway, using the continuous focusing mode wouldn’t really have helped in this case.  I guess that takes us to point 1.

Oh yes, there I am again

Oh yes, there I am again

I forgot I was enumerating the lessons, so let’s review.  If you’re handing your camera off to a novice and expecting them to do all the shooting of an up-close and person raptor experience:

  • Turn off back-button focusing if you normally use it
  • Set the focus point selection to a single focus point
  • Use an aperture setting that provides an appropriate depth of field (like f/8ish)
  • Select a high enough ISO setting that the shutter speeds won’t get too slow for the action shots
  • If the birds are perching, use single shooting mode
  • If the birds are flying, turn on high speed continuous shooting and continuous focusing
  • Try to stay out of the background
  • Be prepared to do a lot of editing.

Of course, if you’re not assisting in the raptor experience, you can take the photos yourself.

I just like this one--Elvi looks so happy

I just like this one–Elvi looks so happy

Speaking Owl

Artie looking very happy on Horst's glove

Artie looking very happy on Horst’s glove

Note:  my husband is once again the guest photographer for all photos of the Raptor Experience, including in yesterday’s post.

One of the great pleasures in life is sharing something you love with someone who enjoys the experience.  Think about it.  While on the one hand, we might respect that everyone has different tastes, there is something in human nature that causes us to gravitate towards people who appreciate the same things we appreciate.  And introducing someone to something that’s a personal favorite makes for a particularly enjoyable experience.  It’s like discovering a new food that makes you want to groan when you put it in your mouth and finding out that someone else has the exact same reaction–it’s something in common, creating a tiny bond.

Elvi speaks owl fluently

Elvi speaks owl fluently

I think that’s why I enjoy volunteering for Wings to Soar so much.  There aren’t many people who don’t enjoy getting up close to birds of prey.  There are a few.  I recently met someone who is terrified of birds–probably not a great idea to introduce her to the raptors.  But most people are pretty fascinated by getting to see a creature up close that they normally only get to see soaring overhead or perched high above.

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

It’s interesting how this interest crosses cultures and language.  I may not be bilingual, but I’m pretty sure the owls are.  They seem to recognize their admirers in any language.

Artie, the Barred Owl, hopped on Horst and Elvi’s gloves and immediately settled down and looked content.  he wasn’t the least concerned about what language they spoke–as far as he was concerned, they spoke owl.

Theo hopping over to Horst's glove

Theo hopping over to Horst’s glove

Theo, the Barn Owl, however, might have been a little too settled–he was content to ride over to Elvi and Horst when we were hoping he would fly.  He sat on the perch and stared, occasionally acting like he was going to fly, but then waited patiently for Dale to come over and put him on her glove.  Dale walked Theo closer to Elvi and Horst in turn, trying to get Theo to a distance from which he would fly.  Theo looked longingly at the tasty piece of mouse on the destination glove, but he wouldn’t fly to it.  When Dale put her glove next to Horst or Elvi’s glove, he happily hopped over to their glove and munched contentedly.  He seemed perfectly happy; he just didn’t feel like flying.

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo is a human imprint–he was raised by humans and doesn’t really understand he’s an owl.  I sometimes wonder if his reluctance to fly is because he identifies so much with humans, he starts to think it’s unnecessary.  But, then there are days when Theo doesn’t seem to want to sit on a glove at all.  He baits and baits and can’t seem to stay still.  I don’t know if it was the calming influence of Horst and Elvi, but I think he would have sat all day.

The 3-gloved approach

The 3-gloved approach

Another Turn for Cayce

A split second of stillness while Cayce nibbles at the glove

A split second of stillness while Cayce nibbles at the glove

The last, but not least, bird we exercised on Saturday was Cayce.  Cayce the wonder vulture.  I got to witness a new side to Cayce.  Cayce’s next door neighbors, a pair of Peregrine Falcons, are currently nesting.  Wings to Soar is hoping to have their first fledglings to release to the wild as a result.  This is an exciting extension of their program from education to restoration.  Peregrine Falcons were a critically endangered species that has, through captive breeding and release programs, been removed from the endangered list.

However, during nesting, the falcons are fed through a hatch in the side of their enclosure that opens into a shelf up where the birds nest.  To reach the hatch, John and Dale have a ladder set up outside the enclosure.  When we took Cayce around the Peregrine Falcon’s enclosure, Cayce clearly thought that ladder was the boogie man.  Or whatever Black Vultures might be terrified of.  She jumped straight up in the air when she saw the ladder and refused to go past it.

Checking out the surroundings, Cayce is still nervous about where the ladder was

Checking out the surroundings, Cayce seems more relaxed with all her neck feathers fluffed

I tried taking Cayce back around the corner while Dale moved the ladder.  Then we tried to come back around.  I thought Cayce was following me, but as soon as I got passed the corner, she jumped straight up in the air again and made an attempt to land on a tree.

Fortunately, as soon as Dale came back into sight, she hopped back down and seemed a little more relaxed.  We ended up not being able to fly Cayce, but she did hop up and down from our gloves and run along the ground between us.  She just wasn’t up for flying.

One of the challenges of shooting Cayce in flight is the length of her wings.  She has such a long wingspan that the tips of her wings are always a blur in flying shots.  While I don’t mind having some motion showing in the photos, I’d like to have more of her wings still.  Regardless of what I want, on this day I don’t have the opportunity to try.

Shooting Cayce on the glove is a lot like trying to take portraits of a 2 year old.  She squirms and wiggles and moves her head. She flaps and jumps and basically makes it almost impossible to get a good shot.  This is complicated by her black feathers and black face, which suck up light and often leave her as a dark shadow.

In spite of these challenges, I think at least one image I came home with gives a good idea of Cayce’s personality:

I like to think of this as Cayce's "Hey, what are you doing?" look

I like to think of this as Cayce’s “Hey, what are you doing?” look

I don’t know if vultures have a sense of humor, but when I look at Cayce, I have to think they do.  There’s just something about the way she tilts her head like she really wants to know if you’re paying attention.  I suppose she could just be looking for food, but it makes me happier to think she at least find us entertaining.

Tisen via Hipstamatic--he's all up for lounging on the couch these days

Tisen via Hipstamatic–he’s all up for lounging on the couch these days