Friday, January 28, 2011

Back to Fine Arts 401

I took this same drawing class in this room 32 years ago, and now we were the guests of instructor Beth Lo. Miles the Great Horned Owl and Alisa the Red-tail stood patiently on the perches for two hours, models for the afternoon. Students broke out the oil pastels, and created some colorful pieces that were displayed at the end. I couldn't resist popping in next door and checking out the printmaking lab, where I explored zinc plate etching with Professor Don Bunse in 1989. Two days a week I took off early from the taxidermy shop where I worked, and Don taught me his secrets. I decided I'd be an artist when I grew up. Imagine all of the fine artwork that come out of those two rooms since then!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Absolutely Everyone Loves a Kestrel

We have had an unusual winter so far - sub-zero temperatures and snow one day, rain the next, and have been in a cloud bank for weeks now. Today, a miracle of sorts with sun, ever so briefly. This male American Kestrel was searching for rodents at Lee Metcalf Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, and perhaps enjoying the weather as much as we do. Although most kestrels in Montana migrate in the fall seeking warmer climates, some stick it out in the "Banana Belt" of the Bitterroot Valley where we live. My favorite quote about American Kestrels is from ornithologist William Brewster in 1925, saying that they are "most lighthearted and frolicsome." You bet, unless you are a mouse.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Max Returns to Target Range

Twenty years ago, Max the Golden Eagle had his debut program at Target Range Elementary School, and yesterday he returned for our first assembly of the year. The birds were on their best behaviors for the 475 students, kindergarten through 5th grade, teaching team iPod, Alisa and Jillian. I'll never forget Max's first time out, trying to hold him on a giant fortified leather welding glove, the giant eagle falling forward and backward, whacking me with his wings, the entire school in hysterics. It was a deeply humiliating experience (just kidding.) I quickly made a plan to have Max leap from a cardboard box to a perch on the edge, and that lasted exactly three programs until the box got wet hauling it into a school in Ronan, and Max leapt out on the way home. Loose in the car, I had a nervous 5 mile drive to the next highway exit, extra memorable as my Mom was a passenger! After that I built a plywood container with wheels and handles, padded perches along the top, and it has worked like a dream. Totals for last year: 70 programs, 4405 audience members, and 15,374 miles in the trusty Subaru. Schedule your assembly today!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Waterfowl Season Ends on a Happy Note

Happy for the ducks, anyway. Our falconry season for waterfowl has exactly the same beginning and ending dates as it does for gun hunters, and today we enjoyed one last day in the field. Sibley the Peregrine had some great flights, taking one adventure on her own behind some trees and returning with a head mottled with mud. Who knows what happened there. Then she strafed some teal in a flooded field, and I know how these clever birds got their name - they all ducked at the last split second. Home safe and sound, and a photo from last week when she caught a mallard. Now, upland game bird season continues, that lasting until March 31st, so let us know if you have a pheasant or two and we can visit.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ravens At Play

Over the weekend, skiers at SnowBowl were treated to quite a sight if they were observant enough. We counted at least 25 Common Ravens swooping, diving, soaring and chasing each other in the frigid air above Point Six to the north of the ski area. Ravens, as well as hawks, eagles and falcons are often very playful, described by Brown and Amadon as, “actions which seem to reflect an exuberance of physical well-being or vitality, carried out without any immediate biological goal.” They sure weren't feeding, and a bit early for breeding rituals. They, like us, were just playing! This photo from five years ago is Danica the raven, and we are still finding objects that she stole and stashed in the wood pile. These are the smartest of birds, and it got her in trouble constantly.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hazards Are Everywhere

Our pigeons have been nervous for the last few weeks, unwilling to leave the loft and returning in minutes. Maybe it's because this young male Northern Goshawk has moved into the neighborhood. Last week he was driven from a fence in the yard by Chesty the Harris's Hawk, although I really doubt that Chest was protecting the pigeons! Today we had a Gos out of nowhere and I could have leapt in the air and grabbed him, but I stood in amazement in the driveway. His pursuit of a white pigeon rivaled any Peregrine stoop I have seen in dexterity and speed. Here he is waiting for the pigeons to return, but we both finally gave up just as my fingers were nearly frostbitten.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Winter Like the Olden Days

All of this snow and these arctic temperatures made me think of the first winter I spent in Montana back in 1978. With the great skiing and giant snow burms in the middle of all the streets, we thought that was the norm. Real winters have been few and far between since then. One friend said she had been taking the weather for granted and left all of her lawn furniture outside by mistake. It looks pretty silly about now, piled with 2 feet of snow. Four birds have been back in the house, waiting for it to warm up, and this Red-tail didn't seem to mind the frost.