Friday, October 30, 2009

Birds of Prey in Wrentham

This is a Broad-winged Hawk named Rufus, and his extraordinary keeper, Marla Isaac. Marla rescues and rehabilitates animals with New England Reptile and Raptor. Last weekend the Open Space Committee of the town of Wrentham hosted Marla and six of her magnificent birds in an educational and riveting demonstration of native New England birds of prey.

Even knowing ahead of time that the presentation would include owls, it took my breath away to see an actual owl sitting on a human hand. This is a Barn Owl, whose name I didn't catch.

As Marla presented each bird, she walked around so that everyone could get astonishingly up close and personal. We had the best seat in the house: a picnic blanket right up front. Chris stood against a tree and snapped photos the whole show while I minded Gabe. I had to take my little munchkin aside to keep him busy during the first half of the presentation, which was all talk; but once the birds were brought out of their boxes, I scurried back to our seat.

This is "Merlin", a Great Horned Owl. I think he could see straight into my soul with those eyes.

Marla seemed to be not just an old pro with handling birds, but also with audiences of children. She didn't miss a beat when someone (else's) toddler scampered out to her feet.

Each time she walked a bird past our blanket, I could swear the birds stared down at my son with a look that said "tasty!"

There is something very cat-like about owls. They have such haughty dignity. . . but also seem to appreciate a good head-rub.

Merlin's egg was rescued from a tree that had been cut down. Because Marla was the first thing he saw on hatching, he is imprinted on her - which means she's a big mama owl to him.

. . .and only Mama could get away with this! Here, Marla demonstrates exactly how long an owl's neck is under all of those feathers.

This is a photo worthy of icanhascheezeburger!

This is "Sargent", the fastest animal on Earth: a Peregrine Falcon. It surprised me how small he was. These birds are as flawless-looking as airplanes.

This gigantic bird is a Red-Tailed Hawk. You can see his red tail feathers more clearly in the next photo:

. . .and this eerie beauty is "Uncle Fester" the Turkey Vulture.

And now for some flying! Rufus, the little Broad-winged Hawk in the first photo, was turned loose for some aerial fun. Here, he is diving after his favorite toy. If cats had wings, they would play in this manner.

Marla understands what motivates her birds. It's unsentimental: they use her for food.

Here, Rufus gets some quail. He gulped an entire leg-bone like a carnie swallowing a sword. These birds require the equivalent of entire quail each and every day.

Before filling the raptor's belly with raw meat, bones, and feathers, Marla sent Rufus flying back and forth to perches strategically placed throughout the audience - including one almost directly behind me. I had the amazing experience of watching a hawk fly almost straight towards my face. It took a concerted effort not to duck. Rufus passed so close that I was buffeted by the wind he stirred.

Rufus did some guffaw-worthy hops about the area, including comical slippery landings on the smooth tops of the bird boxes.

Here, he flutters unexpectedly to a playground structure.

This boy had an encounter that he'll undoubtedly be talking about for the rest of his life.

This is Rufus striking a pose on Marla's head. . .

. . .and being removed from Marla's head.

Thank you Marla for the amazing presentation!


MrILoveTheAnts said...

This was a fantastic post. While reading it I felt like I was sitting down next to you.

Pam J. said...

Thanks for this great post! I'll probably refer to it often. We have red-shouldered hawks living in the woods around us. I posted a picture on my blog just to show you one of those who stopped by last winter.

Pam J. said...

My husband found this to be an interesting comment:

"There is something very cat-like about owls. They have such haughty dignity. . . but also seem to appreciate a good head-rub."

He said "both owls and cats are predators--is that a coincidence?"