Welcome to the

Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

About Me

My photo
Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lake Guntersville State Park--Eagle Awareness Week-End

Good afternoon from Cullman, Alabama 4:42 pm CST 71 degrees, sunny, cloudless sky. Before I forget, I've added twenty more pictures to the first album from Guntersville. They are the shots of the animals that were part of our evening program on Friday, the first night. We met a small turtle, a yellow slider, whose original name was Michaelangelo after the Ninja Turtles. However, as " he " grew up, having only been the size of a silver dollar when found in the backyard of a lady whose dog wanted to eat " him" for dinner, it was found that the plastron or bottom shell was flat. Hence, " he " proved to be a " she " and was renamed Michele. Male sliders have a curve in the plastron the better to mount and mate with the female, whose upper shell is curved upward. Michele,like other turtles do not survive in just any aquatic location--something I didn't know. They imprint on their birthplace and will always try to return to it. This sexual misidentification is not really unusual--I remember my gray tabby, given me by the St Francis' when I lived in Highgate and much too young to be weaned was named, by me, Olivia. However, about a month or so later, it was obvious that I had an Oliver on my hands. Imagine the staff at the Monshire, however, they had a boa named Stanley. Betsy petted Stanley and we often visited " him" .About three years later, the museum acquired another boa and pretty quickly Stanley laid eggs and was renamed Stephanie, I believe. A lovely yellow corn snake, named Cotton, was presented by the assistant naturalist for the park, Amanda. The markings on Cotton's scutes was striking. I forget how Cotton came to be an exhibit animal. Prior to Cotton, Mandy introduced us to Archimedes, the screech owl. He'd been hit by a car and eye was damaged. These are the smallest of the North American owls and we would have more meetings with others also injured by cars. I know that one was playing tag with us in the Bosque one year. They are fast but if the driver is not able to stop when they do in front of the car, it is not out of the ordinary to hit one. Happily, in the Bosque, it is easy to just play with the owl til it flies off. The star of the presentation, though, is Lucy the opossum. She has imprinted on our naturalist, Kate, as her mother. As you can see by the pictures, Lucy crawls all over Kate. Lucy's Mom was run over by a car, while she was eating some food stuff thrown from a car. She died but Lucy, who was in her pouch and small enough to fit in Kate's hand was still alive. Opossums are the only American marsupials and their young develop in a pouch, like the kangaroo joeys. I asked Kate if there were other babies, since they are born in a litter but she said not to her knowledge--or at least no others that survived. I will never throw an apple core out of the car window again. I've always felt it would decompose or be eaten by an animal. It never occurred to me that the animals would, as they do in camping areas, be accustomed to food along the road and go looking for it--thus being in a place where they could easily be run over. In the case of opossums, they are nocturnal, so they would be there in the dark--not easy to see. Lastly, Mandy brought out a five year old alligator, with his mouth taped closed. He was bought as a pet and then given to the park when the owner no longer wanted him. By then, he was too used to human care and could not be released to the wild. We got to pet Lucy--she is such a soft cottony--a little coarse-furred cuddler. But she will bite so no reaching for the head. Cute as a button trying to sniff my camera from the safety under Kate's arm. After the animals went to bed, Kate filled us in on the programs and field trips being offered over the weekend. To begin with, on Saturday morning, if willing, we could meet in the lobby for coffee at 530 am. We would leave at 6 am to go to a fishing pier to see juvenile eagles. The area is not a nesting but rather a roosting area. Most of the adults have already started north, since these eagles are a migratory group. So, up we got, to a raining cold morning. At first it was just a drizzle. Gulls flew all around us and by looking at the pier there was ample evidence that we were occupying their favorite perching spot. Initially, there were only two. By the time we left the sky was full of gulls. Shortly after arriving we saw an eagle high and I mean super high in the sky. A small black bird, a few wing strokes, a long glide and gone. Eventually, a couple Canada geese drifted over. In the darkness, we got excited till we looked more closely at the long necks, short tails and heard the distinctive honk. Then, one of the ladies excitedly pointed out a big bird flying silently over the water. Mandy said " second incorrect identification, though we sometimes call this one a long-legged eagle! " A great blue heron. As the rain increased and the sky lightened slightly, a black bird with extremely vigorous wing strokes flew by, the destructive cormorant. Their feces is so acidic that it kills the vegetation in the areas where they live. There are several islands in Lake Champlain that are nothing but bare rock, now covered with cormorants' waste. The trees nothing but dead trunks and branches, all covered by the black birds. Lastly, the American coots came swimming into the rain speckled water and we all decided to give it up for this morning. Back to the lodge by 8 for breakfast. Then Bill and I went back to the room. I tried really hard to stay awake but just couldn't function, so went to bed and slept until 1130.When I woke we were socked in with fog!! Decided to read for awhile and then head over for 1:30 entrance to the 2 o'clock program--Wings to Soar. If there had been nothing else happening in this beautiful place, this program was worth every cent of the weekend. A man named John Stokes and his wife, have raptors that have been injured or imprinted by humans in one way or another. For example, the black headed vulture they presented had been picked up by someone who thought it was an abandoned fledgling. Apparently, the parents of these vultures leave them to go hunting. They are often on the ground, seemingly unattended, orphaned. In actuality, the parents are hunting and swallow and partially digest the food, which they then bring up from their stomachs to pour into the chicks mouth. They don't carry the food back like other raptors because their feet are not that strong. After hearing the story of this bird and seeing the one that John and his wife have, I now love black headed vultures. This animal would not stay on its perch, flew over our heads close enough to touch, and then walking on the floor as John spoke. Winding itself in and out of his legs like a cat and almost tripping him. Then the bird would spot his wife and run after her like a dog to get more food. They tried three times to get the vulture to go into the wild--introduced her to a flock with two others. They acclimated, were accepted and went off with the flock. This one doesn't know its a bird and simply had no interest in those other guys. So here he is, traveling with the Stokes and thrilling people by flying low over them. At one point, a young college girl volunteered to let the bird land on her. John dressed her up with pseudo dead squirrel pelts saying they are scavengers so she has to seem like road kill. Then he gave her the glove and, of course, John had food, so up flew the vulture. None of the road kill impersonation had anything to do with it. We saw a variety of birds, a kestrel, a peregrine falcon, a barred owl, a barn owl, a screech owl, a red-tailed hawk, an osprey. The kestrel, barn owl, osprey all were released multiple times to soar above it in paths across our seating area. One bird at a time, of course. And we were told to stay seated, not to reach up to touch the birds in flight, nor to raise our cameras high to photograph the flight. Let me tell you, there was no way that a still camera was going to get a shot of them in flight. But, it was so exciting. The black headed vulture created a wind blowing my hair and he flew a couple of inches above me. The guys in the back of the room, did not stay close to the wall--it was so crowded, there were standing people--no room to put more chairs even if wanted to. The barn owl became confused trying to find point B and flew three confused loops through the room before crashing on the floor in the corner. It was spectacular but quite scary wondering if it had hurt itself on the hard carpeted floor. He was fine. And then the program ended--with Osceola--the 13 yr old Bald Eagle. Shot on purpose and so badly hurt that his left wing had to be amputated. So horribly sad. But John decided that Osceola had to soar once more and, being a hang glider, he fashioned a sling that hangs above him and he takes the Eagle up with him. There is a YouTube of it--which I must find and will share with you when I get a chance. The program lasted an hour and a half and, no pun intended, it just flew. The program was going to be offered again at 5. Bill and I went to the pub and had burgers and a couple of brews. Nate was a barman and sitting near us was a young man, who turned out to be Kate's husband, David. He is a civilian engineer for the government and has just returned from a testing assignment in Yuma. He has also been to the White Sands Testing area in the past. He was a delight and well matched to Kate, we think. I mentioned to her this morning that I'd met a handsome young man named David the night before. She grinned and said, I've met one of them, too! After eating we decided not to go back for the second program--just too tired. As a matter of fact, I went to bed at 8pm!!!!!! I NEVER go to bed that early unless I'm sick. Slept all the way to 5am. Lay there for about minutes trying to decide whether to go down to the fishing pier again this morning. Rolled over and missed it, since I didn't wake up again until 7. Got up and while Bill went to breakfast, I packed most everything. When he came back he put what was ready to go in the car. Then we met for the last time in the lobby to go to the site of an eagles' nest. The parents are there with a young eaglet. It was hard to see from the distance we were, but I did manage to get a shot of the nest and a bit of baby. What I did not see with the naked eye was the parents. If you look closely at the nest picture--to the left and up--there is dad's tail and mom's foot. I did see them through the telescope that Kate brought down. We chatted with a lady we'd met from Gadsen, Al--Barbara Kelly. She went down early again this morning and they saw FOUR eagles!! Grrr. After awhile at this site we decided to go back to our room, make the reservation for this room in Cullman, and get the few things left down to the car. I also made up two envelopes --one for my sister, Barbara, to share with her vet who thinks he might like to come for one of these weekends. The other, for my Aunt Shirley, who I thought might enjoy seeing where we've been. Then we went to check out and have the Sunday Prime Rib Buffet. Took in one last look at two adorable screech owls--both of whom have also been hit by cars. Just like the one on Friday night in Kate's presentation and the one in John's presentation on Saturday. John's bird not only lost an eye but the whole side of its skull had been crushed so hearing is impaired as well as sight. Here the little gray bird is missing an eye. They were so cute, the girl had them facing us and then she turned them so we could see their backs--synchronized, they both turned their heads 200+ degrees to keep us in sight. Smart birds. And so, this incredible week-end was over. I would do it again--oh, yes, after we left the nesting site? The male came down and bathed in the water--giving a full display and plenty of opportunity to film him!!!! Another GRRRRR. So I learned some things about how I'd proceed in a next visit. Many of the people there were repeat visitors and the Wings to Soar, which is open, free to anyone, brings people from miles around to see it. We get reserved seats--good thing! Took some final pix--the black headed vulture who had perched in the tree outside our room window was on the upper balcony of the lodge--drinking from a puddle! A whole lake and he uses a puddle. Also some pix of the entry to our wing right next to the lodge--the elevator opened on our floor, the hallway to the left was just a jutting wall with our corner suite right there. From the balcony of the lodge you can see how our room is right there, off that balcony. There is a distant shot of the causeway we, as it turned out, mistakenly crossed to head to Cullman but the mistake happily gave us the chance to photograph the Lodge etc across the Lake. A picture of Mandy and Amanda and a final hug from Kate, this time dressed as Gunter the Eagle and welcoming Sunday guest to the last program, which we skipped. Stephanie, the usual Gunter had gotten sick so Kate had to fill in--lol Then it was off for our 50 or so mile drive to Cullman by way of Arab. Hmmm, wondered what THEIR sports teams were called --THE ARABS? Not very politically correct. Nope: The Arabian Knights. PHEW! The navigation directions are messed up both in our system and on MapQuest--the destination using them is the Sleep Clinic at the huge hospital complex. Not quite where we wanted to sleep. Tried another listing in the navigation system and it brought us here. Gentleman on the desk gave us an upgrade so we have a bit of a sitting room as well as bedroom. Nice. Well, I hope this wasn't too long and that you enjoyed the wonderful experience we had even without the eagles. Next time! Now, I'm going to get comfy since hopefully the PBS channel is carrying Mercy Street and Victoria. I can always stream them but really like the TV when possible. I see a couple of interesting sites between here and our next stop--Tupelo, Mississippi. Not far from here but we want to take the Trace to Natchez. There is a motel in Vidalia right on the Mississippi which we love. Vidalia is in Louisiana across the Big Muddy from Natchez. So Grandmother's Buttons, I'm getting closer. Tell you all about it tomorrow night. I've got to get in touch with Betsy--bet she thinks we fell off the face of the earth. Nightie night, Trekkies, til then. KandB

No comments:

Post a Comment