Friday, April 17, 2015

TRC Volunteer Guest Blogger: Brittany T. from Clinic

Brittany, at her summer ornithology
field class.
This is the last post in our TRC Volunteer Guest Blogger series this week, in honor of National Volunteer Week.  We hope you've enjoyed hearing from some of our treasured volunteers.  There is no one more committed or passionate than these amazing people and we are honored to get to work with them every day of the week.

Brittany T. has been on her clinic crew since 2011, and in 2012 she became part of the Education team.  

"Back in 2010 when I started my first year at the University of Minnesota, my mom came to visit for Parents Weekend. One of the activities offered that weekend was to visit The Raptor Center for a Saturday program/tour. I remember my first thought being, “Why is there a center for learning about dinosaurs on campus?” (No really, that’s how little I knew about the bird world). That first raptor program taught me so much in such a short amount of time, and since that day I can honestly say I have learned more about raptors than I ever thought possible.

The first crew I joined was in the clinic.  Most people in their lifetime are lucky to see a bald eagle or a red-tailed hawk flying high above them, or might get lucky enough to spot a great-horned owl in their backyard, or a Peregrine Falcon in downtown St. Paul. This opportunity to volunteer in the clinic has brought me face to face with the more common species of raptors as well as some that many people may never get the chance to see in the wild or captivity – from large great grey owls and osprey to very small Northern saw-whet owls and merlins. On the clinic crew, we spend the shift preparing food and feeding the approximately 800 injured raptors that come in every year. Being so close to these powerful birds is just breathtaking. Knowing that some species such as bald eagles and peregrine falcons were helped by The Raptor Center makes working with those species even more of a privilege. It is an amazing experience to feed injured raptors and be a part of an organization that works so hard to heal these spectacular birds and return them back into the wild where they belong.

I have been on that clinic crew since 2011 and my love for TRC quickly expanded into other areas. In 2012, I became a lobby assistant on an Education crew, welcoming visitors. Just one year later, I am now giving tours and learning new things every day. Back on that first tour, I was fascinated at how much that volunteer knew about raptors and how well they were able to educate the public about the world of raptors. With every tour I give I hope that I can give that same feeling of awe to someone else.

I know it sounds cheesy to say that TRC changed my life but it really did!  Thinking that TRC was a center for learning about dinosaurs probably says a lot about how little I knew of the bird world in general. My major in college was Biology, but I was more interested in mammals than birds. My clinic crew at TRC began my fascination with birds so much so that I took a field ornithology course up at Lake Itasca. I realized then that I would end up in the field of ornithology and would be working with birds for the rest of my life. Fast forward from that first day on my clinic shift to now spending my entire Saturday (every Saturday) at TRC giving tours in the education department and then immediately afterwards going to work with the wild raptors in the clinic. I am also now an Avian Nursery Coordinator at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota helping to raise and care for injured and orphaned baby birds to release them back into the wild. I can honestly say that had I not gone on that program and contacted TRC to volunteer I would not be where I am today"

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TRC Volunteer Guest Blogger: Molly T from Flight Crew

Molly T with young turkey vulture.
It was a recent warm day, and the
light covering of snow seen in the
photo melted quickly!
Molly T. is a University of Minnesota student, and member of both the Education and Flight crews for TRC. She has been a volunteer since October 2013.

I recall three years ago, sitting on my bed in my room when I looked up and saw sparrows scattering away from my feeder outside as a short-winged, long-tailed figure barreled through my yard. I shot off my bed, reaching the window just in time to see an adult female Cooper’s hawk maneuvering masterfully through the woods. I grew up seeing Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles and turkey vultures flying around my area, but I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to fly birds like these myself. 

I first visited TRC when I was 15, and as a bird-crazy teenager, I was fascinated with all of the close-up views I could get of raptors that I normally saw hundreds of feet up in the air. I waited patiently until I was 18, started school at the U of M, and started volunteering on the flight crew at TRC. When I heard that there was an opening in flight, I had no idea what it was. In fact, most people who visit TRC have never heard of the flight crews. Flight crews are an essential group of volunteers who help to rehabilitate injured raptors in the clinic by giving them flight exercise. Flight is absolutely key for the survival of a raptor. Without strong flying-skills, there is no way for a raptor to hunt. In order to exercise the birds, leather straps called jesses are attached to their legs, which are then attached to a parachute rope or a fishing line (depending on the size of the bird). 

Each bird is given eight (8) outdoor flights, during which time the crew assesses their flying and records what they observed. This helps the staff in the clinic to determine whether that bird is ready to be released soon or not. 

My favorite bird that I have flown so far is an immature turkey vulture. Turkey vultures are big, smelly, ungainly birds, but when they spread out their nearly 6-foot wingspan, there is nothing much cooler!

Because each bird that comes into TRC is important, the work of every volunteer that cares for them on their various crews is a vital part of the bird’s progress toward release.  So next time you see a Cooper’s hawk shoot through your yard or a turkey vulture soar overhead, savor the mastery of flight, and then come on over to TRC and get a closer look!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TRC Volunteer Guest Blogger: Marla K. from Transport

Transport crew member Marla K.
The Transport volunteer crew travels far and wide to bring sick and injured raptors to our clinic.  Marla J. Kinney celebrates one year as a Transport crew volunteer this summer. In her other life, she helped to organize an exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts titled “Eat, Prey: Raptors in Nature,” on view through August 2015.

"When my son attended summer camp at The Raptor Center, campers got to take home a plastic bag full of pellets. Twenty-odd years later I still have it, like every other regurgitation from my two kids’ supremely creative childhoods. Only now I understand how a perfect little rodent skull came to be mixed in with the matted fur.  

I had retrieved only one or two ailing birds for the clinic when I got a request to meet Dave in Royalton, Minn., to pick up an owl with a broken wing. The meeting spot was a Dairy Queen on Highway 10. Volunteering on the transport crew, you quickly learn the best parking lots for raptor handoffs. The Coborn’s in Big Lake. The Menards in Rochester. The McStop near St. Augusta. During these handoffs, you also get used to comments like, “It’s missing an eye, but that’s an old injury.”

I had just pulled up to the DQ when a big guy came around the corner and asked, “You looking for a bird?” He led me to a black Ford pickup truck. There in a wire crate stood a small great horned owl, prim and indignant, with a decapitated chipmunk at its feet. The head had been a midnight snack.

Dave needed his crate back, so I knocked on the kitchen door of the DQ to see if they had a cardboard box. (Since then, many a volunteer has opened their trunk and showed me the kind of mess kit I should be traveling with at all times: crate, towels, welding gloves. The latter were especially valuable when transferring a feisty American Kestrel from someone’s dog crate into a box for transport recently.) I ended up delivering the little great horned owl to TRC in a box labeled 5" Plastic Sundae Spoons. Now I keep so many boxes in my car, I look like I work for FedEx.

Mostly you can tell I transport raptors because mine is the car that takes every curve at 15 mph below the speed limit, lest my precious cargo lose their footing. I assume all the importance of an (albeit slow-moving) ambulance, highly conscious of the idea that some of my passengers were once endangered species.

I learned from volunteer coordinator Nancie Klebba that, like me, raptors don’t like pounding rock music, so I have a classical mixtape I play. I play it extra low when I have an owl onboard, having also learned about their hearing superpowers.

Getting a call to transport a raptor to the clinic is one of the greatest privileges of my life. Who wouldn’t give their time so that injured owls can be back in the wild detecting mice skittering beneath a Minnesota night sky? So that eagles can be back spotting their fish prey from dizzying heights? So that peregrine falcons can again be diving at their avian prey at 220 mph?

Even if the patients I deliver ultimately cannot be returned to nature, I know they might live on as education birds at a proper facility where they may someday inspire another young boy, who might in turn pass his love of raptors on to his mother."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TRC Volunteer Guest Blogger: Jim C. from Recycling for Raptors

Jim C. with Lois the great horned owl.
We continue our salute to TRC volunteers with Jim C.'s story.  Jim will celebrate five years as a volunteer in June.  He is part of two volunteer crews - Education, and Recycling for Raptors. 

"When I was approaching retirement age I started looking for things that I could “retire to” instead of just “retiring from” more than four decades of employment.  I am one who enjoys the natural world so The Raptor Center (TRC) was an early addition to my list of possibilities and I arranged for an interview with Vivian, who was then TRC’s volunteer coordinator.

After a lengthy discussion of my interests and reasons for looking at TRC, Vivian suggested that I might want to volunteer with their education department.   That sounded interesting but I replied that I did not feel qualified for that work.  She replied “That is a problem we know how to solve!”    Vivian was right … TRC staff are nothing if not educators and many of the volunteers are fountains of knowledge about all parts of the natural world we share.

So began a five year journey that I hope will continue for many more years.  I have learned so much and it is immensely satisfying to share our group of more than thirty education birds to help others learn about the interconnections between raptors and the rest of the natural world and hopefully understand that such connections exist between all living things, including ourselves.
Then came a day when one of the TRC staff asked if I might be interested in another activity to help TRC … Recycling for Raptors (R4R), a program which collects empty printer ink cartridges and sells them to business that refill them.  To be honest, my first thought was “What’s the fun in that?”    But The Raptor Center receives a very small percentage of its annual budget, mostly covering instructional services, from the University of Minnesota/College of Veterinary Medicine.  Our education and rehabilitation efforts are funded primarily by philanthropy, fees for services and Recycling for Raptors (R4R).   Over 12 years, R4R has brought in $165,000 to the Raptor Center and provided a second life to 235,000 ink cartridges that otherwise were destined for a permanent home in a landfill.  The importance of that extra income was driven home recently when I learned that the refrigerator we use for the education birds’ food was acquired from Craigslist and that the clinic refrigerator’s door didn’t stay closed without the help of some sort of improvised fastening system! 
R4R benefits from companies that save their empty cartridges and also encourage their employees to bring in their own spent cartridges.   We also receive cartridges from a number of retail stores and other locations that host collection boxes where the public can drop off their cartridges.  You can find information about our public drop off site here.

I spend only 2-3 hours each month sorting cartridges and half a day three times a year to drive a 70 mile circuit to gather cartridges from a portion of the collection sites.    That is a small price to pay to help support something that gives me hundreds of hours of pleasure each year."