Wildlife West

Sometime around the middle of April 2003 we spotted an advert in the local paper for a bird handling class, to be held at Wildlife West. With the mention that a few people who qualified might be selected to join their bird team. Amusingly, the first class was to be held on our anniversary.

It took only a little encouraging from Yvonne, and I was there. And have been there, ever since. The class was three days, and covered a lot of material. Essentially it was a fairly thorough overview of the history, biology and behavior of predatory birds, along with information about handling them. I already knew much of it, but there's always something to learn.

And now, I'm spending several hours a week there, volunteering with the bird team. Everyone there is a volunteer, save for a few kids who get paid as part of a collaboration with the Youth Conservation Corps. Wildlife West is really an amazing place... a wonderfully restful, and inspirational place to go. It's a nature park, more than a zoo... all of the animals there are nonreleasable, for one reason or another, and so are used as educational animals. And the habitats are mingled in with the natural landscaping as much as possible. Everywhere around you is wildness and nature.

As is my wont, I've taken a number of pictures of the place, and the birds I'm working with. And now, for your edification... here they are.

Although my main interest and focus is the raptors, I've tried to give a more rounded view of the place. First we'll take a quick look around some of the facility itself, then move on to some of the animals, and finally the birds.

Approaching the park entry.

Facing into the park, from the road.

Not far into the park, there's this sign.

Attached to the big tire-wall, this is the inner fence around the park itself. More about the tire-wall in a little bit.
In the parking lot, facing the office & gift shop.
The sign reads:
The Living Parking Lot at
Nature Park
is a demonstration project
sponsored by the Edgewood
Soil Conservation Service.
A grant provided professional
layout, materials,
and vegetation.
Driving areas within the Living Parking Lot are on contour
with the landscape. Rainfall and snow melt accumulate
in the terraced areas between the driving lanes.
Wildflowers and native grasses were planted
by local students.

Indian Rice Grass     Buffalo Grass     Alkali Sacaton
Blue Gramma     Sand Dropseed     Western Wheat Grass
Blue Flax     Gallardia     California Poppy
Prarie Coneflower        

Just inside the park, this nice little path winds along toward the wetlands. That building is a very nice spot to sit in and watch the birds come and go.

This is the tire wall around the Wetlands. It's actually made out of used tires, stacked up and then pounded full of earth and rock. Chicken wire (or adobe-wire) is then formed over it, and the whole mass is covered with concrete. This produces a really nicely irregular surface, instead of a boring straight flat wall.
Notice the slits in it - these are great for watching the critters out there, without really disturbing them.

There's a portion of the tire wall that's been left unfinished and framed, so people can get a glimpse of it's interior.

This is a view of the wetlands, looking from that little building seen above. In addition to the birds who live here, this is a tremendously popular spot for the many species who briefly stop over during migrations.

Pronghorn In addition to the birds, there's also some pronghorn who live in this area of the park.

Wetlands pond And here's a closer look at the pond, with a few ducks swimming about. Normally there'd be quite a few more birds, but it was late in the day for this shot, and I wasn't being particularly stealthy. In the center of the pond is a nice island, which is used as a nesting ground by several species.

Caboose Looking off to the right from the wetlands area. The caboose is eventually planned to be a resource center and educational exhibit tied with an eagle habitat. What KIND of eagle, I have no idea... but I'm hoping golden. Much as I love our national symbol, I have a soft spot for goldens... and they're a lot more common out here than the Bald Eagle.

A green path
Cactus flower
An open space
Open vistas
A few random images from around the park. It's truly a beautiful place - not simply a showplace for the animals on exhibit, but a demonstration of many of the different plants and environments of the area. It's common to see many many different kinds of birds as you walk around, along with wild native species who make their home in the park, too.

Random neat clouds
The skies here can produce some wonderful sights as well. These wave-like clouds remind me of a couple of classic paintings.

Jackalope bus A rare sighting of the endangered Jackalope bus... one of only a few known to exist in the wild. Or, more realistically... it's the bus that houses a small museum, showing a collection of animal bones, along with explanations about the different habitats many of the creatures occupy.

A few of the non-bird critters.

Coyote - Canis latrans
Coyote yawning The lone coyote of the park relaxes in the shade of one of the trees in her enclosure, and yawns.

Mexican Grey Wolves - Canis lupis baileyi
Grey Wolves We have 2 Mexican Grey Wolves... I belive there's only about 200 in existence. They're both in this picture... the first one is easy to find, can you spot the second?

Grey Fox - Dusicyon griseus
Forest the Grey Fox Michelle, one of the senior keepers at the park, showing her trust for Forest.

Puma - Felis concolor
(aka mountain lion, cougar, red tiger, catawumpus, plain lion, catamount, painter, sneak cat... more different names than for any other animal - over 30, in various parts of the Americas)
Moonshadow the Puma Moonshadow's Home Phantom the Puma Phantom meets Yvonne
A few pictures of Moonshadow and Phantom, the pumas.

Elk - Cervus elaphus
Elk Overlook This very nice elevated walk leads (as the sign might imply) to a spot over the elk habitat.

The birds of Wildlife West

Birdwalk signsOne of the signs that points toward the bird habitats. Bird habitat 1The first of the bird habitats, which houses Bert and Festus.

Great Horned Owl - Bubo virginianus
Learn more...

"You're going to do WHAT?"
This is Bert, about to get his claws trimmed.

Bert again, sitting on someone's glove.

A nice portrait of Bert, looking a little drousy as he sits on my glove.
Ernie, giving me a "Just what do you think you're doing?" sort of look, as I was cleaning his habitat. His wing damage doesn't show much (especially from this angle), but he's even less flighted than Kisa - he's lucky to get more than a foot or two off the ground.

Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
Learn more...

Festus, sunning his magnificent self. I have yet to get a really good picture of what is truly a glorious bird - it's hard to capture the subtle irridescence of his feathers.
Part of the reason I haven't gotten any really good portraits of Festus is that I'm taking things very slowly & carefully, since I suspect early impressions are going to matter a lot with him. He seems to accept me pretty easily, as long as I don't push it... so I don't.

American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Learn more...
Finally got a good picture of Hobo. Smallest falcon in North America, they eat large insects and small rodents, and a few small birds now and then. He's such an adorably cute little thing, but very very high strung and nervous - always alert to everything. Which makes him a bit tricky to handle, despite his very small size.

Raven - Corvus corax

This is George, being quite happy about having scored himself a grape. He's really a lot of fun, and very smart & clever... which makes him an interesting challenge to work with. The most dangerous thing is a bored raven!

He knows a few trained behaviors (not really 'tricks')... how to go to his various perches on command, and to make a couple of his vocalizations. These are really handy with an educational bird like him.

Redtailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
Learn more...
Dia portrait
Dia is one of the most stunningly beautiful birds I've seen. Reasonably amiable and easy to work with, one of her most intense attributes is her desire to be higher. Very important when working with her outside - you have to keep yourself a few yards away from anything that might be a good higher perch (trees, buildings, poles), or she'll bate often, trying to get there.
Not real surprising, since it's how Redtails hunt - they seek a high spot, and wait there for something potentially tasty to come into view.

Prarie falcon - Falco mexicanus
Learn more...

At the left is a body feather from Kisa... so delicate you can actually see through it, and so soft you almost can't feel it touching you.

She's never taken out of her habitat for display, due to the severity of the injury not only to her left wing, but also to her legs. Despite her injuries she's still a magnificent bird, and she can still get up to perches about 5 feet off the ground, with a little luck. Of course, her habitat's carefully arranged such that she can also get to those higher perches in stages.

Both of the pictures on the right really show how differently she holds her wings. You also get a partial view of the wonderful mural that graces the entire back of her habitat. She really loves the two perches she has like the one you see on the right - they're slightly slanted, and pretty wide, so she can get comfy on them while she takes her 'prey' apart... in this case a yummy meal of rat.

Barn Owl - Tyto alba
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Barny Barny and myself, hanging out. Barny is a little challenging to handle because he bates. All the time, without a lot of warning that he's going to do so. One of the side effects of this is that we have to keep extra-careful watch on his legs, to make sure the jesses aren't chafing him. It's really incredible watching him fly among the various perches in his habitat... because watching is all you do. Except for a slight 'whff' on take-off, and a faint 'thmp' on landing, he's absolutely silent.

Harris Hawk - Parabuteo unicinctus
Learn more...
This is Mister Harris - quite a fine creature. He's fairly even-natured, so he gets used as an educational example fairly often. You can see why he's non-releasable in the third picture above - he's missing nearly half of his left wing. The far right picture is an excellent example of the nictitating membrane at work - even though it's slid across the eye, you can still make out the pupil.
And here's Mister Harris getting his claws checked and trimmed and his beak coped. This was not something he enjoyed, at all, but he really was quite calm about it, all things considered.
Me holding Miss Harris Me holding Miss Harris Me holding Miss Harris Misting Miss Harris
Here's Miss Harris, being held by yours truly. She's not "Mrs", because as far as we can tell, she won't have anything to do with him. So they're just roomates. Miss Harris is about 30% larger than Mr, as is typical for raptors. On the far right, she's getting misted while sitting out on a hot day. Since birds don't have any way to sweat, the watermist helps them cool down. It's also good since they don't get rained on like they would in the wild - it encourages preening, and feather health.

Miss Harris laid eggs again this year - the third year in a row. And once again, they were infertile. We pulled them after she'd sat on them for the full normal incubation period. And I held all three in my hand. A very powerful experience.

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