Best Birthday Ever – Bird of Prey Release Day

My wife came up to me and said “Do you want me to tell you what you got for your birthday?! Do you? Let me tell you. Please? Pleaaaaase.” She loves telling me days in advance about surprises because, well, she can’t contain her awesomeness, that’s why.

I usually like gifts to be opened the day of whatever we’re celebrating, not days in advance… I like the delayed (regular ?) gratification… That said, sometimes I’ll not watch the last episode of a television series I really love just so I can drag out the relationship a bit longer. I know; a little weird. Real radical.

I can’t remember if I said yes or not but I do remember when she finally told me.

Mrs. Incredible: “Ok – you ready? I hope you love it! I mean, it’s not really nice or anything, its just, well, I thought you would love it.”

Me: “Ok – I can’t wait to hear about it! What is it?”

Mrs. Amazing: “OK – there’s this group in the area and they foster injured raptors – hawks, falcons, eagles and owls(!) – and if you donate to them, you get to release one when they are rehabilitated. I donated in your name and you get to release a raptor. You know – hold it on your arm and then let it go.”

Me: “Wait, what?!? I get to hold and release a RAPTOR??!! What?!! That’s incredible! YES! BEST BIRTHDAY GIFT EVER!!!”

Mrs. Spot-On: “Yay!!! I’m so glad you love it!”

Me: “When do we get to do this??! Can we go now?”

Mrs. Patient: “Well, they said when the birds are rehabilitated, they’ll call us and then we’ll go.”

Mr. Bottle-it-up-for-later: “OK. Awesome. I’ll be ready. I want an owl. I hope they have an owl for me. I so want to release an owl.”

Well.

The Orange County Bird of Prey Center called about four days ago and said Sunday was the day. THE day. The Release Day. We were to meet at El Toro High School and that’s where it would be. Orrrrr – if we couldn’t make it, there would be another time. “What?! No way! We are there!!” And – so we went. Some photos for you:

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People getting together at El Toro High School. This was the first of three stops; we released kestrals, sharp-shinned hawks and some other smaller hawk here and then moved on to one of Whiting Ranch’s parking lots in Portola Hills next to release red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks.

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Scott Wardy, the head veternarian for the OCBPC. Scott was awesome; super comfortable with the crowds, the birds, the staff and the volunteers. He knew his craft and made time for everyone to take photos of the birds and enjoy the experience. Between releases, as new birds were brought out, he would hold them up and talk about their anatomy which was a real highlight; I got to know the birds in new ways.

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A sharp-shinned hawk*

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A sharp-shinned hawk*

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A sharp-shinned hawk*

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A pair of kestrals*; I think they were male and female.

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A sharp-shinned hawk*

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A sharp-shinned hawk*

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For each release, I tried to snap photos as the birds were pushed aloft; 90% of the pics were blurry since I couldn’t track as fast as they flew. This photo I caught a red-tailed hawk exiting the frame; I really loved the blue space below and his talons hanging in from above… everyone who got to release a raptor that day wore a thick leather glove that ran up to their elbows; despite that, some of the staff told us how those talons (especially the owls) could cut right through the leather.

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This beautiful hawk (a red-tail, I think) was brought out at Whiting Ranch. He had banged his upper beak area in the box and probably before in the cage as well. These were not docile creatures; they were full of life, ready to go.

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A release!

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A red-tailed hawk*

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A red-tailed hawk* release

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Pulling up to the Santiago Canyon area to release a few more red-tail & red-shoulder hawks and – the owls!

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It was hot out so we lined the birds up in the only shade we could find; against a car and in the shade of this telephone pole.

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Scott with a hawk.

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Birds coming out; sorting who will be releasing what now.

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A red-shouldered hawk*. This looks like a harpy to me; something mythical with flame-like feathers. “Fierce” comes to mind.

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The same red-shouldered hawk.

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Oh. The owls. This is a great-horned owl. Mr. Cool. Mr. Been-In-Raptor-Rehab-Gonna-See-The-World-Again-No-Worries-And-Catch-A-Meeting-With-The-Dalai-Lama-Next-Week. I’m sure he’s really just thinking “Fly. Get mouse. Find shelter.” but it’s hard not to project on him with a face and eyes like that.

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Great horned owl; I loved how expressive the great horned owls were; this is a male.

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A female great-horned owl.

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Great horned owl.

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The barn owls! They loved to bite at the glove but the real issue was their talons – one of the staff members had the talons already cutting deep into her gloves and was working them out one at a time. I released one of these and was mindful of his talons when I held him.

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“Who me? I wasn’t biting your glove or trying to cut through to your wrist with my talons.” Eyes go blink-blink; smile for the cameras.

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Yeah! My turn. Scott is demonstrating how the edges of the owl’s wings are soft and rounded to keep them quiet as they fly. Hawks wings, on the other hand, are sharper and seem cut as if with scissors; you can hear them beat their wings when they are near.

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This was my second round holding the owl; they first round a minute earlier and he had started to wriggle loose. Scott intervened and he helped me get a better grip on him (her?). Their wings had a nice span and you can see me leaning back here to give him some room.

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Just about ready to let this one fly. Thanks, friend. Good luck on your journey. May you catch plenty of healthy delectable mice on your way.

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A barn owl close up.

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“Can’t wait to blow out of this place and find my old pals – wait – is that a mouse? Only a mile away. Perfect; well in reach. Should have that snapped up in short order.”

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This little guy. A screech owl. He’s full grown and just about 8 inches high.

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Screech owl.

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Screech owl.

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Scott showing the screech owl’s wingspan. He said they prefer treed environments, and sure enough, when he was released a minute later, he swooped right over to a medium sized oak tree and roosted up.

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Screech owl. You know, Mr. Screech Owl, we built and hung a special box made just for screech owls at our house. If you’re ever travelling or need a place to settle down for the winter, look us up. I’ll arrange for accomodations for you; I know a good Realtor. 😉

The Orange County Bird of Prey Center is a non-profit organization. This was my first interaction with them; I don’t know any of them personally. What I do know from the day is that they are passionate about what they do. They know raptors. They love the birds. They were entertaining and they were really educational. They spent time and answered questions from people. They said they work with schools and bring birds into the classroom setting – that’s fantastic! They are a non-profit; I know there is need everywhere but if this kind of work jives with you, maybe look them up and see what you can do with them. Make a donation. Find a way to help out. I’ll spread the word as I can and hopefully bring a little more attention to their work.

The OCBPC website – www.ocbpc.org and their Facebook page – www.facebook.com/ocbpc.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again, Mrs. Bee, for the wonderful present.

Last thing – bird names marked with an “*” (ahem, most of them) mean I’m not 100% sure about their name. If you recognize a misnamed bird, please leave a comment so I can get them named correctly. Thanks.

PS – A full set of photographs is over at our media site here – http://media.ocexclusives.com/?p=443

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