Every now and then someone will say that they would love to do what I do. As much fun as it is, there are some downsides. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love what I do and am grateful every day for the opportunities I've been blessed to have, but every now and then I think, "Wow, this was not as glamorous as I thought it would be." For starters, take a look at this photo from today:
This is stinging nettle dappled with copious amounts of heron poo. That kind of sums up where I was. I visited a heron rookery on Pig's Eye Lake in St. Paul, MN. It's an island that's a Scientific and Natural Area. You can canoe around it, but you can't go on the island where the rookery is without a permit or an escort with a permit. I was lucky enough to find an escort and believe you me, so many nettles surround the rookery, it is well protected. On top of that, there is so much poop raining down from the 1600 or so nests, that would be deterrent for any shenanigans someone might want to pull. And of course, living up to the Minnesota reputation, the mosquitoes are oh so voracious.
Right across from the island the island is a company that repairs barges. It was kind of surreal to be canoeing around them. It's one of my great joys is seeing a place like this and knowing that birds find a way to survive. At first glance would you think that there is a heron colony a few hundred feet away?
Now, my original intent for visiting this area was a lead on a turkey vulture nest. We didn't find a nest, but we did find dozens roosting on a sunken barge. We were smart and did stay away from barfing range of the vultures.
We did find some interesting dead stuff. Would you like to try a hand at one of the carcasses we found? My guide, Andy told me that a great horned owl has been picking off some of the birds. The look of the exploded bird supports that...as does the large owl pellet Andy found in the middle of an eaten carcass.
Here are more feathers, bones, feet and a skull. The skull is towards the upper left hand corner. Note that the bill is thick and black on both the top and bottom mandibles. The feet are yellow. So, mostly gray feathers, thicker black bill and yellow feet? Have you guessed it yet? If you need more clues, it's for sure a heron and not a crane. Need any more clues?
Andy showed me that on the third toe, the talon on the third toe has a serrated edge, this is the toe they use for preening. Who knew? The kill was so fresh that we could easily manipulate the toes. I hated to see it go to waste, so what else is a girl supposed to do with a freshly ripped off heron leg?
Why take it back to her office and dry it out and save it as an educational prop. Speaking of offices, Eagle Optics gave a sponsorship to The Raptor Center and I have office space there! This has great advantages for all of us--especially Non Birding Bill. He was never all that thrilled with me bringing home bird parts to dry out. Other benefits include portions of binoculars sales that I do are donated to TRC. And, if you want to test out the close focus of a binocular, you can do it on one of the education birds--even a bald eagle! I'm just so happy that my company and a great organization dedicated to helping birds and educating the public can work together to help each other out. So, if you're ever visiting TRC, see if I'm around and say hi. I'll update a page about it on the site so that way people can have an idea of my schedule. I'll only be at TRC when I'm not traveling...or when I'm not mucking around nettle and heron poop.