The Steve Irwin of Birds

I wasn't going to blog this until Sunday but our friend Kat who is a caterer to rock bands is in town tonight and invited us to an after party for the band she is currently with called Godsmack. It starts at 11pm so I'm blogging to stay awake. It's always a party when Kat's in town. Last year she got us backstage to a Motley Crue concert (no Tommy Lee is not a birder).


So, there was a bird exhibit going on at Cape May Autumn Weekend by John Wood the president of The Raptor Project. That's him above flying a one-eyed golden eagle in the convention center surrounded by a huge and excited crowd. It was interesting to watch his bird handling techniques. The man sure can bring out the birdmanship. The audience was engaged and wowed--especially when he would walk through the crowd with his Harris hawk and perch it on someone's head or when he would let people come up and touch one of his owls. He did quite a few flight demos with his birds which are oh-so-cool and yet oh-so-risky because the bird doesn't always come back...or land where it is intended to land.


While I was there he flew his white gyrfalcon (above)--what a cool bird to watch fly, although a few times it didn't always get it back right away. John's a master falconer so he knows how to fly birds. A wind storm was raging in Cape May during the weekend and I figured he wouldn't fly the falcon--windy days can help propel these fast birds far away and out of sight of the trainer. He flew the bird and during a few of the shows it disappeared, but fortunately he has telemetry hooked up to it and he's usually able to retrieve (although, one show it looked like it took him about half an hour to 45 minutes). I was excited to see the flight. I was told last year when he flew this bird, it ignored him and tried to take out a gull. The gyr grabbed the gull, but didn't kill it and ended up in the ocean.


He flew the bird out on the beach and with the sun and wind and crashing waves it was a movie-esqe scene. John warned all of us to stay together in the group and not to stray so the bird wouldn't mistake any of us for him. He did warn all of us to use common sense, if the bird flew our way we were to duck. I'm not sure if the guy in the above photo was just some poor dude walking the beach or if he was part of our group and foolishly separated from the rest of us. Sure enough, the gyr tried to land on him. It was incredibly windy and the guy was trying to run backwards...


He fell over backwards with the gyr still trying to land. Ooops. The bird backed off and did head over to John and the audience got a huge giggle. Future reference, when the bird handler says stay in the group for safety--stay in the group.


The bird did make it back safely to John and it was a treat to watch the world's largest falcon fly right in front of me. Kids had a great time at his booth. For $20 you could get your photo taken with a bird. I saw kids walking by with two or three different photos showing them off excitedly like little bird baseball cards. Always love seeing kids excited about birds and boy can this guy wind 'em up.


Now, here we have a real bird celebrity. John's birds generate quite a bit of income from television and movie appearances (and not to mention a spanky sponsorship from Nikon). This prairie falcon pictured above played Mordecai in the movie The Royal Tenebaums (awesome movie by the way). According to the trivia on the DVD the original bird used during shooting was kidnapped and held for ransom - production could not wait for him to be returned which is the reason that the bird that appears later in the movie has "more white feathers" - it's a different bird. Doh!