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Posts Tagged ‘raptor’

Photo: Tony Luong.
Robert Vallières brings a raptor when he speaks to veterans about how birds helped his recovery, like here at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. When asked the worth of this Great Horned Owl, he told the vet: “I can’t put a value on it.” 

Tomorrow, November 11, is Veterans Day, one of only two federal holidays that hasn’t been switched to a Monday. The other is July 4. I saw today’s story around this time last year and decided to save it for you.

Purbita Saha and Tony Luong wrote at Audubon magazine in 2017 about a former soldier who found solace in Nature and then used his insights to help other veterans.

“The first bird that saved Robert Vallières,” they report, “was a Black Hawk helicopter. It was October 1990, and the then 28-year-old Army soldier was serving in the Persian Gulf War. While riding in the back of a truck on a mission to fortify a foxhole in the remote Arabian Desert, a heavy beam slammed into him, sending him flying and causing severe head injuries and swelling in the brain. The chopper sped Vallières to a field hospital for emergency care. …

“After being honorably discharged, Vallières returned to Concord, New Hampshire. While he appeared to be on the mend, he continued to grapple with chest spasms and Gulf War Syndrome—the mysterious mix of symptoms, including headaches, exhaustion, and memory problems, that plagued up to a third of returning veterans. On top of that, he had lingering effects from a pre-deployment aneurysm, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. … The PTSD led to serious depression and horrific anger, he says. He was overwhelmed with trying to readapt to civilian life when he saw a newspaper ad for a birding trip in the White Mountains. Remembering his hikes with his nature-loving father, also a veteran, Vallières signed up immediately. Up on the slopes, as he scanned the leafy ledges for passerines, a Peregrine Falcon hurtled into view, seizing a Northern Flicker mid-air in a puff of feathers. He followed it back to a snag, where it tore the woodpecker apart, yellow shaft after yellow shaft. ‘I was glued,’ Vallières says. …

“Vallières credits that Peregrine with saving him from despair. The encounter sparked a full-fledged birding obsession that ultimately helped shape his philosophy on healing. He quickly signed on to monitor raptor nests with New Hampshire Audubon. The first site he claimed was Joe English Hill, near Concord, where he and his son Andrew would watch American Kestrels speed rodents to their begging chicks’ mouths. As his identification and observational skills deepened, his responsibilities multiplied. He began tracking breeding Peregrine Falcons and Bald Eagles, aiding in the recognition of an uptick in chicks that confirms the birds’ nationwide resurgence since the pesticide DDT was banned.

“Vallières finds strength and hope in their comeback. ‘They keep my defeats in perspective,’ he says. And, he discovered, while painkillers reduced his chronic pain, his ailments often temporarily vanished in the presence of birds. Besides taking his mind off the hurt, tracking wild birds also allowed Vallières to beat back depression and regain much of his physical strength. …

“He began rehabilitating raptors, first with Audubon, then with the local wildlife hospital Wings of Dawn, where he learned to train unreleasable birds as educational ambassadors.

Working with the feathered charges allowed him to pay forward the care and kindness he’d received from doctors, nurses, and therapists, he says. It also made him feel like less of a burden.

“Given the profoundly soothing effect raptors had on Vallières, he was motivated to share the experience. He brought other vets to the New Hampshire Audubon hawkwatch platform to take in thousands of Broad-wingeds during fall migration. He cowrote a memoir, Wounded Warriors, about his experiences in battle and birding. And he started bringing rehab birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home and Manchester VA Medical Center. (Vallières is a patient at the latter, receiving therapy for his chronic pain, taking drawing lessons to relieve stress, and learning cognitive exercises to combat memory loss from a second aneurysm in 2012.)

“On the Friday before Memorial Day, Vallières made his rounds at both facilities. In the solarium of the medical center that morning he saluted each of the 15 seniors, many in wheelchairs and Vietnam and Korean War caps. Then he introduced a male Great Horned Owl that is permanently grounded due to a wing injury. Vallières walked around with the raptor on his arm, lifting it above the veterans’ heads so they could feel the rush of its beating feathers. The room buzzed with questions and anecdotes of pet cockatoos; placid faces broke into grins. With his audience transfixed, Vallières related his story. He showed them sketches he has drawn of being airlifted out of Kuwait, shared dark reflections of his struggle with PTSD, and explained the important role that birds have played in his recovery.”

We owe so much to veterans, but you know as soon as a war starts that many, if not most, will be physically or mentally wounded or never come home. And the services to help them will be limited. All by itself, that’s a good reason not to go to war. Sometimes it’s necessary, of course, as the Ukrainians who take up arms today already know. Below is art that shows why they do it.

More at Audubon, here. No firewall. A description of the art is at WordPress, here.

Protecting the children: Kathe Kollwitz’s ‘Grieving Parents’ at Vladslo: ‘Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground.’

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Photo: Noah Robertson/Christian Science Monitor.
Master falconer Rodney Stotts, founder of Rodney’s Raptors, holds a Harris hawk at the Earth Conservation Corps campus in Laurel, Maryland. At ECC, Stotts works with young people who may be at risk, just as he was once.

There’s more than one way to connect with troubled teens, but sharing an interest can be key. In today’s story, we learn how getting involved with birds of prey transformed the life of a young Rodney Stotts and how he later commmitted himself to helping other kids.

Noah Robertson writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “Before young Jamaal Hyatt met falconer Rodney Stotts, the youth had never seen a bird fly from a person’s finger, disappear out of sight, and return at the sound of a whistle. He’d never fed a bird of prey, or understood the trust it takes for one to calmly perch on a person’s arm. He’d never even seen a raptor up close.

“Mr. Hyatt grew up in downtown Washington, D.C., where birds rest on traffic lights as often as trees. Two years ago, when his family felt he wasn’t focused on school, they decided to send him to Capital Guardian Youth Challenge Academy, a military school for at-risk students in Washington high schools. It was in the woods here that he met Mr. Stotts – a master falconer, mentor, conservationist, and Dr. Dolittle of sorts. 

“Mr. Stotts, too, grew up in Washington, and, like Mr. Hyatt, once barely knew a pigeon from a peregrine falcon. But more than 30 years ago, working with animals transformed him from a man of the streets to a man of the woods. He’s since become a mentor for young people facing similar challenges. 

“That mission brought him to Laurel, where his office is sandwiched between Capital Guardian and New Beginnings Youth Development Center, a youth detention and rehabilitation facility. He works with young people in each facility, giving them an outlet, a role model, and a chance to learn to trust others by learning to trust animals. …

“In three decades Mr. Stotts has worked with thousands of people on the streets and in schools, parks, jails, barns, and Zoom calls. Along the way, he founded his own nonprofit, Rodney’s Raptors, and earned his falconry license. The work is low in pay and often poignant, forcing him to confront violence, substance misuse, and loss. 

“But for Mr. Stotts, whose life is profiled in a new documentary, ‘The Falconer,’ it’s highest in personal reward. If he could change, he tells the young people he works with, so can they. …

“With a mother who struggled with heavy substance use (before later quitting cold turkey), Mr. Stotts grew up in southeast Washington during the crack epidemic. In early adulthood, he reflected his circumstances; he dealt drugs and was likely to cross up with law enforcement, he says. Then, by accident, he found animals. 

“In the early 1990s, he needed a pay stub to sign on an apartment and took a position at Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), a nonprofit then focused on cleaning the notoriously polluted Anacostia River. Bob Nixon, the program’s de facto founder and a falconer himself, helped introduce Mr. Stotts to animals and eventually birds of prey. 

‘The first time I held a bird, period, it took me somewhere else, says Mr. Stotts. …

“After a year, he stayed with ECC and eventually took charge of its raptor program, based in Laurel. … ‘He’s been engaged since the get-go – that’s the impressive thing,’ says Mr. Nixon, of ECC. ‘He really feels the nature in his bones and gets a real reward in sharing that with people.’ … 

“ ‘There’s a lot of kids out here that don’t really have anything or don’t even believe in [themselves],’ says Mr. Hyatt. ‘Seeing somebody like that … can uplift them and give them a little bit more hope.’ ”

More here.

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Jeremy Hance has an article at the Guardian on the quest to save from human encroachment a huge — and largely unknown — raptor: Blakiston’s fish owl.

“It’s not easy studying an endangered species few people have ever heard of,” says Hance. “It’s difficult to raise money, build awareness, or quite simply get people to care. But still, Jonathan Slaght – one of the world’s only experts on the massive, salmon-eating, frog-devouring Blakiston’s fish owl – insisted there are upsides. …

“Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest [owl], and in the Russian forests, where Slaght conducts his research, it cohabits with a lot of big names: the Ussuri brown bear, the Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear and, of course, the grand-daddy of them all, the ever-popular Amur Tiger. …

“Slaght is a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a co-founder of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project along with Russian ornithologist, Sergei Surmach. But his first run-in with a Blakiston’s came in 2001 when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia. At the time, all he knew about the species was from a tattered bird book more than 40 years old, including an ‘inaccurate, terrible illustration of Blakiston’s fish owl. …

“Although an avid birder, Slaght never expected to actually see one of these things. He was told the owl was so rare that even seasoned ornithologists rarely saw it. Yet one day, hiking in the forest with a friend, he had an encounter that changed the course of his life.

“ ‘Something enormous flies away from us and lands close by and it’s just this big owl.’

“He assumed it was a Eurasian eagle owl – which can be found across the entirety of Eurasia, from the coast of Spain to that of Primorye – but took a few photos just in case.

“ ‘My brain wouldn’t believe it was this mythical thing.’ …

“A few weeks later, though, Slaght gets his pictures developed and takes them to a local ornithologist.

“ ‘He says: “don’t show anyone this picture; this is a Blakiston’s fish owl.” ‘

“Slaght … has become one of the foremost experts on the great owls and continues to find them where people thought them vanished.”

Read about other places this rare bird is found (including Hokkaido, where it was once considered a god), here.

Photo: Jonathan C. Slaght/WCS Russia  
Jonathan Slaght holds a Blakiston’s fish owl in his arms. He is one of a handful of researchers studying this massive raptor, which is threatened by human activity.

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