Monday, August 15, 2011

Out Of Their Mouths

Colorful leaves obscure Dillon the Screech Owl. 

About 400 Bald Eagles live in Haines, AK.

In the fall, that number swells to 4,000 when a late salmon run chokes the  Chilkat River.

So now I'm here, in the Valley of the Eagle. And to learn more about them, I visit the American Bald Eagle Foundation.

Once inside, I mosey around and watch a trainer feed Scottie, a resident (and permanently disabled) Bald Eagle who eyes me with mistrust. Then I see a barred owl on a perch. And he's watching me. His hoot-owl eyes are like saucers. Eerie.

Next up is a  red-tailed hawk, who also watches me as I watch him. His eyes shiny, beady. Then I see Dillon.

Dillon (I learn his name later) is a tiny,  tiny screech owl. He's so small, and blends in so well with the bark and leaves on his perch I almost miss him.

He catches my eye because his eyes are squinty. Little slits. Next to him is a little girl, maybe 10 or 12,  with long dark hair, just standing there, wearing a huge heavy leather glove. I look around for Mom or Dad, thinking they'll take her picture soon.

I'm sure this is a touristy photo op, which means there's a person nearby to answer questions about the bird.

I walk closer and, yes, I see the woman. About 60. Wearing a badge. So I ask: "Is he nocturnal?" She sort of nods "Yes," but she doesn't look at me.  "Well," I continue, trying to keep her attention, "I notice his eyes are closed down to slits ... is that what he usually looks like, or is he dozing?"

"Lydia," the woman says, ignoring me,  "This is your question."

I'm confused. Who's Lydia and why is this woman giving away my question?

Then, the little girl with the long brown hair and big leather glove speaks. "Oh, Dillon is asleep. He sleeps pretty much all day." And then she smiles. And with her eyes, she begs for more questions. I donate a few: "Will Dillon ever go free." Oh, no. He's blind in one eye." "How can you tell?"  When he opens his eyes, the pupils are different. One large, one small.

Oh my. This girl's  not just a pretty picture. She's a smart little cookie and she's in charge of Dillon. And so we go back and forth, me with questions, her with answers. Answers she provides with grace and confidence. 

I learn not just about Dillon, but I find out Lydia is a junior ranger of sorts, and went through a foundation training program to  earn the right to handle the birds. She's even on YouTube, she tells me.

And then the woman, the one who didn't want to steal Lydia's show, tells her the time's up. Dillon has to go back to his cage.

So he and Lydia leave. I walk away, too, thinking "out of the mouths of babes ..."

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