Whitman Mission goes to the Birds

Raptors from Blue Mountain Wildlife are on hand to educate about the mighty predators.

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Ula shows her 7-foot wingspan to the audience.

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Great horned owls may be the most aggressive of all raptors. Sage, however, spends a quiet moment with Bob Tompkins before the recent presentation.

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Nora the Schnauzer and Darlene watch the birds from the truck.

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Ula keeps an eye on the audience while Lynn Tompkins answers a question.

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The dignified barn owl seemed to be a favorite of children in the audience.

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Red-tail hawks benefit agriculture with their skill at catching mice.

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Lynn Tompkins uses a crutch to support Ula. Golden eagles may weight from seven to 13 pounds.

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Kestrels may be 10 inches tall with a 23-inch wingspan. They hover over fields and meadows when hunting insects and small rodents.

Blue Mountain Wildlife director Lynn Tompkins saved Ula, a golden eagle, for last at the recent raptor presentation beneath Whitman Mission shade trees.

The regal bird of prey drew the expected expressions of awe and admiration from the 50 or so children and adults, including Nora the Schnauzer and Darlene, lounging in a shaded semi-circle.

Ula clearly deserves her star billing.

As if on cue, she rose with a 7-foot wing span as her man-sized talons gripped Lynn's heavily gloved hand.

Her piercing, golden-brown eyes hinted at the wildness of her nature.

Ula, about 20 years old, suffered an eye injury nine years ago and can't see well enough to support herself in the wild. In captivity, she could live to be 50. In the wild, a golden eagle's normal lifespan would cover about 25 years.

At Ula's arrival, an excited Nora had to go to the truck.

And, despite her impressive entrance, Ula did not completely overshadow her fellow raptors.

Angus the American kestrel (a falcon) thrilled the audience with his dainty, colorfully painted face. Kestrels hovering above insects or small rodents may be observed often in the Walla Walla Valley.

Young Harry Potter fans in the audience waved and smiled when Lynn introduced Sage, a great horned owl with yellow, penetrating eyes, and Carmine, a barn owl with an eerily wise facial expression.

A snowy owl named Hedwig, of course, provides companionship for Harry when he's lonely and owls carry messages between the magical and the muggle worlds in the Potter tales.

Although nocturnal hunters in nature, great horned owls may roam at dusk. Lynn pointed out that they may be the most aggressive of all raptors.

"Raptors seize or grasp prey. And great horned owls will go after anything that moves and really grasp," Tompkins said.

Lynn twisted the fingers of a thrusting hand into a tight fist for emphasis.

She said Ula weighs about 10 pounds and would attack prey half her size.

Sage, on the other hand, weighs about eight pounds and would grasp prey two-thirds her size.

"So, you probably don't want to leave your small dogs or cats out after dark," Lynn added.

Owls have asymmetric ears (one higher than the other) so they can hear a mouse moving in the dark (also beneath several inches of snow) and triangulate its exact location.

Then they swoop on silent wings and grasp!

Ruby the red-tailed hawk and two falcons (a peregrine and a Barbary from Africa's Barbary Coast and donated by a falconer) also drew murmurs and nods.

The fact that a peregrine falcon reaches speeds of 200 mph when diving caused exchanges of surprised glances.

Lynn explained that many of the raptors received by Blue Mountain Wildlife have been hit by vehicles when they go after road kill, have hit power lines and other obstructions, have been shot and have developed lead poisoning from feeding on carcasses killed by lead bullets or pellets.

She explained how a slug or lead shot that kills a coyote, deer or pheasant will fragment into hundreds of pieces spread through much of the carcass. Raptors that feed on such a carcass consume the lead, sometimes fatally.

Lead poisoning, for example, has severely hampered efforts to re-establish condor populations in the West (Google: condors lead poisoning).

While Lynn, her husband Bob and the BMW interns and volunteers primarily rehabilitate raptors (hawks, eagles, owls and falcons), according to their mission statement they aim "To provide the necessary treatment and care to orphaned, injured or sick native wildlife and thus enable their return to their natural habitats."

They also "offer educational programs which enhance people's appreciation for wildlife and a healthy environment in which to live."

The non-profit Blue Mountain Wildlife receives 50 percent of its funds from memberships and donations, 25 percent from events, and 25 percent from grants.

Ula will be on display again at the Soar Flying Eagles program from 2-3 p.m. Saturday at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute.

Eagle Falconers Joe and Cordi Atkinson will show videos and talk about Soar Flying Eagles. Admission is free and refreshments will be provided.

"I am very excited about the program," Lynn said. "Joe and Cordi Atkinson have worked with PBS Nature and National Geographic on such programs as Raptor Force and Moment of Impact, both award-winning programs. They have flown and released dozens of rehab eagles, and are currently evaluating a second golden eagle for BMW."

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com.

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