Last week I felt transported to another world. Yes, I was in Florida. No, the effect wasn’t the result of the state’s unusually cool weather. Furthermore, the feeling didn’t have to do with the fact that I was inland (without a beach or ocean) either. However, I was reveling in what central Florida has to offer for “the birder”, namely a host of inland lakes and the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland.
I knew that I would see some birds when I vacationed for a mere week and visited some family in Central Florida. The kind of birds I hoped to see and show my husband was the Great Egret. Almost two years ago, mid-February, egrets colonized and started to court mates in a lakeside park literally around the corner from my family’s house. Before “the birder itch” hit me, I became fascinated with how a plethora of birds descended like a white cloud, and danced like dense fog in and amongst the mature and grand Southern Oaks fraught with pendulous Spanish moss. A sight that is truly magical to behold! A walk to the park from the house presented an introduction to this display. A small tree on private property just across the street from the park entrance was teeming with egrets. The fragile, 11’ high tree showed so much kinetic, white frenzy that it appeared to me like a gyrating powder puff!
Since my trip happened to be planned in the beginning of January, I had no luck for timing. Hardly an egret was found in the park. This did not disappoint me. I was told of another, perhaps more interesting place to take good photos of a specific type of bird, a raptor. Maitland, Florida was my destination and the blessing for me was to discover for the first time, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. I hadn’t planned on staying just 2-3 miles drive from the center. The area just seemed logical to me because it was near my family. This was truly providential, because my acquaintance with this center most assuredly will enhance my art!
Read the story of Doris Mager, one of the first staff members. What a gutsy lady! I am not so sure that I could have performed that kind of “sit-in”.
The center which is located on a lake has a fabulous record for rehabilitating injured raptors and releasing them back into the wild. If the final outcome is unfavorable and the bird cannot be released, then the center acts as a refuge and takes care of the bird the rest of its life. I was able to take photos of 2 Bald-headed Eagles, 3 types of owls, a Red-tailed Hawk, a male and female Kestrel and, a Merlin tethered in the open, without cages. The larger raptors are gated off from the public in an open courtyard. A wild, Red-shouldered Hawk visited out of sympathy, perhaps. We think the attraction was the caged Ospreys that were making a lot of noise. I took a detailed photo of this hawk at the lake, atop a boathouse. The bird is looking back at me (the photo is of the back of the bird) and its head is turned 180 degrees. I knew about owls and their head dexterity but had no clue about hawks!
Besides caged and tethered raptors that depend on the center for their lives, three other facilities are present on the same grounds. The Rehabilitation/Clinical Facility is right there on the premises. However, no admission is permitted. No admission either for “The Flight Recovery” structure. This structure was recently donated by Disney Corporation. A huge oblong wooden building sits at the lake’s edge, completely open in the interior to accommodate one essential, final stage of rehabilitation for the birds before release: to encourage and practice flight. Another separate administration building is central to the center. This building contains a library of sorts. The information inside provides some videos of the Rehabilitation/Clinical Facility, and in the near future, the center would like to provide real-time videos of what occurs in “The Flight Recovery”. I was so impressed with the center that I made a donation before I left town.