Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Eagle Foundation Visit and Harrison Bay Raptor Center Opens

Mr. Cecere with HB5 before release
Back in June we had the great pleasure of getting to meet Mr. Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation.  After one of our eaglets, HB5, was injured trying to learn how to fly, Mr. Cecere and his great staff at AEF took care of the eaglet, rehabbing it to get it healthy enough to return to the sky HB5 Flies Free Again. Mr. Cecere was gracious enough to invite us up to Dollywood to the AEF headquarters for a tour and to discuss the best options for us to improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam.

On Tuesday Mitch and I took a trip up to the AEF Headquarters which is located on the Dollywood property.  It was quite impressive to see the operation and hear Mr. Cecere speak about how his passion to protect the American Bald Eagle had grown to the size operation it is today.  Currently they have over 80 birds which are housed on property either as educational birds, repopulation mating pairs, or birds which are injured and are being rehabilitated with the hopes of returning to the wild one day.

The highlight of the trip, besides gaining all the valuable information from Mr. Cecere, was the upclose time we got to spend with Challenger, the Foundation's most famous ambassador.  Challenger is a 26 year old male Bald Eagle who can be seen flying at many sporting and social events around the country.  If you watched the opening of the Eagles-Redskins game on Sunday then you were able to see Challenger fly before the game and if you read this before Monday night you can tune into Late Night with David Letterman as Mr. Cecere and Challenger are scheduled to make an appearance.

We were fortunate to be there during Challenger's daily exercise time and were able to watch Mr. Cecere and another handler let Challenger fly back and forth down a 200 foot hallway in the enclosure house.  The silence as Challenger flew by use was amazing and made it very clear why they are such good hunters.  Prey simply can not hear them coming.

Challenger had to be placed in his travel case while they got his "treats" cut up and prepared for his flight time.  Even in a "cage" he still looks regal and demands respect.

Besides providing educational and instructional programs for Dollywood and many many other organizations the AEF also is very active in trying to repopulate the skies with American Bald Eagles.  This structure is known as the "breeding house" where they have mating pairs of bald eagles which have bred hundreds of eaglets which have been raised, trained, and released into the wild.  The adult eagles in this area are disabled in some form or fashion and would not survive in the wild so this is a fantastic place for them to live.  A free nest and free food plus a mate.  How could it get better.

If you have had the pleasure of going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee hopefully you have taken the time to stop and watch the eagles in the Bald Eagle Aviary and have watched the "Wings of America Birds of Prey" show which is performed four times per day by the AEF.  There are currently 18 bald eagles in the aviary with a couple of nesting pairs inside of the enclosure.  It is quite a site to see all those white heads lined up at the top of the aviary basking in the sun.

Mr. Cecere was kind enough to take us behind the scenes to see the show operation where we got to see a very curious Bald Eagle named "Spirit" who was very interested in what we were doing looking into his enclosure.  Birds like "Spirit" and the other raptors on property make up the "Birds of Prey" show that you can see at the park on a daily basis.  The AEF has been putting on the raptor show since Dollywood opened over 25 years ago and is one of the most popular entertainment activities at the park.

One of the main reasons we went to AEF was to pick Mr. Cecere's brain about how we can improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Project for this year.  He was more than willing to show us the entire setup and gave us all the information we needed to copy his NE Florida operation.  Gaining friendships with experienced people in the eagle world is fantastic and will allow us to provide a better experience for our viewers.

Thanks so much to Mr. Cecere and everyone involved with the American Eagle Foundation for their time, experience, and encouragement.

Back home at Harrison Bay State Park we have some exciting news to tell you about as well.  Last week the rangers at the park were able to add three injured birds to the Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  These birds are injured or disabled and will remain at the Center where they will be cared for and will provide educational and viewing opportunities for park and community guests.  This is a great project initiated by Park Ranger Matt Vawter and funded by The Friends of Harrison Bay State Park.

We have a Red Tailed Hawk named "Scarlett" who doesn't miss a single movement outside of her enclosure.  Yes, eyes like a hawk.

The resident "camera hound" is "Happy" a Turkey Vulture who can not sit still and wants all the attention.  Shaking of a set of keys will get him hopping up and down and looking straight at you.

The last member of the trio is an owl named "Marley".  She has over half of her left wing missing and can not fly so she uses the branches and limbs which have been positioned in her enclosure to move about.  She also does not miss any movement outside of her enclosure and has "night watch" duty on all the guests coming in and out of the park.

We encourage guests to stop by and see the raptors.  For those interested in more information or how you can help support the project click here Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  Donations are readily accepted as feeding these birds will be an expensive venture.

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