Saturday, July 5, 2014

Test Flight

As a volunteer photographer for the World Bird Sanctuary I have been asked to be on site to photograph many programs, activities and events over the last 15 years.  Undoubtedly one of the most unique photo ops occurred this June.

I received a call from WBS Director Jeff Meshach asking if I would be interested in photographing a test flight for a new product called Birdzoff, which was being developed by a gentleman named Gordy Sabine from California.  He was coming all the way to St. Louis specifically to have his product tested by an eagle.

His invention had been designed to keep birds from perching on the tops of tall fence posts—initially to deter the smaller birds that perch on the tops of lights and tall fence poles surrounding tennis courts—which creates a messy clean-up job on the courts. 

When these proved effective for his intended purpose on the smaller birds, he began thinking of other possible applications, such as a bird deterrent to keep larger birds and raptors from perching on electrical poles.  These poles are an irresistible perch for the larger birds, from which they hunt and rest.  However, this not only poses a threat to the birds, but is also a cause for major power outages when the birds inadvertently make contact with one of the high power lines.

Before approaching WBS about doing an eagle test flight Gordy had already tested the product with smaller raptors such as hawks, falcons and owls.  Now it was time to test with the ultimate raptor—an eagle!  However, where do you find an eagle willing to fly to and attempt to land on the device? 

After some research Gordy found out about the World Bird Sanctuary, and called our director, Jeff Meshach, to see if it was possible to set up a test with a live eagle.  After discussing what was needed it was agreed that we would try it, but that there would be no more than two flights—since we did not want to teach one of our birds trained to land on a perch…NOT to land on a perch. 

We met at the WBS amphitheater early one morning to set up the test.  Buford proved to be the perfect eagle for this test since he had been trained to fly to a perch for WBS’s zoo show at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Test Flight 1 - eyes on the prize, Buford comes in for a landing (photo: Gay Schroer)
Test flight 1 - Surprise! He can't land! (photo: Gay Schroer)
Test Flight 1: Unable to land, Buford flies on & returns to his trainer (photo: Gay Schroer)
We all waited with bated breath and cameras ready as Buford, with eyes trained on the mouse morsel sitting on the Birdzoff device, took off from trainer Roger Wallace’s glove.  As he attempted to land in order to snatch the waiting mouse the Birdzoff device tipped, thwarting Buford’s attempt to land.  SUCCESS!

We agreed to try the second flight just to make sure.  This time Buford had a plan!  As he approached the mouse sitting temptingly atop the Birdzoff device he slowed, hovered, and snatched the mouse as his feet hit the target—which immediately tilted, forcing him to veer off.  SUCCESS AGAIN—both for Gordy and for Buford!
Flight 2 - Again - Eyes on the prize-he's determined to get that mouse! (photo: Gay Schroer)
Flight 2 - After only one try, he knows he can't land, but has another strategy (photo: Gay Schroer)
Flight 2 - He grabs the mouse in mid flight and flies on! (photo: Gay Schroer)
We were all elated—Gordy, because his device had been proven; WBS staff because Buford had performed perfectly; and Buford, because he had managed to secure his treat.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary volunteer/photographer 

No comments: