Friday, March 27, 2015

Rustic Roads, Wildlife and a Purple Cow

I was amazed to have a majestic visitor on Saturday afternoon. I'd got back home from a lunch with an old friend and was laying on the sofa when I thought I saw a hawk fly over the house. I'd spotted the white head but had dismissed the idea of a bald eagle and laid back again. When it passed over a second time I leaped up and grabbing my camera ran outside. A few members of my crow family were heckling him in the oak tree and I could see they were really annoying him. I hurriedly shooed Kota and Rosie Lee into the house, not wanting them to become big bird snacks.
The eagle sat only for about 5 minutes before deciding he'd had enough of the crows' rowdiness, and I couldn't blame him. It was a real din, they were incessant with their screeching and shrieking. So he flew off. But I really hope he comes back for a visit soon.
On Sunday I was meeting Janice and a couple of her friends to visit the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro. I hadn't even known of its existence and was looking forward to meeting the residents. I decided to take a slow drive down the country route rather than sitting on an interstate, and had plotted a few places to explore.
I came across on of the few remaining 'round barns' in VA. This one is octagonal and in very good condition, located in Mt. Sidney. I got out of the car hoping the farmer would come out of his house and possibly give me some history on it but no luck.
There was also a great three-span truss bridge close to the barn, built in 1907 but now closed to all traffic since 1997.  It's known as the Mount Meridian Bridge.
A photo by Jack E. Boucher from 1971 when it was in operation.
I met everyone for lunch which we wolfed down and soon we were all sitting in the library area of the wildlife center where we learned of their mission and how they get their funding, most of which is from donations. Our speaker had a huge, silent, covered cage to the side of her and everybody's eyes were trained on that for the most part, watching for any sigh of movement or sound. Eventually she opened its door and out came a large beautiful Great Horned Owl.
Quinn, is training to be an educational animal. He damaged an eye on a barbed wire fence and his wing feathers, also damaged, never grew back properly. He could have survived with one eye but his feathers meant he couldn't fly silently, so he'd have no hope of catching prey. He's been at the center for about 5 years.
I loved this vase of feathers sitting in the window. I have one at home but not as well stocked.
We were taken around the center and got to see the treatment and surgery areas. I was very impressed at how clean and well equiped everything was. Boxes of various gloves and a board of different sized hoods were for treating birds. They had a board up showing the abbreviations of breeds.  The center also deals with a lot of bears and bunnies in the spring and is getting a new outdoor area built which will be split into areas for those animals that hunt, and those that are hunted.
The center also has a great sense of humor, with little scenes dotted about featuring stuffed animals playing doctors and nurses.
We even got to see in the kitchen area where meals are prepared. There were boxes and tins labeled with all kinds of meal ideas ranging from Canadian Gooses to voles. I did spot a few mouses and rats thawing out in the sink. There was also a wall area covered in toys for the animals.
We, understandably, weren't allowed in the ICU area or allowed to see the patients in case we stressed them.
Then we went outside to meet some of the permanent residents, many of whom are now educational animals and wildlife ambassadors for the center.
Edie the American Kestrel is very tame and loves getting close to people. She became imprinted on humans after being rescued in a storm as a baby and therefore can't be released back into the wild.
Athena and Gus, two Barred Owls, also live permanently at the center. Athena is partially blind, possibly due to West Nile Virus, and Gus was imprinted after being kept as a pet for a while. Gus has been here for about 20 years and when Athena arrived they were put together. but it was soon noticed that Athena was putting on a lot of weight while poor Gus was losing it; she'd been eating all the food. So now they have separate cages side by side.
What a sumptuous feast! The animals are very well fed here with fresh fruit, veggies and mouses alongside their grain and nuts. The cages were very clean and not once did I smell the musty smell of a bird cage that isn't cleaned very often. All these birds are very well looked after and obviously loved. I did ask if there were any animals other than birds that we could see but they were in ICU or there were the snakes and turtles we saw in the library. They had very recently lost two opossums to old age who had lived good lives at the center. I was sad to have missed those, I love opossums with their little black eyes and noses, and the way they scrunch their eyes shut in the presence of danger.
Papa G'Ho, another Great horned Owl, was hit by a car, resulting in the same feather problem that is afflicting Quinn, so he too can't be released into the wild. But the center take great care not to let him have too much human contact as he plays a very important role here. He's a surrogate parent for the young orphans, helping them hone their hunting abilities and develop natural owl behaviors. He did keep to the back of his cage and is apparently very bad tempered! But this is an attitude the staff love as he ensures all the new babies end up hating the staff so they don't imprint.
And my favorite resident of all was Buttercup, or Mr Butter, the Black Vulture. He was abandoned by his parents and then became imprinted on the humans who reared him. So he's no longer afraid of humans and can't be released into the wild. What a beautiful face. He loved me talking with him and stayed close to the fence, and then rewarded me with a wonderful spread of his wings, strutting up and down as I praised his handsome looks. I could have sat there all day with him.
Buddy the Bald Eagle unfortunately developed Avian Pox as a chick so had to be taken from his nest and reared by hand. His deformed beak means he can't hunt so he's being trained as an educational animal and ambassador.
We finished our tour and I noticed nearly everyone, myself included, purchased a souvenir from the gift shop and left a donation. What an amazing place with very special people working here, most of whom are volunteers. They have 4 full time vets working here. For more information on this fabulous place, click here for their website.
Driving back home, I again chose the slower route, and drove into an abandoned farm. I couldn't get inside the house but took some shots outside.
I did manage to find a way into the basement and found this hat and old green beans. I'd love to know when they were bottled, and why was just one jar left there?
The old Purple Cow restaurant sits up on the side of the road outside Waynesboro. In 1964 the Simerson family ran a fast food restaurant and bought an entire cow statue knowing it would make an excellent marketing tool. Burgers were 15c back then. The family owned 50 acres there with a house behind the restaurant but sold the land later, He then moved the business to downtown in the late 60's. Other businesses operated from this little building but the cow's head has remained; even the lane next to it is called Purple Cow Road.
A cute little house with gingerbread shutters in Grottoes. I came back through Luray at the end of the afternoon, stopping only to photograph a couple of huge metal structures outside an artists' studio. As I clicked my shots I remembered I had some dinosaurs to visit in the very near future. But that's for a later blog!

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