Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Reflection and a Thanksgiving

I found myself in an unusually reflective mood earlier this week. Today, November 23rd, was Bob Anderson's birthday. It seems like a good time to take stock of where the Raptor Resource Project has been, where it plans on going, and what I have to be thankful for.

Bob and Dave Hecht banding at Lansing in 2010
For those of you who don't know, Bob founded the Raptor Resource Project to propagate and release peregrine falcons. He was the first person to successfully breed peregrine falcons in Minnesota. MF-1, one of the first falcons he produced and released, became the first returned falcon to breed in the mid-continent following the species' extirpation in the mid-1960's. It took an incredible amount of work to keep the peregrine falcon from joining the long list of species that will be mourned on the remembrance day for lost species. I am thankful that the peregrine falcon is still with us. Where we have a will, we have a way.

I am thankful to have met Bob. He responded to an ad my little writing business was running back in 1994. I began by writing grants, but very quickly moved into field work. Did I want to attend a banding and take pictures? Yes! Did I want to hold falcons? Yes! Did I want to rappel? Yes yes yes! The writer William Least Heat Moon said in the Wonsevu chapter of the book PrairyErth that "I'm not sure what to make of it, but I think a dream can set you on another path." Bob's dream of restoring the peregrine falcon set many people's lives on another path.

Banding at Xcel's Allen S King plant in 2005
Believe it or not, we moved into internet cameras almost accidentally. Bob set up several local monitors so that power plant employees and visitors could watch peregrine falcons. If I remember correctly, Mike Miser from the Allen S. King plant in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, suggested putting their camera online. 'Mae's Internest' hatched in 1998, making Xcel Energy's corporate website the busiest in the world for the first quarter of 1998. It uploaded a still image of Mae's nestbox every two minutes...a technical triumph at the time! That year, we also began a three-year study of heavy metals in utility falcons with the Electric Power Research Institute, Xcel Energy, and Dairyland Power. We worked with Dan Orr and Ken Mueller at Xcel Energy and John Thiel at Dairyland Power. All three men have since retired, but the paper can be found here: https://www.raptorresource.org/about-us/annual-reports-and-papers/. I am thankful to have worked with the fine men and women employed at America's power plants. The utility-peregrine program is an example of the ways in which humans can support wildlife even in the unlikeliest of areas. You guys are awesome...and great fun, too!

Bob was also working on his cliff release project. Back in 1994, he began to believe that nest-site imprinting was preventing the crossover of peregrines from power plants to cliffs. The Iowa DNR was very interested in working with Bob, so he picked up lock, stock, and barrel to move down to Bluffton, Iowa in 1996. He did a successful pilot release on the Upper Iowa river in 1997 and released a total of 19 falcons from Hanging Rock at Effigy Mounds National Monument in 1998 and 1999. The Upper Iowa hackbox can still be seen from the river, although the Effigy Mounds hackboxes are long gone. In 2000, our cliff-released falcons became the first falcons to return to the cliffs of the Mississippi. I remember going to see them quite well, since I was very pregnant with my last son. I did a lot of crazy things for and with Bob, but the only time I remember him being really worried about me was just after I huffed and puffed my way up the back of Queen's Bluff. Pat Schlarbaum's story about peregrine recovery includes information about our cliff releases. It can be read here: http://www.gladysblackeagle.org/project-ideas/longwings-return. I am thankful to have played a small piece in this story, and very grateful to the men and women of the Iowa DNR who supported Bob's work.

In 2006 and 2007, Bob was working with Neil Rettig on the movie American Bald Eagle. After the two wrapped up, Bob said "Wouldn't it be fun to put this nest on the internet?" We made Bob's dream a reality in 2009, when the Decorah Eagle Cam uploaded an image to Xcel Energy's website every two minutes. In 2010, Luther College hosted a live feed. In 2011, we moved to Ustream and the Decorah eagles became a worldwide sensation. While we celebrated the eagles, Bob also mourned the loss of his dear friend and fellow falconer Rob MacIntyre, the 'mad scientist' who was featured so prominently in the movie RaptorForce. Rob did a lot of the work on our earlier cam systems, and his death was a real blow both personally and professionally. I am thankful to have known him and his wonderful wife Jan. They brightened every room they entered.

John also likes to rappel!
While Bob never lost his drive to recover birds of prey, he suddenly had a new focus. He was deeply engaged in using our bird cams to reach learners and provide a palliative window to the outside for ill, injured, and bedridden people. Online education became a major focus, but cameras still needed to be researched and purchased, and HD was increasingly looking like the next step. Enter John Howe! John began working with Bob to research cameras and camera technologies, including solar/wireless technologies (Rob installed our first solar/wireless system back in 2003) and HD. The longer Bob worked with John, the more he was impressed. Shortly before Bob's death, he let us all know that John was to follow him as Director of the Raptor Resource Project.

This brings us up to the present. In the year since Bob's death, John has worked diligently to keep up with camera and streaming technology, deploy cameras, expand our online educational offerings, honor Bob's legacy, and secure funding (an organization doesn't run very long without money). He has more than proven himself as a director and a leader. I am thankful for John Howe and only wish that Bob was here to see the positive change that John has brought to the Raptor Resource Project.

So where do we go from here? We are sustained by our mission: to preserve and strengthen raptor populations, expand participation in raptor preservation, and help foster the next generation of preservationists. We follow our vision: to deepen the connection between people and the natural world, bringing benefits to both.
  • Education: We are looking at ways to improve and increase our educational offerings. In addition to the online interaction we already offer through our unparalleled team of moderators, we are looking at curriculum, educational videos, Skype, short movies, and other ways to reach out to learners of all age and circumstances.
  • Preserving and Strengthening Raptor Populations: We will continue to monitor our nests, band falcons, consult on nestboxes and habitat for a variety of species, provide input on conservation issues, and work with federal and state wildlife agencies to benefit of birds of prey. We are also looking at ways to strengthen existing partnerships and build new ones. How can we connect our passionate followers with organizations looking for volunteers? How can we work closer with our utility and industry partners on providing or improving habitat for the many birds that nest on or use utility land and water in other ways? How can we advocate for birds of prey? We have done a lot, but we can do more. We stand on the shoulders of giants!
  • Fostering the Next Generation of Preservationists: In addition to our online educational program, we are looking at an educational endowment in Bob Anderson's name. We will have more information about that early next year. An educational endowment seems like an appropriate way to honor Bob's legacy.
  • Connecting People with the Natural World: Researching and deploying cameras is a lot of work. Fortunately, we have a director who truly enjoys it! We will continue to do our best to connect watchers with the natural world using up-to-date, unobtrusive technology. A challenge for me: how do we develop quantifiable data from the thousands of hours of footage and anecdotes we've collected? Our knowledge has already changed since we first began watching the eagles (remember eagles are always monogamous?), but there is so much more to learn! 
So what else am I thankful for? 
  • I am thankful for fans of the Decorah eagles and our other birds. Please, keep emailing and mailing your stories and art. You have deepened our lives an immeasurable amount.
  • I am thankful for our amazing volunteers. In addition to your incredible work, my life is better for having known you. I've said it before and I'll say it again...your work makes us the best site on the web!
  • I am thankful to our Board for providing direction and guidance. 
  • I am thankful for an unexpected and unlooked for gift: the honor to be part of the Raptor Resource Project's work. My 1994 self - I was 28 years old! - had no way of knowing what saying 'Yes' to Bob's first request would lead to. Bob, we will remember and celebrate you until we join you.
Thank you, everyone. I'm going to close with a link to a favorite blog I did on Bob back in 2012: Watching Bald Eagles. The Raptor Resource Project wishes you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!


2 comments:

Nora H said...

And the kestrels. Bob was so excited that after putting up the boxes for them along the county roads that they took them over and hatched/fledged young. I remember going out there when he and Charlie were checking them. Sure miss Charlie too.

Love Kpop said...

I know there will be many difficulties and challenges but I am determined to do it. If it does not succeed then it will be a lesson for me as well
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