Mark Loring Booth the director of Take Flight hadn't had a chance to unload his crates of raptors before the Nature Park's own creatures made an appearance soaring on wind circles above the crowd waiting for Booth's birds of prey.
The pre-show was a great introduction to the Take Flight program aimed at educating folks about birds of prey. The local birds disappeared as quickly as they appeared prior to the introduction of Booth's raptors
Booth quickly launched into an explanation of why turkey vultures actually circle high above an area.
"They fly with their wings in a 'v' shape and circle because they are on a bubble of air," said Booth. "They aren't circling because they are waiting for something to die or see something already dead; it's how they fly.'
Take Flight uses live animals, natural artifacts and theatrical techniques to help bring the wonders of nature to life. Booth has over 20 years experience working with raptors. He is licensed to rescue large birds of prey and to introduce them in educational programs.
"I've been interested in them since I was very young," said Booth. "The idea of this presentation is to get people excited about nature and for them to learn about eco-systems."
The first bird Booth introduced was "Jack," a 22-year old red-tailed hawk. Jack is blind in one eye.
"He's got an eye like a hawk," joked Booth. "Birds like Jack kill and eat small, cute animals. The feet on these birds are the business end of a bird of prey."
Booth went on to talk about the size of the eyeballs of a hawk and how they get larger further back in their head.
He also explained the "mean" look birds like this have.
"They have a ridge above their eyes. I think it's to help protect their eyes from the sun. It makes them look mean, but it is just nature's way," he said.
Jack's complete blindness in one eye is why he lives with Booth.
"His depth perception is way off. He can't be released into the wild because of it," said Booth.
"He's named after the one-eyed Jack in a deck of cards," he laughed.
He entertained the crowd at the Nature Park telling them about training Jack to come to his gloved hand. Because of his blind eye, Jack missed the glove a few times and ended up on Booth's head.
The next bird introduced was a tiny American Kestrel, another predatory bird. This one's name is "Fluffy the Sparrow Slayer."
The kestrel is the smallest falcon in the United States. Booth told the crowd to watch the bird's head bob.
"By bobbing his head, he is triangulating the distance. He's tiny but is a true hunting bird. In England, they are often referred to as a sparrow hawk."
One of the favorite birds of the day was a great horned owl named Minerva. She was introduced after Booth performed several owl calls.
He explained that this bird had very soft feathers so it could fly silent and sneak up on its prey.
"This bird will routinely go after skunks. He can also kill a wild turkey or Canadian Goose," related Booth.
Minerva delighted the crowd by very neatly eating a mouse.
"She uses the tail for dental floss," joked Booth.
Minerva was orphaned as a chick; she was raised by people and unable to be released into the wild.
Booth did give a piece of information on this bird that defied most people's beliefs--owls are not wise birds.
Before bringing out his last bird, Booth talked about the peregrine falcon and it's removal from the most endangered list.
"Everything in nature is connected to everything else. The use of DDT as an insecticide caused the peregrine to end up on the endangered list. Now it's off the list. You can always tell about the health of the environment by the biodiversity," he said.
The last bird brought out by Booth was a Harris Hawk named Mesa, who would fly away from Booth and come back at his call, usually.
The show lasted about an hour and a half and filled the amphitheater at the park.
At the end of the program, the park's own turkey vultures flew back into sight, circling and swooping on air bubbles above the park.
"This program is part of the university's outreach to the community. We want people to spend time in the Nature Park and take advantage of any of the programs presented," said Doug Cox, director of the Nature Park.
The Nature Park is located just outside Greencastle on West Walnut Street. It is a 520-acre park that includes seven trails, a campground, canoe launch, outdoor amphitheater, research areas, a welcome center and environmental field station. It is open to the public.
Trails include woodland, quarry bottom and creek side paths as well as lanes on the rim of the quarry and along old railroad lines. Trails also lead from the DePauw campus to the park.