‘Wings to Soar’ opens Eagle Expo

The crowd watches as Wings to Soar Co-director Dale Kernahan holds a barred owl during Wednesday’s Wings to Soar presentation at the Patterson Area Civic Center.
(The Daily Review Photo by Zachary Fitzgerald)

A black vulture prepares to land as Wings to Soar Co-director Dale Kernahan watches Wednesday at the Patterson Area Civic Center.
(The Daily Review Photo by Zachary Fitzgerald)

“Wings to Soar” took off Wednesday at the Patterson Area Civic Center giving the audience an up-close look at several birds of prey flying over their heads.
John Stokes and Dale Kernahan, co-directors of Wings to Soar in Trenton, Ga., showed six different types of raptors, or birds of prey. Wings to Soar is a non-profit educational program that raises raptor awareness throughout the U.S.
Wings to Soar kicked off the ninth annual Eagle Expo and More organized by the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau. The expo officially began today and runs through Saturday.
Wednesday’s presentation included about 50 homeschool, private and parochial school students, teachers and parents.
The first bird brought out was a type of falcon called an American kestrel. He was rescued and hand-raised so he cannot survive in the wild, Kernahan said. The American kestrel can fly at speeds approaching 100 mph and use their speed to catch insects, rodents and reptiles, Kernahan said. American kestrels are common to the Morgan City area and can be seen routinely perching on telephone wires or hunting in open fields, she said.
Another type of falcon, a peregrine falcon, is the fastest animal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 275 mph while soaring through the air, Kernahan said. Peregrine falcons travel through the area this time of year to get to South America, she said.
Kernahan brought out a black vulture that walked like a chicken and stuck its tail up like a turkey, she said. Vultures actually reduce the diseases spread by flies, she said. Black vultures are also extremely common in Louisiana and Morgan City, Kernahan said.
Braydon Boone, 13, of Morgan City, said this year was his fourth year in a row to attend Wings to Soar and seeing the vulture land on an audience member’s arm this year was “really cool.”
Teacher Catherine Roy of First Apostolic Church in Jeanerette volunteered to let a black vulture land on her arm. “I wasn’t too nervous, but it was very quick. So it didn’t faze me too much,” Roy said.
Roy also attended Wings to Soar when she was a student. Roy saw a lot of exotic birds people do not see too often, she said.
The audience also got to meet an eastern screech owl that is blind in his left eye after being hit by a vehicle. Owls have 50 to 100 times better night vision than humans, but being hit by a vehicle is not uncommon for these owls as they sometimes hunt for mice, insects, and other prey near highways, Stokes said.
Wings to Soar promotes raptor awareness while educating people with live birds of prey.
A barred owl also made an appearance, and Louisiana is a great place for this type of owl because they love water, Kernahan said. Barred owls eat fish and crawfish and make “a lot of noise” and are therefore called “hoot owls,” Kernahan said.
A red-tailed hawk, who was rescued after being found on the side of the road, soared low in the air right over the heads of the students and adults.
Stokes introduced the crowd to a 33-year-old American bald eagle who had been shot 32 years ago, causing severe damage and amputation of its left wing, he said. Federal law makes it illegal to kill any birds of prey, Stokes said. The bald eagle has been the national symbol since 1782, and bald eagles can live about 50 years in captivity and about 30 years in the wild, Stokes said.
This time of year, Stokes and Kernahan normally have events to attend every weekend, Stokes said. The two will head to Minnesota in about a month to attend another eagle festival, he said.
After the presentation, Stokes reflected on what the interactive experience brings to the audience. “You can show PowerPoint presentations, but when you’ve got a living creature in front of you, especially when it’s flying over your head, it really tends to leave a lasting memory and impression,” Stokes said.
Wings to Soar also visited St. Mary Parish public schools, and will make a final presentation for the general public at 6 p.m. today at the Patterson Area Civic Center. Admission is $5 per person and free to students with a valid student ID.
Other Eagle Expo events include:
—C.C. Lockwood photography workshop at 9 a.m. Friday at the Atchafalaya at Idlewild Golf Course’s club house, with a field trip to Bayou Black beginning at noon. The workshop requires separate registration and payment of $195. Contact Lockwood at www.cclockwood.com or call 225-769-4766 to register. Space is limited.
—Tours to view eagles will take place Friday and Saturday. Featured waterways include the Atchafalaya Basin, Bayou Black, Turtle Bayou and Bayou Long. Tours will be 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, and 9 to 11 a.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Each featured boat tour offers something different to attendees.
—Friday evening will feature a dinner and a presentation, Nature Photography and Writing, by Kathy and Gary Clark at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The cost to attend is $35 per person.
—Saturday will feature a variety of speakers in the morning with boat tours in the afternoon. Speakers for the morning seminars will include Michael Sealy, “Louisiana and the American Bald Eagle;” Bill Clark, “Eagle Quest;” Jane Patterson, “Birds of the Atchafalaya;” and Dr. Aaron Pierce, “Breeding Waterbirds on Louisiana’s Barrier Islands.”
Full registration includes the seminars Saturday morning, breakfast Saturday morning, a T-shirt, one boat tour and the WINGS to SOAR presentation on Thursday evening. Registration fees start at $110 for adults and $60 for children for full registration.
One-day registration starts at $85 for adults and $50 for children and includes seminars, one boat tour and Saturday breakfast. Boat tours only start at $55 for adults and $35 for children.
For a complete event schedule, costs, registration forms and listings of hotel rates, contact the Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau at 985-395-4905, visit online at www.cajuncoast.com/eagleexpo or email info@cajuncoast.com.

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