By Nick Hadad
Near the end of September, 2018, we received an email from the folks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA. They had seen some pictures of the kestrel costume that we had been using at ROC Animal School and Braddock Bay Raptor Research and had some questions about the best way to create a vulture coatume for an upcoming program.
I decided I would build their vulture, and thus, in November, construction began. But, trying to build a full costume in a few weeks from scratch while juggling holiday hours at my day job proved to be a difficult task; I profoundly misjudged my timing. Katie managed to build the entire bodysuit while I focused on constructing the mask. This was my first time putting together a head and it ended up taking all of my time.
We finished it around Thanksgiving. I then packed up the suit and began my long drive to the Mountain to deliver it. Under normal weather conditions, the drive would merely take 4.5 hours. However, it rained heavily for most of the drive with thick patches of fog. On the mountaintops, the rain was freezing into ice, making for a tricky drive.
Luckily, by sundown, the temperature climbed high enough to convert any ice to rain. Of course, it was still heavy and foggy, which made for a very slow go along the narrow and winding mountain roads.
After seven hours of driving, I arrived at the Mountain. It was pitch black in the rain and fog. The only light I could see was coming my car, which didn’t travel far. And yet, being alone in the darkness on the side of the mountain was oddly humbling. I had grown up in areas like this where it was just you and not much else for miles (the woods of North Carolina and the prairie of southern Minnesota) but this felt different… somewhat peaceful. It may sound funny, but it was as if I realized how small I was compared to the world around me and I found a deep comfort in that.
The good folks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary had arranged lodging for me and I slept well. The next morning, they were able to try out the costume and get ready for their program, “Treasure All Vultures.”
Barnaby the Turkey Vulture debuted in front of a crowd of children and their families. He gave them a telescope and a map with instructions on where to locate some of his vulture friends around the Mountain.
At each location, folks would find a display, symbolizing a different location on the globe, with a species of vulture from that region. An activity would start that would demonstrate a hardship faced by that particular bird that’s dramatically affecting their numbers. We made stops in Egypt, India, Portugal and other spots.
These issues ranged from chronic habitat loss (Egypt), poisoned food supply (antibiotics in cattle that had died in India), and a nearly complete disappearance of food sources in Portugal and other areas of Europe. I was mentally taking notes most of the time.
Once the activities were completed, patrons returned to the auditorium to get some prizes from Barnaby and a summary of why vultures are essential to their ecosystems.
I sadly had to head home right after the program, facing a 4am opening shift the next day at my regular job. But, I felt reenergized. Getting a chance to visit a group of educators and scientists and seeing how they reach out, educate, and empower audiences made me very eager to try out new ideas with the groups we work with.
I hope to return to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary before too long. It was a beautiful place under clear skies and sunshine and I have trail passes I am eager to use. Maybe I can bring down some of our Animal School characters and team up with them for a program. A working vacation, perhaps?
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