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PPL on the Outside

PPL Introduces Birds of Prey Program

Greetings, my dear library friends,

Mark A. Manske, the founder, and owner of Adirondack Raptors Inc. is going to be sharing his years of work with, and knowledge of, hawks, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey with the Potsdam Public Library. He will also be talking about, and reading from, his series of books, Adventures with Stoney, in our new Birds of Prey Program.

While the library is closed this program will be a series of blogs and videos about the different birds Mark works with at his home and in the wild, as well as his book readings. Once we can reopen to the public, we will hold in-person discussions and Mark will be available in person, accompanied by his Eurasian Eagle Owl, Morley, and sign copies of his books. 

As you will read below, Mark is a wonderfully enthusiastic storyteller. When he and I got together over the summer to talk about the program, he talked about how Adirondack Raptors got started. Mark revealed how he first came to love birds, carving the path to his future as a birder and educator, discussed some of his adventures trying to rescue and band birds for study, and took us for a virtual tour of his “Raptor Palace.” 

Happy reading. We look forward to seeing you, Mark, AND Morley, here in the library when we reopen for in-person birds of prey programming,

PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert

Wednesday, the Eastern Screech Owl, is one of two of her kind living as a rescue bird in Mark Manske’s “Raptor Palace.”

A BIT ABOUT MARK AND ADIRONDACK RAPTORS

Mark Manske started Adirondack Raptors Inc. in Dickinson Center, NY, in 2008, while he was still teaching at St. Lawrence Central High School, but had been working with birds of prey since 1984 when he was working with Francis and Frederick Hamerstrom — who he called his mentors — during his time in graduate school.

“I got very involved with them then, so when I came back to teaching I said, ‘Well, I am going to continue,’ and I got working with banding migrating birds of prey in the north country,” Mark said.

Mark said his earliest memory of loving birds came from a tale his mother told him about when he was in first grade. 

“My mother thinks it is because when I was in first grade I couldn’t see the chalkboard in front of me in the classroom,” Mark recalled. “Then they figured out, by the end of the first grade, I needed glasses and so when I got glasses she said I was all of the sudden like, ‘oh, look at the birds! This is what you were talking about.’ She said, ‘you were so enthralled with them that I think that really stuck’ . . . Maybe she’s right? Maybe she’s right.” 

But it was the birds of prey, specifically, that were “near and dear to my heart,” Mark said. He pointed to their size, power, and beauty, saying the birds are keystone creatures for the ecosystem.

In 1987 Mark started working with Mike Peterson, of Elizabethtown, under his banding permit for 20 years until about 10 years ago when Mark started working with him to get his own banding permit. 

“And as I was going through the teaching I remember, with the Hamerstroms, it was so hands-on and you were working with raptors and I thought, it was such a magical experience,” Mark said. “I would love to do something like that, and that’s what got me started.”

Since that time, Mark has retired from teaching in high school and has been an adjunct instructor at Paul Smith’s College where he recruits and trains his student apprentices, or “Gabboons,” as he calls them. He has also constructed a “Raptor Palace” in his front yard where Morley the Eurasian Eagle Owl lives with his younger sister, Millie, a Barn Owl named Tessie, two Eastern Screech Owls named Pugsley and Wednesday, a Gyr-Saker hybrid falcon named Phineas, and a Harris’s Hawk named Mortimer, all of which you will be able to meet and learn more about in the video at the end of this blog.

At 11 years old, Tessie, the barn owl, is the oldest bird of prey living in Mark Manske’s “Raptor Palace.”

BANDING PROGRAMS

Through Mark’s various banding programs, he and his Gabboons help to allow the birds to be recognized as individuals, similarly in the way a license plate differentiates one person’s car from another identical make and model. It also helps to determine the health and well being of the bird as well as finding out where it has migrated from. 

“And we get a wealth of knowledge,” Mark said. “Birders watch birds and they learn a lot. Birders can be very good biologists but unless they are individually marked, you don’t know which bird is which. They are coming and going at the bird feeder, and maybe one has a natural marking that helps you distinguish it from another one, maybe one has a behavioral thing, but maybe there are two that have that behavioral thing, so you don’t know for sure.”

That’s where banding comes in handy.

Mark has tracked his banded red-tailed hawks and kestrels as having traveled from here to places like the tarmac of the Miami-Dade Airport, Miami, Fl., and near New Orleans, La.

“We caught a saw whet owl one time that was banded by someone else the year before,” Mark recalled. “It was banded in Duluth, Minnesota, and then, three days later, a bird that I had banded four years before, a saw whet, ended up in Duluth, Minnesota, so we traded birds. People think everything is going north-south, this one went east-west, so unless you band them, you don’t know what is going on.”

But Mark does more than just banding birds, he and his Gabboons have responded to rescue work, going to spaces in buildings where birds have gotten in but have been unable to get out. The team will catch them, make sure they are healthy, and, if they are malnourished or have other health issues, will bring them to a rehabilitator and nurse them back to health. 

GABBOONS TO THE RESCUE

Mark recalled a recent rescue of a great horned owl that flew into a big barn in Malone and got completely coated with manure. 

“The people caught it and stuck it in a trash bin, they called me, I went over, and we pulled it out,” Mark said. “One of us was holding it while the other was hosing it down and scrubbing it down and cleaning it and you know that owl did not like that and it was several pounds worth of dirt and manure and sand, and it took forever to clean it off.”

At the time of the rescue it was nesting season and the owl, being a male, was likely providing food to its mate and their downy owlets, Mark said, so, after several days of observation to make sure the bird was okay, the team banded it and released it back into the wild within the vicinity in which it was caught. Normally the team would relocate the bird to avoid another entrapment, Mark said. 

Mark and his Gabboons also participate in Project SNOWstorm where they track and tag snowy owls. Many of those misadventures are the vehicle behind Mark’s first book, Adventures With Stoney: The Great Snowy Owl Caper.

A few years ago he received a call from the state Department of Environmental Conservation asking him to come out and capture a snowy owl at the Ogdensburg International Airport.

Airports with enough air traffic and larger planes are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration to chase off owls or other big birds, which could also result in shooting the birds if they refuse to leave, Mark said.

“Snowy owls are like couch potatoes, they’re not going anywhere, they will shuffle around and kind of grumble about it like you and I would, but they’re not going anywhere,” Mark said. “Well, they tried scaring them off, they didn’t want to shoot them, so, to their credit, they contacted the local DEC, who then turned around and contacted me, and I said we would definitely help. We’re not going to see snowy owls come all the way from the Tundra just to be shot here.”

Mark has rescued snowy owls from Ogdensburg and Malone and has reached out to airports in Potsdam, Massena, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Lake Clear, and Watertown.

“I’m willing to travel if we can shuttle birds out to a better place because they’re not at the airports because they like to watch the planes fly, they’re just coming there because there is a wide-open habitat which kind of resembles the Tundra and they can sit on the buildings or the towers and look out for hunting purposes,” Mark said. “So we are trying to figure out where they are going to, where they are coming from, how long they live, that type of thing.”

Plus, Mark and his Gabboons have been working with banding, monitoring, and managing the American kestrel population in the area. Next year will be the twentieth year of the program.

An American kestrel previously banded as part of Mark’s near-20 year program.

THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IS “HANDS ON”

It is this kind of hands-on experience that he picked up during his grad school years when he was working with the Hamerstroms that Mark said he wanted to bring to the north country and to his teaching as an adjunct at Paul Smith’s, but, more importantly, outside the classrooms.

“Hands-on is the best way to learn and also we have a banding station for saw whets here where kids actually get credit to come work on that,” Mark said. “So I always open it up to my students. It makes you that much more rounded, it gives you that much more experience, and let’s face it, you can talk about a snowy owl and look at pictures, but if you are holding one, it’s a whole, totally different experience. You feel that connection with another creature.

“There is nothing better than knowing that you are doing something that is affecting another species for the positive,” Mark added. “We all try and affect things positively but at a much smaller scale, generally, and, whenever we can, we always feel very good about that. So we just took that, maybe magnified that quite a bit more, and we are trying to affect that at a little bit of a larger scale, because we also affect things negatively, whether we like to or not, we always do, it’s just part of being human and living on this planet, so we are trying to, maybe instead of doing some negative things, maybe do some positive to balance out.”

Keeping in step with his passion for recounting his adventures, Mark said for years he had been thinking about writing a book, maybe a compilation of short stories on experiences he had with the birds and other creatures.

SPINNING TALES FOR THE PAGE

He connected with Gary VanRiper, who authors the Adirondack Kids series with his wife and son. Gary advised Mark to consider his target audience and consider what his stories would be focused on and, in following a year-or-so of thought, Mark settled on an audience of middle school-aged kids. 

“You know when people turn off from reading, there are two age groups and one of those age groups is that middle-school age,” Mark said. “And I thought that would be good because they would be good stories for them to read, but educational and at the same time it would give me the chance to tell stories that have happened to me and get those stories out there.”

Mark has two books in the series published, a third in the process of getting published, and a fourth in the creation stage, each of them a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and either about adventures Mark has had throughout the years or adventures his friends had, which is why he calls his stories Adventures With Stoney, not Adventures With Mark, he said, “because they are not all my adventures.”

Mark’s first book, Adventures With Stoney: The Great Snowy Owl Caper, from which he will be reading when we meet with him next, comes from a combination of unusual experiences that happened to Mark and a friend of his, during each of their separate attempts at trying to catch a snowy owl for the first time . . . And that’s where the adventure takes off!

Join us, won’t you?

To learn more about Project SNOWstorm and track tagged snowy owls in your area, visit https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/

To learn more about Mark, Adirondack Raptors, his books, and his mission visit http://www.adirondackraptors.org/

Questions for Mark can be sent to weckert@potsdamlibrary.org and will be presented to Mark during his reading of The Great Snowy Owl Caper. 

In the meantime, let’s visit the Raptor Palace and meet Morley and his friends!

Mark Manske of Adirondack Raptors gives a virtual tour of his “Raptor Palace,” introducing his seven birds of prey.

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