Sunday, September 21, 2014

American Eagle Foundation Visit and Harrison Bay Raptor Center Opens

Mr. Cecere with HB5 before release
Back in June we had the great pleasure of getting to meet Mr. Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation.  After one of our eaglets, HB5, was injured trying to learn how to fly, Mr. Cecere and his great staff at AEF took care of the eaglet, rehabbing it to get it healthy enough to return to the sky HB5 Flies Free Again. Mr. Cecere was gracious enough to invite us up to Dollywood to the AEF headquarters for a tour and to discuss the best options for us to improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam.

On Tuesday Mitch and I took a trip up to the AEF Headquarters which is located on the Dollywood property.  It was quite impressive to see the operation and hear Mr. Cecere speak about how his passion to protect the American Bald Eagle had grown to the size operation it is today.  Currently they have over 80 birds which are housed on property either as educational birds, repopulation mating pairs, or birds which are injured and are being rehabilitated with the hopes of returning to the wild one day.

The highlight of the trip, besides gaining all the valuable information from Mr. Cecere, was the upclose time we got to spend with Challenger, the Foundation's most famous ambassador.  Challenger is a 26 year old male Bald Eagle who can be seen flying at many sporting and social events around the country.  If you watched the opening of the Eagles-Redskins game on Sunday then you were able to see Challenger fly before the game and if you read this before Monday night you can tune into Late Night with David Letterman as Mr. Cecere and Challenger are scheduled to make an appearance.

We were fortunate to be there during Challenger's daily exercise time and were able to watch Mr. Cecere and another handler let Challenger fly back and forth down a 200 foot hallway in the enclosure house.  The silence as Challenger flew by use was amazing and made it very clear why they are such good hunters.  Prey simply can not hear them coming.

Challenger had to be placed in his travel case while they got his "treats" cut up and prepared for his flight time.  Even in a "cage" he still looks regal and demands respect.

Besides providing educational and instructional programs for Dollywood and many many other organizations the AEF also is very active in trying to repopulate the skies with American Bald Eagles.  This structure is known as the "breeding house" where they have mating pairs of bald eagles which have bred hundreds of eaglets which have been raised, trained, and released into the wild.  The adult eagles in this area are disabled in some form or fashion and would not survive in the wild so this is a fantastic place for them to live.  A free nest and free food plus a mate.  How could it get better.

If you have had the pleasure of going to Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee hopefully you have taken the time to stop and watch the eagles in the Bald Eagle Aviary and have watched the "Wings of America Birds of Prey" show which is performed four times per day by the AEF.  There are currently 18 bald eagles in the aviary with a couple of nesting pairs inside of the enclosure.  It is quite a site to see all those white heads lined up at the top of the aviary basking in the sun.

Mr. Cecere was kind enough to take us behind the scenes to see the show operation where we got to see a very curious Bald Eagle named "Spirit" who was very interested in what we were doing looking into his enclosure.  Birds like "Spirit" and the other raptors on property make up the "Birds of Prey" show that you can see at the park on a daily basis.  The AEF has been putting on the raptor show since Dollywood opened over 25 years ago and is one of the most popular entertainment activities at the park.

One of the main reasons we went to AEF was to pick Mr. Cecere's brain about how we can improve our Harrison Bay Eagle Cam Project for this year.  He was more than willing to show us the entire setup and gave us all the information we needed to copy his NE Florida operation.  Gaining friendships with experienced people in the eagle world is fantastic and will allow us to provide a better experience for our viewers.

Thanks so much to Mr. Cecere and everyone involved with the American Eagle Foundation for their time, experience, and encouragement.

Back home at Harrison Bay State Park we have some exciting news to tell you about as well.  Last week the rangers at the park were able to add three injured birds to the Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  These birds are injured or disabled and will remain at the Center where they will be cared for and will provide educational and viewing opportunities for park and community guests.  This is a great project initiated by Park Ranger Matt Vawter and funded by The Friends of Harrison Bay State Park.

We have a Red Tailed Hawk named "Scarlett" who doesn't miss a single movement outside of her enclosure.  Yes, eyes like a hawk.

The resident "camera hound" is "Happy" a Turkey Vulture who can not sit still and wants all the attention.  Shaking of a set of keys will get him hopping up and down and looking straight at you.

The last member of the trio is an owl named "Marley".  She has over half of her left wing missing and can not fly so she uses the branches and limbs which have been positioned in her enclosure to move about.  She also does not miss any movement outside of her enclosure and has "night watch" duty on all the guests coming in and out of the park.

We encourage guests to stop by and see the raptors.  For those interested in more information or how you can help support the project click here Harrison Bay Raptor Center.  Donations are readily accepted as feeding these birds will be an expensive venture.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The TOUR Championship 2014

Again this year I had the pleasure to volunteer to help the Agronomy Team at East Lake Golf Club prepare the golf course for the 30 best golfers in the world who were participating in the TOUR Championship.  Every year that I have volunteered I think Ralph Kepple, CGCS and his staff have the golf course dialed in about as good as it can possibly be, yet each year they surpass my expectations and those of the golfing world.  This year was no exception.

 The details to the setup and maintenance of the golf course are, in my opinion, what sets East Lake apart from other high end golf courses that I have had the pleasure to be on.  It is evident when traveling around the golf course that the Agronomy Team takes exceptional pride in their work and in the product they produce and that pride certainly starts at the top with the management team of Ralph, Shaune Achurch, and Jason Tharp.

Each year improvements are made to how the course is set up and presented to the PGA golfers and this year was no exception.  In addition to a bit higher bermudagrass rough, the bunkers were prepared in a different way than years past.  The process of having a firm, smooth area around the perimeter of the bunker allowed for the golf ball to roll down the sand face and rest more consistently in the floor of the bunker.  This process provided a more fair and predictable lie for the golfer if they hit into a bunker.

Although the bunkers look very nice and play even better, remember this, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an army to prepare and maintain bunkers in this manner.  After a slight 3/4" rain storm on Friday night close to 30 East Lake Agronomy Team members and volunteers spent close to 5 hours repairing slight washouts in the bunker faces, repacking areas on the faces, and raking the bunker floors.  This process is not for the average golf course or even the mildly dedicated private course.  The fancier you want your course the more effort has to be exerted.

Morning activities on the golf course consisted of mowing all the short grass which included a double cut and roll of the greens along with all the approaches and collars.  Tees and fairways were mowed and leaves, clippings, and debris were blown from all areas of the course.  As you can see the work begins early but the staff is well trained to provide the highest quality of results even in the dark.

Afternoon shift activities included mowing of the fairways and surrounds followed by all areas being blown for debris and leaves once again.  I was impressed that the equipment mechanics came out to the course and checked the height and contact of the mowers before they allowed the fairway units to go from the front nine to the back nine.  Making sure that the mowers are cutting the same on the front and the back can easily be seen in the final product.

After the greens were double rolled again in the afternoon Ralph was right there to check green speeds to see what practices needed to be performed in the morning to ensure the expected speed and consistency of the greens would be available for the pros.  After a little "jittery" start Ralph finally got the stimpmeter to cooperate and give him the measurements he needed. (Sorry, inside joke)

 As I have ridden around East Lake over the past several years I have noticed that there are not many areas which can be maintained toward the "environmental" side.  Although this is discouraging I know that not every golf course is designed or set up for native grass areas or bird houses or other environmental projects.  What I do like however at East Lake is they use the areas which can be used to help protect the environment very seriously.  The maintenance department area is a prime example of doing what you can.  Here the Agronomy Team and volunteers are using a self contained wash pad which uses recycled water to clean the equipment. In the background and to the left is an "organic refuse area" where clippings and cuttings are collected and recycled.  As I have said many times, just do something.  I am very happy to see East Lake is doing what they can to help and protect the environment.

I still say this cameraperson does not get paid enough

MetLife Snoopy 1 soaring over the course giving some awesome overhead video

Downtown Atlanta in the background

Again thank you to Ralph, Shaune, Jason, and all of the East Lake Agronomy Team for their hospitality and friendship over this and previous years.  Volunteering for The TOUR Championship is work there is no doubt about it but the information I gain and the new friends met and old friends reconnected with make it worth all the effort.  I know I can not implement most of the processes carried out at East Lake but it gives me several ideas that I can bring back to Harrison Bay to improve our course and our operations.

Until next year!!!