Kate Zurenko and the Michigan Avian Experience
Here at Robin Hills Farm, we’re so lucky to have a site with as much natural beauty as agricultural and recreational value. A stroll on our nature trails is one great way to appreciate the range of Michigan ecosystems, habitats and overall biodiversity that we’re stewards of here, and you may very well see a set of tracks, flash of wings or dropped feather to surprise and delight your inner naturalist. But sometimes there’s just nothing like getting up close and personal with wildlife, whether you’re looking to be educated, inspired, or both. And nobody knows how to strike both these notes at once like our good friends at the Michigan Avian Experience!
Those of you who have met these fine folks at our events—they were featured at our halftime show at last summer’s Dragon Boat Festival, and returned for our Robin Run 5k in September—know exactly what we mean. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, the Michigan Avian Experience takes in and rehabilitates non-releasable wild raptors—all birds of prey native to Michigan—and travels the state with their incredible, close-range educational programs. They paid us a visit last week, joined by three of their star birds and Chelsea-based professional photographer Kate Zurenko. Kate, also a dear friend and close neighbor of Robin Hills Farm, came prepared with an arsenal of lenses and other equipment to capture the fierce beauty of these breathtaking creatures, in the first gig of their new career as models.
Each year, come fall, birds of prey wrap up molting season and burst forth in freshly feathered glory, rivaling the vibrant colors of the season around them. And, this autumn, we intend to capture the spectacle! Kate will be leading a photography class, for all ages and levels of expertise, in a rare and exciting opportunity to get up close to these birds, each of which has its own story, personality and uniquely striking presence.
The photo shoot began with the American kestrel, North America’s smallest and most common falcon. This little fellow seemed bent on proving that, in spite of his petite stature, he has a personality to compete with the biggest of the bunch, performing all his best moves for us: puffing out his feathers, calling indignantly to our cows, and the classic perched-kestrel dance of fanning his tail and bobbing up and down. At the MAE headquarters in Brooklyn, he resides in the kitchen, where (we’re told) he brightens everyone’s day with these displays, and his spunky, anything-but-common disposition.
Next up came the perennial star of the show, the bald eagle. This prima donna, with her 7’ wingspan, is well accustomed to the exclamations of awestruck admirers, and bears them admirably from her handler Sarah’s arm. Kate, as always, did a fantastic job catching her subject in her best light, but perhaps the most striking aspect from the bald eagle’s reel of shots is how well Kate captures the friendship between bird and handler. These two have a special understanding, and it certainly came through in the photos.
Last, but by no means least, came the great horned owl. This magnificent species is present across a vast range, from Alaska to Argentina, and is the largest true owl of the Americas. Among its common names is “tiger owl,” and there is no doubt that this nocturnal hunter’s unmistakable air of prowess has more than a hint of the feline. Though the great horned owl is a newer addition to the MAE’s lineup, and still growing accustomed to public relations, its piercing gaze, tufted ears and fierce dignity lent themselves to some truly stunning photographs.
In the bustle of our day to day lives, the sensation of awe and wonder can be an elusive thing. Taking the time to experience something extraordinary rarely makes it to the top of our priority lists, but doing so can be incredibly centering and humbling. The Michigan Avian Experience brings these moments of inspiration, with a healthy dose of education, to lucky Michiganders like us, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be working so closely with them. Keep an eye out for our Birds of Prey Photography Class coming in Fall 2017! And, in the meantime, you can catch the Michigan Avian Experience at our events, check them out on their website and follow them on Facebook.