Sunday, March 11, 2007

Alice's First Flight

OK, so it wasn't THAT dramatic. But Alice flew for the first time in her life this past Sunday, with much assistance from flight instructor Dale Scobie of Spring Grove, MN.
Alice broke her wing when she fell from her nest at only three weeks of age. Her wing damage is permanent, leaving her unable to fly or live in the wild, hence her job working at the Houston Nature Center. So she has never flown....

Several people were quite concerned that flying in an airplane would be anything but fun for Alice. Marge Gibson, Alice's rehabilitator, has transported Bald Eagles in small aircraft before, and they spent the whole time looking out the window. It seemed likely Alice might like it too, so we did a trial run taxiing around on the runway to make sure Alice would be OK with it, and it didn't phase her one bit.

After a bid off between Ellyn Baumann and Ron Evenson at the Festival of Owls' banquet auction, Ron paid $260 for the privilege of being the person to fly with Alice for the first time, and he passed those honors on to his son Matt.

The flight was to have taken place on Sunday, March 4, during the Festival of Owls. The weather had thankfully cleared by then and would have been great for flying. But the Caledonia airport hadn't been cleared of snow yet! So the flight was postponed a week to March 11.
Again, the weather was sunny and nice, but this time the runway was clear and we were good to go.

First I put Alice's box into the back seat of the Cessna, then I put Alice in her box. I climbed in next to her, and Matt took the front seat next to Dale. After many photos, we were off.
I think Alice was a bit stressed by the noise and commotion of getting airborne (she had her beak open just slightly), but once we were up, she took it like a drive in the car. No big deal one way or the other.

We flew to Houston, which only took a few minutes. There we circled town while Thomas Hibbs had the honor of blowing the siren to announce our flight. It was at this point my stomach started to have some input on the flight.

I've flown in small airplanes before. In elementary school my family twice flew to northwestern Minnesota where my mom is from with Doc Bender. No problems that I remember then. And as a junior in high school I flew with Greg Wenness around the area—a prize from our After Prom Party. No queasiness then either, despite circling my parents' farm.

But that last flight in a small plane was 13 years ago. Wow does time fly. Apparently my stomach didn't remember that we had done this before.

By the time we were circling our place, thoughts of locating our local wild Great Horned Owl nest from the air were starting to fade. I did look hard, and Dale did an excellent job of giving me clear views of the hillsides, but my stomach was starting to override the fun.

I don't think I was green (but probably pale), and I didn't lie when asked how I was holding up. Dale then took us up higher where the flying was smoother and pointed us toward Spring Grove. That helped.

After a few more minutes, we were circling Pastor Lane Zaffke's farm and looking down at the folks waving back to us from the sugar shack—Ron and Larry I presume. By now Alice was spending her time looking out the window as I concentrated on calming my stomach.

As we headed back to Caledonia to the airport, I noticed one of Alice's eyes was starting to close. I guess she was so thrilled by the whole ordeal that she was going to celebrate by taking a nap! Guess it didn't bother her or excite her much either way. But then again, she is a commuter owl.

A huge thanks goes to Dale Scobie for donating this flight, both for Alice and to raise money for the Houston Nature Center. And thanks to Ron for bidding so high on the auction!

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