Monday, November 12, 2007

The World Owl Conference

I just got back from my first ever trip over the pond to Europe. I spent the first week at the World Owl Conference in The Netherlands and the second week in England staying with Tony Warburton, the founder of the World Owl Trust. I don't even know where to begin to start relating my fabulous trip!!!

I guess we have to start with Alice, since this blog is mostly about her anyway. Hormones have kicked in big time and she just hoots all the time. (Just call me if you don't believe me...I can guarantee she'll be hooting in the background.) She follows me all over the house now, and packing was no exception. She even tried to sneak into my suitcase, as you can see.

I flew out of LaCrosse, WI to Minneapolis to Amsterdam with no troubles at all. Denver Holt (from the Owl Research Institute in Montana) said he'd meet me at the train station in Amsterdam, but after two hours of waiting I gave up on him and took the train to Groningen, where the conference was being held, by myself. I had to ask a police officer how to manage the buses, and with help from a few other folks I eventually made it to my hotel...exhausted. My welcoming committee in the lobby consisted of Tanja Jovanovic-Grove (originally from Serbia, but now moving from Arizona to North Carolina), David Johnson (Director of the Global Owl Project), Jim Duncan (Great Gray Owl biologist from Winnipeg) and his wife and mother-in-law, and yes, Denver Holt was there too (claiming he was too tired to wait up for me.) I've forgiven Denver, but I'll never let him live it down. :-)

We met up with a few other conference organizers and went to a Japanese restaurant for supper. (I also later ate at Chinese and Thai restaurants too, but heck if I could locate a restaurant that served Dutch food! Go figure....)

Tanja and I knew each other well from e-mail and phone conversations, but had never met in person. We felt like we had known each other forever, so stayed up late yakking every night.

The next morning the presentations started. Despite a major lack of sleep (all of us from North America woke up between 3-4 AM every morning), I thought I was doing great. That is until they turned the lights down for the first presentation. I thought I was going to die of fatigue before noon. My first experience with jet lag! I made it through lunch but had to go back to the hotel for a nap in the afternoon.

The next day was my presentation on the vocalizations of the Great Horned Owl, with you know "hooo" as the basis of my study. Despite another presentation in another room at the same time, I had a good-sized audience. I had to cover 14 different vocalizations in about 15 minutes, and those of you who have heard me give presentations on owls before know I can be awfully chatty, so I had to work hard to be exceedingly concise. Everyone got a kick out of the recordings I played, and a couple of biologists came up to me afterwards to say they had heard some of the less common calls but didn't realize they were from Great Horned Owls.

Those of you who know me will also be shocked to hear that I wore a DRESS for my presentation!!! Don't worry, it wasn't mine...I borrowed it from a friend.

I needed a nap again that afternoon, and regretted missing presentations to do it. It wasn't possible to get to all presentations anyway, since there were two presentations going on at all times.

I spent some time visiting with Claus Konig (probably the overall world authority on owl vocalizations), Wolfgang Scherzinger (a prominent owl biologist from Germany who has worked extensively with captive owls of many species) and Loic Hardouin (a young French biologist who has done vocal work on Little Owls.) It was incredible to be able to sit down and have discussions about my Great Horned Owl vocal research with these folks!

There was a day of field trips during the conference, and I opted to go to the Dutch Owl Day in Meppel. I didn't quite know what to expect since it would be entirely in Dutch (the conference was mercifully in English.) It didn't take long before Tanja, her friend Milan, and I realized we weren't going to be able to understand much of anything (and Dutch isn't exactly an easy language to pick up!), so we skipped out and hit the shops down the street. It was really fun to experience Holland more first hand. Believe it or not, they were selling shirts with US colleges on them! I was on the lookout for a souvenir for Ken, who was at home being driven mad by a hooting owl. I found just the thing too--chocolate owls! (See photo.)

I could go on forever about all the incredibly cool owl biologists I met (there were nearly 200 people from 33 countries there!) and all the things that happened, but I don't think I could begin to relate much of anything short of writing a book. Suffice it to say that after Tanja kept speaking to me in Serbian, I learned how to say "What???" in Serbian, she introduced me as "Alice" about four times (not to be funny either!), and I now have a great fondness for Dutch accents, even though my understanding of Dutch is strictly limited to "Ja, ja, ja." There are canals all over in Holland and the sheep look like they're cartoons--they're so fat and have pencil legs. No wooden shoes, and I only saw one windmill.

So that's the super short version of what I did the first week of November. Stay tuned for details on my English adventure.