Monday, December 10, 2012

A Visitor from Norway

Roar Solheim was the keynote speaker at the 2011 International Festival of Owls in Houston, MN. He came back to Houston in September of 2012 because he just couldn't get enough.

OK, actually he really came back to prepare owl and other specimens that I had in the freezer.  I only needed some of them for measurements, and some I had decided that realistically I wasn't going to use.  When Roar heard I was going to clean out my freezer, he asked if he could get the specimens for the Agdar Natural History Museum in Kristiansand, Norway, where he is the senior curator.

Before he came I had to negotiate a new plethora of permits I had never dealt with before to make sure I could ship the finished specimens to him.  I needed an import/export permit, a designated port exception permit so I could ship them through Minneapolis instead of Chicago, and most importantly, a CITES permit since all owls are protected by the CITES treaty.  The first two permits came in a month, while the CITES permit took four months.

Roar arrived the end of September and stayed with us for just over two weeks.  He was SERIOUS about his work because when he drove into our yard with his rental car when he first arrived, he was delighted to show us a fresh, road-killed coyote in perfect shape that he had found a few miles from our house.  So the first thing he did when he arrived, before he brought his suitcase up to his room, was skin the coyote.

Each day he got up well before us and headed in to the Houston Nature Center to work.  He stayed well into the evenings also, always coming home after me.  But then again he was here for just over two weeks and he had about eight mammals and maybe twenty birds to prepare. 

And that wasn't all he did while he was here.  He gave presentations at the Hormel Nature Center in Austin, MN and at Luther College in Decorah, IA.  He also spent a weekend with Ron and Rae Evenson (who hosted him when he was here for the Owl Festival), visiting The Raptor Center in St. Paul and Hawk Ridge in Duluth.  He spent a day birding and photographing road kill with Sue Fletcher (yes, there are weird people who do this, and obviously more than one of them!)  You've never seen a man so excited to find a road killed woodchuck.

Mind you, Roar didn't sleep much.

As I could spare the time here and there, I watch him prepare specimens.  He had a variety of different techniques that he used in different situations.  And I was flabbergasted that he washed skins with any fat on them in soap and water.  I would have thrown a skin away that looked like that!

 Roar should have been an owl beautician, because he could turn them back into owls again using a hairdryer!

As a thank you for giving him specimens, Roar asked if I wanted him to mount any owls for the Nature Center.  Right away I knew I wanted him to mount a beauuuuuutiful subarcticus Great Horned Owl that was found dead in the Twin Cities last Christmas.  These birds are just black and white with virtually no brown at all.  It's a subspecies that is typically found in western Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Gorgeous!

I ordered some foam for him to make a body and fake eyes from a taxidermy supply company.  They arrived in plenty of time.  Here are some of the steps of making a mounted owl.

Making the body form.

Putting wire in the wings and wrapping them.

Putting in the fake eyes.

Shoving the body back into the skin and sticking in wires.

Ready to be mounted on the perch.

Making everything look just right.

Roar has been working with owls for decades, and obviously he's starting to look and act a bit like his study subjects.  As you can see, Roar is a real hoot, in every sense of the word.  And he's VERY good at what he does, in the field and in the museum.  If you didn't know better, I'm sure you would think this was a live owl having an acupuncture treatment.  Seriously, though, his mounts are the best mounted owls I've ever seen.  They look 100% alive.  The other mount that he did of an owl snoozing on a perch, peeking over its shoulder with one eye slightly open, is often mistaken for Alice at the Nature Center.

I'm sure Roar will be back to Houston someday, and in the meantime I'll store up some more dead owls for him to mount for us.


  1. Awesome! Rohr looks great in that last pic!

  2. That is amazing! I stumbled across this blog by accident, and I really love it.

  3. It was great meeting Roar! I'll have to come by the Center sometime soon and see the mounts he made. Oh, and check out the bunnies out in the marsh.

  4. Interesting article on Finches singing