PINETOP-LAKESIDE – This week the Mountain Nature Center (WMNC) will be getting a new resident, Simon, a baby Eurasian eagle owl.
According to trainers Balinda Strosnider and John Glitsos, Simon will be going to school at WMNC to learn how to play well with others, and to learn some natural behaviors on cue to entertain audiences.
Last November, WMNC President Diana Butler announced that WMNC was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Arizona Office of Tourism (AOT). The grant was designed to help Arizona communities, especially rural, that depend on tourism.
WMNC was one of the nonprofits that was heavily affected by the pandemic since it had to cancel its programs and fundraising activities; therefore receiving this grant is timely.
In September, WMNC announced a partnership with Strosnider and Glitsos of Land on Sky Wildlife Experiences to bring raptor shows to the White Mountains. Its shining star is Funky the Owl along with several other awe-inspiring raptors.
The principals of Land On Sky are certified professional bird trainers Strosnider and Glitsos. They have spent nearly 15 years doing educational programs for groups, schools and private functions throughput Arizona. They have also presented hawks, falcons and eagles for over a decade at the Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
The AOT grant will enable WMNC to build a new, multipurpose complex including an amphitheater and supporting infrastructures to operate a world-class raptor flight show to expand tourism. The facility will also benefit the White Mountain community.
Land on Sky personnel helped write the AOT grant application.
Construction of the complex to house and train the raptors is expected to begin this week. Earthmoving and excavating will be the first steps, followed by framing in late May. For safety, the back of the Nature Center will be gated and locked.
In the meantime, Garfunkel, commonly known as Funky, the Land on Sky star Eurasian owl with a 6-foot wingspan, is here and is flying outside with the use of a creance, a long, light cord used to tether a flying bird during training, for safety.
The WMNC newsletter states that Funky’s flights go over 100 feet, practically ignoring the White Mountain winds. Plans are to eventually switch him to telemetry, a GPS radio transmitter, so he can fly free.
Last week, a Raptor Enrichment Hour began at WMNC. It was the first of many to come. Nine people showed up and while they made toys for the birds, they also enjoyed cheese, crackers, cookies and some wine with other nature lovers. They were also able to observe how the birds reacted to the toys they made for them. It was reported that Funky actually pounced on his goodie bag.
The Raptor Enrichment Hour will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth of each month. The next one will be on May 26. It is open to the public.
There will be a meet-and-greet scheduled for Simon. Likely you noticed that the owls’ names should be easy to remember. Hint: Simon and Garfunkel, the folk art duo from the 1960s.
For those who want to be sure they don’t miss the next Enrichment Hour, or would like to receive the weekly raptor email, they can send an email to the trainers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers are welcomed and are needed to help with the birds.
WMNC, a nonprofit, was established in 2003 with the vision to connect people through nature, education and wildlife. It is located on 10 acres in Lakeside, adjacent to the Big Springs Environmental Study Area, with 5 acres leased from the town of Pinetop-Lakeside on its Mountain Meadow Recreation Complex.
The physical address is 425 S. Woodland Road. Current hours are winter hours and the building is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.