Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wannetta the Owl Lady saves the day!!!

I don't like to rely on simply posting things I find elsewhere, but with all of the controversy that has been presented here in the last week or two, I think we need a bit of a change of pace. So here is a story that illustrates what birding is really about. The post is written by Illinois birder Tim Kuesel; Wannetta the Owl Lady (that's what we call her, really!!!) actually used to work with my aunt at the Post Office. Small world, eh? Here's the story:

Since it hasn't yet been mentioned in this forum this weekend and it was truly an amazing event to behold, let it now be known that more birding enthusiasts are surely in the making as a result of a Saturday morning field trip down in Matteson.
Thorn Creek Audubon's annual outing to search for owls with Wanneeta Elliott, which normally has merely a dozen or so attendees, this year attracted quite a crowd.
You see the Chicago Sun-Times environmental reporter, Gary Wisby, put an enticing article in the Friday morning paper touting Wanneeta's owl-finding skills and announcing the time and date and meeting place of the field trip as being 8 AM Saturday at the small strip mall at the corner of Vollmer and Central, also mentioning that the trip was open to anyone to attend and that seeing owls was a virtual guarantee. There was also an endearing picture of a Long-eared Owl in the piece. This turned out to be an inducement many readers could not resist.
As for myself, I had been on this same trip once many years before and fondly remembered Wanneeta showing our group five Long-eared Owls in one pine tree and figured this would be an easy way to bring along my friend, Christine Tyler, who loves owls, and help me save face and recoup some pride after getting her thoroughly soaked several weekends prior up at Rollins Savanna on the one night those smaller Short-Eared Owls decided not to come out and perform, (though they have obviously been plenty active many times before and since).
So we showed up in at Vollmer and Central in Matteson at about 7:50 AM Saturday morning. So did 68 other cars and 142 other people, (my actual count). Thorn Creek Audubon had published the start time for the trip as being 8:30 AM, not 8:00 AM as the Sun-Times had it, so Wanneeta spent the early morning hours on Saturday visiting her spots to make sure of that morning's owl perch locations so she could go right to them with her anticipated small group of participants.
Imagine her surprise to drive into the lot at the strip mall and be greeted by this huge throng of people, filling the sidewalks and still walking over from their cars which now overflowed the parking lot and were being directed to a dirt road across Central, steered there by the local police, who had been called by the White Hen Pantry to force the birders to relocate so their coffee customers would have a place to park.
No one could have blamed Wanneeta Elliott if she would have thrown her hands up exasperated and called the whole thing off. Seeing the assemblage consisted largely of families with young children and new enthusiasts lured in by the publicity from the paper, she calmly adapted, secured the officer's assistance in moving the cars down Central in orderly fashion, got everybody safely off the road, entered the Bartel pine grove, refound her LEO, set up scopes, led people in and out in groups, and made sure all enjoyed good looks at an extremely cooperative bird. She then took these people on to see Great Horned owls sitting on nests in several locations.
Unless you were there to witness it, you just don't know the heavy weight of the patience required of this field trip leader and the consummate grace she demonstrated. I can only recall two other instances of birding field trips with attendance even approaching anything like this. One would be the Arb trip led by the Chapmans during Hermit Warbler days that attracted about 80 people and the other would be one of the WSO's New Year's Day Milwaukee Lakefront Caravans years back that brought in just over 100. You would expect huge crowds at those kinds of events. To overwhelm the owl lady like this with 142 eager participants was asking for the world. Yet she pulled it off with admirable aplomb.
I suspect many more budding birders are now hooked. Wanneeta Elliott should be saluted and Thorn Creek Audubon should be proud.
Now, wasn't that sweet and nice??? BTW, the birder in me compels me to note that the Long-eared photo in the Sun-Times article was actually captioned as a Great Horned Owl!!!

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