Lauterborn Blog Search

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Audience ‘Rapt’ by Live Birds of Prey

Audience ‘Rapt’ by 
Live Birds of Prey:
Audubon Society shows hawks, owls and falcons up close
(Posted to 1/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – These were not your everyday backyard birdfeeder birds but you might seem them up in the treetops nevertheless.

On Saturday morning, the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at 2325 Burr Street presented a Live Birds of Prey program that gave over 40 attendees the chance to meet up close falcons, hawks and owls that are native to Connecticut.

Linnea McHenry, the Animal Care Supervisor and Environmental Educator, a full-time worker at the Center, presented the program. McHenry teaches classes both at the Center and at local schools using the Society’s animals for demonstration purposes. This particular program is offered three to four times a year with a goal of raising awareness about the birds that are found in this local area and to help people identify the various species.

“People often wonder about the birds, thinking that they live in faraway places,” said McHenry, “when in reality they are native to the area. Each one of our birds has a story and all are non-releasable due to past injuries and domestication.”

McHenry said her presentation is a rare opportunity to be close to these amazing birds. “They are so powerful and wild. To work and train them is very fulfilling. It’s humbling really. They’re incredible. Unfortunately, they end up here usually because of an accident and they lose trust for humans. We work hard to win that back, which is really difficult to do. Then they go from being very independent to dependent on everything from us,” she explained.

Attendees were a mix of children, adults and even amateur nature enthusiasts, and all looked forward to the program.

“We see hawks around a lot in our area and now we get the chance to see them up close,” said Denise Rainey of Stratford attending with her grandson Nolan Liscinsky, 6. “Nolan likes neighborhood birds but I think he’s going to be wowed by the big ones.”

Adam Bell of Trumbull, attending with his son Austin, 2, and father Don, said, “Austin loves birds, particularly owls. It will be neat to see the different birds and to learn about them. He has bird books at home with sounds and related toys. What does an owl say, Austin?” The boy replied with a grin, “Whoooo!”

Speaking at the front of a high-ceilinged great room with large picture windows framed by icicles, McHenry didn’t disappoint. Donning leather gloves called gauntlets, she presented the first of several resident raptors, Bella the broad-winged hawk.

The newest in the Center’s care, Bella had been hit by a car, which damaged her left wing. She was initially treated by an independent “rehabber” and though she healed well, she couldn’t be re-released to the wild. She was very nervous at first and had to be kept in a large, dark mesh cage for two months before she gradually adjusted to her environment. McHenry spoke about its lifespan – usually 6 to 8 years in the wild – and diet which included mice, small birds and amphibians.

Bailey, an American Kestrel from the falcon family, was the second bird McHenry presented. Bailey had fallen out of its nest as a baby and was found by a woman who took him into her home and fed him milk and bread. Bailey got very sick and was taken to a vet. Luckily, the bird recovered but never gained the strength to survive in the wild. Attendees were delighted by its musical chirp and intricate feather patterns.

Perhaps the most popular bird was Millie, a female barn owl, that the Center had received when it was just two months old and is 100% domesticated. It’s heart-shaped monkey face and facts about its exceptional hearing and ravenous appetite intrigued the audience.

Snapping photographs at the back of the room with a serious Canon camera, self-described semi-pro wildlife photographer Ed Gonzalez of Killingworth, CT, was clearly moved. “I’m usually down on the Connecticut River photographing bald eagles and hawks. I haven’t had much luck with owls. I really love birds of prey.”

Casey’s the Place to Be for Young Adults with Special Needs

Casey’s the Place to Be for Young Adults with Special Needs:
Monthly themed activities provide safe, fun social outlet
(Posted to 1/14)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – They came, they saw, they ate and they socialized.

The participants were young adults with special needs age 18+ and the attraction was Movie Night held early Friday evening at Casey’s Place, a space in Wakeman Hall at the First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road. The featured film was the popular animated “Up” and various snack food supplemented the showing. The event attracted over two dozen people, including a few parent and professional chaperones.

“We started this program in Fall 2006 in honor of my daughter Casey,” said Jan Laster, a member of First Church. “She passed in July 2004 of brain cancer. She was sick for nine years. I know what parents of some of our program participants are going through. It’s a tough thing to see your child in distress.”

Laster said the program meets a very simple need. “People in any walk of life need to have outlets where they can socialize in a safe environment. Our attendees have a whole range of disabilities including autism, blindness, learning difficulties, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc.”

For Laster, the program presented a healthy diversion. “It was a way of dealing with my grieving process and gave me something to do as well. I need to do, do, do.”

Providing some program background, co-event coordinator Cathy Lambert said, “We meet October through May on the second Friday of each month, from 6:30 to 8. We have a theme and different activity every time. Last month it was survival cooking and a holiday party. Next month will be a Valentine’s dance. We usually have about 22 young adults attend.”

Lambert is a special education teacher in Fairfield Public Schools and taught many of the attendees when they were children. Supporting Lambert and Laster with event coordination is a small team of professionals including an occupational therapist, retired teachers, a paraprofessional and a speech therapist. 

Of the team, Lambert said, “They were very helpful in the beginning with building social skills and continue to be helpful in engaging attendees in conversation or helping with a project like December’s cooking event.”

While the program is held at the church, it is not church funded. All funding is awarded through a grant process and SEPTA (Special Education PTA of Fairfield), as well as through individual contributions.

Parents and staff also pitch in with food. “Sometimes people come with baked cookies, soda and water,” said Laster. “At our cookouts in May, they will bring side dishes to augment hamburgers and hot dogs.”

The community has also been very supportive of the program. “One time, we took the group to a Bluefish game and the team supplied the tickets,” said Laster.

The program goes beyond just offering a social outlet. “We’re working on not only social skills but life skills like cooking, summer safety and more, better preparing these young adults to be independent.”

The program has truly had an impact on participants. Said Deena Deitz, 23, who has cerebral palsy, “I’ve been coming since the beginning. I like to come to see my friends, get to hang out a little bit and see what’s going on. We remind each other about events through Facebook. One of my favorite past events was dancing. I can keep my own pace, which is important as the right side of my body doesn’t work so well. I can let my guard down.”

Parents have been equally impressed. “This is just fantastic, a great social outlet for these young people,” said Dianne Baxter. “We used to have to facilitate to get them to socialize but now they get together on their own. I didn’t expect it to leave Casey’s Place and it did. It’s a blessing. You just want to be here.”

The program has also fostered a relationship or two. Baxter’s son Jeff, 25, who is intellectually disabled, had the fortune to meet Melissa Gennari, 21, who has cerebral palsy, and they have been dating for almost a year.

“I never expected to meet someone here,” said Gennari. “It’s been really great. We go out to dinner, movies, bowling, each other’s houses.”

Laster officially commenced the evening by ringing a set of chimes to get everyone’s attention and gather in a circle. Each person introduced themselves to the group and then collected a snack and sat in a one of several rows of chairs that had been set up in front of a portable movie screen.

“Here we go!” said Amanda Fleita, 31, a smile of great delight spreading across her face. 

For upcoming events and more information, email Cathy Lambert at or call her at 203-259-2241.