Eight years of education, nature and raptors

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People flocked from all over the province to La Riviere on April 13 to meet some neat birds and learn about nature.

This year was the eight annual Raptor Festival, and organizer Paul Goossen said it’s exciting to see the festival continue to grow.

“We’ve had such a tremendous response over the years to this festival,” he said. “The neat thing about the festival this year is that we’ve got new sponsors, new organizations. That just increases the festival and provides a lot more diversity to what we normally have.”

Goossen said all types of people find enjoyment in the event, including families, birdwatchers and photographers. The festival also highlights work being done by organizations around the province to protect raptor species.

“It provides an awareness to people about the environment and what we have,” Goossen said. “A lot of our lives are spent in our homes and communities and we don’t get out a lot to enjoy nature. It’s a tremendous time for people to come out to get a bit more education, find out what other organizations are doing and just a chance to interact and get ideas about how they can help the environment and wildlife.”

As in previous years, a raptor was released back into the wild in front of an eager crowd during the festival.

The red-tailed hawk came to Wildlife Haven last fall needing flight training to strengthen its wings before it could be released.

“It’s very important for those avian species prior to release that they can fly,” Wildlife Haven’s Steve Loney said. “As we saw, it flew beautifully.”

Loney said the festival gives local organizations a chance to showcase their conservation efforts while giving the public a chance to learn.

“The Raptor Festival is an important event for getting people in touch with nature, being part of sharing how people can interact with nature safely and appropriately,” he said.

Loney said the festival is really good for young people. “If you could just see the look on the young people’s faces,” he said. “Where else do you get an opportunity to be this close to wildlife and see this type of a success story? A lot of the volunteers say they do it for that wildlife going back out to the wild.”

“They don’t turn around, they don’t say thank you,” he added. “They’re out the door, they’re off into the air, and that’s why Wildlife Haven does what it does.”

Wildlife Haven is celebrating 35 years of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing, and the organization is moving into their first permanent home in Ile-des-Chenes.

Loney said the organization is pleased to have a permanent base of operations. “Volunteers up until now have been working in a decommissioned dairy barn, which they’re very thankful to have, but there was no running water for humans,” he said. “Everybody is just so excited to finally moving into their first permanent home.”

Wildlife Haven can get up to 1,700 patients a year. Loney said over the past 35 years, the organization has delivered $18 million worth of wildlife care to the province.

“It’s important to note that they don’t receive government funding even though the wildlife are owned by the provincial and federal governments,” Loney said. “With that army of 90 volunteers servicing 1.2 million square kilometres, they’re a small but mighty organization and they do it with pride and with passion.”

The Pembina Valley is a major migratory path for many raptors, and Goossen said at least 200 species use the valley in some way, if you count all species that winter and summer in the area.
“It’s such a tremendous variety,” he said. “From songbirds to raptors to ducks… in the spring time you can see pelicans migrating over, and swans and sandhill cranes. Some of those species don’t actually land, but they cross over the valley and you can spot them.”

Goossen said they have recorded over 20 different raptor species in the valley. That includes vultures, hawks, eagles, falcons and more.

“It’s an amazing place for migration for wildlife in general,” he said. “People come from Winnipeg and other parts of the province to watch the spring migration.”