In the quiet of the aviary pasture, the cottonwood trees just behind the wigwam frames are stirred by a soft breeze, creating a familiar chorus like that of a running stream, as the sun starts its descent into the night sky. Wadase Zhabwe is silhouetted against last rays of light as she looks down from her lofty perch at the young bucks playfully challenging each other. The sound of their antlers rattling together breaks into the evening’s quiet melody and she stretches, tucking one foot up under her. She offers up an occasional reluctant chatter as if urging them to move on.
She is settled in for the night. Most of her entire life has been documented either by GPS or photography but this moment seems to perfect to disrupt with even a camera. Her return to this space freely when she now has the tools and skills to fly wherever she chooses is beyond words. We have worked hard to keep this area a quiet, safe and supportive space for her and her acceptance of us in returning to this space here is quite a reward.
The cool night air begins to creep across the pasture reminding us that summer has taken its leave and a new season has arrived. Wadase Zhabwe continues to change with the seasons as well. Since her release in early spring, she has molted almost all of her damaged feathers and has learned to fly quite well. Several groups who visited the aviary have had the opportunity to see her put on quite a show flying from tree to tree in one corner of the pasture to the next. There are rare mornings when she still sits perched atop the aviary enclosures or stays perched just out front on her favorite crooked limb in the pecan tree for hours, however, on nice days she spends more and more time out flying. GPS telemetry data tells us she has broken 2000 feet during flight and she regularly makes trips to the river and returns to Squirrel Creek near the aviary grounds to roost. Occasionally, like this evening, she roosts in the aviary pasture.
During the summer she was content to perch on the wigwam frames but now that she has mastered landing and can reach a high perch with ease she spends less time at low levels. There are now longer stretches of time when we do not see her and have to rely on GPS to locate her. She spent two weeks along three miles of the river and when she returned to the aviary she did not eat the first day, certainly an indication that she is catching food on her own. As well as the times that rather than landing on the platform to eat she will fly by and at the last second, reach down and take food right off the platform. In the past she would have to land to get the food.
This autumn heavy northern wintery storms have arrived early and have sent many migrating birds of all kinds into our state, including eagles. We have had several eagles visit the property within the last few weeks and some of those visitors did not meet her approval. As they flew over the aviary enclosures the eagles inside began to vocalize. Shortly after their alarm calls she came flying in from the north and proceeded to fly around the open pasture chattering in protest until taking up high perch to have full view of the aviary grounds. Her territorial tendency to this area leads us to believe that there is a strong possibility that her return to the aviary is not solely food motivated but that she identifies with this as her home territory and will not migrate back to Florida where she was hatched but that she will remain here. Furthermore, on several occasions we have seen her in the same area with another juvenile that she did not challenge or try to bluff and chase away. Although they are not yet the best of companions, that is encouraging if she is going to stay and adjust to her life in the wild, that too is another season that she will go through.
As this season ends her yearly molt of feathers, we noticed a problem with her telemetry. As some of those feathers grew back in they began to cover the solar panel on her GPS backpack and the battery was drained several times. When the battery is low it will not transmit any information to the satellite, and she is completely on her own and there have been many gaps in the telemetry data. However, we were fortunate enough to have actual sightings of her at the aviary or in the nearby pasture on most of the days with no telemetry. At this point and time the decision has been made to forgo catching her up to trim the feathers covering her telemetry with the hope that once those feathers grow in they will be preened out of the way and no longer obstruct the solar panel.
That decision will have to be revisited before spring arrives in case we are wrong and she does decide to migrate. Although, we were worried that the GPS battery was permanently damaged from repeatedly being drained, we now know that the unit will still function. With the recent sunny days the GPS was able to power back up and was able to transmit data and is showing that the battery is continuing to hold a good charge.
She has faced many challenges since her release but she continues to fulfill the name she was given upon her release and we have little doubt that she will continue to weather the seasons. We will continue to monitor her progress through them all. For more information or to read previous updates please got to https://www.potawatomi.org/about-wadase.