For just a little under a year, I’ve had these words play over and over again in my mind, “I am bold, no fear inside. Spread my wings, open my life. Like an eagle, whose home is the sky. I’m gonna catch the wind. I’m gonna catch the wind.” (You can listen to the song here). I’ve been fascinated by them, meditated on them and mulled them over in my mind. These words became even more special for me in October, as they became my main mantra while our lil’ sprout was coming into this world (read more here).
Fast forward 5 months, and I’m still being impacted by them…
This March we had the wonderful opportunity to take an eagle workshop in Berkel en Rodenrijs, Netherlands with the organization Birds @ Work Valkerij Manege. They are the largest falconry organization in the Benelux with more than 260 birds including birds of prey and owls.
We were able to handle and meet 4 birds of prey: an adult and juvenile American Bald Eagle, a Bateleur and fly a Steppe Eagle. They were each so incredibly unique both in appearance, personality, and I wouldn’t be able to name a favorite.
The most unique eagle we were able to handle was the Bateleur. They originally come from Sub-Saharan Africa but have also been found as far north as the Arabian Peninsula. Their name “Bateleur” pays homage to the French word for tight-rope walker in reference to the way in which this eagle is able to catch its balance in midair. An adult can weigh up to 2.6kg. They can fly up to a distance of 320km and fly up to 8 hours as they glide through the air. One of their most distinctive features apart from their colouring is their very short (and cute) tail. They are on the near threatened endangered list.
We also had the opportunity to handle both an adult and juvenile American Bald Eagle. They can weigh up to 6kg and have a wingspan of up to 244cm. They receive their characteristic white plumage when they are adult and ready for breeding. Until then they go through 7 subsequent stages where their plumage varies. They are a force to be reckoned with as they can reach heights of up to 15,000 feet and can swoop down at speeds of 320km per hour. And their eyes! We were both mesmerized by their colour – a light liquid gold and a gaze of such sheer intensity. Equally impressive is the force and strength in their talons: 250kg per square centimeter. Can you imagine?
If there was one moment that was most unforgettable for me was watching how the eagles reacted to the natural elements. It was a freezing day with the humidity and with the wind chill it varied between -10 and -12 as wind speeds surpassed 40km/h and gusts of up to 65km/h. The falconers kept telling us, “Face the wind. Face the wind,” as we handled these beautiful creatures
As they rested on our arms, there was no mistaking when the eagle would sense a wind gust coming. The body language completely changed as if they were ready for total lift off. The gaze in their eyes switched from one of neutrality to one of total excitement, concentration, and zeal as if they were telling us, “This is what I was born to do.” For me, there was no mistaking that these were wild animals and they were made to fly. To see this touched my heart so deeply.
The conditions were difficult with the high wind speeds. We were not able to fly with the younger American Bald Eagle so they brought in a beautiful Steppe Eagle for us to fly with. Steppe Eagles are found in Europe, Asia and Africa. They can weigh up to 5kg and have a wingspan of up to 214cm. It was then that we could really understand that although eagles fly, they aren’t meant to really flap their wings as other birds normally do to traverse distances. Eagles have very large wings which means that they require exorbitant amounts of energy to flap them in order to fly.
Instead, they are meant to soar!
They flap their wings to create lift but once that’s been accomplished, eagles spend most of their time soaring and gliding through the air. They soar either by finding rising air currents or via dynamic soaring which doesn’t rely on rising air currents. Instead it uses the differences in wind speeds between the ground and higher altitudes. The eagle climbs into the faster airflow by facing the wind and begins a cycle between heading downwind and then upwind between the different airflows to gain speed.
Foolishly, I thought soaring for an eagle requires no work or rather it is easy work. However, they are in a constant state of flux, switching between airstreams, speeds, going downwind and then up again and using opposing forces to gain both speed and momentum. Let me say that again, using opposing forces to gain both speed and momentum. Isn’t that amazing? (And I haven’t even started talking about how certain obstacles like ridges or mountains actually provide the best lift as the wind is forced to flow up the side of a mountain).
So often I feel like I shy away from adversity and fierce winds. I make excuses, “It’s too hard. I’ll fail. I’m afraid, etc.” I tend to look 50 steps ahead and feel defeated before I even start. What if I just turned my face towards the wind with single focus and zeal? What if I solely focused on catching the wind from that next airflow and trusting that when I need to change direction, the subsequent airflow will come just at the right time? Or instead of becoming one hot mess when I face an obstacle that seems insurmountable seeing it as an opportunity for the perfect ‘lift’?
My friends, I can’t help but marvel at nature. What an incredible few short hours spent with these astonishing birds.
As we have been wrestling with changing directions in our personal lives as of late (becoming new parents has a tendency to do that, LOL), I’m storing all these lessons in my heart and mustering the courage to face the wind.
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I was the quintessential city girl. Thanks to my parents I’ve had the privilege of living in Milan, Sao Paulo, Paris, Toronto, and now as a 30-something adult, Amsterdam. But regardless of the city, there were some sounds that made up my daily sound track: the hustle and bustle of traffic, the roar of motorcycles, the halting brakes of the metro, the pounding of jackhammers, the tiresome beeps of reversing trucks, the dings of a departing tram and now in Amsterdam, the clinking and clanking of passing bicycles. Animals were minimal, and whatever bird life there was, quickly drowned out.
The sounds of nature were not part of my daily repertoire. Fast-forward to my nature-loving husband whose mantra is, “Let’s thank God for the bumblebees and the butterflies,” and a whole new world opened up for me. I remember on some of our first forest walks together being mesmerized by the sweet cacophony of different birds singing away in the canopy of the trees. To me, it felt like nothing short of miraculous. Call me crazy, but it stirred something deep inside that I was (and still) unable to put into words.
It reminds me of a quotation from Shakespeare, “The earth has music for those who listen.” For me, so often I am unable to hear the beautiful music of the earth. One, because I am usually too busy making my own noise, and two, I’ve forgotten to listen (something I’m working on).
Recently, I bumped into an article published by the BBC that explored how plants have senses. They can see and hear, AND respond. Obviously, their senses express themselves a little differently than ours, however, there is no doubt that they are present, and are continually responding to the world around them.
A fascinating study conducted by Heidi Appel and Rex Cocroft from the University of Missouri found that the munching sounds of caterpillars caused plants to release chemical defenses to their leaves for the purpose of deterring these little predators. Isn’t that amazing?! You can read their findings here.
It seems that even though plants do not have ears, in the traditional sense, they can sense vibrations and frequencies, and thus react accordingly. But what else do plants hear?
Birds singing in Hilversum Forest, Netherlands
What astounded me the most was a recent mini lecture that I listened to that explored the relationship between birdsong and plants. Plants receive most of their nutrition through their roots from the soil. However, there are also micronutrients found in the dew that descend in the early morning. Plant leaves have what’s called stomata. A stoma is a tiny opening or mouth found on the under-surface of leaves. Two cells (guard cells) make up the stoma that open and close with resonant frequency or vibration. These stomata are able to open up to receive the micronutrients that come from the air when the dew falls, and thus impact the plant’s growth.
A correlation was made between the opening and closing of the stomata and when birds sing. When do birds sing the most? Usually just before or at dawn precisely as the dew begins to settle. The frequencies from the birdsongs allow the stomata to open and receive all the micronutrients that descend upon the surface of their leaves. Is this not absolutely incredible!!!??
I’ve been able to find a number of articles discussing experiments regarding the link between the opening of stomata with certain frequencies (i.e. musical tones or types of music) and plant growth. There are even businesses in the USA capitalizing on this. They sell a whole sound system, recordings, and fertilizers to farmers that they can use to incorporate this phenomenon. Imagine a farm setting up speakers with surround sound around their fields playing birdsong while simultaneously foliar feeding (spraying water-soluble fertilizers on the surfaces of leaves). I wonder if they turn up the bass on that?! The scientific community seems to be divided on some of the research, however, it has me riveted.
It also brings into question all the pesticides being used for farming, and how it affects birdlife. Of course, there is the known fact that pesticides can have a deadly impact on birds. Like DDT and DDT’s chemical relatives killing bird population. But an indirect effect is bird starvation. One of the main objectives of pesticides is to kill insect threat to crops, but as a result, there is now no longer a food source for birds. So, if they aren’t able to migrate to another location to find food, they die. (You can read more here).
And isn’t it wild to think that the very animals we need to help support our plants and crops to grow and thrive are the very ones we deter or inadvertently kill? Perhaps the issue at hand is much more complicated than my current understanding, nonetheless, it speaks to me about the wonderful balance we find in nature.
It’s miraculous to see and understand how plant and animal life are so interconnected. In the blog post, Amongst Wolves, I mentioned how the reintroduction of wolves had incredibly changed the landscape of Yellowstone National Park. There is so much we can learn from nature. I can only imagine the transformation and flourishing we would see if we prioritized bird life when it comes to the impact that they have on plants (and as a result, our food source).
This brings a whole new meaning to allowing the music of the earth to fill our ears and to allow it to touch our hearts.
Although I have a deep admiration for our feathered friends, I definitely do not have the patience for bird photography. Mike Agiannidis has patience in spades. He is a typical renaissance man- photographer, fisherman, and car whisperer, who is brilliant at all three. Based in Toronto, Canada, him and his wife specialize in landscape and automotive photography. He was kind enough to showcase some of his wonderful bird photography for this blog post. You can find them here, on Instagram, and here. Make sure to check out their superb photography.
Make sure to check out our web shop for beautiful fine art botanical prints to adorn any space you call your own. Let nature in with us!
One of my favorite films growing up as a child was Disney’s The Jungle Book. Not only was this film full of animals and some pretty jazzy music (Bare Necessities never fails to bring a smile to my face), but the idea of a little boy being adopted and raised by wolves had always fascinated me. I consider wolves to be such beautiful creatures, but wary of their reputation (think of Red Riding Hood or Aesop’s Fables).
Earlier this year, we bumped into BBC’s Ingenious Animals. In Episode 3 (See a clip here), they delve into the world of animal communication. Specifically, they discuss communication amongst wolves. Previously, it had always been thought that the wolf pack was held together by the aggressive and domineering alpha male. With further research, they found that this was not necessarily the case. During experiments where they took turns removing different members from the pack, the rest of the pack would howl for their missing family member. It was discovered that the wolves would utilize a different call depending on who was missing. They realized that these calls changed depending on the closeness they felt for the missing wolf, in the same way that you would feel different if an acquaintance left the room or your best friend. Thus, this was not necessarily a top-down hierarchy in the traditional sense.
Furthermore, in experiments where they were comparing differences between wolves and domesticated dogs, they found some fascinating results. They performed experiments in which they observed the difference between how wolves share food versus dogs, thus measuring the animals’ tolerance. What they found was that dogs don’t share their food. Whoever is the alpha dog, goes in and eats everything, while the subordinate dog does not even attempt to get a bite. There’s no dinner for the underdog. In all the experiments where the wolf alpha male was released with a subordinate, the wolves always shared their food.
The reasoning behind this behavior? Dogs are scavengers and less likely to share. Wolves have always hunted in packs to bring down their prey, thus they have a need for tolerance, communication, partnership, and friendship, ensuring their success and survival. We could learn a lot from these fascinating and marvelous creatures, don’t you think?
So, why am I telling you this?
Firstly, because we cannot assume that our postulations or the knowledge we have is correct. This is something I am definitely working on :)
Secondly, because this past September we had the incredible privilege of visiting The Wolf Conservation Association in Belgium. Although almost extinct in Europe at one point in time, the wolf has slowly been making a comeback.
This association rescues wolves from private citizens, animal parks, and zoos that no longer wish to keep them. They are often mistreated and when they are no longer wanted are euthanized. It’s heartbreaking to hear of their mistreatment and that once the entertainment value dissipates many of these animals are killed. This association believes that this is not responsible behavior neither does it show love or fair treatment for the animals in question. They champion the cause of wolves by rescuing them, educating the public and making sure that these wolves live in nature or in the very least semi-natural conditions. It’s not just about the protection and preservation of the species but also of the ecosystem. They apply pressure on public authorities for changes in laws for the protection of animals in Belgium and Europe. Wolves aren’t pets.
And if you ever doubted their role within the ecosystem, take a peek at this incredible video which explains what happened to the natural environment once wolves were reintroduced at Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
Our day at the association was wonderful. We were able to see all different types of wolves from all over Europe. We even saw some beautiful Hudson Bay wolves which are native to Canada. All these were semi-wild and very wary of us.
However, we had the amazing privilege to enter into one of the massive enclosures where we were allowed to interact with two Swiss wolves (a brother and sister) that had been hand-reared and were unable to be released into the wild. It was incredible and I’ve been reliving it in my mind and heart ever since. It was like receiving the most loving greeting from your best friend or a wonderful relative you haven’t seen in years. I don’t know if it was the pregnancy hormones that endeared me to them, but I was so moved by their affection. I almost started to feel guilty, as the brother wolf barely left my side. They of course made their rounds to all the guests who had entered in the enclosure, but the brother wolf stayed with me most of the time allowing me to pet him, talk to him, and even feel the pads under his feet as he cuddled with me and sat or laid by my side. I know this wouldn’t happen in the wild and neither should it, but it made me imagine how a perfect world would be without fear. The sister wolf would of course come around, say hi, give a short cuddle, make sure she wasn’t missing anything too exciting, and then would be off on her way.
Unfortunately, time was limited within the enclosure (I think that was the fastest 35-40min ever) and we were not allowed to bring our camera equipment, but I trust that these images we captured with our phones can give you a sense of what happened.
When I think back to that day, I have tears in my eyes, because it’s what I imagine heaven would be like—no fear, only perfect peace where, “the wolf...shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion… together; and a little child shall lead them," (Isaiah 11:6).
It's a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life. And one which encourages me to keep the discussion going on how we look at, think of, and treat our world around us whether it be how we treat each other, nature or wildlife. Please remember that when you invest in a piece of fine art with us or any product you purchase in our online shop, a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to one of three organizations whose sole mission is: wildlife and habitat conservation, offering medical care to displaced persons in war torn countries, or rescuing children from the sex trafficking industry (You can read more about it here and here).
I’ll leave you with Jane Goodall’s extraordinary words,” Let us develop respect for all living things. Let us try to replace violence and intolerance with understanding and compassion. And love.”