Sunday, September 22, 2013

Scales and Tales at the Appalachian Festival

On Saturday, underneath a veil of gray skies, the Appalachian Festival spread out across Frostburg State’s campus in clusters of tents and activities. Although a portion of the time spent at the festival consisted trudging from tent to tent in the rain, there was still an amazing time to be had.

Among the many displays and demonstrations, ranging from basket weaving to dance lessons in Appalachian flat-footing, was an intriguing presentation that focused around some of the wildlife that inhabit Western Maryland. “Scales to Tales” was a show directed by Rocky Gap park rangers and announced by seasonal park ranger Katy Barger, a previous FSU graduate, who is pursuing a full-time position as a park ranger for Rocky Gap State Park. Ms. Barger briefed the audience mainly on owls, snakes, and turtles, all of which could be living in your back yard. She gave an explanation on each of the animals that she presented, which included specific traits that the animals had and how they used them, and she paired each explanation with a story about how their organization acquired the animals. The length of the presentation was mainly devoted to the owls that Ms. Barger had brought. She reviewed the three main owls in our region, which are the Bard Owl, the Barn Owl, and the Eastern Screech Owl.

In the beginning, Ms. Barger tells the story about a farmer who mistook two barn owl eggs for chicken eggs, incubated them, and was surprised to find the eggs had hatched into baby owls. According to Ms. Barger, Barn owls “are not the cutest babies ever” and even “kind of strange looking”, so one could only imagine his surprise whenever those so-called chickens hatched. Later, the man decided to give the owls to the Department of Natural Resources, which is what Ms. Barger urged the audience members to do if they ever considered raising a wild animal. “Deciding to raise animals is a life long commitment, and it’s a life-threatening decision to release an animal back into the wild after domestication.”

Two of the most common animals released back into the wild after captivity are box turtles and snakes. Snakes, who are known to imprint and revisit places they have once hibernated, will subsequently die during the first winter after being released from their captive habitat because they will search continuously until they find familiar places.

Toward the end of the presentation, after Ms. Barger kindly asked the audience if they had any questions, she made sure to remind everyone one last time how important the animals are and added, “In Maryland, Birds of Prey are protected by law, and a person could face large fines for causing harm to the animals.”

Once Ms. Barger wrapped up the show, it was my turn to do the talking. I asked a few of the audience members, mostly parents and children, what they thought of the demonstration and what there favorite parts were. “ We liked when she brought each animal out of its cage and we got to see them,” Wendy Xu answered. Then her son added, “Except for the snakes! I don’t like snakes.” Coincidentally, the next person I interviewed turned out to be Ms. Barger’s younger sister, Samantha. “ I come out and see the my sister’s presentation every year.” she stated. “My favorite part is hearing the stories that go along with the animals, especially the screech owl.”

As she packed away the animals after her presentation and as I finished writing down the last of my observations, I realized that I couldn't have picked a better presentation to sit through. I was interested the entire time and even with the wind and rain, my day was well spent at the Appalachian Festival.

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