In many ways Mark Manske’s ’82 home is a sanctuary for birds, including the two new small screech owls that were perched on his futon listening to Bruce Springstein the day we visited in June. “I’ve had three or four dozen species of critters in this house at least. If these walls could talk. I’ve banded 10 to 12 snowy owls in this house. I had a loon in my bathtub. On this very kitchen table, I’ve had everything from bard owls and great horned owls to squirrels,” Mark said.
His company, Adirondack Raptors, is dedicated to educating the public about birds of prey. He operates the business out of his home in Dickinson Center, but travels all over the North Country with his trusty sidekicks Morley, Tess, Scooter and Mortimer, names he’s given to his owls and Harris Hawk. This is a glimpse into Mark’s life.
Mark leaves his house to conduct research on Northern Goshawks. He is monitoring how the Goshawks are affected by the introduction of large commercial wind farms near traditional nest sites. He’s gathering data before and after the installation of the wind turbines to examine what’s happening with their populations.
6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
He arrives at the nest and prepares to capture the adult birds. His team starts by placing a robotic Great Horned Owl near their nest—a decoy made from a stuffed owl, with the mechanics to move the head and wings. He drapes a mist net in front of the decoy. When he starts playing the sounds of an owl hooting, the Goshawks swoop down out of their nest to scare off the perceived threat, getting caught in the net. Mark and his team run over to subdue the birds and place an Abba (hood) over their head, keeping them calm and relaxed, so they don’t flail around and hurt themselves. They process the birds, figuring out their age, sex, weight, tail measurement and wing measurements. He then places a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band and color bands on their legs for tracking and monitoring purposes.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Mark returns home and unloads his banding kits, nets and robotic owl. He then loads up his car with large travel crates for his owls and Harris Hawk for a trip to Lake Placid. After cleaning up, he puts Tess, Scooter and Mortimer into the separate travel crates for the drive. Morley rides up front.
2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
He drives from his house in Dickinson Center to the Lake Placid Lodge where he has been educating the public about birds of prey since he started Adirondack Raptors in 2008. Morley, his Eurasian Eagle Owl sits on the middle console, resting his head on Mark’s arm. “He’s imprinted on me. He thinks of me as his mate or his dad,” Mark said.
3:30 to 4 p.m.
Mark walks around the grounds of the Lake Placid Lodge telling people what to expect from his upcoming presentation. He sees a bride and groom taking photos and lets his Barn Owl Tess join the fun. He slips a large leather glove onto the bride’s arm and places Tess on the glove as the wedding photographer carries on. “This is probably going to be the most talked about photo in your photo album and it’s going to be a conversation starter,” he tells the bride.
4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Mark starts his presentation. He displays his birds, one at a time, discussing their food habits, population status and where they are found. He takes out his Harris Hawk, Mortimer, to let him stretch his wings. Mortimer flies around the audience, swooping back down to Mark to snack on a mouse.
While holding his owls, he shares unique facts about the birds, letting people know that they’re not all nocturnal, even though that’s the common perception. He interjects personal anecdotes, telling the audience about the time he was chased by a skunk—scaring it away by hooting at it like an owl. He lets them know about the time he dove into the Grasse River to save an injured bald eagle, tangled in fishing line.
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Mark places his birds back in their crates and heads home. He stops at the Lakeview Deli in Saranac Lake for a sandwich and eats behind the wheel, with Morley perched on the back of the seat next to him.
7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
He gets home and unloads his birds. Scooter, who doesn’t eat in front of a crowd, now gets to chow down a few mice. After his birds are carefully put away for the night, he takes out his Goshawk data sheets and banding book from the morning, enters the information into his log book before calling it a day. Then, he settles down into his own nest for the night.