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On a wing and a prayer

Community welcome encourages raptor rehabilitation specialist to stay

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By Claire Piech

A PowerPoint presentation projected onto the side of a teepee or a cell phone held snuggly in an animal skin poach may seem unusual in today’s world of iTechnology, but Daniel Johnson is not a usual man.

Living out of a teepee on the banks of Green Lake, Johnson has spent the last six months in Whistler conducting tours and giving presentations on the lives of eagles.

“I am basically here to share my 36-plus years working with birds of prey so people can get a more rounded sense of what is really going on out there,” said Johnson.

“You know — it is not Walt Disney out there. I am just trying to make people a bit more aware, to give them a better appreciation for life.”

Johnson originally moved to Whistler from the Yukon “on a wing and a prayer” to showcase his birds of prey work during the winter season. The community’s enthusiasm for his work, however, has made him decide to stay in Whistler a little longer than planned.

“It has been surreal. The community has been wonderful, very welcoming, very warm, very encouraging. From companies, to individuals, to schools, to First Nations — everyone has really encouraged us,” said Johnson.

“It really makes it easy to stay when the community is so supportive,” he added.

Johnson’s raptor rehabilitation program is run out of the Edgewater Outdoor Adventures site on Green Lake. It takes in birds that would otherwise not survive in the wild, nurturing them back to health.

“Eagles have a 90 per cent mortality in the wild. We are trying to turn that around to a 90 per cent success rate,” said Johnson.

Currently the facility has four birds: two bald eagles, a golden eagle, and a nine-week old gyrfalcon.

“Each bird is handled completely as an individual,” said Johnson.

“Some come in really hungry and all they really need is good food and good privacy. Others come in wounded and need to be healed. We have both old birds and young birds come in. They all need individual treatment,” he said.

Johnson is one of a handful of raptor specialists allowed by the B.C. government to raise and rehabilitate birds of prey.

He said that the program had a slow start, but he is expecting it to grow as more people become aware of the work he is doing.

“The tour keeps changing,” added Johnson, sitting in his teepee and flipping through photos on his laptop. “We’ve got a PowerPoint presentation now, and we are using more and more videos.”

During each tour, Johnson demonstrates eagle health, history and lifecycle, as well as human history. He works with schools and companies in the area as well as with the First Nations community.

Johnson does not know how long he will be in Whistler, but said he is really interested to see where the program is next year and where it seems to be going.

To see Johnson in action, come out to the Volunteer Meet, Greet, and Training Session held next week at the Edgewater Outdoor Centre.

Johnson will be giving a short presentation on eagles during the July 5 event put on by the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group (WFSG).

The main focus of the event is to raise awareness of volunteer opportunities this summer with the lake and stream monitoring Program. Rob Knight, an inventory specialist with the Ministry of Environment, will be on hand to provide volunteers with the training they need to conduct lake monitoring. A free barbecue will also be featured at the event, compliments of Whistler Outdoor Experience.

The water monitoring program is in its fourth year and is a joint project between WFSG, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the B.C. Lake Stewardship Society, and the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.

For more information about the WFSG project, contact Carol Coffey at 604-935-8323 or ccoffey@whistler.ca .

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