Wings & Wildlife a hit with those of all ages

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was difficult to tell if the birds, alligators and fish were happy, but the children were smiling laughing and saying, "Eeeeewwwww, that is yucky."

That might not be the impression Flint RiverQuarium officials were looking for when they put on the Wings & Wildlife Festival Saturday to enlighten people about the natural wonders around them.

Or that really was 2-year-old Amelia Reed's way of appreciating the slithery tongue whipping out of a 4-foot- long monitor lizard on display at the Alien Attack exhibit. That exhibit, set up by the Florida Museum of Natural History, features invasive species that doesn't belong in Florida or Georgia.

Ones that do belong were on display several times a day for touching by children and adults at Animal Encounters in the Skywater Room.

Volunteer Hayden Van Dalsem held a 3-foot-long corn snake for kids to touch and her partner in Animal Encounters, Brendon Viquez, held an equal-sized alligator.

Six-year-old Helen Rader petted the alligator and pronounced the experience "bumpy," not "yucky."

Although the festival had many added attractions such as Birds of Prey with birds such as the sharp shinned hawk, guided canoe trips on the Flint River and Build Your Own Birdhouse, a favorite exhibit was a regular at the RiverQuarium.

Narrated by Daniel Churchman children and parents sat mesmerized by the fish, turtles and divers during the dive show in the RiverQuarium's blue hole.

In its natural state, a blue hole occurs because clear, cold, 68-degree, spring water bubbles from beneath the limestone river bed, said Churchman. The spring water is below the river water and catches the reflection of the blue sky.

The Creek Indians called blue holes "Skywaters," Churchman said.

Swimming in the skywater, volunteer divers Josh Spradley and David Fry hand fed striped bass. The bass in the blue hole can be as big as 100 pounds.

It was no wonder that the smaller fish headed for the shallower water while the bass fed. Their mouths seemed about the size of a cantaloupe when open.

Giving a nod to the children sitting staring at the big window on this aquatic show, Spradley held a bit of baitfish to the window as if to feed the seated children.

One bass was not amused and gobbled the baitfish down.

Dan McIsaac watched as his grandson 2-year-old Barrow Herndon sat with his grandmother, McIsaac's wife Kaye observing the fish tango in front of them.

"I'm a regular here," McIsaac said. "I have 15 grandchildren that's why I am a family member. We really believe in the RiverQuarium."

One of the McIsaac's grandchildren, a 4 year old, was on his way to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta when he said, "I bet it isn't as good as the RiverQuarium," Kaye McIsacc said.

Judging from the smiles, the eeeeewwwww's and yuckies at the event this first Wings & Wildlife Festival will be repeated in years to come.

"We wanted it to bring an appreciation to people so that maybe next time they see a snake they can identify it so they won't kill it," said Melissa Martin, RiverQuarium education manager. "Or if they see a spider they'll think twice before they squash it. Everything has its place."

Even the yucky things belong somewhere.