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Public makes tracks at Flint RiverQuarium Water, Wings and Wildlife Festival

Dale Arrowood, founder and trainer of Winged Ambassadors, does a birds of prey demonstration with Lobo, a North American Harris Hawk, at the Flint RiverQuarium Water, Wings and Wildife Festival on Saturday. This was the fourth year the RiverQuarium has hosted the event. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Dale Arrowood, founder and trainer of Winged Ambassadors, does a birds of prey demonstration with Lobo, a North American Harris Hawk, at the Flint RiverQuarium Water, Wings and Wildife Festival on Saturday. This was the fourth year the RiverQuarium has hosted the event. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)

ALBANY —The public flocked into the downtown Albany area on Saturday for a celebration of all creatures great and small at the Flint RiverQuarium Water, Wings and Wildlife Festival.

The event, sponsored by MillerCoors, included birds of prey and reptile shows — the latter of which was presented by Chehaw, bird watching hikes along the Riverfront Trail by Tall Timbers Research Station and Albany Audubon Society, a bird banding presentation by Atlanta Audubon, birdhouse building presented by Lowe’s Home Improvement, educational opportunities about the “animals” in outer space at the Thronateeska Heritage Center Wetherbee Planetarium, butterfly gardening from the Birdsong Nature Center, fly fishing from Orvis, guided garden tours at Radium Springs from Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners and an overview of basic SCUBA training skills from the Adventure Dive Center.

“This highlights the different aspects of the RiverQuarium and all the things we focus on in our mission,” said Wendy Bellacomo, marketing manager at the RiverQuarium. ” … So we highlight those things and draw attention to them and bring in other organizations (with similar missions).

“Environmental education is a big part of our mission, and this is a good gathering place.”

The festival — based at the RiverQuarium — started with the bird banding presentation at 8:30 a.m. and concluded when the last SCUBA session ended at 3 p.m.

Bellacomo said the openings for the SCUBA sessions and birdhouse building had sold out by 12:30 p.m. This was the fourth year for the festival, and the first in which the water component has been incorporated into it.

“It’s been a steady flow all morning, so I think it will be (a good turnout),” she said early Saturday afternoon. “Our intention is to continue to grow the festival. We’ve already set a date for next year for the last Saturday in September.

“We see this becoming our big fall event.”

The “Wild Wings Birds of Prey Show,” presented by Winged Ambassadors, had two showings at the RiverQuarium Plaza. In fulfillment of a life-long dream shared by two friends, Dale Arrowood and Ed Carswell, Winged Ambassadors was founded with a mission to promote environmental conservation, specifically protection for wildlife through a uniquely designed program of education.

The program Saturday provided a close look at the birds as the public learned more about them and the roles they play in supporting geographical ecosystems.

“We concentrate on educating the general public on (the importance of) not losing these birds,” Arrowood said. “These guys are at the top of the food chain. A lot of folks think we are, and we’re not.”

Arrowood was at the festival to show such birds as a black vulture, the Great Horned Owl, the North American Barn Owl, Eurasian Eagle Owl, North American Harris Hawk and the Red-Tailed Hawk. He is not a stranger to the Albany area, having appeared at the festival last year — and having a connection to Chehaw through naturalist Jim Fowler.

If the RiverQuarium were willing to bring him back, he said he would continue to come back.

“(The educational efforts) seem to be working,” Arrowood said. “This is not for entertainment. People connect with nature and connect with wildlife.”

There were also booths in the RiverQuarium Plaza representing various agencies including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Fisheries, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Game Management, Georgia Forestry Commission, Southwest Georgia Master Gardeners, the Water, Gas and Light Commission, Lee County Code Enforcement and Keep Albany Dougherty Beautiful.

Animal encounters, alligator feedings, dive shows, Imagination Theater movies, interactive children’s activity stations accounted for the other activities that took place at the RiverQuarium in conjunction with the festival.