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By McKenna Schaffer and Kristin Dean, The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center is home to many species of birds of prey. These mighty predators connect our visitors to the natural world and inspire them to want to make a difference. All of our avian ambassadors are unique individuals, and our visitors connect to different birds for different reasons. Having a wide variety of species increases the chance that someone will connect with at least one of our birds and spark an interest they maybe did not have when they first walked through our doors.

We are always looking for opportunities to increase our bird diversity at the Raptor Center so we can highlight birds from all over the world. Therefore, we are thrilled to welcome two new birds to the flock - an Andean Condor and an African Fish Eagle! Both birds were hatched in the United States and raised for education with the goal of spreading global conservation awareness. We are ready to see how these new ambassador birds settle in and start connecting the public to this conservation mission.

Can’t wait to learn more about these two new birds? Neither can we! Here are some fun facts we have learned so far about each species:

Andean Condors are considered the largest raptor in the world! Native to the western part of South America, Andean Condors have a 10-foot wingspan and weigh between 20 and 30 pounds!

African Fish Eagles, as their name suggests, are found all over Africa. They are the national bird of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan. Their call is very distinctive, and we hope that once our new eagle settles in, visitors will hear it on the Raptor Trail.

The Raptor Center is a “birds first” facility, which means that even though our raptor experience is designed to inspire humans, we put our birds’ interests first by providing best-in-class care for our avian ambassadors.Our expert Bird Care team manages their nutrition, training, enclosures, enrichment and overall quality of life with the utmost care.

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by Joli Reynolds, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation

As an environmental educator, observing nature is a big part of my job. But despite a lifetime of practice and nearly 15 years of professional experience, I think I’m still not very good at it.

What does it take to be an expert observer? I think that watching and listening and is good, but to really see something you should create.

For me, it all starts with a “sit spot”. This is a place to sit quietly and observe what’s happening in front of you. A favorite park bench or your back porch works just fine. For me, it’s the back patio at Quest. I go out there almost every day to eat my lunch and watch the birds. The great thing about this routine is that over time you notice changes in the activity from day to day and season to season. In the spring, a pair of bluebirds nested in the box at the edge of the tree line. Over the summer, green anoles dashed across the sidewalk and up the siding. This fall, I’ve enjoyed the brilliant contrast of clear blue sky and saturated shades of oak and sweet gum leaves.

While a sit spot routine is a good start, I find that engaging my creativity supercharges my observation abilities and the power of my connection with nature.

I have this strong desire to be really good at nature journaling. I want to draw colorful little sketches of things I see, label their parts, and write meaningful phrases -- all with some expensive colored pencils and pens. I wish I had pages to upload here to share with you of dainty bluebells and brilliant cardinals that I’ve drawn over the years, but sadly, I have none of that.

While I’ve not put in the effort to become a self-identified artist, I have found a different approach to nature journaling that works for me. I can’t paint or sketch a picture that pleases me, but I think I am pretty good at using words to create the mental image of whatever inspires me. Below is a sample from something I wrote last winter for a journaling workshop I did online and some photos of the scene.

A fallen queen of the forest lays sprawled beside the trail, her branches still reaching -- but why? No leaves nourish them and so sun shines on them. The wet of the day soaks her bark into a dark, desaturated hue all along her twisted body. But desolate she is not. Adorning the surface of this decaying ruler of a forest gone are stripes of shelf fungi. At first glance you see repetitive patterns of the same, but on closer inspection a whole world of diversity reveals itself. Turkey tails with their reddish rings, plump polypores, crusty lichens, and tiny liverworts keep company with the queen as she slowly melts into the land that produced her.

Can you picture it? Here's some of the lovely fungi I found encrusting that old, fallen tree.

What creative skills do you have that you can use to supercharge your own observation skills? We’d love you to stop by and share the results with us!

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Conservation Conversations: Asbestos Town with David Boraks, WFAE

By Michele Miller Houck, Carolina Raptor Center

I live in Asbestos Town, and for years, I had no idea. For a number of years I took almost daily walks by the Linden Cotton Mill and through the Historic West Side of Davidson. Until there was a sign on the hill “Do not walk on the grass” I really wasn’t even curious. That was over 5 years ago.


Built in 1891, the building was originally a cotton mill that primarily hired White residents of the town. In 1930, the facility was purchased by Carolina Asbestos Company and was used to produce shingles, insulation and brake pads. Opportunities were given to a more diverse group of workers, and a significant number lived in the historically African American West Side of Davidson, down the hill from the plant. The plant was sold in the 1960s and closed in 1970.


A number of area residents were interviewed for regarding their memories of working, or playing in and around the site and these are their stories:

Ruby Houston, who lives at the base of Asbestos Hill, recalls the white run off that flowed down the hill into the creek toward Roosevelt Wilson Park. Her mother forbade them from playing in it. But others used the Asbestos waste to fill in their yards and cover driveways. An EPA and State DEQ project in 2017 tested more than 90 properties and cleaned up 32 properties then. An additional 11 properties including the park have been remediated since that time.

Frank Jordan, 75, started out feeding raw materials into processors and eventually worked his way up to lead man in the facility. He recalls the interior being filled with asbestos dust, but also says that workers had no idea that the asbestos particles were deadly. Many of his friends and coworkers have died from asbestos related disease. He has been checked out and does have asbestos in the lining of his lungs but is not sick. Experts say that it could take as long as 50 years to show up.

Former Mayor John Woods says that as a child they would bike to the plant after school and would bet on the color of the retention pond out back, every day. Was it going to be blue or white or purple? He recalls that it was all in fun, what ended up being deadly fun for some of the children of the West Side, who sometimes swam in the colored run off from the plant.

West Side resident and former Town Board member Garfield Carr lost both his father and his grandfather from asbestos related illness after they worked in the plant for years. He discourages developers from disturbing the site because of the negative consequences that could befall the West Side and distrust between the town and West Side residents.


This is a story of environmental injustice that was perpetrated on the African American residents of my town that was hiding in plain sight for years. It appears that it is coming out into the light. I am sure that the story is not over, but I do know that the residents of the West Side and this reporter will not let it fall by the wayside anytime soon. These are the kinds of stories that we are looking to tell during the Conservation Conversation series. Check out the calendar at for more information about upcoming events.

For more information about asbestos in Davidson, and to listen to the hour long special, “Asbestos Town” go to

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