Friday, February 24, 2012

IAATE 2012

It's an unusual group of people who are riveted by presentations about avian visual acuity or about practices for maintaining the health of geriatric birds, but the attendees of IAATE (the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators) are exactly that group. The Minnesota Zoo hosted this year's IAATE conference, where over a hundred bird nerds from across the U.S., plus a handful from other countries, gathered to discuss their work breeding, training, and caring for birds.

My journey to St.Paul International Airport was uneventful, aside from coincidentally sitting beside a man going to a pheasant conference. He informed me that the U.S. has many organizations for gaming bird enthusiasts, including Cocks Unlimited. I have not been brave enough to Google that.

The traditional ice-breaker event at the hotel the first evening included sumo suits for the more gregarious bird nerds, as well as card games and puzzles for anyone unwilling to sprawl ridiculously on the floor, swaddled in a lumpy, sweaty mattress that makes you look like you're in your underwear. A pasta buffet was included.

The next morning we arrived in the conference room, which is the only one I have ever been in that was kept at a temperature above freezing. This, combined with free yogurt, fruit and coffee is an excellent way to start the day. At some conferences I have attended, I will find there is a paper presentation or two that just doesn't interest me or that is meandering or inapplicable. IAATE's papers held my attention consistently and I filled a whole little yellow notepad with thoughts on feather maintenance, hooded vulture training, and engaging program audiences.

Our day was broken up by a light lunch in the hospitality suite (okay, so the gluten-free option was just carrots and cheese, but that's still a "light lunch") and following the afternoon of presentations, we were on our own to explore the bustling metropolis of Bloomington, MN. The bustle consisted entirely of the Mall of America. So we went.

Aside from the mini-theme park in the center, the two-story Lego creations and a handful of stores I haven't seen before, Mall of America was, as advertised, a mall.

One of the highlights was the Lego store, where giant portraits made entirely of Legos were displayed. The Peeps store (no, I don't really like them) was also fun. We also stopped at the American Girl Doll store, which was an odd experience. Rows of little girl dolls of every conceivable skin shade, eye color and hair style lined up to be purchased, along with their ponies, hair brushes and cheer-leading uniforms. The cafe on the second level of the store was inviting and the bathroom had special hooks on the stalls labeled "doll holder."

It was someone's JOB to make a Lego moose portrait.

Star Wars Lego scenes were also popular.

Dinner at a brightly decorated (and I mean  BRIGHTLY) restaurant called Kokomo's was quite satisfying.

After some lively conversation in the hospitality suite, I retired to my hotel room to rest up for our visit to the Minnesota Zoo the next day.

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