THE LAST AVIARY

In 2012, my friend built a birdhouse for a fundraiser. He called me from the unveiling ceremony and wouldn't let me hang up until I was in the car with my tripod following his turn by turn instructions. He said it would be worth it. He said the aviary being fundraised was the most photogenic thing he'd ever seen. And he said we were all about to be on the cover of Sunset magazine.

This is the birdhouse he built.

And this is the aviary.

Despite my best efforts, Sunset Magazine wanted nothing to do with us, but Michelle Raffin, Executive Director of Pandemonium Aviaries, was featured in this morning's New York Times (without my photographs) and so I feel it appropriate to bust out the images.

Each time Raffin built a new enclosure for her growing bird rescue, her husband would make her promise that it would be the last aviary. As the number of both rescues and enclosures increased, she took to moving a hand painted sign for The Last Aviary from one construction to the next.

In addition to a world class rescue shelter for exotic birds --

-- Raffin's 40,000 square-foot parcel in Los Altos Hills is a fearless assemblage of kitsch, outsider art, and any animal that strikes her fancy.

For instance, this is Trixie & Trudie. (donkeys)

Mr. Beakman. (military macaw) ((ara ararauna)) South America

And of the 12 Victoria Crowned Pigeons in North America, Raffin keeps seven.

The functional blend of madness, diligence, and obsession is straight out of a Werner Herzog film and manifests itself best in the construction of the aviaries themselves.

The fiesta colors and idiosyncrasy are matched only by the seriousness of the endeavor.

At a certain point in the labyrinthine interiors you forget that this is the work of one woman and it seems as if the birds built this themselves.

When I met her, Raffin said many of the birds had abandoned their nests from the foot traffic of the fundraiser and set her breeding efforts back years.

But today her aviary is credited with protecting and breeding all of her endangered species further away from extinction.

What began as an open-hearted fixation turned out to be the most biodiverse breeding ground for rare birds in the country.

Raffin's feature in NYT appears here http://nyti.ms/1u22VsW

Raffin's book about her experiences with the aviary is available as The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Rare and Exotic http://goo.gl/iEtyHr

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