Yesterday, Tom and I finished most of the remaining tasks on the snowy owl he's been letting me work on with him. I stitched up the main incision running down the breast, cleaned its feathers thoroughly with peroxide, and blow dried and fluffed it using the compressed air tap that lives in one corner of the prep lab.
After that, we decided how we wanted to pose him on this amazing base that Tom built. He's been working on it for weeks; he found that block of wood, aged it, begged rusty barbed wire from friends with farms, picked those dried flowers from his stash of mount-materials, and carved that foam at the bottom so it would look like snow. It'll be covered in flocking soon to make it look even more so.
Next Tom mounted the owl (there are wires going through its feet that we'd used to fasten the legs to the body inside the skin, so those were inserted into holes Tom drilled in the wood) and got its body, head, and wings where we wanted them. Finally, I spent a long time using wet cotton to soften those beautiful black circles of skin around the eyes and pull them into place, after which I painted them with a mixture of formalin and glycerin to set them.
Right now the owl is sitting in the walk-in freezer in the basement of the museum, drying and settling. On Thursday I'll pull him out and paint his eyes a little more, preen any feathers that have moved out of place as the skin has dried, and tape anything that needs to be taped into position before he goes back into the freezer. We might repeat that process once more in the next week, and then he'll have completely dried and nothing on him will move anymore.
I can see why taxidermy is a dying art; no one who made mounts of any quality could possibly make a reasonable amount of money at this. It takes so long.