Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Unique Encounter at Animal Adventures

I often struggle with visiting animals in captivity. Rescuing injured animals and having children, has given me an opportunity to see things through a different lens. Animals living in captivity often provide enriching experiences for both the animal and human. I am on a constant quest to find moments that provide an opportunity to connect with creatures that live in our natural world.

Animal Adventures in Bolton, MA, provides this type of unique opportunity. It is home to many exotic animals and reptiles from all over the world. The first noticeable difference is that these exotic animals and reptiles connect with people. A rare experience like no other. How does this happen? I learned that not a single animal that lives on the premise is wild caught. They are rescued from situations such as abandonment, being orphaned or neglected. I observed that they are given a wonderful life and are being used to educate. A win/win situation!

Our tour lasted two hours and during that time we saw a variety of animals, birds and reptiles from all over the world. Our guide was well educated and able to talk about every single animal. We were able to witness the gentleness of their lynx, learning that the adornment on this ears are for warmth. We met an adorable fox that is afraid of the dark and has a favorite stuffed animal. We also heard the soft cries of a little fox while she lay sleeping. We heard the amazing song of the kookaburra, did you know they are meat eaters? We heard that ferrets make great pets, a fact we already knew having owned several. We got to touch a skunk, tortoise, rabbit, lizard, boa and marvel at an anaconda! We also got to meet and learn about the habits of the ring-tailed lemur, misconceptions about them created by Hollywood were clarified. My children hung on every word that the guide spoke. They learned that it is not advisable to put a boa around your neck at a friends house and to always use caution when you come in contact with a wild animal. The best part of the experience is that you are able to interact with animals from all over the world.

All creatures play an important role in our natural world, there are many that are misunderstood and even feared and killed out of that fear. The opportunity that Animal Adventures provides gives a unique prospective on these animals and connects you to them in ways that would never happen in their natural environment.

The animals who reside at Animal Adventures would not survive in the wild. The owners of Animal Adventures are giving us and these animals the best gift by caring for them and educating all of us about their role in our natural world. If you are visiting Massachusetts, please give them a visit, if not, consider donating to their cause as they are truly fulfilling the mission

It is important to keep in mind when visiting that you are not going to a zoo, aquarium or museum. It is a home for abandoned animals and it is growing and evolving. All the animals have ample space and are taken care of and interacted with daily. While some of their enclosures may not look as posh as your local zoo, they are sufficient and appropriate for their individual needs. The animals all have time out of their habitats to interact and provide  educational experiences. We were told that the kangaroo gets to spend play time with the owner and that the owner says good night to all the creatures. An example of the love and devotion to the inhabitants of this very special place.

In addition to the Bolton, MA location, Animal Adventures can be found at Kimball Farm in Westford during spring, summer and fall.  We were able to visit them over the summer at Kimball Farm and enjoyed the animals and presentation that they had at the farm.

Enjoy your animal adventure!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dinosaur State Park

On a trip to Connecticut, we visited the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. What a magical place. The most unique aspect of the park is that the trackway which consists of an amazing fossil track is preserved in place and is a Registered Natural Landmark. 

In 1966, a bulldozer operator was excavating for a development of a state building, he turned over a slab and found there-toed footprints. The decision to preserve this site as a state park and the work to carefully excavate has made the Dinosaur State Park one of the largest on-site displays in the world.

The tracks are housed in the exhibit center which is open throughout the year and admission is charged to enter. Six dollars for adults and teens (13 and over), $2 for youth and free for children 5 and under.

The rest of the park which is free to explore. It provides nature trails over two miles highlighting the rich diversity the land has to offer. Beautiful and full of wonder at every turn, we were awe struck by seeing beautiful habitats with gorgeous maples, living creatures such as frogs, snakes, butterflies and amazing rocks. In addition to the hiking trails, the arboretum stretches 10 acres and is home to conifers, katsuras, ginkgoes, magnolias and other living representatives of plant families which appeared in the Age of Dinosaurs. They have a great representation of as many of the Mesozoic Era plants families as possible.

The two activities offered that made an unforgettable impression on our children was track Casting and Mining for fossils and gems. Track casting is offered from May-October weather permitting. Visitors must provide :

  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • Cloth rags and paper towels
  • 5-gallon plastic bucket
  • 10 pounds of Plaster-of-Paris (no substitutions).
Casts are large but make for a nice garden accent for home or for a for a display piece.

The Mining for minerals activity involves purchasing a bag of "mining rough" we were surprised to find our full of gems! This is a summer activity and a must do for any budding geologist. 

We also took part in the annual Dinosaur State Park day. The exhibit hall is free on this day and it is a very festive and fun event.  
If you are planning a trip to Connecticut, the Dinosaur State Park is a must see. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bringing Nature Indoors

Every time we go for a hike we come home with different treasures from nature. Sometimes it is a rock that catches the eye, a twig that has a unique marking, a colorful leaf, these objects are wonderful to bring into your home but finding the perfect place may require some thought. One of our favorite things to do is find different ways to incorporate nature into art.

Sometimes we do not even have to travel as far as our backyard to stumble upon a surprise.  One summer, a robin decided to make a nest in the umbrella above our outdoor dining table. She raised two clutches and the summer was filled with entertainment and curiosity as we watched our feathered friend. When she left in the fall, we needed to close our umbrella and considered her nest to be a "hostess gift". As we were adding the nest to our ever growing collection of found items, we decided to put to use our new found art.

Creating a Shadowbox
Like our encounter with our robin friend, those who pay close enough attention will find that the natural world tells a story. Taking objects from your own personal experience in nature and displaying them in a shadow box brings nature inside and can serve as a reminder of a special nature connection made.  Creating a shadow box filled with the abandoned robin's nest, photo's and captions from our nature journal, gives our family a reminder of our special connection. It is hanging in our dining room near the window where we used to watch her.

Decorative Bird House
Making a decorative bird house with found nature items is another way to display nature treasures.

We used an empty half and half carton, you can use match boxes, large carton's anything that resembles the structure of a bird house. We used the twigs for the roof, birch bark for the walls and a hot glue gun to put it all together. Popped in a owl made out of pom-pom's.

Hanging Mobile
Finding that perfect stick seems to be a daily occurance. What is a hike without spotting that kind of treasure? Adding a mobile to a room can bring in nature and serve as an inspiring decorative piece.

Books and Blogs:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Harbinger of Spring

Our Mourning Cloak with proboscis extended.
Sring in our home is a very busy time. The ordering of caterpillars is high on our to do list and is a much anticipated event. This year we find ourselves in a unexpected butterfly situation. It began one day in early March.

There was nothing unusual about our daily walk home from school, lively discussions with friends and neighbors, pats on the heads of our fury friends as we walked along and then a shrill of joy, "mom, mom, a butterfly!" Joy turned to concern as we looked closely and observed that the butterfly was struggling. Half a wing had been torn off.

"Can we take him home mom?" "Yes," I replied, my mind racing as to what we were going to do with our new friend from nature. Thinking he was a Swallow Tail and wondering how he was surviving in what was still a very unpredictable New England spring, I thought this little guy or girl (we refer to the butterfly as a boy because we are unable to identify its gender) would be with us a day at the most. That was in the beginning of March, it is now April and as I blog, he is happily sitting next to me on a rotten piece of fruit.

As we walked home with our wounded butterfly on that early spring day, I had no idea that we were going to learn another interesting lesson from nature.  I stopped to talk with a neighbor, while engaging in conversation my neighbor had to ask, what's up with the butterfly on your arm. The little guy crawled up my sleeve while I was talking! So off we went to settle the butterfly into our home.

Creating what I thought would be a temporary habitat for our wounded friend seemed simple enough. We set him in our Butterfly Garden kit, inserted a few sticks, some sugar water and some fruit.

Every day for two weeks we would let the butterfly out to stretch his wings, he seemed to like the sugar water, would land on the fruit and liked walking on the sticks. What I could not figure out is how he was still alive.  So, I took a photo and when I dropped my son off for his weekly Audubon class I showed the photo to a naturalist who told me that what I had was indeed a Mourning Cloak Butterfly.

It all made sense, for weeks I could not answer the questions that people would ask. "You found it as a butterfly? How did it survive the freezing nights? To that I thought, it must have either been released from a butterfly kit or perhaps caught in the wind during migration. None of the above. We had a Mourning Cloak. It was living as nature intended it to live, overwintering and emerging as a first sign that Spring was coming to New England.

The Mourning Cloak is an amazing butterfly, it is one of the first butterflies to appear as the days start to lengthen at the end of the winter, usually several weeks before spring. The reason for this seemingly anomalous behavior is that the Mourning Cloak overwinters as an adult. Amazing.

Even more amazing, The Mourning Cloak is capable of surviving the cold of the winter through "cryo-preservation," a generic term for the various methods used by animals that have not evolved a migratory pattern and must survive temperature extremes. The Mourning Cloak secretes chemicals that act as anti-freeze to prevent ice formation.

Mourning Cloaks live for almost a year, the life cycle begins when the overwintering adults emerge in the spring to mate, the males basking in the sun pending the approach of a female.

So here we are almost one month with our Mourning Cloak friend. With a torn wing and limited flight we watch him enjoy his days in his butterfly sanctuary, we allow him to sun himself on our enclosed porch. We found that offering him water and rotting fruit, time to fly and spread his uneven wings and sticks to climb are making him happy. Sad that he (or she) will not be able to complete his mission in life to reproduce, we can simply just offer our new friend a sanctuary to spend the rest of his days.

Visit a butterfly sanctuary in Massachusetts:
Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science
The Butterfly Place, Westford, MA
Magic Wings South Deerfield, MA

How to care for injured Butterflies:
Fixing butterfly wings
First aid for butterflies

Butterfly Books
The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies
The Family Butterfly Book
Stokes Butterfly Book: The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening, Identification, and Behavior