animals


Assiniboine Steller's sea eagleWith our departure from Winnipeg almost upon us, Amy and I managed to fit in another visit with Rita and Kids #3 and #4 at Assiniboine Park Zoo. In general, I have decidedly mixed feelings about keeping animals in captivity – but there was educational value aplenty for the kids, who unexpectedly got to pet a corn snake in addition to seeing most of the zoo’s residents. Quite a bit of the place was under renovation or reconstruction (including the polar bear enclosure following the death of Debby in 2008), but many of the animals were braving the hideous heat to see whether any of the visitors were bringing food. Armed with only a 50 mm lens, I was unable to get much Canadian Geographic-worthy material but had the usual fun with fences and PMMA sheeting.

Assiniboine reindeer (caribou)Assiniboine lion

Assiniboine saddle-billed storkAssiniboine meerkat

Sanders (3)On a recent trip to Moose Jaw to visit two of Amy’s grandparents, we made it a point to visit the Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre (SBOIC) – we had tried to see this place a couple of years ago, but had happened to arrive in the winter when the owls are enjoying the more temperate climes of Mexico. The Western (or Northern) Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea), as the name suggests, is a small owl that likes to inhabit old prairie dog or ground squirrel burrows. Most of the captive owls at the Centre were just hanging out in front of their homes, but we did get to see Sanders, one of the imprinted (raised by humans) Ambassador Owls, up close as she was more inclined to be interested in visitors. After she had thoroughly examined us and attempted to nibble her way out of the cage, she flew back into the covered part of the enclosure to regain an all-seeing perch on top of the door. We later bought a plush owl, which fits perfectly in an opening next to the glove compartment and is therefore now the mascot for Amy’s car.

Sanders (1)Sanders (2)

U of M squirrelWith almost all of my family in Winnipeg for a visit, Amy and I decided to show them some of Canada’s more confineable animals at Forth Whyte Alive, Winnipeg’s premier nature interpretive centre. Right from the start, we were rewarded with some unusual encounters – a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) had decided to camp out just next to where we’d parked, and the bison (Bison bison bison) herd was uncharacteristically close to the viewing fence. The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony was also in fine form, digging and scampering for the enjoyment of the visitors. As an added bonus, the weekend turned out to contain International Trails Day and entry was free!

Painted turtleFort Whyte prairie dog

Fort Whyte Bison (1)Fort Whyte Bison (2)

Atlas beetleThe week before last, Amy and I took a very long (around 2700 km) road trip down to North Carolina (in the USA) to attend Kate’s Ph. D. graduation. We opted to drive there (taking around two fourteen-hour days) rather than fly in an effort to save the environment – even taking infrastructure into account, multi-occupancy cars are far greener than aeroplanes. The stand-out event of the trip was our GPS inexplicably taking us along single-track roads through the middle of Kingdom Come State Park and then (almost) over a bridge that wasn’t there anymore. As we turned around to find an alternative route, a dog raced out from a nearby house and tried to attack the car, stalling us for several minutes while we crept forwards to avoid running him over. We later found out that the GPS was set to avoid toll roads, which would have cost around $8 for time savings of 1-2 hours.

Poison dart frogsOur first excursion in the subtropics was to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, a renowned centre for the natural sciences a short walk away from Kate’s house. We were given some indication of what to expect there when we were woken up by twittering cardinals, saw large turtles in a stream, were warned about copperhead snakes (Agkistrodon contortrix) on the path and stumbled across a concrete brontosaurus on our way there. We had also (coincidentally) arrived just in time to catch an insect feeding (of fruit flies to poison dart frogs and crickets to assassin bugs) and a butterfly release (of newly-hatched specimens from Ecuador).

Ecuadorean butterfly (1)Ecuadorean butterfly (2)

Orchid mantisAfter a quick tour of the rest of the insectarium (including an orchid mantis, Hymenopus coronatus, and various spiders, beetles and caterpillars), we braved the sweltering heat to explore the fairly large outdoor section of the museum and quickly met Ranger Greg Dodge, who was walking around showing an eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) he’d found to various visitors. As we wandered around the wetland habitat, spotting bears, red wolves (Canis lupus rufus), ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta), blue and green herons (Ardea herodias and Butorides virescens respectively) and lots of insects and frogs, he would show up every now and then to tell us about what we were looking at and what we’d seen on the drive down (principally roadkill, but also lots of turkey vultures, Cathartes aura).

Eyed click beetleRing-tailed lemur

Northern saw-whet owl (2)Amy and I were long overdue for a trip out to Fort Whyte, Winnipeg’s brilliant nature and interpretive centre, and so positively jumped at the opportunity to attend the launch of the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas. The Atlas is a long-term citizen science project which aims to build up an accurate picture of resident and visiting birds – crucial for determining habitats and numbers. We were lured there partly by the chance to chat to interesting bird-watching types and partly by the wine and cheese on offer, but mostly by the opportunity to meet a long-eared owl (Asio otus) and a northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus).

Note: No owl extermination occurred. The title of this post is one of my and Amy’s most-quoted lines from the Futurama filmBender’s Game. Enjoy it here. And yes, the title of the last post was also an appropriate Futurama quote, this time from Nibbler.

Northern saw-whet owl (1)Northern saw-whet and long-eared owls

Long-eared owl (1)Long-eared owl (2)Long-eared owl (3)

Bali mynahIn an effort to get back to South Korea at minimal cost to both my finances and the environment, I took a long flight to Hong Kong (香港) with the intention of subsequently catching the train up into mainland China and then the ferry service to Incheon (as the overland trip from Europe and flights to both mainland China and Korea were shockingly expensive). I arrived right in the middle of preparations for Chinese (Lunar) New Year, the chaos surrounding which stranded me for over a week (I had planned on staying only a few nights). This did give me a lot of time to explore, though, and I took advantage of the clement (if cloudy) weather to walk most of the area from Causeway Bay (銅鑼灣) in the east to Central (中環) in the west. The streets were far more crowded and chaotic than I remembered (from my last trip in 2002), which could have been New Year shoppers but might just be what the place is like. I was glad to escape into the comparatively deserted Hong Kong Park (香港公園), a planned oasis in the heat and bustle of the central business district.

Left: Bali mynah (Leucopsar rothschildi). Below, left to right: Greater green leafbird (Chloropsis sonnerati), blue-winged leafbird (Chloropsis cochinchinensis), emerald dove (Chalcophaps indica), the aviary.

Greater green leafbirdBlue-winged leafbird

Emerald dovesEdward Youde Aviary

Alexandrine parakeet (2)The main feature of the park (aside from the “Fighting SARS” monument, of course) is the Edward Youde Aviary, a giant walk-through cage containing all kinds of birds found in the Asian ecoregions. The public viewing area is an elevated walkway that winds through the tree canopy and thus prevents ground- and water feeders from being disturbed, though it does place some of the interesting specimens quite far away. Fruit-containing feeding stations are strategically placed along the route so that the canopy feeders come quite close to the visitors (but not so close as to invite touching or risk territory defence).

Left: Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria). Below, left to right: Yellow-faced mynah (Mino dumontii), Alexandrine parakeet (Psittacula eupatria).

Yellow-faced mynahAlexandrine parakeet (1)

Charles DarwinWith the best part of a day in central London at my disposal (before moving on to Hong Kong), I had initially planned on basing myself in the South Kensington area and visiting both the Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. As things turned out, the Natural History Museum was just too interesting and I spent several hours exploring it quite thoroughly. The place was overrun with school groups from the minute the doors opened in the morning, giving me valuable insight into what kids are interested in doing in museums (showing off to other kids, followed by finding gruesome or unusual exhibits, followed by whacking all buttons on an interactive display simultaneously).

Left: Charles Darwin. Below, left to right: Thomas Henry Huxley, Joseph Banks, Paracyclotosaurs davidi, giant ground sloth (Glossotherium robustum).

Thomas Henry HuxleySir Joseph Banks

Paracyclotosaurs davidiGiant ground sloth

Pickled beetleGiven lots of time to poke around the less-visited sections of the museum, I was rather hoping to find a forgotten door or access tunnel to a non-public area (cf. Dry Store Room No. 1). However, the staff have been quite vigilant and all forbidden areas are effectively labelled as such (though from the sheer volume of staff going in and out of them, tailgating would be sheer simplicity). Unfortunately, the main stuffed mammals gallery was closed for redevelopment (possibly for the mounting of the Thames Whale skeleton) but the rest of the animal kingdom compensated more than enough. The daily talk (kind of a “meet the scientist” series) was about human evolution in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, complete with pass-around replicas of the most important skulls and gorgeous pictures of Kenya.

Left: Long-horned beetle (Callipogon armilatum). Below, left to right: Sabre-toothed cat, giant golden mole (Chrysospalax trevelyani), leafcutter ants, monkey and giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum).

Sabre-toothed catGiant golden mole

Leafcutter antsMonkey see

Lesser spotted dogfish skeletonFinally, I took my third tour of the Darwin Centre‘s wet collections – thousands upon thousands of specimens preserved in spirits (ethanol, methanol or formaldehyde) used as a research resource. Only a few are on public display, the vast majority being sequestered behind fireproof doors in chilled rooms, but they are always impressive. Notable items include most of the samples collected on the second voyage of HMS Beagle (following which Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection), a coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae; a species thought extinct until one was fished up in 1938) and a complete giant squid (Architeuthis spp.; there would also have been a colossal squid, Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, but it broke apart during hauling-in and everything except the head was lost).

Left: Lesser spotted dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula). Below, left to right: Red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Pencil-spine urchin (Cidaris cidaris), starfish (Astropecten aurautiacus).

Pickled foxPencil-spine urchinsPickled starfish

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