Hellos . . . and good-byes

2014 marked a major milestone for Teaching Creatures. In February, we celebrated 10 years of providing live animal programs to southern New England! It was an exciting year: we re-visited several schools, libraries and families we have served for many years—a great honor—and also presented at many new libraries and schools, which was a delight as well.

Hadley, the guinea pig

Hadley

We also adopted some new animals in 2014, namely Norbert and Smaug, the bearded dragons, and two Guinea pigs, Penelopy and Hadley.

Norbert, the bearded dragon soaks up some sun.

Norbert, the bearded dragon, soaks up some sun.

 

 

It is always a joy to welcome new critters into the family, even if it’s for a short time. In September, Smaug found a new home at The Greenburgh Nature Center in Scarsdale, NY and sadly, Penelopy came to us with some health issues she could not overcome, and she passed shortly after coming to live with us. We miss them both, but are having lots of fun with Norbert and Hadley.

 

Emma helps Milkshake get acquainted with Emmet.

Emma helps Milkshake get acquainted with Emmet.

In the spring, we said goodbye to interns Kaitee and Jade as they ventured on to new and exciting things, but welcomed Emma and Anna in the fall, and continue to enjoy working with Kal. I can’t say enough how wonderful it is to have the help of these talented young animal enthusiasts.

 

On a personal note, in November we welcomed Emmet into our feline family—a ten week old Maine Coon kitten who has given us, and his older brother Bolt, hours of love and amusement.

Emmet, our new baby

Emmet, our new baby

Emmet’s unbounded joy made it a little easier for us to say goodbye to Small, our sweet 19-year-old cat, later that month. Small was the last of our older cats, and sharing our home with two youthful, spirited kitties again certainly keeps us on our toes!

Small as a kitten in October 1995.

Small as a kitten in October 1995.

Small last Christmas Eve, December 2013

Small last Christmas Eve, December 2013

In the coming weeks, we look forward to making room for Roz, an eight year old African bull frog, formerly known as Mrs. Chubbs. Stay tuned for more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neighborhood Nestwatch

Over the last two years, our family has had the great privilege of participating in Neighborhood Nestwatch. This citizen science program involves us in monitoring the nesting activity and site fidelity of eight target bird species, which include Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray Catbird,  Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, House Wren, Carolina Wren, and Song Sparrow. Each year,  Nestwatch team members come spend a morning in our yard. During their visit, they set up 3-5 mist nets, and survey the yard for nests and other bird activity.  When a target bird is captured, it is sexed, measured, weighed, aged, banded and released.

An American robin getting its leg bands.

An American robin getting its leg bands. June 2012.

Since 2012, the first year of the program, we have captured and banded 12 target birds, including one chickadee, two robins, six catbirds, two mockingbirds and one cardinal.  We have caught and released  several non-target species as well, including several chipping and house sparrows, a house finch, a downy woodpecker, an oven bird, and a cedar waxwing!

In addition, we have monitored six nests for the program over the last three years. We are currently monitoring the nest of the male Northern Mockingbird we banded in 2013, and successfully banded his mate today during our annual visit. We look forward to seeing which birds return in the days, months and years to come, and to banding and observing more birds and nests to better understand the lives of backyard birds.

This male returned to the yard the following spring.

This male American robin, banded in 2012, returned to the yard the following spring.

 

 

My son, Aidan with the banded mockingbird, 2013

My son Aidan with a male mockingbird, July 2013. This bird returned to the yard in April 2014.


 

Getting ready to release the male Northern cardinal, 2013

Getting ready to release a male Northern cardinal. July 2013.

Sara measures a gray catbird, July 2013

Sara measures a gray catbird. This was one of three catbirds we banded in July 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cedar waxwing from Nestwatch 2014.

A cedar waxwing from today’s visit 6/25/14.

Aidan records measurements of a gray catbird for  Evangeline. June 2014

Aidan records measurements of a gray catbird for Evangeline. This was one of three catbirds banded today 6/25/14.

This male mockingbird was recaptured today, 6/25/14. He is successfully nesting in the yard this season.

This male mockingbird was recaptured today, 6/25/14. He is successfully nesting in the yard this season.

Invaluable Interns

Kaitee, a Hampshire College student, helps clean the rabbit pen.

Kaitee, a Hampshire College student, helps clean the rabbit pen.

Internships and volunteer positions have a dear place in my heart. They are a valuable way to gain experience, test out your interest in a particular field, and serve a worthwhile organization and the larger community. They are also a great way to get your foot in the door for future employment. In more than one instance, I was later hired by the group I interned or volunteered for.

As the school year comes to an end, I find myself saying goodbye to two of the three wonderful interns that have spent the last eight months with Teaching Creatures. Since October, they have helped clean cages, prepare diets, change water, feed and care for over 30 animals that make up the Teaching Creatures education collection.

 

Kal handles "Peach." a Stimson's python

Kal handles “Peach.” a Stimson’s python

They have handled snakes and lizards, rabbits and hedgehogs, roaches and hermit crabs. They have also assisted with programs at museums, schools and senior centers across the Pioneer Valley. Each has brought different strengths and interests to their work, and I have had a great time getting to know them all, and teaching them more about the ins and outs of working and educating with living creatures.

 

Jade gets "Norbert", a bearded dragon, used to being held.

Jade gets “Norbert”, a bearded dragon, used to being held.

Their help has been a great asset to the daily operation of Teaching Creatures and I look forward to seeing where their passion for animals takes them in the years to come.

 

A Week of Wildlife

The first week of spring, though it had its ups and downs weather-wise, brought with it some exciting wildlife sightings that reminded me that even subtle changes in light, temperature, humidity, plant growth etc. trigger changes in animal behavior and distribution.

The first skunk of 2014.

The first skunk of 2014.

This past week, the first red-winged black birds, brown-headed cowbirds and common grackles arrived at my bird feeders. We heard our first wood cock of the season as well. Reports of black bear activity, prompted us to start bringing in our bird feeders at night. One night, as we prepared to do so, we encountered our first (very white!) skunk of the season, foraging for seeds around the feeder poles. It returned a couple of nights later for more!

A yellow-spotted salamander migrating to a vernal pool.

A yellow-spotted salamander migrating to a vernal pool.

On Friday March 28, I got a call that the annual migration of spotted salamanders, wood frogs and other amphibians was anticipated to begin on this warm, wet night.  I spent a couple of hours with close to 50 other volunteers, monitoring the road around the tunnels on Henry St. in Amherst, where we saw a few yellow-spotted salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers begin to make their way to the vernal pools on the opposite side of the road.

Finally, this morning while I watched sleet and snow coat the ground, ushering March out like a lion rather than like a lamb, a beautiful male cardinal collided with our sliding glass doors, despite the many hawk silouettes we have up to prevent this.  He flew off a short distance into the middle of the yard, and proceeded to roll over on his side, clearly stunned.  We quickly scooped him up into a box and brought him inside to recover in warmth and safety.  Within 15 minutes, he was alert and active again, and we released him back outside, where he promptly returned to gobble down the seeds at our feeders.

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These early wildlife encounters are the harbingers of spring for me, regardless of what the weather may be doing. I look forward to many more as the spring progresses.

 

 

Selva Verde- Heart of the Rainforest

After spending last week in sunny Florida, where the temperatures were a balmy 80-85 degrees, I am finding these last few days of low 20s here in Massachusetts a little hard to bare. And so I am inspired to reflect on the final stop of our 2012 Costa Rican adventure.

Selva Verde is located in the central part of Costa Rica where you truly feel like you are in the deep jungle. We stayed at La Selva Lodge located beside the Sarapiqui River, and in our two nights there, were treated to more amazing wildlife.

Red-eyed tree frog at night

Red-eyed tree frog

A highlight for me were the frogs we encountered. Our first night, we were treated to several red-eyed tree frogs foraging among the vegetation around an artificial pond at the lodge. These frogs have become a symbol of sorts for rainforests, and to see one in the wild was spectacular.

Resting red-eyed tree frog

Resting red-eyed tree frog

Tree frog eggs hanging above the water

Tree frog eggs hanging above the water

In the morning, we were able to find one frog sleeping on a palm frond next to the pond, and also located an egg mass neatly attached to a leaf, dangling over the water that would eventually become the home of the tadpoles that emerged.

Green and black dart frog

Green and black dart frog

Further investigation of the lodge area revealed two types of poison dart frogs. It is truly remarkable to see these little jewels jumping free around the forest.

Strawberry dart frog, aka a blue jeans frog for its blue legs.

Strawberry dart frog, aka a blue jeans frog for its blue legs.

Of course, we couldn’t miss a boat trip down the Sarapiqui River, which yielded more incredible birds

Sungrebe

Sungrebe

Broad-billed mot mot

Broad-billed mot mot

and our only trip siting of a three-toed sloth!!

A three-toed sloth lounging in a tree

A three-toed sloth lounging in a tree

Arenal Volcano

Well here we are in the middle of yet another major winter storm so I will continue with my chronicles of our 8 day excursion to the beautiful country of Costa Rica back in March of 2012.

As part of our trip, we spent 3 days at the Arenal Observatory Lodge at the base of Arenal volcano.  This area is a popular destination in Costa Rica for the luxurious hot springs that surround the mountain, and for the natural spectacle of the living earth it can provide.  Though the volcano was not in an eruptive phase while we were there, it was still quite a sight to behold.

Coati - very curious and social animals!

Coati – very curious and social animals!

During our visit, we enjoyed lots more hiking and wildlife watching.  One of our favorites was the racoon-like mammal known as the coatimundi or coati.  We had glimpsed one at Villa Lapas, but were astonished and delighted by the close proximity we got at Arenal.

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We also got our only look at a wild snake at Arenal, a highlight for me, the reptile lover! While hiking to a breathtaking waterfall, a local guide pointed out a small eyelash pit viper, a highly venomous snake, curled up on a dead palm leaf only a couple of feet from the trail, and very close to the ground.  It was napping quietly, and we snapped some photos from a safe distance.

Female black howler monkey carrying her baby on her back.

Female black howler monkey with a baby on her back.

Arenal also gave us our best looks at black howler monkeys, including a troop with mothers and babies.  It was quite a treat!

Of course, we also saw an incredible variety of colorful birds and some gorgeous flowers as well.

Male green honey creeper.

Male green honey creeper.

Violet-headed hummingbird

Violet-headed hummingbird

One of many beautiful orchids in Costa Rica.

One of many beautiful orchids in Costa Rica.

The blooms of this stunning orchid lasted only a day or so, and I vividly remember watching one of the lodge workers pausing a moment to sniff its lovely fragrance as he went about his busy daily routine. Inspiring!

 

 

Stay tuned for the last stop on our trip to Costa Rica- Selva Verde, the heart of the rainforest!

Costa Rica Dreaming

A while back I promised more about some wonderful exotic vacations my family has been privileged to take over the last couple of years.  Today, I find myself housebound due to the latest “snowpocalypse” to hit Massachusetts, and dreaming of those lush, tropical places, so it seemed a perfect time to reflect on one of these incredible journies.

American crocodiles on the Tarcoles River, Costa Rica

American crocodiles on the Tarcoles River, Costa Rica

In March of 2012, we were treated to 8 days in the gorgeous country of Costa Rica.  Our first of three stops on this trip was to the mid-Pacific coast, near the Tarcoles River, famous for American crocodiles, where we stayed at Villa Lapas (home of macaws).

Scarlet macaw from the balcony of our room.

Scarlet macaw from the balcony of our room.

Blue-grey tanagers. One of my favorites!

Blue-grey tanagers. One of my favorites!

As avid wildlife watchers, we spent our time looking for the astounding diversity of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects in the region.

A leaf-toed gecko in our open air shower.

A leaf-toed gecko in our open air shower.

An anhinga drying its wings along the river.

An anhinga drying its wings along the river.

Franklin weaves a grasshopper from a palm frond.

Franklin weaves a grasshopper from a palm frond.

We took a boat trip along parts of the river, and one day, woke at the crack of dawn to visit Carrara National Park with our dedicated bird guide Franklin.

A stunning Costa Rican breakfast!

A stunning Costa Rican breakfast!

We enjoyed an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables (the pineapple was my favorite), really good coffee, and tremendously warm, wonderful people during our stay at Villa Lapas.

Ranier making us fresh Costa Rican coffee.

Ranier making us fresh Costa Rican coffee.

Stay tuned for more Costa Rican adventures.  Next stop, Arenal volcano!