Posts Tagged With: Wildlife

Fighting the Winterblues: New England Aquarium Style

I’ll admit it, though it will send shudders down the spines of all my teleskiing fanatic friends: winter is not my favorite time of year. I can appreciate it in small bursts. I love the crystalline beauty of a morning following a storm, and spent many hours as a kid playing in the frosty woods behind my house, following the tracks of field mice to see where they went, always hoping to see evidence of wildlife drama. I tried winter mountaineering, but that ended after one weekend outing where my eyelids froze shut. So nowadays I’ll bundle up to take the kiddo for walks, or hit the beach for some ice bocce, or get excited about our annual xc skiing weekends, but other than that, I’m dreaming of summer.

This is where the New England Aquarium comes in. Right before New Year’s we decided to brave the icy weather and head south to the aquarium to introduce the kiddo to some fish. To beat the crowds, we got there right as the doors opened at 9am, which meant that we had a good two hours until the perfect storm of Liam’s attention span and the overcrowding of a winter break weekday hit. In that time, we watched the kiddo become fascinated by the silvery fish zipping past him. He also seems to have developed a bit of a penguin obsession.

 Oh, and the best part? Now they have a shark and ray touch tank. Frankly, this part was all about me. Liam’s fingers are far too little to dangle in a touch tank, but mine sure weren’t. Rays are rather slimy, but still pretty darn cool.

Categories: Ideas, Our Story, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Grubs, Roots and Shoots: Inspiration from Jane Goodall

Copyright © Jane Goodall Institute of Canada

I met Jane Goodall once. I was an eager student of anthropology and had been devouring every book on primates and paleoanthropology I could find, including all of Goodall’s work. Miraculously, she came to speak at my college, and I planned to skip out of my favorite class to hear her presentation. In the week leading up to her appearance, I busily wrote out all the questions I wanted to ask her, just in case there was a chance to talk one on one. I tried to come up with complex questions, not ones that just anyone off the street would ask, oh no; these would be questions that showed I not only read her books but could offer deep insight into her findings.  I was certain it would lead to a lively and stimulating exchange of ideas, and that this would be one of the better networking moments of my anthropological career.

When the presentation ended, I hurried to the back of the auditorium to line up for her book signing. Along with every other person there. The line wrapped around the room, and it became clear to me that I was going to have about 30 seconds to impress Dr. Goodall. I was doomed. My hands got clammy and started to shake. As my turn approached, all rational thought deserted my brain. I reached out with my sticky hand, and barely  managed to choke out a strangled, “I liked your book,” before receiving a cursory thank you and being guided away by the handlers. I had choked.

All of this has little to do with today’s post except to emphasize my long-standing science crush on Jane Goodall.

"Grub the Bush Baby" is the photo story of Jane's son's first two years in the forest at Gombe.

In 1967, Jane Goodall brought her months-old son into the field with her at Gombe in Tanzania. Her careful observation of the reserve’s chimpanzees had shown her that they hunted, and often killed the young of other primates in the area, and she was concerned about the safety of her young son. In order to protect him from both the chimps and the many other wild animals in the area, she built him a cage. Both she and her son slept in it at night, and though it was painted a cheery blue and decorated with birds and stars, she received heavy criticism from a number of people about her child rearing methods. But she always maintained that “Grub”, as she nicknamed him, had led an extraordinary childhood. She took her parenting cues from the chimpanzees she studied, and noticed that, “chimp mothers… that were affectionate and tolerant raised babies that had good adult relationships and were successful community members”(Quote from Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan).  She took six years away from direct fieldwork to raise him, and he accompanied her in her research travels around the countryside.

Grub grew up running around the forests and plains of Africa, and in the process learned firsthand the value of the wild creatures surrounding him even when they were a direct danger to his family. Goodall has since formed the Jane Goodall Institute, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting humanitarian, environmental and animal protection efforts around the globe. As part of the institute’s efforts to reach out to youth, Goodall formed a  program to help children become actively involved in influencing the world around them. Roots and Shoots encourages youth-led campaigns to effect positive change in the three focus areas of the institute, and helps kids identify how they can make a difference. Anyone can form a Roots and Shoots group, and there are thousands of children now working on service projects related to the program. For folks looking to not only get their kids out into the woods but also teach them to preserve those things they love, this program seems like a great way to get started. You can search for local groups, or learn how to start your own here.

Categories: Infants, Inspiration, Outdoor Life, Toddlers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Picnic, Interrupted

Snacking on Deadly Nightshade

Perhaps I should have been suspicious when I saw that there was a prime spot still available at the park so late in the day.  It had everything we were looking for: an oceanfront setting, a big shade tree, and a barbecue grill. I pushed a stroller full of  picnic supplies over to the table, plopped down in my folding camp chair to nurse the Kiddo, and waited for Sean and our friends to arrive.

A few minutes after I got there, I discovered that the site had something we weren’t looking for: a resident groundhog. He (or she?) popped out of the large boulders that marked the beginning of the rocky shore, and gave me a steely glare. And then charged straight at me. I didn’t know it at the time, but some concentrated googling later that evening informed me that groundhogs are actually very aggressive creatures who will fight to the death to protect their young or their homes. There was no clear reason for this one to find me threatening, unless he just didn’t like babies, but he very quickly violated what I consider my safe wildlife proximity zone. I figured if I had to I could probably manage to jump on top of the picnic table, even while nursing, or perhaps scoopkick him back over the rock wall. I too am a fierce creature when defending my young.

Just about to charge...

Fortunately, it didn’t get that far. I managed to turn him around by vigorously waving a cloth diaper in his direction, and he scurried back to the wall, where he proceeded to munch on some deadly nightshade. It was an uneasy truce for a while, but he finally moved off down the park when the rest of my group arrived.

It sounds funny, to talk about being threatened by something that appears as harmless as a groundhog. People have all seen footage of Punxsutawney Phil being lifted out of his burrow to make friendly predictions about the weather, and assume groundhogs are cuddly little creatures. Though they can be “tamed”, it takes a lot of work to do so, and they are wild creatures with powerful claws for digging burrows and teeth sharpened by gnawing on vegetation. Not something I want to tussle with. I tried to imagine the life of this particular groundhog. He had to endure harsh weather along the seashore. His burrow likely flooded during the recent storms, and I wonder where he went during the storm, if he had to huddle in the woods at the edge of the park waiting for the waters to recede. In the winter he hibernates, but the soil on the coast must be rocky and hard to dig. A few moments after he left our site, some kids from another table started to harass him. They threw watermelon rinds at him, and dared one another to try and get closer; they laughed and screamed each time he charged them, oblivious to how deadly serious the creature was taking their “game”. I imagined day after day of this. No wonder he tried to scare me away.

Even groundhogs dream of the sea

We barbecued quietly and enjoyed a great evening of fine conversation as the sun slipped down behind the trees. After a few hours we left the groundhog in peace to reclaim his territory.

Categories: Our Story, Wildlife | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Small Adventures: Moonlight and Horseshoe Crabs

A mating pair of horseshoe crabs heads into deeper waters. Sean Donohue©2011

Around the full and new moons in May and June, a strange phenomenon occurs all up and down the Atlantic Shores of the US: the spawning of the horseshoe crabs. Sean and I first discovered this event about 8 years ago when we set off on an evening paddle to watch the full moon rise over a nearby bay. As we paddled close to shore, we noticed piles of horseshoe crabs in the shallows and along the beach. On closer inspection, we realized they were mating, and thus began our fascination with these strange prehistoric animals. Where we go we’ll often see a dozen or two mating pairs in a single trip, but there are places where the crabs are more abundant, and hundreds of pairs pile up on the beach.

Horseshoe crabs look ancient, and in fact their origins predate most species on the planet. These living fossils are covered in spiny body armor and have a long, spike-like tail that they use for righting themselves if they become flipped upside-down. During Mating, the male clings to the females back, and they stay linked for  hours. The female will then dig a hole in sand or mud, and the male will fertilize the 60-120,000 eggs as she lays them. These eggs are an important food for at least 11 species of migratory shorebirds, as well as many other small shore animals. After mating, the male and female separate, and head off into deeper waters.

The mating of the horseshoe crabs is a great natural event to look for with kids. The crabs themselves are fascinating with their spiny armour and long spiked tail, and the presence of so many in one place can be awe-inspiring. Add in some moonlight and an expedition that involves flashlights, and the event becomes even more fun. It’s also a great chance to show kids how to observe nature without touching (and potentially disturbing a special moment for the crabs). If you are doing nature journaling with your kids, this is an exciting observation to write about.

Image via Creative commons

If you want to find popular spawning locations near you, the University of Delaware’s Horseshoe Crab Spawning Website  has a great page with an interactive map  that will help you plan your trip. I particularly like their tip about using a red filter on flashlights and camera flashes when doing night observations to avoid blinding the animals for an entire tidal cycle.

Categories: Ideas, Outdoor Life, Preschoolers, School Age, Toddlers, Trip Planning | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Everyday Wild!

North American Porcupine, Creative Commons

When I was about 5 years old, my family moved from a mid-sized city to a house in rural New Hampshire. There were neighbors in sight of us, but we lived across the street from a wide stretch of open fields, forests and ponds. Our backyard had woods which, at the time, seemed a vast, unexplored wilderness.

One of my earliest memories from that house is of my Dad coming in to my room one night and waking me up to go outside so he could show me something. I slipped my bare feet into boots that felt rough and strange without socks, and followed him out into the backyard, still wearing my nightgown under my coat. At the edge of our driveway stood a tall tree, branches silhouetted against the sky. Halfway up the tree a porcupine crouched in the crook of a branch, his bunched up form dark against the moonlit sky. He moved slowly, if at all, as we stood there and watched him for what seemed to be a very long time, until the air got too chilly and I was whisked back to bed to dream about sleeping in trees.

Thirty-two years later, that moment is still with me as I imagine the life Sean and I will create for our soon-to-be-born son. We want him to know the woods and the water, to spend weeks living in tents and paddling down rivers and coasts, and to wake up in the middle of the night and watch animals come out of of their dens and feed. We want him to problem solve his way out of tricky situations, and grow up into the kind of man who doesn’t hide inside just because it is raining, or the path seems too slippery to walk on. We want to maintain our own connections to the wild world, and see having children as a chance to increase our experiences with nature, rather than a step backwards towards a life trapped inside walls. This blog is our way of sharing both our own experiences, and the information we’ve picked up along the way. Check in with us to find helpful information, stories about our experiences, book and gear reviews and links to other families involved in this same movement. We can’t wait to hear from all the rest of you out there wandering down the same crooked trail…

To learn more about where we are coming from, check out our About page.

Categories: Our Story | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: