Swooning Over the Saint Louis Zoo

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There is no admission fee for visiting the Saint Louis Zoo. There are extra fees for experiences such as feeding the Galapagos tortoises. Even though I did not pay to feed them, I got to watch from very close by.

I found watching the people visiting the Saint Louis Zoo almost as fascinating as the animals. There were Amish families in their traditional garb, families with multiple strollers, and lots of different parenting styles. This zoo is ranked in the top five zoos in America, and rightfully so. It really is a marvel.

There is so much to see and do at this zoo. It doesn’t advertise itself as a botanical garden, but it is also beautifully landscaped. There is plenty of signage and I still found myself getting lost looking for giraffes. I thought I’d spend an hour walking around and several hours later I was hiking back up to the south entrance without seeing it all. I so wished I had my grandson with me.

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They have enough space to house Asian elephants.

I enjoyed my visit to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden so much that I decided to also visit the Saint Louis Zoo. It won out over other options in part because it had good reviews on Trip Advisor and because it was so close to my Hampton Inn in Forest Park.

IMG_8519One of the features of the Saint Louis Zoo is how close you can experience many of the zoo residents. This hyena was just one of the animals that I felt I could reach out and touch. This experience was most thrilling with my favorite penguins. By the way, if you do break the rules and try to pet the penguins, remember they bite with their VERY sharp beaks. And even more harmful than feeding them our food, is sharing our germs.

There is no admission fee for the zoo thanks to the taxpayers of St. Louis; however, the closest parking lots do charge $15 a car. While a family can divide that by 4 or 6, I was driving alone. I also needed to save time because I had a long day of driving to Pella, IA via Hannibal, MO, so I decided to make the donation for convenient parking. They have various options for saving money, especially with kids. For example the Adventure Pass for $12.95 includes the Zooline Railroad, the Children’s Zoo, Conservation Carousel and more. If you are a traveling with children and you park on the street, and bring your own sandwiches, you can make a big day of it for little more than the cost of the Adventure Pass.

Instead of eating from the Hampton Inn breakfast buffet, I walked next door to Comet Coffee to enjoy one of the tastiest bear claw pastries I’ve eaten in a while. Little did I know that I was going to see real bear claws on two grizzly bears later that same morning.

 

Crazy for Hippos at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo is delightful. It is one of the top 10 zoos in the USA and so much bigger than my hometown zoo. It is also a botanical garden and attracts lots of butterflies. I drove directly from Louisville to the Zoo and began my wondering and wandering with a big smile plastered on my face.

I learned a group of hippos in a pile is a bloat. It has a been a long time since the Sacramento Zoo hosted Jewel the hippo. I was delighted to meet baby Fiona and her mom. I watched them while listening to the keeper tell us about hippo habits.

A big motivation for my #MiddleAmericaTour is to visit states I’ve yet to visit to reach all 50 states in 2020. I stayed in Louisville, KY because Google maps said Cincinnati, Ohio was close (1.5 hours away). It all sounds so doable when you are at your kitchen table researching options. And it would have been much easier if it hadn’t rained cats and dogs while I was driving home. I pulled off the freeway to a McDonalds to get a diet coke and wait it out.

I revived enough when I got back to Louisville to research a place for desert, pie specifically. I drove to Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen. It was yummy, yummy ice cream and the pie was above average.

 

 

Celebrate Penguins!

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Art from a greeting card; originally in London Tube advertisement to entice you to ride subway to the London Zoo.

April 25th is World Penguin Day! People in Australia and New Zealand may already be celebrating!

I adore penguins. I will extend my celebration until Saturday when Mom and I are going to see the new film, Penguins.

Celebrating Penguin Awareness with Dr. Michelle LaRue

 

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Estimating populations of penguins is a challenge given the ice even in summer. Can you tell the difference between Adelie and Emperor penguins? Photo from https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/

Dr. Michelle LaRue is an ecologist and science communicator who specializes in using Geographic Information Systems, satellite imaging and other tools to count penguin, seal and mountain lion populations. I follow @drmichellelarue on Twitter—I especially enjoy her #Cougarornot game. She recently moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. This new adventure includes research opportunities in Antarctica.

The USA and New Zealand have a history of collaboration in Antarctica. The McMurdo research station is just down the road from the Kiwi Scott base, and both are supported from Christchurch. Dr. LaRue agreed to answer questions about this new opportunity.

Q: You’ve done research in Antarctica whilst maintaining your University home base at University of Minnesota. What prompted the move to New Zealand?

A: A faculty position with Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury! Here I will continue my research on the ecology of Southern Ocean predators and look forward to building a lab in the next few years.

Q: From your new position, what do you hope you’ll be able to contribute to our understanding of penguins and the endangered polar habitats?

A: My goal is to effectively fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing – we’ve got several baseline population estimates now for Adélie and emperor penguins and we’re doing the same for Weddell seals and crabeater seals. Once those pieces are filled in, we get to start asking: why? Why are these populations in certain spots and not others? How do these species interact with each other across space and time? How might climate change impact their populations and habitats? To ask these questions we first need to know how many animals there are and where they live, so that’s my focus at the moment.

Q: Have you experienced an earthquake yet in Christchurch? And what is your favorite discovery about living in New Zealand?

A: For the first time, I felt a 3.2 earthquake back in December, though I will say the people around me didn’t even notice! I think my favorite discovery or realization is just how unbelievably beautiful it is – I mean this is something I knew before but now that I live here it’s remarkable to me how much diversity there is in the landscape in just a short distance. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to be an outdoor enthusiast!

Recall that it is currently summer in Antarctica, so she was in the field this past November. You can follow her team’s current research at https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/. Dr. LaRue also has links to a number of her video presentations and written papers on her website.

Dr. LaRue works on teams gauging the status of Adélie and Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. There are things we can do to reduce human impacts on penguins and their habitat. First, more efficient fishing vessels are harvesting the krill that makes up the food supply of penguins and whales. It is important that we stop using krill oil (I didn’t realize this was a thing; however, a quick Google search and apparently lots of people are taking it as supplements). Second, the ice is shrinking in both polar regions due to rising ocean temperatures from rising CO2. We can all reduce our use of fossil fuels by riding a bike, walking, or carpooling.

Monterey Bay a Superb Marine Sanctuary

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I became a member when my grandson was born. This trip we are celebrating his second birthday with multiple trips to the Aquarium.

As a member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I try to visit as often as I can. Indeed, the entire Monterey Bay offers an opportunity to observe marine life. Just a few days ago a “superpod” of dolphins was caught on video by the Aquarium staff. As my 2 year old grandson would say, “Wow!”

https://www.npr.org/2018/09/07/645677562/watch-superpod-of-dolphins-seen-racing-off-california-coast

The Monterey Bay Aquarium gives those of us unable to snorkel or dive the opportunity to see life under the sea. The Open Sea exhibit has hammerhead sharks and two sea turtles. I spent at least 5 minutes watching the female octopus actively exploring her space.

The sea otters are favorites. Sometimes it is hard to appreciate them because of the crowds. My friend UK Sarah was reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck and he didn’t mention sea otters. I double checked with the docents and they agreed the sea otters were almost hunted to extinction when Steinbeck was in Monterey County. They began to make a comeback in the mid-70s. The growing public support for marine life made it possible to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1992. The kelp forests are essential for the otters, yet without otters the urchins proliferate and eat the kelp forests. Thanks to the Aquarium’s education and conservation programs the Bay has become a much friendlier place for all marine life.

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I learned a few things on these visits to the Aquarium. Two year olds (not just Calvin) will vocalize in a way that sounds a lot like screaming like a monkey when they are frightened by the “ocean wave experience” or a scary fish. Mostly though they are in awe and very excited to take it all in.

And I still love the penguins!

 

Black Penguin: Antarctic Travel Memoir Inspires

Evans bookIf you read my blog you know I have a fascination with penguins. I was looking for books on the Satellite Sisters summer reading list whilst in a Washington DC bookshop and The Black Penguin by Andrew Evans caught my eye. On his first assignment with National Geographic, he fulfills many of his geeky childhood dreams on this grand adventure.

It is a hybrid book–part personal memoir, part travelogue. Evans is an accomplished writer so every chapter kept my attention. I was particularly empathetic to the chapters about his experience growing up Mormon and gay. I have a few friends in my life from a similar background, but anyone who has felt like an outsider–and if you travel then you know this feeling–can relate to his pain of feeling completely misunderstood and alone.

He also decides to travel by bus from Washington, DC to Ushuaia, Argentina to board the National Geographic vessel to Antarctica. I enjoyed living vicariously through him and decided that I’d rather never travel by bus anywhere if I can avoid it. Lesson learned.

Use this link to watch the now famous black penguin video: https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/b2a_blackpenguin

The first 258 pages are all building to the last couple of chapters of penguins! and stories from his month on National Geographic Explorer. Sheer bliss. I wanted to go to Antarctica before and now I want to go even more!

World Penguin Day Today

Meet Monty and Poppy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. These baby African penguins are not yet on exhibit. You can see the other penguins on the regular penguin cam.

The New England Aquarium in Boston, MA also has some little blue penguin chicks–from New Zealand! You can read more about it here.

Take a moment today to appreciate penguins as most species are threatened by food or habitat loss. Thanks climate change. And ride your bike or walk instead of driving your gas guzzler to give the planet a break.