Western Pond Turtle Release!

It’s our only native turtle and certainly worth saving. The specimen above was filmed at Northwest Trek a couple of years ago. As I understand the story it was turned in to the zoo from someone who found it outside of a convenience store. Lucky thing! More recently the Woodland Park Zoo has been raising several of these turtles from a collection of eggs. The little guys are ready to take on the the world now and a big release of these rare Testudines is about to take place. Click the link below for more on the story and why these native turtles have become so rare:

From King 5 News – Western Pond Turtle Release

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Paradise Found!

Why do they refer to the big lodge at Mount Rainier as “Paradise?” My wife and I went hiking the other day and found a place that I think is much more deserving of the name – Owyhigh Lakes. It’s a fairly easy 3.5 mile hike to the top where you will be treated to some unexpectedly spectacular scenery. The sharp eyed observer might even be treated to the sight of a Western Toad along the way. And once you are there trot down to the lake and stare at the beautifully clear water while being surrounded by Cascades Frogs. Who could ask for more paradise than that?

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Moth Mystery

I opened the door the other night to do my standard pre lights out check and clinging to the outside doorframe sat this enormous moth flashing its incredible wings. After a considerable amount of research and a lot of photo comparisons it seems to me that the moth in the above picture is a Cercopia Moth, Hyalophora cercopia, the largest moth in North America. Now that alone would be something worthy of a post to the website. But there’s a bit of mystery here. Every reference I consulted while trying to identify this insect maintains that the range of this moth is “East of the Rockies.” Well I assure you that my front porch is not east of the Rockies. Insect ranges, especially the winged variety, are notoriously variable so this should not be a huge surprise but the references I looked at both hard copy and online were very explicit about the Eastern range of the Cercopia. Perhaps we have a beautiful big new addition to our Northwest Lepidoptera population. If anyone out there has a better identification of this insect please let me know. An obviously interesting point about these kinds of visually captivating moths are the distinct “eyeball” designs on the wings used to ward off approaching predators. This particular moth displayed that behavior very clearly, spreading its wings to the fullest extent every time I got too close.

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Kopachuk State Park – Sand Dollar Haven!

A wide view of the Kopachuk shoreline shows the expansive population of sand dollars is at the park. Most of these echinoderms are quite full of life yet easily accessible for close up viewing. Macro views of the sand dollar tube feet are amazing.

Washington State is home to a large number of beautiful and exceptionally interesting state parks. One of my favorites is Kopachuk near Gig Harbor. Comprised of 280 acres along Henderson Bay it is a great way to complete your day after cruising the shops in the city of Gig Harbor. Like most marine parks, however, low tide is the most fascinating time to visit. Kopachuk is a beautiful place with a lot of park benches and hiking trails at high tide but when that beach opens up at low tide it becomes a sand dollar spectacular! Huge areas of this sandy beach are densely studded with these amazing creatures. Our Northwest Sand Dollar, Dendraster excentricus, is an echinoderm related to sea urchins and sea stars. Unlike their echinoderm cousins, though, sand dollars have teeny tiny tube feet and move by “spinal” manipulation. Their little tube feet are used for feeding as the creature sifts through its sandy environment. Particle of food are swept up by the tube feet and aided by a uniquely named organ called Aristotle’s Lantern. The name comes to us thanks to the famous philosopher scientist himself who described the feeding organ of a sea urchin as looking like a “horn lantern.” It became known sometime later as Aristotle’s Lantern.

References:

Thanks to the Living Coast Discovery Center website for the bit about Aristotle’s Lantern

Kopachuk State Park website

Pacific Reef and Shore by Rick M. Harbo

Seashore Life of Puget Sound, the Straight of Georgia, and the San Juan Archipelago by Eugene N. Kozloff

Ankeny Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge

One of the first things you’ll notice about the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge is the very accessible and scenic boardwalk. Take a quiet stroll through along this walk and you’ll be greeted to some very interesting sites, some of them might even swim right underneath you. Native species abound, of course, but be ready for a very large introduced rodent called a Nutria or Coypu. At 14- 20 pounds the adults are much larger than muskrats. Keep a lookout for a long red tongue that flashes out from time to time; another distinguishing characteristic.

 

The next time you are in or around Salem, Oregon I highly recommend taking a stroll around the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Just 12 miles south of Salem, take exit 243 from I-5 and follow the signs from there. Operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service the refuge has an easy but extraordinarily interesting hiking trail that winds through forested marshlands, huge ponds, and vast expanses of open fields. The boardwalk through the wonderland marsh is undoubtedly the highlight of the refuge and offers many opportunities for great wildlife viewing from amphibians to avians. In the open areas be on the lookout for reptiles, rabbits, quail, and the inevitable enormous flocks of Canada geese. There are also numerous locations around the refuge where you can even park you car and settle in for wildlife viewing. 

Idaho Birdwatching

Nothing says “El Hefe” like a displaying male wild turkey! Both the mail and female California Quail display that distinctive head feather; larger in the mails. Beautiful magpies have developed an unwarranted bad reputation in many parts of the world. Swainson’s Hawks are great migrators that return to our area in the spring; this one appears to be a younger bird. You’d expect to find the Great Horned Owl in a tree instead of the side of a cliff – but not in Idaho.

 

Open areas are a great place for wildlife observation and photography and Idaho has some of the best. Without all those pesky trees and other vegetation in the way you can get some nice, clear uninterrupted shots – and get them at eye level too – often a rare opportunity when dealing with our avian friends. This was the case in the above example of the wild turkey. I had just entered the visitors center at the Deer Flats Wildlife Refuge outside of Boise last week when I noticed several large birds moving around outside. Surprised at the color and size of the animals I asked one of the curators there if these were truly wild turkeys. I was assured that they were indeed wild turkeys. The birds had shown up unexpectedly about a month ago and kept returning. I immediately raced back out to my car, grabbed my camera, and prowled up to the back of the building where the big guy posed for some excellent shots. On two other wildlife parks outside of Boise, the names of both I have forgotten, I took these pictures of a Great Horned Owl burrowed into a rocky cliff and a family of Magpies. Magpies are members of the corvid family and have a surprisingly large range. I’ve seen them in Alaska, throughout the Northwest, Korea, and Central Asia. But when you get into taking photographs of wildlife you soon learn that you never know when a prime opportunity will present itself. I had been trying to get good photos of California Quail for some time. They are common birds and relatively at ease around humans but the ones I encountered in the wild were difficult to approach. Then one day on the ID National Guard Airfield at Gowen Field this flock allowed me to snap several nice shots. Shortly afterward I was zooming along the highway outside of that same place when this Swainson’s hawk caught my attention. I pulled over and clicked away as the bird sat calmly by. Great opportunities pop up in unlikely places so keep that camera handy.

Hanako the Elephant

After hearing the sad news from the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma about this elephant’s foot cancer I decided to post this article I wrote for American Animal Trainer Magazine almost 20 years ago. There are some very interesting observations about Hanako from her keeper in those days:

THE POINT DEFIANCE ZOO – CONVERSION TO PROTECTED CONTACT AND HANDLING PROBLEM ELEPHANTS

John M. Regan

            The Port Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, is a compact, beautiful zoo located within Point Defiance Park.  Jutting out into Puget Sound, the park overlooks a uniquely beautiful scene of wonderful cliffs, tall pines, and waterfront scenery.  In 1992 the zoo underwent completed a major renovation allowing it to increase its animal collection.  The elephant population was included in this increase, and with it came the decision to switch to protected contact training.  In October I had the opportunity to visit the zoo and spoke to veteran trainer/keepers, Sally Joseph and Craig Wilcox.  With over fifty years of training experience between them, Sally and Craig shared some valuable training tips about converting to PC and handling problem elephants.

            Like its unique location, the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium has some unique training challenges concerning their elephants. Not surprisingly, space is at a premium. The park contains a respectable variety of animals within its 27 acres and this does not leave big tracts for large species.  The outdoor enclosure for the elephants is about one and a half acres and the indoor stalls, while beautifully designed, do not have large amounts of room either.  But these physical problems are minor considerations compared to the challenges presented by its three female Asian elephants.

Sally Joseph, who has been with the Point Defiance park since 1993, introduced me to the herd.  Sally’s expertise with elephants began in 1972 with the Baby Zoo Inc. in Oakland.  Since that time Sally has worked elephants in zoos and circuses throughout the country, including fifteen years on the road with her own elephant.  She is direct and blunt, and a full convert to the protected contact system.  Since Sally has had a full range of experience with full and protected methods her comments were particularly insightful.

I’m sure anyone familiar with elephants knows how individual their personalities are.  They can be congenial, aggressive, bright, not so bright, etc.  But the elephants at Point Defiance are an exceptionally diverse lot.  The herd consists of Cindy, Hanako, and Suki.  Although a small elephant population by some standards, each presents separate and peculiar problems that provide a real test for protected contact training and the skill of the keepers.

Cindy, who has now been in protected contact for about nine years, was originally purchased from a small casino in Nevada.  Until she was about two years old Cindy was used for entertainment at various enterprises such as grocery store openings.  She soon out grew these pursuits and was sold to Point Defiance.  For the next twenty years she was raised by herself in a relatively confined area until the zoo renovated in 1992.

Continue reading Hanako the Elephant

Tribute to a Wonderful Dog – Megan Regan Aug 2003 – March 2018

In light of my heritage and upbringing ST Patrick’s Day is normally one of the happiest days of the year for me – but not this year. Saturday morning I had to take our beautiful dog, Megan, to the vet and have her put to sleep. I spent the rest of the day digging her grave and burying her. I did not feel at all like celebrating. Megan was our first golden retriever and exemplified all of the endearing qualities of that breed for almost 15 years. My retirement from the Army led to a more stable and relaxed life, and as a result this beautiful animal was more a part of our life than any other animal before. We’ve had several other dogs and cats and grew very close to all the zoo animals we worked with; I’ve even had to put down a number of animals myself in previous jobs, but nothing hit as hard as parting with Megan. She was the first thing we saw in the morning and the last at night. Our long walks, scenic drives, and evenings by the fireplace will never be the same. She absolutely loved to chase sticks, dig for moles, and go for a swim. But most of all she loved being with us. She grew up with our granddaughter and made her life special. She was there when we worked out in our home gym. She was there when I shot darts. She was there when we watched television. She was there when we walked around our property. She always followed us around when we did yardwork. She met me as soon as I came home from work and in the evening we always went out for one last walk before bedtime. Settling her into the ground and covering her up with rocks and dirt was hard on this old soldier and I am not ashamed to admit it. It is hard to describe how much we miss that beautiful canine but I am sure there are many of you out there who understand. I buried Megan with a stick so she’ll have something to do while she waits for us in heaven.

Wildlife Under the Microscope!

Thanks to a Christmas gift from my wife I recently rediscovered the joy of a childhood hobby. I could go on and on, but I’ll cut it short and put it to you this way – if you don’t have a microscope go out and get one right away! You will not regret it. You and your children will be instantly delighted and fascinated by the exotic world that exists just out of our sight. Scoop up a tiny bit of pond water, put a few drops on a slide, and focus your lens. It is truly like peering into a strange new world populated by a host of unique creatures. We tend to think of microscopic animals as mindless bacteria or “germs” that simply exist in blobs of stagnant water. But when you see these myriad shapes spinning around, stretching, squirming, flashing like bullets and going about their lives amidst a jungle forest of algae you’ll have a different opinion. There are predators in this microscopic forest searching for prey. You’ll see internal organs pulsating in transparent bodies, flashing antenna, tiny clawed feet, dark black eyes, shapes that change like magic. It is a show like nothing else on earth! And that is not all. Although the wonderfully strange animal life is the main attraction the myriad geometric shapes and color of the plant life is a worthy show as well. Some of these shapes are so odd they look like computer generated cartoons instead of actual living organisms. So don’t delay – get your microscope today.

Pictured here are a few of the common microscopic species that inhabit pond water. What appears to be staring back at you with a pair haunting black eyes is a water flea. This is actually a crustacean; in this case likely Daphnia pulex. Not readily apparent in this photo but very visible under the microscope are the large waving antenna used for locomotion and feeding. Then we have a single eyed crustacean very appropriately called a cyclopoid copepod, Macrocyclops aldibus. Next up in the microbial pond water population is a midge fly larvae of the Chironomdiae family. From the research I have done this one appears to be a non-biting midge, distinguished by the pair of antenna jutting out from the animal’s head. I have not yet identified the tiny creatures swarming around it but they are very numerous and very fast moving.

NW Moss – From Big to Really Small

Playing around a bit with my cameras and brand new Christmas microscope. In this case a species of moss common here in the great Northwest, Racomitrium heterostichum. As I get handier with microphotography you’ll see more and more from the animal kingdom. By the way, for those people interested in the very interesting moss and lichen species of our NW climate there are several unique sites and organizations devoted to this very unique study. I highly recommend “Northwest Lichenologists.”