Thursday, April 18, 2013


We interrupt this long and dreary winter to bring you a little ray of sunshine.  Spring is taking its dear sweet time to get here this year.  I can't even placate myself during the drudgery and go hawking, which makes most of the winter months bearable.  Just about the time it warms up and you think maybe, just maybe the tide is turned and consistent sunny and warm days are on the way, another storm blows out of the west and north, dumping ice and snow.  We are currently under a forecast for 24 hours of it.  Oh joy!

However, yesterday I went in search of Spring . . . and found it, in St. Paul.  We visited the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, and specifically the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.  Under glass, it is summer, and tropical, and in one special area, called the Sunken Garden, it is Spring!  The staff of the Conservatory change out the plants seasonally in the Sunken Garden, and currently their Spring collection of bulbs is on display.  The most noticeable thing about this garden, as you come through the door, is the smell.  It is utterly delightful!

We walked around the displays and I took many pictures.  We will not see our own Spring bulbs blooming probably for another month to month-and-a-half.  There are some flowers here which are more later Spring / Summer blossoms . . . such as the lilies, snapdragons and hydrangea . . . but they were all lovely to see on this cold day.  I've also included some other flowers which were found in tucked away places throughout the Conservatory.  They have quite a few orchids, which are always lovely to see.

Thank You Rich . . . for taking me to see the flowers!

We walked around the entire facility.  They have a tropical rainforest room, complete with birds loose in the facility . . . and these were not your typical boring cage bird finches, but many species of softbills and thrush.  I only saw a few of them, so large and expansive the enclosure that it allows these birds to behave normal, fly and nest, and hide.  It is a sad comparison to some of the other animals housed at the zoo portion of Como Park.  Maybe it is just that many of the animals are being kept indoors because of the cold, and they are all a bit stir crazy too.  However I did spot some very pronounced stereotypical behavior in their arctic fox, as he raced around and around his enclosure, and having made some fairly deep paths with his feet.  One of the two polar bears also seemed to be making ritualistic, repetitive dives in his pool.  The zoo is a rather old one, and you can see efforts to improve the enclosures as much as money and space will allow, but some of the animals do look rather melancholy.  The cougars, in their too-small enclosure, were spatting with each other, the only tiger that we saw pacing, and the gorillas looked pretty sad.  Once it warms up they have a new enclosure to go out into, the gorillas, so that may improve their mood.  I'm not sure any warm weather will help the poor fox.

I have mixed feelings about zoos.  Some of the best zoos in the world are wonderful to see.  I was able to visit the San Diego Zoo many years ago, and it is a wonderful facility.  Much effort now is directed at giving animals the best environment possible, with enrichment opportunities, and social interaction when possible.  So often zoos are the only window that many people have to the animal world.  Increasingly, we humans are crowding out and over-populating the places where animals live.  They often lose the fight for space.  Only those who move to areas that are otherwise undesirable to us humans have much of a chance . . . or those which are adaptive enough to live along side us (starlings, sparrows, pigeons, crows, coyotes, raccoons, opossums).  It is probably only going to get worse as the human population continues to increase, and compete.  I realize many people would translate our keeping in captivity our raptors as pretty much the same thing as putting them into a zoo.  As much as I can, I provide a comfortable housing for my hawks, and get them out as much as I can during the winter to allow them to engage in the activities that nature evolved them for . . . flying and hunting.  For this reason I have decided to not keep a wild-trapped hawk for more than a couple years, thus that is why I will be releasing Hit Girl very soon.  Sassy is captive born, and will live out her life in captivity, but at least with opportunities to fly.  Being a social species, I want to get her a companion, even if it is only a hunting companion, and not a bird she will be able to be housed with permanently, although that would be ideal.  If I am successful in trapping a new Harris Hawk this next fall I will have to decide at a later date whether it will stay in captivity, in falconry, or eventually returned to the wild.  It will all depend on how the two birds get along, and if I sense they are comfortable in their captivity.

Currently, Hit Girl is restless, and has been for awhile.  As soon as it warms up, and appears that Spring is here to stay, I shall let her go.  It won't be long now.

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