Friday, May 22, 2009

No Crocodile Tears Here...

Let me introduce you to two new additions to the Park’s Education Program – American Alligators!

Okay, so they’re not waterfowl – nor even remotely avain in nature, but they are a great tool that our education staff can use to talk about the diversity of wetlands. Native to America, North Carolina is the northern most tip of their range. They are fantastic creatures who are located at the top of the food chain in wetland habitats.

Although they are not crocodiles, they are in the crocodilian family. Only two species of alligators exist in the world, the American alligator and the Chinese alligator, which is much smaller and very endangered. Other crocodilians include crocodiles, caimans, and gharials. However, they all share similar characteristics.

These predatory reptiles are cold-blooded, which means that they cannot control their body temperature the way mammals and birds do. Instead, they rely on their environment to warm or cool them. They are most active in the hot summer months, which isn’t saying a lot, because these cunning animals spend the majority of their time being very still. They use the ambush method to catch their prey, which requires very little movement and a good amount of patience on their part. Since they spend most of their time in the water hunting for food, their body is designed to help them camouflage in their environment. All of the senses that they need to catch a good meal, are located on top of their head – sight, hearing, and smell. This way they can submerge the rest of their body beneath the water keeping it hidden from their alert prey. When a bird or mammal gets close enough…SURPRISE! The alligator quickly snaps it up into its wide mouth and gobbles it down whole. If the prey happens to be too large to swallow, the alligator is equipped with about 80 teeth and incredible jaw strength to tear it into bite-sized pieces.

They also eat a lot of fish and turtles, so to aid them in their underwater dining, crocodilians have three eyelids – one on the bottom and one on top (like us,) but they also have a third one underneath these and it is clear. Called a nictitating membrane, this third eyelid is clear and allows the alligator to see underwater while protecting its eye from debris and such.

While a mother alligator is one of the fiercest animals on the planet, she is also one of the most gentle. Before laying her clutch of 30 to 50 eggs, the female carefully makes a nest of soil and rotting vegetation. Heat from the decomposing matter incubates the eggs for 60 to 70 days and the sex ratio depends on the temperature inside the nest. Eggs incubated at higher temperatures will turn into male alligators, while cooler temps produce females.
The mother will guard their nest until the babies begin to hatch. When she hears her babies making "chucking" sounds and digging their way to the surface, she will help dig up the eggs. If any are having trouble hatching, the female will carefully take the egg into her mouth and carefully break open the egg without harming the baby inside. Once the babies have hatched, she will take them into her mouth or onto her back and carry them down to the water. Many hatchlings will stay with their mother for up to a year for protection from larger predators.

To learn more about these fantastic creatures, call the Park and register for any of our summer camps, education or family programs to meet our scaly friends….

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Business After-Hours at Sylvan Heights

On Thursday, April 30th 2009, almost 200 people attended a Business After-Hours Event for local businesses, their employees and families. Hosted by Halifax Electric, guests visited the park between 5:30 and 7:00 pm, and enjoyed an evening of dining and giveaways, while exploring the Park. Guests also enjoyed a "sneak peek" of the progress being made in our Phase II expansion project area. For some, it was their first chance to enjoy all that the park has to offer. Dinner was provided by Mike Butts’ Famous Roast Beef, and it was excellent! Thank you, Mike!

Coming up on Saturday, May 30th, Sylvan Heights will be having its annual "Duckling Day" event from 10 am to 2pm. Members who have joined at the Aviculturist and higher levels are invited to our members-only brunch and behind-the-scenes tour. Start the day off with a delicious meal in our Golden Leaf room and then enjoy a special tour of the Park’s Breeding Center that is not open to the public. You’ll get an up-close look at some adorable ducklings, goslings, cygnets and more in our very busy nursery area. Learn about the endangered species being worked with at the Park and see how the breeding areas are set up. This special treat is our way of saying "thank you" for all of your support. We hope to see you all there!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Education Program

Please help a child enjoy nature and learn about conservation at Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park.

Sylvan Heights educators are passionate about giving children hands-on, outdoor experiences that will open their eyes to the beauty and wonder of nature. But in these tough economic times our public schools and youth organizations need a hand to make educational outings and adventure-learning possible for more children.

We offer two ways for you to make a real difference in a child’s life and in the future of conservation:

1. Sponsor the group of your choice. Your $500 sponsorship will provide program and materials, Park admission and transportation for up to 35 kids and their teachers or chaperones. When you sponsor a group, we’ll send them a letter informing them of the opportunity you provided. We’ll also send you an update describing the group’s visit and the difference your generosity made for the children.

2. Make a donation of any amount for supplies and materials. We need everything from arts and crafts supplies to wheelchairs for special needs students.

Your donation, along with donations from others, will help fill these needs.To help with a tax deductible donation in support of Sylvan Heights education programs, please call us at 252-826-3186.