Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Native Wildlife at Sylvan Heights

You all know about our wonderful animal collection that continues to grow each year. But did you know that many native species also "call the park home?" On your next visit to Sylvan Heights, take a look around and see how many "wild" animals you see in the park. Here are some that we happen to have caught on camera...

photo by K. Gipple

Red-Shouldered Hawk

While these birds often wreak havoc on the minds of our captive species, there is no denying their beauty. Red-shoulders are common in this area, and they actually are the diurnal counterpart to the Barred Owl. Both occupy the same niche, but the hawk hunts during the day and the owl hunts during the night.

photo by K. Gipple

White-tailed Deer

These quiet and graceful animals are frequently seen from our Bird's Nest Treehouse and Beaver Pond Blind. Early morning and evening are the best time to see them.

photo by K. Gipple

Blue Jay

These bold and noisey birds are known for their intelligence, which they use to find and consume their favorite food: acorns! They do not frequent our feeders at the park, but they can be seen flitting among the trees and vegetation.

photo by K. Gipple

Ornate Box Turtle

The staff here at the park has been keeping track of these fabulous reptiles. So many have been found in the park, that a marking system was created to monitor the population. They are often found in the swap area, down by our bridge.

photo by K. Gipple

Northern Cardinal

This little bird has probably recruited more bird watchers in this country than any other. They are not a migratory species, so their scarlet plumage is a welcome splash of color against winter's drab landscape. In the spring, they are busy, busy making little stick nests in the bushes. Keep an eye out for one in your yard and maybe they will allow you to observe one of nature's precious secrets: the hatching and raising of baby birds.

photo by K. Gipple

Northern Flying Squirrel

What a surprise it was for us to find this little guy occupying one of the songbird nest boxes that we have set up around the park! And even more interesting is that since this time, we have found two other boxes with flying squirrels inside as well. Two of the boxes are found in the Memorial Garden, each with a messy little nest inside. Be sure to keep an eye on them next time you visit, and you just might see this:

photo by M. Hazelton

photo by K. Gipple

Great Blue Heron

Down in the swamp by the Bird's Nest Treehouse, a great blue heron has taken up residence. Visitors can watch him fishing in the shallow waters. The largest heron in North America, this species can be found as far south as the Galapagos Islands.

photo by K. Gipple

Five-lined Skink

These quick little lizards can be found all over the park. Though they can deliver a strong bite, they are not dangerous. And they sometimes become a tasty treat for larger birds like herons, egrets, and others.

photo by K. Gipple

White-throated Sparrow

Often overlooked, these dashing little birds are regulars at backyard bird feeders. Many people dismiss them as just another little brown bird, but if you take a moment to really look at this sparrow you will be amazed by its beautiful coloration.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sylvan Heights Celebrates International Migratory Bird Day

This Saturday, May 14th, Sylvan Heights will be celebrating International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). Developed by the non-profit, Environment for the Americas, this program is the only international education program that highlights and celebrates the migration of nearly 350 species of migratory birds between nesting habitats in North America and non-breeding grounds in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Migration is simply defined as the seasonal movement from one place to another. The main reason that birds (or most animals, for that matter) migrate is to find food. You might be surprised to learn that many species, like songbirds, shorebirds, and some waterfowl, migrate (fly) at night when the air temperature is cooler and predators like hawks are less active.

And since most waterfowl are migratory species, this makes Sylvan Heights the perfect location for learning about the migration process. In addition, before coming out to the park on Saturday, you might enjoy visiting the official IMBD website and downloading some of their free education materials. The website is a WEALTH of information for both adults and children. There you will find fact sheets, coloring pages, as well as games & activities on a variety of topics including bird basics, migration, and habitats, to name a few.  Be sure to investigate the themes of previous years, as you will find additional educational resources on those webpages, too.

Here are some additional lesson plans on the topic of bird migration:

Hopscotch Migration (Grades K-6)

Bird Migration (Grades 5-8)

Songbirds at the Crossroads of Migration (High School)

You can also learn a lot at the online Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center. (I love their Migration Game!)

And finally, here are some great books on this topic:

For Children-

by Laura Goering

by Mary Cuffe-Perez

by Jane Duden

 For Adults-

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Mother's Day Gift From Us..

Black swan with cygnets

Mother's Day is just two days away, and if you haven't thought of a special gift to give yours, then we're here to help! This Sunday, May 8th, if you bring your mother to Sylvan Heights, we'll let her in free (with the purchase of at least one regular admission)! This is a unique gift that allows your mother to spend some fun quality time with her family in beautiful surroundings.

So pack a picnic lunch, grab a blindfold, and surprise your mother with a joyous outing she won't soon forget!