Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Strutting Peacock, Purring Jaguar (Volume 1)

"How you doin'?"

Wherein the saga of "Sarah and Steve's Day of Fun!" is so long, dear reader, that your humble author saw fit to break it into two parts. Volume 2 will appear tomorrow.

Sarah and I had planned to go to the Zoo yesterday, but *gasp!* the weather people were wrong. It was cold and damp in the late morning when we decided to stay home; it stayed that way all day long, so that was a good call. Luckily, Sarah had had the forethought to book off a back-up day today and, even though it was overcast with a small threat of rain when we took off for the Rouge Valley, we decided to brave it. Thank goodness we did, because by the time we had been at the Zoo for about 20 minutes the sun came out and the skies were a warm, cloudless blue the rest of the day. The peacock pictured above we encountered on our way to see the penguins shortly after we arrived and he was strutting around like nobody's business, completely ignoring all the little people (by which I mean "kids") who were following him around on his walk. We had to go another 40 feet or so before we saw the intended recipient of his display, a peahen who was, unfortunately, ignoring him even more effectively than he was doing to the kids. I hope it made him feel a little better that we were darned impressed with his "rack".

"The name's Keeper. Zoo Keeper."
We hustled over to the penguin exhibit because the last time I went I arrived after they were done with the feeding (the Zoo's website has the time wrong). Today, though, Sarah and I arrived in plenty of time for the 12:30 "Meet the Penguin Keeper" show. The talk was as informative and entertaining as ever, but things really picked up when "D.J." decided to get in on the act. He tried repeatedly to eat the microphone cord of the keeper (whose name, I believe, was Lisa). When that proved unsuccessful he attempted to chew on one of her rubber boots. Every time he managed to get her attention he would stare up at her expectantly until she would resume her patter, at which point D.J. redoubled his efforts of distraction. It was pretty funny to watch. In the picture at left Lisa looks like she's posing for her own action figure; in reality she has just yanked the cord away from D.J.'s busy beak. This byplay continued through the entire "Keeper Talk" until Lisa went into the back to get the bucket of fish and her helper, Nick.

Soup's on! (Although "Gozi" preferred to just cuddle...)
The keepers brought the fish and a clipboard with all the penguins' names on it over to a clear area near the viewing stands, sat down on the concrete and proceeded to dish out the lunch. Not every penguin of the dozen adults at the Zoo came to partake of the fishy feast, though: a few are in the process of moulting and Lisa explained that the penguins in this state were fasting until they were done. In the wild moulting penguins are unable to swim and forage for food; consequently they bulk up before beginning this phase. Even though the food at the Zoo is plentiful and available on dry land, the instinct is too great to override and the Zoo staff play their part by feeding only those penguins who come to them for their meal. Today this left more fish for a couple of tag-alongs: a cormorant and a pelican who were brave enough to come over for some tasty treats. A few seagulls also tried to horn in on the act but they were shooed away by the keepers.

Pelicans amongst the African Penguns
Sarah and I are used to seeing the two cormorants who share the outdoor part of the penguin exhibit with the main attraction, but today we found other waterfowl occupying the space as well, including three shelducks, three pink-backed pelicans and one great white pelican. (One of the pink-backed pelicans and the sole great white are pictured at left.) We asked Lisa about these "new additions", having never seen them there before, and she told us that the pelicans had actually been living with the penguins almost since the exhibit opened last summer, but that they "do not winter well" so they had not been out on display since last fall. Since we only saw the penguins once last summer, a day or two after they first appeared, and attended the Zoo many times through the winter, the pelicans were quite a surprise to us. I'm not sure we uncovered how long the shelducks had been there; all we found out about them was that they are a bit "rambunctious" and the keepers were worried they might pose a danger to the penguin chicks if they joined the mature penguins too early.

I shot a couple of videos of the feeding procedure, one with medium-zoom and one with tight-zoom, and have posted them on YouTube (and here on this blog). They are not top quality as I used my pocket point-and-click Fuji camera (which is all I had with me); however, they contain many delightful moments, such as when Gozi hops up onto Nick's lap (in the first video) and when the curious pelican and cormorant are tossed some lunch of their own (in both videos). Lap-hopping occurs around 45 seconds into the first video; the pelican makes his first appearance at 1:45; catches (on a bounce) his first fish around 2:20; the cormorant places his order around the 3-minute mark; and the pelican makes the catch of the day at the 4-minute mark. The second video focuses considerably more on the pelican and cormorant. And if you're waiting for that idiot kid who keeps yelling, "Hey people! Can I have one?" at the keepers to "fall" into the water, well....sadly, you're out of luck. He was too quick for us.

Eldon, the eldest of the three chicks
Before we left the penguins we dropped in, as usual, on the three chicks who are still in semi-isolation. The eldest, Eldon, is around four months old and almost fully mature; however, he was hand-raised by humans from the very beginning and is consequently having a bit of a difficult time assimilating with the adult penguins. The keepers are taking his introduction to the elders slowly and in stages. This is the best picture I have ever taken of him; he's behind thick plastic and the last few times I visited I could get nowhere near him as there were barriers set up so that people didn't pound on the window, disturbing the much-younger chicks in the enclosure beside him. Not long after the penguins' feast the keepers took the three chicks outside into an area behind the exhibit where they let them stretch their flippers and socialize with each other in the warm sun for a while. We were just able to see them from the very edge of the walkway and watched in glee for several minutes before moving on.

That's it for today, folks. Please join me tomorrow for the conclusion of "Strutting Peacock, Purring Jaguar" on most of this same blog.


  1. Beautiful! One of our neighbours breeds peacocks and has them running around her farm. We really want to get a couple!

    1. The certainly are beautiful - moreso if you get one of each gender, at least, because then you get displays like the one above - but holy wow are they noisy. They might well be the loudest creatures in the entire Zoo! :)


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