Friday, January 4, 2013

Friday is Zoo Day!

The older of our two female otters
Our training doesn't officially resume until next Friday so I had another opportunity today to do a walkabout at the Zoo on my own. I decided to drop in on some animals I hadn't seen in quite a while; I had hoped to catch up with the jaguars at the Mayan Temple but the whole area is closed for the season. I don't know why this fact had eluded me until now, but it did. While I was contemplating this turn of events, I heard a rustling from the ground around the pool off to my left and below me. When I went over to the railing I saw one of the otters was very interested in me—possibly expecting some food—and had come bounding out of the light brush in the exhibit to perch on one of the logs and stare at me. Unfortunately, my camera was still in its case and the case was still inside my knapsack; by the time I got it ready to go, she (the otter, for I have yet to anthropomorphize my camera) had slipped into the water and was swimming around, still watching me closely. I was there for quite a while, but could not coax her back out of the pool and onto that log, so I had to settle for a series of swim-related pictures, of which I think this is the best. None of them were remarkable but who doesn't love looking at otters? Obviously I had to include one here.

Rodney, the ring-necked pheasant
In the cage between the beaver lodge and one of the entrances to the Americas Pavilion lives this beautiful ring-necked pheasant. It was quite sociable, coming right over to see me as I approached the cage. It was hard to get a clear shot through the meshing, but I love the colours in this one and thought it was as good as any to share. As I brought my camera up to shoot pictures and then lowered it again, the pheasant followed—and seemed to respond to—my every movement. I don't know who was more captivated, me or the pheasant! Every now and then it would go over to its food dish, tap it once or twice with its beak and then look back at me expectantly. Luckily, I could see that there was plenty of food on that plate because it would have broken my heart to leave without giving it something to eat. But I was starting to get cold, so I headed inside the pavilion and spent some time with a couple of the Friday Volunteers who were running a touch-table right in front of the inside viewing area for the otters. Once I warmed up I was off to see the penguins, as usual.

Love in a rookery
I was hoping to catch another glimpse of the "chick by the window"—and I wasn't disappointed—but these two "love birds" caught my attention first. I have no idea which two penguins are, apparently, holding flippers here but the shot was absolutely irresistible. There are five mating couples this winter and each of them produced two eggs; so far, five have hatched, two are still being incubated and the others were duds. But as far as I know, all of the hatched chicks are being looked after by their parents so I would imagine this pairing would have to be adult penguins who produced no viable eggs this time around (meaning, they laid two of the "duds"). They stood like this for quite a while, taking turns preening each other, looking like they were on a second honeymoon or something. Adorable. But eventually I remembered what my main focus was and began to watch the nest right below the window more closely. I was rewarded several times over.

Can you spot the chick in this picture?
This is the nest of Buddy and Farai. Buddy is a very important penguin to the Toronto Zoo because he is part of the Species Survival Plan, or SSP, program. He and Farai had two chicks last winter but were a bit "overenthusiastic" once the babies were hatched and accidentally smothered them. This time around the keepers will not be letting that happen and plan to "pull" the new baby very soon—sometime today, if all goes well. This little guy (or gal) is just thirteen days old (which means that when Sarah and I saw it last week it was just six days old!) but growing exceedingly fast, as penguins do. So I took a whole passel of pictures today, hoping against hope that one or two would yield something that looked like a penguin chick. From my point of view, three did; this is the "best" of them. If you want to try to see the chick in here you will need to blow this picture up quite a bit. If you get it to be just monitor size you will probably be able to see the downy chick in vague, shadowy form; depending on how this picture is saved on blogspot (I don't know how good the resolution is), if you zoom in two or three times you should be able to just barely make out the dark eye of the little guy. It's a tough thing to see, set as it is against a background of dark grey/brown feathery down, but if you are able to zoom in enough you might be rewarded. If you count the bars from the left side of the cage, the eye can be seen between the eleventh and twelfth bar (the first one being zero; in other words, count eleven bars from the first one and it should be in the next gap). Please do let me know if you are able to see it; I can see it plain as day and it thrills me to have this sort of record, especially because today was my last chance to get this photo if they are taking the chick tonight and putting it in the incubators in the back room (along with the other four chicks, in case you think Buddy and Farai are being unfairly singled out). Incidentally, the full-size penguin you can see in this picture is Buddy, who has been in perma-moult for over a year, according to Desiree, the keeper who came out to do a talk while I was there. She was an absolute font of information, especially for a keener like me, and I think I kept her there long after she expected to have returned to the other side of the window. I learned that, because the facilities for the African penguins at the Toronto Zoo are so massive and well-equipped, they might be able to bring females in for Eldon, Chupa and Matata (the yearlings) to mate with, rather than having to send them off to other zoos. Also, it means they can likely keep the chicks from this year's mating season in Toronto for the foreseeable future. You can never have too many penguins, I always say, so this is, of course, thrilling information for me. The babies, by the way, should be back on display in the same set-up as last year in front of the window by the first week of February, which will be a pretty fine graduation present for me.

From the penguins I went to the Canadian Domain, which I hadn't been to since about this time last year, I think. I said hi to the Canada lynx...

Om nom nom...

...chilled with the loungin' cougar...

Just hangin' around...

...and visited the bison and bald eagles. Then I made the long, long climb back up to the top of the hill (which made me realize I needed to buy new, lighter boots for this job) and headed back to see my new buddy, Ashakiran, in the Indian Rhino Pavilion. She was busy nibbling away at some tasty branches a loving keeper had brought her, but then she got thirsty and took a long drink...

Thirsty girl

...and then it was time for me to leave, so I called out to her, "Bye, Asha! See you next week!" And, at the sound of her name, she looked up at me and my heart melted:

Sarah says Asha is smiling at me in this picture

Just before I left that pavilion I took a few shots of the Mandarin ducks, male and female. These are, in my opinion, the best two:

Mandarin duck in all his splendor

Female Mandarin duck, almost a B&W shot

Bone-weary and a little chilled—though not too much—I headed for the car and made my way home to see my cat, my kids and my best gal.

But not, of course, before stopping for a new pair of boots.

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