An Easter of Eggs and Eagles

This coming week our seven year old will turn eight.  As such he was allowed to pick the day trip destination yesterday, Easter Sunday, and he chose to go to Elmwood Park Zoo, an animal park not far from home for which we have an annual pass.

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It was a bright, sunny and warm day so most of the animals were out in their enclosures and most of those were active.  The boys enjoyed seeing the eagles.  It is always a surprise when close up to see how bulky these birds are, majestic and powerful.  We also saw the bighorn sheep and elk wandering around, saw the wolves lazing in the sun just like regular dogs and saw the massive bison clustered together in the same area of their enclosure that they always seem to hang out in.  We also went to the barn where the boys saw and heard a barred owl hooting and fed the sheep and goats, something they always enjoy.  We also finally saw the cougar sitting up.  It was still scooched up in a corner of its enclosure as per always but for once we could see more than just its butt.

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The kids always like the room that contains snakes, turtles and frogs and partly that is because it contains a darkened enclosure containing bats.  They are fascinated by the bats and love seeing them swoop around and clamber hand over hand along ropes.  There were also monkeys, including two who were holding hands, iguanas and sweet-faced little golden lion tamarins.  My personal favourite creature in that area of the zoo park, however, was the South America tree porcupine.  I love its peculiar face and its prehensile tail.  Later on in our visit we also saw some North American porcupines.  If anything, they were even more adorable.  I asked my 9 year old if he thought we could pinch one and sneak it home in his hoodie.  Just when I thought they could not get any more cute, the two porcupine nuzzled together as if kissing.  Too sweet.

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The boys were sad to discover that Princess the black jaguar was no longer in her enclosure.  We knew she had cancer so I can only assume that Princess had finally succumbed to her illness.  In her place, there were two jaguars of the patterned variety.  One was sleeping but another was padding around as if looking for something.  I guess perhaps dinner time was soon.  Near them, there were two capybara who apparently wanted to cool off.  I had never seen capybara swimming before so that was very cool to see.  They were quite entertaining to watch as one clearly wanted a bit of peace and quiet but the other kept swimming after it, butting against it, splashing and thrashing in the water right next to it.  Eventually they hauled themselves out of the pool and sat with their backs to each other as if in a huff.

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There was also time for playing in various play areas and an ice cream break and also a turn on a little caterpillar train.  We assumed that the latter would be considered far too lame for kids who had so recently been to the Florida theme parks but they wanted to have a go so they merrily did a few circuits.

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After dinner at Chilli’s – a treat for the soon-t0-be birthday boy – we went home to roll the eggs the boys had decorated earlier in the week.  The kids decided just to use the slope in our back garden but apparently it was not steep enough so they had to throw, chuck and lob their eggs more than roll them.  They even made them tumble down the concrete steps in order to pulverise their eggs.  Something about smashing things to smithereens really appeals to little boys so they had an utter blast.

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Elmwood Park Zoo

We have a season ticket for Elmwood Park Zoo so we decided to take a trip there today with the grandparents in tow.  Temperatures got up to 90 degrees today so a lot of the animals were just flaked out: all we saw of the cougar and wolves were their rumps as they lay prone in the shade.  There were also masses of day camp kids for us to wade through but thankfully the park seemed to absorb all the hordes of people not too badly.

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Since they have all been to that animal park before, the kids enjoyed revisiting favourite animals.  They were pleased to see that Penny the alligator was outside for a change, sunbathing, as were the porcupines.  There were also some new features to the zoo for this trip, I presume because it is now peak season.  The boys liked the fact that there were misters switched on throughout the park.  They loved standing in the water droplets for eons and getting utterly drenched while the droplets created ankle-height rainbows.  They had also introduced a bat cave.  Back in Britain, the boys had loved – at both Chester Zoo and Fife Animal Park – walking among a room full of bats.  Here, however, the bats were segregated from the human visitors by a large glass window.  It was still cool to watch them dangling upside down and crawling hand over hand along branches.

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A less welcome new feature was the fact that to even access the giraffe viewing platform we were required to be feeding the giraffes and the feed came with a per person cost.   I appreciate that animals are expensive to care for and overheads are high but it seemed a bit cheeky to be charging to even view the giraffes.  I was, for instance, charged the fee to ascend to the viewing platform even though I was simply accompanying my children rather than feeding the giraffe.  The boys really wanted to feed the giraffes so, just this once, I sucked up the extra cost and they were handed a bunch of lettuce.  The kids absolutely loved the experience of feeding the giraffe and feeling his blue tongue lapping against their hands.

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The boys had never been in the aviary before as the timings had never worked out but this time we managed to enter and three of them decided to feed them.  This time I did not mind paying the extra fee since it was per stick of feed rather than per person entering the aviary.  The boys who did the feeding absolutely loved having the birds fly onto their hands and being able to see, close up, their beaks nibbling away at the fruit.  They all loved their sweet little faces and brightly coloured plumage.

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After an ice cream break and a run around the large playground, it was time to head home – and pack for our vacation.

A Memorial Day Weekend Birthday

Memorial Day was one of those American holidays I had heard of but really knew nothing about.  I knew it vaguely marked the beginning of Summer and that was it, the sum total of my knowledge.  It turns out that it echos Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day in Britain, a time for the nation to pause and remember the dead of their wars.  I guess I did not twig that because it is marked in May rather than in November.  I am culturally hard-wired to associate such commemorations with slate grey skies, sombre colours and drizzling rain.  Originally called Decoration Day, the traditions of the holiday apparently emerged during the Civil War with family visiting war graves and memorials to remember their lost loved ones and gradually evolved into a three day weekend that has been co-opted to somehow celebrate the beginning of summer at the same time as being a solemn reflection.  That is quite an odd combination.

Memorial Day happened to fall this year on the youngest Pict’s fifth birthday so we were obviously celebrating and being festive.  We, therefore, did not attend any parades or commemoration services as the juxtaposition would have been confusing and possibly a bit distasteful.

Our celebration of the mini-Pict turning five began on Sunday with a trip to Elmwood Park Zoo, an animal park not too far from home base.  Our first stop was to see the eagles.  The boys have seen eagles in flight but it was good for them to see the scale, the bulk and power, of these birds close up.  They were also amused to see one eagle walking in a way I can only describe as a gawky sashay – definitely much less graceful than when in flight.  Then we went to see some “snowbird” giraffes who live in Florida but some to Pennsylvania in the summer.  Does Florida really get too uncomfortably hot for African mammals in the summer?  A viewing platform allowed us to get pretty close to the giraffes.  The kids enjoyed seeing one perform the splits in order to drink and to get close enough to its head to see it’s long purple-blue tongue.

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We saw a snoozing fox, lazing bighorn sheep, dozing wolves and – right at the very back of its enclosure – a slumbering cougar that rolled over from its back to its belly just like a moggy cat.  Clearly it was a tad hot for the animals as many more – such as the bobcats – were completely idle.  I guess I too would probably be prone to laziness if I was cooped up on a baking hot day.

The indoor animals were, therefore, much more active.  The boys loved seeing the alligator roaming around in its tank.  She had her snout pressed against the glass for a while and when she clambered out of the water they were able to see her impressive claws and powerful legs.  There were also lots of writhing snakes and swimming turtles.  One enclosure housed some iguanas, a funky South American porcupine and a pair of Golden Lion Tamarins.  My oldest son found the latter to be captivating and swiftly became engrossed in watching them groom each other.  I have to agree that they do have such gorgeous little faces.

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The boys fed sheep and goats in the petting barn, watched bison urinate in impressive quantities, stared burrowing owls in the eye, watched some capybara faeces give new meaning to the game of “Pooh sticks”, witnessed a jaguar being spoon fed, watched one turtle hustle another off a rock and felt the pelt of a coyote.  They also had a blast playing in the playgrounds around the park.  All in all it was a fun day out, relaxing and laid back.

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Memorial Day itself was the birthday – his fifth birthday but his first ever birthday in America.  This was the first year when the littlest one has had mounting excitement and anticipation building to a head of steam in advance of his birthday.  In a victory for his numeracy skills, he had been counting down the sleeps until his birthday.  He was almost combusting, therefore, when I woke up and saw all of his presents and cards on the coffee table.  He was over the moon with each card he opened and with each gift he unwrapped.

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We then went for a play in the school playground.

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Then, because it was a glorious scorcher of a day, we had a barbecue for dinner – or “barbecube” as the now five year old calls it.

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And, of course, special cake for dessert.

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And so a great long weekend of family fun was enjoyed by one and all. 

And now only one Pict has yet to experience a birthday in America.