Saturday, July 30, 2011

Joy and Sadness at the Point Defiance Zoo

There has been a lot of joy and a lot of sadness this past year at the Point Defiance Zoo and Acquarium in Tacoma, WA.  My children and I first saw the red wolf pair Ocean Blue and Graham at the opening of the Red Wolf Woods exhibit last September, and there was joy that day to see them in their beautiful new home, and there was joy the day in April that we heard Ocean Blue might be pregnant.  There was huge relief and joy when the Sumatran Tiger Cub Mali recovered from her near escape with death last November and when she and her brother Bima went on to celebrate together their first birthday in May.  There was great joy when it was discovered the clouded leopard Chai Li was pregnant and then when the cubs were born in June. And there was deep sadness when the Sumatran Tiger Cub Mali died suddenly earlier this month.  The fact that each of these species of animals are endangered makes their births and deaths even more full of meaning.

Sumatran Tiger Cub Mali 

Precious Sumatran tiger cub Mali got sick and died suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday, July 22nd. This past November she almost died, and we were so very, very happy when she lived. She and her brother Bima celebrated their 1st birthday on May 25th. We feel heartbroken that she has died.

Mama Jaya and her cubs Mali and Bima
(picture taken on July 30, 2010, by my then 11-year-old son)

The cubs' father, Bali, on 7/28/11.
He has a form of lymphoma, but the disease is in remission.

taken by my 10-year-old daughter on 6/26/11 -- I think this is both of the cubs.

I took this picture on September 1, 2010.
I feel bad that it's so hard for me to tell them apart,
but we think this is a picture of Mali.

Sweet Mali, little flower, we will miss you.

Red Wolf Ocean Blue

Another precious animal died earlier this year at the zoo.  Back on May 9th, the red wolf Ocean Blue died suddenly of a uterine infection.  We had visited the zoo on April 22nd and listened to a keeper talk about Ocean Blue and her mate Graham, and the keeper excitedly shared that they were hopeful that Ocean Blue might be pregnant.  Then to hear that she died. . . .  oh, goodness, we felt so sad.

Ocean Blue and Graham (I took this on 4/22/11.)
Ocean Blue is on the left and Graham is on the right.

My 12-year-old son took this on April 22, 2011 -- I think this is Ocean Blue.

 Rest in Peace, Ocean Blue.

Clouded Leopard Cubs

The zoo has sweet, little 6 week old clouded leopard cubs.  The zoo had thought that at 20 months old their parents, Chai Li and Nah Fun, were too young to breed, and it was a happy and exciting surprise when they discovered Chai Li was pregnant.   She gave birth to a boy and a girl on June 14, 2011.  Their their names were announced on the 28th, and the boy's name is "Taji" (TA-jee), meaning “little brother” in Burmese, and the girl's name is "Sumalee" (su-ma-LEE), meaning “flower” in Thai (I thought it was neat to hear that her name means flower because Mali's name also meant "flower").

My children and I got to see them when we visited the zoo on Thursday, but they were asleep in their carrier.  It was still fun to see them, though!  I'm hoping that we can go sometime soon during one of their public feeding times, which are at 9:30pm and 2:30pm. Be sure to check out this page on the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's website for more information (and videos!) about the clouded leopard cubs.

(above picture taken by my younger daughter)

Taji and Sumalee
(above picture taken by my younger daughter)

Welcome to the world, Taji and Sumalee! 
May you have a long, peaceful, and joyful life!

Camera Critters 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Squirrel

Even though we have a quite a few beaked hazelnut trees on our property, we don't get very many hazelnuts to eat because the squirrels get first dibs on them, and they eat them with gusto! The consolation, though, is (besides happy squirrels with full tummies) is that they are fun to watch!

Yesterday my younger two children came into the kitchen and excitedly told me of a squirrel eating nuts in one of our trees. My six-year-old son took this picture of him in the tree.

After the squirrel had his fill and left the tree to go do other things, my children excitedly showed me the remains of the squirrel's feast that had fallen beneath the tree onto our driveway, and I took some pictures. . .

He must have been quite a happy, full squirrel after that feast! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heart on an Alder Leaf

Last week while we were at Woodard Bay in Olympia, WA, my older daughter, Windchime, noticed this pretty heart on an alder leaf, so I snapped a shot to share with all of you!     

Then I wondered what type of tree it was, and I took a few more pictures of the tree so I could try and identify it later.  The leaves reminded me of the leaves on some of the trees in our yard.  We have sitka alders in our yard, but sitka alders are more the size of a shrub or small tree, and the tree this leaf was on was much larger and most definitely a tree.

After searching, I found out there are both red alder trees and white alder trees in the Pacific Northwest.  It seems that the easiest way to tell the difference between the two types of trees are to look at the bottom of the leaves.  The leaf margins on red alders trees are tightly rolled under, and the leaf margins on white alder trees aren't rolled under.  I think what we saw was a red alder tree because when taking a close look at the back side of the leaf, it appears to me that the leaf margins are rolled under.

The day we went to Woodard Bay was hot, and the shade the red alder trees provided felt refreshing!

♥ To see more hearts from around the world, visit Guest Heart Thursday. ♥

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Birds and Barns

Mud nests built by cliff swallows
(picture taken by my 12-year-old son)
Late last month while taking a beautiful evening walk at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, WA, we felt excited when we heard the cries of a particular bird we thought we recognized.  When we saw a bunch of birds flying around, and they had the distinctive silhouette of that type of bird, and when we saw the mud nests under the eaves of the nearby barn, we were certain of what they were! . . . at least, well, we recognized them, and we knew they were a type of swallow after my son corrected my confusion (oops!) as to whether they were swallows or sparrows (they both start with an "s"... surely you can see why I was confused ;)).

We couldn't remember which type of swallow they were, though!  What confused us was the thinking that surely if they live under the eaves of a barn they would be called "barn swallows" (right?).  No, actually they are called "cliff swallows"!   According to Wikipedia,

Cliff Swallows breed in large colonies. They build conical mud nests and lay 3-6 eggs. The natural nest sites are on cliffs, preferably beneath overhangs, but as with the Eurasian House Martin, man-made structures are now the principal locations for breeding.

The cliff swallows at Fort Steilacoom Park have their nests under the eaves of the large double barns, mostly under the eaves of the double silos.  Last year we saw cliff swallows for the first time when we discovered them flying between the twin barns at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and saw the neat mud nests they had built under the eaves of the barns there.  We had never before seen them at Fort Steilacoom Park, though, and we felt so exited to see the birds flying around the double barns and seeing the mud nests they had built!  I sure hope they will return each year.

neat view of the side of the barn
(above picture taken by my 10-year-old daughter)

the double barns

the double barn silos with the birds flying around them

My two boys in the courtyard between the double barns
(above picture taken by my 10-year-old daughter)

~* Barn Charm *~ 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Huckleberry Muffins

red huckleberries (vaccinium parvifolium)

The other day after my friend posted on her Facebook status that she had made some huckleberry muffins, that sounded so good to me that I decided I would like to make some, too, if possible!  Last year while walking around our property we were excited to find a red huckleberry bush, and I hoped that ours had enough berries on it.

My imaginative kiddos like to call red huckleberries by the name of "poison apple berries" because they look like shiny bright red pretty little apples (you know, like in Snow White).  Actually, though, they are edible and good for you with their high vitamin C content, and they taste pretty good but are a little tart. So if you like a little tartness, you'll probably really like them. 

In the early afternoon I and my younger daughter went to look and see how our bush looked and to see if their were ripe berries on it. It looked great, so later all of my children and I walked over and picked just about as many berries as we could, hoping it would be enough for the muffins. I didn't measure how many we got, but we found it to be enough for our muffins!

Red huckleberries are so pretty and translucent!
This is how many we picked.

(picture taken by my 6-year-old son)
I found a Huckleberry Muffins recipe on allrecipes.come that I tweaked. I usually have to tweak recipes because we don't eat diary or eggs, but I didn't mean to change it as much as I did! While mixing the ingredients together on the dining room table, I kept running into the other room to read the recipe on the computer, and I got things mixed up in my head and put 1 3/4 cups of rice milk when I was supposed to put 1 3/4 cups of flour! Oops!!  I caught my mistake and added extra flour, and thank goodness they still turned out fine.

I'm going to post my "recipe" (notice the word "recipe" is in quotes) below, but I would strongly recommend that you visit and check out the Huckleberry Muffins recipe there for a more exact version. 

Dairy-free and Egg-free Huckleberry Muffins

  • 3/4 cup Earth Balance buttery spread
  • 3/4 cup Raw Turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup raw agave nectar
  • to replace one egg: 3 tablespoons of water mixed with 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal
  • 1 3/4 cup rice milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 or so cups whole wheat white flour (Warning, please note: It might be less--I can't remember exactly how much I put in, but I added enough so that it looked like cake batter)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda (I think I'll try adding a 1/4 teaspoon less next time because a few of my muffins may have slightly over-risen, but they still tasted yummy)
  • 1 capfull of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • However many huckleberries we had picked -- I think it was less than a cup, but the amount we had worked out fine
  • a little flour to sprinkle on the berries

the batter
(picture taken by my 6-year-old son)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Then cream the sugar and Earth Balance together and add the wet ingredients (except for the vinegar -- that I like to add at the end to activate the baking soda which helps the muffins rise) and stir it all together.  Sprinkle a little flour on the berries and stir to coat them, and then stir in the berries.  Add and stir in the apple cider vinegar.  When you do that you'll see the batter get a little more puffy.  It's good to try to get the muffins in the oven quickly after adding the vinegar because that puffiness helps the muffins rise in the oven.

putting the batter into the muffin tin using an ice cream scoop
(picture taken by my 6-year-old son)
After it's mixed together, use an ice cream scoop to put the batter into a greased muffin tin (you can just spoon in the batter in you don't have a nice ice cream scoop handy).  This recipe makes 18 muffins.

Cook for about 15 minutes in the preheated oven. I cooked mine just a little bit longer. When done they should be golden, and the tops should spring back when lightly pressed.  I often test my muffins to see if they are done by putting a knife in one of them and seeing if any batter is on the knife when I pull it out.  If it doesn't have any on it, then that seems to mean they are done.

We all really enjoyed the muffins! They tasted a bit tart, but not too much, and to me the taste of the berries in the muffins was reminiscent of rhubarb, but not that strong. I read that some people like to mix other berries like blueberries in with the red huckleberries, so if you find them too tart on their own for your tastes, you could consider doing that. I was also interested to read on Edible Wild Plants in B.C.--the Red Huckleberry that "A good rule of thumb for preparing dishes using huckleberries is to treat them like you would rhubarb, using the same amount of sugar and so forth." She has a recipe there, too, that you might like to check out, for Upside-Down Red Huckleberry Crumble that you can make while camping!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Megaloceroea Recticornis (?)

Yesterday on a nature walk my older son picked a piece of grass on which walked a thin green bug with long antennae.  The shape and color of the bug resembled the grass so much that it provided wonderful camouflage.  I think it's a type of plant bug, a megaloceroea recticornis.  Can you find him in the pictures?

Below are the two above pictures cropped nearer to the bug so you can see it a little closer. . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Birds in Our Yard: Steller's Jay and Western Tanager

steller's jay in our driveway
We have so many birds in our yard.  I love to hear them and see them.  I don't always notice them as much as I wish I would, and I'm hoping to take the time to observe them more often. The ripe cherries from the cherry tree (I think it's a bitter cherry tree) in front of our house seem to be attracting a lot of birds, and near the tree is an especially good place to see them.

One type of bird we can hardly help but notice is the steller's jay. We've seen a lot of them flitting around the yard, amongst tree branches and on the ground.  They are such a pretty blue color, and they look so distinguished with their crest.   They have a loud, distinctive, rather harsh cry, but they don't always sound the same.  Wikipedia's page on the Steller's Jay says,

One common call is a harsh "SHACK-Sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck-sheck" series; another "skreeka! skreeka!" call sounds almost exactly like an old-fashioned pump handle; yet another is a soft, breathy "hoodle hoodle" whistle. Its alarm call is a harsh, nasal "wah." The Steller's Jay also imitates the cry of the Red-tailed Hawk and Red-shouldered Hawk, causing other birds to vacate feeding areas. Some calls are sex-specific: females produce a rattling sound, while males make a high-pitched "gleep gleep."
I had forgotten that they can imitate the cry of a hawk.  We had been excited thinking perhaps we'd been hearing a hawk lately, and I wonder if it's only been a steller's jay!
This afternoon my younger daughter and I decided to sit on a bench on our porch to watch for birds in the cherry tree. We didn't have much time to spend, but we were rewarded quickly by seeing a beautiful yellow bird with a red head and black wings.

(above picture taken by my 10-year-old daughter)

I looked it up on Google and found out that the colorful bird is a male western tanager in breeding plumage. Here is some information about the western tanager from Wikipedia:
The Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). The species's plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.

Adults have pale stout pointed bills, yellow underparts and light wing bars. Adult males have a bright red face and a yellow nape, shoulder, and rump, with black upper back, wings, and tail; in non-breeding plumage the head has no more than a reddish cast and the body has an olive tinge. Females have a yellow head and are olive on the back, with dark wings and tail.

The song of disconnected short phrases suggests an American Robin's but is hoarser and rather monotonous. The call is described as "pit-er-ick".

Their breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed woods across western North America from the Mexico-U.S. border as far north as southern Alaska; thus they are the northernmost-breeding tanager. They build a flimsy cup nest on a horizontal tree branch, usually in a conifer. They lay four bluish-green eggs with brown spots.

These birds migrate, wintering from central Mexico to Costa Rica. Some also winter in southern California.

We will be keeping our eye out for birds, and hopefully I'll be able to post about more birds soon!

(Correction:  I'm sorry I misspelled "steller's jay" as "stellar's jay" at first!  The German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller was the first to record them in 1741, and it's named after him.)