Water, glass & goofballs

Yesterday was Day 1 of the Minnesota educators’ annual four-day weekend, a Day 1 that always feels like a holiday at the zoo. Combine that with our baby dolphin’s third day of access to the show pool, and you’ve got a holiday on steroids. Off-duty teachers and their inquisitive kids filled the stadium and swarmed in Discovery Bay, and I spouted baby-dolphin facts until my voice started to fail: She’s three months old and four feet long; her grandma is the one with the tiny eyes and the notched dorsal fin; daddy Semo is gated alone in a smaller pool because he might be aggressive toward the baby; the contest to name her is under way on the zoo’s website and Facebook page. I glimpsed her twice as she swam briefly from the holding pool to the big, scary show pool, but there was no time to photograph her or anything else yesterday. Fortunately, she’s not the zoo’s only frolicking aquatic mammal, and I’ve been holding onto these goofier, furrier images until the time is right. I think it’s right now.

Whenever I stroll through Russia’s Grizzly Coast, this is what I hope to see: Kenai all wet and slightly awkward, fur billowing, in pursuit of trout and a good time. What I never expect to see on the Minnesota Trail (or anywhere else), and did see just once in late August, is this:

It’s a special treat to behold our beavers in the water (or out of it), and I’ll never know what got into this one, but he scrabbled at the glass while delighted boys pressed up close and laughed. Just that one time.

Walking the Northern Trail two weeks ago, I kept reminding myself that THIS surely must be my last gorgeous day of Autumn 2010 at the zoo, and I did my best to immortalize the color with my camera. (Little did I know that last Thursday and even yesterday, despite the increasing chill, would be beautiful too.)

Here’s a lone stallion grazing peacefully in the Asian wild horse exhibit, plus a view of rosy foliage (baby maple? overgrown sumac?) on the Lakeside Terrace. I have to skip the zoo next week, and by November the last trace of color will surely be gone. But it’s been the longest, most lovely October in recent Minnesota memory, and I shouldn’t mourn its passing too much.

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Here, kitty, kitty

Big zoo news last week: The five-month-old lynx kittens are now out on exhibit! An e-mail from the zoo warned that these two sisters were very shy and hanging toward the back of the exhibit, but apparently the situation is evolving rapidly. My first stop at lynx-land revealed no cats at all (their exhibit is roomy and leafy and ideal for hiding in), but 45 minutes later I came back, just in case, and saw this:

The group of us oohing and aahing at the window included a hard-core cat lover who was pretty much beside herself with joy. One kitten must have heard her, or at least liked the warmth of her facial expression, leading to this little tableau:

Even as adults, lynx have oversized paw pads (though not as disproportionate as this youngster’s) to help them track their chief prey, snowshoe hares, across snowdrifts. They’re known for their ambush tactics, rather than chasing prowess, in catching their prey, and where no snowshoe hares live, you’re unlikely to see lynx, either. Some who think they see lynx, which max out around 30 pounds, are really seeing bobcats, which are only half as big and have smaller ear tufts, too. These kittens, while no longer tiny, are not quite bobcat-sized — perhaps only 10 pounds. For comparison purposes, here’s the adult male lynx seen pacing last summer:

The difference of shape strikes me more than the difference in size: He just LOOKS OLDER, somehow. At least for now, this fellow is out on view in the afternoon and the kittens and their mom are out in the morning. Come see them soon, Twin Citians: They grow up too fast.

Autumn awareness

Going back to school part-time cut deeply into my blogging hours last month, and at this very moment I should really be doing homework. But first, I have to comment on the beauty of this past week, which also happened to be Sea Otter Awareness Week: The sky overflowed with azure light. Fiery hints of sumac and maple glowed against a backdrop of still-verdant oak leaves. Whenever the sun started feeling a little too hot, a not-quite-chilly breeze came along.

Most camels and children agreed Thursday that “upper 60s and sunny” was no longer swimming weather, but as this photo indicates, the opinion wasn’t unanimous.  At the entrance to Russia’s Grizzly Coast, the “splash pad” fountains were still sprinkling, and while one young passerby insisted, “I don’t want to go in,” as if a parent would really shove him under the water, a group of siblings flirted with the spray a few hours later.

Beyond the splash pad with its skillfully carved bear statues, Sea Otter Awareness Week was in full swing at the otter exhibit. In a 15-minute morning session, trainers put Rocky, Jasper and Capers through their paces and shared otter facts with an appreciative crowd: They have up to a million hairs on every square inch of their bodies! They eat up a third of their body weight each day! Our three furry four-year-olds have reached the usual maximum weight for a male of their species, about 70 pounds. After the presentation, one of them swam back and forth across the exhibit for several minutes as a couple of boys, also about four years old, raced alongside the otter, giggling wildly. We adult onlookers couldn’t help giggling, too. For a mammal of any species, it was a glorious day to be outdoors and alive.