Archive for January, 2006

Red-Tailed Hawks, Manhattan
Pale Male gets all the press, but there are now red-tailed hawks all over New York (and other cities) eating rats, pigeons and assorted small birds. According to the Parks Deptartment falconer, Pale Male, like all residents of Central Park West, is high achieving. It’s a prime spot over a big park. Other hawks around the city, he says, are not as competent. They have lousy territories and a tough time building a nest.
There have been two hawks who show up every winter Tompkins Square Park. This year I haven’t seen them in the park, but I have seen one on the top fire escape of a building on the NE corner of 6th Street and 2nd Avenue. I’ve seen him at sunset and in the morning, but not everyday, so it’s probably a semi-regular roost.

Where to See Neat Animals in the Northeast

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Elk Herd of Benezette, PA

The largest elk herd in the east, about 552 as of the last count in 2003, roams wild in western Pennsylvania. There are elk viewing areas around Moore Hill in Cameron County and Benezette in Elk County. The NE PA Great Outdoors provides a driving map and a brochure they’ll mail you.

For travellers, the great thing is the easy access. Western Pennsylvania is where you’d want to stop overnight on the way to the midwest–it’s roughly halfway and it’s easily the most gorgeous area you’ll see on the way. The place to see elk are less than an hour off Route 80. Probably the easiest thing is to head to Benezette. When we visited in Jan., 2006, we toured the local official viewing areas. Some you just pull off the road and watch from your car, others have elaborate blinds or seated viewing areas. We got the consolation prize of tracks, but saw no elk. The woman at the Elk View Diner told us to check out the churchyard in town. Didn’t see any, but when we stopped at the Benezette Store and Restaurant, the man casually told us there were two bulls across the street. (He also said they can usually be found in town.) Sure enough two massive elk were chewing on a lawn. The owner came out and shooed them away.

That’s somewhat unusual. Most are very into the elk. There are elk decorations everywhere and endless elk-themed businesses. (Wapati is the native name for elk that you’ll see everywhere, too.) The man at the store said that he, and most around here, don’t ever get tired of seeing the elk. There’s also an Elk Farm, to visit, buy elk jerky, or stay overnight.

Many signs warn you against just stopping on the roads. The animals are gentle but do weigh up to 1,000 pounds, you’re ill-advised to get out, much less approach. They’ll put down their antlers towards you to tell you to buzz off. We circled around to keep seeing them and we weren’t alone. They wandered across a few yards, then plopped down on an empty lot to nap.

The big tourist season for the elk is the fall rut because they’re most active. The locals like the winter because you can see the elk through the trees better. As always, dusk and dawn serve as the animal rush hour and you’re best bet is to try then.

The native Eastern Elk was hunted to extinction in the are area in 1867. Starting in 1913, Rocky Mountain Elk were initially wiped out, but were reintroduced from Yellowstone in 1918. Hunting nearly wiped them out again so was stopped from 1931 to 2001. A local elk authority, retired biology professors Gary Ferrence worries because the hunt, pushed by hunters as a way to cut the growth of the herd, which increasingly was butting up against human development, has already reduced the herd by 10 percent.

Where to See Neat Animals in the Northeast

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Big Run Wolf Ranch, Lockport, IL

Three species of wolves (British Columbian, Arctic and Grey Timber) interact intermingled in three different pens. Biology teacher Julie Basile and her husband John (who founded the ranch 18 years ago) track their interactions and move them to different groups when they see there’s trouble coming, either in the form of too rough dominance fights or mating season.
Once secluded, the ranch is now crowded by houses and planned businesses. But the ranch is still growing. They visit schools or have nearby scouts and school groups come visit and learn about wolves. The wolves jump up and lick their caretakers.

In addition to the wolves, the Basiles have taken in other animals that need help and a place to live. Wildlife officials came to John in 2000 with a 20 pound black bear cub that someone had bought at a flea market for $200 and tried to raise in an apartment until neighbors thought better of the idea. They would have euthanized the bear, now known as Kuma, that day, but the ranch took the bear in and built a proper enclosure, pool, shower and hibernation hut. Kuma likes to show off to crowds and wrestles with John.

The ranch also has several shy coyotes, wild cats, horses, dogs, peacocks and a rescued descented skunk. Kirby looks different than a wild skunk because he’s a domesticated variety and he smells different because he’s been descented. He’s friendly, cuddly and instintively holds a person’s fingers with his claws like a baby does.

Where to See More Animals in the Midwest
Where Else Can I See Wolves?

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Wild Winds Buffalo Ranch, Fremont, Ind.

On our way to Illinois for Christmas, David and I stopped at the Wild Winds Buffalo Ranch, which is off Route 80 in Indiana, just a few miles from the Ohio border. We arrived on Christmas Eve. The guide, Three Paws, let Jolly come into the lodge, where he cooked us buffalo burgers for lunch. He explained that the ranch was started by a doctor who wanted to see the buffalo preserved and eventually opened it up to the public. David and Jolly stayed back (dogs spook buffalo), while I got to drive out to the herd with Three Paws. They keep the buffalo wild, don’t touch them. A grandmother runs the herd and decides when they are through with the pasture they’re in. She signals the humans by standing apart (in the wild she’d be off exploring), then she charges in alone to the new pasture (in the wild, she’d be looking for predators).
The ranch takes to heart the native America spiritual beliefs about the buffalo. A local tribe blessed the ranch and it’s the site of primitive camps and gatherings for descendants of Native Americans. The grandma buffalo will decide when her time has come by separating herself from the herd. In the wild, she’d be taken by predators. Here she is taken by the humans, who then honor her by posting her skull in this display.

Where to See Animals in the Midwest
Where Can I See a Bison Herd Near Where I Live?

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