Now that it’s baby season, there are a lot of of babies at the rehab center! But even though they’re babies, they aren’t necessarily small, friendly, or safe to handle without gloves.
Case in point. Baby owls for some species are not small. In fact, they can be the size of adults in just over a month. They still look adorable because they don’t have their grown up feathers yet, but they can do some damage if you’re not careful.
I threw on a pair of thick gloves and went over to the enclosure the baby owl was being moved from. He had been placed in there temporarily because it was available, but was already too big to stay in there for very long so he was being moved to a larger enclosure. As soon as I opened the door, he started screaming bloody murder!
And as soon as I reached down to pick him up, he started biting at me. This is why we wear gloves. I moved the screeching, screaming, loud-mouthed baby owl into his new larger enclosure. Thankfully, he didn’t manage to get me with his beak or talons but he came close a couple of times and he was LOUD! It gave the other volunteers a bit of a chuckle and he quieted right down once he was in his new enclosure and I had left. He certainly didn’t complain nearly as loudly though when I came back a few minutes later with his food!
In honor of Earth Day, I usually go out for a hike. This time I participated in a virtual 5K and brought along my puppy (a.k.a. a fully grown dog) Shona. She absolutely loves the outdoors and is always nagging me to take her with so I’m trying to do that a bit more often.
Although I had my camera, I was more interested in enjoying the hike with my girl. There’s a lot of beautiful and exciting sights even in a small preserve if you’re willing to pay attention. Some interactions are more exciting than others though.
As we rounded a bend in the trail, we were surprised by a turkey that had been hiding out in some bushes. She didn’t seem to appreciate us coming up on her like that, so as soon as we were too close for comfort, she yelled out, jumped up, and took off flying away from us.
Shona doesn’t really chase after animals. She isn’t aggressive towards my other furry (or scaly) babies and doesn’t show any interest in hunting the squirrels, birds, raccoons, and other critters that make our yard their home. But she does love to play. And once this turkey took off, that’s exactly what she tried to do. By wanting to fly after her.
It didn’t take her long to realize that she couldn’t fly and let the turkey go. She looked back at me with the cutest expression of “aw, shucks,” and we went on our way. I guess for our next hike I’ll need to invest in some wings for her.
Bowser is a darling Sulcata tortoise at “Hoo” Haven. When he came in (just before I began volunteering almost three years ago), he was in rough shape and his survival was uncertain. Although he’s still dramatically underweight for his age (by about 60 or more pounds), he’s doing fine today, eating regularly and getting a lot of exercise.
One form of exercise he’s decided suits him nicely is attempting to escape from his carrier while we’re driving to and from educational programs. Because of his size and heat requirements, he isn’t placed in a typical pet carrier. Instead, we load up a laundry basket with cozy blankets and a heat pack for him, put him inside and cover him up with another soft (but not thick) blanket. This keeps him warm and comfortable. Unfortunately, it isn’t always good enough for this picky guy.
On the way back from an event in honor of Earth Day, Bowser decided to get in some of his exercise by trying to climb out of his basket. This guy still insists on being fed by hand because of the difficulty he has in lifting himself up so he can eat properly, but can manage to get himself up out of a basket while heading home because he doesn’t feel like being confined anymore. He cracks me up!
Sulcata tortoises are known for being strong and being escape artists. So it’s no surprise that even a struggling guy like Bowser manages to live up to that reputation. But I was keeping a close eye on him and each time was able to tuck him back in without incident.
While at this educational program, there was a lot of confusion about the difference between tortoises and turtles. This is one of the reasons it’s so great to bring Bowser (despite the challenges he gives us!). To oversimplify: turtles are aquatic and tortoises are terrestrial. But if you don’t know the species, leave them be. Well-meaning people sometimes place tortoises in the water where they can easily drown.
Right from the start, it was a ruckus of activity. At 9AM sharp, I walked in the door and already two volunteers and the intern were hard at work. Dodging rabbits and stepping over tortoises, I made my way to the volunteer sign-in sheet to officially start my shift. I began with our neurologically damaged little chipmunk, carefully removing the towel he was spinning in circles on and replacing it with a fresh one. I call him Twirly. He’s pretty used to people now but still doesn’t care for having his personal bubble invaded. Whether or not he’ll ever be eligible for release is dependent entirely on whether or not he stops compulsively spinning in circles. Since there’s no reason to think the damage to his brain isn’t permanent, he’ll probably live out the rest of his life with us.
After Twirly, I dealt with our messy crow. Crows are a bit notorious for being little troublemakers, but of course in the best way possible! Twinkletoes as he’s been called since he arrived as a baby, is always quite the character. As I bent over to pick up the cereal he’d tossed on the floor, he decided to make a game of it. There are two spots for him to perch in his room and in between them is where he likes to dump his food on the floor. He started on one perch, and as soon as I bent over jumped on my back, and then completed the circuit by jumping on the other perch. Rinse, repeat. He did this a few times before I’d managed to collect all his leftovers. “Do you mind?” I asked him when I stood up, knowing full well that he didn’t. I asked for a kiss, which he happily obliged in exchange for a nice head rub, and went on to the next task for the day.
I ended my shift with some pleasant conversations and jokes with my fellow critter nerds, eavesdropping in on the back and forth between Twinkletoes and our first baby fox of the season. Then, I headed out the door for home, to my own little zoo of critters waiting to be let outside, fed lunch, and cuddled.
Last September I made a trip to Southern Illinois. I was there looking for ghost towns, historical sites, and of course, snakes. While the ghost towns and historical sites didn’t live up to my expectations (although were cool to check out nonetheless), the famous Snake Road of the Shawnee National Forest didn’t disappoint!
The sights were amazing! The area is absolutely stunning. I could tell on the drive that things were going to be very different than northern Illinois where I’m from. About an hour or so away from my destination, the flat plains that Illinois is famous for gave way to beautiful rolling hills and imposing limestone bluffs.
I realized on this trip that I’m getting old! I’m now 30 and sleeping on the ground doesn’t seem to be as enjoyed by my back quite as much. I’ll need to look into a hammock for future trips so look forward to a review of that when I test one out. But it was still incredibly relaxing to listen to singing bugs and hooting owls as I dozed off.
It’s always a little intimidating to wind up around a new animal, but it’s easy to quickly become comfortable around the venomous snakes of Snake Road. They’re so abundant and so calm that I learned after running across just a couple of them there was nothing to worry about. Even when they “smiled” at me, it was clear they were just offering a friendly reminder that they didn’t want people to harass them.
The area is filled with a lot of history. Even just a simple walk in the woods produces some really interesting leftovers from when farms filled the region. It’s worth while to walk around and see what’s there!
Be careful when exploring off the trails to avoid damaging the habitat. It’s better to stay on the trails, but occasionally something you want to explore is off the trail. Speak to locals, they’ll be able to give you directions to the site without wandering around which will limit your impact in the area.
There are a lot of interesting species in the area, but even with nine days of exploration, I barely scratched the surface. For shorter trips, it will definitely take a bit of planning to make sure you’re there at the right time and during the right conditions to maximize the number of species that you see.
It’s important to pay attention while you’re out! Wherever you are, it’s good to look closely at areas you might otherwise ignore. In the photo above, the frog blends in very well to his environment. Had it not been for seeing him jump onto the leaf, I probably would have never noticed he was there, emphasizing the importance to look closely at a scene.
I loved my trip! It was absolutely amazing exploring the Southern Illinois area. I highly recommend visiting, even if it’s just for a couple days. If you want to read more about my adventure of the Snake Road area, read about it in the current issue of Reptiles Magazine or on their website. You can also order prints from my trip from my website at www.cyrenekrey.com and support more interesting adventures! Thanks for reading 🙂
Now that we’re into 2018, I’m finally getting a chance to catch my breath and reflect over everything I did in 2017.
The past two years have had so much going on, that they’ve blurred together in my mind a bit. I was completely focused on getting my Master’s degree. That single ambition led to the feeling that the last couple years have just blended into one. Obviously that isn’t how it works though, so focusing on 2017 is the goal today!
The year ended with a huge accomplishment. I finished my Master’s degree in biology! After spending so long in school, on one degree or another, it’s been kind of surreal to not have to worry about that anymore. A few people have asked if I plan on going for a PhD and the answer is an anti-climactic “maybe.” While I would like to, it doesn’t currently fit into my plans or what I can realistically afford to do at the moment. In a few years though, I plan on looking into it.
For now, I’m exploring different career opportunities and I’m going to see where I end up! But of course, photography will always be a part of whatever I do.
One of the new areas I’m exploring is photojournalism. I was able to learn a little more about this during the trip to Standing Rock in late 2016. However, I hadn’t at the time given it much thought. But since that trip, it’s been on my mind a bit. I decided to really try it out and see how I felt about it with a mini-vacation during my last semester at school.
I needed a bit of a nature break and there was this really interesting place I was dying to visit: Snake Road!
This is a road in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois that is closed twice a year to protect reptile migrations. I’ll have more posts about it coming up (with more information on other places you can read all about this trip ;D). But for now, let me just say that it was awesome and I highly recommend visiting!
While I was expecting a fun trip, I didn’t expect it to go as well as it did. I ran into a few problems and my plans had to change, but I was able to make everything work out. I met some really great people, saw some incredible animals, and came away with a few great shots and an interesting story. It was a trip that made me want to do more of this kind of work.
I have a few ideas for some interesting upcoming projects related to this, but more on that will have to wait until later 😉
For 2018, my plan is to continue focusing on what I began in 2017. I’ll of course be continuing with my volunteer work, because that’s just too much fun to give up! But I’ll also be looking for ways to expand my experience and try out new and exciting photography projects.
So I hope everyone has an exciting, fun, and safe 2018!
I’m finishing up the photos from my daily observations of this robin pair from this past spring. You can see more photos about this project on my website at www.cyrenekrey.com. Also be sure to follow me on Instagram.