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Puppet Shows and Blue Jays

Some of the puppets we used for the show, “The Local Wildlife”

After a few months off thanks to COVID, among other things, we resumed planning for the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market. We revisited the idea of putting on a weekly educational puppet show that would feature some of the puppets we were selling at our booth. The effort would be another collaboration between us and Impact Earth.

We planned on running six episodes at the market. Each would feature its own theme, moral and contain educational bits, like ecology, animal behavior,  science and so on. I drew up outlines for four episodes and began writing full episodes soon after.

In my college days, I took courses on script/playwriting, stage design and puppet theater. It had been years since I had written a script that would actually be performed by a cast as opposed to just being purely for a class. It was exciting! I wanted to pack enough educational content into these as I could while balancing humor, fourth wall breaks and crowd interaction.  Each show would last between eight and twenty minutes.

The title of the show took some time to hammer down. I settled on, “the Local Wildlife,” as it took place locally and featured animals that lived in our area.

The role of the narrator was the hardest to craft. My initial thought was to have our red fox mascot, Swift, take on that role. But, I scrapped that idea literally minutes before our first show opened, opting for a raven puppet instead.  I didn’t feel like Swift was the best fit and by the end of the first show, my voice was a mess from performing as the raven.  I needed an entirely new character made just for this role.

Coincidentally, I had been developing a blue jay character around this time. When I purchased it, it was a simple boodie with a few bird features on the hood, most likely intended for cosplay. This was the perfect base to build on. I redid its tail feathers and reworked the face, adding felt feathers one at a time.

A work in progress– adding individual felt feathers to the hood/head piece of the blue jay.

The blue jay was intended to be the star of a songbird program I had been working on, but, I felt that this character might work as the narrator for the show. The bird became known as Azure, named thusly for his blue coloration.  He would hold the script and make sure all went well during the show. And through scripted fourth wall breaks, Azure would often have dialogue between the other puppet characters.

I found this format worked wonderfully for the show as a whole. Mixing mascots into the puppet cast gave the show a dynamic in which I could interact with both cast and audience freely.

Azure the Blue Jay taking on the role of the narrator.

The actors for the show were my friends from Impact Earth. Each brought their unique flare to their characters and helped build sets and props. The four actors and actresses, Paige, Elias, Becket and Colin, were absolutely amazing!

For the puppet characters, I wanted something different from what I remember seeing on TV growing up. I decided I wanted a predatory animal and a prey animal as main characters. Also, I wanted them to form a strong friendship. I picked a coyote (Caroline) and a deer (Dawson). Both would be young and still learning about the world around them, which would allow them to understand their differences but also appreciate them and grow together.

I picked an opossum to act as sort of the wise sage of the woods. He would pop in and offer advice to the characters near the third act. I personally felt this was an amusing choice as sage characters are usually depicted as being old, whereas opossums have a life expectancy of only two years in the wild. The opossum would eventually take the role as narrator in the final two episodes of the season.

The season finale took place this past weekend. We decided to have an episode follow the coyote character, Caroline and feature her older brother, Dakota, for which we used our coyote mascot. The episode circled around the premise of Caroline celebrating her birthday and Dakota showing her what it takes to survive as an adult coyote. In the end, Dakota needs rescuing after stumbling into a trap and Caroline soars into action, showing her older brother that she has already grown up quite a bit and can handle any situation.

The next phase of the show is still in the works. We hope to have episodes available on YouTube via Impact Earth within the next few months. Season two is guaranteed to follow.

This has been an amazing project. I am very happy with how everything came together, how gifted our cast was and how successful this was with our audience. I am very much looking forward to continuing with this!

Posted in Amphibians, animal facts, animal games, animal mascots, animals, Aquatic Life, arctic foxes, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, Community Events, conservation, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, End of Year Review, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Exercise, Farmers Markets, foxes, foxes of north america, Fun Animal Facts, Holiday Events, kestrels, learning, Mammals, mascots, Misunderstood Creatures, nature camp, nature conservation, Omnivore, Raptor Research, raptors, Rochester, NY Events, Small Business, storytelling, summer camps, talking mascots, teaching, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf conservation, wolves, Yoga

Summer 2019 Wrap Up

By Nick Hadad

It’s been an amazing summer here at ROC Animal School! Here’s a brief breakdown of all the fun we’ve had!

New Characters:

We appeared almost every Saturday from mid June until the end of September at the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market at their new location behind the Community Center. We covered a new theme each weekend, which required a few new mascots. We debuted a frog, a woodpecker, a skunk (for National Skunk Day), and a raccoon!

Summer Camps

We visited numerous summer camps over the season, including several visits to Nature Camp at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We were able to bring out multiple characters and perform various programs each day at the camps, delighting and educating campers of all ages.

Other Events

We were able to take part in a plethora of other special events between late spring and early fall. As always, we loved being able to perform at Bird of Prey Days for Braddock Bay Raptor Research. This year’s event was red tail hawk themed which gave us a chance to use our red tail hawk character, Talon, for the first time in years. We created the program, “A Red Tail Hawk Survival Guide” and got folks up and soaring with us on stage, locking talons in a mock-courtship demonstration and hunting toy snakes by using their wings and feet.

We also entertained at A Frog’s House in Pittsford, the Wildlife Expo at the Dome, various 4H events, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, Science Saturdays with the Rochester March for Science, several events in the community with Braddock Bay Raptor Research, the Genesee County Village and Museum (Owl Moon and Trick or Treating in the Village) and even some craft shows!

Yoga!

While at the farmers market, we teamed up with our friend Erin from Flower City Yoga. We would typically do one family friendly yoga session at noon in the grassy field but there were some Saturdays where we did up to seven! Where else could folks do pigeon pose with an owl, tree pose with a raccoon or unicorn pose with a unicorn? We certainly hope to continue this next year!

Content

With so many events, we had a need to expand upon our program roster and our educational content. This involved a lot of animal behaviour observations, gathering updates on different animal population statistics and learning new vocalizations for various species.

The hard work paid off. Folks enjoyed learning how to dance like a skunk, chitter like raccoons, bark like gray foxes, and play new animal themed games.

Summary and a Look Ahead

As we enter November, it’s fun to look back on such a busy and fun summer. It certainly makes us excited about the possibilities for next year! We do have plans to hopefully create a few new characters, if funds allow, and focus on some species that tend to slip under the radar of the public even if these animals are common in their areas. We will also continue to improve and expand on our programs. Once everything is complete to our satisfaction, we will post an updated list of those.

Until next time, stay wild!

Posted in Adapatation, Animal Adaptations, Animal Ancestors, Animal Descendants, animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, Community Events, conservation, coyote language, coyotes, domestic foxes, ecology, education, educational mascots, End of Year Review, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Farmers Markets, fox subspecies, foxes, foxes of north america, Fun Animal Facts, gray fox, Herbivore, kestrels, kit fox, Mammals, Marble Fox, mascots, Misunderstood Creatures, Multimedia, Multimedia, nature, nature conservation, Nonprofit Groups, Omnivore, owls, Predator, Prey, Raptor Research, raptors, red fox, Reptiles, Rochester, NY Events, storytelling, talking mascots, teaching, vlogs, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, Winter Festivals, wolf conservation, wolf reintroduction, wolves, Year-End Review

2018 Wrap Up

By Nick Hadad

Hello Wild Things!

It has been a busy year here at ROC Animal School! Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last several months.

Farmers Markets:

This year, we worked closely with our friends at Impact Earth and tabled at both the Pittsford and Lakeside Farmers Markets. Each month, we would showcase a different theme regarding local wildlife, typically using a different talking mascot character to front each one.

In June, we talked about Backyard Wildlife with our mascot, Swift the Red Fox as the expert on the subject. It generated a lot of discussion about wildlife found across New York state and some of the issues they face and ways to help them.

In July, it was Ask Howler Wolf month. I suited up as our friendly wolf and would answer any questions the public had about wildlife. If anyone managed to stump me, I would then research their inquiries and answer them through a video post on our Facebook page, as part of our ongoing “Ask Howler Wolf” series. Only two people stumped the wolf!

In August, it was Curious about Coyotes month with Dakota Coyote. It proved to be a perfect time to cover that topic as our local coyote population had grown quite large with numerous sightings popping up in urban areas. There were a lot of questions from passersby and we were very happy to help folks with their concerns.

September was Lend a Wing with Skye the Bald Eagle. The focus here was to cover what species of birds of prey could be found in our area, the issues they faced and the current science behind these birds. There was a lot of buzz around this subject as numerous sightings of black vultures, a bird more commonly found in the southern United States, were being documented across the county and further east.

We rounded out our season at the market by talking about Creatures of the Night, showcasing local nocturnal animals. We debuted our owl character, Oslo, and our marble fox mascot, Thor. Both were big hits!

Programs, Expos and Festivals:

We enjoyed getting out and about this year! We made appearances at both the Mendon Ponds and Irondequoit WinterFests, the East Rochester Public Library, the Eastside Resource Center at the Penfield YMCA, the 2018 Rochester March for Science and Expo, Working Like a Dog event at the Genesee Country Village & Museum, Bird of Prey Days at Braddock Bay, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, various day cares and day schools and many other places.

A PAWSitive Impact:

In October, we started to work more with our friends at Impact Earth. We created some educational programs focused on a zero waste initiative, the impact of pollution on wildlife and society and a stronger focus on school zero waste programs. We employed the use of some of our mascots as well, bringing a “wild animal” to talk first hand about the impact of trash on their daily lives. This has been quite exciting for students and we can’t wait to do more come 2019!

Wildlife and Science:

I have been trying to keep current on scientific studies on wildlife and ecosystems. This is so our program content will remain up to date but also to spread knowledge and awareness of what’s going on in the environment. There have been some new discoveries with wolves regarding genetics, new and rediscovered species and the wolf’s impact on the spread of diseases that harm ungulate species. It has been a very fascinating year!

2019:

The new year is right around the corner! We have a lot of things to look forward to and we will keep all you posted as things develop! Of course, you can always book us for programs and events by contacting us at nickhadad12@gmail.com

Until next time, stay wild!

Posted in Animal Ancestors, Animal Descendants, animal facts, Animal Kingdom, arctic wildlife, Arts, biodiversity, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Herbivore, Mammals, Marsupials, mascots, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, talking mascots, teaching, Uncategorized, vlogs, vultures, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf conservation, wolf reintroduction, wolves

Ask Howler Episode 2

Episode 2 of Ask Howler is here! In this episode, we discuss marsupials, wolf fur variations and the differences between ravens and crows!

As always, you can submit your wildlife questions by commenting here or on our YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages. Howler is always eager to lend a paw!

Posted in animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Mammals, Omnivore, owls, Predator, Prey, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf conservation, wolf reintroduction, wolves

Ask Howler Ep. 1

Not long after we posted our promo video for the Ask Howler segment, we were pleased to see quite a few responses.  So this is our first official episode! There will be more to come!


Do you have a question that you would like Howler to answer?  Give him a howl by commenting here or through our Facebook pages (WEC, WEP, WECAS) or on Twitter @WECAnimalSchool

 

Posted in animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, Carnivore, coyote language, coyotes, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Mammals, Misinformation, Misunderstood Creatures, Multimedia, Multimedia, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, talking mascots, teaching, Uncategorized, vlogs, wildlife, wildlife education, wolf conservation, wolf reintroduction, wolves

The Animal School VLOG!

Hey folks! Nick, here! The man behind the mascots!

We’ve started a series of vlogs for Animal School featuring our talking characters. Posts will cover a variety of topics and will be posted on all of our Facebook pages and other social media platforms.  For starters, we had Howler Wolf take on the role of host, launching a segment for the vlog called “Wolf News,” which showcases current topics on wolves, wolf conservation, reintroduction and any new breakthroughs in the science behind these amazing creatures.

Granted, the videos aren’t of the highest production quality. We don’t have a lot of equipment in any respect, whether it’s sound or lighting, not to mention the cameras themselves.  For these initial vlog posts, we’re using the webcam on my ten year old laptop!  Not great, but it will do for now!

We have already filmed multiple videos which will be uploaded throughout the upcoming weeks. We’ll also start a segment called “Ask Howler.” In which, the audience can pitch questions to our wolf via Facebook/Twitter on any topic involving wildlife.  Eventually, we will have our other characters host videos for the vlog, so that will be something to watch out for.

Here’s Wolf News Ep. 1 – The Wolf Genus Study

And, Wolf News Ep. 2 – The Isle Royale Wolf Reintroduction

 

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Aquatic Life, Arts, biodiversity, birds, Carnivore, children's books, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Herbivore, Mammals, Marsupials, Multimedia, Multimedia, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, Reptiles, storrytelling, talking mascots, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education, wolves

The Wildlife Educators Coalition at Rochester’s Fringe Fest 2016

Several months ago, we were asked to be a part of this year’s Fringe Fest. I was quite excited at the prospect of being a part of one of Rochester’s biggest art and performance festivals. We were going to hold two shows, both taking place at the MuCCC on Atlantic Ave. The first was our Animal Expo, an interactive forum, of sorts, in which our animal wranglers explain everything about the various species they were displaying.  I originally was to cover the intermission with a howling demo as our wolf, Howler while set up started for the animal improve comedy, “Cletus’s Critter Corner.”

Plans shifted slightly by the time I arrived this morning. They scrapped the intermission and put me into the Expo, right between the segment on the various birds and before Bu, the serval cat. It was also decided that the Expo would be done in sort of an interview format, with Matt, our emcee, bringing us out on stage and asking us questions and engaging the audience.

With that in mind, I wandered into the front of the house and into the lobby, mingling with guests as they waited for gates to open. Howler was a hit; the prospect of a talking wolf posing with people for photos was too good to pass up.  I did a quick stop out front of the building to wave in folks who were making their way over.  And, just before 11am, I darted back to the green room and warmed up my vocal chords as the reptiles took the stage.

The crowd was thrilled, especially when the talkative exotic birds showed off their stuff during their segment. Once they were finished squawking, Matt announced, “Right, so our next animal is one that used to roam most of the United Sates but not so much now, and he’s one of the biggest carnivores around.  So let’s bring out the wolf!”  And out I dashed, sliding a bit on the smooth stage surface.  The crowd was alive with gasps of surprise, cheers and shrieks of excitement from the kids.

Matt and I hit it off well. He rattled off questions and I gave in depth yet digestible answers, trying to keep myself peppy and making use of the stage.  It felt good to use my improv skills again, something I haven’t done on stage since college.  This was especially good because none of this was rehearsed.

Finally, matt asked the question he had been asking all of the other animal presenters. “Would you make a good pet?”

I glanced about my audience, wondering if anyone was actually going to say ‘yes.’ I responded with a solid, “No. First of all, we STINK.  Secondly, it’s illegal.  Thirdly, we make terrible guard dogs because we’re terrified of people.”

“What about getting a hybrid wolf-dog from breeders?”

“That’s not a good idea,” I replied. “You have two instincts in a hybrid’s head.  The wild side and the domestic side, and they don’t mix well.  So sometimes, that can make them terribly aggressive.”

The crowd took some time to digest that in. so Matt took the opportunity to ask, “What does the wolf say?”

I demonstrated the Lonesome Howl, one of the easiest ones for me to do. Katie managed to get this on video, so I’ll let that speak for itself.

We will be returning to the MuCCC in December for another show and next year, we will be returning to the Fringe Fest. I really cannot wait.

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, birds of prey, Carnivore, Channel Island Fox, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 8 – The Channel Island Foxes In Depth

As Swift mentioned, we did have plans on doing six videos for the Channel Island Fox species but after a lot of research, we decided to just do one and focus on two very important details.

As we posted back in Part 6, these six species are the descendants of the gray fox, getting a unique chance to evolve perfectly to fit in their island habitats. Each island fox is notably smaller than nearly all of the other mainland foxes, perhaps coming closest to the swift fox by comparison, but weighing between two and six pounds.

For centuries, the various island foxes shared their home with bald eagles and the ecosystem was perfectly balanced. However, as bald eagle populations dwindled due to DDT poisoning, these birds soon vanished from the islands, eventually being replaced by golden eagles.  Being a non-native predator to these islands, the golden eagles preyed upon these small foxes, which caused their populations to crash.

The largest decline took place in the mid-1990s, causing each species to end up on the critically endangered species list. In fact, things became so bad that at one point, San Miguel Island only had fifteen individual foxes left.  Drastic measure had to be taken.

A massive recovery project was launched. Captive breeding and release initiatives for these foxes were seeing major success along with the humane removal and relocating of the invasive golden eagles (and some reintroduction of the once native bald eagles).  Today, these six fox species have made an amazing come back and are now only listed as “of mild concern” on the species list.  It’s incredible how quickly these programs worked in saving these foxes.

And it’s a good thing too, for as Swift pointed out in the video, each of these fox species are keystone species. A keystone species is an animal that is so important to its ecosystem and food web that if it were ever removed, the local environment and even the physical landscape itself can be devastated.  In this case, deer mice populations had begun to rise and plant life was being lost at an alarming rate.  If things had continued along that way, the mice would have destroyed the local vegetation, which in turn would have led to massive erosion problems and a loss of food for other local herbivores.

This type of keystone species loss has already been seen in Yellowstone with the loss of the wolves. Everything in the park was negatively impacted but it took scientists and biologists a long time to put the puzzle pieces together.  Between an explosion in elk populations (which lead to a loss in tree and other plant life) and in the coyote population (which lead to a loss in smaller animals as prey items), the park’s ecosystem was falling apart.  Even the riverbanks and mountains were suffering terrible erosion problems as a result.  And it all changed with the reintroduction of the wolves.  Everything balanced out properly: populations of the animals returned to normal, the plant life returned and even the riverbanks began to take their old shape again.

It really is amazing how these animals, especially these tiny foxes, can be so hugely important.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, Carnivore, children's books, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, kestrels, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, Uncategorized, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School Presents: Birds Eye View Episode 1

 

We figured that at this point, we here at Animal School had done a lot of videos and posts about various canine species, especially regarding foxes. So, we wanted to focus a bit on something else and birds of prey (or, raptors) seemed like a good set of species to set our eyes on.  We had our resident kestrel, Kele, interview one of our local bird experts, Barb French, who works as a bander for Braddock Bay Raptor Research in North Greece, NY.

Our first video in the series focuses on the work Braddock Bay Raptor Research does and the purposes of banding, studying raptors and the process to become a volunteer and how to become a certified bander.

Stay tuned for four more videos that will go up over the course of this week. Bird’s Eye View will then take a short break before returning with some really cool new material in the coming weeks.

Stay wild!

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Vulpinology 101 Part 7 – Red Fox Fur Mutations

Red Fox Fur Mutations:

pinky

(Photo Credit)

As we mentioned in Episode 4, red foxes can come in a large variety of colors.  These changes in color happen when the genes responsible for fur colorations get mixed.

At times, these fur colorations can be switched up in nature, so you can spot red foxes in shades of black, silver, brown, gold and other odd colors. Of course, true red foxes will always have a white tip at the end of their tail.

So, what about that pink fox that Swift mentioned in the video? Yes, she is a red fox, too.  Technically, she is a “pink champagne” fox, and the result of humans intentionally cross breeding foxes with different colored fur until they get a desired fur color. Originally, this started over three centuries ago for the fur trade.  People desired exotic colored fur from familiar animals, and this seemed to be a simple, yet time consuming way to do this.  A general knowledge of genetics helped this industry as well.

Over the last three centuries, several dozen fur mutations were created, some of which are still around today and some that have since gone extinct (or rather, breeding that particular fur mutation has been discontinued). So the pink champagne fox, while somewhat rare, can still be found whereas the Radium Fox has been extinct since the 1940s after its inception in the mid-1930s.

In more recent years, now that the fur industry isn’t as popular as it used to be, breeders have turned to domestication. That’s right, some game farms and breeders offer foxes as pets.  I should point out that in several states, this isn’t legal and those that do allow it, you might be required to have a permit or license to own one and you could be subject to state inspections to ensure the animal is being well cared for, so make sure you read up on your state’s legal guidelines before google searching for pet foxes!  I should also point out that foxes aren’t the best pets in the world, but that’s a subject for a later post.

Anyway, for more information about fox fur phases and mutations, check out Living With Foxes’ page on the subject.  They have a ton of info and awesome photos.

Stay wild!