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.
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.
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!
National Unicorn Day was on April 9th, 2020 (although some sources say it also falls on July 16th). Here at ROC Animal School, we did a livestream all about it on our Facebook page. This blog post is long overdue.
So, were unicorns ever real? Sort of.
Many mythical creatures have some basis in fact. Oftentimes, it can be because of an otherwise normal animal having a genetic abnormality or defect. For example, let’s look at the “uni-deer,” or sometimes called the unicorn deer. This is a white tailed deer that has its antlers grow twisted around each other into a single horn. This can be caused from an injury in the area where the antlers grow.
Unicorns appear in myths and legends in numerous cultures from around the world. Interestingly enough, they weren’t always depicted as magical or friendly creatures. In some stories, they were huge, ferocious and scary. Only the bravest of warriors could kill them.
What might have been the inspiration for a scary unicorn? Well, in ancient Siberia, there was a creature that had one horn. Now extinct, this was known as the Elasmotherium. It is a distant cousin to the present day rhino.
And while that creature doesn’t look too much like the unicorns we see in cartoons, movies or as toys today, we can kind of see where the idea came from.
So, regarding National Unicorn Day… how does one celebrate it? There are several ways you, your friends and family can get in on the fun. You can bake unicorn themed cakes or cookies. Watch a favorite or new unicorn film or show. Play some unicorn games. Make some artwork or write a unicorn story. Do you have any favorite unicorn books? Give yourself a unicorn themed name. The possibilities are endless! But of course, have mythical amounts of fun!
On June 15th, 2019, we debuted our skunk character, Stripes, at the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market. We celebrated National Skunk Day by hosting a variety of skunk themed activities aimed at educating patrons about this mysterious but smelly creature. Our friends from the Rochester March for Science were on hand as well with scent sensory activities. The day was a roaring success!
After the day was done, I shelved the skunk costume, planning on making some modifications to the suit and refining a draft of the skunk program as a whole. But, the summer season had other plans. I found myself busier than ever with summer camp programs and writing educational animal themed children’s books.
As February of 2020 rolled in, I began work on the skunk suit. I was able to finish the majority of the modifications in a few weeks and shortly thereafter, I focused on revising the program material. I was able to test run everything at the Genesee Country Village and Museum on Sunday, Marth 8th as part of their Nature Sundays series.
Skunks are actually quite fascinating creatures. Once you realize that spraying is usually a last resort in self defense against would-be predators, they become a lot less maligned. Skunks help keep pesky grubs and wasps at bay. Sure, you may have a few holes here and there in your yard from their quest for food, but, they are efficient and highly effective.
I think what surprised me the most was their poor eyesight. Skunks really can only see things extremely close by. If it’s any further than ten feet away, chances are they won’t see it very well at all. To demonstrate this, I built a set of “skunk vision goggles,” complete with a little skunk nose. Folks can try these on and experience how skunks really can’t see. It changes their perspective on them!
This program is listed on our official roster. It is best suited for smaller audiences as this mask isn’t perfect for dicrion and projecting my voice. The age group is generally for families with kids aged 5 to 10.
It’s been an amazing summer here at ROC Animal School! Here’s a brief breakdown of all the fun we’ve had!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
Hey, Wild Things. We are excited to say that we are less than one month away from returning to the Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market. ROC Animal School is partnering with our friends at Impact Earth to bring you a whole cast of characters throughout the summer, human and mascot alike. We’ll be exploring various topics with several local groups in the area, so each week will be a unique experience.
Moreover, we will be debuting a new mascot at the first market, Stripes the Skunk, for National Skunk Day. There’s going to be food, music, and family fun at the market. Several vendors are returning with their products and produce. If you want to see what events will be happening each week, visit https://www.pittsfordvillagefarmersmarket.org/events-calendar.
Rochester has a ton of great markets around the area worth exploring, and I suggest going to as many as possible to support our small businesses and see just how varied all the items available to purchase are. Some of my favorite buys have included maple cream (oh my god, it’s the best) and other maple products, honey, pastries, pickles, pasta, catnip and coffee. Of course, there is a ton of fresh, delicious produce to peruse as well.
Opening day of the Pittsford Village Farmers Market is Saturday, June 15, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Spiegel Community Center. The market runs until September 28, 2019.
Well, it’s now winter. The ground is white, the air is crisp, and we’re in the middle of a snowstorm that has everyone in Monroe County running to buy groceries at the last minute.
Despite the chilly weather, Animal School is still active around the community. Our mascots don’t hibernate. They do, however, look for ways to stay in shape and mentally engaged when it’s too cold to play outdoors.
Enter ROC YogAnimals, a family-centered yoga program we will be running with Flower City Yoga. Kids and parents — or grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. — get to practice yoga alongside one of our talking animal characters, all while learning about various wildlife topics. The class will be run by Erin Wafer of Flower City Yoga, who does other child- and family-focused classes. We are even encouraging people to dress up as their favorite animals, if they like. Our goal with this class is for everyone to have fun, relax, and re-energize.
Fittingly, our first class is being offered on Groundhog’s Day, February 2 at 2:15 p.m. Spots are limited, so register to make sure you get in! Go to flowercityyoga.com, to complete your registration.
This class is a great way to get more balance in your life, as well as throughout your body, during these cold months. It will be a fun socialization opportunity, so I highly recommend having your little ones attend.
We hope to see you there. Until next time, keep your wild side roarin’!
It has been a busy year here at ROC Animal School! Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last several months.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
The holidays are now in full swing, and a special friend of ours has flown into Western New York to help our community celebrate. Listen to the jingle we made about it:
That’s right, Rudolph has arrived! He is available for all sorts of holiday-related gigs across the Greater Rochester Area. Time slots we have available are listed in the video description. Book us now to ensure Rudolph can come to your event!
For more information, or to book Rudolph, contact Nick Hadad at email@example.com. We offer flexible pricing so that our reindeer pal’s presence is affordable to as many people in the region as possible. From being in parades to handing out candy canes or taking pictures with kids and families, Rudolph is game for all sorts of festive, family-friendly activities.
The spring and summer of 2018 will be a very productive period for us here at ROC Animal School. After a successful February, we are eager to keep the momentum going! Here’s what we’re up to!
New Programs in Development
We’ve been hard at work creating new educational content. Obviously, our goal is to spread knowledge and to be as involved in the community as possible. While some programs are ready to launch (see below), we have some others in the works that will be ready to go later this year. Currently in development are initiatives to educate people on wildlife native to our area (county and statewide), a program on being a pet parent/domestic animals, an in depth program on local nocturnal animals, as well as new bird of prey programs.
New Programs Launching
We are adding to our list of available programs! Here’s what’s ready to go!
Curious about “Coywolves?” – The Eastern Coyote: This program will be hosted by our talking coyote mascot, Dakota, and will focus on the amazing eastern coyote, sometimes referred to as the coywolf. This animal is has a mixture of coyote, wolf and dog DNA which makes it quite an adaptable creature with the ability to call both the countryside and urban areas home. Are you curious about coywolves?
Coyote Class: Coyotes are often dubbed the song dog because of their dynamic range of vocalizations. This incredible canine is one of the most adaptable animals of all time, expanding its range across much of North America and making itself right at home in cities as well as the wilderness. Do you have what it takes to live as a coyote? Our mascot, Dakota Coyote will get everyone howling along!
Animal Jams – Nature Rocks! Animals can make a lot of noise! Some animals are more musically inclined than others. Come learn about the songs of birds, coyotes, wolves, owls, insects and other wild animals!
And as always, we can create custom programs to fit your needs. Just let us know what you’re looking for!
Animal School: Out and About!
This year, we will be appearing regularly at the Pittsford Famers Market, showcasing new themes every month. This will give us a great chance to interact with more of you while allowing us to hopefully shed some light on what creatures might be living in your backyard and some local environmental issues you might not know about. Or, you can just pop by to learn some fun animal facts while shopping! We’ll have one of our talking mascots on hand at each appearance to give folks the chance to ask them questions about wildlife and maybe get a few selfies!
We will also be appearing at area libraries over the summer, as well as some area festivals. If you haven’t heard by now, we will be attending this year’s Rochester March for Science and Expo on April 14th. We’re really excited!
New Mascot Characters
We are slowly adding to our roster of educational talking mascots. Oslo the Owl just debuted at the annual Owl Moon event at the Genesee Country Village and Museum. We hope to have our lion and Dalmatian up and running by the fall as well. Skye the Eagle, who debuted in October, has been making several appearances alongside our friends from Braddock bay Raptor Research through the month of February.
You never know what information a person is going to divulge when you start a conversation with him or her.
On Sunday, June 18, we attended the Brighton Eco-Fair. Fun fact: this was the first official event Animal School participated in after we began working as a mom-and-pop operation last year. To celebrate our paper anniversary, I crafted up 50 origami animals, packed them in a shoebox and gave one to each person at the event who told us a fun animal fact. We later extended our offer to those who performed one of the wolf calls Howler was teaching.
One of my favorite things about working with Animal School has been meeting so many interesting people. You all have such an amazing breadth of knowledge, experience and creativity. The cute kids and dogs who run up to our mascots, greet them with great big smiles and start playing are high on the list, too. Having fun while learning is what Animal School is all about. We are constantly learning new things from the people we meet, and we strive to share our knowledge with you.
This year’s Eco-Fair focused on the theme of conservation, so we had Howler Wolf talking about why conserving wolf populations is vital. As anyone who has seen our Lupinology presentation knows, wolves are a keystone species, crucial to an ecosystem. Pluck them out of their environment, and all other living things are drastically affected. Everyone’s favorite example of this is the gray wolf’s reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, which allowed several animal species to thrive. It also kept coyote populations in check – ’yotes tend to become invasive species that throw off the balance of an ecosystem when their numbers get too high. Even some tree species that had long been absent started to grow again once the wolves were brought back into the ecosystem.
The results of this reintroduction teach us two things. One: wolves are imperative to their ecosystems. Two: we can never be entirely certain how a plant or animal affects its surroundings. Therefore, we should never assume that adding infrastructure, plants or animals to an ecosystem will be perfectly safe. Even when scientists and environmentalists perform studies to project what will happen when we build architecture in an ecosystem, there can still be unanticipated consequences. Nature exists in a delicate balance, and we must be mindful of that so that we can conserve it and flourish for generations to come.
Wolves used to live all around North America. However, when hunters started becoming overzealous, particularly as myths about wolves attacking livestock and people without provocation rose, the lupines’ numbers plummeted. Today, there are only a handful of areas in the U.S. where wolves live. Here in upstate New York, there are no known wolves roaming around, though there have been some unconfirmed sightings in the Adirondacks and extreme upstate region. The good news is that wolves are slowly being reintroduced to various states across the U.S., so there is still hope of reviving their grand ecosystems of centuries past.
Now, moving on to fun animal facts, we got a good number of responses from people at the event. Some of our favorites are:
Owls’ wings are structured in a way that prevents other animals from hearing the birds coming. There are a couple of mechanisms at work here. First, the broadness of owls’ wings keeps them from flapping too much, which reduces noise. Furthermore, as How Stuff Works states, “When most birds fly, turbulence – created when air gushes over the surface of their wings – causes noise. Owls’ wings, however, are unique because they reduce noise caused by turbulence. An owl’s primary feathers are serrated like a comb. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents called micro-turbulences.”
We learned from Braddock Bay Raptor Research that you can tell the age of a broad-winged hawk by its tail feathers. Juveniles’ tails have narrow bands of color, whereas adults have broad black and white bands on their tails. At about one year of age, a hawk reaches adulthood and will molt its feathers, allowing its new plumage to come in. This is similar to how humans lose their baby teeth and have adult ones grow in their places!
As we mentioned above, in 1995, humans reintroduced gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which changed the park’s entire ecosystem. Someone informed us about a documentary she saw regarding Yellowstone, which showed how even the bends and path of a river changed as a result of the wolves’ presence. Remember: wolves are important to an ecosystem because they bring vitality. Ask Howler Wolf if you would like to learn more.
There is widespread misconception about how two species crossbreeding is a symptom of climate change, global warming and habitat loss. However, as one woman mentioned to us, creatures have been mating with other species for centuries, so these hybrids are not necessarily a result of negative effects on our environment. I will have to do additional research before I say anything conclusively, but it is probable that the convergence of certain traits between species could produce evolutionary advantages and be examples of adaptation. On the other hand, there are animals that breed with other species due to loss of habitat and human interference. Pugs, for example, which humans have and continue to selectively breed, have severe respiratory distress throughout their lives due to the shapes of their skulls. (Yet another reason it’s always better to #AdoptDontShop, because some animal breeders inbreed cats and dogs for their purebred status, which can cause severe and lifelong health problems for the animals.) Other possible concerns for interspecies offspring are health problems, infertility and shorter lifespans. A few common examples of hybrids species are wolfdogs, coywolves, coydogs and grizzly-polar bear hybrids.
The best response of the day, however, came from a young man with a vivid imagination and knack for storytelling. He said that snails and ants are two of the strongest creatures in existence, and that a snail-ant hybrid could take over the planet by invading power plants. These snail ant assailants would be the ultimate destroyers and overtake the earth!
This kid captivated me. I just stood there, eager to hear more, engrossed in the yarn he spun. So many questions came to mind, including: where would these hybrids come from? Why is this not already an amazing splatstick B-Movie horror flick? Where did this elementary-school-aged kid come up with this dystopian future filled with Godzilla-like super bugs? (Thinking back, I don’t know if he ever said they were giant monsters, but I was definitely getting a Mothra vibe from what he described.) Which parts of the snails and ants would be the strongest? How do the two fuse into one species? Genetic engineering? Would they be able to naturally reproduce, or be infertile like mules, the horse-donkey hybrids? Would these creatures stay their original sizes, or adapt to support their larger and smaller sections? Which sections of each animal would make the evolutionary cut? Would they be giga-snail ants, or under-the-radar mini assailants? Would it be a gradual takeover or a snowballing situation? Where would the takeover start? Would the world end up like the “true” ending of Little Shop of Horrors, with these devious creatures we unknowingly nurtured taking over humanity? How intelligent would they be? Are these snails intentionally seeking out power plants, or just looking for shelter and sustenance? What draws them in? How do they get in? Does their slime make machines and electricity malfunction, or does this massive wave of them get into nuclear reactors, which turn them into Hulk-like beasts? Where do the ants fit into this equation? Do they become snail ants before or after taking over the power plants? Can this be avoided if we switch to greener energy? Do the snails feel malice towards humanity? Do they have an agenda? This scenario prompts a lot of thought-provoking questions, and I want to know more about the world this little guy created with his words. Most importantly, where did he come up with this idea?
I am going to have to do some research into snails and ants to see if they are like cockroaches and can allegedly survive a nuclear blast. I also want to see if I can find media that may have inspired this kid, because I am now invested in finding answers to this hypothetical scenario, and maybe making some concept art.
The funny thing was, after this kid told us all about the snail ant takeover, he didn’t even want an origami animal! So we ended up giving one to his brother instead.
It is amazing what you can uncover when you have an inquisitive mind, a thirst for knowledge, natural curiosity and the ability to problem solve creatively.