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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 Animal Adaptations, animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, conservation, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, Farm Animals, learning, mascots, Misunderstood Creatures, nature, nature conservation, Nonprofit Groups, Prey, Raptor Research, raptors, talking mascots, teaching, vultures, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Treasure All Vultures: A Trip to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

By Nick Hadad

Near the end of September, 2018, we received an email from the folks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Kempton, PA. They had seen some pictures of the kestrel costume that we had been using at ROC Animal School and Braddock Bay Raptor Research and had some questions about the best way to create a vulture coatume for an upcoming program.

I decided I would build their vulture, and thus, in November, construction began. But, trying to build a full costume in a few weeks from scratch while juggling holiday hours at my day job proved to be a difficult task; I profoundly misjudged my timing. Katie managed to build the entire bodysuit while I focused on constructing the mask. This was my first time putting together a head and it ended up taking all of my time.

We finished it around Thanksgiving. I then packed up the suit and began my long drive to the Mountain to deliver it. Under normal weather conditions, the drive would merely take 4.5 hours. However, it rained heavily for most of the drive with thick patches of fog. On the mountaintops, the rain was freezing into ice, making for a tricky drive.

Luckily, by sundown, the temperature climbed high enough to convert any ice to rain. Of course, it was still heavy and foggy, which made for a very slow go along the narrow and winding mountain roads.

After seven hours of driving, I arrived at the Mountain. It was pitch black in the rain and fog. The only light I could see was coming my car, which didn’t travel far. And yet, being alone in the darkness on the side of the mountain was oddly humbling. I had grown up in areas like this where it was just you and not much else for miles (the woods of North Carolina and the prairie of southern Minnesota) but this felt different… somewhat peaceful. It may sound funny, but it was as if I realized how small I was compared to the world around me and I found a deep comfort in that.

The good folks at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary had arranged lodging for me and I slept well. The next morning, they were able to try out the costume and get ready for their program, “Treasure All Vultures.”

Barnaby the Turkey Vulture debuted in front of a crowd of children and their families. He gave them a telescope and a map with instructions on where to locate some of his vulture friends around the Mountain.

At each location, folks would find a display, symbolizing a different location on the globe, with a species of vulture from that region. An activity would start that would demonstrate a hardship faced by that particular bird that’s dramatically affecting their numbers. We made stops in Egypt, India, Portugal and other spots.

These issues ranged from chronic habitat loss (Egypt), poisoned food supply (antibiotics in cattle that had died in India), and a nearly complete disappearance of food sources in Portugal and other areas of Europe. I was mentally taking notes most of the time.

Once the activities were completed, patrons returned to the auditorium to get some prizes from Barnaby and a summary of why vultures are essential to their ecosystems.

I sadly had to head home right after the program, facing a 4am opening shift the next day at my regular job. But, I felt reenergized. Getting a chance to visit a group of educators and scientists and seeing how they reach out, educate, and empower audiences made me very eager to try out new ideas with the groups we work with.

I hope to return to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary before too long. It was a beautiful place under clear skies and sunshine and I have trail passes I am eager to use. Maybe I can bring down some of our Animal School characters and team up with them for a program. A working vacation, perhaps?

Please check them out!

http://www.hawkmountain.org/

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 Adaptation, Animal Adaptations, animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, birds, birds of prey, Community Events, conservation, coyote language, coyotes, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, foxes, Fun Animal Facts, learning, Mammals, owls, Raptor Research, raptors, talking mascots, Uncategorized

ROC Animal School Spring & Summer Outlook

Swift the Red Fox mascot

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.

Stay tuned for more updates as they come!

Until next time, stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, Animal Kingdom, animals, biodiversity, birds, birds of prey, education, Fun Animal Facts, nature, Raptor Research, raptors, teaching, Uncategorized, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Birds of Braddock: Fun Animal Facts Recap

By Katie Gill

Welcome back, wild ones!

fb_img_1485892909765
Kele the Kestrel and his pal, Jingo, at a local farmers market

For this set of facts, we explored the world of birds. In particular, we had our gaze set upon birds of prey that can be found around our neck of the woods, Rochester, NY. I’m talking about the kinds of avians that are frequently banded, tracked and studied by the folks at Braddock Bay Raptor Research, a group hailed by our kestrel, Kele.

We now present to you a mere sample of the Birds of Braddock:

  • Kestrels, the smallest birds of prey in North America, nest in cavities. They rely on old woodpecker holes, natural tree hollows, rock crevices, and nooks in buildings or other human-built structures.
    14375472-lg-copy-2
    Male Kestrel

    Typically, nest sites are in trees along wood edges or in the middle of open ground. American Kestrels also take readily to nest boxes people put up.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Kestrel/lifehistory

  • The most common hawk in North America, the Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey that mates for life.
    red-tailed-hawk
    Red-Tailed Hawk

    During breeding season, hawk pairs fly in large circles and gain great height before the male plunges into a deep dive and subsequent steep climb back to circling height. Later, the birds grab hold of one another with their talons and fall spiraling towards earth.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/red-tailed-hawk/

  • Falcons are diurnal raptors, birds of prey that hunt during the day, and can catch their prey in mid-air!

http://www.atozkidsstuff.com/falcons.html

  • sharp-shinned-hawk
    Sharp-Shinned Hawk

    Sharp-Shinned Hawks are stealthy! They hunt by lurking in the woods, waiting for small birds to approach. The hawks then burst forth with incredibly swift flight to capture prey in their talons.

http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/sharp-shinned-hawk

  • Northern Saw-whet Owls may be the most kawaii birds of prey. Tiny owls with catlike faces, oversized heads, bright yellow eyes and high-pitched calls, Northern Saw-whets are nocturnal and rarely seen.

    http://owladdict.blogspot.com/2013/07/northern-saw-whet-owl.html
    Northern Saw-Whet Owl

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Saw-whet_Owl/id

  • The osprey is a bird that fishes! Since its diet is essentially all fish, the osprey can be found near ponds, rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways around the world.
    ospreyp14_osprey
    Osprey

    Ospreys hunt by diving to the water’s surface from some 30 to 100 feet (9 to 30 meters) up. They have curved claws and gripping pads on their feet to help them pluck fish from the water and carry them for great distances. In flight, ospreys will orient the fish headfirst to ease wind resistance.

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/osprey/

broad-winged-hawk-kettle
A Kettle of Broad-Winged Hawks
  • A kettle is a group of birds wheeling and circling in the air, something that people in Upstate New York see on a regular basis!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kettle_(birds)

Until next time: stay wild, friends.

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, ecology, education, educational mascots, Entertainment, environment, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vultures

Stinky the Vulture

stinky-vulture-4

Through a generous donation, we now have a vulture character to add to our cast of talking critters. Vultures are interesting animals in that they are scavengers, eating dead animals.  Biologists widely consider the vulture a member of “nature’s sanitation crew” along with many other “garbage eaters” like raccoons, skunks, opossums, termites, maggots and a wide variety of other creatures.

So why is a garbage eater a good thing? Well, in the case of the vulture, they essentially help get rid of the carcasses of dead animals.  Without them, it would take a terribly long time for a dead animal to rot away.  They would pile up and thusly spread diseases and fill the air with terrible odors.  Vultures speed up the process, eating the tissues and reducing the carcass to bones.

It was fitting, I felt, that we name our vulture character Stinky. As per his backstory, he will help run the Nature’s Sanitation Crew and spread the message about the good these birds and other animals in the ‘crew’ do for the environment.

Of course, the costume (just the mask and the feet in this case) were designed to be scary, something more for Halloween than nature programs. It was created by Zagone Studios, a very spooky and wild Halloween accessory company specializing in adult sized costumes and masks.  Their vulture, along with a wide variety of monsters, werewolves/big bad wolves, spooky styled birds and even a crazed chicken, is sure to send a chill up the spine of passersby on Halloween night.  So how does one take a scary costume and turn it friendly?

Well, it’s not going to be easy. Vultures, to start with, aren’t pretty birds.  This is especially true of turkey vultures with their big red featherless heads.  And while Zagone didn’t make the mask monstrous, the realism and large eyes are a real sight.  I worked on refurbishing an old black-furred body suit that was donated to us a year ago and made a set of black and gray tail feathers and winged gloves.  Once I had all of that completed, I had to figure out his outfit and get a preliminary photo/video. I thought at first he would look good in an old leather jacket with a red t-shit with a hawk’s face on it underneath but it made him look too much like a punk.

We picked up a plain white shirt and a tan outdoorsy vest today which we’ll try on soon. We’re hoping he’ll look a bit more approachable this way.  Of course, that still leaves his mask.  We might give him a hat or bandana to wear and repaint parts of the eyes—carefully of course so I can still see out of it while in the mask.  And, we might change the voice.  I initially pictured Stinky having a rough, gravelly voice with a hint of a Brooklyn accent but that might still come off as scary from this sort of character.  I might have to really think this over.

Any suggestions?

Stinky the Vulture will debut sometime in late October.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, arctic foxes, arctic wildlife, Arts, biodiversity, bird mascots, birds, birds of prey, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, kestrels, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, talking mascots, Uncategorized

A Bird’s Eye View

We recently filmed a series of videos with Braddock bay’s Barb French with our character Kele Kestrel. Our goal was to shoot between five and six short videos, focusing on what birds of prey live in our area, why they are important, why birds migrate, how and why bands are used to research bird migration, and some simple bird facts.  We shot on location at Braddock Bay’s public Hawk Blind in the Owl Woods in North Greece, NY.  It was a hot morning but the blind was sheltered; I was grateful to not be terribly hot in the kestrel suit.

Kele Kestrel originally was built years ago by two people: my friend Dan built the body suit and Erin from Keystone Mascots built the head.  She built the beak to be wide open so I could both see and speak clearly through it.  Our friend Casey made Kele’s scarf and leg band.  At some point, we will upgrade the body suit as the arms are a bit tight.

This series is the first in which we interviewed someone but it will not be the last.  We have plans on doing many more in the future.  But for now, here are all of the Bird’s Eye View! Enjoy!