Monday, August 31, 2009

The Partridge Family

I never should have done it. As soon as my fingers hit the keyboard while typing the title to this post it happened. And admit it, for many of you reading this, it probably happened to you too. The "Partridge Family" theme song started playing in your head.
Hello, world, hear the song that we're singin' C'mon get happy! A whole lot of lovin' is what we'll be bringin' We'll make you happy! We had a dream, we'd go travelin' together, We'd spread a little lovin' then we'd keep movin' on. Somethin' always happens whenever we're together We get a happy feelin' when we're singing a song. Trav'lin' along there's a song that we're singin' C'mon get happy! A Whole lot of lovin' is what we'll be bringin' We'll make you happy! We'll make you happy! We'll make you happy!
It's actually appropriate. While these little birds are wandering around the Butterfly Garden, they quietly call to each other. Peeping and chirping softly....a little song they're singing while they're travelin' together. And.....fact of the matter is......watching this partridge family does make you happy.
The two crested wood partridge chicks are growing and learning how to get around in the exhibit. They are also able to fly short distances, something their parents typically do only to get into the trees to roost at night, or to quickly get away when startled.
Thanks to Dennis Harris for the great shots.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Baby Macaroni Penguin

Talk about a little character. The baby macaroni penguin was absolutely hilarious yesterday when Amy Graves took it on "walk about." The little chick was very active, exploring, stretching and occasionally nipping at Amy. "He's got his daddy's attitude," said Graves, referring to the chick's playful pecks. Of course it will still be awhile before we know whether the baby is a boy or a girl, but many seem to automatically refer to the chick as a male.

One thing visitors will notice are the fluffy-looking areas next to smooth areas on this bird. The smooth areas are the sleek, swim feathers. The now somewhat ragged-looking feathers are the downy, baby feathers.

What guests can't see from a distance are the number of downy feathers that fall out whenever the chick preens or even moves. There's also quite a bit of dander. So I was reminded of the cartoon character, "Pigpen" from Peanuts while watching "him" waddle around. There was quite a cloud of grey feathers following the little one around. "He" seemed to enjoy a light scratching from Amy much like a shedding dog enjoys a good scratching.

In this view, you can see the feet have now gone from the black color it was born with, to a pinkish color more like adult macaroni penguins. If you look closely at the beak, you might detect the color beginning to lighten there as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Feeling Sluggish?

If you are feeling a little sluggish today, maybe this will pep you up. Here's video of a baby South American red-headed turtle that has plenty of "get up and go."

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Chicks and a Sea Turtle Switcheroo

Two baby crested wood partridges were recently born inside the Tennessee Aquarium's Butterfly Garden. The chicks are not as colorful as the parents yet, but they are cute. They are also very fast for being less than one week old.

Aquarium staff played an unusual shell game recently. Aquarist Jake Steventon explains the recent sea turtle switcheroo.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Penguin on Walk-About

Aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich with the macaroni chick on "Walk About."

The macaroni penguin chick at the Tennessee Aquarium is looking a little scruffy lately. That's because swimming feathers are growing in, pushing out its downy, soft feathers. Look closely at the picture of aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich and the macaroni chick and you'll notice smooth and fluffy areas on its flippers. "So right now it appears like a molting adult macaroni," said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. "And we'll have a bunch of molting penguins in about a month." Graves says that the macaroni chick might have all of its swimming feathers in about two more weeks. "Then it can go for its first swim," Graves said. For now, the baby macaroni is a "Tween." Big enough to roam around, but without the swim feathers it still has to be kept inside an acrylic barrier with the parents. So, the Aquarium's penguin keepers have been taking this chick into the penguin backup area twice daily for "walk about." Graves explains this activity is beneficial in several ways. "First it is an enrichment activity for the chick. It wanders around exploring the backup area and getting a little exercise. But it also allows us to get a close up look at the bird and by gently manipulating the beak, flippers and feet now, it will be less stressful for this bird when we have to examine it as an adult." Check out this link if you would like to see the macaroni chick on "walk about":

Saturday, August 15, 2009

National Geographic Photo Exhibit at IMAX

Many thanks to everyone who joined us "on safari" recently at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater. These guests were the first ones to view a new traveling photo exhibit that is currently on display inside the theater. "Through the Eyes of the Gods," gives visitors a unique perspective on some of the natural and cultural beauty of Africa. Photographer Robert Haas perched on the side of a helicopter to capture these images of some of the most remote and unspoiled corners of Africa. His inspiring shots are an excellent companion to the film, "African Adventure 3D." This exhibit is produced by the National Geographic Museum and is presented locally by the Chattanooga Zoo.

On this particular night, IMAX patrons were able to meet some unusual critters up close. Members of the Aquarium's education department facilitated these special animal encounters that caused a few wide eyes. Numerous questions followed tentative touches to a giant millipede or boa.

"African Adventure 3D" takes you on a virtual photo safari of the Okavango Delta. The filmmakers did an excellent job of placing the audience in the safari camp, boat and trucks during the 45 minute expedition. Lions, hippos and warthogs thrilled the audience, but my favorite part was hearing everyone react to the elephant scenes. Even after a second viewing, it's fun to see the 3D wrinkled trunk of an elephant swing in front of your face.

Several people won great safari-themed door prizes including an awesome plush tiger. We're told "her" new name is "Dottie."

Go on your own photo safari at the Chattanooga Zoo and upload your best shots to win a behind-the-scenes tour of the Chattanooga Zoo and Tennessee Aquarium. Check out the Zoo's Flickr photo group at: Submit your images between now and October 23rd. Winning images will be exhibited at the Hunter Museum of American Art. Good Luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Update from Penguins' Rock

Photo: A macaroni penguin stops by to take a look at Pebbles and her chick.

After a couple of days off, it was fun to return to work and hear the news about Zeus and Pebbles' new chick. The gentoo baby hatched on Sunday while aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich was on duty. It’s often a bit difficult to hear tiny peeping sounds over the raucous penguin calls at the Tennessee Aquarium, but Aldrich and the other penguin keepers had been keeping eyes and ears trained on Zeus and Pebbles’ nest for several days. “These two gentoos are not as keeper friendly and prefer that we keep our distance. So it has been a bit more challenging to get glimpses of this new gentoo chick,” said Aldrich. This latest addition to “Penguins’ Rock” was born right in the middle of the hatching timeframe.

There is always concern for newborn birds, perhaps more so with penguins because they face additional challenges of chilly air and must remain out of cold water. The penguin parents must be diligent in several ways. They must keep the baby warm and well-fed, safe from other curious penguins all while caring for a fragile life within a nest of angular rocks. Parents like Paulie and Chaos, the macaroni pair that produced the first chick at the Tennessee Aquarium, appeared to be naturals. We marveled at the way they shared duties incubating, and then caring for their offspring. And some people, like me, were amazed at how quickly a tiny bird became a rather large macaroni chick.

Paulie and Chaos are an example of the best-case scenario. The parents took care of their baby without staff intervention. This helps the parents develop their parental instincts, helps ensure the baby will not become too imprinted on people and allowed the chick and parents to remain with the rest of the colony.

But penguin parenting doesn’t always occur in such a textbook manner.

Senior aviculturist Amy Graves explained that even though gentoos Bug and Big T had been attentive in some ways to their chick, they had not been feeding the baby on a regular basis. So Aquarium staffers have had to supplement the feeding schedule with “penguin milkshakes” served in a variety of ways. “We created a formula that is a mixture of krill, capelin and different vitamins that are all blended together to a nice consistency,” Graves said. “At first, we fed this formula to the chick without anything else. But as it got a bit larger, we would then dip a small fish, either a silverside or capelin, into the milkshake and feed that to the chick.” Keepers had to step in and supplement Bug & Big T’s feedings up to three times daily. Sometimes the parents would feed the chick, but mostly it was Aquarium staff working to keep the tiny bird’s weight up.

Throughout the past few weeks, Graves and other Aquarium staff members have been consulting outside penguin experts who have been following the macaroni chick’s progress and this gentoo chick’s struggles.

When I answered the phone this morning, I could hear the sadness in Amy Grave’s voice immediately. She had called to inform me about the loss of Bug & Big T’s chick. It’s difficult news to hear, especially when you know how dedicated the penguin keepers and volunteers are when it comes to providing the highest level of care to these captivating animals.

Kevin Calhoon, the Aquarium’s assistant curator of forests, said that this might not be just a case of poor parental instincts. Ironically, their lackluster feedings could indicate that Bug & Big T picked up on signals about this chick’s health that we are unaware of. “Many bird species will simply stop feeding their young if everything isn’t ‘just right’ with the baby,” Calhoon explained.

Zeus and Pebble’s were seen feeding the newest gentoo chick this morning and Graves says they are very protective of their baby. If Zeus and Pebble’s turn out to be as diligent as Paulie and Chaos, we should see this gentoo chick grow quickly in the coming days.

The sadness of today’s news is tempered by the joy of watching guests inside “Penguins’ Rock.”

Today, Aquarium visitors will be amazed by the baby macaroni born on June 18th . That chick is now seen occasionally gobbling down fish from a feed pan without assistance from Chaos and Paulie. Guests are also noticing some other changes in this bird’s appearance. “If you take a good close look at its chest and flippers, it looks like it’s had a haircut,” said Graves. “That’s caused by the swimming feathers coming in and pushing out the soft, little downy feathers.” The baby macaroni is also growing stubby, bristly tail feathers. And Graves says this bird may have all of its handsome black and white plumage in the next two weeks. “Once that happens, the baby macaroni will be ready to start swimming with the colony, hopefully by the end of the month,” Graves said.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thanks for Sharing Pictures and Thoughts

It's amazing to see the pictures that Tennessee Aquarium visitors share with everyone. Here's a great example sent to the Aquarium by a recent visitor: "While visiting the aquarium, I was attempting to snap a picture of one of the jellyfish and ended up with this picture. It shows the reflection of my husband and daughter in the glass along with the actual picture of the jellyfish. I tried duplicating the shot and was completely unable to. I just thought it was amazing. As is the Aquarium- we visited in July and hope to return soon!" - Katie

Another visitor e-mailed to share his thoughts about a recent visit: "My friend and I had a great time last Friday and enjoyed all exhibits in both Ocean Journey and River Journey. All staff and volunteers were very helpful and it was a great experience. Besides the penguins and sharks, one of my highlights was touching a milk snake! Until then I would have never been willing to touch any snake in a million years but the handler eased my fear and nervousness! I even learned to appreciate the snake's beauty! Of course that doesn't mean I'm looking for rattlers or copperheads especially here on Kentucky Lake!!! HA!

We also enjoyed an IMAX 3D show and did a River Gorge Cruise during the afternoon. Again everyone was so helpful and friendly and I'm looking forward to another visit in the near future. The guide on the boat and the Captain went out of their way to make all of the passengers feel right at home and special. I also enjoyed the history information that the guide presented about Chattanooga, the river and Lookout Mountain." - Bobby from Camden, TN

The snake Bobby mentioned is one of our education outreach animals that are part of our new animal encounters program. Every hour of every day in both Aquarium buildings, a different animal is brought out for visitors to meet. One of our animal encounter specialists helps guests get to know these critters, their special adaptations and interesting behaviors.

Learn more here:

Thanks again to Katie and Bobby for sharing their experiences with everyone!