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The Wilds in Winter

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dawn on our road. The kids and I are headed out to The Wilds!

 Each January, we take part in the Ohio Ornithological Society's field trip to The Wilds, a 14 square mile reclaimed strip mine that is now billed as the World's Largest Conservation Facility. Sometimes we help guide the groups, and sometimes we just hang out. Usually it's a mix. Everybody helps everybody else find things. That's what makes it fun.

Birders' cars gathered in the parking lot on International Road, January 2011.

photo by Phoebe Linnea Thompson

We hope it won't be freezing cold, but it usually is. There's nothing to stop the wind, and it's always about 20 degrees colder there than it is at home. But there are rough-legged hawks, short-eared owls, eagles, foxes, coyotes, and any number of birds we can't see at home. And there are other birdwatchers, friends of ours, and it's always fun to be out with them.

American bison grazing, The Wilds, January 2011

 And there are some rather awesome perks to this trip.

The Wilds' staff has spoiled us terribly. Last year, they let us into the southern white rhino's winter barn, and this year, they raised the bar by letting us into the Asian one-horned rhino barn and the giraffe barn as well as the white rhino barn. Oh, my. If you want to make Science Chimps very, very happy, just let them into animal barns where they can fondle the hoofed stock.

I got a lot of very cool photos last year, because it was a warm and balmy day, nudging into the upper 30's, with lovely sun. I kept meaning to post them, but spring rolled around and I got seduced by the moment. Sometimes I save the best stuff until it's almost spoiled.

We waited, listening to the rhino keeper talk about his charges. My inner Chimp was jumping up and down, hooting. I was about to see a rhino up close!

Bill of the Birds got his pats in.

I discovered very quickly where the southern white rhino's sweet spot is. It's the incredibly soft, warm fold between his massive abdomen and his hind leg. Why, that's Chet Baker's sweet spot, too. I was using dog knowhow on rhinos, which turns out to be a good strategy. I commenced to scratching in there and the huge animal leaned toward me, holding his leg out, in rhino nirvana.

Well, it was a commensal relationship because it made me happy, too. At one point the rhino fell almost over, he was leaning so hard and holding that near hind leg up. My hand got kind of gooshed between the rhino and the four-inch steel bar that holds the animals in. I was OK. I'm sure the rhino was very sorry.

Southern white rhinos are very, very sweet animals.

I sorry, Miss Thighscratcher Woman. I know I am fat and heavy and you are small. Is your hand OK?

Southern white rhinos are soulful and serene and their eyes are wise. In personality, from my limited experience, I would place them somewhere between a very nice horse and a dog. They're more into being petted than horses are, which moves them toward doglike.

I so wanted to climb into the pen with them, but even with a raging case of rhino fever I knew that would be a dumb thing to do.

Needless to say, Phoebe and Liam were enchanted by these enormous, puppylike beasts, especially when one sat down on his haunches. What a sight.

Just huge.


And now that you've given a white rhino a scritch, I bet you can tell us about the special rhin-odor on your hand afterwards?
Miss Weezy in TX

Posted by Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 8:36 AM

Having a BFF that is a rhino keeper, I have been blessed with the experience of scratching down a black rhino. Its always neat to see this huge animal on its side with feet sticking straight out in the air and really cool toes to ponder.You can almost see them drool if you scratch long enough.

Very cool! Thanks for sharing the rhino story.

What an experience! Thanks for sharing.
Lynda in Michigan.

Posted by Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 11:04 AM


I always love your blog and this one - wow! I love The Wilds! Do you have any giraffe pic's???

Waah! I am so envious! White rhinos are my favorites. To see them that close must have been wonderful. Thank you!

My boy and I were in the rhino barn at the Cleveland Zoo once. A female and male were separated by a similar fence and they were desperately trying to get at each other. They sprayed the room full of rhino perfumes. The male was actually bloody from bashing at the gate. When we got home my wife wouldn't let us in the house. She couldn't believe the stench. We were kind of clueless. I don't remember if we stopped anywhere to eat on the way home. Someone might have called protective services on me for being such a smelly family

And who wouldn't like to be rubbed in that spot??

Posted by Anonymous January 25, 2011 at 5:28 PM

I think I need to try out your rhino-scritching technique next time I bump into one in the field. My own efforts don't seem to be working:

The Wilds is my favorite place in Ohio. If you haven't already done so, I highly recommend the Sunset Safari tours. The animals are much more active in the evening when things cool down a bit, the countryside is beautiful as the sun sets, and you have a nice dinner as well. Last year I even spent the night there in a yurt! All this isn't cheap, but it's worth saving up for. Plus The Wilds can use all the financial support we can muster.

Between the rhino petting and the giraffe slobber from the hand-feeding, the car had an interesting aroma for a few days. This trip has become a highlight of the year.

wow, loved all the photos and on reading the message on your banner I so agree. That top photo is so gorgeous....


Just read about the death of Bill's dad on OH Birds. I am very sorry for your loss.

Erica (a book and blog fan)

Looking forward to seeing you and Liam at space coast wildlife festival today. We live in in Winter Garden and love Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I can't sleep because I know I have to get up early to get over there and sign in. Hope we don't run into traffic problems.
We should have a beautiful day today. I'll be the one in the wheelchair and I have a beautiful red haired daughter with me.

Posted by Anonymous January 28, 2011 at 1:36 AM

Julie the sitting rhino is just the best.

Julie, Your children are definitely the luckiest kidos around. They raise baby birds, take in strays, have a dog that is a celebrity and get to experience nature up close on a daily basis. I know they will grow up to be just like you and that is A-OK!

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