Tag Archives: for the kids

Hanging out with Llamas and Alpacas

Llamas walking around the ancient fortress of Kuelap in Peru

Llamas walking around the ancient fortress of Kuelap in Peru. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Hanging out with llamas and alpacas is nothing short of endearing as they peek out with their furry long necks. They are grand companions for the road, or “silent brothers,” as the Andean people call them. Llamas (pronounced “yama”) have been around for millions of years first originating in North America, then migrating to South America. Their close cousin, Alpacas are native to the Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They were mostly bred for their fibers, whereas the llamas were pack animals used during the pre-Columbian era. The Incan Empire in Peru heavily depended on the use of llamas  for transporting goods, crops and other materials between remote villages. Alpacas were vital to the Incas by providing one of the strongest and softest animals fibers, great for making sweaters, especially needed in the cold sierra mountains. They also served as companions for young children and small animals. Llamas and alpacas are symbolic to the indigenous cultures of South America and represent a way of life.

 

Affection for these animals has spread to North America and Europe thanks to hiking and farming initiatives. Hiking with llamas is not only environmentally friendly since they don’t damage the land when grazing or walking, they are also accustomed to high altitude, and are less stubborn than mules and horses. They can alert us when a herd of animals approach in the distance. Llamas are mostly peaceful, curious animals (although they can spit for hierarchical reasons within their herd) and great for people trekking long distance, who can’t endure heavy equipment such as older folks, children and those with disabilities. While an average llama of 300 pounds can carry about 75 pounds (25 percent its weight), it’s not recommended alpacas carry heavy loads since they’re smaller, and less accustomed to taking long hikes. However, many farms allow visitors to feed alpacas and take them for short walks. Alpacas are docile, calm, non-aggressive to humans, and they are able to learn tricks. They are especially therapeutic for children.

If you’re ready to embrace the alpaca’s or the llama’s chill attitude, walk along with them in one these parks or farms!

Llama Trekking

Jackson Hole Llamas offers llama trekking trips in Wyoming through five areas in Yellowstone National Park and Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Llamas will carry your gear as you walk with them, so you can enjoy views of wildflower meadows, forests, waterfalls, geothermal areas, and alpine lakes. Their website even shows off a variety of llamas each with a quirky character description. Similarly, Yellowstone Safari Company offers llama treks in the northern parts of the park, including Black Butte Creek Trail, Specimen Creek and Black Canyon. Swan Mountain Llama Trekking offers short trails and multi-day treks through Montana’s Glacier Country. Some of their longer trails go through Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, Great Bear and the Mission Wilderness Areas. They even have a 3-hour wine & cheese llama trek.

The video below illustrates how backpacking with llamas can be a smooth hike.

 

 

Alpaca Walks

Alpacas on the trail. [Cynthia Via]

Alpacas on the trail. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Though alpaca trail packs are rare, some farms allow visitors to feed, pet and take them on short walks. Since most alpacas spend their time within farms, they’ll need a bit of training. If you have your own alpaca, walking is a great way to exercise and build a relationship with them. Walking with alpacas is beneficial for children especially those with autism. In the presence of alpacas, children tend to walk longer and be more invested in the moment.

If you’re in Garret County in Maryland, visit Blue Bell Farm where you can view and walk alongside alpacas as they graze picturesque hills and woodlands. The STARanch Alpaca Trek allows visitors to walk with alpacas through riverbanks and trails along the Caloosahatchee River and Cypress creek in Florida. Patchwork Meadow Alpacas in the Mohawk Valley of New York allows visitors to see alpacas up close and explore their mill-spun alpaca yarn.This 33-acre farm is home to 74 alpacas.

 

If you want to have these furry friends around all the time, maybe think about owning an alpaca or llama farm or volunteering in one like these folks.

For more animal encounters download our Pocket Ranger® Apps, and check out our Instagram.

First Signs of Spring

The first signs of spring are all around us. Bees flocking to flowers, butterflies shedding their old skin, and birds singing in the morning. Spring blossoms gradually, but before we know it we’re in the middle of a flower field, so slow down, and take notice. Invite the family and the kids on a nature hunt to see who can spot the first signs of spring.

http://cdn.adirondackexplorer.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Summer-wildflowers.jpg

Image: cdn.adirondackexplorer.org

What Springs means

Spring is the season when plant species grow, animal activity increases, and most important, the soil reaches the right temperature for micro flora to flourish.

Spring is known as the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The first day of spring is March 20, 2015 and continues through April and May with some areas starting later in the year. In the Southern Hemisphere during March the equinox is fall. On this day all over the world, day and night are approximately equal, meaning the dividing line between day and night becomes vertical, connecting the North and South Poles. The sun rises exactly in the east and sets in the west. When spring arrives you’ll notice earlier sunrises and later sunsets, so that means more time spent outdoors! See below a year in 12 seconds.

Spring is in the air!

Image: http://beauty-places.com

Image: http://beauty-places.com

Apart from the noticeably sunnier days, there’s a freshness of spring: petrichor (earthy smell) emanates from grassy knolls. All around, nature is humming with life.

With spring comes the heavy rains, and this is no coincidence, as water is needed to carry necessary nutrients from the soil through plants. Essential minerals and chemicals are dissolved with water and transported. Rain is important for the survival of humans and animals since they feed on many of those plants.

Notice the trees; they’re beginning to show life. Water maples and red maples are first to show signs of budding. In a few weeks dead branches will start growing buds at the end of their twigs, and soon burst into leaves. Early blooming trees include redbuds, magnolias, Norway maples, and rhododendrons. The tree blossoms are pollinated by insects and the wind. The earlier plants bloom, the quicker they’ll get pollinated.

Brave flowers

Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com

Image: http://1.bp.blogspot.com

Some plants flower immediately after snow melting or soil thawing. For example, the Glory-of-the-Snow, an alpine plant, gets ready in the previous season so it can show off its flowers as soon as snow starts melting. Forest wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight before the bigger trees shade them by pushing shoots above the ground during spring. Some early wildflower bloomers include: Cutleaf Toothwort, Red Puccoon, Virginia Bluebells, Trout Lily, and more!

The growth of plants provides a place for butterflies, bees and other small animals to find shelter and food. Larger plants and trees also provide a place to hide from predators and a place for nesting. It’s almost as it if nature wakes up from its long slumber to take care of its offsprings.

Animals come out to play

Writing while butterfly stays near the paper.

Spring is a time when animals come out from their hidden nooks to mate and migrate. How do animals know its spring? Environmental cues tell them to change their behavior to fit the particular season. Adjusting their habits helps them survive. It’s a matter of life and death, knowing when to have offspring for example. One environmental cue birds use is the length of day to adjust their daily activities.

On the first warm days of March, be on the look out for butterflies leaving their chrysalis after having fully grown to start trying out their young wings. Depending on the region, some of the first to appear are Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, Cabbage Whites, and Spring Azures. Also, worker bees will be making the rounds seeking nectar and pollen from spring flowers. Bees are responsible for pollinating trees, shrubs and flowers. Without them we wouldn’t be able eat fruits produced from plants and trees, since they’re the main pollinators.

After surviving winter, songbirds come out to play, especially in the morning. Spring marks the beginning of mating, feeding, and nesting season when food availability increases, snow melts and the rain brings an abundance of water. This is a great time for them to migrate back to the winter homes they left. Blackbirds, sparrows, mourning doves are often the first to make an appearance. If you’re in an area with abundant trees, you may hear woodpeckers drumming. As for ducks, mallards, black ducks, and wood ducks are usually the first to be seen. Late and early spring are both great times for raptor-watching. Owls make their early spring appearance with a chorus of hooting, as a way to get ready for the breeding cycle.

Image: http://www.collegegreenmag.com

Image: www.collegegreenmag.com

Some animals like bears, hedgehogs, woodchucks, bats and ground squirrels hibernate through winter, and finally come out for spring. By doing this they’re able to save energy, and live off stored fat. During winter they slowed down their activities, going out only a few times. In the chipmunk’s case, its heart rate declines about 350 beats per minute to 4 beats per minute during hibernation. Once spring begins, these animals get moving by searching for food, marking their territory, and finding mates.

Explore the first signs of spring, document them through photos and share them with our social media sites (instagram and twitter). And be sure to check out the wildlife viewing option in all of our Pocket Ranger® Mobile Apps!