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Posts Tagged ‘Animals’

  1. Horicon National Wildlife Refuge

    September 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2111Horicon National Wildlife Refuge is a place of wonder.  Located just about 1 hour from Madison, it is a super easy day trip for a hike or a bike ride upon your arrival.

    We had decided to bike and made our first vehicle stop at the Federal Visitor Center on Headquarters Road for some suggestions on the best path for our family.  We were pleased to discover a nice nature display, an observation deck, a small gift shop, and clean bathrooms within the Center.

    The Center’s guide suggested that we try a bike path that runs along side an auto tour road.  This path included access to a network of floating pathways which led out into the wetlands and a central observation spot. We have the most luck on our hikes and biking when our travels include water, so we knew this was probably a great trail to explore.

    Tip1: Be careful to examine your maps closely. In our haste to begin, we ended up on a path that shared the way with vehicles. The majority of drivers were using extreme caution, but a few zipped down the path with seemingly no care about the blind corners, hikers, and bicyclists.

    We were happy that the bike trail had only a few rises that Bluey easily managed. We had to leave our bikes to explore the floating pathways.

    Tip2: There are no bike racks at the head of walking-only pathways. Be prepared to take valuables with you and to leave your bike propped off the main road.

    The surroundings were breathtaking. We’ve done a lot of biking and hiking in the areas in and around Madison. But we were impressed with the beauty of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.  And we had more wildlife encounters than we’ve ever experienced in our prior outings.  If you aren’t familiar with many species of water birds, you may want to tuck a pocket guide in your gear.  You will have a chance to see many rare birds in a wildlife setting such as this.

    Tip3: It appears that dogs are allowed on many trails but we’d suggest you leave them at home if you are interested in experiencing wildlife.

    Even though we spotted a school bus, vehicles, and others out and about on the trails- we managed to enjoy the majority of the area we chose on our own, without fighting crowds. Parking wasn’t an issue and access is free.

    We can’t wait to go back in the Fall and perhaps witness some migratory bird viewing!

  2. Surrounded by Molds

    February 1, 2015 by admin

    IMG_9969 We wanted an adventure on a recent weekend that was somewhere new and something unique.  It took a bit of research as we’ve already been to a ton of places within a two hour radius of our home.  But perseverance uncovered what we hoped would become a very interesting day trip.

    Just outside of Sparta is the FAST Corporation.  The company makes fiberglass statues and when they are done with a mold, they store it on their surrounding property with the hope to reuse it at some point.IMG_2765

    Tip1:  A sign at the entrance cautions that molds are favorite nesting spots for wasps in the spring.  Since we visited in the dead of winter, this was not an issue.

    When you first pull into the free parking area, your eyes are drawn to the welcome sign and a small grass yard with some abandoned statues.  We had a moment of worry that this was all the corporation had to offer.  And then we did a 180 and realized that we were surrounded by molds of all sorts and sizes.  Let the adventure begin!

    Tip2:  There are no public restrooms on the property during the weekend.  You might be able to use the FAST restroom during business hours.

    Our family spent a transfixed hour romping among the molds.  We saw everything from dogs to dinosaurs to indians to ET, the extra terrestrial.  It was oddly peaceful and a lot of fun to try and guess why someone would order something like a gigantic devil’s head.IMG_2766

    Even though we were dressed properly for a winter outdoor explore, the weather certainly influenced the amount of time we spent here.  We imagine you could easily take two hours to walk around this property in the warmer months.  This TR family is eager to return and discover molds we may have missed on our first visit to FAST!IMG_9988

  3. Animals In Winter

    January 23, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2739 We don’t let winter keep this TR family indoors.  There are many great, fun things to do outside during the winter: sledding, building snow forts, conducting science experiments, and more!

    A fun adventure we enjoy is to go on a winter hike.  Hiking in the winter is a different experience than going during a warmer season.  For one thing, you have to dress right.

    You might think there are fewer animals to see in winter.  A lot are hibernating and many others migrate.  There aren’t a ton of critters left to observe, right?

    Wrong.  A lot of Animals are still out and about during the winter months, even in the most extreme weather.  You just have to know what to look for.

    IMG_2748We are reminded of one of our favorite illustrated books on this topic: Animals In Winter, by Henrietta Bancroft, Richard G. Van Gelder and Gaetano di Palma.  We’ve been reading this book to our kiddos since they were tiny tots.  The poetic writing and space pen-and-ink drawings beautifully capture the wonder of the wilds in winter.  Our family learned from the start that animals are up to all sorts of activity during the winter.

    We took this knowledge with us on a recent walk at the Waubesa Wetlands State Natural Area.  Bluey had been learning about foxes and wanted to try to see some in the wild.  Using this as our motivation, we headed out to a likely habitat.

    IMG_2737Tip: Be prepared when heading out for a inter hike.  Parks and natural areas are sparsely attended in the thick of winter.  Dress warmly, and be careful not to overestimate how far your group can hike.  Remember you have to be able to make it back to the car.  Bring a cell phone.

    Immediately upon stepping out of the car we found a trail of canine footprints that were too large to be a fox.  We guessed they were coyotes which we also knew to frequent that area.  Undeterred in our desire to explore, we followed the coyote pack’s prints through the fresh snow and saw where their path crossed those of squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and deer.IMG_2735

    And it’s not just mammal prints we found.  We saw hawk footprints near a deer carcass, including a great imprint of the bird’s tail feathers as it crouched in the snow.  We’d never seen that before!

    IMG_2736As beautiful as this natural area is, we would never be able to have this adventure if not for the recent snow and cold temperatures.  We were able to enjoy a beautiful hike, see some amazing signs of animal life, and engage in a meaningful discussion about our local wildlife and what these animals might be up to in the winter.

    To top off our discussion of animals that migrate, hibernate or stick around in winter, a large group of Canada Geese passed over us on their migration route as we headed back to our car.

  4. Discovery World

    January 11, 2015 by admin

    We were recently gifted with a membership to the Discovery World Museum (DWM) in Milwaukee.  We immediately started making plans for a visit.  We’d been to this museum before, so we knew it would be a great trip.  In fact, our kids had been asking when we’d get to go back!

    Tip1:  DWM has very steep admission prices.  If you don’t have a membership, you’ll need to plan ahead for the expense.

    We started our exploration of the DWM at the science and biology end of the building- a three story wing that faces Lake Michigan and offers amazing views along with great interactive displays.  We particularly love the Great Lakes map exhibit where you can actually make rain fall from the ceiling.  And our Bluey greatly enjoys scrambling around on the full sized boat on the 2nd floor.

    IMG_9770In the basement level, a top-notch aquarium can keep you mesmerized for quite some time.  There are jellyfish to watch, and sting rays and sturgeon fish that you can touch!  They feel like… well, that would be telling. You’ll have to find out on your own. 😉

    Tip2:  A snack before romping through the DWM’s 2nd wing is a great idea.  There is only one small, overpriced cafe at the museum.  We recommend you enjoy your own snacks from home!

    At the other side of the building, you’ll find the technology in Wisconsin wing.  It holds fabulous displays on various machines that have been developed and built in Wisconsin- from Evinrude engines to Les Paul guitars.  There are countless devices to manipulate and learn the science and technology that went into making them.

    Also within this wing, The Kohls Design Center allows you to take a break from the museum exhibits and create various arts and crafts projects – for FREE.  A team of assistants will help you find all the materials you need to make a unique craft that you can take home from the museum.IMG_9768

    Exploring the entire DWM will easily take all day, if you can last that long.  If possible, we recommend you break your enjoyment of the DWM into several separate day trips.

  5. Halfway Prairie

    January 7, 2015 by admin

    IMG_2589In a recent search for a new place to explore, we found ourselves at the Halfway Prairie near Mazomanie, Wisconsin.  We had originally been aiming for Indian Lake Park.  But driving up the street to our original destination, we saw the impressive ruins at Halfway Prairie and decided that we had to go there first.

    Visible from the road is a large, crumbling building, and a smaller building next to it.  This drew us in and we parked our car to explore.IMG_2590_2

    The larger building is mostly a ruin- the windows, roof and wooden parts have long ago rotted away, leaving tall stone walls behind.  Our best guess is that it was a former school, or maybe a church?  We’re not sure.  But it was very cool to explore the outside.  (The building is fenced off for safety purposes.)

    Tip 1:  Hunting is permitted in this wildlife area, so exercise caution if you explore during hunting season!

    The smaller building is locked and boarded up.  It is much smaller and less ornate looking than the other structure, and in better condition.  Perhaps it was a maintenance shed, or a caretaker’s home?

    Several paths flow off from the buildings, heading deep into the prairie beyond.  We enjoyed walking the paths and following some of the remaining fence lines.  At one point, we startled some sleeping deer who took off across the fields towards the wooden area further back.

    Tip 2: Indian Lake Park contains parts of the Ice Age Trail.  Perhaps one day the trail will cut through this wildlife area.

    IMG_2587_2We were quite taken by the quiet serenity of Halfway Prairie.  We’re sure to be back, and we recommend this out-of-the-way park for a day of explore.

  6. Best of 2014

    December 31, 2014 by admin

    56571_party_mdAs we welcome in 2015, we at ThriftyRambler wanted to take a few moments to reflect on 2014. Here are some of our favorite posts of the year: (launched in 2013 but continues throughout the years!)

    We are thrilled interact with all of our readers and we thank you for being a part of this homegrown project. We are excited to see what the coming year has in store for all of us! We encourage you to continue to reach out to us with ideas or comments.

    Wishing all of you a peaceful, loving and prosperous 2015.


  7. The MacGyver Solution

    December 21, 2014 by admin

    IMG_9303As new hermit crab owners, we’ve been preoccupied with making sure our little friends are happy and comfortable.

    Maintaining the preferred level of humidity in their sandy crabitat is one piece that has proved difficult for us.

    We tried various ideas from misting the tank regularly, to making sure the sand was well moistened.  Nothing seemed the right solution for keeping the humidity steady.  And to the extent any of our methods helped, they all required a very hands-on, all day approach.  What if we went away on a day trip?  Surely, there just had to be an easier way.

    So we started shopping for alternatives.  When we saw the prices for crab tank humidifiers, we balked.  After all we have already invested in our crustacean friends, there had to be a more affordable option.

    We returned to our YouTube sources and saw various ideas for ways you could make your own humidifier for much less than any store brought option.  So we took on this DIY task.

    Building our own humidifier turned out to be quick, easy and only a few dollars investment.


    Fish tank air pump

    Length of air pump tubing

    Air Stone

    Plastic Bicycle Water Bottle

    Glue Gun

    Wire Cutters


    We first used a screwdriver to punch two small holes in the top side of the water bottle.  We placed these holes just under the rim of the lid.  This way, refilling the bottle wouldn’t require disassembling the whole system.IMG_9300

    Next we cut a length of tube to go from the pump to the bottom of the bottle.  We attached the air stone to this tube.

    Another tube went from the top of the bottle, up into the tank.  We used wire cutters to cut through the wire mesh removable top of the crabitat, just enough to let the tub fit through.

    We used a glue gun to seal the the tubes at the edge of the bike bottle.

    Then, all we had to do was wait for the glue to dry, and put some water in the bottle.

    How It Works:

    The air stone creates bubbles, which rise to the top of the water, creating super-humid air at the top of the bottle.  The second hose then leads this humid air to the tank.  Presto!  A nice, humidity boost to the air of the crabitat.

    IMG_9298We were so pleased that we could make this on our own, with only a purchase of a few materials!  Our Bluey helped with the whole project (a great home lesson!) and was suitably proud of how well it all worked out.

  8. Herman’s Hermits

    December 17, 2014 by admin

    IMG_9263Hermit Crabs? Yup! Hermit crabs are now counted among our family. This TR household is currently 4 humans, 1 dog, 3 cats, and 3 new hermit crabs.

    We thought these crabs would be a simple, low-maintenance pet to add to our family.

    But please be warned! We learned the hard way that welcoming hermit crabs into your home isn’t necessarily easy-cheesey. These little critters involve a lot of initial expense and set up. We had thought we researched this undertaking and were good to go. But it turned out that stuff like “keeping the humidity stable” is harder to do than we might have thought.

    Tip1: Items recommended for your hermit crabs: heat lamp with day AND night bulbs, glass aquarium, substrate of sand, 2 water dishes (not metal), heat/humidity gauge, food dish, small hiding shelter, extra shells, and climbing toys.

    IMG_9268We had a 5 gallon tank and decided that 3 small hermit crabs would fit comfortably in this space. We wanted to be sure that our hermit crabs appeared healthy and happy prior to purchase. We visited a few local stores before settling on the active hermits crabs at Animart, a locally-owned pet store chain. We picked our sand up at Menards, a local home & builder store (much cheaper than buying the fancy sands sold at pet stores) and some supplies at PetSmart– all for the lower prices.

    Once home, we excitedly set up our new friends in their habitat.  Our crabs seem to really enjoy a small ceramic tree that had been sold as a fish tank decoration, as well as some green moss we were able to get at Michaels (which is also where we found a big bag of extra shells).

    Tip2:  To reduce the odds of giving your crabs an illness or parasite, make sure all items for their tank are thoroughly washed and rinsed with boiling water.

    It took us a while to get to the point where both the temperature and humidity seemed more or less stable in our ‘crabitat’.  Since we obsess about taking good care of the critters that live with us, this struggle caused us some distress.  We suspect that crabs are hearty crustaceans that can weather these issues better than we think.  But we recommend you do full research if you choose to get hermit carbs, as you should for any new pet.

    Tip3:  We did a lot of our research using YouTube, but not all videos are equal.  Some seemed to come from very experienced crab owners, some seemed like they were made by newer owners.  (One, disappointingly, featured a man smuggling crabs from Jamaica to bring to his home tank in Canada.)  We recommend you watch MANY videos to get an ample supply of ideas to make your crabs happy.  Or take out some books from your local library.

    Our hermit crabs have turned into fun little friends to have in the house.  We occasionally shift them into a small plastic bin to interact with them.  They really seem to like these encounters!  They all start moving around and checking things out.  It has been quite a fun, new adventure for our family!IMG_9256


  9. Pollyanna, The Submariner Reindeer

    December 1, 2014 by admin

    As the holiday season gets underway, we wanted share with you the interesting life of reindeer Pollyanna.

    Picture a reindeer.

    How does it move around?  Perhaps you are seeing it walk from place to place through the tundra.  Or maybe you know that reindeer are good swimmers, so you visualize it swimming across an arctic lake or fjord.

    And reindeer fly!  Everyone knows that.

    But did you know they also ride in submarines?

    Well, at least one did, back during World War II.

    Photo credit: Royal Naval Museum

    Photo credit: Royal Naval Museum

    Hard to believe?  Check out this true story:

    A British submarine named the HMS Trident was stationed as part of the British-Russian alliance at Pollyarnoe, a naval base near Murmansk on the Arctic Ocean.  The commander of the Trident, Lieutenant Commander G M Sladen, chatted up the local Russian Admirals about life back in England.  He mentioned his children and his wife’s difficulties in pushing the pram up the steep hills in the snow.  The Russian leaders, in a gesture of goodwill between the Allies, decided to try to help.

    When the Trident shipped out of Polyarnoe in August 1941, the Russians added a live baby reindeer to the provisions laded aboard.  If reindeer could pull Santa’s sleigh, surely one could help out moving a pram!  How could Lt. Commander Sladen refuse such a thoughtful gift?  The crew dubbed the reindeer “Pollyarnoe” in honor of their Russian home-port, but soon Anglicized the name to “Pollyanna.”

    Thinking the Trident would be returning to her base in Scotland in two or three weeks, the Russians provided a few bales of tundra moss for Pollyanna to eat.   But plans changed and the Trident was at sea for six weeks straight!  The whole time with a (growing!) baby reindeer on board.  When the moss ran out, the crew fed Pollyanna table and kitchen scraps.

    The crew took care of her and cleaned up after Pollyanna, but supposedly the deer would only allow Lt. Comander Sladen to be near her when the surface hatch was opened to allow fresh air into the sub.

    reindeer_2After six weeks at sea, the now rather large reindeer was extracted from the sub with some difficulty and returned to dry land.  After a few weeks with the Sladen family, Pollyanna took up residence at a Royal zoo, and lived out her life in peace and comfort.

    There are many stories old and new, some true and many fictional, that capture the true meaning of holiday cheer and spirit.  This is one of our favorites and we hope that you enjoyed it as well.

  10. Snowtime Bliss

    November 16, 2014 by admin

    IMG_8760Even though the official start of winter is about five weeks out, there is no escaping the joy of the quickly approaching holiday season.

    What makes this time of year even better? Snow, of course!

    We are always surprised by the amount of people that seem to hate snow. They’ll bundle up and have a fabulous time outside while tailgating and watching a football game. But the mere mention of enjoying the snow brings out their bah-humbug.IMG_8751

    Perhaps these TR family’s favorite snowy activities will change your mind:

    1.  An early morning walk in the snow around your neighborhood. Listen to the birds. See the soft grey fade into a pure blue. Know that later in the day, people will think about your foot tracks.

    2.  Check out the footprints you find.  Who do they belong to?   Where do they lead?

    3.  Exhale and wonder at the beauty of seeing your breath.

    4.  Make a snow angel. Seriously. They’re just as awesome now as they were then.

    5.  Grab a handful of snow and throw it up all around you.

    6.  Have a snowball fight.

    7.  Build a snowman.

    8.  Go on a mid afternoon hike and try to identify animal tracks in the snow.

    9.  Get chilly and then come inside for hot cocoa and try popping your own popcorn on the stovetop.

    IMG_8738The snow and cold doesn’t have to be something aggravating that you suffer through all season. Embrace it and explore!