If Alsace’s Storks Really Do Deliver Babies, We Could Be In For A Big Surprise

We’d heard storks were the emblem for Alsace, we just didn’t expect to see two giant nests the minute we drove up to Euguisheim, our first Alsatian town.

Two nests

Storks were once plentiful in the area.  For centuries, the storks of Alsace lived among humans, building their nests on Alsace’s buildings.

They migrated every year to Africa ( mostly Mali and Mauritania), a 12,000 kilometer (7456 mile) journey.  Over the years, their  population decreased until the 1980’s, when only two pairs remained in all of Alsace.   There were several causes:

  • 90% died on the migration due to hitting power lines, exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Pesticides
  • Urban growth
  • Draining of the marshes along the Rhine
  • On the annual migration to Africa, large numbers of them smashed into power lines.
  • African droughts in their wintering habitat depleted food supplies.
  • In warring African nations, starving residents ate them.

Alsace under took a program to repopulate the area with storks.   They built stands for the nests in Alsatian trees chimney stacks and bell towers.  They also developed stork parks for breeding and raising storks.

For the first three years, young storks are kept in enormous enclosed aviaries to rid them of the instinct to migrate. Alsace took other steps to encourage their repopulation.

  • They provided addition food, in the form of fluffy, yellow, day-old chicks (they also  eat field mice, snakes, frogs and smaller birds such as sparrows).
  • Electric company developed special screens to keep the birds from nesting on poles to decrease electrocutions.
  • Between breeding seasons, they repaired deteriorating nests.
  • Residents are strictly forbidden to remove nests from their chimneys and rooftops.

Today, many storks do not make the dangerous migration and live in Alsace year round, delighting Alsatians who adore them.  Only about half of the Alsatian white stork population migrates.  Half those migrating storks travel to the traditional wintering grounds in Africa.  Others go to Spain, where open dumpsters provide easy meals.  Now, Alsace’s stork population is over 400 nesting pairs!

We visited one of the aviaries and watched storks feed their babies.  It was pretty cool.   Watching them, we could see why the people of Alsace love these majestic birds.  Not all the nests were enclosed.  It was exciting to watch the parents soar overhead.  Each time, I was so busy staring that I didn’t get my camera ready in time to get a picture.  Sorry.

Storks symbolize of happiness and faithfulness/fertility and luck.  According to legend, storks deliver new babies to their families. According to Alsatian custom, a child wanting a little brother or sister places a piece of sugar on the window ledge to attract the stork.  The hope was that it would leave the precious bundle in exchange for the treat.   In case you were wondering, we didn’t leave anything on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Visitors to Alsace, don’t have to look hard for storks (La Cigogne in French).  From souvenir shops to decorations, they are everywhere.

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Traveling Through History At Skansen, The World’s First Open-Air Museum

He’s been known to think of museums as a great place to nap, but enjoys the activity inherent in open-air museums.  Founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius, Skansen was the world’s first open-air museum.  It is a great place to visit with kids, as big kids we enjoyed it too.  It was great to be out in the sun on a nice spring day and we saw tons of cool stuff.

The golden pretzel is the sign for bakeries.

How could he nap when there were fresh baked goods?

Skansen is a time machine.  It has 150 houses that were relocated from different parts of Sweden to form a medieval city.  Most of the houses have museum staff dressed in costume ready to answer questions, tell the stories of the buildings and giving demonstrations.  There are demonstrations on glass-blowing, netting, sheep-sheering, how to make bread, how to produce various handicrafts, etc.  We even bought coffee (coffee again, quelle surprise) from a costumed lady in a 19th century house.

The staff are one of the things that make Skansen so special They are everywhere and do a lot to enrich visitors.  In addition to the standard imparting knowledge, musicians perform folk melodies.  Dancers teach people folk dances.  Staff drive visitors around the complex in a horse and carriage.  People in traditional costumes walk along the streets and do traditional everyday tasks.

Skansen has a zoological part with domestic and wild local animals.  In addition to the normal farm animals, there are Scandinavian animals such as lynxes, wolves, bears, wolverines, reindeer and seals.  We happened upon them at feeding time  (around 2:00 p.m.).

Skansen is fun for kids, big ones, like us.

 

Jailbreak! What? Who? Me?

While we were home over the holidays, we got to see one of our dogs.  He is doing well and clearly loves his new family.  Being sweet, affectionate and very attached, he wants to be near people all the time.  He isn’t, however, the most trustworthy when left unsupervised. When no one around his new home, he gets to stay in the bathroom. He doesn’t seem to mind and willingly trots inside.
 
His new parents painted the bathroom before hosting Thanksgiving.  Since they couldn’t put him in the bathroom with wet paint, they put him in a crate.  He’d never really been crated before.  Let’s just say he wasn’t a fan.  The crate was a plastic one with a metal closure that you have to pinch.  When they returned home, he was bashful… and outside the crate.  He ate through the metal closure to get out!  Jailbreak.  No more cute bandanas, it’s orange jumpsuits for you.  No shoelaces either.
Unfortunately, in busting out, he broke one of his incisors.  The vet said it would continue to get infected and recommended removing it.  He made it out, but it is now down a tooth.  We’re trying to get his new parents to replace it with a gold grill.
 

Pilanesberg

Pilanesburg Game Reserve is different from the rest of the area because it was made from a volcano millions of years ago.  While in the park, you only notice its incredible beauty.  From the air, you can see its volcanic origins. 
Unlike Kruger, Pilanesburg has only been open since 1979.  It is known for it’s natural beauty.  We spent a day driving through the park looking at wildlife.  I wrote about seeing lions up close, but we saw lots of other animals too.  The elephants were a favorite.  The are massive animals, but they aren’t gruff.  Their depth of feeling is immediately apparent.  We saw a few solitary males.
How did we find the elephants?  When we drove around, our guide looked for signs of them.  The park’s big, so seeing them was not guaranteed.  We saw big piles of fresh poo, indicating elephants are nearby (notice the dung beetles in the pictures below).  If you want to feel better about you job, dung beetles spend their days pushing giant balls of poo all over, including up hills.

Although they usually just stood there, I took a lot of pictures of the wildebeests because they look so striking.  We usually saw them in large groups.  You can see them playing follow the leader in one of the photos below.
Even when we didn’t see animals, we enjoyed the park’s amazing natural beauty.
We’d already seen giraffes at Bongwe and found them enchanting.  They were also favorites at Pilansberg.  Their personalities were delightful.  They were curious, social, engaging and a bit coy.
Zebras were everywhere.  At first, we took pictures of each one we saw.  By the end, we’d seen so many that we didn’t reach for the camera and joked about them being a buffet for other animals.  They are the only animal related to the horse that has never been domesticated.
How can you not fall in love with a baby Zebra?
This Rhino was pretty entertaining.  I wish I’d gotten him on video.  He walked over and rubbed himself all over a giant rock (The rock is at 10:00 in relation to Mr. Rhino).  Seeing animals interact with their surroundings in such a natural way was one of the big highlights of the day.

We heard all about how many rhinos are killed every year by hunters (for their heads an tusks) and the severe problems this presents for the survival of the species.  When we were in at Cabela’s in the US, I felt entirely differently about the owner after I saw a photo of him with the rhino he’d killed.

The hippos were surprisingly graceful for their size.  If you look closely, you can see the babies.  Even the babies were enormous.
The ostrich was entertaining, really funny and got close to our car.  He was not afraid.  If he had been, he could have run quite fast.   Their eggs are enormous and are sometimes decorated as souvenirs.
We loved seeing the baby warthogs.  Our guide told us that they were probably no more than two weeks old!
Not surprisingly in such a beautiful natural preserve, you saw lots of birds.  They had a covered pavilion by the pond/watering hole that would be a perfect place for birdwatching.
Pilansberg ruined zoos for us.  Seeing the animals just doesn’t compare to seeing them in their natural habitat.  There, you can really start to see their characteristics and personalities.  I think we just added “safari” to our bucket list.

 

We Saw Lions!

The lion cares less about being the king of the beasts than about finding his dinner.” –Mason Cooley
When we were in South Africa, we visited Pilanesberg National Park.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with lions hunting behavior, the lionesses do the hunting as they are more aggressive by nature.  The males usually stay with the young and wait for the females to return.  Lions usually hunt in groups and rely heavily on the element of surprise as they don’t have great stamina.  They hunt, among other animals, impalas.
We saw four lions (two males, two lioness).   We also saw four male impalas.  Surprisingly, the impalas seemed to taunt the lions.  They stomped their hooves, snorted, shook their heads while facing the lions and moved closer!
Our guide was over the moon and said he had never seen anything like it.   We kept expecting the smack down on their brazen behavior and braced ourselves to see some blood.  Our guide said that the lions must have had eaten recently because they walked away…right in front of us!
The coolest thing was that they walked right toward and past us!  It was amazing to see a lion stroll around.   Check out the scars on his back leg!
I now understand why kings like lions on their heraldry, they are truly powerful, majestic and regal (even if the ones we saw weren’t hungry).

Here It Is, Your Moment of Zen…A Cat Drinking Out Of A Toilet!

Our friends over at Bull Trekkings had the coolest cat ever.  His name is Poof.  Doesn’t he look nice in his party hat?  Poof has a drinking problem.

He drinks from toilets!

He can also wear the heck out of a sweater and is a good napping buddy.