The Zoo in Forest Park

9/6/09 Springfield, Massachusetts

Review: If you are not a proponent of zoos, but are thinking of giving them another try, please do not make The Zoo in Forest Park one of your first destinations.  While the animals are very well attended to (no stronger evidence than through the birth of several babies) this zoo still has many many  reminders of an outdated zoo.  The exhibits are far more like cages than environments, the overall customer services are minimal (ie: the only bathroom is a single porta-potty) and many of the exhibit sight lines are unbearable.  That said, this small little zoo services an important contingent in the city of Springfield  and has a wonderful variety of animals. MassMutual just recently donated a new propane train, a huge money maker for the zoo, so we can hope these profits will go to improving the viewer accessibility to the exhibits.

Photographability: Please.  Black and silver cross hatch fencing is my least favorite. Add that the majority of it was in direct  sun light anchored with eye-level wooden beams from behind another chest level fenced barrier, and it’s about as challenging as it gets.  Big birdcage style enclosures have never been so welcomed, at least you can position animals at the back of the exhibit between the bars. If you’re not trying to take pictures, there are a few exhibits that you can see into, but keep in mind, what’s difficult for a photographer is just as difficult for a camera-less viewer.  Find spots on the shade, the fencing is easier to look through when there isn’t sun glare.  I used a Canon Mark IIn with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with the 1:4 converter and the Canon G7 for a few lizards, snakes and farm animal close ups.

Highlights: The cute baby goats were butting heads and their parents (presumably) were trying to break up the roughhousing before someone got hurt.  The arctic wolves were on the move, it was really interesting to see them at speed. The kangaroos were active, I do enjoy watching them hop. I got kissed on the back of the neck unexpectedly by a frisky camel while I was photographing a llama in the same enclosure, a frightening feeling, I’m not totally sure it’ll stay as a highlight!

Lowlights: The spider monkeys, one of my favorite primates, were entirely invisible because of the sun hitting their enclosure.  I could hear them frolicking, but couldn’t see a thing.  The same was true for a few other animals in equally challenging exhibits.

Pleasant Surprises: The zoo has a really nice collection of very friendly animals for petting, including a Patagonian Cavy; certainly not your typical pig, goat and horse!  I don’t like petting the animals, but I do enjoy watching other people enjoy it!  I was especially intrigued by the donkey.

Would I Return?: Unlikely, unless I hear of major capital improvements, next time I’m in the Springfield area I’ll visit the Lupa Zoo in neighboring Ludlow, Mass., for comparison.

Rating: 2 (out of 10)

The Stone Zoo


stonezoo1809The Stone Zoo

1/08/09 Stoneham, Massachusetts

Review: The Stone Zoo is my local zoo and I visit it more often than any other zoo.  It’s a small zoo with a nice collection of animals in a very walkable layout.  It’s really hit or miss, and the seasons play a huge role in that, but with many large cool animals (bears, coyotes, mtn lions, jaguars, otters, snow leopards and wolves) you’re likely to come away with a good memory.  I enjoyed watching the bears with some annoyance (see photographability) and have posted my favorite photo from that encounter.  

Photographability: The relatively new black bear exhibit is very frustrating.  While the viewing areas have great potential, the backlight provides for some very distracting reflections.  I think zoos should hire photographers when they go about designing exhibits, we see the viewing issues!  The covered space is nice, shade is a good start for hindering reflections, but a simple black curtain covering the back opening (advertise on the OTHER side) would greatly enhance the pleasure of this exhibit.  If I can’t shoot through a reflection, it means viewers can’t see through it either.  Seriously, Stone Zoo, if you’re reading this, try it, you’ll enjoy the bears that much more too! That gripe aside, I was determined to use my new 15mm fisheye lens and the bears were right up at the glass.  I met little success (1 success posted) given the number of frames i snapped, but found some luck bulking myself up and shooting through my solid reflection.  (tip: wear a dark solid shirt to the zoo, you can usually maneuver -albeit sometimes awkward- to block out the obnoxious background.)  I used the Canon G7 for a majority of the shots of the bears because I was able to use my torso to create a clean shot.  I cut off a lot of heads though too, because i couldn’t see the view screen.  The rest of the zoo is actually pretty photo friendly, though the exhibits with the meerkats and tamarins are dark and the sloth exhibit is covered in condensation. I used my Canon Mark IIn with a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens, variable ISO from 200-1600 depending on snow levels and exhibit light.

Highlights: Despite my complaints, the bears were very playful and fun.  The coyote was going to town on a bone, cool teeth, and the wolves were howling.

Lowlights: The Stone Zoo advertises often with a close up of a snow leopard.  It’s a gorgeous animal, and could easily be a highlight, but I haven’t seen the snow leopard in several visits.  

Pleasant Surprises: The zoo is making cool looking improvements to an otter exhibit and has another area portioned out for a white cheeked gibbon exhibit too. A baby emperor tamarin was born recently.

Would I Return?:  Yes, absolutely.  Maybe again in the spring when “Lord of the Wings” the free flight bird demonstration is back on.

Rating: 4 (out of 10)

Franklin Park Zoo



The Franklin Park Zoo

12/12/08 Dorchester, Massachusetts

Review: As an ice storm gripped a lot of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, my friend Judy (see her photos) and I made our way south to the Franklin Park Zoo.  Because it was FREEZING, we had the place entirely to ourselves.  It’s not that I don’t like other visitors, but seldom do we have the opportunity to linger at, and dominate each and every exhibit like we did.  Winter is a great time to visit zoos, the people traffic is down, the temps are much cooler, and the animals are just as active!

Photographability: The Franklin Park Zoo recently renovated their tropics building. With multiple floor to ceiling plexi exposures of the gorilla exhibit, and few visual barriers at the other tropical exhibits, it’s not technically challenging to make a good picture.  It is still indoors though, and as a result, dark. I shot between 1250 and 1600 ISO on my Canon Mark IIn with a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom lens.  The Canon G7 came out a few times for those amphibian and reptile close ups.  The light outside was great and quite a few of the exhibits are free of visual barriers.  Moats as barriers require the reliance on a zoom lens but it sure beats cyclone fencing!

Highlights:  I’d never seen a Bornean Eared Frog (middle column, third down)

Lowlights: That pesky overlapping cyclone fencing prevented good photo opportunities of the gorgeous Amur Leopard.

Pleasant Surprise: The animals were perky and active given the frigid temps.  We learned quite a bit from the zoo keepers who gave us kudos for visiting on such a cold, cold day.

Would I return? Yes, but not immediately, it’s a bit of an unpleasant out of the way drive to get there.

Rating: 6 (out of 10)