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Prairie dogs do groundhog’s prophecy job at Queens Zoo

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Their mixed forecast came hours after Staten Island Chuck and the famed Punxsutawney Phil - both groundhogs - gave opposing predictions on whether spring is coming soon. "We're either going to have six more weeks of winter or a month and a half till spring," Queens Zoo Director Robin Dalton conceded. Queens politicians, including City Councilmen Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and Borough President Helen Marshall, convened at the zoo in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on Feb. 2 to celebrate the borough's own version of Groundhog Day complete with two prairie dog weather predictors and a group of singing schoolchildren. "Wake up, Phil, wake up, Kate, hurry, hurry don't be late," a sixth-grade class from PS 150 sang to the tune of "This Old Man." The children carried signs begging the prairie dogs not to see their shadows and predict an early spring. In Staten Island that morning, Chuck, a groundhog, did not see his shadow, calling for an end to winter, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's declaration. But Flushing Meadows Phil emerged from the hut into the shadows of a nearby tree, rendering him unable to see his own shadow. Corona Kate marched right into her own shadow, declaring more cold days ahead. "In the middle of winter, when we're buried in snow, we need some optimism," Marshall said. Parks Commissioner Adrien Benepe promised the crowd that the mayor was not slighting the Queens celebration because it relied on prairie dogs instead of groundhogs. "(Bloomberg) sends his greetings and says he likes all the woodchucks equally, even if they're prairie dogs," Benepe joked. The children from PS 150, wearing mock prairie dog ears and teeth, seemed to enjoy Groundhog Day in Queens in spite of its inconclusive results. "Kids and everyone like the snow, but not once it's dirty and icy," Erick Gonzales, 11, said. He was just happy to get out of the classroom for the morning. "We love school, but everyone deserves a break once in a while," he joked. Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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