Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fauna family

I spend every Tuesday volunteering at the chimpanzee sanctuary at the Fauna Foundation. If you would like to read my first post about Fauna you will find it here.

You can’t work at Fauna without becoming attached to the animals and to all of the wonderful people who put their hearts and souls into caring for them 24/7. Yesterday was a very emotional day for me, but sometimes that’s just how it is at Fauna.

It is with great sadness that I must tell you of the loss of one of the most recent additions to our precious chimpanzee family. Sophie was one of the three chimps that came to us last November from the now defunct Quebec City Zoo. Sadly she passed away last Wednesday. She had been very sick with all sorts of health problems. Unfortunately I don’t know much about her history but I would normally see her for at least a few minutes every Tuesday. She was very quiet and always seemed a bit nervous. I thought it was because she was still adjusting to her new surroundings, but now I suppose it was because she wasn’t well. She was a very dear soul - may God bless and keep her tender heart. She will be remembered forever and missed by all at Fauna.

On a happier note Thursday May 1st is the day that Tom’s birthday is celebrated. Nobody knows exactly when this handsome fellow was born, but we do know that it was some time during the 60’s in Africa. Tommy was torn away from his family and endured 30 years of life in the cold world of laboratories at the Buckshire Corporation and at LEMSIP. His birthday will be celebrated on Thursday and Fauna is gearing up for the celebration by decorating the chimp house with streamers and banners. They bought lots of presents for Tom and for all the other chimps too. He’s going to have a great party!

When I had finished preparing the enrichment packages yesterday I was invited to work in the kitchen to help prepare the chimp’s supper. I was working behind the counter that you see on the right side of this picture. I had quite an audience as I washed and set out mounds of fresh, ripe fruits and vegetables for them - and I got to see almost all of the chimps.

Tom’s best (human) friend Pat came by for a visit while I was working on preparing supper. It was so endearing watching the two of them together. Tommy just adores Pat and I was seriously tearing up watching them together. Pat dotes on Tom and there isn’t anything Pat wouldn’t do for him. Tom shows his affection for Pat by giving him kisses through the bars and by acting like a big old softie. I totally cracked up when Pat was leaving and was offering Tommy his favourite foods. Tommy managed to stuff 3 or 4 apples into his mouth all at the same time so his cheeks were blown out like a great big chipmunk’s and then every fruit or vegetable that Pat handed to him was piled into his arms - a few heads of lettuce, a bunch of tangerines, a few mangoes and I can’t remember what else. It was hilarious to see Tom all piled up with food, his mouth full, his arms totally over-loaded and to see him disappear out back all happy, carrying his “loot”.

Every week my heart is warmed by the amazing personalities of the chimps at Fauna. Every week my respect grows for the wonderful people who spend their lives caring for all of these special beings. I hope that one day I will be invited to become a permanent part of the Fauna family staff. It would genuinely be a dream-come-true for me.

(photos used with permission and provided by the Fauna Foundation)

Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bird Nest experiment results for Apr 22-24, 2008

If you haven't been following my backyard bird nest experiment from the beginning, you can read the original post about it here:

OK – now it’s official…I’m never looking out at the nest helpers for the rest of this experiment without having the camera glued to the front of my face. If I told you how many great shots I missed over the last 3 days it would make you shake your head in disgust. So I won’t disappoint you with the ones I missed, instead I’ll thrill you with the great moments that I did capture!

First of all let me mention that we have been given a reprieve from our usual battering winds out here since I hung the nest helpers on April 20th. This has been an absolute blessing and we have also been having beautiful sunny weather. On April 23rd we had a bit more wind and we did get some rain in the evening, but I’m happy to report that only a few feathers were blown away by the wind.

It has become obvious over the last few days that the only birds who are nesting this early are the black-capped chickadees. I must say, I’m totally in love with these little chickadees!

They explore and investigate EVERYTHING! I don’t think there isn’t a nest helper that hasn’t been thoroughly inspected by them at this point and I really love their open-mindedness. They check out everything to see if it can be useful and I've had loads of fun watching their acrobatics.

The chickadees are certainly not letting any of the dog fur go to waste. They have been picking at the light and dark fur equally and have not shown any preference for one over the other. I have a feeling that I will be out there refilling the dog fur sooner than the other nest helpers.

I suspect that the goldfinches will start nesting pretty soon. Most of the males haven’t finished molting into their brilliant summer yellow colouring yet, but there is definitely some courting going on! I caught this cute little couple checking out the nest helpers. All the goldfinches are really drawn to the bull rush fluff. These two each pulled out tufts of it, but then they wiped their beaks on a branch to release it. They seemed to exchange a look of “OK, we’ll be coming back for some of this stuff when we’re ready”. More than one goldfinch couple has done this over the last few days.

A few of the other nest helpers have been getting some attention too. Some raffia may have been taken and perhaps some straw and it looks like the shredded paper has been picked at too.

The bird feeders are still as busy as ever. Pine siskins and purple finches have been added to our group of regulars over the last few days.

Oh, and the best news of all – the great blue herons are back for the summer! Of course they won’t be coming to use the nest helpers, but I am just so thrilled to see them back again. I hope some of them will nest on our land down by the river this year. I’ll have to tell you all about my special relationship with the herons at some point – but that’ll be a story for another day.

Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It’s springtime at Fauna!

Yesterday I spent the day volunteering (as I usually do on Tuesdays) at The Fauna Foundation. If you missed my first piece on Fauna you can read it here.

It was a beautiful spring day and most of the chimps were out enjoying the warmth and the sunshine. Spring bulbs were popping up throughout the beautiful gardens and everything was as lovely as could be.

We had some volunteer visitors in from Vancouver who were helping with the raking and other outdoor chores. On Monday they had worked on making enrichment packages for the chimps so there wasn’t much left for me to do in the way of enrichment this week so I only made up a few small packages.

All of the toys and other enrichment items that we use at Fauna for the chimps must be purchased brand new. Sometimes they don’t last very long because the chimps can be, er…kind of rough on their toys. Being a big old softy I can’t stop myself from hugging each stuffed animal before it is sent into battle…you never know if it will come back in one piece or not. Sometimes the toys last for a long time and there are others that you only see once. It’s probably a good thing that I never see the stuffed animal cadavers and pieces that come out of the enclosures on cleaning day – my heart is too soft to be exposed to that sort of stuff.

Once I had finished with enrichment I went over to the office to prepare some chimp adoption packages. You can symbolically adopt one (or more) of the wonderful Fauna chimps at this link:

When you do you will receive an adoption package containing lots of information on the chimp you adopted – it might even be one of the packages that I lovingly prepared today :o)

While I was working on the adoption packages Sierra (one of the numerous adopted dogs at Fauna) was crashed out on the couch and snoring up a storm. She is HUGE and she’s so sweet and loveable! She suffers from double hip dysplasia and severe heart murmur, but despite her pain she’s friendly and fun-loving and so obviously happy to be alive and loved by all.

When I was done with the adoption packages I worked on some other packages that are sent out to people who send their first donations to Fauna. When that was finished they didn’t have any other work for me to do so I walked around a bit with my camera and took a few shots of the beautiful grounds at Fauna.

Sierra was outside soaking up the sun and the ducks and geese were in the mood to pose for me.

I can’t wait to go back next week :o)

(photos used with permission and provided by the Fauna Foundation)

Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bird Nest experiment results for Apr 20-21, 2008

If you haven't been following my backyard bird nest experiment from the beginning you will find the original post about it here:

After two days of sporadically watching the nest helpers I can tell that the biggest challenge in documenting this experiment for you is going to be photographing the birds in action. I saw some chickadees and a goldfinch at the nest helpers yesterday, but by the time I got the lens cap off the camera, turned it on, and got it focused I had missed the shot.

I have also found that the auto-focus on my camera is driving me a bit crazy because it tends to focus on the closest branches instead of on the subject I am trying to photograph. So I’ve turned off the auto focus and manual focusing is taking extra time. At one point yesterday I was trying really hard to catch a chickadee in the act of inspecting one of the dog fur nest helpers. I was sure she would come back so I just stayed focused on that spot. After a while I opened my other eye and caught some movement at the bull rush fluff nest helper. There was a goldfinch inspecting it!!! But by the time I had re-focused over there I had missed the action…this was the best shot that I managed to get and it isn’t at all convincing that this goldfinch had been rummaging through the bull rush fluff with his beak just seconds earlier :o(

The most heart-pounding moment came yesterday when I saw a chickadee inspecting the feather nest helper. In my haste to grab the camera off the counter I almost dropped it in the kitchen sink!

So I think that when I’m trying to take pictures from now on I’ll put the camera on the tripod and leave it there, all set up and ready to go. I guess I’ll just focus on one spot and hope for the best.

We definitely have a chickadee nesting or planning to nest in this little birdhouse. I’m kind of surprised – this will be the first year that a chickadee uses it. Normally this house is used by sparrows, so I’m thrilled that a chickadee seems to have moved in. I can’t wait to clean it out in the fall and show you the chickadee nest which will most likely be made up of green moss and dog fur (and maybe a few feathers).

During the afternoon this chubby groundhog came lumbering along. He wasn’t shy and definitely wasn’t hard to photograph. He came around the feeders a bit, then came up the steps of our deck and walked around the perimeter before going along on his merry way again. Pretty cute eh?

OK, so back to the experiment. Here’s what’s been happening for the last two days. Basically the chickadees are busy inspecting and possibly taking some of the dog fur and feathers. There was a goldfinch inspecting the bull rush fluff and other than that I haven’t seen much activity yet. We’ve got loads of juncos around the feeders and in the crabapple tree but they haven’t shown any interest at all in the nest helpers. So either it’s too early for them to be nesting, or maybe I haven’t put out anything that interests them.

There were lots of visitors at the feeders yesterday – we had blue jays, the usual gang of red-winged black birds, grackles and cow birds, some starlings, a few sparrows and mourning doves, a pair of hairy woodpeckers, some pigeons and crows in addition to lots of goldfinches, chickadees and juncos. I wasn’t able to spend too much time watching them yesterday because I was busy working at my day job. Today I will be out at Fauna doing my volunteer work so I won’t be able to watch for a good part of the day today either.

But it’s still early in the nesting season and I know there will be much busier days ahead...I can’t wait!
Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The biggest backyard bird nest experiment ever!

Many of you may be familiar with the little backyard bird nest experiment kits for girls (left) and for boys (right) that I sell in my Etsy shop. These were developed as a result of many years of experimenting by putting out different nesting materials for the birds in my own backyard.

Now that I have a blog I have the perfect way of sharing everything about this year’s experiment with you. This year’s will be the biggest experiment I’ve ever done! I spent the day yesterday preparing 15 nest helper cages with all different kinds of nesting materials. In true obsessive-perfectionist style, I have photographed them all laid out in alphabetical order for your viewing pleasure:

Starting at the top left corner and going down each row these are the materials that will be tested this spring:

1) bull rush fluff
2) corn husk (dried and naturally purple – it comes from a piece of Indian corn)
3) cotton fabric trimmings
4) dog fur (white and squeaky clean from the dog grooming shop)
5) dog fur (dark grey and a bit smelly – a contribution from my friend’s dog brush)
6) dried grass
7) dried moss
8) dryer lint
9) excelsior
10) feathers
11) raffia
12) shredded paper
13) straw
14) string & sisal twine
15) wool

I decided to try two cages of dog fur this year. I’m curious to see if the birds have a preference for light or dark coloured fur. The fact that it’s clean versus smelly might throw off my results though, since they might be choosing based on smell instead of by colour – we’ll see.

I printed out a set of experiment sheets and have filled out sheet 1 showing what I am putting out and the date.

Now all I have to do is to drag the big, heavy ladder out of the garage and go hang them up in the crab apple tree!

(gathers up nest helpers and disappears briefly…all enthusiastic and wearing a big mischievous grin)

Ta-daaa – done! Now since we live in a wind tunnel I have twisted the hanging loops around the branches instead of just hanging them in the traditional way. I’ve hung them the traditional way in the past and it just makes it too easy for the wind to blow them down and for the squirrels to steel them.

I also use the crab apple tree for a reason. This tree is near our bird feeders and as a result it is not usually used as a nesting tree (too much traffic). Now in the case of this experiment we want traffic – so this is a good thing. It’s also in good viewing distance of the kitchen windows so I won’t need to use binoculars to check out who’s shopping at the nest helpers. In previous years I have also hung nest helpers in some of our evergreen trees. This year I’m not going to do that because I’m hoping that we’ll get some nests in the evergreens that I’ll be able to photograph and share with you.

Oooo I’m all a-twitter! Before I even had a chance to put the ladder away there was a chickadee who came to inspect the dark dog fur and I think I saw something take off with one of the feathers, but it took off too fast for me to identify what kind of bird it was. I thought it was a bit too early for the birds to be thinking about nesting, but I guess I was wrong. Looks like there are some early birds out there (he he he)

This is so much fun :o)
Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Friday, April 18, 2008

I want to be reincarnated as a pampered house cat

If you’re looking for some mindless wanderings today you’ve come to the right place.

I like to tell people that I want to be reincarnated as a pampered house cat in my next life. Most people just shrug it off like it doesn’t mean anything. That’s probably because nobody has ever really thought it through like I have.

Now I don’t want to come back as just any old cat. I don’t want to come back as a stray cat or a factory cat or a garbage dump cat. I don’t want to have worms or ear mites, fleas or any other annoying or nasty health problems. I don’t want knots or burrs in my fur, I don’t want to have to hunt for my food, get rained on or get my pretty little paws dirty. And I certainly don’t want to get chased by any dogs!

I want to be a pampered house cat – you know the type…you probably have one or know someone who has one. I want to be the king of the castle. I want to sleep 23 hours a day and spend the other hour changing positions. I want to be offered the best food, I want to shed my fur on your most treasured posessions, I want to haughtily ignore all attempts to be amused by expensive little toys and in general to behave like a stuck-up, spoiled brat.

I want to lick my privates in public, pee beside my litter box just to annoy you and to hawk up hair balls in the middle of the night exactly where I know you’ll be walking barefoot. I want to give you dirty looks when I think you’re acting stupid, show you in no uncertain terms that you are inferior and to make you wish you got a dog instead.

Admit it! The pampered house cat is a superior being! We treat them better than royalty. They’ve got such a good life - they don’t have to work, don’t have bills to pay, they don’t know what stress is, they don’t give a damn about groceries, or interest rates or gas prices. They have never had obscenities hollered at them by some road-raged maniac in traffic, their inboxes aren’t flooded with e-mails, their voice mail isn’t full and they don’t know what it’s like to have their patience abused when they’re trying to do something and they get interrupted every 5 minutes by their cell phone. They have never been treated like an idiot, had a bad day nor been rejected. They don’t spend one iota of mental energy obsessing about global warming, zebra mussels, West Nile virus or the improper disposal of PCBs. They couldn’t care less how much they weigh, what they look like or whether their farts smell or not.

And best of all? We forgive all of their trespasses and love them unconditionally with all our hearts! We buy them the most expensive food we can afford, happily clean their litter boxes and will even sacrifice a night’s sleep in order not to disturb them if they decide to plunk themselves down in the most uncomfortable spot on the bed. We dote over them, talk about them as if they were our children and willingly share our tuna sandwiches and yogurt with them.

When they allow us to, we snuggle our faces in their warm fur and our souls are soothed by the rhythmic sound of their purring. In those magic moments all of our torments are forgotten – the traffic, the job, the stress, the bills – all of our frustrations evaporate. For a brief time we become one with our precious cat, and for just a few seconds the cat actually gives something back.

That is, of course until the cat decides that you’re being annoying, gets up, stretches, shows you his butt hole and walks away.

See? Now doesn’t that make you want to be reincarnated as a pampered house cat too?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fauna days

I think from now on I will dedicate my Wednesday blog posts to telling you about the Fauna Foundation. Fauna is a local animal sanctuary where I work as a volunteer every Tuesday. Sanctuary at Fauna means providing a place of refuge for animals who have come from all sorts of places including the wild, private homes, the biomedical industry, the agricultural industry, and the entertainment industry.

All of the residents at Fauna are living in absolute lifelong retirement. They are not obligated to work, to provide food or be butchered for food, to entertain, or even to act as companions for humans. They are not subjected to isolation, the torture of vivisection, or even simple rejection. Fauna does not exploit their residents for the purposes of human profit nor do they allow their residents to be removed from sanctuary to be placed back into situations where they are subject to these abuses.

Fauna is home to horses, a donkey, llamas, pot-bellied pigs, goats, chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys, dogs, a really friendly white swan and there are probably lots of other animal residents that I haven’t met yet.

Now, I have a regular (paying) job too, and on the days I have to work at my regular job I can hardly drag myself out of bed in the morning. But on Tuesday mornings, as soon as I open my eyes I’m jumping out of bed, all excited to go to Fauna. There is something so special about Fauna - the personal satisfaction I get from volunteering there means more to me than any stinkin’ paycheck ever will.

I work in the chimp house and my job is to prepare “enrichment” packages for the chimps. There are currently 14 chimps at Fauna, 10 are survivors from biomedical research labs and 4 used to be on display at public zoos.

I just can’t find the right words to describe how special these chimps are. I have only been working in the chimp house since the beginning of 2008 and in my job I have no direct contact with the chimps, but from the area where I work I can see some of them and they can see me.

The chimps at Fauna are not kept in tiny cages. They have large indoor and outdoor living areas and they live together in social groups. If you would like to see where they live you can take the tour of the chimp house at this link (just click on “start the tour” at the bottom of the page):

I am always touched by how exceptional and forgiving these chimps are. The first time my heart was touched it was by a chimp named Pepper (who comes from biomedical research). She was craning her neck to try to see me while I worked in the enrichment area. One of the workers, Cindy, noticed that Pepper was trying to see me so she invited me to come and meet Pepper. I have not learned much about chimp behavior yet, but Cindy told me that she could tell that Pepper really liked me. I felt honoured and special and I went home that evening feeling so wonderful. I read everything I could find about Pepper on the Fauna website and discovered that she loves to clean. So each week when I am preparing her enrichment package I make sure to include a scrub brush or a broom & dustpan, or a squeegee or something so that she can indulge in what she enjoys.

A week or two later I was working on enrichment packages and I kept hearing a knocking sound. There is a large bullet-proof glass window overlooking the atrium which is filled with plants that have been brought inside for the winter. On the other side of the window was a chimp named Rachel (also from biomedical research). She was watching me and was knocking on the window to get my attention. I mentioned it to Cindy and she explained that Rachel was knocking because she wanted to see me and that I could go up to the window and press my hand on the glass. Later on that afternoon Rachel came knocking and I went and said hello by pressing my hand to hers through the glass. She looked deep into my eyes for a long time and then made motions with her mouth like she was blowing me kisses. I thought my heart was going to break! Rachel really loves to wear gloves and to look at herself in a mirror, so I always try to make sure that there’s a package with those items for her.

It blows my mind that these chimps willingly make contact with people after all the horrible things that humans have put them through. Their ability to forgive is just astounding. I think we could all take a lesson from these precious souls.

As much as we would love to hug these wonderful chimps, we all need to be careful as chimps are extremely strong – 7 times stronger than humans. Red lines painted on the floor show us the danger zones that are to be avoided when we are walking past the caged areas. The chimps wouldn’t mean to hurt us, but they don’t know their own strength. Yesterday Kim invited me to watch her playing with Yoko (another biomedical research survivor). He is such a sweet little man! They were playing tug-of-war with a bed sheet and it was so endearing to watch. He was having a great time and was laughing and really enjoying himself. His strength was apparent every time he ripped the sheet right out of Kim’s hands. And every time that happened he would offer the end of the sheet back to Kim so that the fun could continue. Poor Kim had a hard time getting her work done yesterday because everybody wanted to play with her!

There are so many heart-warming stories that I can share with you about the Fauna Foundation. I have probably written enough for today, but if you would like to see and learn more about the work being done at Fauna please check out their website at:
The website hasn’t been updated in a while because there is a whole new re-vamped website in the works. But you will find lots of interesting information, stories and some great pictures.
(photos used with permission and provided by the Fauna Foundation)
Enjoy and have a great day!
Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Who’s that visiting the bird feeder?

Now that it’s warming up all kinds of critters are stirring. I recently looked out and saw this strange site at the foot of the goldfinch feeders.

It looked so bizarre that I had to get out the zoom lens.

As I watched I noticed that the poor little bugger had a severe case of the itchy-gitchies, so I suppose the fleas have been well fed this winter. But it wasn’t his adorable little two-step scratch-scratch dance that had me mesmerized…there was something about him - he just looked so…odd…

My eyes were telling me it was a skunk, but my brain was telling me it was the wrong colour. All of the skunks I’ve seen have always been black with one or two white stripes down the middle of their back.

This was weird - it was like I was looking at a negative of a skunk. Or maybe this was a new breed of skunk I had never seen before.

Curious, I started surfing the net to find out if there is such a thing as a white skunk with a black stripe. My searches quickly showed me that I’m not the first person to see a skunk like this. I learned from the experts that there is a great deal of variability in the amount of white on striped skunks. Some are almost completely black and occasionally you come across an individual with very wide white stripes - like this little guy.

Pretty cool eh?

Sadly I won’t become famous for discovering a new breed of skunk. But on the bright side I did learn something new.

So who was that hanging around the bird feeders? Oh it was just a skunk…a really weird-looking skunk with a nasty case of fleas. But it sure kept this crazy nature nut entertained for hours!

Smile – life’s too short :o)
Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)

Friday, April 4, 2008

A little robin told me…

I was thrilled to come home the other day to find a robin hopping around on a brown, hard, frozen patch of exposed grass. We still have quite a bit of snow but it has all melted away on this one patch at the side of the house and that’s where the robin was. She was a healthy, chubby little thing and she hopped around purposefully as if she really expected to find some worms. I ran inside to get my camera – eager to capture this early sign of spring so that I could share it with you.

She wasn’t too happy to have me chasing around after her with my camera, but she stuck around and continued to forage the frozen ground. Unfortunately in my excitement I had forgotten to put the zoom lens on the camera so this was the best shot I could get without scaring her away.

You know what this means – right? Spring has got to be just around the corner or the robins wouldn’t be back yet. We’ve had some lovely, warm days and the snow has been melting like crazy. The river is swollen and raging with the runoff and our neighbour told me she saw a flock of geese migrating back yesterday!

I took a nice long walk a couple of days ago and the air smelled so good. As I walked along the smells of spring made me feel so happy – I even caught myself breaking into a big stupid grin at some points. There was the amazingly homey smell of wood smoke from someone’s chimney, the crisp and strangely metallic smell that you get when snow banks are melting, the rich earthy smell coming off the farmer’s fields as they thawed and the occasional unmistakable whiff of decomposing dog poop.

And as I sat here writing this entry for my blog trying to think of something whitty to say with reference to the dog poop, I looked out my window and…what the ???

Aw krap, is it SNOWING ???

Hey Snow! Get outta here – get lost - vamoose!!! You’re going to chase the robins away :o(

...grumble, grumble....
Kathleen (aka TheNatureNut)