The Chipmunk Drama

three black cats looking out window

The drama begins with intent stares and lashing tails.

An exciting moment in the lives of three black cats.

Mimi was already at the window, Mr. Sunshine joined her and Giuseppe leaped off my lap when she sent out the wordless, soundless signal that only cats can understand that something was outside on the porch that needed to be stared at.

two cats and chipmunk

A chipmunk!

It’s a chipmunk! Those sleek little critters with their racing stripes and remote-control antenna tails straight up in the air when they run inhabit my yard and have tortured generations of cats with their darting about in plain sight.

two cats and chipmunk

Mimi and Mr. Sunshine focus in.

Mimi thinks to herself, I raised all my babies on chipmunks except these four. Maybe they’ll have to have a little taste…if I could only get out there…

black cat with chipmunk

Mimi remembers feeding her babies chipmunks...

Meanwhile, the chipmunk is stuffing his cheeks with fallen maple tree seed clusters, totally unconcerned about what is happening around him, and probably enjoying the fact that three cats are staring at him but can’t get to him.


The little guy has no idea the thoughts being had about him by three intent cats.


Unless I have linked the photo to something else, which is rare with daily photos, you can click the photo to see a larger version. I save them at 1000 pixels maximum dimension, and at that size the photos are nearly twice the dimension and you can see more detail in many of the photos I post. Please remember if you download or share, my name and the link back to the original photo should always appear with it.

To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat: Begin in Spring to Control Fleas

photo of yard in spring with bench under trees

The woodland garden in spring.

Fleas, like most other insects, live everywhere around us and it’s how we manage our surroundings that helps to control their populations. Like managing mosquitoes, for instance, by eliminating still pools of water where they can breed, you can also manage the flea population around your yard without the use of toxic chemical so that fleas can’t set up a happy colony where they are ready and waiting when your pet comes outside—or even when you come outside and carry them in

Spring is the prime time to get ahead of them, so take spring cleaning in your yard as seriously as in your home and begin early. By initiating or modifying a few of the ways you care for your landscape you can eliminate nesting and breeding spaces and welcome their predators, an effect that can last all through the warm months of summer and fall.

Where Do Fleas Come From?

Fleas begin in the great outdoors, even in the nicest yard, and don’t think that simply because you don’t let your pet outside, or it’s only outside for a short while, that fleas won’t find them. Fleas are tiny and can hop amazing distances to get to a warm body for their blood meal, they can ride in on your own body though they don’t generally feed on humans, and encountering another animal that has fleas either on a walk outdoors or even at the veterinarian’s office can infest your pet without it ever setting a paw in the back yard.

But fleas are slow to wake up in the spring and are a snack for a number of predator insects. These two facts of their life cycle help you to get ahead of them.

photo of two cats in the grass

Cookie and Namir relax in the yard.

Integrated Pest Management

I’ve always taken one or more of my cats into my back yard, so I’ve always included fleas in my pest management. Adult fleas are very particular about moisture and temperature, but flea eggs can live through a lot of punishment and still hatch and carry on the next generation so they need to be managed from year to year, not just for the summer.

Aside from the dangers of insecticide toxicity, using an insecticide generally kills off all the insects in an area, not just the ones you are targeting. Where fleas are concerned, an insecticide just kills the adult fleas which are only about 10% of the total flea population. There may be some residual left to kill the eggs and larvae as they mature into adults, but with unpredictable weather it’s often washed away before it does any good.

cat in grass

Namir in the backyard.

Pest insects have adapted to reproduce more quickly than their prey so the fleas will return long before their predators return, resulting in a more serious infestation than before. Without any predators you really need to keep applying the chemical, but all you do is knock down the numbers, never winning the game, and often completely kill off all predators, and not just those of fleas, while building up toxic levels in your soil which run off into local waterways, affecting more wildlife than you ever intended.

It’s obvious that species have been kept in balance for millennia by some means outside of human controls. I am a Master Gardener and began years ago to start my own plants, identify seedlings, diagnose pests and diseases and build soil. I manage my little yard as a wildlife habitat, friendly to all native species as well as the plants I choose to grow and have always called on the forces of nature to manage the populations as an ecosystem, allowing it to find its own balance, and this has worked for managing fleas as well as other insect pests in my lawn, vegetable garden, flower beds and natural areas.

The two basic steps in managing any pest that outgrows its controls is to find out where it lives and destroy that habitat to any extent possible, and then find its natural predators and encourage them to inhabit and flourish, forever if possible.

cat looking into wooded area

Mom has a lot of work to do!

Flea Habitats

Fleas live in moist, shady areas in the yard, in the thatch in your lawn, debris piles, leaf litter, cord wood stacks and even under your deck or porch unless it’s completely dry. They’ve often overwintered in these areas and with the moisture of spring eggs start hatching as soon as it’s warm enough and shady after trees and shrubs have leafed out, about when temperatures rise above 60 degrees at night or 70 degrees during the day.

two cats in spring garden

My two seniors join me outdoors to supervise my gardening.

Spring Cleaning

One of the first things I do in spring, way before fleas hatch, is clear off all the debris in the yard and toss it in the compost pile, which as the materials break down heats up to a point that kills any eggs or seeds within it. I leave native plants standing for wildlife through the winter, but in spring it’s all taken down, even mowed if possible, then raked in order to remove possible pest habitat (including plant diseases which may have overwintered). If you don’t have a compost pile you can throw the material away in a bag, but just don’t keep it around, piled in a corner, or it can become a breeding ground for everything that laid eggs in it last year. This helps immensely with reducing the initial populations and you’ve also destroyed a lot of eggs and habitat for many insect pests.

This also helps to delay the onset of fleas in your yard, but they’re going to start hatching some time regardless of chemical or organic controls, so be prepared with methods to manage flea populations through their life cycle.

gray kitty under bush

My neighbor's kitty visits.

Manage Areas Fleas Prefer

To start with, try to minimize or eliminate damp and densely shaded areas in your yard—underneath a shrub, for instance, often a favorite place for pets to hang out on hot days because it’s cooler and the soil is a little damp. It’s absolutely flea heaven, especially if you’ve either left the leaf litter from last year or added some decorative bark or wood chip mulch. This one area can support three stages of the flea: eggs can be laid here, the larvae can live on organic matter, and they can build their cocoons here as well, hatching into adult fleas that feed on your kitty taking a nap in the shade.

photo of bird bath in garden

The bird bath in the shade garden.

My yard tends to be very damp and I also have a slug problem (that’s an understatement), and for years I’ve sprinkled diatomaceous earth (DE)in all the moist shady areas for the slugs that feast all night, also taking care of a good many fleas. This product is not soil at all but the shells of diatoms, tiny sea creatures, crushed to a fine powder. Sea shells are actually formed of minerals and while the powder looks like dust it is actually very tiny, very sharp particles that cut into the exoskeleton of the flea, causing it to dehydrate and die. It does the same thing to slugs, but other creatures, from earthworms to birds, simply digest it with no ill effect, and it’s completely a physical effect with no chemical effect at all.

Diatomaceous earth has a short-term effect outdoors, though, because it mixes with soil and other organic matter, diluting its effect, and is washed away by rain or even heavy dew, but generally sprinkling it weekly in damp shady areas through the summer is a good plan. Just make sure it’s the DE intended for gardening use NOT pool use because this has chemicals added, and wear a mask when you sprinkle it because prolonged inhalation can cause some respiratory discomfort.

At one time I used pyrethrum-based products to control fleas and other insect pests indoors and out, and while pyrethrins break down quickly in sunlight and are diluted by water, tests later showed that if they are not in conditions that break them down they can build up in soil and in the home, and can be toxic to some flora and fauna outdoors, and children and pets indoors. Many organic gardeners quit using them, though they are still sold for outdoor treatment as well as specifically flea control products. I have included a link to the CDC report at the end of this article.

spider on flower

"Daddy Long Legs" are flea predators.

Modify Your Lawn

Also manage your yard, especially your lawn, to encourage flea predators. You can apply beneficial nematodes to damp and shady areas as well as the DE, especially where you can’t change the conditions by trimming shrubs or cleaning up debris such as a bed of heavy ground cover like ivy or pachysandra, or where you’ve landscaped with mulch, sand, gravel or small stones. You may need to reapply every year or two; this was my experience, but they definitely keep populations down while they persist.

Natural Predators

You can also encourage the flea’s natural predators to come and live in your lawn and garden. Insect predators include ants, spiders and ground beetles, other species include amphibians such as toads and salamanders, reptiles such as garter snakes, and even birds that feed on the ground.

Hmmm… you don’t like spiders and snakes, and everything else sounds like something you don’t want anywhere near your house, except maybe the birds? Trust me, they are much more interested in their natural diet than they are in you, and unless you go looking you’d never know they’re there—except that you’d have fewer fleas and other pest insects generally.

tortoiseshell cat in forget me nots

Cookie in forget-me-nots

Welcome them by managing your lawn in a way that might be different from the typical grass-only buzz cut, incorporating native plants and herbs and allowing your lawn to grow a little taller. My lawn is only about half grass, while the rest is a mixture of short native plants and ground covers, plus opportunistic peppermint, pennyroyal and marjoram escaped from my herb gardens and the seedlings for next year’s forget-me-nots, daisies and other biennials and spring ephemerals. This diversity of flora encourages a diversity of fauna and eliminates large areas of one type of habitat so nothing has a chance to overpopulate.

Because I have less grass, I only have to cut the lawn about once a month after May. The native plants have a predetermined growth habit, most of them staying below six inches, and after the spring flush of growth the grass grows much more slowly. I can cut it higher than two inches, the minimum height to encourage ants and spiders, the main predators of fleas. Cutting the grass taller and less often helps the predators develop habitat and do their job on the fleas.

I also feed birds year-round, and while I always credit them with keeping vegetable and flower pests under control, I know they also peck around through the grass eating fleas.

Even if you’ve done all this you can still expect a few fleas, but you’re suddenly totally infested—what else can it be?

groundhog in cage

My guy going off on vacation.


It’s that darned squirrel that hangs out on your deck, or the groundhog that’s burrowed underneath it—or the opossum that nested in your piled-up porch furniture until spring, or the little field mice and voles who sacrifice themselves to your cats in the basement.

I had sprinkled the house with diatomaceous earth, bathed and combed the cats regularly, washed everything washable, swept everywhere just about daily, removed throw rugs and pillows and such, tossed non-washable things into a hot dryer, and removed as much from my house as possible. This was all I needed to do for years and the flea population never reached an infestation.

But this year the fleas kept coming back, and increasing all the time. Where were they coming from?

I began to notice that when I walked out on my deck, my legs were immediately covered with fleas, a dozen or more at a time. Fleas don’t fly, they jump, and while they can jump far, in a situation like this you can move around and check the numbers of fleas that jump on your skin (or wear a pair of white socks so you can see them easier) to help pinpoint an area of infestation. I started stepping around the deck, knocking fleas off my legs into a cup of water, then stepping again to see where numbers seemed the worst.

black cat at door

Mimi at the door, before the infestation.

Most wild animals harbor a few fleas, and some species are typically infested. My squirrels spend about half their time scratching, and wild rabbits, chipmunks, gophers, mice and voles are also heavily infested with fleas. The squirrels hang out on my deck trying to get into the bird seed, the rabbits hop around near the basement door, and I always have a juvenile groundhog who excavates under my deck before I can trap it, chipmunks run around chirping everywhere, and field mice and voles really do show up in my basement.

And I really did have an opossum on my deck that winter. Being nocturnal, we didn’t cross paths though I saw her through the back door now and then. With the unusually heavy ice and snow I didn’t have the heart to encourage her to find another home, and I didn’t unpack all my deck furniture this year, so I have no idea how long she stayed.

It was the area right in front of the door—right over the groundhog den under the deck—and on one side of that unmoved pile of things for my deck. The groundhog had left my yard to eat someone else’s vegetable garden, but left the fleas behind. I began deconstructing the pile of porch furniture and found evidence of nesting, though not recent. In both places, a heck of a lot of fleas.

So this was the source of my infestation, right outside the door that I kept open for most of the summer, locking the screen door at night and when I was away. Fleas could hop in when I opened the door, and ride inside as I walked in and out the door. My basement door has a space at the bottom because the concrete walk just outside is lifted and the bottom of the door jammed against it, so I trimmed the door.

Normally every spring I clean off my deck, sweep, wash and apply water-based waterproofing to the wood, then move things back, but this spring’s schedule didn’t allow the time. Once I cleaned off the deck, swept and washed it as well as hosed down all the items that were there, the constant re-infestation stopped. Whew!

Some Resources for Chemical-Free Outdoor Flea Control

You can get ten pages of results or more in an internet search on flea control, diatomaceous earth, pyrethrins and so on, but I try to find studies or information from non-commercial sources to cite. has a series of articles about dealing with fleas in your yard, and the article about preventing fleas in the future is especially informative—plus the site is a great resource for dealing with all sorts of pest problems in your yard.

Even though this article is from 1986, it gives a brief history of the use of diatomaceous earth from a study project at McGill University that is still applicable today about the effects and usage of DE.

CDC Report on pyrethrins and pyrethroids:

If you’re interested in more information about Backyard Wildlife Habitats, please visit the Backyard Wildlife Habitat page on my site with articles on developing your habitat and articles showing the photos, paintings and sketches I’ve done that were inspired but my backyard.


All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

The Lovers on St. Patrick’s Day…

black cat looking at green leaves

It is indeed a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

With names like Giuseppe Verdi and Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite and a bit of Irish heritage, at least on Miss Daisy’s side, St. Patrick’s Day is definitely for these lovers!

Giuseppe insisted I drop everything on this sunny and beautiful day to announce that his French-Canadian belle femme and truest love Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite has sent him a holiday message full of green and happy thoughts.

photo of black cat on bed

Miss Daisy Emerald Marguerite, feline Queen of the city named for Kings in Canada.

Bon jour my dearest, most loved, most cherished Giuseppe Verdi ~

The window to the southwest is open wide and I have been at that window,trying to imagine how fresh and pleasant the air in your town of Carnegie is. I am sure your windows are open wide and I saw the photo of you and your family at the window on your Mama Bernadette’s Creative Cat. I so wished I could have been there with you and your Mama Mimi, sister Mewsette and brothers Mr. Sunshine and Jelly Bean.  But alas, my Mama Denise tells me that your open window is far, far away.

I did have visitors to my window this morning—Wiccan the big black cat with the bushy tail, always a gentleman—and that little skinny black guy who Mama feeds and allows in on cold winter nights, Pumpkin, came to say good morning.  But Wiccan’s handsome visage and Pumpkin’s pleasing personality in no way make my longing for you to come to my window any less.

Oh my dearest Giuseppe……

I must allow Mama to turn off this magic message machine and go to my clinic to buy my medicine. Don’t worry my beloved.  I am healthy and strong and my black hair is soft and thick—Mama calls me The Velveteen Kitty. She seems to like calling me that so I allow it though I prefer to have her call me Daisy Emerald Marguerite, my very pretty name that includes Emerald, the name of my great great great great—oh many greats—grandmother Emerald Cat who my Grandpere loved on the farm in Quebec many years ago. (Can you imagine Giuseppe mon amour, Grandmere Emerald Chat used to catch snakes and bring them home to impress her humans on that old farm. I have never seen a snake. Have you?)

As you have requested, Mama Denise will send you an album of photos of me that you may enjoy to look at and even share with your family.

I send love and purrrrrrrs and nuzzzzzles and my promise to love you forever.

Your Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite, xo.

black cat on stairs

Giuseppe sings and operatically gesticulates.

Giuseppe’s response

I thought I would have to pick Giuseppe up off the floor where he was swooning beginning with the salutation in French, but he is now in the stairway, singing in his castrati voice, “Nessun Dorma” from the Opera Turandot. (Where does he learn this stuff? I’d better check my search history. He does choose appropriate lyrics.)

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa,
nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d’amore
e di speranza.

(In English)
Nobody shall sleep!…
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.

My precious and perfect, mio amore bellissimo,

I sing to welcome your loving message as I picture you at the window, and your two servants Wiccan and Pumpkin (that little dairy product*).

We were meant to be together on St. Patrick’s Day by the heritage of green-ness in our names. I sing my best aria for you, ma belle, so that the world can hear, especially you, my emerald-eyed Princess in the cold north land. I so long to keep you warm in that cold room as we watch the stars as they tremble with love and hope for us.

I live for the day when we will be together, and I will spend the rest of this beautiful day dreaming of you and the day when I will at least have photos of you to ponder at length.

Always your ever-constant love,


black cat


*Pumpkin’s name is actually “Yogurt”, so Giuseppe regularly refers to him using the names of various dairy products, refusing to say his real name.

Catch up on the affaire between the young American cat, five-year-old Giuseppe Verdi, and his mature French-Canadian admirer, 12-year-old Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite, including videos of Giuseppe receiving mail.


All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count!

sparrows in shrub

Sparrows waiting in line.

Right now, as spring approaches and birds are beginning to migrate, pair off and settle into their new summer homes, it’s a really exciting time to participate in this international citizen-science event, February 17 through 20. All you need to do is watch your bird feeder and take a few notes.

birdwatching cats

The "baby" Fantastic Four

I can see from the number of people who reference my articles on backyard wildlife, backyard birds and bird feeding that many people maintain bird feeding stations of all sorts and enjoy watching, photographing and identifying the birds that visit their yard, neighborhood or favorite outdoor area.


Black-capped Chickadee

I truly enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for the lives and welfare of these special little residents of our yards and neighborhoods, and I might also add I’m eternally grateful for the work they do in my back yard and elsewhere in constant and vigilant pest control—and in keeping generations of cats amused and active so long as I keep the bird feeders full. I’ve included photos of bird species common to most of the USA and Canada using my feeders, as well as my cats enjoying the view.

What is the Great Backyard Bird Count?

cooopers hawk

Coopers Hawk, a major predator!

The GBBC is one of several programs led by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada which combines the enthusiasm and knowledge of everyday people with these organizations’ scientific capabilities to track bird populations and activities. A few other annual programs are the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feederwatch and eBird. The participant simply follows a simple set of instructions in how to count, track and report your data and it’s added to the data from millions of other bird lovers, all serving the purpose of real science in biology and conservation.

mourning doves

Mourning Doves

For instance, you choose a consistent period of time up to one hour to watch the activity at one of your feeders, and try to do this at the same time each time you observe, recording how many of which species showed up. Beyond that you can track other data such as the physical appearance of birds, unusual activity, information about your feeders and weather data.

downy woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker, male

Keeping the timing consistent helps to obtain data that’s easily compared from one observation to the next over the period of time you are observing. For this event, it’s four days in a row. For the Christmas Bird Count it’s a one-time event, though you can count in many different areas if you want, and for Project Feederwatch it’s for an entire season, November to April. Limiting the amount of time you watch helps to ensure you’re not counting the same birds over and over in one counting period.

And if, as I am, you are concerned about all the articles citing declining songbird species and putting the blame on cats in general, especially stray and feral cats, this is one of the most important ways the numbers of bird species are counted, by citizen scientists who get involved and report their data—so get out their and count your birds!

Don’t have a feeder, don’t know your species, don’t have the time to count all four days—don’t worry

sparrows at feeder

Sparrows at feeder.

Birds are everywhere, and the data is compiled in so many different ways that it doesn’t really matter if you’ve never fed your backyard birds, or if you only know one species for sure, or if you can only participate in one portion of the count. Part of your reporting is to describe this. For instance, if you only know what a blue jay looks like, you give your count for the total number of blue jays, and also note that other birds were present but which you could not identify. All the data is gathered and segmented off into the area it can best be used taking into account your additional descriptive information.

What do you do with your data?

american goldfinch

American Goldfinch, male, winter phase

Well, in the olden days we actually used to keep track on paper and, get this—mail it in! How old-fashioned, and how did anybody get anything done? Now you can still use paper, or you can use a combination of paper and electronic submissions, or you can do it entirely on whatever device you use that has internet access, wherever you are.

goldfinches with thistle feeder

Goldfinches, thistle feeder

And you can also watch the data change in real time as checklists are tallied. The counting just began on Friday morning and by 9:00 a.m.  the total number of individual birds counted was already over 16,000—check for yourself right now!

Like to get to know your birds better?

dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco, "Snowbird"

I grew up knowing maybe four bird species well enough to recognize them when I saw them. But later, walking a trail in the woods, sitting in an abandoned pasture, hearing the birds sing as they flew about I felt as if I was a visitor to a land where the natives were friendly but I couldn’t speak the language.

male cardinal

American Cardinal, male

So I got Peterson’s Guide to the Birds of North America, and set about focusing on individual birds and flipping through the images to see what they were, then reading the descriptive copy for more details. It started out very tediously, but in a surprisingly short time I had gotten to know my local birds well enough and gotten to know my book well enough that matching the bird with the image and learning the details became as easy as finding a word in a dictionary, and suddenly I could speak their language and no longer felt like a visitor to my beloved woods and fields.

female cardinal

American Cardinal, female

I have several other identification books in addition to Peterson’s, but I purchased that one first because it seemed to be what everyone used and I also found it was referred to in articles about birds. It uses careful illustrations of birds, and while there are many guides that use photographs the illustrations are often much more clear in learning species identification. Getting one bird to pose for a photo at the right angle in the right light at the best distance to get clear details for a photo is nearly impossible—trust me! Trying to get all the birds in a book in the same way is a heroic quest.

song sparrow

Song Sparrow

A skilled illustrator will choose the pose and posture most universally identifiable for a species so that no matter what season or time of day you see your bird, even if all you see is a silhouette and vague color bands on the wings for instance, you’ll be able to piece together the details and identify your bird.

white-breasted nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

In addition, the big three organizations mentioned above offer LOTS of information for regional bird identification on their websites and for download including illustrations, photos, posters, videos, recordings of bird calls, descriptions of nests and anything else you might need to correctly identify your chosen bird. The more information they offer, the more accurate your reports will be.

Don’t worry, be happy!

house sparrows

House Sparrows

Don’t be intimidated by what others know or what you don’t know, and don’t be impatient that you can’t tell a song sparrow from a chipping sparrow. We all started somewhere, and all of us who watch birds are somewhere along the spectrum from knowing, maybe, four birds to being able to identify by one note of a song.

red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

And most of all, have fun with it! If you go to the GBBC site, you’ll see tweets from humans on how they are participating and what they see, the counts for birds and checklists increasing, town and city names increasing on the list and photo galleries filling up with birdwatchers’ photos. It’s what got me involved all those years ago, even before we had the internet to use for access, reading a magazine article about Project Feederwatch and feeling as if I was a part of something much bigger than myself.

birds and squirrel at feeder

Birds at feeder with Buddy.

In fact, sometimes it’s even more fun if you get a bunch of friends together and compare your data or count together. You can all argue about what bird that was and how many there were, arrive at a consensus and have lunch on a lovely February afternoon.

tufted titmouse

Tufted Titmouse


Great Backyard Bird Count

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology

Audubon Society

Bird Studies Canada

European starling

European starling


In addition to those listed below, find your local chapter of the Audubon Society or other outdoor organization such as the Sierra Club or National Wildlife Federation. Many animal shelters also have a wildlife rehabilitation program and carry information. In addition, most communities or regions have local environmental organizations that offer information and sponsor guided bird walks, and also participate in the bird counts as a group.


Carolina Wren

Links around Pittsburgh, PA

These aren’t the only organizations around, but they are the ones I’ve used as a resource and many can be used to find chapter closer to where you live if you’re not in Western Pennsylvania.

Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania

Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Chapter, Allegheny Group

Venture Outdoors

The Widlife Rehabilitation Center of the Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania

Regional Environmental Education Center/The Outdoor Classroom


All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

O, sole mio!

black cat looking out of window

Giuseppe spent a lot of time looking out the window toward the northwest today.

I had to wait ALL DAY for my valentine to arrive! First, the mail thing was late, then Mama Bernadette was “too busy”—imagine that, TOO BUSY to open my valentine from Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite which I’d waited WEEKS to receive.

I looked out the big window toward the northwest knowing that Mlle. was up there somewhere. Then I curled up on Mama Bernadette’s lap for some time, knowing that I had the best chance of getting my valentine immediately upon its arrival.

black cat on lap

Giuseppe trying to act cool on my lap today.

FINALLY, it came in the mail. I don’t have thumbs. I can’t open the thing. I don’t want to damage it and risk missing a word of Mlle’s message. FINALLY, I just sat on mom’s desk and blocked her view of the computer, and looked pointedly down at my valentine.

black cat sitting with paw on envelope

Giuseppe demands we open his valentine.

Then I rubbed my nose on the corner of the envelope, catching just a trace of Mlle.’s scent.

black cat rubs nose on card

Giuseppe nuzzles the corner of the envelope and looks at all those cool Canadian stamps.

Then she opened it up and I caught a whiff of Mlle. and looked at the lovely photo on the front as I dreamed of what she might have to say to me…

black cat looking at card

Giuseppe studies the image on the front of the card, dreaming of Mlle.

SHE ASKED ME TO BE HER VALENTINE!!!!! My sweet precious sleek black belle femme Mademoiselle Daisy Emerald Marguerite from the Canadian town named for kings next to the great river—and surrounded by eligible black cats who actually enter her home as guests—wants me to be her valentine!

black cat reads inside of card

Giuseppe reads Mlle.'s message, over, and over, and over...

Ah, I fill my body with her scent. I know she placed her paw right here…

black cat sniffs card

Then Giuseppe breathes in Mlle.'s scent from the inside.

Here is what Mlle. had to say…the poor boy swooned.

text inside card

What Mlle.'s card said...

So should I pack my bags now? How long do you think it will take to get to Kingston?

black cat looking up

So when are we leaving for Kingston?

Kitties in love…Giuseppe doesn’t want you to think he is expecting his mature and experienced French Canadian love to do all the work in this relationship. He was a little preoccupied with his elder sister and his Mama Bernadette, and Mlle. understands that was all much more important to her beloved Giuseppe Verdi, and all the more reason for sending a valentine to him.

But our good-hearted G.V. is not without ideas and has decided to send Mlle. a gift for the room which is hers in her apartment. He heard her bed is red brocade and dreams of cuddling with her in that bed someday. But he asked his Mama Bernadette to send one of her prints to Mlle. so that Mlle.’s mama can hang it over the red brocade bed…

matted print

Giuseppe has made a gift to Mlle.

Catch up on the affaire between the young American cat, four-year-old Giuseppe Verdi, and his mature French-Canadian admirer, 12-year-old Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite. It is sure to be a good show when the Valentine arrives.


To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Mademoiselle Has Sent Me a Valentine?

black cat looking up

Mlle. has sent me a Valentine?!

“I heard that my most ever-precious French-Canadian belle femme Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite, my gem, il mio amore, my mature and most dignified love who lives in the Canadian city named for Kings by the river has sent me a Valentine! O, my heart flutters with anticipation! When will it arrive? Is it coming in the computer? Or is it coming in the thing called ‘mail’?”

I don’t know how Giuseppe found out. He has been singing in the stairways his fine castrati voice, getting the best vibrato and projection, and sitting by the big north window, looking toward the northwest thinking of how the same moonlight and the same snow are falling on Kingston and Carnegie.

Mlle.’s mama and I decided not to let him know because he is the operatically overly melodramatic kitty and would wait by the door until he fainted from hunger if he knew something was on its way from his love Mlle. Daisy. They have been regularly corresponding by computer and through the air, and convincing their humans to type real messages back and forth in “e-mail”.

Well, yes, Mlle. Daisy has mailed a Valentine to her young American love, Giuseppe Verdi. Giuseppe was preoccupied with his older sister and with his Mama Bernadette and did not send off a Valentine in time (especially since we have no idea what sort of time warp things travel through as the cross the border into and out of Canada and so have no idea when things will arrive). But Giuseppe and I have prepared a wonderful gift for his amour, for her to hang in her room in the house in Kingston.

And when the Valentine arrives, I will he sure to record his joyous celebration. In the meantime I hope I can keep him under control when the mail arrives each day.

Catch up on the affaire between the young American cat, four-year-old Giuseppe Verdi, and his mature French-Canadian admirer, 12-year-old Mlle. Daisy Emerald Marguerite. It is sure to be a good show when the Valentine arrives.


To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Possibility of Lunch

two black cats looking at squirrel

Could be lunch.


“No, too tough. Roasted, in his own juices.”

“We’ll make mom really happy.”

“I know, he stole her little nut grinder from the deck, and he broke two bird feeders.”

“Wait a minute, there’s a better way.”


“Yes, raw.”


To see more daily photos go to “Daily Images” in the menu and choose “All Photos” or any other category.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.

Born Free

sleeping lion

One of the lionesses at the Pittsburgh Zoo sleeping on a hot August afternoon.

A short while ago I posted on Facebook that I’d been enjoying the music from the 1966 movie Born Free and was remembering the movie, which always made me cry, in fact, even just hearing the music made me cry (as it does right now this minute).

That touched a chord with many others who remembered and felt the same about the movie wherein British game warden in Kenya George Adamson shoots and kills a charging lioness, finds her cubs, and raises them along with his wife, Joy. Two of the cubs are sent to a Rotterdam zoo as they grow, but Elsa stays with them as more or less a pet. When she causes elephants to stampede a village, they are told she must be sent to a zoo or rehabilitated into the wild.

It would have been far easier and perhaps less painful for them to simply send Elsa off to a zoo, and the months of teaching her to hunt and kill and to become part of a pride were frustrating and disappointing by turn, yet they were determined they would see her live her life as a free member of her own species in her own homeland. Elsa’s is the first known rehabilitation and reintroduction to her wild nature, the first time anyone had made contact again with an animal they had reintroduced into the wild, and the first to successfully reproduce.

So why do so many pull out the tissues when the music starts? Because the Adamsons had that same bond with her that any of us does with the animals in our lives, and for whatever reason it happens, it’s still painful to see that bond severed.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 28 is World Rabies Day

It’s not so long ago that rabid animals, especially roaming dogs because they were also pets and were part of everyday life with humans, presented a great health peril in this country from infection with rabies. Many people died from the disease before treatment was available—a bite would transmit the disease to another animal or human, and without treatment both would die from the effects of the disease in very short order.

But today in the United States we are fairly safe from this disease that is 100% preventable with a vaccine given to our pets, livestock, and even wild animals. In fact, in many states the rabies vaccine for your pet is the law. Because the rabies vaccine is so commonly given to our pets we may take for granted that rabies is hardly a threat except for the occasional bat or raccoon or unfortunate stray cat.

We still need to be aware and be cautious. My home state of Pennsylvania in 2010 had the distinction of having the most cases of domestic rabies of all 50 states, and between January 1 and May 30 of 2011, 114 raccoons, 18 skunks, 15 foxes and 12 cats tested positive for rabies in the state, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In June, A dog tangled with a rabid raccoon on the trail where I regularly ride my bike, walk, photograph and paint.

A current rabies vaccine for pets is the law in Pennsylvania, and in Allegheny County where I live, the Health Department sets out baited food with the rabies vaccine for raccoons in areas they are known to travel, or those numbers might be even higher.

Other countries around the world are not so lucky as we are. More than 55,000 people still die every day from infection with rabies because the vaccine isn’t available or isn’t widely used.

World Rabies Day since 2007 has worked all over the globe to both raise awareness of the dangers and prevention of rabies and helped to make the vaccine available for animals and treatment for infected humans, with the ultimate goal of controlling rabies in animals to prevent it in humans. Since they began inviting agencies to participate in the effort, “every major human and animal health partner at the international, national, state/provincial, and local levels as well as veterinary, medical and other specialized professional and student organizations, corporate and non-profit partners”.

Check your pets’ records and make sure their rabies shots are up to date, and if not, make an appointment. Visit the website for World Rabies Day to read more about what’s happening around the world today.

Now There’s a Carnivore!

painting of dead turkey and rabbit with cat

Game Turkey and Rabbit, George Hetzel, 1850

Game Turkey and Rabbit, George Hetzel, 1850

I’ve never been fond of this type of “hunting art” depicting the prey after it’s been shot, but this one has an interesting twist—a gray kitty intent on stealing the rabbit! She’s even put a few scratches in the skin. I could see this as an advertisement or a package label for “raw and natural feline diet”, except for the cabbage in the lower right.

I’ve seen plenty of paintings of wild game, but not with cats. In fact, I saw an exhibit of “The Animal in Art” at Carnegie Museum of Art several years ago, and there was plenty of wildlife, farm animals, and dogs, but precious few domestic felines. Finding a feline in a classic painting, when the symbolism of every detail in the painting was intentional, is indeed a rare and exciting thing, and as we can often interpret the artist’s feelings about the subject or certain details in the composition by how they’ve rendered them, I would say that Hetzel was a feline sympathizer and perhaps even enjoyed sharing the exploits of his favorite feline thief. Cats were generally not seen in a positive light and were rarely painted at all as if they didn’t exist, with only the occasional momcat with litter of kittens in the barn or cute children with cuddly kittens.

Cats often symbolized undesirable traits—faithlessness, evil, cruelty—unlike dogs who symbolized loyalty, home and love. That doesn’t mean that was how everyone saw cats to be all the time, but only the accepted symbolic nature in prior eras, but we can see the remnants of these perceptions today in how people who don’t know cats perceive them.

Comparing what feline artists paint today, it’s also interesting to see how painters have rendered cats. Breed dogs have always been popular in painting, and even street dogs make frequent appearances, often in as clear and extreme detail as humans in portraiture, but the cats I’ve found in older paintings are often very strange, as this one if  you could see it up close. The face and body are often somewhat misshapen, with rounded torsos more like a rabbit’s, overly large eyes and elongated noses, ears strangely facing outward instead of forward, and paws more like a dog’s or a rabbit’s with claws visible even at rest. I guess if cats were largely elusive, artists would take their best guesses.

Gory as it may seem today, paintings of this type were very popular both in Europe and America and were classed as still lifes representing the plenitude people expected in their homes. Just as arrangements of fruits and finery, they were considered fine examples of a classic scene and rendered in extreme detail. There were marketplaces, but food wasn’t at the grocery store as we know it until fewer than 100 years ago and the ability to obtain and put by an ample supply of food was a source of great pride. People hung paintings like this and those famously lush and lovely fruit plates in dining rooms and parlors. The fruity and flowery still lifes have remained popular because they are pretty, but these have fallen by the wayside.

I visited the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, PA over the weekend and this painting was in their permanent collection of works from the pre-industrial era. George Hetzel, as well as many other artists in this collection, were part of the “Scalp Level School” of landscape painting (Scalp Level is a place name, think of “Hudson River School”, though perhaps it refers to another gory era in our history). I was excited to see this for the first time because the landscapes are so familiar, mostly from Western Pennsylvania; in fact, before I realized that I looked at one of the first paintings and said, “Look, limestone boulders and American Hemlock, someone painted one of the gorges along the Youghiogheny River,” recognizing the quality of light and the trees and plants in the painting—but no one seriously painted Western PA, right? Wrong, here was a room full of local landscapes still easily recognizable, even in the post-industrial era.