Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Beautiful Day at the Virginia Zoological Park

What a pleasant surprise to find this place! We were on vacation in the area and decided to go to the zoo. Truthfully, there are so many choices when on vacation a zoo isn't usually at the top of the list. We were very glad we decided to visit.

The Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, Virginia is lovely, from the grand entrance with the huge granite ball and fountain, to the new Trail of the Tiger area, to the unique themed garden areas planted throughout the zoo. Even if the zoo didn't have any animals it would be a nice place to take a walk. But, of course, they have plenty of animals, and you can get up close and good views of just about everything.

The highlight of the day  for us was the red panda mother and her six week old cubs. Some of the monkeys were putting on quite a show, too, but the cuteness of a red panda cub is tough to match. Watching the mother carry her cub was priceless. You can see some of the video and learn more about red pandas in the YouTube video Have you heard of Red Pandas?

I always like zoos that have animal caretakers or volunteers available to answer questions and provide those little tidbits of information about the animals. This is great for the families with young kids because it really helps keep the kids engaged. The staff at the zoo was often present, nearby and willing and able to answer our questions. There were also signs posted about zoo keeper talk times too, but, unfortunately, we didn't happen to catch any of those.

Another nice feature of this zoo is the large raised walkway around the giraffe area. It is nice to be able to see the giraffes and other animals from an elevated viewpoint. There are a large number of animal exhibits you can look down into, including the bongos, African crowned crane, elephants, and more.

If you're on vacation in Virginia and considering going to the Virginia Zoo but haven't quite decided yet, I'd say go for it! Hopefully you'll have an animal adventure to remember.

If you do go and get any good pictures please share them with us on the Skyenimals Facebook page and on! Want to see more of our photos from our visit? Check out the Skyenimals Virginia Zoo page.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Have you heard of Red Pandas?

They are cute, they are elusive, they are often confused for raccoons, they are not well known, and they share a name with (and fall in the shadow of) the ever popular and world famous giant panda. They are Red Pandas, sometimes even called the "lesser" panda.

Well, let's set the record straight! The red panda was actually discovered and named many decades before the giant panda. The red panda is not a bear, like the giant panda is. The red panda is not a raccoon. In fact, the Red Panda does not have any close relatives in the animal kingdom. The Red Panda is the only living species left in the animal family Ailuridae. All other species from this family are now extinct.

The red panda is considered a living fossil, which is a living species of animal that has no close living relatives and has survived a major extinction event. The red panda species survived the ice age and their nearest relatives can only be found in fossil remains. Although the red panda has survived this long it needs our help to battle a declining population trend which is currently occurring.

Red pandas only live in select areas in the Himalayas. These areas are temperate forest areas that produce sufficient amounts of bamboo to sustain the red pandas. The red panda is threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and potential inbreeding depression. Inbreeding depression can happen when there are relatively few animals in a given area which can result in lower health in the animals in that area.
The Skyenimals team has recently started volunteering for the Red Panda Network to raise awareness of the red panda and their status in the wild. The Red Panda Network has been helping save red pandas in the wild since 2005 and is showing effectiveness in the local communities they work with in various red panda habitat areas.

If you like red pandas and are interested in helping you can start now! Simply share this blog post with your social network. Also, share the video below and subscribe to the Red Panda Network youtube and skyenimals youtube accounts to get notified of future animal and red panda videos.

Another great way to help, if you visit a zoo and take a red panda picture, share it on the Skyenimals Red Panda page, or post it on your Instagram or Facebook account and tag the @RedPandaNetwork in your post. A small effort like this will help spread the word about the red panda cause one person at a time. Be sure to follow the Red Panda Network Facebook page and the Skyenimals Facebook page to watch for cute pictures and more ideas on how to volunteer.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Life With Two Goldendoodles - From a Walk in the Park to Dog Skin Conditions and Beyond

I was never a dog person, I never really wanted a dog, but here I am the owner of two goldendoodles and writing a blog about them. How did it come to this?

Ruby and Bailey, two Goldendoodle dogs.

Several years ago my wife and kids kept trying to convince me that it would be fun to have a dog. It didn't sound fun. To me having a dog sounded like a reason to go to the vet more, deal with dog skin conditions, and fleas, and poop in the back yard. New chores do come with dog ownership, but I have found they have been worth it to experience the joy the dog brings.

I never really liked other people's dogs and I am allergic to many animals. Even before we started "looking" for our own dog I decided to spend some time around dogs so I got the chance to see what it was like. I didn't spend enough time with any dogs to bond with them, but I did find that there were some dogs that I would have an allergic reaction to and many I did not have problems with.

When the time came to start looking for a dog we decided to limit the search to breeds that were considered non-shedding or hypo-allergenic. We spent about five months browsing web pages, local shelters and looking for a hypo-allergenic dog to adopt. We went to see many dogs during this time but none of them worked out.

Bailey as a puppy
 Our search for a dog ended after about five months when we found a local dog groomer helping to place an older goldendoodle puppy (4-5 months old) for a down-state breeder. This puppy was the last of the litter and the breeder was having trouble selling her as she was no longer the perfect "puppy" age. So, enter Bailey, a female F1B goldendoodle.

Ruby as a puppy
It didn't take long for the whole family to fall in love with Bailey. She was great with the kids from day one and learned quickly. For our second dog we decided to get a dog similar in age and size to Bailey. We found a breeder with two litters of Goldendoodles near our home. They had about 12 puppies, about half of which were pre-sold. So enter Ruby, a female F2 goldendoodle

Bailey on a hotel room cot
We have had countless good times with our goldendoodles from vacations, to regular neighborhood walks, playing catch, going to the dog park and more. They have been an integral part of our family and continue to be. But, is it all a walk in the park? Of course not. Dogs are easier to raise than kids but they come with their own set of challenges.

Taking care of a dog's health involves a lot more than a once a year visit to the vet. For starters, we had to address dog skin problems and dog food sensitivities. Then there is grooming. Grooming for two large non-shedding dogs can be time consuming and expensive. To save on expenses we do most of the grooming ourselves. Then there are the little things, and luckily, our doodles don't resist when it's time to use their dog toothpaste or clean their ears. My wife even made some helpful dog care videos that you can find on youtube, like the video about cleaning your goldendoodle's ears below.

Overall, how is life with two goldendoodles?
I highly recommend it, even if you're not a "dog" person.


Please visit the Skyenimals Dog and Skyenimals Goldendoole pages for more dog pictures, facts and activities for kids. And remember, if you would like to share any of your dog or pet pictures with kids and animal lovers around the world you can upload them at

Friday, July 5, 2013

Skyenimals Spotlight on Phillips Park Zoo in Aurora, Illinois.

From bald eagles to wolves the 98 year old Phillips Park Zoo entertains over 200,000 visitors per year. At almost 100 years old, Phillips Park Zoo is quickly approaching it's centennial in 2015. Phillips Park Zoo is a small, no entrance fee, zoo in Aurora, Illinois that features primarily North American wildlife.

River Otter at Phillips Park Zoo
With more than 80 animals and over 40 different species this quaint zoo gives Aurora residents and visitors plenty to see. Three of the most popular animals with visitors are the North American river otters, mountain lions and the wolves. The reptile house is also a popular destination with zoo guests.

Alligator in the Reptile House at Phillips Park Zoo

Although there is a limited amount of land at Phillips Park Zoo, the animals are provided ample exhibit space. The zoo prefers to house fewer animals comfortably instead of trying to house more animals in smaller exhibits. The elk and wolves, for example, have very large exhibits. These exhibit sizes rival those you may see at many larger and nationally recognized zoos.

Barred Owl at Phillips Park Zoo
In addition to housing animals in good sized exhibits, the zoo is also home to many rescue animals. Some of the rescued animals at the zoo include owls, eagles and various birds of prey. Many of the rescues have permanent disabilities that prevent them from being released back into the wild.

Gray Wolf at Phillips Park Zoo, in Aurora, IL
Any zoo of 98 years undoubtedly has a lot of history and has experienced a large amount of change, and Phillips Park Zoo is no exception. In its early years, the zoo was home to exotic animals such as monkeys and giraffes. Phillips Park Zoo changed its focus to native animals after nearby Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934. In 1937, Mastodon bones and tusks were found during the digging of a lake on the property. These Mastodon fossils are now on display at the main visitors center of the zoo.
Mastodon statue at Phillips Park Zoo
Many people who grew up in Aurora or the western suburbs of Chicago remember Phillips Park Zoo as a place to see American black bears. Unfortunately, the zoo hasn't had any black bears since their last bear died of cancer over a decade ago.  However, this may change someday. The zoo has considered expansion with the hopes of bringing back black bears to the zoo. Of course, a change like this is complicated and would require additional fund raising or a substantial donation.

The zoo continues to add new animals through rescue and breeding programs it participates in. Recent additions include two barn owls (July 2013). The zoo is also looking into adding two wolf cubs to the current wolf pack. Be sure to "like" the Phillips Park Zoo facebook page for news and updates. You can also "like" the Skyenimals facebook page for pictures from Phillips Park Zoo and many other places.

Phillips Park Zoo is open year round, and hosts several special events throughout the year. Check the Phillips Park Aurora web site for zoo hours and event information before visiting. And, of course, watch for additional centennial celebration information leading up to the 2015 season!

Want even more information and pictures from Phillips Park Zoo? Then check out the Skyenimals' Phillips Park Zoo page. If you visit the zoo and get any good pictures please share them here or on!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gatorland Sights and Sounds!

Wow! I was truly amazed by some of the sights and sounds I saw at Gatorland during my visit in June 2013. I had visited Gatorland in Orlando, Florida in June 2012 and loved it. Feeding the alligators, watching the shows, and the birds!

Bird's eye view of Gatorland from the three story tower observatory.

When I returned to Florida a year later I knew I was going to visit Gatorland again. This visit was even better. There was a threat of rain and some sprinkles now and then, but I decided to go anyway. I arrived just after 4pm on this overcast day, not expecting much and thinking I might even get rained out. I was greeted at the ticket booth with the news that since the park was closing in less than two hours admission was half price. Sweet!

I stopped and talked to the lady selling hot dogs to feed to the gators. We talked about the storms that had been in the area (there was a tropical storm coming in from the gulf). She mentioned that it was mating season for the gators and they were sometimes more active during overcast and rainy times.

I decided to walk through the outdoor parts while the rain held off. I stopped and fed the Emu's on the way toward the back of the park. The Emu's are so funny. Check out this Emu Feeding Time video!

Emu Closeup (photo taken at Gatorland, Orlando, FL)
Being in Gatorland isn't like being in a zoo. This is like being in the wild, with only a raised planked walkway and a fence separating you from the swamp and gator areas.

It's amazing to watch the herons, egrets and other birds nesting, preening and frolicking in the trees, nearly oblivious to a quiet visitor. This isn't at all like watching birds in a zoo. These birds choose to live and breed here, they have built their nests where they chose and there's no cage to hold them. The birds are lively and lovely.

Snowy Egret
After walking through the park and taking many photos a strange sound started coming from the water areas. It sounded like nothing I had heard before. Sort of like an elephant. It was the gators making their deep bellowing mating calls. The calls carry far through the area and are quite loud when you are near a gator making the call. One of the visitors stopped me and asked "what is that sound"? I said I think it's the gators. Sure enough, it was soon confirmed where the sound was coming from. As there was a small group of people watching a couple of nearby gators who were making the call.

Want to hear the sound? Check out this Alligator Mating Call video. It can't quiet compare to hearing it in person, but you'll get an idea of what it sounds like.

Gator Mating Call
Before leaving the marsh area I decided to go up to the top of the three story observatory. I really didn't know what to expect since I had never been up there before. Simply put, it was awesome!

Instead of feeling further away from everything it gave you a sense of the scope of nature. It was cool to see the gators swimming individually or in small groups from this height. It was also neat to see the trees dotted with bright white egrets. But the best surprise seen from the observatory was a being able to look down into a nest built in a tree very close to the top level of the observatory.

There was a pair of Double-crested Cormorants in the tree. One was on the nest and one was nearby on the same branch. I didn't take much notice of them at first, but after taking a look around I went back and realized they had young, featherless chicks in the nest.

The young ones were hungry and squawking for food! Such a site. Take a look at this Double-crested Cormorant Family video.

Double-crested Cormorant chick
Well, I ran my camera out of batteries and memory before heading in from the marsh area. I spent the little bit of time I had left looking at the giant tortoises, the new panther exhibit and, of course, more alligators.

American Alligator at Gatorland Orlando.
If you're an animal lover don't skip Gatorland. It's a really cool place. And if you go and get some good pictures we'd love to see them. Post below or upload them to Skyenimals, an animal website for kids! Checkout our gator wallpaper images, bird wallpaper images and all our favorite pictures from Gatorland on the Skyenimals Gatorland page.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Animals of the Coniferous Forest

© Nobilior -
Coniferous forests are home to the world's toughest trees. The evergreen trees in these forests live through extreme weather conditions. Coniferous forest types include the huge boreal forests in the northern hemispehere and the much smaller temperate rainforests, such as America's Pacific Northwest.

A large number of animal species make their home in coniferous forests. A wide variety of mammals, invertebrates, and birds live in the coniferous forests.

Some of the most famous animals of the Coniferous Forest


Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park © Jeff Slater



Elk are one of the largest species of deer. Male Elk have very large antlers which are shed each year. Elk often live in or near the edges of coniferous forests.