Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

June 22, 2016

Spare Some Well Wishes... again

Ugh, another not so great week this is turning out to be.

One of our backyard pals is unwell.

He isn't just a Squirrel. He is one of the stars of the backyard!

He's gone through some name changes. I think this may be a Squirrel I once called "Junior" a couple years ago. A really docile Eastern Gray Squirrel. With a few running around, he became "Hoover", because he and another look very similar and both hoover up the peanuts and sunflower seeds. Then a few weeks ago he was bestowed with the name "Smoke-Stack". Smoke for his color and Stack due to a unique physical bit of his that makes him stand out from the rest.

I blogged about him back in the winter when he first appeared. See here. He's become a fave of many to see and read about. Here is a short video of him. It is a mystery as to where he came from and how he came to be like this trusting, extremely gentle animal.

His appearances have been quite random ever since we first met. Average visits have been once or twice a week. Lately they have been a little more frequent and in the last week or so we took notice to him being a little off balance. Sunday I made the call to Toronto Wildlife about him. I made mention about his rather large "ball sack". It was brought up to me that this can indeed be an issue for him in his travels, like say passing through a chain link fence. OUCH!

I was asked to keep an eye on him and try to get some video footage for them to review on his mobility and this falling over concern.

I did not see him the rest of Sunday, nor Monday. I suspect the high humidity kept him, much like all the others, in hiding and trying to keep cool.

Tuesday morning I am cleaning up the back of the yard when he showed up. He was worse. He was dragging himself and occasionally leaning on his side. I wasn't wasting any time getting video now. I got the cat carrier out which a friend donated to me for these wildlife moments and it's come in handy many times since. There was little effort to get him inside. He trusts me. A toss of a peanut and in he went.

I called Toronto Wildlife, explaining his condition, and got the "OK" to bring him up. You can never just drop in with a sick or injured wild animal at any rehab centre, just so you know.

It's almost 24 hours now since I drove him up. I have his patient number and will be checking in on him later in the week. I'm not one for prayers and all that kinda stuff but am wishing pretty damn hard right now he will come home and have a second chance at a wild life.

Angie was fortunate to have met Smoke-Stack a couple times.

I am always grateful our city has Toronto Wildlife. I am also grateful to all the staff and volunteers. A group of very caring individuals who give so much back to our furry, feathered, slimy and scaly friends about the GTA and sometimes slightly beyond. There are times when I feel my volunteer driving and our monthly donations just aren't enough, but we do what we can.

If you've never donated before, perhaps consider it now? It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be monthly. Heck, it doesn't even have to be money either (they have a wish list). Just think, your contribution might even be helping our friend Smoke-Stack right now! If nothing else, please give a thought to our little Squirrel friend and may you see a great happy blog about his return soon.

We have a message for everyone...

June 15, 2016

We Do What We Can

It's been an emotional number of days.

Our Peregrine Falcon fledge watch started a week ago and within days we lost two of our juvenile Falcons. First off was Maverick. First flight from the ledge, went east to the condos, couldn't get a grip on a balcony rail, so then took flight west and sadly went smack into the nest tower. A building made entirely of reflective glass and kills a lot of birds, not just young Falcons.

A day later, Cheemung (don't ask me where the names come from) did pretty much the exact same thing. Cheemung did not die on impact, even after the spiral to the ground. Cheemung was picked up and raced to Toronto Wildlife very soon after. It's too much to get into the heavier details but Cheemung eventually succumbed to her injuries. No fault of anyone at Toronto Wildlife, they certainly tried very hard to help this injured bird. But it was not meant to be. How sad and really such a waste of life. Damn you reflective glass! It was a very windy bunch of days which certainly did not help these birds either in their first flights but I will never stop blaming the glass as I've seen enough carnage because of it.

Here is an older blog of mine. Meet another young Falcon who also met the glass and did not survive. I had such high hopes for this bird in particular that year.

This year I am not just helping Peregrine Falcons through nesting season. I've also been helping monitor a number of nest boxes at an undisclosed location. Why won't I say where it is? For the safety of the nesting birds is why. No offense but I am quite certain there are people out there who see something like this and will get the idea that they too could follow my steps, go to these boxes, open them up and have a look inside and there is nothing wrong with that. Well, in some ways, there is nothing wrong with a peek but what if something goes wrong. What if a chick falls out? What if it gets hurt in the fall, or when the person now tries to put it back in the box? How will a person react when the parents of these young start attacking the intruding human? Opening a nest box of young near ready to fledge may cause a bird to flush, fly out of the box when it's not quite ready to go. Then what? The bird will most likely die. Once they leave the box, they are on their own, no more parental help.

So Sunday I go have a check on 19 nest boxes that I've been helping monitor this Spring.  A couple weeks back I inspected the boxes, found 7 active nests in total. I marked them for easier spotting in the future. I applied grease to the t-bars to help keep predators from climbing up into the boxes. I made notes of egg counts. Now I have returned 2 weeks later to see what is going on.

Sadly the first box I open, I found this...

5 dead young Tree Swallows. As soon as I approached the box, I caught the scent of the rotting deceased birds and immediately knew something was very wrong. When you smell that smell, you never forget it. So yes, this is not the first time I have come across dead baby birds in a nest box. My heart sank as I opened the box and found all 5 dead. I was really hoping it was maybe one who did not make it and the rest fledged. The flies within were too much. The shock and moment of sadness clouded my head and I did not look very closely at the bodies for signs of trauma like I should have. I know nothing stood out with what I saw but a closer look might have shedded some light on what happened to them.

No lie, about 30 seconds after discovering these dead birds, my phone goes off and I am notified that the Red-tailed Hawk I brought in a week ago Sunday had died.  The blog to this Hawk rescue is here.  My brain is screaming expletives but they do not fly out my mouth. What a way to start this journey of inspecting the boxes. I am at #1. I have 18 more to open scattered over a few acres of land. I'm probably going to be another 90 minutes on this *job* and this is how it started.

Some messaging with Angie before I continue helped.  She reminded me, we do what we can, but sometimes we are helpless.  Just got to remind ourselves of the ones we have helped. I find some comfort in knowing that Cheemung and the Red-tailed Hawk aren't suffering anymore.  Things could have ended up much worse for them like slow agonizing painful deaths in the wild, starving to death.  Of course they also could have become quick easy meals for another animal, being torn to shreds and devoured, that happens all the time but none of us want to think about it.

It is what it is.

The death of these baby birds may have been caused by any one of these things I am going to list, all speculation of couse. The mother could have died, perhaps caught by a predator. There was a cold snap not too long ago, it was a chilly +3c one night, which could have been cold enough to kill these birds in the first couple very crucial days. Another bird species may have entered the nest and killed the young, possibly a House Wren or a House Sparrow. There are 2 boxes in this area, far away from the other 17. The area with the 17 I have never come across a House Sparrow. Oddly enough, where these 2 are, I have seen House Sparrows.

I buried the young in the ground the best I could, kicking the dirt up with my shoes. It was a shallow grave and at least they weren't left to rot inside the nest box.

Okay, chin up, much more to do and check upon, so away I went.

Of course as I got to the other area, and especially checking the first few boxes, my nerves were getting the better of me. Long before I am near the boxes, I am envisioning another handful of horrors inside. As I neared the boxes, I took in the air, looked for flies and neither signs were there. I relaxed and went to work.

Long story short, through the other 6 known to be active nest boxes, all 6 were still active. They all contained young Tree Swallows within at varying stages of growth, being X number of days old. As I got to every box, I would lightly tap on the side in case an adult was within. Only once did I have to give momma such a wake up call (she must have been busy tending to her noisy hungry children inside). All others saw and heard me approaching long before I was at the box. The adults would fly off only to return and swoop my head as I made my inspection. I would slowly open each door, making sure no chicks were leaning on the side wall and could possibly fall out. I stood in front of the entry hole, no young bird was going to try and fly out. All was good. The kids were all quite noisy at each box until they saw me, then it was complete silence. I counted beaks and bodies best I could without picking any up. I could have picked them up for better counting but I am not at that level of comfort yet. Those who have been doing this for years definitely would.

In my count of heads I came up with 25 young birds throughout. There could have very well been up to 36 as Tree Swallows can have up to 6 eggs and I did have 6 in one box for sure. Others had 5 or 4, but with the mash of them in there, sandwiched together as they get bigger and bigger, I am sure I missed a few.

Despite the loss in the first nest, having at least 25 new Tree Swallows being added to the population of the species is pretty awesome.  One year it would be great to start on banding these birds in hopes to see if some return to this spot the following year, and years after.

Here are a few photos I managed to get, not spending much time worrying about the shots, just point and click. I checked my settings on the point/shoot camera before I started this round.

"Hi!  What the hell are you?"

"Pretend he's not there."

Slightly younger birds in another nest.

I bet the next time I visit, these birds will have fledged.

I found fecal sacs in a few boxes which I have since learned are a sign the young birds are nearing time to fledge. The adults stop taking the fecal sacs away in the last few days.

In my travels, I checked all the other boxes for any new nests. I found a House Wren nest in a box well away from other boxes. Not everything set up there is specifically for attracting Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows.

Another box that was empty last visit now has a nest within, but it's empty. Tree Swallows make beautiful nests, all lined with feathers.

Third time I found a nest of Deer Mice in this one box. Last two times I evicted them but this time let them stay. I don't expect any new migrants coming in requiring a box for nesting. Plus, a family of Deer Mice may feed another animal later in the season.  Give them a cheer for persistence!

It's crazy when I sit back and think about all the things we involve ourselves in, even just lightly, trying to make a difference. Sure I can toot our horn for this. Why the heck not? Maybe it's not your "cup of tea" but it is ours. We are just doing what we can... and happy to do so.

June 8, 2016

Animal Speak

Do you believe that animals can communicate with us? Sure they don't speak our language but there is a universal language that some of us are blessed to understand. Sometimes there are those who learn this language from an encounter with an animal. I don't mean "doggy has to go out and pee" or "kitty wants treat" or "Polly wants a cracker". How about a cry for help from a wild animal? An animal for the most part that wants absolutely nothing to do with us, an animal that fears us and stays well away, high in the sky or up a tree. I had such an encounter as this last weekend. A small role in the story anyway.

Sunday afternoon Toronto Wildlife put a couple shout outs to the volunteer list. One being a Muskrat and the second being a Red-tailed Hawk. The animals in distress were mere blocks from each other and very close to our home. Angie was watching the last few innings of the Blue Jays game before dinner and I made mention of this need for a driver, not asking if I could do it, but talked about helping even though it will probably delay our supper. Of course she was all supportive, I called in my assistance and was the first to respond so away I went.

I first picked up the Muskrat from a No Frills store in Bloor West Village. Two guys had quite the adventure trapping this animal along Bloor Street. Finally containing it in one very smelly waste bin. Unfortunately one of the individuals felt the wrath of this animal and ended up seeking medical assistance. I don't know much else about the ordeal. I was happy for it's containment although the smell of the trash can had me gagging in the GMC. Funny thing is our friend Mirella was working at a store where all of this was taking place, she saw much of the chase from the window. Small world, eh.

From there I drove a few blocks west to the address where the Red-tailed Hawk was at. A big beautiful house that sits on a hill overlooking the valley and marshland off South Kingsway, very near Lake Ontario. I believe it is called "South Humber Park".

I arrive to the house and am greeted by the couple who live there. I get the whole story from the husband about the bird before I am led to it.

They were having a late afternoon gathering when they noticed a large bird staring in the sun room door at them. Peculiar thing it was for them. After a short bit the man went outside and basically picked up this bird, carried it to the back of the property and set it on the gate or the ground by the gate. "Be gone with you Mr. Bird, we have a dinner party going on!" Something like that anyway.

As he walks back to the house, this Hawk starts to hop along following him. He goes inside and moments later the bird is back at the large windowed door looking in at him.

There may have been a pause, the eyes of both beings connecting through the glass and then it hits the man, there is something wrong with this bird, it needs help. He then brought the bird into the house and called Toronto Wildlife.

I was told the bird was contained. I always have a kitty carrier in the back of the truck and good thing I did, because the bird was not contained other than being in their home now.

I wish I took a photo of him at first sight. He was standing there, looking out the window to the backyard. He looked very tired. I tried to find anything that could remind of the moment and this is about as close as I could get, too bad it's not of a Hawk.

The man and I both were looking down at the bird. He and his wife were rather nonchalant about it which may have been due to the alcohol. No they weren't drunk but I'm sure had a bit of a relaxed glow about them. There was a small audience of onlookers behind us, peering in through the doorway, all holding cocktails and silently watching. I'm sure they were all wondering what was going to happen next. And hoping I could get this bird out of the sun room so they could enjoy it themselves.

The man tried to instruct me on how to handle the bird, which he just learned how to do. It was something I already knew from the years of monitoring Peregrine Falcons when the juvis take their first flights. Gently place your hands around the body, keeping their wings up to their bodies to prevent any injury. I politely explained to him that I am well aware of the procedure through training, thanked him anyway and took control of the situation.

There was no fuss from the Hawk. He went willingly. I brought myself down to put him within the carrier. As I began to put him inside it, letting my grip go of him, he walked in on his own. Standing there for a moment before lying down.

Last words with the couple, thank you for caring, etc. It's funny the reactions from people when they realize I'm a volunteer. I get no money for my time, no reimbursement for the gas. Not everyone understands the feelings to my soul for helping animals in need.

I took the bird out to the truck. I opened the back and set him in. I was about to put a towel over the carrier when I noticed the wound on the back of the bird's head. I knew it was there but I now had a good look at it when I really was not intending to. It stood out to me. My heart just sank. A big gaping wound and there were things crawling around in the wound, maggots of some sort I guess. The Hawk had his head tucked under his wing which gave me a full view of the wound.

Who knows what happened? I'm unsure of the Hawk's state at this time, I only hope he is still alive and recovering. And I do wonder about the man who finally "listened" to this bird. Does he realize what happened? Will he remember this in the years to come? Will he answer the call if another animal speaks to him?

I have no images of the bird, no photos were taken. I borrowed this from a Google search and I can credit the artist, his name is Steve Goad and he shared this on DeviantArt. I used to love visiting this site. It is overflowing with beautiful art of all varieties.

June 3, 2016

Return to Graceland

Hello!  Interesting title, eh?  Now what could that be about?

No, it's not this...

And it's not this either. I have had my 2 minutes of fame on the TV but not here.

Would you believe it's about an Owl? I've blogged about her before. Last year I finally gave her a name after seeing her off/on since August 2012. I named her Grace. Only because I see it as a blessing to have such a bird near our house; she graces me with her presence on occasion.

If and when I do spot her, it's only between the Spring and early Autumn season. Where does she go in the Winter? Probably deeper into the woods, in the thicker conifers for shelter. She's not exactly a sure thing to spot during the warmer months either but this is the time I do see her, and usually in the same tree.

Seeing her on this day, June 1st, 2016 was my first sighting in a long time. Last time was early October 2015. It feels like a long time but not almost 9 months.

I believe sometimes things happen for a reason. How things played out with this Owl encounter was like a series of mini unrelated events that somehow made this happen.

We've been in home renovation hell for about 2 months now. Just one little thing after another, small set backs, annoyances but slowly things are coming together. One good thing about it, even though it's draining our bank account and our spirit at times, it's giving me a reminder that I can do stuff, things I used to do before and I'm learning about other things. It's given me strength and determination. Strength to move our washing machine and dryer about the basement on my own. Determination to get this over and done with so we can enjoy the basement as well as the summer out back. This June 1st morning I spent some time down there after some new flooring was installed. An hour plus and I called it a day as I really wanted to get out for a little wildlife moment before work and I also wanted to check in on our Peregrine Falcon family (the kids will be flying soon).

During my work at home, I'm hearing from Angie about a TTC nightmare on the subway line. A small fire at one of the stations totally messed things up for thousands of morning commuters. After about 2 hours of her at the station she turned around and returned back home. I stayed here, waiting for her arrival.

She gets home and less than 45 minutes later service resumes on the subway line. I offer to drive her to the subway since I wanted to check on the Falcons. Away we go.

I arrive on site at Islington and Bloor, pay for my parking and hang out on the side of the street. I see Lucky (adult male) flying back and forth a couple times. I can see one of the kids sitting on the edge of the ledge, looking out to the big world in front of him. Soon he will be taking his first flights and hopefully I am there for him in this critical moment. I should find some of my old Falcon blogs to attach here which explain more about the watch. I can see mom, O'Connor, sitting on top of the webcam. I can't see the rest of the kids (there are 4 total) and I suspect they are hanging out underneath the webcam where mom is.

It's a very quiet stay with the birds.

I paid for 75 minutes of parking. I was ready to leave after 30 because nothing was going on. I found the traffic to be quite busy this morning and it wasn't very relaxing having it all around me, watching people drive in circles looking for parking, delivery trucks double parking, their exhaust stinking up the street, the engine noises drowning out any bird calls, etc. But I paid for this amount of time and thought best to just sit it out and maybe something will come of this.

Not too long after a red Toyota convertible comes up the road, it slows down, the window rolls down and I see it's an old friend from high school. Her name is Jacqui. Thanks to the powers of Facebook many of us have sort of reunited after all these years. Jacqui is almost a neighbour of ours, the Humber River separates her 'hood from ours. We have a short conversation. She knows I'm down there about the birds like I am every year around this time. She's heading for some appointment in the area and is looking for a parking spot. I offer to give up my spot. I think she said "no" at first, that it was alright, she would try another round of the area. I assured her it was okay, that nothing was going on with the birds and I was thinking about leaving anyway. But I think she did another tour of the streets before that happened. A number of cars had passed me by, people giving me either dirty or hopeful looks as I lingered about my truck, wishing I was leaving. Jacqui comes around again and I give up my spot. We chat for a moment about the birds, what's going on this year up there and said "goodbye".

I'm heading home now. I had it in my head to give myself a certain amount of time to be out before going home and getting ready for work. I look at the clock, I still have some time left. I thought maybe I should just go home and get things done at a slower pace. I'm around the corner from our house and decided to stop in a nearby park I frequent. Boy am I so glad I did!

I'm hearing lots of bird calls. There are a number of Chimney Swifts flying over the parking area. I tune into some Blue Jays calling steadily in the distance. It wasn't a stress call, just steady squawking. I decided to head over in that direction and investigate. Boy am I so glad I did! Didn't I just say that in the last paragraph?

Here is what I saw...


While I knew it was a Great Horned Owl. I was even more excited that it was the return of Grace. How do I know? I just do.

As you may have noticed in the photos so far, she was not having a very peaceful morning as 4 Blue Jays harassed her non-stop. They screamed at her steadily and each one took a turn swooping at her head. Poor Grace. She wasn't bothering anyone.

No rest for this big Owl.

2 Jays giving her some grief.

She's not yawning here.

It was wonderful to see her again after almost 9 months. I won't deny there was some excitement to seeing the action. I did feel bad for her though. She just wanted to sleep.

Despite the Jays bugging her to no end, my presence did not go by unnoticed.

I meant no harm unlike the Jays. I'm down on the ground and can only watch from a distance.

The whole ordeal lasted maybe 5 minutes. I watched Grace take flight and disappear through the trees. Unfortunately the Jays were not done with her yet. But I was. I did not follow the fray.

So if there was no TTC delay, no Angie coming home and delaying my outing, no Jacqui showing up in the area where I was parked watching the Falcons; would this have happened? If I stayed at the Falcon site until my time ran out, and even if I decided to go peek in that park after that time, I would have missed all of this. Maybe I would have tuned in to the Jays, but they were much deeper in the woods now and I probably would have ignored it due to time restraints.

Okay, how about one last oddity regarding this?

In the near 4 years I have only ever seen Grace in this tree twice. June 1st 2016 and June 1st 2015. I kid you not! Thanks to Facebook memories, I got the reminder. I remember how excited I was to see her that morning as she actually had a kill in her talons. It was something very different than my every other time of her just snoozing high in another pine tree nearby.

Welcome back Grace! I see I've just given the park a new name too.

Here is a very short video of the action from the moment, click here.

May 31, 2016

A Moment of Silence for Ralphie

Our newt Ralphie passed away last night.  He was the last of 6 amphibians I took in many years ago that were abandoned.  Long story short...  all of them were threatened to be flushed down the toilet if I could not help them.

When I bought this house and moved in, Ralphie and the crew moved in shortly after me.  I've had Ralphie in my life for almost 20 years.  Apparently that is astonishing for a little newt although his actual species escapes me, and has for a long while now.

Ralphie was the quietest of the bunch in the house, never asked for anything other than a mouthful of bloodworms or a cricket a few times a week, and a water change periodically.

He was looking off a couple months ago.  We knew it just may have been age catching up with him.  What can one do with such an old newt?  Just let him live out his days and that's about it.

He did perk up a few weeks ago and was like his old self once again (pun intended).  He was eating, shedding his skin (and eating it as well).  It was nice to see him bounce back and have what seemed like a few more good weeks of life.  We could never tell if he was suffering or if he was in pain.  We just hoped he wasn't.

But his time came, and he went for the forever sleep.  He has joined his mate Alice, who passed away about 9 years ago.

Some people have a difficult time understanding having any sort of feeling for a creature like a Newt.  They aren't bonding animals and seem to have no emotion.  Care for anything as long as I did with Ralphie and tell me you didn't grow attached.  We like to think he enjoyed our company in the kitchen where his tank stood.  He was often plastered to the side, just watching us, like in the photo above.

He and the original 6, which was 3 newts and 3 frogs, all lived in one large tank.  Bitch as I fondly called one of the Newts passed on first.  She was a Fire-Belly Newt and full of attitude.  Ralphie's other half, a Newt of the same species, was next to go.  So when it was just Ralphie and the frogs, or "horny Toads" as I sometimes called them, I gave him a peaceful existence away from the frogs who constantly clung to his backside for hours, day after day.  He liked the move and lived almost a decade without any disturbance.

We are saddened at his passing but also happy to know he is truly at peace now and not suffering (if he was).  Ralphie is not replaceable.  No pet is.  I don't forsee another Newt becoming part of the family any time soon.

I'm completely exhausted as I key this but had to put this out on the blog tonight.

R.I.P. Ralphie

May 25, 2016

I'm Still Here!

So I've been wanting to blog but we've been so busy with home renovations that have gone on far too long. Throw in Spring migration and a week of vacation, a few trips to the hospital... now it's going on almost 1 month since I last blogged.

Life should start getting back to normal next week (I hope).

I enjoy every moment at home, especially in the backyard, it's a place where we can shut out much of the world. Here's a few images from the last few weeks from the yard or very near our home. I will be back soon with some tales for you to check out.

Our only Chipmunk (that we know of)

Our only Opossum.  A 2nd was found dead on the sidewalk about 6 weeks ago.

Pierre strutting his stuff!

White-crowned Sparrow visiting for a couple days.

Raccoon who lives down back of our yard.

Indigo Bunting near our house.

Scarlet Tanager passing through our 'hood.

Local Screech Owl sunning.

Momma House Sparrow feeding the kids.

Another Screech Owl in another park.  Do you see him?

Night visitor.

Loving our Baltimore Orioles back for the summer!

Poor Angie with a knee issue but keeping a smile on her face.

It doesn't keep her entirely down.

Me, a personal feeder for Pierre and his lady.

We appreciate having a backyard to enjoy and it's a blessing what we see in our neck of the woods.  There's a wild world all around us, embrace it!

See you soon.

Big thanks to Karen and Margie for the comments in the last couple blogs. :)

If you care for a little more reading, our latest blog for Bird Canada came out the other week.  Here is the link.