Raccoon family in backyard

Raccoon family in backyard

September 12, 2014


This morning I got up to a very vocal and welcoming Pierre outside the kitchen window. He was sitting on the picnic table looking up to the house. The shot below is another morning with him and his new lady friend he's been courting much of the summer... but the same spot, just him today, looking and waiting.

At first sight of me, he will fly up to the house, either right outside the window on a branch or at the clothes line pole outside the back door. Today it was the pole.

I open the door to greet him and he was incredibly vocal with me. I usually don't get much vocalization from him until we've not crossed paths for many days which does happen on occasion. I figure it's a mix of giving me heck for not being around to feed him and some rejoicing to our reunion. But whatever it is, when he starts up, he really goes on for a bit, throat all puffed out, and even does some head bobbing as well.

I've seen him every day this week so what the heck did he have to tell me today?

I told him stuff today too, like I do many days. The usual "how are you buddy?" or "who's my good boy?" which is something I can't say in the house since I am surrounded by females of all sorts of species.

I always ask him to be careful out back, watch out for the Hawks and a couple free roaming cats. Who knows what else I ramble on about. Does anyone chatting to an animal really remember all the mumbo jumbo they spew out?

But today was different from any other day we've had with our encounters in the past two plus years. Pierre fed from my hand and sat with me for a good twenty minutes or more, nothing new. Lately I've been testing our boundaries here and there. He's quite comfortable with me as everyone knows. Today though, there was a new connection, not just his feet on my hand or the odd belly rub I've given him. Today he rubbed his head on my nose, or it was me rubbing my nose on his head. Probably the latter but whatever, it happened, just gentle light rubs. If that isn't a sign of complete trust between man and wild bird, you tell me what is. I don't believe in patting birds as it's not good for their feathers. It's not something I will make a habit of by any means, but for this moment, it was pretty awesome.

Some argue he is not a wild bird and that is nonsense. He may be used to me and whoever else he visits through his day, I'm sure there is someone else out there... but he still remains a wild bird. He comes and goes as he pleases. He lives somewhere down the road with his flock. I know without any doubt he would never be a happy bird if I brought him inside and kept him locked up. As much as I want to protect him and wouldn't object to him living here, out back that is, it is not the way things are meant to be. If something were to ever happen to him, like an injury, and I could help him, I most certainly would. But he would never be my pet. He is my friend, as odd as that may sound to some people, but probably not any of my readers to this blog who share a love for our animal friends. Pierre is one of the few friends I never have a problem with coming to the house unexpectedly. I think all of them have fur or feathers. Surprised?

Sorry, rambling on here. I just wanted to share this moment we had today with you courtesy of my Blackberry.

I tried this with Mickey just now. She wanted no part of us being that close.

Mickey did make an appearance in my ice bucket challenge video which you can see here on my YouTube channel.

September 10, 2014

Meet Hagrid... spider #6!

On August 14th I brought home our newest family member...

Should I apologize to those with a fear of Spiders? Nah!

I should say I am dumbfounded at how many people are completely creeped out by these creatures, big and small, and I am talking about the people... not the spiders. But I guess it's one huge phobia for many.

The reactions I've gotten range from people running away and not wanting to even hear about him, or see his photo, to others asking "why the hell would you want that thing?", "what is wrong with you?", "why don't you put it outside where it belongs?" Only a very few have thought how cool of a creature it is. But when some actually take a moment to hear his story, the cool level rises with the spider and for us taking him in.

I really can't get into the details on his past life. I don't know a whole lot about it anyway. All I know is he has come from a home of neglect. A home he shared with a great many other unique creatures that most people would not want in their homes. So when it was discovered the conditions all these creatures lived in and they were abandoned for a lengthy amount of time... proper authorities stepped in to rescue the animals.

I was contacted by a friend of ours about a week before this spider came to our house. I've had 5 Tarantulas over the years, some were rescues, some were truly terrifying 8 legged beasts that even scared me some but I still took care of them (actually it was only one), and I pride myself on having Maude in my life for over 22 years. That's a long time to care for one spider, don't you think?

So, of course I wanted to jump at the opportunity to bring this poor spider home and give him better life. But being married, and having no other way of putting it... "I gotta ask the wife". Ha ha! Now it wasn't about seeking permission, Angie and I don't live like that. But we have respect for each other, our feelings, and a relationship of open communication. I was going to email or text her right away about this matter since we work opposite hours and don't see each other much of the week, but I didn't. I thought about calling her at the office the next day, but chose not to. I decided to wait until the weekend since it was only a couple days away and bring up the idea of rescuing a tarantula at some point.

The weekend came and I wondered when would be the right time, or best time to do so. First morning coffee on the deck? Sometime in the lazy afternoon in the lawn chairs watching for the Hummingbirds? Over dinner? I wasn't sure how it would go. Angie had shared a few years with Maude here so she has some recollection of having a large spider in the house. She never had to take care of Maude and neither would she for this one. But it's an intimidating creature and I know she does have some uncomfortable thoughts about them escaping, harming Meadow or just disappearing in the house. I totally get that. I'd be freaking if a large spider got loose too.

It was mid-afternoon Saturday, I just looked at her and asked how she would feel about taking in a Tarantula that needed a home. There was a pause and she gave me that look which I can't describe. It was a half smile with a "you shithead" behind it. She wasn't mad, probably more shocked at the suddenness and after a brief discussion on him, where he is, why he needs a home, etc; she asked if she could think about it. Of course I was okay with that as it was better than a "no goddam way in hell is that thing coming in here!"

Long story short, some hours later, after we had friends over and there was some further discussion of this between Angie and her friend Patricia... I got the okay. And Angie thanked me for taking her feelings into consideration and talking about this before just bringing him. I couldn't do that event though I'm sure other people have with other animals elsewhere. Oh there were some conditions like her not having to feed him or clean his tank... no probs there. And lastly, she got to name him. WHAT WHAT WHAT?!?!?! That one scared me. I like dark names for such creatures, something cool, something fitting. Maude was originally spelled MOD as in "Mistress of Death". NO was the "nameless one" because of her sad story. Daisy, oh my god yes, I named a spider "Daisy" only because she was so tiny and so cute, and she moulted the first night with us, like a blooming flower. There was Sid and his name represented some wild and crazy days of my youth. And last was Abigail, much like the King Diamond album about an evil spirit, this Abigail the spider was seemingly pure evil... well, not really, just a really aggressive species someone gave to me for my birthday. I often wondered if that person did not want me to see my next birthday? LoL! So ya, with how Angie has named some frogs of ours over the years like Kermit, Robin, Pickle and Wan-wan... and she blurted out cutey words like Jellybean for this spider, I was scared. But if that was the condition, fine... I just might have to add a middle name to save some grace for him.

Moving forward a number of days, I'm picking up our newest family member and bringing him home on August 14th. It was a Thursday and I was excited, so excited that I almost called in sick, so I could spend the afternoon with him, setting him up in his new house and being there for when Angie got home as I knew she still had some nervous feelings about him being with us.

The foster people warned me this spider was a little on the aggressive side. The guy said he checked on it often and it showed aggression to him by raising it's front legs and displaying it's fangs. Yep, that's the sign to back off or you will get bit.

I found that a little odd because all I read on this species, a Golden Knee, is that they are described as a gentle giant. A docile species and they can get to be quite large at 8 to 10 inches. But with all that this one has been through, I can understand his off mood.

When I got him home, I did a quick clean and set up of his new 10 gallon tank. Our friend Chris donated the tank and stand to us, which I also picked up that day. Once the tank was ready, it was time to transfer him over. The spider was quite stand-offish about this idea of moving once again. I slowly and gently coerced him out of the tiny carrier he came in and he walked out onto the fresh new sandy bottom. He quickly found his water dish which I found interesting, and he had a long drink (suck?) from the soaking Bounty towel in it. He then explored just a little bit, found his new house being a coconut hut and disappeared inside.

Over the next 5 days Angie never saw him. Another oddity really as every other spider I've had did not have this kind of habit of hiding out all day and only coming out at night. But internet research says that all tarantulas are nocturnal and a hidden spider is a happy spider. I must have had a bunch of 8 legged freaks back in the day, not following the rules of the norm of being a tarantula because they were active day or night and seldom hid. I guess all our pets are like that because the vets have said that Misfit (our Budgie) does not follow the rules of being a typical Budgie with some of her quirks.

We started counting the days, wondering how long until Angie would see him. Imagine if it was weeks or even months?!?! Some nights he did not come out until well after midnight.

I guess I should tell you his name, eh. Well, deep breath... Hagrid. Phew! I am good with that one. Much like the character in Harry Potter, he's big and hairy. Works for me. I still struggle with thinking of a middle name, one to follow the dreaded possible "Jellybean" she kept hinting about. Whiskey? I dunno.

What was really funny is that Meadow even met Hagrid before Angie. We have fond memories of the days when Meadow and Maude were together, how Meadow had a love for Maude and a spiritual connection. Another story where I might look up the blog link to that one. So I was wondering how Meadow would take to this one. It went well. Meadow's curiosity got the best of her to start looking in the tank. And when she saw Hagrid walking around, her eyes bugged out, and she started to purr and rub her chin on the corner of the stand. She loves chin rubs but I like to think it's her acknowledging our newest family member and welcoming him.

With my quick set-up on the Thursday, I knew come the weekend I would want to add a few things when I had the time. So we picked up some peat moss to pack in a corner for increased humidity levels for our friend (tarantulas need a higher level of humidity, especially come molt time where they shed their skin). I also got him another water dish and another hiding spot in way of a half log that is hollowed out.

Go figure, the day I want to do the renovations, Hagrid is sitting out, smack dab in the middle of his tank. Now I'm not afraid to put my hand in there and work but with such creatures, you just never know what they are going to do. And how the foster care guy said he's a little aggressive, I figured best to use extra caution and perhaps try to get Hagrid to move to the other side of the tank, as far away from where I want to work as possible. I have the tank lid over the end where I want him to go, so he cannot run up the side and go over the top.

Lucky for me, he is facing the way I want him to go. So I figure getting something to give him a pat on the bum or back legs would work. What do I get? A spatula! Nice long handle, large plastic spatula thingy which isn't sharp or jagged to cut him. Note, this technique has worked with other spiders of mine. They don't like the interaction and just move along, away from the object and some species I even used my fingers.

So I got up behind Hagrid and just as I am about right behind him, like a millimeter away, he does the craziest thing in the blink of an eye! Crazy like what? Well, he does this insane ninja-spider move of jumping up and doing a 180, so he goes from facing away from the spatula to being face to face with it, and from there he strikes and clings to it! A full force attack on the spatula in a heart beat! I could feel the force of him striking it and it surprised me that he wrapped his legs around like he did. HOLY SHIT! Imagine if that was my hand?!?! A bite would hurt like hell and really suck; but jeezus... to hang on?!?!

I'm frozen now, still holding the handle and he's still holding on to the other end. Time went real slow now as I'm wondering what the hell to do? Do I hang on to this handle still and hope he backs off? Do I drop it in the tank and wait for him to let go? What if he starts climbing up towards my hand? What if I have to go to work and Angie comes home to see a spatula in the tank? How do I explain that one?

I recon it was only a minute or so before I made a decision on how to deal with this, but it sure felt a lot longer. I lift the spatula with Hagrid still wrapped around it, and I move towards his coconut hut. I hope when he feels the house on a toe or two, that he will move over to that. Am I thinking like a spider now? Well whatever, it worked. As soon as he connected with the hut, he started to move over to it. Once he was completely off the spatula, I start to pull away and quite happy this was over.

But it wasn't...

As I am pulling away, Hagrid gives chase to the spatula. He's in attack mode, with two legs raised and fangs beared. I lift the spatula out and he lifts to 4 legs up in the air, trying to reach the untensil.

This is him another day, totally unrelated. No way I was even thinking of trying to photograph him through this.

If I didn't need to change my boxers before, I think I did now.

That was just totally insane!

And as quick as this all happened, he just as quick left the scene and went back to his house. This enabled me to do what I had to do in peace. I always kept an eye on the house but with ample space between us and me moving slowly and quietly, he stayed inside.

Now for some, that would be it. Get that monster out of here! But it taught me a lesson, or rather gave me a reminder of how unpredictable these creatures can be. One must give them total respect... and space. It makes me wonder about his former home. Was he driven to such aggression? Or is this all a part of his stress with the transition, and me disturbing him even further, so soon after, was just too much for him?

We've not had another incident, even when I've had to do some minor cleaning here and there.

Hagrid has been with us almost one month now. I've only seen him eat once through this time. It concerns me slightly but I know they can go a very long time without eating. Maude once went 14 months when I cleaned her home. I was freaking and offered her food weekly but she never took to it, well, not until 14 months later.

I've been putting crickets in there and a day or two later, they are still motoring around. I remove them, wait a couple days, and then try again. I moved on to super worms recently and he got one of those the first day. The worm crawled into his hut and was a goner in no time. Problem with super worms is they like to burrow and do just that in his sandy bottom. I can follow their burrow tracks across the top of the sand. This makes things difficult for him to find them, especially once they stop moving. I've found crickets hiding deep in the peat moss. Argh! I do hope all this straightens itself out in due time. A new challenge for me as all my previous spiders sat out in the open and I could easily monitor their eating as they only ate crickets and almost instantly upon me tossing them in. It was so cool to see the cricket wander, the spider sitting still, the cricket passes the spider and in a flash, the spider is on top of the cricket and has it in it's fangs. So fun to watch.

Hagrid likes to put a veil of webbing across the front of his hut as well, making it difficult to see in and what he's up to... if he's eating.

He's done some landscaping behind his hut, making a web tunnel of sorts that he also likes to hide within some days, still tough to see him.

I spend some evenings after the house is dark and still, waiting for him to awaken and rise from his home...

But like I said, it's a challenge, and I'm up for it. I will continue to work with him, care for him and give him a life of peace. I have no desire to handle this spider whatsoever and I am sure he appreciates that very much.

I'm curious who is still with me here after reading this? LoL! Pleasant dreams friends!

Here is a link to one heart warming story about a spider I rescued some years ago. I will post about the others another day, and Meadow's connection with Maude. But this one is a good one. Cheers! Spider #5 blog.

September 3, 2014

Sept. 02, 2014... My Raptor Encounter(s)

Ah, Tuesday September 2nd... the day after Labour Day. I always hated Labour Day as kid.

Phot courtesy of our friends at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre in Campbelville.

The adults loved it because of it being a long weekend, and more so, because the kids went back to school. So, here I am, all adult like now (usually) and was really enjoying a morning walk in a park very near our house without a child to seen, and even better... heard.

I had an errand to run that morning and thought about going for a walk after. With the kids back in school, the parks are more or less mine again in the AM. Plus our yard was eerily quiet and I wanted to see some birds.

I parked the truck in the lot of a park that I will not make mention of publicly as you will soon understand why. And as I got out, my first views showed little activity of any bird life but the lack of people about made me up for the adventure of a hunt.

I scanned the trees and shrubs with my bins. I scanned just above the tall grass. Nothing. Suddenly there was a large dark shadow that passed over me. I look up and at first I thought it was a just a Gull, seeing lots of white at first glance. A big Gull I might add, but just a Gull. Then my birding brain kicked in, it hasn't been used a whole lot this summer, and something told me to look again, and really look this time. It was a little cloudy this morning and nothing really showed on the bird at first, I took notice to it's size, it's shape, saw some darker coloring on it... and then in my head I shouted "Holy s**t! It's an Osprey!"

This was quite exciting for me. I rarely see Osprey. Sure I know where I can see some but I don't travel much like I once did when I had a 4 day work week. The weekends are so short, so precious, and Angie and I really like to enjoy our backyard in the summer months.

What was even more exciting is the fact this bird was circling so close to our home. The park is less than 3 minutes drive. See, I keep a list of birds that visit our backyard but there is also a sub-list of birds seen from the yard. So while watching this Osprey, I was debating racing home to the backyard and spotting him from our property. I knew I would be able to see him from there if he stayed in this area, and with my feet on our property, I could count him. Even from my standing point here in the park, I could tell he was over our house a few times with those circles. But I'm a very honest counter, so I didn't count him. And I decided to push on with a walkabout here as that was my initial intention.

The Osprey's shadow teased me a few more times with the little bit of sun we had. I still argued on racing home and then coming back.

I headed west and slowly the Osprey disappeared south/east, obviously heading to the lake. His appearance was indeed a sign of summer's end and fall migration was happening.

As I tuned out some nearby traffic, I tuned in to an Eastern Wood Peewee calling out. I could not find the bird in the trees, and I paused for a moment to see if I could spot him flying out from a branch, catching an insect and returning to the same branch. It's what they do and I enjoy watching this when I do spot them. But hearing his call was music to my ears. I like their little call. If you don't know what they sound like, please check this link from someone who posted one on YouTube and you will get a nice view of the bird as well.

Some Blue Jays were screaming off in the distance. And every time I hear them go on a rant, I immediately start looking for a predator like a Hawk or an Owl. Of course this isn't always the case, sometimes Jays just like to scream because they have the voice to do so.

It was cool that the birds were starting to present themselves to me.

I walked a little further west and then from the corner of my eye I spotted something quite large roosting high up in a pine tree.

Even such a dark image like this, most people will immediately recognize this as an Owl.

I cranked the ISO and played with some other settings... and here she is...

This is the first wild Great Horned Owl I have seen in 2 years, give or take a week or two. And funny enough, I suspect this is the same bird as the last one I saw 24 months earlier. Hell, she's even in the same tree as memory comes back.

I do know of a couple other Great Horned Owls about the GTA but either I've not been able to find them in my travels or haven't bothered making the trek out to see them.

I saw this Owl 3 or 4 times back in late August/early September of 2012. After all this time had passed, I figured she had moved on. Even when a few weeks back I found some Great Horned Owl feathers in this park, they were a little ways off from here, I kinda passed it all off. So seeing her on this morning was a real treat. The rain was moving in, it was the beginning of a work week and here I am beaming away. Excellent bird sightings and surprise moments ROCK!

I didn't spend much time with her, I make it a rule not to. Just like I prefer not to publicly share Owl locations over the internet as you never know who may find this and come out to harass the Owl. Even celebrity Owl locations as we call them, I still would rather not say. As much as some people like to believe that an Owl sitting there staring at you and not flying away means they like you, that is not the case.

This Owl was really high up in the pine but with the tree on a slope, there is a vantage point at the top of the hill to get a better view of her. And having the 500mm lens sure helps get some decent photos.

While she was very aware of my presence, the distance between us, and the fact I was very quiet and still, had her relax again and start to doze off to sleep. I left her and wandered off in search of other birds. Proof here that there is no need to sit on a roosting Owl for such long periods of time as they aren't going to do anything or would rather not do something for a person's entertainment and photographs.

Over the next half hour or so, I found no other birds in my journey. It was nearing time to start work. So those two factors had me head back to the truck. Of course I have to pass the Owl one more time because it is the way to the parking area. She was awake again and watching some woman nearby with her off leash dog. If the dog was a smaller breed, I wondered if the Owl would make an attempt at it? We were told of such a story a while back where someone lost their prized $2,000 show dog to such an Owl because they let it off leash in the woods. I often use that story on people out and about with their little dogs running rampant in parks. It freaks most out, and some will leash their dogs, others scoff at such a ridiculous story and move along. One would think with the possibility of a Coyote attack on their pup would be enough, but now an Owl too, that they'd leash their dogs.

I tried to take a quick video before I left her and the park. It wasn't easy using the 500mm lens on full zoom and no tripod. It's not a great video but what the heck, here it is. I have a number of nature videos on my YouTube channel now, nothing real exciting, just stuff I've seen. Look me up at lilevl13 (that's lilevl and the number 13).

It was a real zen moment of peace and silence that morning, just me and the Owl. But I would have also really enjoyed sharing this with my wife and a few good friends. Maybe another day?

August 27, 2014

Ode to Red

I am not sure if I ever gave much mention to Red the Pigeon in my blogs as Pierre is who gets all the attention. But Red was a special bird and has a story of his own.

Red was a stand out bird amongst the flock and with this, I know he was around for over 3 years. I remember him from the days before Pierre who just celebrated his second anniversary with us in July. Even in the Sibley's bird guide, it shows under these common Pigeons (Rock Doves) that Red's coloring is considered scarce. So when Red flew in, he was easily spotted amidst the birds.

And back in the day, even though that was only a couple years ago, it certainly is "back in the day" for a wild bird whose life expectancy is approx 5 years... I didn't like Red a whole lot. Pigeons weren't high on my list of birds as Pierre hadn't shown me how interesting and personable they can be. Heck, even after Pierre flew in and warmed my heart, I still didn't like Red as he was a dominant bird, a real bully to my Pierre and I often referred to him as "The Ginger Pigeon". It was taken from a South Park episode on ginger kids (red haired children).

Red was not coming to my hand in those days, he was a just strutting cock around the yard, and occasionally showing his dominance over my younger Pierre. I get it, that's what animals do, and even some humans too. But I didn't like any bird biting and wing smacking my buddy. I found myself on occasion intervening with this all, stomping my foot and giving Red a scare, having him back off and giving Pierre some space.

I never hated Red, or any of them, but I sure had a disliking to his behaviour some days.

This went on for well over the first year with Pierre.

And then late in the summer of 2013, I started to see Red coming in closer to me with my now two hand feeders being Pierre and little Jesse. He observed from a few feet away for many weeks. Pierre and Jesse got the good stuff (sunflower chips, shelled peanuts), while the ground feeders were left with cracked corn, millet and occasional peanut bit. My buds also got my protection, feeding mostly in peace, rarely having to fight for food.

So, finally, one Autumn morning Red came to my hand. I don't quite remember if Pierre was there at the moment or not. I do know that over the time spent with him visiting, there were mornings I did some great stretches out there on the deck with Pierre and Red, keeping the distance between them as far as possible to eliminate the squabbling. Sometimes all it took was having them not in view of each other and not having to stretch out like I did. See, even I learned something with these birds. I only wish I had photos of these moments as I'm sure we all looked pretty comical, or at least I did. LoL!

Red quickly became one of the special birds from the flock as he bonded with me, and even Angie over time. I spend more time with the birds because of the hours I work. All through the winter, as Angie gets home, these birds have gone off back to their roosts.

And through the brutal winter we experienced in 2013/14, I was happy to see my pals coming in for a feed, no matter how cold it was, and whatever snow/ice and rain fell on us. I gladly put my coat on and joined them every morning.

Red figured out the spot to wait every morning, right outside the back door. I can't say Pierre liked this a whole lot.

And as winter was coming to an end, we took notice to Red having a companion. It was cool to see the birds pair up and look after each other like couples should do. My arm was a wonderful morning perch on those cold sunny mornings. A handful of grub and a safe spot to sit and soak in the rays for a while, as long as I had the time and my arm could stand being extended out for them.

Red became more tolerant of the other birds, not being the dominant force he once was in his youth. It's a zen moment hand feeding my buds and they aren't fighting.

And here's a rare moment with Red and Pierre getting along, hanging out with me while I watched the birds one afternoon. I love this shot because it's the only one I have of my two favorite birds together (wish I was in it) but the moment is in my memory.

Red and I back in May when I was on vacation, sporting the vacation beard.

I remember back in early May, when I was certain we were done with winter and snow, that I finally went and got the snow tires taken off the truck. The garage I use is less than 2 kms away. As I'm waiting, who do I see outside in the Husky service station lot next door, but Red. One can't miss him with his plumage and another physical trait I will make mention of very soon. He was strutting his stuff with some others, and they would fly back and forth from the gas station to the Walmart right across St. Clair Avenue. I thought it was pretty cool to see one of my buds, recognizing them like this, away from the house. Can you spot Red in this mobile photo?

Red had a foot condition which we thought was bumble foot. It looked like a clubbed foot. I never gave much attention to it as it seemed like it was there for almost as long as I'd been feeding him. But he got around with whatever was going on and I chalked it up to life in the city for a Pigeon. It wasn't until one day when I shared a photo of him on a Pigeon Facebook group that someone pointed out it may not be bumble foot but something wrapped around his foot. It was thin black string or rope of some kind. Maybe Pigeon netting people use on balconies to keep the birds away? From further inspections, I could see he had lost a couple toes. The left foot was pretty bad with the material and he did have a little bit on his right. If only he could talk and tell the tale of what happened.

It was discussed on perhaps trying to help him and the argument continued on for days by myself, back and forth in my head. His condition is older, he's getting around with it, and he's not a young bird. I knew he was around for at least 3 years already and who knows how old he really is? What I'm saying is, I always have the fear of catching wildlife and turning them in, as my record with rescues isn't great... 5 of 6 never came out from their rescue. Its nice to know the creatures aren't suffering anymore, but it's never the best feeling to learn the outcome was "humanely put down". Really, from what I could see, Red wasn't suffering. He got around like the others, he ate, he bathed, flew like a champ and in my eyes was a survivor; especially making it through the hellish winter we just had. He evaded all the Coopers and Red-tailed Hawk attacks for another season. So, to me, I thought it was best to just leave him be and let him continue on with his life journey. Of course if I thought he was suffering, showed obvious signs of not being able to care for himself anymore, I would take action. There was a moment through this where I thought I would try and catch him, but the feeble attempt went unsuccessfully and I made the decision then to not do anything like that again unless I had to.

Angie and I just enjoyed our time with Red and kept an eye on him.

It was early June that we last saw him. I see in my photos, this is the last shot I have of him, and this was taken the morning of June 3rd.

Through the month of June I get pretty busy with Peregrine Falcon fledge watches, first at Islington and Bloor, then I help out at William Osler in Rexdale. The watches did go right up into July once again. I was giving my Pigeon buddies as much attention as I could in between work and the Falcon watches. Pierre often showed signs of his disliking to my absence with loud vocals at first sight of me in a week. If I knew Pigeon talk, I am sure his words were "Where the hell have you been? But I am really happy to see you!"

After the watches, it's nice to spend the rest of the summer at home, enjoying our birds. Unfortunately, so far, Red has not been a part of this. One week from now it will be 3 months since we last mingled.

Who knows what's happened? And with these wild birds, I probably will never know. The day will come when Pierre won't be outside our backdoor, and I'm hoping that's not for a long time yet.

It was nice to get to know Red in those last 8 or 9 months. He was a high light to many of my mornings before work. I do hope he's well and just off elsewhere. A friend of mine who keeps homing Pigeons gave me this bit of hope as one of his birds left him for over 6 months before coming back. But if not, he will be remembered as one of the stand out creatures to visit our backyard. Thanks for the memories buddy...

August 20, 2014

Raccoons in Toronto

I've found it upsetting with the recent news posts about Rob Ford and his rants about Raccoons in Toronto. How is this a top story, and for 2 days in a row? I've yet to skim the news today and see if Rob Ford saw yet another Raccoon last night in his wanderings about his property. Here are some links to 680 news on this... Monday and Tuesday

I will not make this a personal attack on the man but seriously, take into consideration where he and his family live, backing onto park space, the Humber River flows a stone's throw beyond that, and they are within a very short walk to James Gardens and Lambton Woods (two parks I hold dear to my heart through the winter months). Rob Ford is almost our neighbour, I can be at his house within a 3 minute drive. If he and his family have such a huge fear of Raccoons, perhaps they should move?

He states there is a huge increase in Raccoon populations here in Toronto but doesn't have much in way of facts to back that up. Perhaps he watched "Raccoon Nation" which says Toronto has the highest Raccoon population in North America. I will have to ask him the next time I run into him at our local Tim Hortons.

If you open the Tuesday link above, you will see the city does not track wildlife, and there is no way to tell how well any species is doing. Nathalie from Toronto Wildlife offered a different opinion on the status of Raccoon in our city. But really, nobody knows for certain.

And with all wildlife, there are good breeding years and there are bad breeding years. This summer we have two families scurrying around at night, a mom and 4 kids, and another mom with 3 kids. For where we live, I think this is about average. Of course there are some straggling lone Raccoons which I suspect are the males who have nothing to do with the family order after mating.

Raccoons are clever creatures and have adapted well to living amongst us here in Toronto. Our green bins are a buffet to them. It blows my mind how many people put their bins out on Tuesday night (Wednesday is pick up day) and are enraged that some creature came along, dumped their bin in the middle of the night and helped themselves to the mass of food waste within. The nerve of those things!

We never put ours out before the morning of pick up. We don't have a garage or any inside place to store it, so the bin sits out on our front porch. We use an old car battery on top and see the signs of them coming around, trying to get in, the bag ends sticking out are shredded but the bin is never spilled. Is this a mind set of humans, a habit that goes back generations, and they just cannot change it? Our fathers and grandfathers put the garbage out the night before, it's even in the cartoons we watched as kids. Heaven forbid having to get the bin out to the curb at 7am when one doesn't normally wake up till 8. I guess we are fortunate that the truck doesn't hit our street until well into the afternoon.

With all the Raccoons I see around our neighbourhood, they all have different personalities. Some are bold, some are skittish and some go either way depending on my approach. I've never EVER in all my life have come across an aggressive Raccoon. I guess the worst one was an injured one I trapped late one night last December, see the story here. That poor guy had every right to be pissed off at me. The family with the four kids, have two of each of these very different personalities. Two high tail it quick upon first sight of us, and the other two are very curious (I don't call them bold as they are just young).

It is my belief that when you show respect, respect will come back to you, even with the wild ones. Don't fuck with them and they won't fuck with you. If you yell and try to hit them with a broom or some other object, of course you will see a side of them that Rob Ford's nightmares are made of.

We live in our homes, but the outdoors is theirs. They use our walks, our gardens, our driveways in their evening searches for food and water. They sleep in our trees. Once again, if this kind of stuff bothers a person, then maybe they should move into an apartment building. It's unfair to label them as threats when they are on our properties and taking advantage of what we provide for them, like it or not.

A few of our neighbours grow grapes every summer. The Raccoons love grapes and know exactly when those things are ready to eat. It pisses these people off that they come in the middle of the night, pick away at their bounty of fruit, eating only the insides of the grapes and leaving the skins. The one guy gave up after a few years and tore out all his grape vines. The other guy would sit up most of the night, sometimes till 4 or 5am, waiting for the Raccoons to come, and he'd have a stick or a broom. But the Raccoon is the smarter beast, watching in the darkness, waiting patiently, because it knew the man was not a creature of the night, and eventually he would tire and go to sleep. It was always the case, the guy would eventually shut out the back light, go inside, to bed. A few hours later he would come outside to the mess and be enraged at the masked bandits. Both these men are dead now. The wife of the later still lives in that house and still grows grapes. She carries the tradition of trying to fight these monsters and shares the hatred of them only because they eat her grapes. There are days where I am not proud to say "I'm human, just like them".

I love the creatures as I do all wildlife. But that doesn't mean I biased in my blog here. People just need to be smart about things. Protect your green bins, as I said, it's a buffet to them. Inspect your homes periodically for wear and tear which something like a Raccoon, Squirrel, Opossum, etc may see as potential shelter and a place to raise a family. One cannot get upset if they grow fruits and vegetables, which may be natural food sources to the wildlife around, and the stuff gets eaten.

We have bird feeders and some come out to clean up under the feeders at night. They also love the bird baths and basins during the dog days of summer. Water is harder for creatures to find than food. We enjoy seeing them play in the baths, if we are lucky enough to spot them at dusk or dawn.

This young one took a cedar chip from my garden. Oh my goodness, the horror! Bad Raccoon! LoL!

Some say Raccoons are changing and not becoming true nocturnal creatures. I disagree. In my experiences, for the most part they are still creatures of the night. I do find for a short spell in the summer when I will see families out and about, mom and the kids. I'm guessing this is in the days after all the kids finally leave the "den" (where they were born), mom isn't nursing them as much, and they are trying to find food to feed a family of 4 or 5 now instead of just mom. But as I said, this is just my guess. It's what I see around here for not much more than a couple weeks, families out before sun set, or still up after sun rise. A few of these shared photos of mine are from the longest days of the year, where I was fortunate enough to see these creatures around 6am. I had the ISO cranked on my camera to get the shots, which may seem like mid-day.

We seem to have an exception to this in a small lone Raccoon we named "Annie". She seems to come out a little earlier than the others, or is up after the others have turned in for the day. She's only been around for a few weeks and we can only guess that maybe she's an orphan? She can't tell us so we can only assume. She gets out looking for food and water before the others get to it first. Or she's still out looking for it after they've gone to bed. Her size is comparable to the young ones that we see following mom still.

Annie may come off as bold but I think it's more about how hungry she is. There are times when I'm filling the feeders and she's hanging around, waiting to spot stuff being spilled as not every peanut makes it into the ring. And there are times she's running off quick at the slightest movement from us or something else nearby. We don't hand feed her or wave peanuts at her to entice her. But she knows where the food is and at times can be seen in the garden beneath our feeder pole (the feeders are 12 ft or so above ground with a metal umbrella on the pole to keep Squirrels and Raccoons from getting at the feeders). We don't chase her, we don't yell and throw things at her. We just sit back and enjoy the sight of her if she hangs around for a bit. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Here is a video of Annie from last Saturday. I couldn't sleep and decided to fill the bird feeders and baths before Angie got up. It was around 6am. Annie snuck up on the picnic table while I was doing the baths and knocked my seed cup over. I figured "finders keepers" and let her have at it. I had our little Canon Power Shot camera in my pocket and took this short video. The camera has great zoom and I was not in her face. I hate that I feel I should spell everything out here loud and clear. Ugh! Anyways, click here if you would like to see little orphan Annie.

And for the record, we don't see her every day/night. Sometimes 3 or 4 days pass before the next visit during our waking hours. She knows there can be food found here but she is not reliant upon us. As with the other Raccoons, she is smart and an opportunist. She's figured this all out on her own at a very young age and I suspect she will have a good long life for a Raccoon in our area.

So, I ask that those with this fear of these creatures coming around their homes to sit back and think for a moment, maybe they do a better job at critter proofing their homes, maybe they can learn to live with these wild creatures in their areas? The city is full of all kinds of wildlife, it's not just us humans and that's it. I'd like to believe most of us would like to keep it that way too!

August 18, 2014

Budgie Talk

I feel a need to type something out about Budgies today. It seems more and more there are people finding Budgerigar birds coming to their bird feeders or flying around local parks. People want to help but don't know what to do.

I can't offer much in way of suggestion for a bird in a park. Put your hand out and call to it, if it was a hand raised bird, you just might luck out and have it come down to you. If it's sitting low, try and throw a shirt or towel over it, then gently scoop the bird up.

But if it's coming to your backyard and visiting your bird feeders, you should have a better chance at catching it. Well, that is, if you care to catch it. Should you or shouldn't you? I say you should, and just because you have caught it does not mean you have to keep it. I think some people get that bit in their head that they are then stuck with the bird. There are many animal rescues around that may help out, and in some areas there are specific Parakeet or Parrot rescues that may take the bird in. I had one Parrot place offer to take in a little blue Budgie last fall if we didn't find a home for it. Another good place is a site like Kijiji as people post lost pets on there and maybe that Budgie's family posted an ad as they'd like to have it home again?

Any regular readers here know we have two Budgies, and both are backyard rescues.

First is Misfit, who is going on 7 years with us now.

She showed up in our yard all those years ago around late May. She lived outside, visiting our feeders daily until mid-September, when I finally caught her and brought her inside.

Misfit certainly was a survivor for all those months out back. Sure the weather was warm but we had some wicked thunderstorms that summer. Angie and I would sit out on the deck on weekends come first light, and wait to hear her. She slept in a neighbour's huge tree a few doors over. She seemed to wake up later than the other birds. But weather wasn't her only threat, there were the Blue Jays. The Jays knew she was foreign, something that should not be here with us, and they would chase and scream at her often. So many times we would see Misfit fleeing from one of the Jays, flying for her life. One would think with such aggression from other larger birds that would kill her if they caught her, that Misfit would give up and move on to another area for food. But not Misfit, she hung around. She learned her pecking order with the wild birds. If the Jays came in, Misfit left. But them little House Sparrows who can be terribly aggressive... Misfit just knocked the hell out of them and kicked them off the feeders.

Long story short about her capture. A friend of ours gave us a bird cage and we left it outside for most of the summer on the picnic table near the feeder area. We figured Misfit came from a bird cage and would hopefully recognize one and remember there is food in it. If nothing else, it would be a safe place to go and feed when the Jays and Blackbirds came around. It didn't take very long for Misfit to figure it out. The funny thing is the Blackbirds and Chickadees caught on, and many times throughout the day we could see these birds in the cage at the seed dishes and the millet sticks.

So, come September, the thought of bringing her in as the weather turned cooler was becoming more apparent. And finally one day, while she was in the cage, I snuck up to the cage and shut the door on her. I had to be sneaky in my approach. Our lot is 25 ft wide and the cage was on the left side. So I walked in the direction of the cage but made my way towards the right side of our property. Misfit kept eating but would always be on watch. My approach was not aggressive so far, and she was used to me being around by now and didn't feel I was that much of a threat. I could never get real close to her but close enough as now. And in the next moment that she put her head down to take some seed, I rushed over and shut the door on her. Of course this totally freaked her out. She was terrified and in a rage. It took months to calm her down. A lot of understanding and patience was involved over the next while. We didn't force anything on her, just let her get her bearings of being in this house, gave her space, and showed her respect (didn't try to handle her at all).

Now after all these years, she is a very sweet bird. While we still don't handle her, there is a unique bond between us and one helluva story which I left out a lot of bits. I guess the most memorable and touching is when she got sick due to a mishap during her egg laying days and one broke on it's way out of her. You can read it all here, it is still my 5th highest read blog of all time.

Next up is Moonie who just celebrated his third year anniversary with us yesterday. His story is quite simple, which suits him just fine as he is a very different bird than Misfit. He is simple to say the least. Not stupid, just a lot less care for anything, a very go with the flow little bird. I always say he's not worldly like Misfit and it shows. He flew in one day and within 20 minutes he was in the house with us. See even his capture was real simple. Angie does a great re-telling of him and that day here. I have my bit as well, see here.

I don't think I can ever be brief on anything in my blogs especially if its something I have passion about and there are stories to share.

So, three different Budgies mentioned above and three different ways of catching them if you opened the links.

A cage is great but not everyone has a bird cage kicking around. Most of us do know someone with one sitting around, just start asking around. If it's summer, the bird is visiting the feeders, then I suggest trying this. Have the cage up off the ground, near the feeders and see what happens. With it being summer, time is on your side (and the bird's).

If you can get really close to the bird, the shirt or towel toss is great. It's heavy enough to bring the bird down but not enough to hurt it. Just be sure when you are gathering it up to be careful, be gentle, as you don't want to harm the struggling bird's wings. Also be sure you have a place to put the bird after catching it.

Take time out to monitor and think about the situation before making that attempt to catch the bird.

I've heard a few times people say something along the lines of it being cruel to take a Budgie out of the wild, and putting it in captivity. I get it, the free bird bit. But a Budgie in Canada is not a wild bird. They do not live and breed here. A captive raised bird somehow gets loose in the wild and suddenly must figure out how to fend for itself; it is scared and will be hungry in no time at all. Not all of them are lucky enough to find food fast. And not every bird feeder out there has suitable food for a Budgie. This lost bird has little knowledge or experience of the outdoors and can be easy pickings to a predator. And if somehow, it manages to find a food source, and survives all the dangers through the warmer months of the year, the weather eventually will catch up to the bird. A Budgie will eventually freeze to death with our winters. So you tell me what is a more cruel fate?

Someone even once said that "cruel to catch them" bit who kept other exotic birds. Hashtag #WTF?!?!

I had Budgies as a kid and then a few decades without. I forgot how social of a creature they are and require lots of stimulation. Both our birds have some favorite toys which they play with for hours on end. We don't keep ours together for more than a few hours a day, but even being next to each other, they have each other. We give them the chance to fly, if they chose to. Misfit still likes to go for flies, and Moonie we have to entice to stretch his wings. We take them out in the yard with us on the warmer days of summer. They love the heat. We keep them out of full sun though. And they love being out back with the tweeting Sparrows. An open window on cooler days have them singing away with the birds outside. When outside with us, we never leave them unsupervised as anything can happen in an instant. A friend of mine lost his two birds to a cat coming in the yard and knocking the cage over while he went to the garage for something. He tried to get the birds back over the next 3 days as they were hanging out in a nearby park. Unfortunately some Crows took notice to the birds on that last day and chased them out of the area; just like the Jays, knew the Budgies did not belong here.

Okay, hope this will help someone out there in the future. Best scenario would be no lost or escaped Budgies flying around Toronto but we know that will never happen. It would be great if they weren't $15 pets. Easily disposable when they become a nuisance to someone. And remember, they do NOT make great gifts! I am saddened at the Christmas season when I see pet stores advertising Budgies as Christmas gifts. Hell, even Big Al's aquarium place was advertising them one year! They had a photo of a Budgie with a Santa hat on. And Big Al's is a fish place. Why the frig did they go to selling Budgies for Christmas?

Taking a Budgie into your home, it is not just a pet, but a family member. The bird will see you as part of it's flock. Be appreciative of that... we are. We love our little feathered kids!

Here is one other link that someone with a Budgie or two, or temporarily helping one out, may find useful. It's a Budgie forum full of Budgie lovers. Check it out here. I am a member but don't get on there much myself.

August 15, 2014

Meadow Update

Hello! Sorry for my absence but with all that has happened with Meadow, I'm sure anyone popping in surely understands.

I miss blogging but a bigger part of me right now just doesn't have it in me for "writing" something out as much as there are stories to share. I guess it's exhaustion. I do find blogging a good way to vent at times, and I love telling stories... but right now, just haven't got it. Sorry.

But for a quick update, her condition has improved greatly. What has only been a couple weeks sure feels much longer. There were little signs of the Meadow we know and love coming back every day. Some days I really had to watch her to see them, but they were there.

She went for a check-up 2 weeks after this all happened, and we had some blood work done. The vet was thrilled to see how good she looked. And she gained a pound back (lost nearly 3 through this which is huge for a cat... which equals roughly 25% of her body weight). Not good at math? A 200 lb person losing 50 lbs in 3 weeks. Now that's crazy, eh?

They checked her pancreas numbers. A good number for a cat is 0 - 3.5 When Meadow was sick, her number was 25.3 approx. Her re-check, the number is 3.6! Woo hoo! I remember the vet said, even if her number was still 25, he wouldn't be concerned, as it can take a year for that number to come down. He just didn't want to see it rise. Way to go Meadow's insides on turning this around!

As of today, she's pretty much her old self again. I know she's a little shy or leery of my approaches to her after everything I've had to do to her for 2 weeks. But it was all for her own good. Once she realizes I'm not coming to mess with her, she calms down, and the purr motor starts up. She's not avoiding us like she did through this all.

It's been grueling to say the least, and I am completely burned out. Of course I am taking joy in her recovery but I think it's going to take a little while to come around to my old self as well. We had some other challenges through this ordeal which included her eating habits. What a mess! She got turned on to Fancy Feast through her sickness. I swear they put crack in that stuff because it seems to be the one food that can get any cat, as sick as they can be, to eat. Fancy Feast is junk! It has approx 2% protein content to a can. A healthy does is up around 5 times that amount. Her previous food was 7%. It doesn't sound like a big difference but it is and it will make a difference in your cat's health as they get older. You can get 2% protein in a serving of Lay's potato chips; does that paint a clearer picture?

But with lots of work and experimentation with other foods researched and recommended, we seem to have a new one which she is taking a liking to... Wellness "grain free" Core Salmon, Whitefish and Herring blend. Of course with good food, comes a heavier price tag; but she's worth it.

So, please bear with me here.  I will get back into things soon.  For now, I really want to enjoy some time with my kitty.