Raccoon family in backyard

Raccoon family in backyard

October 20, 2014

Pigeon Release

Yesterday, Sunday October 19th I gave Toronto Wildlife Centre a hand by picking up some local city birds and setting them free. I know some will scoff at the idea of helping out Pigeons and Starlings, but they serve a purpose like all living things do; whether you see them as Hawk food, clean up crews of our food waste or perhaps beautiful creatures in their own way. Whatever. All I know I was happy to help.

The Starling was very local to our home and he was gone out of sight in seconds upon release. The Pigeon on the other hand is what this blog is about. It was a touching release even setting aside my admiration for these birds thanks to my hand feeding flock at home.

When I picked up the birds at TWC, Julia, one of the main people at the front desk, kinda like a coordinator for the centre, gave me some specifics with the Pigeon. He has a flock and she wanted to ensure he got home to them and not released elsewhere. She showed me the city map on the wall and explained about a shopping mall where he was picked up that has a small population of the birds hanging around. This location wasn't too from TWC.

The Pigeon was very quiet in his box through the ride unlike many of the other birds who fuss and fight the whole way.

I get to the mall parking lot and started my search for his family. It was looking pretty desolate upon arrival and no birds were seen on the ground. So I started to look up and soon found them atop the west side entrance to this mall. There must have been 30+ birds sitting up there together taking in the sun.

I open up the back of the truck and bring his carrier out.

The bird doesn't move.

I open up the carrier and he sits there within, just looking at me.

Now this is all quite new to me. I've released 19 birds prior to him and the Starling, and this is the first bird that did not burst out of the carrier to get away; although all others were migratory songbirds. Did he tune into my fondness for his species and felt comfortable? Ha ha! Ya, right! Nope, he was too scared to leave his comfy safe house.

I decided to put his carrier up on roof of the truck so he could have a better view of the mall across the parking lot and hopefully spot his family sitting up top.

He still wasn't taking in the thought of leaving after a couple minutes. Note, I wasn't blocking his view or acting as a barrier watching him... I moved to the side and waited for him to take in what was going on. Of course I would peek over his way every now and then to see what he was doing. I used my mobile phone to take these photos.

I think he really liked his blanket and felt safe with it. It was then I decided that perhaps it was time to take his blanket away from him. He wasn't liking that very much and started to vocalize to me as I removed it. And here I thought only little kids had safety blankets!

Now blanket-less. What will he do?

It wasn't much longer after that when he ventured out of the box.

He sat on the roof of the truck for another 5 seconds maybe and then he flew off. I watched him go over the cars in the lot, gain height and make his way to the spot where all his buds were. He was up there in no time, did a little hover over them until he found a spot to land with the crew.

And then it was over. He was home. All his fears and wonders of what was going on vanished. Life carried on once again from where it left off before he got hurt.

It was a great release. The mystery on how this was going to play out for both him and I; and in the end he made it home to his flock. There was no wondering if he found them. I didn't just leave him in the parking lot and said "see ya!" He settled in with his family and I left with a smile on my face and peace in my heart.

October 9, 2014

Wild Wednesday!

I had a very busy and kinda exciting Wednesday. It sure started out rough with my dear wife waking me up shortly after 5am to go outside and see the eclipse. I think she sometimes forgets that I don't get to bed until 12am or later, so bouncing out of bed 5 hours later isn't high priority for me (unless it's a Great Gray Owl as Angie tells here).

But I went out and had a look. It was cool to see in it's near quarter stage but they called it a "Blood Moon" and being a bit of a comic geek/horror buff, using such a term paints a very crimson visual in my brain. Alas, no blood colors of any sort. I grumbled "meh" and crawled back to bed. Life is never dull with a silly life loving wife.

I had plans for the morning, and it was an early start as well. See last month Angie and I won a Screech Owl nest box in a raffle draw at the Owl Foundation's annual open house. We already have one in our backyard, been up for just over a year now without much more than a Starling poking it's head inside, but we have hopes that one day something awesome will spend a few days, or even take up residence within. So with this new box, we both agreed to donate it to a place we enjoy, and love the people who run it... the Humber Arboretum. They had a Screech Owl for a couple years and sadly his tree was destroyed with last December's ice storm. No one knows if the Owl was home the moment the tree came crashing down, we sure hope not, but maybe if he's still around, or another comes in, the box will be noticed and given an Owl's approval to move in.

It's so sad that tree is gone, it broke right at the cavity.

I made mention to the gang at the Arboretum a bit ago about this idea and they were ecstatic. I dropped the box off last Friday and the excitement rose at the sight of it. We then went about the grounds and picked what we believe is a very suitable spot, following the directions for best possible results. Then we scheduled in yesterday morning at the time to do it.

My goal was to come about an hour earlier than our scheduled time so I could do some early morning birding. But with the even earlier wake up, and then entertaining my feathered friends at home including a very hungry Pierre... I got to the Arb's visitor centre mere minutes before meet up time. Oh well.

But on my way up to the grounds, I got an email from the Toronto Wildlife Centre. They were seeking someone who would be able to come and pick up 5 migratory song birds who were ready for their second chance at life, and release them down by the lake. At first chance I was able to make the call, seeing the email while sitting at a red light, I pulled off the highway, I called them to say I was willing and able to do the release. I was the first responder and now my morning before work just got even busier!

I met Jimmy Vincent at the visitor centre and away we went. He gathered a few needed things for the box, tools, and some various bedding material he had collected going by the instructions. The placement wasn't as easy as we thought, being up on the side of a hill. But with care and caution, plus a little bit of determination that this is where the box is going... we got the house up and secured on the tree.

Here's a few shots from this...

Me getting low down and dirty, helping set up the bed within

Jimmy and I working away

This is fun!

What Screech Owl wouldn't love a comfy bed like this?

Jimmy and I proud of our work. This is good work, fun work, work I could enjoy every day.

And finally, the box is up and ready for a tenant.

Above photos courtesy of Taz, except the last one by Jimmy.

We had planned to do some minor work on some other bird houses in the area but I was now needed elsewhere. Jimmy understood and was thrilled at what I was off to do.

I learned that 5 short term patients with the Toronto Wildlife Centre were ready to be released and get back on track with their Fall migration south. The birds were a Gray Catbird, a Red-eyed Vireo, an Ovenbird, a Gray-cheeked Thrush, and a Blackburnian Warbler (my favorite and once most desired Warbler for me to see).

Upon arrival I learned the Thrush wasn't quite ready for release, hopefully in a few more days, so off I went with the other 4 birds.

I had been a part of a number of releases with Hobbitstee in the last near 2 years. I'd watch and take photos which I shared with Hobbitstee for their website and blog. All of which were mammals plus one Scaup; but for the general part of any wildlife release, it's pretty much the same, once you have them in a good spot to let them go, you do just that, open up whatever contains them and set them free. Anyone observing much keep some distance, do not block the animal's path, be quiet and still to give the animal time to adjust to it's new found freedom and the surroundings, etc

With these birds, it was best to get them down to a lake side park, as they will use the shores for travel through migration. I like the idea of getting them down there, and even out of the city limits, away from the building glass that most likely brought them down and into the care of Toronto Wildlife.

I was needing to get to work soon, so I drove out to the bottom of Mississauga Road, to Saddington Park. It was brutally windy and I feared the little brown paper bags which held all the birds except the Catbird who was in a small box would all blow away. Birds really are light as a feather and the bag isn't any heavier. So they'd be helpless if the bags blew away with them inside.

I brought them out one by one, keeping the others secure in the truck until it was their time.

First was the Catbird. I approached a small grove of cedar trees right by the parking area, and I barely had the lid open and the bird was out and gone. He flew into the cedars, sat for a couple seconds, looked around and then jetted off to another tree.

Second, the Ovenbird. I walked up to the cedar, opened the bag and out he came. He too followed the path of the Catbird, giving me just a momentary glance at him before he was gone.

Third, the Vireo... exact same scenario.

I had my camera with me, and if they would have just sat for a few more seconds, I would have tried to take a photo of them after they were released. Oh well, this wasn't about getting photos anyway.

Last, the Blackburnian. As I mentioned above, a Warbler that I adore, one I wanted to see the most of all, as the coloring of a breeding adult male just blows me away. Of course, this is fall, and the bird is ??? First winter male? Female? I am not good with the Fall Warblers who change colors at this time of year. I never saw any of the birds prior to their release. No sense peeking in the bags until they were ready to go... they don't need the added stress, and I don't need them escaping in the truck or someplace they weren't to be released. So in the few seconds looking up at him, I am just like "Okay, you are a Blackburnian Warbler. Awesome!"

So the little Warbler sat for a bit longer than the other birds, he gathered his bearings on a tree branch, and the wind was really blowing. I tried for a photo, not bothering to check my settings or anything, and was able to get a couple "for the record s**t shots".

As he disappeared, I silently wished him good luck as I did with the others. They have a long path ahead of them.

Somehow I managed to make it through the 8 hour shift that afternoon, and come home to fill the bird feeders so the birds had their breakfast while I hoped to sleep in. I was greeted by a couple of the Raccoon kids who sure don't look like the little kids they were a few months back. I hadn't seen them since September 24th, but the last couple nights we've been bumping into each other out there. They still have that goofy playful youthful demeanor about them and it was a nice ending to the long day. Well that, and then having Meadow snuggle up with me to watch some brainless tv. :)

The only thing that would have made this day even better was to have Angie by my side. She plays a big role in all of this, the bigger picture. Sure we both are animal lovers but something big and magical happened when we met, something beneficial for our wildlife friends and the organizations that help them. We aren't the only ones of course, but you know what I mean.

I make good use of my odd working hours and I know she's happy about what I do for the creatures, she's proud of me, and this is a representation of us, and our love for the wild world around us. It's been said by some that we are Rob and Angie, Angie and Rob, you can't have one without the other, even when they aren't together. I won't argue that.

October 7, 2014

Check This Out...

A birding bud of mine from way out in the eastern end of the province directed my attention to this link about Owls being photographed and how they are the masters of camouflage. See link here.

Here is the image they used... and they gave me photo credit, linking my blog to the image.

It was a pretty cool start to my morning as I enjoyed my first cup of coffee.

The fact they credited everyone was great! Too many times I hear of someone learning others have borrowed their shared photos and have tried to pass them off as their own. So NOT cool. It takes a special kind of person to think it is totally okay to do something like this. Speaking for myself, and many of my friends out there, we take pride in our photos. For me, most contain a memory of an outing, and seeing the image can take me back to that moment. I may not remember the exact day, but can narrow it to a season and definitely the place. I may not have museum quality professional stuff, but I love most of my photos, and it's wonderful if others enjoy them too.

The images are mostly of Screech Owls which are one of my favorites to try and find. As you can see in the shots, it's not just about the birds, but their habitats, and how great they are at hiding themselves while often being right out in the open. Many times for me, it's the other birds that point me to these creatures even if I heard about the location from someone else. Chickadees are the watch dogs of the forest although I've had angry Jays, Robins, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Crows snitch on a hiding Owl.

I'm working on a couple blogs in my brain and was wondering when I would do my next piece? I have some outside work to do around here as the weather changes; so the idea of sitting down and keying out something big right now isn't looking too good. So this installment is a nice filler I suppose but really it did start my day off on a high! I hope whoever views this blog enjoyed the amazing images shared in that link.

Thanks for sharing this with me Chris!

See ya's soon!

October 1, 2014

A Blog About A Lost Dog

Yesterday I found myself waking to a normally mediocre mood. Sure I was happy to be alive and in good health as I am every day but I was lacking some spark. The morning coffee didn't give me the jolt I had hoped for either. I chalk this all up to being day #2 of returning to work after a glorious week off.

Shortly after morning rush hour, I did a small grocery run at the local Walmart. I could feel my mood slipping south fast. Idiot drivers and some of those Walmart shoppers, hoo boy! The colorful word of the morning was "fuck face"

"Your turn signal don't work fuck face?"

"Really, you have to take up the whole aisle fuck face?!?!"

Of course this was all just silent thinking. And don't act so shocked, like none of you ever get in a bad mood.

Anyhoo, the Walmart trek was complete and as I neared home, I was suddenly compelled to go to a local park. I felt this need to go look for a Great Horned Owl I've seen there half a dozen times in the last 3 years. If something could break my mood, spotting this massive beast of a bird surely could. What is really weird is I didn't have my camera but I wanted to go look anyway. A quick peek, if I ever find him/her, it's always the same tree so this wouldn't take long.

I get to the park, it's a quiet morning. I don't see anyone around, minus one elderly woman seemingly looking for something. The lack of people is nice because this spot is famous for off leash dogs despite numerous signs from the city stating the bylaw about keeping them on leash and other signs about protecting some native plants, rare ones too if I remember correctly.

I've had some wicked arguments with a few individuals about their rambunctious dogs invading my personal space and ruining my bubble time with nature by barking at me, inches from my feet, never mind jumping up at me whether I'm holding my camera or not. How anyone thinks this is okay is beyond me. The arguments start off with just asking them to leash their dogs and keep them away from me but they quickly change to heated moments when someone tells me to "Fuck off and go to another park if I don't like it!" My last argument had me really lose it on two people, the f-word was probably one of the milder words and it certainly wasn't pretty. I don't blow up very often, I can count on one hand how many times I've lost it on someone in my 45 years, stranger or someone I knew, and I bet I still have my middle finger free to salute them in the end. Ha ha!

But that last argument, over a year ago, where I really lost it, made the impact needed. Sure these people still have their dogs off leash but at first sight of me, the dogs are leashed and the people go the other way. I'll take the thought of them thinking of me as some crazy asshole who hates dogs even if that is so far from who I really am. It's one of the most important things I've learned growing up... be happy, do something every day that makes you happy and who cares what others think of you. As long as you aren't hurting anyone or anything to achieve this happiness.

This bit about me and the park is rather important and by the end of this you will see why.

The tree I have seen the Owl in is not very far from the parking lot so I'm not concerned about the cold items I have in our basket sitting in the back of the truck. It's a warm morning but not hot. Here is a link about the Owl from a few weeks back if you care for another story after this.

I get to the tree and the Owl is not to be seen. Darn. Oh well, I tried. I am about to turn back to the parking lot when I hear some rustling in the foliage near me and I look to see what it is.

This is what I discover...

At first I think it's an off leash dog but I quickly see he's got 10 or 12 ft of leash and a harness on him. He is quite tangled in the foliage, so tangled he cannot really move at this point. I started untangling him and the light went off about an animal story coming of this, so I took a photo with my cell phone.

The light in my brain shone brighter now and I am assuming that older lady in the parking lot was probably his owner. She did appear to be looking for something, and I did hear her call out something a couple times as I walked to the tree. But now she is nowhere to be seen.

We get back to the parking area and I decide to sit and wait on a curbstone with the dog, in hopes she just went around another part of the park and would return soon. The dog was quite well behaved and sat with me. He kept looking here and there, probably for his "mommy".

As the minutes passed, and no sighting, the dog got a little more chummy with me. I had no idea how long he was out there, he was probably scared with his situation, and he found comfort with me. I forgot how trusting dogs can be. But I believe they can sense good people around them.

A short bit later this guy comes through the parking area with his Husky, on leash. My little friend got all up on paws and started freaking out. Did he know this guy and his dog? Nope. He just likes to bark at other dogs as I learned with our time together.

The guy calls over to me and asks if that is my dog or did I happen to find him. I answer and he gets rather excited, saying he met an older woman earlier here in the park, who lost such a dog, and the woman is rather hysterical. Great! But where the heck is she? How do we find her?

I learned at this point that the dog's name is Gizmo.

The guy offers to drive around the park and nearby complexes, buildings and townhouses in hopes of spotting her. I said I can wait a little longer with him before I must get home with the groceries.

Another guy comes on scene with his dog. He too knows the story already and is very happy the dog is found. But same situation, he didn't know the woman, or how to contact her. He offers to go to the complexes and ask the management offices if they knew her, or if she came in about her missing dog.

I give both guys my name and cell number to pass around. I also said I can't wait too much longer because of the groceries and I have to get ready for work.

It was suggested that I just tie Gizmo up to the lamp post and leave him there as surely she would return for another look here. I objected to the idea. I often concern over dogs I see tied up outside stores and restaurants in the city. Anyone could just walk up and take him. I know the city isn't full of horrible people but you never know. Plus, we are quite close to getting this dog home, we just need a little luck, or some extra effort in our search and this is a happy ending. Leaving him unattended could have another concerned citizen come along and take him and we'd be back to a search mission. He has no tags, he might be micro-chipped but probably is not.

My solution was since I live so close, I would take Gizmo home with me for a couple hours. I said I would return very soon and post a sign on the fence that I found a Pug dog and leave my cell number. They agreed that was a good idea.

The guys left and I took the Gizmo to the truck. It was funny how I opened the passenger door and there was no fuss with him to get in. Once again, holy crap is this a trusting animal.

I start the truck, turn on the a/c for us and get halfway out of the park when I decide to pull over and wait just a little bit longer. She may come over the hill, up the drive...

Meanwhile Gizmo made himself comfortable on Angie's seat...

and eventually went to sleep.

One of the guys returns without any luck. He said he was going to have another go around. I told him I was leaving and would hope for something in the next bit before I had to leave.

I get home and have to unload the truck. Gizmo wakes up and is rather upset at me leaving him in the truck. I told him it was alright, I would be back. He kinda calmed down and sat in my seat, looking out the window at me. I should have taken his photo then, it was a priceless facial expression with the look in his eyes and his bottom teeth sticking out.

Groceries unpacked, I go out and get him. He hops out of the truck and walks with me up the stairs to the front door. I open the door and he walks in like he owns the place. NOTE... Meadow was locked up in the bedroom at this point. She was sound asleep on the bed and while I am sure she woke up through this, it was best to keep them separated.

I led Gizmo through the house and out into the backyard. I'm wondering what my next plan would be if I don't hear back from someone in the next hour or so before I have to leave. I can't leave him tied in the backyard. Our house is rather an open concept and there is no where I could lock him up for the afternoon. Even if I could, then what? I'm sure Angie would find some thrill in baby sitting him but it would upset the whole house, Meadow's peacefulness, and Angie's relaxation as she would concern over him through the evening.

I called a neighbour and left a voice mail with a plea for help.

I had to get ready for work and put Gizmo in the shed. What else could I do? He went in no problem but gave me quite the look when I was leaving him there, shutting the door on him.

No sooner do I get back in the house does my cell phone ring. It's a private number. I really hate answering private numbers. But with what is going on, I have to take the call.

I say "hello" and get a voice on the other end spewing words out to me that I could hardly understand. It was the elderly woman, still hysterical, but now overly ecstatic that I found her dog. She spoke English well but her emotions overwhelmed her and had difficulty getting the words out between deep breaths and the tears.

I told her to meet me in the parking lot in 10 minutes and hung up.

I grab Gizmo from the shed, he was still sitting in the same spot where I left him. I brought out the good camera to try and get a decent mug shot of him for the blog that had been building in my head since this all started. A couple snaps with the camera and away we went.

There's those teeth!

As I pull into the parking area of the park, I see the woman I saw earlier that morning. I wanted to start blasting my horn to let her know I was arriving with her lost friend. But I see she is standing there with one of my enemies of the park. A woman I've exchanged some mighty harsh words with about her large unruly Sheep dog. And that dog was nearby, off leash as usual.

I can see this woman spots my truck, she recognizes it now, and doesn't even need to see me in the driver seat. I can see she is pointing to me and saying something to this woman who I am about to reunite with Gizmo. While I cannot make out the words, I am sure it is something very negative as her group think I hate animals just because I don't agree with off leash dogs. The two of them step back from the curb and she ties her dog to a tree.

I park a few spots away, still saying nothing as I get out of the truck. Gizmo is laying down on the passenger seat. What an exhausting morning for this little guy!

Even as I get out of the truck and go around to the passenger side, which is the side the two women are on some 25 ft away, neither of them look at me. I found this odd because if it was me expecting someone I never met to show up in the park with my lost pet, I'd be looking at every damn vehicle pulling in to see if they had my "fur kid". I never told the woman what I was driving, just said I'd be there. But I guess she took the strong words that I assumed were said to heart and kept her attention away from me.

I opened the passenger door, Gizmo looks up at me and I figure he's wondering "what now?"

I'm watching out of the corner of my eye at the two women. I see the elderly lady letting her hopes and curiosity get the better of her and she looks over my way. I look at her, smile and say "Gizmo is here" as I point to the passenger seat.

She came charging over to me, super ecstatic, crying away, and threw her arms around me with a thousand thank you's. Damn! I thought she'd be hugging her dog. LOL! But of course, seconds later, she grabbed Gizmo and hugged him so tightly, going around in circles.

I don't know her age, but she was much older than me. 5 foot nothing, maybe 80 pounds after a rain storm but she hugged like the Hulk. A very passionate woman about her dog.

I was quite excited myself at this very happy ending.

And it was even sweeter for me as this other woman got to see it was me who found the dog and got him home safe and sound to his mommy. Ya, the long haired asshole who hates dogs sure proved her wrong.

I spoke with the woman, who I learned is named Ann. We talked about what happened, how he got away, even with such a long leash, etc. The other woman tried to engage in the conversation but with all that has been said between us in a few awful encounters, I wasn't ready to just let it go. I chose the ignore option, and that wasn't rude really, because this story didn't have anything to do with her... although it did in the end. She ended up leaving without saying another word. I am curious how my next run in with her will be?

I told Ann I hope to meet her and Gizmo again in the park, and never be afraid to say "hello" even if I look occupied with my camera and binoculars.

One more look at that face...

This wasn't just about me being a hero as there were two other guys involved, one named Steve, not sure of the other, who played a big part in this. One of them found a way to get in touch with her, through one of these property management offices, leaving my name and number. But both took the time out of their busy days to help this lost dog. So a big shout out to them as well, eh! A mighty fine reason for my Whiskey Wednesday this evening, a salute to ALL the animal lovers out there and the great ending to this dog's misadventure.


September 29, 2014

Volunteer Emergency Driving for Wildlife

I recently signed on as a volunteer emergency driver with the Toronto Wildlife Centre. And last Wednesday (Sept 24) I had an interview with Nick Morley of TWC. Basically the interview is for them to get to know who is interested, kinda see what they are about, go over some general questions and even discuss a few scenarios when it comes to picking up an injured animal from someone's home. It's all common sense really but some people sure do lack that at times.

Anyways, interview went great, mine went almost an hour as we chatted about lots of stuff and exchanged stories, even learning we both have Tarantulas which was pretty cool. Not many people have such creatures in their home.

With volunteer driving, when an animal is in need and TWC needs a driver, an email is first sent out to everyone on the list. It's a quick way to get in touch with a mass of people instead of the calling one by one.

Saturday the 27th, I got that first email. They were seeking a driver to go out to Mississauga Animal Control and pick up an injured Coopers Hawk to bring back to TWC.

A Coopers Hawk in our back yard on September 7th.

I responded first. And then had to wait for them to speak with MAC at opening time. No problem. Angie threw a quick breakfast together in the meantime.

TWC call me back and it's all good to go but they asked if I could help out an injured Opossum near our home first. He most likely was hit by a car and an elderly lady saw him laying on the side of the road. She had no idea what he was but knew he needed help. A big shout out to 81 year old Marion who stepped in to help this guy by making the call to TWC and partially containing him with a lidless box over him and a brick on top.

An Opossum we went to see the release of back into the wild, thanks to the help of Hobbitstee.

The location of the Opossum was very near our house, and the thought of him being in pain, under a box on the sidewalk, was all just too much to bear and away I went.

There's not a lot to the "rescue" since he was mostly contained but it's still an adventure talking to strangers, people watching from the street, and seeing this box with an injured animal inside and not really knowing what to expect. How injured is the animal? How big is he? Will he fight? He cannot be transported with the box since there is no lid. I brought a carrier along with me that our friends Dave and Andi gave us for our Falcon watches. The fun would be to get the Opossum into the carrier. But as soon as I lifted the box, my heart melted at the sight of the tiniest 'possum I've ever seen in the wild. Obviously a little guy just born this year. He gave me no trouble, pretty much played Possum, and I put a towel over him with some heavy gloves I have, and gently put him in the carrier. I'm hoping his lack of fight was because of his lack in size and not that he was so far gone. In a few days I will hopefully have an update on him.

Marion was a nice and kinda comical elderly woman. She asked me about the Opossum. She thought he was a giant rat species of some sort and surprised to learn he was from the marsupial family. I commend her on wanting to help an injured animal she knew nothing about, and perhaps found a little intimidating with his razor sharp teeth and long rat like tail. She made a comment about my hair, but in a positive way, saying I had really cool hair. LoL! Her husband stayed behind the scenes, watching from a far.

I thanked Marion for what she did, saying the animals need a lot more people like her in this city.

From there I went to pick up the Coopers Hawk. I had the radio off in order to keep things as quiet as possible for my sick passenger. I turned the A/C on since the day was heating up fast.

I picked up the Hawk, had to sign a few forms, and cover his carrier before taking him outside to the truck (this was in hopes to keep him calm and not struggle in his cage). I'm unsure of his injuries or what really happened to him. Both he and the Opossum were very quiet and still through the ride back to Toronto Wildlife.

I took one photo with my Blackberry and this is it here...

Coopers Hawk on the left, Opossum on the right, in the back of the GMC.

It is frowned upon to add further stress to the animals with photo ops. And really, other than for documentation purposes if need be, who would want to have pictures of an animal that is really sick and could be dead before the end of the day? What kind of memory is that? Most of us who take photos do it for the joy and hold fond memories to our photos.

It was an exciting "maiden voyage" that morning. I only wish Angie was able to be a part of it. But with us having lots of other plans on the go, she stayed home and kept us on track with other things. And she was happy I was able to help this time because Lord knows how many times I've had to turn down helping the Owl Foundation over the last 3 years. With emergency volunteer driving, there really isn't a lot of warning time, most often it's ASAP. We do what we can, when our schedules allow. Especially at my job, there isn't leeway on start times, coming in late, and anything else not to their liking goes on file. I feel guilt when I cannot help an animal and I feel very proud when I can. Whether I've played a part in saving the animal's life or just helped him get to a better place where his suffering ends quick and peaceful.

Prior to these two creatures, I've turned in about half a dozen animals to TWC, and only one made it back to the wild world again. I'm hoping my luck, and the animals', turns around some to a better ratio.

Please wish these two guys all the best at their stay in the hospital and may they see the light of day again.

So many of the animal rehab centres can use more volunteers and donations. Donations don't always have to be $$$ either, they all have wish lists. Come on, check your local centres and see if you can do a little something for them as well. Think of the animals!

I know right now that TWC really needs volunteer drivers from the King City area over to Markham. Please click on the link here and maybe you or a friend could be of some help one day.

September 24, 2014

Holiday Beach

Hey all, I'm on holidays this week and really shouldn't be blogging. I was trying to stay off the computer this week but here I am, quiet night at home after a few days away and thought "why not blog?" It's not a time waster on the internet. And maybe the whiskey is inspiring me too? LoL! I deserve it even if it's not "Whiskey Wednesday"! Hoo boy, I'm off to a ramble already...

Okay, so this week off I wanted to do at least one thing different. And I did it! Something unlike me as I prefer the norm and comforts of home and nearby but I guess the birds and wildlife can make me a braver sort. I pondered sometime ago to visit Holiday Beach out in Amherstburg, Ontario (near Windsor). I follow them on Facebook and enjoy their posts of Fall migration from Hawk Tower. I've heard tales from friends about this marvelous spot and everyone paints a fantastic picture of raptor migration with their stories.

So early Monday morning I departed to the area. I hadn't much of a plan other than spending the day, finding my way to Leamington by evening, hopefully finding a hotel room in town, spend the night and then hit Pelee National Park the next day. It was an exciting journey into the unknown, traveling way across the 401 into new areas. I wanted to leave by 4:30am but found myself just crawling out of bed by then. I had packed the day before so there wasn't much to get ready other than a coffee, some cereal, and clean myself up quick. I was on the road by 5:15am.

I was stunned how busy the 401 was already. It's scary how many cars were out there and people were in such a rush to go ??? Work I imagine. It was disturbing to think how many people probably just jumped out of bed, barely woke themselves up, and got in the car and went. Some real aggressive drivers, not that is any different from any other time on the 401. People racing to Assholeville to be amongst their people.

Anyway, I was glad once I was out of the city limits and traffic eased off.

The approx. 4 hour drive went by pretty quick as I cruised to the sounds of Arch Enemy and Teenage Head. I guess it's not real cruising music to some, and there are some tunes that do make me want to put the pedal right down but I won't; I need my licence.

As I passed through Tillbury, I saw the signs for Pelee. Part of me just wanted to turn off there and go to what was familiar to me and enjoy that. But the adventurous side pushed me onwards. I had jotted down the MapQuest directions on a piece of paper but as I got closer to Windsor, it suddenly wasn't making much sense. My GPS that a friend gave me did not recognize Holiday Beach Conservation Area nor the address I entered. I did not see the turn off I was looking for according to my notes, and one exit before the border, I took it. Oddly enough, it brought me to the street I wanted. From there, the directions were still incorrect to some degree. I had a road map in the truck as well but for the time being I just used good old common sense and was happy I knew which way south was, to Lake Erie. I headed that way and figured in due time I would run out of road and then make the important decision of going right or left on that last road and not straight into the lake. ;)

Even at the last road, nothing signed anywhere for Holiday Beach. I sat for a moment, no traffic to get upset with my delay here and I played "eenie meenie minny mo" on which way to go. Ha ha! Joking! I opted for right for some reason and within a minute or two of driving I saw a sign for the park. Woo hoo!

I dunno if it was the shortage of sleep, the road fatigue or ??? but I kept running into sort of road blocks, not real ones, just these moments where I suddenly wasn't sure what to do, and just like those kids' adventure books called "Choose Your Own Adventure" I was playing just that with my adventure so far. And each choice was a good one, which eventually brought me to my destination.

Even in the park, skipping my little gate entry fiasco with an automated pay to park machine, I found some roads blocked due to landscaping crews. I ended up driving through a playground to another road that eventually led me to the parking area I needed to be at. From the parking area, I still could not see Hawk Tower with all the trees. I did not spot the tower until a corner around one path and there it was almost in front of me. Talk about building the suspense!

I was in awe at the tower, how high it was. I don't know why. I mean, it's called "Hawk Tower" so of course it's going to be tower like. I viewed the grounds momentarily as I thought about the tower and the people high up there. It seemed like a long walk up, which was a lot of time for me to think about stuff, maybe build my nerves up or knock them down. I am not exactly the most out going social person, especially to just walk up to a group of strangers and start chatting but that is what I did.

I took those 3 flight of stairs up, reached the top, kinda looked around for a minute or two, and then just walked up to somebody and introduced myself. I said who I was, where I was from, why I was here (as I heard so much about the place). Lucky for me everyone was quite receptive and nice. I have been to other places where the reception was cold if anything at all.

I had heard a lot about this place over the years. Some fantastic bird stories and some bits about the people. Mostly good. Some did make it sound like a super serious place where you watch/observe, you don't speak and maybe you will be welcomed back for another visit. Shit like that can be a little intimidating. But it was nothing like that. A reminder that one should never pass judgement through others opinions... go find out for yourself.

So, from the get-go, it was an enjoyable experience. I didn't bother the watchers too much, just watched them point out the birds, take in their ID's, occasionally ask how they knew it was what bird when they were so high up and listen to what they had to say. Over time more people climbed the tower, some regulars, some newbies like myself, but everyone had a great time.  We all conversed here and there, mostly bird talk, sharing our sightings and tales from elsewhere.  It was cool to learn one of the guys, Scott, took part in the Peregrine Falcon fledge watch at the Ambassador Bridge.  So basically we got to talk shop about the joys and woes of chasing Falcon chicks around.

Here are a few photos before I continue from story...

First bird of prey for me to see was this adult Bald Eagle. Wicked! A resident bird to the area but I was a-okay with that.

Sharp-shinned Hawks were in high numbers that day.

I saw a number of Coopers Hawk, Red-tails, Turkey Vultures, some straggling Broad-wings (high up but a new species for me) and American Kestrels throughout the day as well.  The Kestrel species has been declining the last number of years but I found it hard to believe as the flew by semi-regularly.

Heck, they even netted one in the afternoon.

I believe they said she was a second year female.  Shitty thing was they were doing the adopt a raptor program, something I knew of, but thought it was only on weekends (not that is shitty) but I couldn't find a freakin' bank machine to pull some cash out on my way down to Holiday Beach from the 401.  I should have taken the extra 2 minutes out when gassing up at the local ESSO to do it (they have RBC machines on site).  So I missed the op to adopt this bird, have my photo taken with her and then get to release her from the tower.  Damn!  They also netted a couple Sharp-shinned Hawks which I missed seeing as I went for lunch.


What I didn't realize is that they count other birds and creatures there too, not just raptors.  The Monarchs kept them busy and so did the Blue Jays.  That day alone there was over 2,500 that passed over us!  Holy cow!  I never thought Blue Jays migrated as we have them visiting our feeder all year round.

So cool to see them right over our heads...

It was a steady stream of them throughout the day...

Look out, they're coming right for us!

Over 50 Jays in this shot, and one Duck!

Other birds I saw were Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons galore!  Apparently I had just missed the rare visiting Snowy Egret that had been seen over the last couple weeks.  Lots of Mallard Ducks in the marsh too.  A Belted Kingfisher put on a good flight show for us a few times.  Cat Birds called constantly.  Lots of American Goldfinch flocks flew overhead.  Northern Cardinals popped in and out of the foliage below.  A few Yellow-rumped Warblers bounced around in a Willow Tree.  And small flocks of Cedar Waxwings perched in nearby trees giving us great views as well.  The raptors continued as well of course, mostly Sharpies.

Cedar Waxwing

Great Egret out in the marsh with some Mallard Ducks

A Yellow-rumped Warbler if I am not mistaken

A couple Sharp-shins putting on a show

A Great Blue Heron

Around 1pm I decided to go for lunch.  I asked about any nearby trails that I could check out during my time out as I wanted to see more of the area.  A few were pointed out to me and only one stood out, a walk around part of the marsh.  I got better views of the Gulls and Herons, lots of Frogs or Toads hopping around and I chanced upon this Muskrat.  He was quite close to me and not overly concerned either; so I had my sandwich right there, watching him do his thing which included some snacking as well.

My view of the tower from the marsh trail.

Nuclear power plant across the lake.

I guess the funniest part to my visit was with my return to the tower after lunch.  People came and went; and at one point this woman shows up, talks with those she knew momentarily and then took notice to me.  Her expression was like she knew me but I had no clue who she was.  She asked me if Angie was with me, or maybe it was "is your wife with you?"  I'm even more dumbfounded by this person now.  Who the heck is she?  Soon after she explained she recognized me by Angie's latest blog, which was about our weekend of camping on my birthday weekend.  It turns out she is a regular reader of Angie's.  Holy small world or what, eh?  She introduced herself as Karen and quickly I texted Angie.  Turns out Angie is a regular reader of hers.  LOL!  She thought this was hilarious.

So, over the next couple hours, in between birds flying over, Karen and I chatted quite a bit.  It seems we have a lot in common, meaning how Angie and I feel about various animal/wildlife related subjects and Karen is on the exact same page.  I was like "Damn, if you didn't live 4 hours away, I could see you becoming part of our flock of bird buds!"

Another individual came up to the tower that I recognized as one of our first bird guides to the Pelee area a few Springs ago.  Of course he didn't recognize me as he probably gives guided walks to hundreds of people each year.  His name was Todd.

It was near 4pm and I had to pull myself away from the fun.  I knew I had a good 45 minute drive or more to Leamington, and still had to find a place to stay for the night.  I remembered where the hotels were but had no clue who had vacancy or not.

I thanked Jenna for being such a kind host.  I guess she was the main counter (watcher?).  Said my goodbyes to Karen.  And away I went.

Oh, there was some discussion prior about looking for the pair of Eurasian-collared Doves being seen in Leamington.  Karen gave me hopes of an easy find with these birds.  I did my best to not believe her, in order to NOT get my hopes up and be disappointed if I didn't spot them.  I'd never seen such species, or think I haven't.  There was some discrepancy with that mystery Dove we had back in July.  Some say Eurasian, some say African which is a domestic breed often called a Turtle Dove or Ring Necked.  I lean more towards the domestic according to most guides but some still argue and say its the Eurasian.  But no matter, I saw the birds for sure with this pair. 

It's another funny story as I was slowly driving along Seacliff where the birds were being seen.  I happened to notice someone else driving quite slowly, stopping at various flocks of Doves on the wires.  I finally pulled up next to the person and asked them if they were looking for those birds.  The woman said "yes".  From there, we ended up looking for them together.  I never did get her name but she's from the Toronto area as well.  Between my spotting, going by something Karen told me about their aggression to other Doves, and this lady's scope...  we got the birds.  We were both quite thrilled about this!  The birds were off some ways across the field but the scope gave us excellent views.  Here is my blog link to our backyard Dove story from July.

After I got my hotel room, and something to eat...  I went back to the school area and saw the Doves a little closer this time with the last bit of daylight.

It was a perfect ending to day 1 of my little solo getaway!

Thanks to everyone who made it so great...  Jenna, Scott, Dan, Gary, Karen, Todd and others who I did not get the names of.

Last bit... Angie just shared Karen's latest blog and I get honorable mention! Check her blog out here.