Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

April 16, 2015

Death & Distractions

After the heart breaking life event we had to endure on Sunday, it's certainly been a very rough week. If you missed that, here is the link, please keep the kleenex nearby and don't say I did not warn you. It's a happy sad mostly though.

I am rather drained. I know stress is exhausting but didn't think being so sad would do it too. How I long for a solid night's sleep!

We've had unbelievable amounts of outpouring support from family, friends and so many people we've not met but who love their pets and understand what we are going through. Gotta love social media! With so many comments, one does stand out from our bud Lee, after stating her dehydration from reading my tribute to Meadow, she nailed it with a part on how Meadow was a bit of a celebrity in the eyes of all those who never met her. Meadow was a regular through my social media, be Facebook or Twitter, and I never realized how many people enjoyed our shenanigans. She was there so often and not in the background.

As Angie and I spent Sunday at home, trying to enjoy the beautiful day it turned out to be weather wise, we did have some difficult moments. Sitting on the back deck, we could not help but look directly at Meadow's favorite shrub, envisioning her there. She went to this shrub with every visit, no matter the season, but of course just loved it when it was in bloom, smelling and licking the flowers (last photo I shared in the blog linked above).

Watching over the shrub everyday now, waiting for signs of it coming back to life.

Sunday night was difficult. As per usual, Angie goes to bed a few hours earlier than me because we work different shifts. I am so used to the routine of Meadow and I stretching out on the couch, her snuggling in my arm pit, and I put a dvd on. She purrs for a long while, I watch whatever, and we both eventually drift off to sleep. No other way to put it other than it just plain sucked not having her there with me.

Monday morning wake up, no kitty coming out to the kitchen with me as I boil the kettle for that first morning coffee. No kitty getting up on the table while I enjoy it. No kitty jumping in the window when I open the shutters. Ugh! I spent over 3 hours that morning doing the tribute blog, smiling, crying, back and forth. I went to work that afternoon and was greeted by some of the guys with sympathies, hand shakes, man hugs and lots of talking. Not a bad bunch of guys I work with.

Early in the shift I was contacted by some wildlife rehabbers about a unique situation that they hoped I could help them with. It would involve me meeting an individual the next morning, early in the morning, more like middle of the night to me, meeting this person in a sort of relay system to get an injured bird to the help it needed. I jumped at the opportunity despite how screwed up it would be for my sleep. To me, this was a really good distraction and kinda boosted my spirits temporarily. I wasn't happy that there was something sick or injured and needing help but the ability to help others, especially wildlife, did. Unfortunately the animal died before this got to happen.

Work went by slowly, and a few times I caught myself about to get choked up, lost in thought with memories of Meadow, but I would stop myself. As much as I looked forward to coming home after work, I dreaded the dead stillness of the house without Meadow. It was a mild night and I went out back for a while. I like to fill the bird feeders at night when no one is around, well, no humans anyway. I don't mind the passing critters such as Raccoons, Opossum or a Skunk (from a safe distance). But tonight I was treated to the sounds of Coyote howls very near our house. How near? Maybe a 1/4 km away. They were so close! In the near 13 years here I've not heard them before. My spiritual animal lovers said to take it as a sign from Meadow. It sounded very much like this.

Tuesday I run a few errands like I normally do, stopped in some local bird spots close to home and saw my first of season Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Brown Creeper, a Tree Swallow and a brief view of a Turtle. I was curious if it was a Red-eared Slider that someone tossed in the pond a couple years ago.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

I'd been meaning to get in touch with my friends at the Humber Arboretum as the last couple Springs we've been working on a nest box or two, experimenting with positioning them better, and critter proofing them. Each year we've learned something and make adjustments. I've learned a lot from the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society about such things. The meadow at the Arboretum is full of Tree Swallows and on occasion I have seen an Eastern Bluebird. It is our goal to help the Bluebirds and maybe get a nesting pair. Of the 3 Springs we've done something, I'd say this one is offering the best for a Bluebird and the returning Tree Swallows. Jimmy from the Arb built a nest box for Angie and I and gave it to us as a wedding gift on behalf of the Arb. We set it up the Spring after we were married. The first year we got a dummy Wren nest. Male Wrens will build a few nests and let the female pick out the one she wants, at least that is what I've been told. Should I have been offended she did not want this nest? The second Spring we got a pair of Tree Swallows but sadly they abandoned the nest and 4 eggs due to ant infestation. Here we go again and no way them ants are getting in the houses this time around. Wish us luck! Shit, I just jumped ahead a day with the last bit here. That is how I spent my Wednesday morning. It was great to see Jimmy and mess around with him for a couple hours working on the nest boxes. Another great distraction plus we're hopefully helping some lovely bird species. It gives me inspiration. It gives me the drive I need, something to look forward to, something to watch over in the coming months.

Now let's go back a few hours, Tuesday at work wasn't as hard as Monday, but I still caught myself in a few moments of misery. I probably will for some time yet. I will always miss Meadow but I guess over time the pain eases. I can look back with fondness and not the heartbreak. I just remind myself on how sick she was, how quickly she turned for worse, and she is not suffering anymore. I'd rather think of the happy healthy sidekick I had with that cat but for the time being giving myself the dark reminder is helpful.

Work ends Tuesday night and I am on my way home. What do I see in my travels? Two Snowy Owls! One at Hwy 401 and Hurontario, plus one at my Eglinton exit. I was in awe! This is the latest in the season for me to see Snowy Owls. I wished I had my camera to get some crap record shots. I get home, it's another mild night, I'm filling the feeders and wondering if I will hear the Coyotes again? Nope. It's quiet for the most part minus a Raccoon that comes racing over a few fences to join me. Someone has been feeding them and a couple have become quite used to human presence. I'm sure my dropping of whole peanuts and not minding their clean up does not help but whatever, it's like a score to them, a little snack as they search out food. I won't chase them away as long as they aren't messing with our house. So he's snacking on a few when through the side gate comes an Opossum.

He's looking for the apple core I normally toss out to the back lawn after work. Lucky for him, I threw a whole mealy one out tonight. He sees it, takes it in his jaws and goes under the deck to feast. A one minute video link.

I go back to filling the feeders when I spot a second 'Possum at the back. A smaller one. Perhaps a female and the big guy I encountered moments earlier was the male? A great hour or so out back with these furry distractions!

Wednesday, as you know what happened. Jimmy and Taurean are great guys and we had some laughs.

One of the nest boxes we moved had Tree Swallows take to it in minutes.

I didn't want to leave and go to work but I did. Work wasn't much different than Tuesday, good times, a couple rough moments, but I just kept at it.

It was another night I was dreading though because this is after all Whiskey Wednesday. Angie will be in bed and my usual drinking bud won't be with me. Meadow was great on Whiskey Wednesdays. She never said anything, was just there with me. We enjoyed the peace and quiet after a long night at work. We loved looking out the kitchen window to the darkness. She always spotted the critters long before I did. On occasion did the whole back fur raising, ears popping, and then run around the house like a maniac before coming back to the window with her eyes bulging out, staring at what I cannot see. Such fun! But this was not going to happen tonight. I shared this photo on Facebook, talking about my first "WW" without her and anyone wanting to raise a glass to her memory with me.

The mass of friends saw my post and made many cheers and toasts to Meadow. Heck, some even took pics of their drinks and shared them not just on Facebook but a few photo texts to my phone as well. How freakin' awesome! There are a lot of shit heads in the world. I am happy to say they don't exist in my circle.

My ride home had me spot 2 Snowy Owls yet again. This time the birds weren't more than 50 ft from each other in a field near my exit. Damn, no camera again.

Home now, Angie waited up for me, she did a shot and then went to bed. I went outside again, met up with my masked friend for a bit and then the Coyotes started their chant about 11:15pm. Their yelping intimidated my Raccoon friend and for whatever reason, he moved in much closer to me. I've always had Raccoons drawn to me through my life. If they ever did my totem animals, I'm sure the Raccoon is on there somewhere.

So now it's Thursday morning. I should get out for a bit since it's another lovely morning. I have some bird buds I've not seen in a while and we keep talking about meeting up, they have checked in on me this week and remind me they are there if I want to get out and chat. I will. Just not today. Blogging this is good therapy for me. I turn on the radio and Luba's "Everytime I See Your Picture I Cry" is playing. OMG! A song nothing to do with this life story we are facing but that one line... ei yi yi... some hard moments looking back on old photos.

I'm unsure how interesting anyone will find this but this one is for me.

There are 5 stages of grief... denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I know I don't have denial. There is no denying Meadow is gone. Meadow went to sleep in my arms. I will never forget her last breath.

Anger. Yes I have anger. I get angry when someone says "oh that's too bad. My cat is 16 years old and has never been to the vet other than to get fixed." I'm sure it wasn't meant in any ill way but I still want to say "shut the fuck up!" Some people don't think before speaking. Anyway, that's about the extent of my anger. Anger is for the most part a useless emotion. It's toxic to your body and spirit, and a waste of time with the remaining life you have.

Bargaining. I don't get that one really. I will be a better man, let her remain with us? Meadow was really sick. She is at peace now. The cat in the last days was a shell of her old self, just tiny snippits of the old Meadow came out briefly. It would have been cruel to try and hang on to her. Cruel to her and cruel to us. Nope, no bargaining for an extension on the sickly life she had. Maybe guilt could be a replacement? I have brief moments of that, like I should have done more.

Depression. Yes, that is lingering. I have moments of "why bother?" Hence this blog, sharing the things I've gotten into to keep myself going, just got to keep busy. I have a difficult time remembering the last time I washed my hair. I know my eating is off, 2 meals a day right now. I wish for Meadow and I to be together. That is not a hint at anything crazy like suicide, I just miss her so much. But if I were to look death in the face right now, I'd wouldn't be afraid, I know Meadow is there waiting for me.

As Angie said the other day, which is something I could never forget even if she did not say it, we have others that need us, and cannot neglect. The Budgies Misfit and Moonie. I am happy they have each other to keep company in my off moments. Ralphie the Newt and Ash the Frog. Not the most social buggers in the house, just feed 'em and they are good. While I may not always feed myself, the "kids" will never go hungry. Then there's Norbert. He's got such a welcoming face every morning I get up and turn on his light.

Always smiling, so it seems, and he's left me a cricket leg, reminding me I gotta eat. LoL!

Pierre and his lady, along with others, have been arriving daily once again. Usually here when I get up shortly after 7am. I'm not ready for our visits at this time of the morning, head is too cloudy, and I've got not much more on than the boxers. Handfuls of grub are tossed out to tie them over until I see them a little later on.

On top of all our animal buds, there's us. We need each other.

Our human friends need us too, as much as we need them.

As the weekend comes, Angie and I will be there for each other. We already have some afternoon plans for Saturday, a great distraction as we visit our friends at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre.

The final stage of grief is acceptance. Done that. Meadow is gone in the physical form. I know that. I accept that. But I still don't like it.

I have a long road ahead, struggling with this loss. As I said in my blog about Meadow, I lost one of the most precious things in life, something I loved more than my own life. Words that are so true.

I thank all that is around me, family, friends and acquaintances who all "get this" and are here for me... for us.

I am thankful for all the animals I share life with, the ones I cross paths with, past and present... they help me through all the rough moments and the negative times. My experiences with them help me take away the bad in my life and turn into beautiful memorable moments. Meadow gave me countless of these.

April 13, 2015

Meadow My Angel

On Sunday April 12th, 2015 we said "goodbye" to our beloved little girl Meadow.

It pains me to type this out but I must. I am not out to break the hearts of others with my words. This is therapy for me. My heart is already broken and if my tears start, I will not stop this blog.

Meadow became noticeably different on Easter Sunday. I saw little signs that she may not have been feeling well over the weekend but the red flags were waving this morning. Ever since the pancreas attack last summer, always more watchful of her. I took her to the vet, some tests were done, and I left with Meadow, watching her closely and holding out hope things would be okay as we worked through this in the coming days/weeks ahead. If she turned for worse, I would take her back in asap. Another appointment was scheduled for the Saturday.

To be brief about this... Meadow's state worsened rapidly in the days between. The results... she had an aggressive kidney tumor (cancer). She was rapidly deteriorating.

As he talked to us, he answered questions we had before we even asked them. It was all about Meadow and how she was now. Like her mobility, she was off balance at times, I would go to pat her on the head and she'd kinda move her head off to the side, like she was startled. Basically with the kidneys not working now, her body was toxic. He explained it as being slightly drunk. She was quite fuzzy in the brain about things now. She was unsure about her steps, jumping on the couch became a bit of a task. We had placed a step at the foot of our bed to help her up there now... which only a couple days before was no challenge to do. She probably slept some 20 hours a day now. Her muscle mass was gone, everything just hung off her. And for the first time in all her near 12 years of life, she missed the litter pan. She certainly tried to pee in it, but didn't. And it happened again. We talked about her quality of life. The vet asked us to think of 4 or 5 things she once loved to do so much, and if they were still there. Nothing was. We could have tried to hang on to her with some meds, like an appetite stimulant, which would give her a fake hunger feeling so she would eat. What was the point? We love our cat so much, this was no way of life for her, and not memories we would want to hold of her. Angie and I had played this stuff out before seeing the vet and as difficult as it was to say, we talked about euthanasia. We scheduled it for the next morning, wanting to take her home for one final afternoon and overnight. He gave her another stimulant and away we went.

The remaining hours with her, hoo boy, such a variety of emotions. We didn't bug Meadow too much as she was really just wanting to sleep most of it. I did find myself going to her in our bed a few times through the afternoon, I'd brush her chin and work out a tiny little purr from her. I wanted to hug and squeeze her but with her discomfort, I let her lay there, and I would get next to her, put my arm over her, kissing her head, whispering things to her about how much I loved her and how everything was gonna be alright. Tears are falling as I key this. I did not cry in the moment. She stayed still, purred lightly and would go back to sleep.

We got her some of her old favorite food things as a final supper, she barely ate anything, even with the stimulant in her.

Angie and I talked throughout the day, remembering all the fun we had. So many memories. Meadow has been a huge part of our lives. When Angie met me all those years ago, she met Meadow too. As she put it "Rob and Meadow are a package".

I always said I was Meadow's whole world, and really I was. It was just her and I in this house. If I wasn't at work, I wanted to be home with her. Of course I kept a social life with other humans but nothing made me happier than hanging with my cat. So in some ways, Meadow was my world too. She came to me at the very young age of 5 weeks old. A tiny little fur ball. She was given to me by a friend of my parents. Meadow's mom was named "Pepsi". It was fate. I fondly talk about the day I got her. We had all met over at my parents' home for dinner. I held Meadow with ease in the palm of my hand. I sat her on my lap, holding her and she fell asleep in my hand, sitting upright, slouched over my fingers wrapped around her tiny body. Holy crap, talk about an endearing cavity making sweet moment.

So in Meadow's mind, I was her only family in those early days. Our bond grew fast and was incredibly strong. She came to me at a time in my life that was just perfect. I had gotten out of a decade long relationship not too long ago, I had just bought this house, I wasn't at Pepsi for very long, so my life was going through all sorts of changes and she kept me grounded, when I felt lost, she was where I needed to be. It's the best way I can describe it right now in my state. She was involved in almost everything I did at home. She loved being with her daddy. This carried on all through our life together from the first morning coffee to the credits of a movie late in the night, and then coming to bed with me, snuggling up my side. The early years had us up till 3 or 4 in the morning playing Ramones cds in the kitchen, just messing around. Hell I couldn't even have a bathroom moment in peace most times, as our door doesn't shut right (dilapidated old house), so Meadow would just push it open and come on in while I sat there... brushing up against my legs or jump up in the sink for a sip from the tap. And in the final moments of us being home together the morning of April 12th, she found the strength to do this one more time. Too much information? Ha ha! It is what it is. And it pained me to see a tiny bit of my old normal Meadow an hour before her death. The stairs were a challenge now but she did it to be with me. I did have to carry her back to the main floor after though. The final evening together, Angie went to bed and I wanted to stay up with her. We had one last lay out on the couch, I watched a dvd and she slept at my feet. I eventually drifted to sleep with her; it always went that way. These are crushing memories right now, but somehow I find peace with them as well.

One of our last snuggle moments, I could sense this wasn't very comfortable for her, but she did her best to enjoy the love from her daddy.

Meadow pretty much lived in my house coat the last week. She loved that coat, especially when I put it on after work. We'd stretch out on the coach to watch something, and she'd get right up beside me, right into my arm pit, and purr for a couple hours while I held her and we'd both doze off. She loved anything I wore, from work socks to the occasional pair of boxers, but shirts and jackets were her favorite.

My spirit feels broken along with my heart. I want to do nothing but be a sad mess. I try to think about the last days, remind myself of the sick state she was, and how she is far better off. She is not suffering. She died with dignity. That was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make in my life and the most difficult decision Angie and I have had to make as a couple.

Sunday April 12th was the day I always feared (not knowing it would be this day). It scared me so much to think about the day Meadow would die. I could never imagine my life without her. Like right now, being on the computer for too long, she'd be sitting on the kitchen table nearby staring at me, like "enough daddy, let's go do something" especially as the days are getting warmer. I couldn't imagine myself being strong at all through this but I found it. I had to be strong for Meadow. I had to be strong for Angie. I love that cat more than some people love their kids or mothers. I envisioned being let out a back door at the clinic because I'd be such a sobbing mess, staggering out to a back alley and dropping to the pavement. But I wasn't. I couldn't remain in the clinic long after everything was done. I got out to the truck while Angie finished up the paperwork. I looked up to the sky. I couldn't hear anything. I was so in my own moment. I thought about Meadow, her going to sleep in my arms, feeling her final breath, and then I burst into tears. I can't remember the last time I cried, nor how hard I cried like I did now. It's been so long I didn't think I could ever cry again. But it all came out. A slow trickle at first and then whoosh. I bet it was an ugly cry, sobbing and slobbering as I sat in the passenger seat facing out to the world. Here come the tears again. I'm not embarrassed. Angie found me like this. She embraced me and kept strong for me now. Meadow wasn't just a pet, not just a cat, she was family, she was my best friend, my side kick... and still is in my heart, her spirit will always be around me.

To have an animal love you, it is special, their feelings are genuine. You always know where you stand with an animal. And to bond with one, it is beyond description, but one word I do use is eternal. These are words I've shared with friends who have lost an animal family member. It's words I am telling myself. I will see her again one day.

Meadow was a gift, not meaning a house warming present, but a true gift from ??? I'm not much for religious stuff. I was blessed to have her come into my life. She will not disappear from my heart, never from my memories, even if I live another 50 years or more. I took a lot of photos of her over the years, tons of selfies and many of the pics will go with me in my travels, always being on my mobile device as an example.

Even with the various special days throughout the year like Halloween.

Christmas Eve 2014. She looks grumpy but she wasn't. She purred. She loved doing almost anything with her daddy.

I do wish I took more videos of her but I guess since she was always near my side, it wasn't going to be an easy thing. I did find myself taking one Easter Sunday after the initial vet appointment, I watch this and it blows my mind how she still looks and acts like herself here despite what was going on within her, and in mere days, she could not do this. You can view the link here. Ya, nothing exciting to most, just her messing with the crickets in the tank, but it was something she loved to do.

The next while sure will be tough. So many firsts without Meadow ahead. Last night was the first night without her. Sunday night, alone on the couch, watching something and drifting off to sleep in my house coat. How I wished to cuddle her again. Today was the first morning coffee without her. She loved that hot cup of coffee with me, rubbing her chin on it, never drinking... she loved heat.

All the first holidays ahead, especially Christmas. She loved the tree. She loved Christmas morning, her toys and more so the wrapping paper.

I can't imagine wrapping presents this year without her. I am a slow wrapper and Meadow doubled the wrapping time; but we had a blast. She got into everything, attacking the paper, the ribbons, I would put tape on her tail and we'd forget wrapping stuff for the next 20 minutes. Tears.

Even when we start Project Feeder Watch in November, no Meadow on the table with me watching out the window for the birds. Of course Meadow would give up on it all after a bit and drift off to sleep. I didn't mind. I loved her being there right with me as always.

Can't forget Whiskey Wednesday. I work till 10 at night. Angie is in bed by the time I get home. Meadow was always willing to sit with me while I toasted getting over the hump of the week and heading towards another weekend. *sigh*

Or those sick days. I'm laying in bed and she's right there with me.

So many photos I want to share.

We will grieve the next while, probably a long while. Her things will not just disappear from the house. Example being, her feeding area remains in the kitchen.

She was a source for my own cat memes. Meadow was a very photogenic cat.

Man oh man, so many, but so many got a laugh from these when I randomly posted them.

Pictures will be framed and hung, maybe even a canvas of one of the best shots of her at some point.

I expect my social media pages, especially Facebook, to become rather dull for the next while. I rarely post just stuff about myself, or photos, unless Meadow is in there (or Pierre). My page may say "Rob Mueller" but it really is Rob and the Animals, often Rob and Meadow. Of course I have a lovely wife, I have a good life, but really I am quite private about all that stuff. I like to share about the animals, the joy they bring me, and hopefully bring smiles to the faces of others, maybe influence the occasional person as well with all I post.

Of course there is a whole chapter about when Angie came into our lives, and that may be told another day. Just sayin'

One day, somewhere down the road, another cat or two may come into our lives, but not anytime soon. Not just about us, but about our birds, we were very lucky to have Meadow who gave little interest in our Budgies.

Okay, 3 hours on this now. If she were here, she would have gone for a nap and be back on me by this point.

Yesterday I lost one of the most precious things in my life, something I loved more than my own life.

I love you Meadow Mueller. I always will. Thank you for everything you gave me, for always being there.

One of our most loved photos of her, enjoying her weigela shrub. A reminder to always stop and smell the flowers, enjoy what is with you in the moment, and not always be looking ahead (or even worse, dwelling on the past).

April 6, 2015

EASO Survey Results

Good Friday I wanted to go out and do one of the route surveys. It was a beautiful day, up until about 5pm, when the rain showers started. The weather predictions all weekend were looking not that good for any sort of nocturnal Owl surveys.

About 9pm, the rain stopped. I pondered over the next half hour about going out. Finally I made up my mind and went for it.

I had scoped the routes out a week earlier, I knew the spots well as they go through the Rexdale area, around my old high school, neighbourhoods and parks I frequented with friends back in the day. Funny looking at some of the route stops and I would have a flashback to something over 25 years ago. There is one spot that takes me back to memories about 40 years ago now. *gasp* All good memories because I don't like to dwell on s**t.

I opted for route 2, as in my opinion, it looked more appealing to me in way of habitat for finding any Screech Owls. All the stops aren't much more than a 2 minute drive from each other. I should have done the route in just over an hour and a half. But I didn't. 2.5 hours later I called it a night and went home.

Why so much longer? It was my first Owl survey. I gave it my all. First stop was a large park along part of the Humber River. So many potential spots. I ended up trying to call a bird from a couple spots in the park. I did the same thing in another neighbourhood as well where I tried both ends of the street.

In the end, no Owls called back to me as hard as I tried. But I did meet up with a Rexdale gang. The sounds I emitted from that small speaker certainly got their attention. And in a few minutes I found myself surrounded by three members. They said nothing, just stared back at me. I did not move. They circled me, kept staring right at me, and one got within about 5 feet of me, still locking eyes with me and not saying anything. This trail was near pitch black. I could see their eyes and not much more. I could see the road, Islington Avenue, from where I stood. And I could see my truck. If things got ugly, that's the direction I was going. Head for my truck, the lights from the road, and passing traffic. Maybe someone would stop if I needed help. Maybe the realization that more people were around would send them back into the darkness. Oh the mind was racing with a variety of scenarios as I stood there.

I wasn't scared. I do know a few friends of mine who probably would be crapping their pants at this moment though.

I lifted the flashlight to one of the gang members and then my camera.

This would probably read better if you didn't see the photo until after reading that last big paragraph. Oh well.

I call them the welcoming party. I tried for a couple other pics but nothing else came out.

It was my last stop of the night, so I think it ended on a high note despite no Owls.

I wondered about the Owls. Maybe the earlier showers kept them laying low and quiet? I had a lot of noise interference from airplanes since I wasn't far from Pearson, as well as road traffic, and in some spots the river flowed hard. Maybe I just couldn't hear one with all the other noise? It was only Friday. I knew I would try again sometime over the weekend. Plus I have the coming week to have a go at it again.

Saturday evening approached and I was thinking about it. I was tired and once again the weather turned for unpleasant conditions (it snowed heavily for a while).

Raccoon in the bath basin about 8pm Saturday night, having a good time for many minutes.

Also, throughout the day our bird bud Kellie was chatting with me about calling in Screech Owls. She's quite experienced in it and doesn't require an electronic device, she can whistle it well, and it brings her some success. We talked about weather, time of day/night and so on. She said she has better luck in the early morning hours over the evening. I kept all what she said in the back of my mind. I fell asleep on the couch about 9pm, woke up at 1am and went to bed. I woke up about 4:30am, stared at the clock and debated going out. I was tired and in a warm comfy bed. I didn't want to get up. But as the minutes passed, the bird urge was pressing in my mind. I thought about how it's Sunday morning and this would be my only chance until next weekend to try to call in Owls at such an ungodly hour. Sure I work afternoons and could do this during the work week but it would mess me up. So I got out of bed.

I was out the door before 5am and at my first stop shortly after 5am (very close to home). I allowed myself a couple hours to have a go at this, wanting to be home by 7:30am to get the Budgies up for the day. I went for route 1 this time. I came up empty. I didn't have much traffic or plane noise but the song of the many Robins was something else. I skipped one stop because there was no place close enough to park. I also thought this stop was much too open for a Screech Owl. Maybe Angie and I will try this stop when we do the survey this coming weekend? One of us can go out and try it while the other stays at the truck?

It was shortly after 6am now, the sun was starting to rise in the east. I decided to revisit a spot from route 2 since it's only a couple blocks north from where I was.

Many of my friends thought I was crazy doing this. So early in the morning. That was just nuts! Call me passionate and determined.

I get to this stop that I favored from the other night. It looks perfect for Owls even though it is in a residential area. I park the truck, roll down the windows and play the call. Even if I get nothing, I got a fresh cup of Tim Horton's with me and that was making my morning.

The trills are playing, with moments of silence in between. It wasn't very long before I hear a call back. Another trill from the speaker and I hear another trill but from the other side now. At first I think I am hearing things. But as this goes on, the return calls get louder. The bird, maybe birds, are coming in closer. Bird nerd moment, as I'm getting all full of goose bumps. I love the trill of the Screech Owls. It's eerie. Where I am parked on the side of this residential street, there is a dark wood lot right next to me (houses across the road). This spot looks more like somewhere up north with the dense woods, cottage like settings and a narrow road.

I can't see a bird out there for the life of me. I try to keep a look out when the calls come back. Suddenly a shadow goes across the front windshield. Holy s**t! It was like something out of a horror movie. The quick passing shadow of the predator/monster/vampire bat... whatever. There's that imagination of mine again.

I roll myself out the door as quietly as I can because I want to get a look, more so if there are actually 2 birds or is it just this one that is going back and forth? Maybe I should have gotten out of the truck to begin with but I was chilled from the morning out already, and I really wanted to enjoy my coffee.

I only saw the 1 Owl so I cannot confirm a second. This guy may have chased the other one off because he was an aggressive bird. How aggressive? I see him on the wire near the street lamp, he looks at me for a brief moment and then dives at me! A tiny Owl is the Eastern Screech Owl but he had no issues about doing something about my presence. I was hunkered down along the shoulder against the guard rail.

After this swoop, I stopped the calls from my mobile. He was stressed enough. Perhaps has a nest in the vicinity? Tis the season. Where we were, the time of the morning, it was unlikely a car would be coming along anytime soon but that was another concern of mine.

The bird calmed down instantly, meaning no more swoops, no more trills, and he backed off to some trees on the residential side.

Can you see the Owl silhouette?

I got back in the truck, fired it up, got the heat on, made some notes and took a sip of my coffee. I grinned at the encounter I just had. I've never experienced anything like this, seeing a Screech Owl fly, and call like he did. Of course I won't make this a habit. It's for a survey to get an idea on the population of Screech Owls in Toronto. You won't find me going out in the wee morning hours after this, attempting to relive the moment. I do need my beauty sleep.

On the way home, I did stop at a location near our home where I've spotted a Screech Owl this winter. I've not seen the bird in almost a month but thought I'd try anyway. I did get one calling, and not from the spot where I've only ever seen the bird. I will make a note of it for my reports to submit.

Unfortunately I won't post the locations, one for the Owl's sake, and for the property owners. There are people who would certainly use this information to seek them out and may not proper birding ethics. Not everyone is like that, but all it takes is one selfish idiot.

I am happy I went out that morning. Big shout out to Kellie for her inspiration! I wish luck to everyone else doing these Owl surveys!

April 1, 2015

Citizen Scientists

Hey all, in the coming days, or rather evenings, I will be adventuring into parts of the west end of Toronto listening for the call of Eastern Screech Owls!

Echo, a permanent resident EASO at Mountsberg Raptor Centre.

Why am I doing this? Well, it's fun. And more so because Bird Studies Canada has put the call out to us "Citizen Scientists" to help them out in trying to get an idea of the population in Toronto. The fine folk at BSC cannot be everywhere to do this monitoring, so they ask for the public to help. They have many programs where we can help. Angie and I participate every year in Project Feeder Watch. We've done an Eastern Whip-poor-will survey. We have helped out with Chimney Swift and Common Nighthawk watches as well. If you like birds, these programs are great! And you are contributing to bird science, monitoring populations, etc.

With the Screech survey,it runs from March 26th to April 11th, and it involves going out in the evening on an assigned route, stopping at various points (5 on most routes) and spending approximately 20 minutes at each location playing a Screech Owl call. The call is not a steady play, there are pauses in between the whinneys and trills where one must listen for out for an Owl calling back somewhere in the vicinity. Data sheets are provided to document your information gathered.

These nocturnal surveys aren't photo ops. I don't advise trying to get photos because flash certainly isn't good for wild Owls in the dark, temporarily blinding them. Turning off the sense of sight for this survey and turning on the ears to hopefully hear them call back is a completely different sensation for a birder.

The routes go through parks and residential areas. One must be respectful to property owners. Meaning, if you hear an Owl coming from a nearby backyard, that does not mean it gives you the right to step on private property. I was asked about this recently while discussing the survey with another birder.

Safety comes first. This survey goes on after dark. Stay off the road. And not everywhere about our city is exactly safe of vermin which I mean the dregs of society, those who may see a dollar sign attached to your mobile phone and little speaker system. If you don't feel safe in an area, do not stay. I wouldn't worry about passing Raccoons, they may hold you up for a peanut butter sandwich but not your equipment.

I already know of a few Screech spots in our area. The birds aren't always there but have been seen on occasion throughout the year. Like in this photo below, they aren't always easy to spot. The two routes I have (Angie will be joining me so I should say "we") aren't far from home but not spots I've ever birded before.

They are one of my favorite Owl species and it would be great to have a better idea on their population in our city. I hope to hear some throughout the survey. I love their eerie calls which I've only heard a couple times.

If you live in Toronto, are reading this and you know of a Screech Owl location, please do not post any locations in the comments section to this blog.

I will share results at some point after the survey is completed. Wish me/us luck!

March 27, 2015

SNOW Stormin' 2015

It's been quite a winter with sightings of Snowy Owls. We had an irruption of these majestic birds in the winter of 2013/2014. This winter, they called it an "echo", kinda like a smaller irruption. The 2103/14 winter, I stopped counting at 2 dozen. This winter, I gave up before I really got started. I made mention of that in a blog back in January. I took it easy and just enjoyed the show. I only wish I did what I said I was going to do and document my "encounters" because that number would be staggering. So many nights coming home from work I've spotted these birds along the stretch of the 401. Most nights one bird, sometimes two and a few nights up to four I spotted in what is probably a 10 km stretch of road.

There was a lull back in December for a few weeks. I heard they were trapping the Owls around Pearson Airport and relocating them. Within a couple weeks, I was seeing birds once again, just out of range of Pearson. I was fortunate to spend many lunch breaks with an Owl or two near the Pepsi plant in Mississauga. We had a nasty storm in February, everything iced up, the weather turned frigid for what felt like forever and suddenly the birds were gone again.

March rolled in. Spring was approaching. I figured that was it for steady sightings but could probably spot a few migrants in the coming weeks. And that is happening now. I've had one or two Owls 3 of 4 nights so far this week. Last week I had 2 nights of the 5 spotting one Owl. Same Owls? Perhaps? So hard to tell since they are nomadic and move with where they can find food. Hence my want to count the encounters instead of really trying to count Owls.

I get a whopping 30 minute break in my 8 hour shift. In those 30 minutes, I have my lunch, get out to the nearby Tim's for my coffee and do little drive around a couple spots no more than a few blocks from the plant. It's a nice break, taking in the fresh air, the noise of the traffic and passing planes doesn't bother me as it's nothing compared to sitting on a 16,000 lb propane forklift with the motor right under my seat (add all the production lines running, producing those Pepsi products for the masses). Yes, the outdoors, I can shut those things out and tune into the natural world. Hell, even the radio gets shut off so I can focus on my surroundings better.

Please note, any 401 sightings do not have me pulling over for photos. I don't care if it's day or night, it's not worth the risk of getting killed for a photo op (not to me anyway). If the birds are in vicinity of some back roads, I may take the next exit and seek them out. Most nights though I grin at the sight of them and continue my journey home.

It's funny how people get wow'd by what I see after dark in a rather busy part of Mississauga. To me, and other bird buds, it's really freakin' cool but not beyond belief. It's what interests me. It's part of my passion, seeing and being amongst the wildlife around us. I get wow'd by the guys who know stats on their fave hockey players, sometimes the whole team. Sure I like hockey but I'm not that "into" it.

My night sightings intrigued Angie enough to wake me one Sunday morning at the wee hour of 3am to go look for some. We found 2 about 10 minutes from our home.

It's a very different experience seeing the birds at night. They are active because they chose to be active and not because they are being flushed by someone getting much too close for a better photo. It is peaceful for me because it's just the Owl and I. I may have just finished work 20 minutes ago but that is out of my memory at this point. I almost forget that work thing when I'm on lunch and the clock is ticking.

It's March 27th. I wonder how many more encounters I will have before they are gone?

Enjoy the night photos, some are cool and ghostly, nothing museum quality, but they are memories of a fantastic winter with these Owls, and the best winter to date for me personally. This may not happen again for another 5 years.

Flash is never used. I use manual settings and take advantage of the "natural" HA city lighting around us.

If you are still here, have yourselves a fine weekend!