Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

February 4, 2016

Long Faces

It's been quite a season for me and spotting Long-ears. I've seen more individual Long-ears than Snowys! I never thought that possible with the Snowy irruptions the last few winters.

For me, the Long-eared Owl is a real treat to see because they are very difficult to spot. They hide themselves well within conifers and it's like a treasure hunt to find them.

I chanced upon this guy a few weeks back. He did not exactly pick the best hiding spot, roosting right along a foot path. I did not see him until we were more than a little too close for comfort. Shocked the heck out of both myself and the bird. I slowly backed up and was able to get a shot before he gave me the ol' "I'm outta here!" I hate it when I unintentionally flush them. They are the most skittish species of Owl I have ever seen. If I knew he was here, I would not have stepped into his comfort zone, and would have re-routed myself.


Last week I chanced upon 2 birds in another park. The first one was brought to my attention by 3 Crows. They were just freaking on this poor Owl and eventually went at him, sending him flying to another spot, deep within a Pine tree. I only saw the Owl after the birds got physical and sent him flying over me. I watched the bird take shelter, the Crows still squawked away but did not pursue the bird any further.

Can you see the Owl? He's looking right at you.


In the same outing, a short bit later, I chanced upon this guy just dozing the morning away in full view off the path.


He was well aware of my presence but with our distance between us he seemed fine with things. I bet he was also well aware what was happening to his buddy due to those Crows. "Better him than me" he must have thought.


I never left the path to get any closer to the bird. Why did I need to? Who could ask for a better view than this? The first shot of him is no zoom, no cropping whereas the second is zoomed in and then cropped quite a bit.

If I don't see another Long-eared Owl the remainder of the season, I'm good with that.

The funny thing is this second encounter I am blogging about, I was out that morning and Long-ears were not on my mind at all. I had another bird of interest in mind, hoping to spot, which did not pan out for me. So seeing this was a pretty darn good consolation.

Another find.

Can you see the Owl? I think I may have shared this in another blog.


This one doesn't even look real to me, more like a painting.


It seems to be a good winter for these birds in our area. I really hope they all have a peaceful stay with us but I've already heard a number of horrific stories from reported spots. There's nothing wrong with people wanting to see these Owls but the welfare of the bird must always come first over any close view or photograph. Seriously! What are these people doing with their shots anyway?

January 28, 2016

Yay, a Snowy!

I've been pleasantly surprised to see a Snowy Owl near the Pepsi plant (where I work) the last 8 days! It's been a much slower winter this time around for this species of Owl in our area. I really wish I kept at documenting my encounters with Snowy Owls in the 2014/2015 season because in my mind, it was astounding. 3 nights a week, average was 2 Owls in a 10 km stretch but some nights I did see up to 4 Owls.

Early December of this season I was seeing a Snowy on my way home. It favored one lamp post along the Hwy 401 south of Pearson Airport, east of Dixie Road. Unfortunately this choice post was right in the middle of the 401. West bound on one side, east bound on the other. There was no way in heck I could ever pull over anywhere to have a safe view of this Owl. All I could do was catch a glimpse of the bird as I passed it, keeping my speed, going with the flow of traffic that is pretty steady even at 10:15PM.

The Owl stopped visiting this lamp post and area about a week before Christmas. I've not seen one there or anywhere along the way since.

Well that is, until recently, January 19th to be exact. I was on the on-ramp to the 401, heading for home after work. Like always, one eye on the road, another just keeping watch for big white "globs". I saw one this night but I was already on the highway. Shit! I decided to get off at the next exit and backtrack. Sure I've seen a lot of Snowy Owls in the last few years but I'm always happy to see another. This was the first one for 2016. I really wanted to have more than a split second view.

I'm back at the spot about 15 minutes later and the bird was gone. Did I really see one? I'm sure I did. It had to be!

Next night I re-route my journey home, side roading it momentarily and I brought my camera along. Luck have it, the Owl was back and even on the same lamp post! I smiled, pulled the truck over (remember I'm not on the highway this time) and I watched the bird for a brief bit. Then it was photo time. I tweek my settings, working in manual and cranking the heck out of my ISO plus some other things to capture something in the dark, using the street lamp as my only light source. Do I really need another photo of a Snowy Owl? No. But it's fun to take a few shots and share to the world what I saw on my drive home from work. I hope to inspire others to get off their couches and get outside, look at the wild world around us and maybe see something very cool and memorable.


I find it surprising when I share on social media with how many people I know who have never seen a Snowy Owl. I guess with the countless sightings I've had since these irruptions started up a few years back, I figure everyone must have encountered at least one in the last 4 years because the birds have been seemingly everywhere. Last winter one favored a lamp post outside the Metro store at Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke. Those who did spot it were stunned that such a big majestic bird would be sitting in such a spot. One Snowy was seen on a home owner's rooftop just outside of High Park in Toronto. A Home Depot sign in Oakville. I had one many times right outside a Tim Horton's in Mississauga. The list goes on.

This Snowy of mine (seems I'm the only one seeing it) has popped up several times in the same area since I first spotted it just over a week ago. Two of four days last week and I'm three for three with the bird this week. Does it get boring? Not really. I'm not out for photos and I don't linger around. I've only gone out of my way to sit and watch the bird a couple times. Other encounters I pass it, acknowledge the sighting in my brain and just keep going. It's pretty awesome to see such a bird after dark when much of our neck of the planet is unwinding or asleep. Who could ever complain about seeing a Snowy Owl minutes after leaving their job? 8 hours of work, I quickly forget the shift as I put the tunes on in the truck and leave the parking lot but having a Snowy Owl chilling on a lamp post moments later sure adds to the "Work? What work? Did I just work a third of my day away?" Some of you may get this.


I don't get out of my truck when I stop to view the Owl. What's the point? He's up on a lamp post, doing his thing and isn't bothered by my truck. Thousands of vehicles pass him day and night, so what's so different about mine? Now if I get out of the truck, suddenly there's a large creature noticing the bird, in the mind of the Owl I could be a threat and in the blink of an eye the Owl goes "buh bye" and flies off. Why ruin the moment?

The bird's attention is not on me a whole lot. He will take notice to the truck, maybe the head lights as I'm across the road from it. It could be when the truck comes to a stop in a parking spot that he looks over and observes. The bird is hunting, he's looking all around, and in chance moments I get the glance. It's nice to see the eyes of the Owl for a second, to get that shot, but much of the time it is just this...


In my encounters I have been fortunate enough to see the bird leave it's post, dive down in the field and once I saw it actually catch a mammal and bring it back to the same post. Who needs to go home and watch the nature channel?

Sure the night shots aren't National Geographic worthy. But I'm a nature enthusiast. I'm NOT a photographer. This is my enjoyment during "me time".

I like the contrast of these photos and they give me some smiling memories.


Here is a cell phone shot of the Owl.


I did a blog about the Snowy Owl night sights from last season, you can check it out here.

If you are still here, time for some crazy shit. I've learned something... have Owl, have new friends! Social media sharing gets many pm's about Owl locations and friend requests galore. Kinda funny. Some stranger who has never said "boo" to me suddenly wants to be my friend after I share an Owl photo. A lot of my buds experience the same stuff so this really isn't too crazy. The pathetic part is when someone tells me they've never seen a Snowy Owl, or never seen one the current season, yet a troll of their personal page and what do I see but Snowy Owl photos! Liar liar pants on fire! Yes I really do wish some of you would have your gitch light up in flames, and the pains of a smoldering crotch will give you something else to think about instead of where this Snowy Owl is. Shit, better tuck those devil horns of mine back under the hair. Ha ha!

Okay, how about this... I was telling someone that I saw a Snowy Owl after work. It was just simple conversation, catching up and the reaction from this person set me back for a moment. The reply to my verbal about the sighting went something like this... "Wow! Really? It was pretty cold and damp and windy last night. What a stupid bird being out on a night like that!" In my head there was some good filth flarin' flim flam, calling them a few names and reminding them that this is a wild animal, they don't have a home to go hide out from the weather, they don't go to Loblaws to get their meat, they don't have a freezer to store it in, etc. That makes for a good story to tell my bird friends.

Have Owl, have new friends... have Owl, have idiots!

Last winter while viewing a Snowy Owl at a lake front park in Toronto alongside a couple who both had cameras, the boyfriend of the pair asked me some questions regarding these birds. Are they the biggest Owl? Do they sleep all day? Do they eat cats?

SAY WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!

I'm wondering if he has a problem with ferals or something, wishing the Owls to come down for the winter and eat them all but nope, that's not it. He continued his bit explaining why he asked such a question. "I see people giving away kittens and cats in the papers and on Kijiji all the time. Imagine getting a shot of a Snowy eating a cat!" So many things I wanted to say to this man but all I could get out was "You are f**ked" and I walked away.

Here is a blog from last January that some of you may remember. Apparently I owed this woman for flushing a Snowy. Then it ended with an offer for a nice hot beverage from an older gent along with some choice adult movie viewing.

Now some of you may see why I really enjoy my alone times with the birds. And if my best Snowy Owl moments are me and the bird, long after the sun goes down, I am very much okay with that.

January 18, 2016

Thinking Back...

There's been this thing going around on Facebook recently where people involved with wildlife have been sharing stories of their own from rescues and/or releases. I've dug up a couple old stories of mine, going back to a time before the existence of Toronto Wildlife. This story here, I actually blogged about a few years back. But in my attempt to share it on social media, I got creative as I tried to shorten the story telling. I threw this all together over a morning coffee. It got a few chuckles from others. Maybe you will laugh too on this very chilly Monday morning in January?

Here we go...

A long time ago, in a city not too far away,
I was at my job in Mississauga on a mid-summer's day,

I was walking along the loading dock,
Passing the dumpster bin,
I could not believe my eyes,
When I looked down within,

Up looked at me, with sadness in his eyes
Was a masked creature,
Who was certainly going to die,

He was seeking a meal,
Smelled something good discarded,
He dropped down to have at it,
No foresight had he,
But don't call him "retarded"

My eyes wide, my thoughts raced,
Back and forth across this dock,
I did pace,

We are in the middle of nowhere,
It was just me and him,
My boss said leave him be,
His future certainly was grim,

I ran to the nearby field along the 401,
I searched the grounds for anything under the hot sun,
I wanted to help, still not sure what to do,
Dammit, I just stepped in deer poo (true story)

I broke the biggest branch from a tree that I could,
It was 4 feet long, not thick, and made of wood (duh),

I ignore the tales of how mean these animals can be,
I know they are smart, let's just keep calm,
and hopefully soon he will be free

I stood above, our eyes did meet,
I began to lower this branch down below my feet,

The Raccoon's eye lit up,
He saw a way out,
And as soon as he could reach,
He gave no thought about...

I froze in the moment,
held that branch tight,
It twisted in my hands,
My what a sight!

He's struggling to climb this branch that may break,
Our eyes stayed locked on each other,
How long will this take?

It was mere seconds, but felt much longer,
I did not think this branch would work,
But obviously it was stronger,

Mere inches from my hands now,
the Raccoon made a leap,
He landed right next to me,
Sat for a moment,
and then away he did creep,

I watched him waddle away,
the big fat lug he was,
About ten feet from me,
He did pause,

He turned and looked at me,
gave me a grateful stare,
He was very thankful I saved his behind,
For that I am aware,


I can still see his face all these years later. How long our eyes were locked on each other in a form of silent communication. It was a life lesson for me on how to handle situations with wildlife... keeping calm is best.

January 17, 2016

Anniversaries

So this is a pretty special weekend.  Angie and I met 12 years ago on this very weekend.  A simple coffee date that turned into a 9 hour romp of platonic and sometimes silly fun thanks to Eric Cartman.  Imagine if that date went horribly wrong?  Where would I be today?  Would there be a "Rob and the Animals" blog if we never met and clicked as we have?  Sure I've always been an animal guy and would do anything for any furry, feathered, creepy, slimy or scaly creature but...  I wonder about this just for a moment.  She got me my camera(s) and got me onto being a blogger.  Anyhoo, here we are, and this is how it is.  Most people enjoy riding along vicariously through my photos and words.  A few think I'm pretty whacked in the head for befriending vermin like Pigeons and the Raccoon.  Call me what you will, but this is me, and I'm not going to change.

Angie and I in those first months of dating back in 2004.


I am really touched by the kind comments posted in my last blog about Pierre's return.  And a lot of people celebrated his return to the yard with me through social media.  Thank you all!

I wondered if and when I'd meet my friend again as the rest of the work week had us not cross paths.

Well, just in time for his 42nd month anniversary, he showed up once again.  This time he brought his missus who was also MIA since December 19.  How awesome!  And better yet, Pierre was more like his old self as he threw some temper tantrums at the others trying to crash our little feeding party.  He was wing smacking, cooing his head off and paced about in circles showing his disapproval at their presence.  He did get a few smacks in return and knocked from my hands a couple times but he got right back in there.  Once again I was having to be a little stern with the other birds to protect my boy.  All is forgiven I recon.

Pierre and the missus with a photo bomb courtesy of Mickey.


As quoted by many of his fans... "Yay Pierre! Keep going!"


January 13, 2016

He's Back!

24 long days away, that's the longest he's ever been gone. But now he's back.

Who?

Pierre!!!!!


I don't think I need to explain who he is but I may attach a link to one of my other blogs about him for anyone new discovering my scribes about life with the animals.

I've been watching out for Pierre every day, scanning any Pigeon flocks that have dropped in. And believe me, there have been some huge numbers of birds coming in. My hope faded as the days passed. Such a long time away. So many Hawk strikes. Pierre is not a young bird anymore. In 4 days, providing he continues to return, he will hit the 42 month mark (3.5 years). And the fact he flew in here that first day, then literally walking into our lives, means he was a flighted and accustomed to humans kind of bird, maybe some months old, maybe a year already? He wasn't born here, cracking out of some egg and started out day one of his existence with us. According to statistics, Pigeons live 3 to 5 years in the wild. He's definitely on the higher end of time on this Earth. In around 4 years or more anyway.

But let's get back to yesterday, January 12, 2016.

I was home for the day, fighting a cold. I find it hard to sit still even in unwell moments. We just got over a slight snow storm, I had shoveled outside, both the front walk and a few spots in the back for the birds and critters. I put out a sheet of plywood where I drop all the cracked corn for the Pigeons. It's easier to clean off of snow than a spot on the ground. Corn pile set up, I go back inside. Shortly after the Pigeons start dropping in by the dozens. I'm looking. My eyes go bug eyed as I am almost certain I spot my boy in the mix. It's not easy to find one common looking bluish Pigeon in a flock of 30+ as they feed, heads bobbing up and down, birds shoving and pushing each other. Pierre has a distinct white mark on his right cheek that I always look out for even as small as it is.

I'm still dressed so it was only a matter of putting my coat and boots on. I step outside, trying to find him in the bunch. He pops his head up, sees me and I put my hand out to him. Pierre takes immediate flight and comes right to me. I'm talking to him, beyond thrilled to see him and things like "Holy *expletive* Pierre, where have you been? I've missed you!" I don't have any food for him, I was too excited about the possibility of seeing him and I left it inside. I said "come on, let's get you some food" and I turned to walk back to the house, with him still on my hand. Pierre takes flight and races me to the back door. He lands on his perch which is the post to the clothes line and waits for me.


Note, all photos are after we had our reunion and feeding because I left the camera inside. I wanted to see him, or if he was in the flock, and had no concern on getting photos, so the camera was the least of my concerns. But with the time we spent together, after a good feed and visit, I got the camera out and took a few shots.

I go inside and grab some of the good food which includes sunflower chips and peanut bits, all unsalted of course. Pierre comes for a feed. It didn't take long for some of the others to realize I've got the good stuff. I have a couple new hand feeders, much younger birds, and in they come. They push Pierre off my hand and try to feed. I push them off and call him back. Pierre comes right back to me. I pull him closer to my body and I turn us away from the flock and face the house. Pierre continues to eat. But young hungry birds are persistent and the others eventually have another go at trying to get the grub from me. A couple come in and once again knock Pierre off. I once again give them the "heave ho", I even stomp my foot this time and call Pierre in. The stomp spooks most of the birds and they flutter away from me. I don't know if Pierre knows his name, but he does watch me, and if nothing else, he probably knows my tone, and when I extend my hand out to him, it's feeding time. He immediately comes right back to me. We go through the same scenario a few more times. I felt bad being mean to some of the others but sorry, Pierre comes first, they can go eat the corn at the back.

After the feed and some belly rubs, he spent some time about the yard, wandering around, being all Pigeon like, strutting about.


While I am so happy to see my little feathered friend, I am sad too. I can see he's not the king bird in the bunch anymore. I noticed a significant loss in weight with him as he sat on my hand. I know I've kept him big and bulky with what I've fed him over the years and him not coming in for almost a month, plus prior visits have been less and less the last couple months (no thanks to them Hawks) have contributed to his loss in weight. In the bird kingdom, he's an old man now, and while he looks good, clean and healthy, he's not the dominant powerhouse he once was. The days of past, he wouldn't take shit from the others, he'd push them around and have his tantrums, cooing his head off, going in circles, chasing everyone.

Here is Pierre with Mickey. Notice the size difference? Yet yesterday Mickey pinged Pierre right off my hand like he was nothing.  This is an older photo.  Mickey is still about the same size, Pierre is still bigger but not quite as "full" as this.


I envision taking him in to live out his days, but that's only make believe. I can list half a dozen reasons as to why it would be wrong to do this. I don't think he'd be happy anyway. Would any wild and free creature like to suddenly be in confinements? It's like asking any human out there if they want to spend the rest of their life in prison.

I do hope we have many more visits in the coming days, weeks, months. I'd love one more summer with him out back. It was hilarious to watch him hog the bird bath. He and the missus would spend hours just sitting in the shallow water, not allowing any other bird in, and they'd preen each other, lift their wings towards the sun and just enjoy the dog days of summer safely in our backyard. We don't get Hawk activity in the warmer months.


Now let's try and not be sad about this blog with how it's ending. It is how life goes. Nothing lives forever. A lot of young Pigeons don't make it to adulthood. A lot of adult Pigeons don't live nearly as long as Pierre has. And most of them haven't had a blessed life like he has coming to me. Sure people feed them in the parks, usually bread or cheap dollar store crap seed. He's lived on peanuts and sunflower all his days with me and I've stuffed him to his heart's content every single time. He's got fresh water too if he wants, which is more difficult to find than food for any wild animal. And lastly he's got a friend in me. I always watch out for him while he's here, the best I can anyway. That's pretty awesome for a wild Pigeon, don't you think?

He does have a bit of a fan club. People about the world that know of him, the few who have met him, all root for him and continued good health. If only he knew...

Still one of my favorite shots of us.


He's a Pierre blog that may be a good starter for some.

January 7, 2016

May We Meet Again

December 19, 2015 was the last visit I had with Pierre. It's now January 7th and as the days pass, my hope for his return fades.


Do I think something bad has happened to him? I don't know.

I know he is a wild bird, he comes and goes at his own free will, and obviously there will be a day when he does not come back. Is that time now? I sure hope not.

His absences aren't unusual during the winter months with storms and the Hawks. But this is the longest he has been away.

On December 17th we celebrated forty one months of him coming to visit. I've been marking our "encounters" the last year because he is getting older. And when we first met, he wasn't the youngest bird in the bunch. Statistics say Pigeons live 3 to 5 years in the wild. They have so many dangers on top of the struggle to find food. I know I've certainly helped Pierre along with his life journey and when we last met, he looked as good and healthy as any other day in the last near three and a half years.

We had some serious Hawk activity for a couple weeks in December. Sharp-shin, Cooper's and 2 Red-tails stalking the backyard. I never saw any take downs of any Pigeons but a few chases of a Hawk after my flock.

The thing is along with Pierre missing so is his "missus" and lil Petey. Mickey, my other hand feeding bud was missing as well, but has started to come back in the last couple days. Having all of them disappear like that sends the mind wandering.

Mickey and I the other morning. I know her by her attitude but even spotting her in the bunch from the kitchen window is easy for me. That fleshy eye ring of her's is distinct to me. February will mark 2 years of her coming to visit.


And just as bizarre is the size of the flocks that have come dropping in a few times. I counted 97 one morning. That's freakin' insane! Usually a large flock for us was maybe 30 birds.


Someone suggested I go get myself a couple Pigeons and keep them. How is that to make me feel better? Animals are not replaceable. They are individuals and living beings. Buying a Pigeon is nothing like having Pierre. Pierre was never forced to come here and stay. Yes, the food was probably the biggest factor on his near daily presence but he liked hanging out with me. He'd spend lengthy amounts of time on my lap, my hand, my shoulder even after eating. He'd talk to me when I didn't see him for a number of days. Animals are genuine, you always know where you stand with them, and he showed his excitement to see me after a weekend away.


I look out for him and the others every day, and I hope we have another moment to share with you all soon.

January 1, 2016

Reward

I was fortunate to have an encounter with a Long-eared Owl a few days before Christmas. A species of Owl that I love for it's mastering of the camouflage, and because of that, a species of Owl I don't spot very often. I went almost 2 full years without seeing this species until last winter. I ended up with 2 encounters 3 months apart and I was very grateful. I'm always looking for birds when out and about, never really knowing what I will see in my travels. So chancing upon this bird a few days ago was pretty awesome. I've taught myself to never expect anything, just go out and enjoy what presents itself. I am never disappointed this way.


They are really difficult to spot. I've been a victim of not being able to see such birds when out with friends, finding myself getting frustrated as I try to spot what they are admiring with easy view. We've all been a victim of this and not just with Owls as those teeny tiny bouncy Warbler birds can make us crazy as they hop about the trees in the Spring.

Can you spot the Owl in the photo below?


All my bird nerd friends can testify the thrill of spotting Owls especially finding one on their own.

It was a dark dreary cold windy morning and I went out for a walk in the woods anyway. A day many others would think I was nuts to go out on. It didn't make great lighting for pictures but that's not my intent for the outings... photos are a bonus.

I like to think this sighting was a reward for heading out on foot, saying "f**k the elements!" I enjoyed hand feeding Chickadees and Nuthatches that morning as well. The birds are always happy to come for a feed on such chilly days! A bud of mine jokes about how we must pay to the watchers of the woods with these seed offerings. Maybe he's right?


I was grinning ear to ear. Could any more cool shit happen in this outing? The answer is "YES!" I found a twenty dollar bill on the ground near my truck! I know it was not mine because I only went out with a handful of change to get a coffee somewhere in my travels.


So to all reading this blog. Get outside! Enjoy the birds and whatever nature throws at us! You may be rewarded.

Happy New Year!