Raccoon family in backyard

Raccoon family in backyard

December 17, 2014

Good Gawd!

As the holiday season rapidly approaches and we get busy with festivities, I am trying to get my "birding" fix in before work this week.

I revisited an area not far from home that I had chanced upon the sighting of 5 Long-eared Owls not too long ago. The whole park was quiet this morning, and the line of conifers I had previously found them were lacking birds. I scanned them with my bins a couple times to be sure and at one point I spotted a dead Deer Mouse draped over a branch. First thought, Saw-whet Owl stash. Those tiny Owls sometimes cannot finish a mouse in one meal and will hide the rest of it for the next day. A little more looking and I saw another dead mouse. And then a third! Okay, no way this is a Saw-whet stash. Owls are not hoarders.


I went in for a closer look with my own eyes since there were no birds (Owls) within to fear of disturbing and all the mice had broken backs due to a snap trap. So obviously someone has had the bright idea of bringing dead mice to the park. Why? Hoping to feed some Owls? Maybe this is where they keep them and are trying to launch the carcasses in the direction of a roosting Owl? In this day and age with some of the goofy people carrying cameras hunting wildlife, I can only make assumptions.

Whatever the reason is, it's pathetic!

Sad thing, this is not the first time I have stumbled upon such a sight. Two years ago there was a slightly popular Saw-whet Owl roost at another park and I discovered the same thing. The mice have no gaping holes from the talons of an Owl. None of them have been eaten to any degree either. Just full bodied dead things with crushed spines.

I've left them in the trees. I figure they will remain there and hopefully the individual will realize this idea is a waste of time. It's a totally sad visual even if most see mice as disease carrying vermin.

I saw very little bird activity of any kind this morning, only this WTF sighting. I guess I will have to get out there again... some where else. But this outing still had meaning, a reminder that there are a lot of dumb selfish and/or strange people walking the trails.

Here is one of the Long-ears that once chose this spot to roost in. I doubt they will return. I know I ruined the photo with my little scribe through the Owl...


Lastly... for Tracy. I replied to the comment you left in my last blog. Thanks for reading and commenting! :D

December 16, 2014

Sanctuary

I had a rough day yesterday for some reason. It was an exceptionally gross Monday. Nothing went how I had hoped for it to go. And my mood went from feeling nothing more than "ya, I'm existing" to something angry and intolerable to much around me.

Of course this all went away as soon as I got home from work last night. I put my silly wife to bed. I got lots of kitty cuddles from Meadow. And I spent a little time watching this guy out back.


We actually have 2 Opossums roaming the backyards after dark now and that's just freakin' awesome!

I have a habit of tossing mostly eaten apples out on the back lawn when I get in. I normally snack on one with the drive home. It's the only time where I enjoy eating an apple and not actually get bored with it. I sure hope that doesn't go under distracted driving one of these days!

Usually it's a Squirrel who finds the apple remains in the morning and finishes it up. But the 'Possums are taking them if they come around. It's that time of year where food is scarce and something like this is appreciated. I am not hand feeding them, just throwing it out back and if someone comes along and finds it... score!

They know the hollowed out half log down at the back of the yard that I dragged home last year and use it often as a place to hide. This is where they take the apple cores to finish them off.

View from the back. You can sort of make out the exit. I tried to fill it in with dirt through the fall and then cover with leaves, downed cedar branches but they keep digging out a hole. I guess it's for the best in case something wicked comes for them through the front that they aren't trapped. This is well away from the house. We are fortunate to have such a deep backyard.

View from the front.

This is barely noticeable from the deck as well!

Be it a winter scene.

A summer scene.

Or those gross days in between.

We are still seeing the Skunks the odd night, or early morning too.

Our Raccoons seem to be in semi-hibernation now. I see signs of their night time visits on occasion, be it a stool sample behind the shed or tracks in the snow. I miss the nights with the kids.

I love where we live! Our house may be a near 100 yr old shack but home is where the heart is, and it goes beyond these walls. It's our sanctuary... and theirs.

December 15, 2014

The Enemy Within

We have a new predator on scene. A big a$$ Cooper's Hawk only known as She-Beast. It's a term my friend Tracy and I refer to a certain big a$$ Peregrine Falcon we know and love.

With this bird on the hunt here, everything clears out, even the other predators. No Shirley Sharp-shin, no Waldo the Cooper's Hawk. How do I know this is not Waldo? My observations have me believe Waldo is younger, smaller/thinner (male?) and lighter in color. The personality between the two differs. Waldo carries a curious attitude, not quite disturbed by my presence. This one, She-Beast, wants nothing to do with me when I am outside. First sight of me when she's hunting the yard and off she goes.

I know it's a bird eat bird world out there with these creatures, I accept that, but I don't have to like it. I won't interfere as in chase her away but I won't hide indoors when I have things to do out back and she's hunting. Mind you, I do back off temporarily while she's caught her lunch and is having it. I know I've mentioned in other blogs about letting them have their well deserved meal. I spooked a Red-tail one day and I felt bad, it left it's kill in the snow, barely eaten because I stepped outside.

She-Beast first made her presence known last Thursday during the snow storm when she caught a Starling and ate behind the house next door. I watched her from the kitchen window. It was so tempting to try and sneak out there for some good gore shots but I didn't.

Friday she flew in fast and hard, and nailed one of the Pigeons. Once again taking it down in the yard next door but this time way at the back. I know none of my birds were present this day (so far), but it still sucked for this other Pigeon. I let her be for quite some time to eat it before I went out the front of the house, snuck up the side and tried for a few photos. She is a magnificent specimen of this species. We've not had a Cooper's Hawk like this in the yard for some years now. The last one was taking 3 Pigeons a week!

She-Beast trying to get a big piece of meat down.

Look at the crop on her as she is done with the meal.

I do fear for my friendly flock but they seem smart enough to back off with the activity. I've not seen Pierre or any of the others since the day of the storm after the Cooper's had left, done with her lunch. Funny how the birds know these things.



There was one really angry black Squirrel that raced up and down, and around the tree base near the Hawk while she ate. He made lots of funny noises at her through this which got her attention and she'd flare right up at him, which was something to see. It was her defense, or perhaps a warning to Mr. Squirrel to back off, by making herself look twice her size. Our Shirley has done this before as well.

She-Beast and the Squirrel.

Shirley Sharp-shin trying to scare off a Squirrel as she sits on a Starling.

This Cooper's has made things quite interesting... and quiet. It was dismal numbers over the weekend for our counts with Project Feeder Watch. We saw her both days. She was the first bird to arrive on scene. It was a busy weekend for Angie and I, but I've found no new bird remains about the yards.

I shouldn't call her the enemy as I don't hate this bird.

I worry about my buds. I'm allowed to worry about them even though I know this is not their only threat out there. They are my little friends and add to my mornings.

December 8, 2014

Trash Can Hawk Update

A few weeks back I got a call out via email from Toronto Wildlife Centre that a small Hawk in the Richmond Hill area was in need of a ride to TWC. The species was unknown as were his injuries.

With Angie in Florida, it was Saturday morning and I had nothing going on... I phoned in offering my time and truck to pick him up.

The funny thing with this is the Hawk was actually picked up in the Keele and Langstaff (Concord) area by some contractors who were on their way to a job site in Richmond Hill. The bird was just sitting out in the middle of the street. They put him in a plastic garbage can, covered him with a moving blanket and away they went to the site, where one of them made the call in to Toronto Wildlife. Even though they went in the opposite direction of TWC, gotta commend them for stopping and helping out.

There was no other details for me as mentioned, so I got the address and away I went. Small hawk? Hmmmmmm... Sharp-shin? Maybe a Kestrel or a Merlin as some mistake Falcons for Hawks?

I arrive on scene and there was some confusion at first. I asked to see the owner of the house, not knowing the guys (contractors) were actually the ones I needed to see. I waited 10 minutes or so before the man of the house came down to meet me, looking awfully puzzled at who this soaking wet mess of a long haired guy was standing at his door wanting to speak with him. It was a wet snow/rain mix coming down as I waited out front. From there, it all came together, and I was led into the back of an old cube van and shown a mid-sized garbage can with a blanket over it.

I was under the impression the bird was contained and ready for immediate transport, hence me not really dressed for standing outdoors for very long in the precipitation. I've only done a few pick-ups since signing on as a volunteer driver, and only once did I have to do something more than take the animal already in a box and go.

At this point, seeing the garbage can, I'm still under the impression it is a small hawk. Buddy removes the blanket slowly and reveals something not small at all. It was an adult Red-tailed Hawk! He was freakin' huge! I had my carrier with me and we feared it wasn't going to be suitable for the bird. My concern was more about getting him in it as the door is small, or so I think, for such a bird. The man was concerned that the bird was going to shred us. I asked how it was when he grabbed it, and he said it gave no fight. Would it tear us apart if we tried to move him again? Perhaps, perhaps not. But nobody wanted to chance it.

My heart sunk looking down at this bird. He did not look well at all. My heart still sinks looking at this photo one of the guys sent me.


This was all new to me on how to deal with this, as it was for the guys who picked him up. After some humming and hawing and pondering, the head contractor told me to take the can and blanket, and not worry about returning it. I asked if he was sure despite how old and used the items appeared; and he assured me it was all good. So off I went with this Hawk in a trash can. Thank goodness for having the GMC as this would not have sat well and upright in most cars!

I made a quick post on social media about having a Hawk in a trash can on route to TWC and of course it got people wondering. I should have added to that as many thought someone shoved him in a garbage can for some cruel reason. Nope, this wasn't cruel at all. But today, I learned something cruel with the story... why the Hawk was down on the street and unable to fly. Someone had shot him through a wing with a pellet gun! What the hell is wrong with some people?!?!?!

It's sad to know that there are many cruel acts committed to animals almost daily in our city. It's best not to relate the many I already know, for your sake to read them, and for mine to type them out.

So, anyone reading this, please send him some love and well wishes, hoping he may return to the wild once again. I feel bad being the one who brought him in as my "return to the wild" ratio is not good at all. It's a sad reality that many animals brought in are at the point of near death, most try to conceal their sickness as a defense, and only when they get too sick or weak, do we find them or are able to catch them. But euthanizing to end their suffering is better than what they will face in their finals days in the wild.

I should add that TWC relies a lot on public support, through volunteers and donations. Angie and I are monthly donors plus I've signed on to help with emergency drives when needed. Maybe some of you reading this would consider helping out some how? They also have a wish list on their website.

Here's a happy healthy Red-tailed Hawk I am often seeing with my drives to and from Toronto Wildlife...

November 30, 2014

Hagrid's time came much too soon...

It is with sadness that I type this blog... Hagrid, our newest addition to the family, passed away a couple days ago. Some of you may know of him from a blog not too long ago, "Meet Hagrid". A rescue animal that we happily took into our home back in August. So bizarre to some that a Tarantula would need to be saved, because in the minds of many, who in the hell would want one of those things as a pet?


Hagrid was spider #6. I will link some of my other spider blogs here if you have the curiosity to *meet* some of my other beloved family members over the years.

Spider #5, a lovely pink toe named "NO" as in the Nameless One, was also a rescue of sorts. A touching tale to even those not keen on arachnids. See here. I've read NO's story a number of times and re-tell it to those who will listen.

Spider #4, was a rose hair I named "SYD". A big gentle spider he was, never showing any aggression except to his prey. I don't think I've read this blog since the day I keyed it out. Re-reading it now and I am taken back to those days over a decade ago. He was a wonderful Tarantula as far as they go. Link is here. It's actually a rather short blog of mine!

Spider #3, a beast of a spider I named Abigail. You should gather that by having the title "bird eating spider" in her species name. She intimidated me but I tried to care for her the best I could. A scary short story if you care to check it out here.

Spider #2, a small little darling Mexican Pink Toe I named Daisy. Her time with me was rather short as well for some reason. I re-read her story her as I linked it. I remember the day I got her as I think back, how excited I was. A somewhat short read as well, click here.

And here is the one who started it all for me... Maude. She is my claim to fame on giving a Tarantula a good caring home ensuring longevity as Maude neared a ripe old age of 23 with me. In this blog are links to a couple other blogs about her, but this one is about her passing. We all loved Maude in our own ways and it may show in my tales here.

Now Hagrid joins the others to wherever they go. Actually he joins Maude and NO out back now. Yes, I buried my spiders.

Hagrid came to us in need of a new and caring home. Unfortunately we had no idea how old he was and can only imagine what kind of life he had before us. We gave him peace in his final months and may he have found that. Only a few of us ever laid eyes upon him in this house. He was a true nocturnal spider, coming out after dark and usually when the house was at it's quietest. We saw signs of his activities the morning after, from webbings to hundreds of foot prints in the sand. I used to smooth out the sand from time to time just to monitor this creature I seldom saw. I shared bits of him on social media and many others enjoyed his antics. Of course the best story of all is in the blog I shared about him... everyone remembers the spatula! Love it or hate it, they remember it. I still laugh about it the odd time I am using that spatula.

I cleaned out Hagrid's tank today and it was a difficult task. I am still in disbelief that he is gone already. Angie and I kept looking into his home throughout the weekend, seeking him out, even though he'd passed a few days earlier. Old habits, eh?

Empty house. :(


Here's a couple photos of our time together...

It was great the odd night he surfaced before we went to bed. This was few and far between and we did our best to not spook him if we were still up. All through his stay with us, Hagrid was a very skittish spider, often running back to his coconut hut with any floor vibration of us or our shadow passing his tank even. I'd never had such a fearful spider before which made me wonder about his past?


We even got him a cool Halloween decoration with this ceramic tree. Next up was going to be a Christmas one!


A few weeks back we also lost one of our Frogs. His name was Won-Won. He was Angie's frog. Old age we assume because he'd been with us for over 3 years. Not sure the life expectancy on those guys but ours all seem to run that length of 3 or slightly beyond.


I know not everyone will understand having such creatures around but that's alright, we do. A simple slogan of mine sums it up...

The furry, the feathered, the slimy, the scaly... all touch my heart daily.

November 27, 2014

This Calls For A Drink!

My final week of vacation for the 2014 year. Angie had 2 weeks off and spent the first week down in Florida at Disney and Universal Studios. Angie took ill half way through the first week of holiday. I got sick the first day of my week off. Thankfully my ailment, a slight head cold, passed quick. Unfortunately Angie is still down and out as the second week moves along.

I took advantage of her down time to go out and do some of her Christmas shopping at Yorkdale yesterday. I hoped to do a little birding in Downsview Park after the shopping if time allowed.

I was in and out of Yorkdale within about 40 mins. Love the early morning weekday shopping, get a parking spot with ease, get 'er down and get the hell outta there pronto. Now time to bird...

Making my way to Downsview, I took notice to this American Kestrel atop a display Canadian fighter jet along Sheppard Ave. What a cool spot for such a cool little bird of prey. I love Kestrels! The smallest and prettiest of the Falcons in Ontario.


A closer and cropped shot.


If you are unfamiliar with Kestrels, here is a close up shot of how beautiful and colorful they are. I took this at a private raptor photo shoot earlier in the year.


I also spotted 5 Red-tailed Hawks about my cruise of the roads in Downsview.

But this blog is not about these lovely birds of prey sightings.

At some point in my morning, my phone went off with an email notification from Toronto Wildlife. They were seeking assistance in the release of a couple Toronto area birds. One was an American Goldfinch and the other a European Starling. I would have liked to have taken both birds but the locations were too far apart from each other and my home. The Starling needed a ride back to downtown Toronto. The Finch, just north of the city.

So, here I am in Downsview Park and so is Toronto Wildlife. I was planning on popping in as I wanted to check on the condition of a Red-tailed Hawk I brought in Saturday, plus had a few questions about items on their wish list. This worked out quite well I must say.

My questions were answered and the Finch was brought to me for release. I was shown the area on a map to set him free in and away I went.

It was a cool quiet drive to the area. Cool? It's late November, yes, but also the heat should be off or kept to a minimum when transporting wildlife. Quiet? Radios should be off, and if you have a passenger, talking should be minimal as well, and at a whisper. Angie and I normally just zip it for the rides, best for the birds, less stress.

I had to search out some green space in the area, find a safe place to park and take the little bird for a walk, releasing him away from main roads (traffic). I found a spot, opened the bag pointed to a nearby tree and let him go.

Most birds take to the closest tree first, just to get their bearings on where they are, what is going on. A few have jetted off as far as possible upon release, but most take to the first tree, even if it's only for 10 or 15 seconds. Some linger longer but none as long as this Finch did.

I bet upon release from the confinements of that paper bag, his world was confusing and distorted like this...

If I have my camera with me at a release, I do try for a few photos after the birds are released. It's not about a photo op, but for my own memories and to maybe share something to others about it. Obviously the above one, my settings were way off. I did some manipulation when attempting to brighten it, turning into a disaster, but it works for what I think the bird sees and thinks in those first moments of freedom.

This Gold Finch sat on the tree branch for many minutes, just looking around, looking up, and then started calling out steadily. Not all birds act the same as I've seen in releases. Golden-crowned Kinglets seem to jump right back into the game of life, going back to business as usual. Warblers flee for their lives from their captors for the most part.

I don't like to just let the birds go and then walk away. I like to observe them the best I can in the first minutes of being free. I am certain they are all okay but for me, I just want to be sure. And this guy was starting to freak me out.

He looked fine.

But he would not budge. He called out over and over again with the variety of Finch calls I am familiar with in our backyard.

After a few calls, he would look up.

Then call some more.

Occasionally looking back to me.

At some point through all of this, he did move up and over one branch, maybe a foot away.

The calling continued.

It was a good fifteen minutes now of watching him from the 12 or 15 ft that separated us. I still wasn't comfortable about leaving him for some reason despite feeling the chill now. It was past lunch, my hunger grew, and that third coffee was kicking the hell out of my bladder to get out. I am a patient individual especially when it comes to the creatures around us.

I thought perhaps best to back way off at this point and not be too much in his point of view and concentration. But he still didn't fly off. He continued to call out.

This went on for many more minutes.

Then out of the dark gray skies above, 4 American Goldfinches flew into the trees nearby, and very high up I might add. My little buddy called again, and the other Finches returned the call. Moments later he took flight, getting higher and higher in the trees until he met this very small flock. There was some discussion for a moment, and then, just like that, they all flew off together, further into the woodlot.

I was too into the moment of watching what was going on to even think about trying for any photos but really they would have been just small black specks in the trees. The images in my memory are so much brighter, heart warming and even come with sound this time.

I've released nearly 50 birds back into the wild thanks to the great work of Toronto Wildlife and FLAP. They (the birds) all warm my heart but a few of them really stand out with their story like this little one. I am honored and privileged to have been able to do this for them. It's good for my soul and helps get me through some not so great days.

Best of luck little Finch! I toasted you on this Whiskey Wednesday.

November 23, 2014

Snowy Saturday!

Hello!

I have just started a one week vacation, and on my first day off, I woke up with a head cold! How uncool is that? I don't feel terrible but I certainly don't feel great either. Instead of laying around hoping to feel better, I decided to go out for a back roads drive and try to spot some Snowy Owls. It seems early to some but the sightings are starting to pop up in southern Ontario and the US. I figured a drive would be nice and not too exhausting compared to a hike.

As I roared north up the Hwy 400, I envisioned seeing 1 Snowy Owl, maybe 3, maybe an astounding 10 (yes, I'm a dreamer), and the very good chance I would see not a single one. I was excited and hopeful. While I had Snowy Owl on the brain, I reminded myself to not make this outing specifically about seeing one or else I could end up very disappointed.

I got off the highway near Bradford and started the drive along the back roads. The farm fields were only partially snow covered this morning and all the little patches of snow here and there had me doing double takes to see if one was an Owl or not. Great, just what I needed on top of all the white buckets in the fields!

A good half hour or more of driving had me finally spot one way out in a field. Awesome! I also took notice to the gas light now being on in the GMC. Shit!

A quick shot of the bird through the front window. I didn't see a reason to even try for something better, like get out of the truck and stand on the side of the road with how far away he was.

I soon left the bird, scribing in my memory the spot it was sitting in the field and headed out for a fill up. Some 20 minutes later I am back in the area, find the spot, and now the Owl is gone. Argh!

I scanned the fields and came up empty. Back to the start and search the roads once again.

It wasn't long after that I suddenly took notice to a large white bird flying across the field and land in a ditch. Woo hoo! There's my Snowy! I am assuming it was anyway. What really surprised me was after the bird landed and watching with my bins that I see a second Owl in the same ditch, just a little further up. Wicked! Both are way off the road though. Oh well, not a bad start to the season with 2 Snowys lined up like that.

NOTE I did have one a week earlier along the 401 after work one night. A tease of a view in the dark, bird on the light post and I passed it doing 120k! I almost crashed the truck that night as I looked on in awe and probably blurted a few holy expletives.

Here's a couple crap shots I took through the driver's window from different angles.

Are you seeing the 2 Snowys?

Now I got out of the truck, set up the tripod, took a couple shots with full zoom, and then cropped the hell out of them!

I couldn't do much better than that. Did you take notice to the second Owl in the photo? Top right corner.

As I was about to drive away, I scanned the fields a little more and spotted a third Snowy just south of the pair. Once again, way out there and only took this shot for record/proof with my blog.

I'm grinning now. I should buy a 649 for the evening draw as I was feeling quite lucky!

I'm leaving the area, satisfied at the bird sightings but not at my photos, but I was okay with that (the season is early). I'm scanning the fields I had already passed 3 times, still hoping for another Owl. And just like that, my eyes fix on yet a fourth bird. Of course it's way the heck out there too, only this one is in a carrot field. But who could complain about seeing yet another Snowy Owl in such a short span of time in one area?

Snowy Owl #4 with a flock of Snow Buntings in the background flying by.

I tried something a little more creative with this one, not that it's done much, but what the hell...

It was a great morning finding all these birds. Much better than playing up the man cold part really well, suffering and whining, calling out for my mommy. LoL!