Raccoon family in backyard

Raccoon family in backyard

November 16, 2014

Miss Me Yet?

Hi. I've hit some sort of wall with my writing ability lately. I have 2 blogs recently started, I keyed out a couple paragraphs and then I just lost it in my head on what I was wanting to do with them. Distractions have occurred with outdoor chores in preparation for the oncoming cold crappy weather ahead, tending the zoo at home, and helping out Toronto Wildlife weekly as a volunteer driver. I will get back into it, soon I hope, as the holiday season will be upon us before we know it.

In the meantime, how about some catch up on our backyard?

Shirley the Sharp-shin seems to have left us and I am betting it is because of the Coopers Hawk I've named Waldo. Actually it was a bird bud on Facebook, Carol, who made a joke about it with that name when I shared a crappy photo I took of him with my Blackberry. I was feeding my Pigeons when the Coopers came in, doing a brazen attack right in front of me. If I had my good camera, I would have gotten some great shots of him in the various perching spots he chose near me. But I was left standing there in awe, holding some leftover seed after the Pigeons jetted off. After posting the crap photo, Carol said something along the lines of "Where's Waldo? Aha, found him!" He blended in very well within the tree with a very grainy picture.

Waldo appears to be a young Coopers Hawk in my opinion. I'm no expert on plumage as one way of discovering, and of course it would certainly help to have him in the hand of an expert to tell. But for me, he looks young in the face, and his actions as well tell me he is young. I see inexperience and curiosity in his eyes, and he's not nearly as shy as some other Coopers Hawks that have come around over the years. He zips around the yard incredibly fast, which really is something to witness. Of course it sucks large for all the other birds. The Pigeons flee and even when in the house, if Waldo flies in and the Pigeons go, you can feel the rush from the living room. Their uplift and take off make our Budgies stress and let out these bizarre little sounds. The Blue Jays really start screaming, far more than what they do with Shirley, and unlike the games they play with Shirley, the Jays don't mess with Waldo. Yesterday morning, Waldo flew in after the Pigeons, and I thought he was going to hit our small kitchen window over the back deck. I saw him coming and he went over last second, this was probably more due to the pine tree right behind the house. I had a brief moment where I visualized picking him up off the back deck and looking at a cracked window. Yikes!

Here's Waldo in better view than my mobile photo...

But even with the latest predator, the other birds still come in, feeding with caution. Project Feeder Watch that we participate in with Bird Studies Canada started up this weekend for us. We've got a decent but usual list of species right now including Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Gold Finches, House Finches, House Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, Juncos, Doves and Pigeons. It is bizarre the lack of Starlings since mid-summer. I hope I don't have some zero count days thanks to the likes of Shirley and Waldo. In almost a decade of participation, I've only ever had one zero count day.

Pierre pulled that disappearing act and his visits these days are random and short. I baby him every opportunity, holding him in close with a good feed of sunflower chips and peanut bits. He feeds alone usually while the others have to fight for ground food or what's in my other hand. If I spot Pierre's lady in the mix, she has a 50/50 shot of getting to feed with him. Perhaps this is why Pierre is on his second marriage now? LoL!

Halloween was the other week and I really wanted to try for a photo of myself in my mask with one of my hand feeders. I didn't think it would be such an issue but it was. I hand fed them, put the mask on while they watched, and that was it, they wanted no part of me. I took the mask off and in they came again. I talked to them through it, hoping the voice recognition would work. Nope. It would have been a cool "Happy Halloween" thing to share with some bird buds. Ah well.

I guess I'm not as scary as that mask first thing some mornings. :)

Pierre happy I'm back.

I should have tried it on the couple Raccoon kids still coming around at night, or our Orphan Annie. Either there'd be great success or they'd have torn the mask right off my face. As you can see, this one is quite comfortable with me. This guy here loves it when I open the shed up, he climbs in and explores, playing with the bicycle spokes or other shiny objects he sees. I park myself as I fill the feeders at night and don't mind the company I see every now and then. It's funny how I see them, for a 2 or 3 nights in a row, and then nothing for the next week or two. They are entertaining to watch but no petting the wildlife, no matter how close they come to me. Sure I may seem to be pushing the limits here but I tell people, don't f**k with them and they won't f**k with you. It's amazing what can come of being quiet and still around the wild creatures. Did I ever blog about the Deer circling me one afternoon?

Of course Meadow and I played around on the week of Halloween. She won a little costume contest at our vet even, well, one of 4 animals to win a basket full of goodies. See Angie's blog here.

Angie and I have had a few wake ups in the middle of the night as the kids get in our bins out front of the house, right outside our bedroom window. They work to get the lids open, sometimes 10 or 12 slams as it slips from their grip before they manage to wiggle in. We are very good at garbage and recycling properly, rinsing things out, composting properly, etc but the little shits still get in there at times. We have the largest bins and often don't fill them so the kids get stuck within. We've probably had to rescue them 4x in the last couple weeks. Nothing like opening your bin lid and seeing this staring up at you.

It makes me wonder how many don't get seen or even ignored when in a similar situation somewhere else and go out with the trash? We are always checking our bins nowadays to ensure nobody is stuck. Releasing them from their confinement is greatly appreciated by them. You just tilt the bin over slowly, I hold the lid shut until the bin is right down flat, flip the lid up at that point, and let them exit when they are ready to (usually it's immediately). I felt bad for one the other week that I didn't discover until mid-morning and our bin was empty. I hope he wasn't in there all night without anything to eat. Lesson learned perhaps?

We have been seeing an Opossum the odd night in recent weeks. Cute little bugger as far as Opossums go. Another misunderstood creature in our city. I get it that they can be intimidating with their long rat like tail and little razor teeth, but they don't want anything to do with us, and would sooner flee from humans than encounter them. So with ours, a very skittish soul he be. I was lucky enough the other evening, working on my stealth like ninja skills to be able to sneak outside and finally get a decent photo of him from the back deck.

I guess my writing ability really isn't lacking, I've just been too busy. Next up will be some of my Toronto Wildlife Centre adventures...

October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

Hi everyone! I just wanted to wish you all a very happy and safe Halloween, no matter what you do, where you go.

We love Halloween around here but for some reason this year I find myself working it. Booooooooooo! Oh well, thankful I have a good job and good health enabling me to work. Plus I am thankful Meadow is still with us after the hell she went through back in August.

We had a little fun lately as she got a couple hats to dress up with. She's a funny girl and tolerates this stuff, usually a bit of a fuss, then the purr breaks out and just goes with it for a short bit. I hope you enjoy these and see you on the blog again very soon! Too bad mommy isn't home to partake in this blog. Next year.

She's a spoiled rotten Princess every day of the year and doesn't require the hat to prove it.

Always a big help with things around here like fixing her daddy's hair.

Beauty and the Beast.


October 28, 2014

Pierre and the Predators

Hello everyone! After 11 long days, Pierre finally came home. The day was Friday October 24th. I woke up that morning disappointed not to see him in the numbers out back once again. I had started venting my concern to some of my friends, not that anyone can do anything, but just because it was really bothering me. And as the days passed, I was really starting to believe he was gone. Was this part of the grieving process? I was just getting over the denial stage?

Angie couldn't do much to console me through the week what with our opposite work shifts... texts, email, quick phone chat, and that was it. It was either Wednesday or Thursday she told me she saw a dead Pigeon on the sidewalk at a nearby bus stop, the coloring was much like Pierre's but she couldn't say for certain since she was on the bus and she has a difficult time spotting him from a distance. I see him so often, it's much easier for me, plus a lot of it is his attitude. Usually it's just a matter of me putting out my hand and he comes without a word being spoken.

So, after breakfast, whatever morning that was, I ventured over to the bus stop and had a look. Call me crazy but only an animal lover could really understand this. The bird wasn't messy roadkill, just dead on the walk. I didn't need to see it for more than a second to know it wasn't Pierre. The coloring indeed was correct but the pattern was off. I do intend on blogging about how I tell some of these birds apart just by looking at them out back. Believe me, it's not easy, but seeing them almost daily sure helps.

Another morning earlier in the week there was a huge flock of Pigeons who flew down into the backyard. I estimate 40 to 50 birds. I thought for sure he was in there, but he wasn't. I was stunned at the number of birds plus how many new ones with unique colors and patterns. Pigeons really are good looking birds if you take the time to appreciate them. I got even more excited when I saw a red one. I thought "OMG! There's Red!" But it wasn't. I knew for certain once I had a good look at this bird's feet. They were lacking the string tangle and this bird had all of it's toes. If you never read about Red, have a look here He really was a nice bird.

I took a video on October 23rd, venting away as I feed the other birds. See here.

Now back to the Friday, I had just returned from getting some groceries for the weekend and I saw a small number of Pigeons atop a neighbour's roof. A quick spotting didn't give me any sign of him up there but my hope, draining as it was, was not lost yet. I left the shopping bags on the kitchen counter and quickly went out back.

The birds flew in, one by one, and as always, Pierre seems to fly in last. He's good like that! I don't know why, because he is king around here. Maybe he lets his subjects go in first to do the spot checks? Whatever, in he came, right to his spot outside our back door. He immediately began to vocalize to me, throat poofing out, and really telling me a tale. I love how excited he gets when he doesn't see me for some days. I often think of trying to video record these vocal moments, but today however, I was just too happy to see him and couldn't think about interfering our moment with a video camera. I did snap a couple quick phone pics for Facebook and Twitter after a few minutes.

Pierre is on the right, on my hand. The other bird took a perch spot on my right arm I extended to take the pic.

I gave my boy a good feeding but our visit was much too short lived. One of the Blue Jays let out quite a scream at the back and all the birds took off. Damn! Worse even that there was no threat. But everyone is on alert these days.

Our over wintering Sharp-shinned Hawk who I've named "Shirley" returned about a month ago. This is her fourth cold season with us, arriving usually in October and leaving again by March. I am 100% certain this is the same bird each year just because of her bold attitude. I've never encountered a Hawk like her before. She is not bothered by human presence by any means. The stories I have to share about her are something else (another blog I want to do). While she cannot take a Pigeon due to the difference in size, that doesn't mean she has not tried, nor will the Pigeons take a chance.

So off went Pierre and the gang. I have not seen any of them since Friday morning.

It's nice to know this flock is not taking any chances coming around with the threat of a bird of prey. And it's not just Shirley these days. We've got a Red-tail hunting Squirrels but her mate has taken a few Pigeons in the past. We have sporadic visits from Coopers Hawks throughout the year too. The worst time was maybe 5 winters ago where we had this she-beast of a Coopers who was snagging 3 Pigeons a week! This was the days before Pierre when I really only saw the Pigeons as nothing more than Hawk food.

Here's a few of our predators...

Male Red-tailed Hawk with a Pigeon wing outside our kitchen window. He caught the bird during late winter courtship and shared it with the female who was on the grass feeding on the carcass. The male would fly down and tear a piece off, then fly back up to the tree branch to eat it.

The "she-beast" Coopers Hawk one winter morning with her Pigeon meal.

We had a rat issue one winter, and this Red-tail discovered the bounty of rodents, and picked them all off one by one over a few weeks.

An all too familiar sight, and a sad one too. The Pigeons have not met such a fate here in a few years.

A Coopers Hawk I discovered in the cedar trees yesterday afternoon. What an innocent look about this bird!

And of course there is little Shirley who just puts the fear into everyone as well with her presence. Here she is with a Mourning Dove recently. I always feel sorry for the Doves, they are so slow. It's a good thing they mate 4x a year to keep their population up.

Now don't go hating the birds of prey. They serve a great purpose to the planet through population control of other species including rodents that nobody wants getting in their homes. They weed out the sick like a female House Finch I had a few years back with that terrible eye disease. The poor bird was going blind due to the crusting build up over her eyes. Eventually she would have been blinded and suffered a long slow death but a Sharp-shin gave her a very quick ending.

As I finish keying this on October 28th, I am seeing the first Pigeons of the flock in days.

Snake on top, Bully Jerk Face on the left and Mickey on the right. I really should change Jerk Face's name but he's such an aggressive large male that bullies everyone, even Pierre at times.

Of course Pierre is not in the small group that showed up; but with what has been going on, I have been reassured that he is keeping his distance from the threats out back. Stay safe little friend (and all his friends)!

Here is me not too long ago with Pierre. Ya, there's a bond here for sure. Talk about trust! I love this shot even if it is a grainy one from my mobile.

Of course, after I publish this blog, I see some Pigeons out in the garden, I go open the back door and in flies Pierre. He was vocal today but not with me, he didn't want to share me (the food actually) with the others including his lady friend. Video here.

October 22, 2014

Where's Pierre?

I have not seen Pierre since Monday October 13th and I am starting to think the worst has happened. He's disappeared before, and the longest was approx 10 days after the ice storm last December. But other than that in the 27 months of him visiting, it's never been more than a couple days.

May he be safe and come back soon.

To be continued...

October 20, 2014

Pigeon Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bird doesn't move.

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

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

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

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

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

Now blanket-less. What will he do?

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

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

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

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

October 9, 2014

Wild Wednesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a few shots from this...

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

Jimmy and I working away

This is fun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, the Vireo... exact same scenario.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 7, 2014

Check This Out...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for sharing this with me Chris!

See ya's soon!