Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

March 23, 2011

The Butcher-bird of Colonel Sam Smith Park

Rain rain, go away, come back again another day. Anyone been reciting that poem in their head this month? Environment Canada correctly predicted the cold wet Spring we are experiencing. I once read that a person who would sing the "Rain rain..." poem in whatever culture, of course many years ago, would be frowned upon at the very least, as this is a wish for drought. Now moving on from my half-assed Cliff Claven (CHEERS mailman) moment of an incomplete useless fact...

A rainy Friday morning, May is almost done, and I have been thinking about the many new birds I have seen this year. Spring has been mind blowing with 20+ species to add to the life list in my head. And this past winter brought me a few too.

A long over-due moment I want to share is my sightings of a Northern Shrike.

My first time seeing the Shrike and photographing him at Col. Sam Smith Park in February 2011.

After some time of Angie and I getting into this world of birds/birding, I learned of this killer songbird. I am not using slang here, he is a songbird and yes, he is, a killer. While I love all life forms and have no desire to watch any predator catch his prey; I have had some fascination with this bird. And the fact that he is considered a songbird really threw me for a loop! Imagine that, a songbird, a bird in the mind of most, is a pretty little cheerful bird who can brighten up a person's day with their lovely song is in fact a meat eater, a killer of flesh!

So for over five years I have thought about this bird. I have searched out Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes in various parts of Ontario. This past winter some reports were coming in of a Northern Shrike at a local waterfront park. I thought finally there is a chance to see one. Seven trips over nearly a month finally had me seeing him. I probably had about five minutes of looking at him through my binoculars from a distance and would take a few steps, take a photo, watch him, and repeat the process. I was in awe and unfortunately I was alone. Angie was home unwell and missed this lifer moment for me... a bird I have REALLY wanted to see for so long. Mind you, I am not a jump up and down, and hip hip hooray kinda guy; but I am certain my excitement and joy within beamed out through my smile as I watched this bird.

A week later it was the "Great Backyard Bird Count" and Angie and I were trekking out to a number of spots west of us to participate. Our last stop was to be Col. Sam Smith and sure enough there was the Shrike in full view as soon as we hit the trail. This was Angie's lifer moment with him. So it was great to see him once again. But this time there was an added treat to the viewing. He began to go through some funny motions as he sat in this tree, opening his beak wide every so often, until finally he expelled a pellet. How cool (and gross to some) is that?!?!

A moment in the Shrike's pellet expulsion.

If you don't know what a pellet is. I will brief you. This Shrike will eat smaller birds and mammals. Since Shrikes do not have teeth, they can't chew their food. Therefore, they use their strong and sharp beaks to rip their prey apart and then swallow large chunks whole. The Shrike slowly digests its meal by separating the softer materials (such as meat) from the harder material (such as bones). It then regurgitates the harder material along with indigestible items such as feathers and fur in the form of a pellet.

A more comfortable moment with the Shrike after the pellet is gone.

It's now March, Spring is nearing, and I know this guy is going to be migrating to the north soon. I am also uncertain if he will return next winter or not. So I take advantage of some more pleasant sunny afternoons and seek him out again after a work day. And once again I am blessed with yet another new experience with this bird. Mating season is on the horizon and this guy has suddenly become very vocal. He is singing his rather strange song out to the world in hopes to attract a female. Word around the area is that there in fact were two Shrikes in this park; but I only saw the one. I haven't read up on sexing them and will probably leave that for next winter (if they return).

Here he is enjoying the warmer sunny afternoons of March 2011.

With his singing his song quite often, he was found much of the time in some lower bushes near the marina. I was able to get quite close to him through these days and after some fighting with the camera due to the thick brush and focus problems, I got me a couple decent pics of him right up close. You are able to see the serrated beak which he uses to tear apart his meals. I never saw him eat but these three moments I have described here sure make it feel like I had three firsts with one bird that I really wanted to see in my life.

Next year I hope to have an opportunity to video record him and his song. But seeing him up so close like this, hearing his song, on my final visit with him is a lifelong memory.

Look at this pretty little killer! The Butcher-bird of Colonel Sam Smith Park.

Some of the shots are heavily cropped. I never knew how close I could get with this guy so I would start photo'ing from a distance. And some days with it being in the -20s sure didn't help the trigger finger.

March 9, 2011

Walking in the Woods

I was walking in the woods, and what did I see? A little Eastern Screech Owl trying to have a sleepy. Are you humming along now?

Okay, seriously... a really cool sighting on one of my walks in some woods within the GTA! I don't know much about these little Owls though so here's some tid-bits from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

* The Eastern Screech-Owl eats a variety of small animals. Two captive males ate from one-quarter to one-third of their own body weight in food each night, but sometimes skipped a night and stored food instead.

* The trilling song on one pitch, sometimes known as the Bounce Song, is used by members of a pair or a family to keep in contact. The male will trill to advertise a nest site, court the female, and when arriving at a nest with food. The descending Whinny is used in territory defense. The songs usually are uttered separately, but sometimes are heard together.

* Eastern Screech-Owl pairs usually are monogamous and remain together for life. Some males, however, will mate with two different females. The second female may evict the first female, lay her own eggs in the nest, and incubate both clutches.

* The Eastern Screech-Owl is known to eat a variety of songbirds, including the European Starling. Despite this fact, the starling regularly displaces the owl from nesting sites and takes over the hole to raise its own brood.

As you can tell from my photos, these Owls, like many others blend in very well with their environment. A really tough one to spot out in the wild. He's probably 30 to 40 ft up the tree.

Standing next to a tree, one probably wouldn't even notice this guy above them.

So, if you really would like to see one but don't have the time to search, the patience to search and a bit of luck on your side as well... I suggest visiting Mountsberg Conservation Area and their Raptor Centre. They have 3 Eastern Screech Owls in captivity. All of which are unreleasable for one reason or another.

Meet Echo in these shots...

And if you are willing to pay for a personal Raptor Encounter, and behave yourself, showing respect and kindness, you should be able to hold one of these beautiful little Owls like I am here with my pal Otis. He looks a tad grumpy, him and his one good eye.