Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

June 17, 2011

The Adventures of Me and My Masked Friends

The Raccoons in Toronto are making news headlines of late. And unfortunately most of the stories are negative. The worst being one man who decided to take matters (and his anger) into his own hands and release it with force through the use of a shovel on a family of Raccoons.

And with that, a rally followed, with people voicing their unhappiness with the Raccoon population in our fine city.

I get it that we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for our homes in Toronto and we want to keep them nice. But what human can honestly strike down on any living thing as this man did and still call himself human?

I am not going to go on about the list of complaints I read and hear regarding these interesting creatures.

But, I would like to share a few personal experiences I have had with them in my time. If anything, I hope someone might read these tales and realize that they aren't such menacing destructive little monsters.

First one happening approximately 2 decades ago. I was working for a dumpy little truck rental company. We had a location off Dixie Road and Hwy 401 in Mississauga. It was a large yard to park all the rental trucks, the office was an old house, and in the back where the vehicles were serviced was like an old loading dock with a small warehouse. At one part of the loading dock there was a large dumpster which happened to be level with the dock. In my travels one morning, I walked past the dumpster, and normally I never take notice to what is inside but for some reason today I stopped. From a passing view it looked empty as it was dumped the day before. When actually stopping and looking down, I could see one brown paper bag someone had tossed in being the remnants of their lunch and sitting next to it was one very large Raccoon. He sat there looking up at me and of course I could sense his concern for his current predicament.

Part of me was going to panic as I needed to save this guy, who is about 5 down in this large steel bin, and I had no idea at that moment on how to do it. Sure, I thought I could just jump in with him and lift him out, but would this wild animal in distress allow me to do such a thing? Mind you, he just sat there, looking up at me and showed no distemperment but that could change if I acted upon my initial thought.

The lot had a row of trees to the south and a field. And too often garbage was dumped in the field since it was unoccupied. None of which was done by the people of the company. We'd just come into work for 6am and find piles of crap dumped by people in the middle of the night when nobody was around. The 70+ old tires was a real nice surprise (not!). But back to my story...

I searched and scoured around in hopes of finding something to use to help this guy. But nothing was coming up (even in all the garbage). Finally I decided to try and break off a branch long enough to reach him. Now, I am not Mr. Muscle Guy, so breaking off a large sturdy branch just wasn't in the cards. I did manage to snap one off with a circumference of about 1.5 inches at it's strongest point. Now what happens as the branch nears it's end, yes, it gets thinner. I was unsure of the length as well, it seemed close enough, but how close? Well, I was going to try.

I returned to the bin and lowered the branch down, holding onto the thicker end for more support. The branch clearly wasn't long enough to hit the bottom but that Raccoon jumped up at it and grabbed hold of what he could and from that, he began his climb up. At this point I am frozen. Here I am holding this flimsy branch and a full sized adult Raccoon is climbing up it right towards me. I am kneeling on the dock since the branch wasn't long enough. I bet some people probably would have let go of the branch at this point in fear or just the shock of it; but I held on with one part frozen in shock and another part with my determination to help this animal.

I am wondering how this was going to end? Am I going to lift the branch up as he got near in order to get him back onto the dock? I mean, I am holding this end, my hands are over the dock edge. How is he going get past me? Well, he answered my question seconds later as he made a jump just before my hands and landed next to me. If I wasn't there, I don't know if I would believe what I just saw. He darted off along the dock, but did stop about 10 feet from me, turned and looked at me for a second, and then continued on, disappearing off into the field. I'd like to think that last look was a "thank you".

From that day on, I always checked the bin. And I bugged and bugged the waste company to bring us one with a lid to ensure this would not happen again... and they did change bin for us.

So, twenty years ago, I am still in awe with that moment and I revisit it in my mind from time to time when I see Raccoons in my travels.

Another interesting brief moment I had was when I was in my backyard one day a few years back and I saw a Raccoon climbing down my old tv tower. Here it is 5 in the afternoon and this guy is coming down off my roof. He hits the ground and is coming towards me. What do I do? Stoop down and reach out my hand. What does he do? Walk right up to me, sniffs my fingers, nose touching them, and then he continues his way down to the back of the yard and disappears into the tall cedars. How cool is that? Of course I did a round about over the house making sure he was not coming from within anywhere but all was good. A few of the animals use the roof tops to get about in a sort of safer travel path away from the traffic and unfriendly humans.

In my 41 and a bit years on this planet, I have not had a bad experience with these animals. I am stunned when I see my elder neighbours have freak outs when they discover one sleeping in a tree. Even a guy slightly younger than me lost it when he found one sleeping up in one of his trees as well and he was hellbound on getting it out of his tree. Now of all times to see one of these creatures, sleeping in a tree, is there really a need to get so upset?

I need to study animal totems. I would bet that a Raccoon is on my totem. And as I think about other wildlife, I take notice how I am drawn to the Northern Cardinal. I also really love Cedar Waxwings. And with Angie and myself having this love for the birds, discovering all the species around us, I found myself also drawn to the Shrikes. So, what's the deal with these birds? Well, all of them have a mask. Coincidence? Maybe. But there could be more to this too. I will get back to yas at another time as I read more on this.

Please enjoy a few photos I have recently taken of our Raccoon friends.

See you next time! Be well, be safe and please be kind to our animal friends!

A nice family portrait of a family I know of not far from me. This shot, actually a more cropped version, can be seen in their "Wild Toronto" section posted just this week.

A close up of one of the babies. This was a moment I was hoping for all through Spring and am happy to have had it with them.

And lastly a Cedar Waxwing. One very cool looking bird.

The Butcher-bird of Colonel Sam Smith Park

So, I started this blog a while back, saved it for another month, then completed it. It was posted, but fell back to the original start date. I thought I would re-post this as it might get passed over. To me, it was an important and memorable part of this past winter. Thanks for looking!

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.