Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

August 30, 2013

Nighthawk Watching

Last night Angie and I joined some folk from Bird Studies Canada and the High Park Nature Centre for a counting of Common Nighthawks over Hawk Hill as it's called in High Park.

It was a blazing hot and humid day, which made it difficult to go back out into after working and sweating away since 6 o'clock that morning AND being up since 4:30am on top. But being birders, the excitement rose in us about the possibility of seeing this species of bird, that we've only ever seen once (and heard). It was a couple years ago down at Col Sam Smith Park, it was about 9 at night, so when we finally found the bird, it was dark. We heard it do it's calling out as it rose from it's daytime roost and flew across the north end of the park. We were treated to a silhouette of the bird but that was good enough for us knowing how difficult it is to see these birds, adding hearing the call as a bonus.

The Common Nighthawk is listed as a species at risk these days. There are various reasons for it's decline from the lack of gravel roofs in this day/age to predators such as Gulls and Crows enjoying the eggs in their nests.

So, knowing Bird Studies Canada was hosting this event, we figured this was a very good chance for us to once again see this species. Boy, were we right on that one! I stopped counting the Nighthawks at around 2 dozen. I know by the time we left 2 hours later that they were over 50 birds counted. I heard someone say 66. There may have been some counted twice but for us, seeing more than one this time was amazing. We saw males, females and juvi birds. The evening sun, or golden hour as we call it, gave us the chance to see the colors on these birds, the white bands on the wings and white neck bars on the adult males. And watching a few hunt was pretty cool, seeing how acrobatic they can be, chasing insects in the sky. I love insects and taking their pics with the macro lens but I love insect eating birds even more, keeping the bug numbers down (or trying to).

We saw a couple familiar faces at the count so it became a bit of a social gathering for us as well, catching up, swapping birding stories and learning more about each other. Thus perhaps next time out in the field and passing each other by we will say more than just "hello" or give a head nod to one another. These species count events are great! They bring awareness about the birds and bring people together. You can easily make new friends or acquaintances along the way.

I have to admit I am feeling it today from being out for a few hours in the evening and this humidity that's with us once again just doesn't seem to want to break isn't helping. But no matter how I feel right now, it certainly was worth it to go to this Nighthawk count last night. I tried to talk a few into checking it out and seeing a bird seldom seen and for some never knew even existed. Ah well, maybe next time...

Here are a few pics of some of the birds we saw fly over us.

Nice with the glow of the evening sun on them, but hard with the shadows it created.

Occasionally they'd twist and turn in the air as they chased their evening meals.

Way better seeing them in the light hours compared to the night sky.

Un-cropped, un-edited shot here of about the average distance of them over us.

Super cropped here but I was happy to see some of a face.

This event was scheduled from 6pm to 8pm. We left at 8 but most of the people in attendance were still there hanging around keeping count, hoping to see more.

Oh, lastly, at about 7:20pm, a Merlin flew in to a tree just east of us and gave us amazing views of her for probably 5 minutes or so. She sure stole the show! A real treat as this is another bird we rarely see when out and about.

If you'd like to know more about the Common Nighthawk, check this link or this one

And here's a link to some info on the Merlin.

Thanks once again for stopping in and giving my blog a browse.

I want to add that I am on Twitter. I post about 5x a week on average. Find me here if you'd like.

August 28, 2013

Backyard Raccoons

Its funny how every late Spring/early Summer I am out and about the area in search of Raccoon families to see and photograph. What I capture with the camera is unique and not just with the animals but also with their homes being tree cavities (no two trees are alike). Family and friends both enjoy the images I share with them.

The funny part is that I seem to forget how our backyard has them prowling around. I guess without the tree cavity homes and finding them in the daylight pushes them out of my head. You know, out of sight, out of mind.

We normally see one family each summer. Last year we were fortunate to have a mother and 3 young'uns hit our yard a few times a week and within half an hour or so of dusk. This was great as we had a small window of daylight to enjoy watching them and their antics.

Here is mom and 2 of the kids. I shot this through the kitchen window screen as to not disturb them.

This one is my favorite photos from last summer; almost like he's wondering who these stone creatures are or something. I think it captures the curiosity of a child, in this case, a Raccoon only months old.

We enjoyed seeing this family until mid-Autumn and after that, their visits were later and we were missing them, or they weren't coming around as often or for very long as the gardens disappeared when I cleaned up after the frosts started.

This year we are treated to another family, actually two families, plus some stragglers. I think mom from last year is back and she's got 3 kids again. One night she was out there with them when another mom and 2 kids showed up, making for 7 Raccoons total. I know of a couple other monster sized ones that come in every now and then, who sometimes push the families out when there be spilled bird seed about (as an example). And I do mean MONSTER SIZED with these 2, they are like mid-sized dogs but only bulkier. So in all I know we have at least 9 in the neighbourhood. It doesn't really surprise me but I do wonder where they come from, like where they sleep during the day? I used to have an old shed that would house one or two from time to time thanks to a hole in the roof. I almost miss that shed some days because you never knew what or rather who was going to be found sleeping inside.

Unfortunately these animals don't show themselves until after dark. So they are a visual treat out back but not much good for photographing. You can see here in the pics below of my testimony to that.

I shine a flash light on them when I am out back with them.

Here is one of the kids who seems to have a bit of a foot fetish. He comes around us and sniffs our feet. Last Friday evening I fell asleep out back and he woke me up with his cold nose on my toes. He's gotten that close a few times. I am wary of them becoming too accustomed to humans so I make the effort to spook them a little and get their guard up around humans.

I recently shared this on Facebook and Twitter stating this is the sign to find our home/sanctuary.

We have a good chuckle seeing them sit like people out there as they grab peanut bits and sunflower seed spilled over where I fill the bird feeders everyday.

I did have a couple sightings of them earlier in the summer when the days were longer. The next few were from July.

Mom is in the middle and she's grooming the kids out back about about 6am on a Sunday morning.

Mom gets up, one kid follows, while the other just falls over and watches them walk away. He wasn't ready for the grooming session to end. He did lay there for another minute or two (I think he was hoping she'd come back) before he followed them.

I didn't quite get what I hoped for here but it was worth a shot.

They've been loving the couple basin bird baths out back. Water can be harder to find for an animal than food especially during the dog days of summer. And seeing this explains why most mornings these basin baths look like mud pits.

I know far too many people who aren't impressed with such creatures around their homes. We simply "Raccoon proof" our garbage, we inspect the exterior of the house regularly and all is well. We can all live together in this city in harmony. We have our homes and people need to realize that the outdoors is theirs. All they are trying to do is survive like any other living being. Humans build and build and build some more, destroying their natural habitat; what choice do they or any other animal have but to adapt?

I say this to others often "who needs television and those nature channels? We have a wild world outside our doors!"

Here are a couple very short videos I took last weekend. I used our point/shoot camera and a crappy flashlight but its cool to see what goes on after dark in our backyard. Video one. And here is another video which has "toe sniffer" as I call him coming up to my foot once again.

I'll share a few photos of what I was talking about at the beginning of this blog, what I try to capture and share. This is the way we all like to see them, a mom with her babies, in a tree out in the woods.

Oh, and just so you know, I did find a few other families near the house. I was disappointed that my "hot spots" for them over the last 3 years were empty of families. Who knows where they will be next Spring?

A pretty mother.

One of her beautiful kids.

And lastly, another mom and one of her kids.

We are very lucky to have so much wildlife around us for living in the city. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

August 21, 2013

Macro Mania continues...

I apologize for my disappearance this summer, it's just been difficult to sit at the computer for very long and try to spew out a story when lately there just isn't one to be had (although I still have some Falcon stories to finish).

I'm hanging around the yard more than anywhere else these days and I don't mind. It's quiet for birds but there's a lot of other teeny creatures if one takes the time to look for them in the garden.

My love is for the Spiders and I was blessed with a slew of little Jumping Spiders a few weeks back including the Zebra Jumper and to my joy and surprise was one wee little Black Jumping Spider. Lately I'm finding Cross Orbweavers all over the back, weaving their webs everywhere possible (I found 7 yesterday).

Of course there are so many other cool things out there but it's just a matter of finding them and sometimes identifying them as well. Some we are able to but sometimes we must call in an expert... good thing we have a few friends to help us along the way.

So try to enjoy this photo blog, which is mostly of the Spiders, but stick around for the end, I think it's worth it.

A Zebra Jumping Spider enjoying his catch. I swear he paraded it around in front of me. This Spider is less than 3mm in size!

I've still yet to identify this one. I love the color of it!

Another species of Jumping Spider with the remains of it's meal.

Another Spider I'm unsure the species of. I like the 2 large black dots on his abdomen. I guess it's a defense, like making it appear as he's got eyes on that side of his body.

A Zebra Jumping Spider on the picnic table.

I love this shot of a Jumper sitting on a dime! It really puts into perspective how small these Spiders are that I'm taking photos of.

Okay, how about a break from the Spiders for a moment? Here's a little Bee covered in pollen.

And funny as I key this, here's a shiny Green Bee, actually an Agapostemon, and one got in my Croc, and stung me twice on the foot this afternoon. Little bugger! Ya, there's a story to this one dealing with my discovery of him and me hopping around inside the back door.

Gotta share this one, my greatest find this summer, a first for me at home... a Black Jumping Spider. He was a very tiny specimen compared to one I found at Rattray Marsh last summer; but this one was here so that gives me hope to see more (and bigger) another day. He's sitting on the rim of my lens hood here. Can you say "really small?"

I love the stance on Jumping Spiders. They seemingly carry a really big attitude.

Now for the recent finds of Cross Orbweavers about the backyard. These are much bigger than the little Jumpers I was finding. These are about dime size instead of a fraction of it.

Notice the cross on it's back?

I suppose most of you have had your fill of Spiders here, eh? You gotta admit that Mother Nature has an eye for detail even on the smallest of creatures. I will end this with a couple other macro shots. One is a new species to us at home. The other was something I decided to try with a mostly co-operative subject. I hope you like these!

Today, coming home from work, I took notice to this yellow Butterfly on the bush out front. Upon further inspection I ID'd it as a Little Yellow Butterfly. Ang got home, checked the book and said "maybe, but perhaps it's this or this?" One of her other possibilities was the correct ID and I said "yes, perhaps". Since we weren't 100% positive, she contacted our friend Walter, who is quite the expert on these winged beauties and confirmed this as being an Orange Sulphur Butterfly.

And lastly, I was hand feeding Pierre the other afternoon and I had the macro hanging off my shoulder. I decided to try and take his picture with it, seeing what kind of detail I could capture. I was blown away by this image and it impressed a lot of my friends. The best part was this was free style, as in no tripod or anything, just pointed it at him and shot. Of course Pierre sat in front of me but he kept moving his head in curiosity; I believe he was checking out his reflection in the lens. Anyways, ya, love this shot, and hope you do too. Maybe it will help you forget about the numerous 8-legged monsters you just viewed?

As summer winds down, I do hope to get back in here a little more often. I figure my shift changes will cease as well, allowing me to get into some kind of routine again. Thanks for bearing with me and my lack of entries.

See yas again soon!

August 7, 2013

Meet Layton the Falcon

Well lookit this, I might actually key out another blog this week... two in two days! Lets hope for no interruptions and get this one going now.

Most of you are aware of our Falcon watching adventures through June, mostly at the Etobicoke Sunlife buildings at Islington and Bloor. I kinda got lost in the summer and some Falcon events, back and forth with some work hours going from a morning shift to an afternoon shift, which has really messed things up. But I got to finish the tales of the watch, from my point of view sooner than later (it's already a blurry bunch of bits now).

I want to tell you about the first bird to fledge from the nest this year, her name is Layton, and she is named after Jack Layton. Seems famous Canadians was the theme at some of the sites. If you have been following my blog, you might remember her from the last and probably only blog I did of the Sunlife Falcon Fledge Watch of 2013. If you missed it, here it is.

Like that blog tells, I spent about 5.5 hours face to face with Layton the day she took her first flight. She was rescued that one time and has been a star flier ever since. I recon she never wants to touch ground, be handled by humans or put in a cat carrier ever again. What has amazed me with her, is that from the day after her rescue and release, she suddenly was learning really fast on what it takes to be a great Falcon. She flew fast, hard and was agile in no time... and vocal too! In mere days we'd be seeing her out and about more so than on the nest ledge.

The first real notice of how quickly she was learning was when I showed up after work early the next week to help with the watch and heard her screaming above me. Why was she screaming? She was playing with her father, Jack! Jack is an amazing dad and an amazing Falcon. I will tell stories about Jack one of these days. I was in awe to watch Layton right on Jack's tail high above us. She was having a blast and keeping up with him. They flew about the buildings for a couple minutes and then Jack lead Layton right to the nest ledge. He landed. She landed right in behind him. Jack took one look at her and then flew off, and Layton stayed there on the ledge. It was almost like Jack knows Layton is young bird and she needs to build her strength and endurance over time, so him leading her home, was like he said "okay kid, time for a rest". Layton chilled out for a few hours after that. I was so happy I got to see this occur between dad and daughter.

Jack being chased by Layton, notice how the much larger the young female is over her dad?

Jack on his way out after dropping Layton off.

Dinner time for the 3 other chicks as Layton was layed out after the big flight with dad.

A few days later I was rewarded in seeing Layton and Jack having another go at it in the sky. The show was longer this time and they were lower at some points, higher at others, and disappeared behind the Sunlife building too. It was spectacular!

Seeing Layton's progression was thrilling. But we always have concerns about a young bird growing up so fast and perhaps getting a little too over confident in their ways. Fortunately for us at ESL, we never had an issue with Layton getting into trouble again.

We were more focused on her 3 siblings now but it was always a blast to see what Layton would show us next. And a couple days after her last play time that I saw with Jack, she showed me something new, something I have heard about with Falcons but never witnessed... food transfers! Basically an adult comes in with dinner and gets the young Falcon to fly up to the parent, upon which they release the meal, and the younger bird catches it. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But we watched Layton do two food transfers over 3 hours and both were successful. I missed taking pics of the first one because I was too blown away and wanted to see it all with my own eyes and not through the camera. Of course after the fact I was kinda wishing I got something to share with others and keep for a memory. So how great it was for a second transfer to happen mere hours later! We heard the screaming, saw mom O'Conner come flying in with a kill and thought she'd be bringing it to the ledge for her siblings. As she neared, we heard Layton and saw her race after mom. And the transfer happened. Angie, Bruce and myself were cheering her on from the street below. Here's some of that action that I am delighted to share with you all.

Layton coming up under O'Conner.

Great release by mom and catch by daughter!

Layton races off with her prize.

Here's mom O'Conner after the second food transfer. What a Falcon she is! We have many stories about her.

As fellow watcher Bruce put it, "we just had our reward for all the hours we've put in with these birds".

Another day or so later, I'm down at the watch. It's pretty quiet until these old guys from the condo to the east of the nest building decide to come up to the roof top and enjoy some sun. Well, O'Conner was not having any of this and immediately flew in on these guys, screaming her disapproval at them and swooping down over their heads. The guys were waving their arms up in the air at mom, and one guy jumped a few times trying to hit her with his hand. A stupid move on this guy's part and mom's talons sure could do some damage to him. But mom didn't let up. I wanted to yell and scream at these guys but I'm in the alley behind The Longest Yard, so I am across Bloor Street from them and 20 some odd stories below (no way they could hear me). And there I am without my camera! Argh! So I could do nothing more than watch. Moments after mom flew in on the defense, I heard a familiar scream and soon had my visual of young Layton joining the fray with O'Conner. I could tell she really wasn't sure what to do but she just followed mom and repeated everything she did. So now these guys had two Falcons strafing them and neither were giving up. Like mother, like daughter I guess. The guys were now high tailing it for the door to get inside again. But just before they did, there were more Falcon screams, and Layton's smaller sister Shania was now off the nest ledge and coming to help. I was mind blown by this! I won't forget this but am sorry I have no images, crappy and cropped as most are that I get from this watch, but something to share. Oh well. I'm sure you all can paint a better visual in your head than what my shots could have shown you.

Ya, that was pretty awesome and the fact that Shania, who fledged a few days after Layton, was out and on the attack too. The other 2 siblings were slower to get motivated and fledge but they have their own stories I hope to share before the fall.

And as we waited for Lil Big Frank and Lizzie to take flight, we enjoyed Layton and Shania's playing in the sky above us.

Here is Shania on Layton's tail. They were having a lot of fun up there.

And they took turns on who was chasing who. As you can see here, Layton is now on "the attack" after Shania. I forgot to mention that Layton has a green tape band, Shania has a red one. It makes for easier and quicker identifying during the fledge watch.

We are now about 6.5 weeks since I took those last shots. And though the watch has ended, I still visit the site, even momentarily every couple weeks. I see the young birds high above us and it's hard to tell who is who most times due to the height and angles. I've discovered a favorite roost of Layton's, or so I think, since I've found her there a number of times in the recent times. It warms my heart to see her doing so well (so are her siblings but this blog is about Layton).

I tell people that I know without any doubt Layton will be a recognized nesting mother in the next couple years, somewhere in North America. I only hope it's somewhere not too far off that we can go and visit our girl.

Please wish Layton all the best when she leaves home come fall migration!