Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

March 25, 2014

Sunday Prey

After a wonderful near full day at the Royal Botanical Gardens with the annual general meeting for the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society on Saturday March 22, we decided to spend Sunday at home with our critter family. It would give me many hours of backyard bird watching for "Project Feeder Watch". I had high hopes of great sightings since late Saturday we had 15 Common Grackles, 8 Red-winged Blackbirds and 2 American Robins which were welcomed additions to my normally less than 10 species to count during my count days.

The morning started out slow, a few Dark-eyed Juncos linger with us, not quite ready to fly north for nesting just yet. House Sparrows come popping out of the discarded Christmas tree along the fence line. One female Downy Woodpecker is at a suet feeder. And as I am quite used to this winter, the birds suddenly take off, and if a Downy Woodpecker is present, their option is to cling to the Lilac tree and sit still.

I scan the trees out back with the bins and locate our over wintering Sharp-shinned Hawk I've named "Shirley". In previous winters, this Hawk is gone by this time of March, headed off to wherever she may nest and not seen again until mid-October. This is her third winter with us. As I've said in a previous blog, I have no doubt this is the same Hawk because of the personality with this bird. She's very bold compared to any other bird of prey I've encountered out back. She parades her kills to me, she vocalizes to me some days, and very little spooks her from the yard except larger Hawks. I watched a Cooper's Hawk attack her in the apple trees one morning and ran her butt out of here. Of course as soon as the much larger Hawk saw me, it took off as well. Anyways...

Yep, there's Shirley up there in the tree, and she had that demeanor about her this morning that she was hungry. It was -19c with the winds, she needed to eat. I don't interfere with the Hawks like I used to in my early days of backyard birding, they play an important role out there weeding out the flocks. That old saying "survival of the fittest" is so true in the wild. Example... A Sharp-shinned Hawk a few years back caught a female House Finch at one of our feeders who was suffering from that terrible eye disease they can get. It was heart breaking to watch this little Finch with her eyes almost completely crusted over try and land on a bird feeder. Having a Hawk put her out of her misery was a blessing compared to eventually going completely blind and starving to death. I have a photo of the Finch somewhere, may have to try and find it before I publish this.

Of course I don't want any birds to get on the menu for another bird, but it's the way of the wild world. I always put my dibs on Starlings and House Sparrows over the couple Downy Woodpeckers or Northern Cardinals we have visiting us. So far it works out that way, having sometimes 30 or 40 of one species here compared to 1 or 2 of another.

I step outside for a better look at her. I haven't seen much of her the past month or more.

I walk to the back of the yard, looking for another angle, but with the position of the sun... nothing good for a photo.

Now with any other Hawk (so far), I would not be able to step outside, let alone walk the length of the yard and back, passing under the bird, and have it not fly away. Shirley barely takes notice to me and my doings.

I felt bad for the frozen Downy Woodpecker in the Lilacs but knew she was safe as long as she didn't move. I said "good luck" to both birds and went back inside.

Having a second cup of coffee now, still watching from the window, I see Shirley leave her perch, ignore the Downy in the Lilac and dive into the cedars next door. Sparrows are bursting out of the cluster of trees in every direction, a few Red-wings as well. I had an errand to run so I left them all to whatever was going on. I did see Mrs Downy finally make her escape as well.

Some 5 hours later, I decided to go outside and look for birds to practice flight shots on since I have a birds of prey photo shoot coming up in a couple weeks. A few people have given me some tips on settings for the camera that I want to try out. As I step outside all I can hear is Black-capped Chickadees freaking out. Well this is interesting because I've not seen/heard a Chickadee out back in over a month. I located 3 of them nattering away and bouncing from branch to branch at the back.

A little closer inspection, I find Shirley under the canopy of cedars that is right along our back fence line. She's up on her prep block as I call it. Someone years ago cut down one of the cedars and it's now a 12 foot high stump. Shirley uses this spot quite often after she catches a meal. She's plucking away quite happily at this bird in her talons. I suspect House Sparrow due to the size of it but maybe a Starling because the yellow legs seems rather long for a Sparrow. It's so hard to tell when they are in this state. I looked for primary feathers on the ground but couldn't spot any from where I stood, but lots of fluffy grey ones blowing around now as she kept plucking away.

I watched her for a bit, I took a bunch of photos. I left and got the smaller camera in hopes to video some of the action, which I did and you can view it here. I should have brought out the tripod and captured something clearer than this. I hope you don't get "sea sick" from the motion. And then I took some more photos.

After that last photo, I let her be to finish her meal. I took it as "the look".

And as she filled her belly and went for a nap, the other birds calmed down, and those darn little Chickadees left the scene again.

Not everyone likes a Hawk in their backyard but for a bird watcher, nature lover, it's great. Who needs television? A guy I work with asks me if I saw this or that on one of them wildlife channels and I always say "no" because I'm too busy experiencing what is out our backdoor to turn the tv on (and we don't get the channel anyway).

In recent weeks we've had some other birds of prey come for a visit. This one, a Merlin, was pretty spectacular and a first time ever reported for our home species list. He swooped in, scared the crap out of all the birds, and brought out a whack of screaming Blue Jays after him. The Merlin just sat there for a good 20 minutes on the neighbour's old tv tower, watching the birds, preened and then went off after something else.

A Cooper's Hawk comes around every now and then as I mentioned above. It's chasing Pigeons and drives Shirley out of here. We watched it a few weeks ago sit on the fence and look over the Christmas tree we have layed out back. The Hawk walked the fence rail, back and forth, looking for an opening or sight of a meal within. It then flew over to our Holly bush, landed on the ground and walked around the bush, trying to spot something in there as well. It finally took a dash into the Holly, hoping to flush something, but unfortunately for the Hawk, no birds were hiding within. He should have done that with the Christmas tree. It blows my mind how many little birds surface from it some mornings (Juncos and House Sparrows).

And the pair of Red-tails who have been in courtship recently can be seen working together on the Pigeons. One bird will fly in and flush the Pigeons, sometimes just taking it slow and easy it seems, and as the Pigeons scatter, the other bird swoops in and gives chase. It's pretty kick ass to watch although I dread to think it could be Pierre or one of my other friends.

You gotta accept that lots may come to you with a few bird feeders. You cannot pick and choose your species like some wish they could. Embrace the wild natural world and being able to see things with your own eyes as you breathe in the outside air. What are ya waiting for?

March 20, 2014

Why Blog?

Today is the first day of Spring and I sit here listening to the sounds of a Wood Thrush behind me... on a cd. As this winter just doesn't seem to want to go away and I look for the small signs in the natural world that Spring is indeed coming regardless of the snow and cold temperatures, I still push it a little more by playing bird song cds in the kitchen. The Wood Thrush is one of my favorite calls! Check this link for various Thrush songs, about halfway down is a few of the Wood Thrush.

But anyways, back to what this blog is really about. Why do I blog?

Well, this question gets asked every now and then. One of the main reasons a couple people have asked me is because they don't see a whole lot of feedback in the comments section below the blogs. Even one or two comments to them seems not worth the whole ordeal of typing out these tales and sharing photos.

I say that is why I do it. To share a story and photos, for family, friends, strangers, whoever. And these things are for me too. It's an online journal of my adventures out there with the wild ones. I don't go back to the stories very often, but once in a while something brings up one of these old stories of mine and I can revisit it or easily share it to another.

These people aren't on any social media either, so telling them the conversations that generate at these sites because of my stories isn't proof enough.

And interestingly enough, they don't seem to catch on that them talking to me about my blog, discussing some recent occurrence is feedback just like someone commenting on the blog site; even after I bring this up. LoL!

I get lots of praise from the stories. Sometimes I get negative feedback. Sometimes something I've shared suddenly changes a person's view of me. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. I take it all in stride. So here's something for those who ask me why I blog since they don't always see what's going on outside of this page.

In the past year I've shared this blog a few times through other blogs called Through The Eyes of a Saw-whet. As I logged in today, it's gotten another 30 hits this week. I've been told I am passionate, creative and a few have said I'm borderline crazy. Maybe I am a little of all three? But whatever the case may be, it's brought to light some of the don'ts regarding mingling with Northern Saw-whet Owls in the wild.

Sweet little sleepy Sam.

This more recent tale of helping out a dying cat in the middle of the road brought out a lot of emotions in people. One told me to post a warning before I share such a story as it brought them to tears. Why I Didn't Like This Monday. I heard from others saying they weren't sure they could do what I did that night. Some newcomers to my blog realized I'm more than just a long haired guy who likes metal music and a couple shots of whiskey every week. That last bit comes up often as people get to know me through my blog and social media pages. Funny how in this day and age some people still judge a book by it's cover.

This is a very powerful image of that night. And I hope someone out there decided to not let their kitty out the next evening after seeing it.

This story from late in 2013, to the rescue again (sort of) once again proved I may be a little crazy WITH passion. The most common comment I heard was "yer crazy messing with a Raccoon!" My only reply ever is "How could I not try and help?" Indeed Raccoons can be quite vicious creatures and they have a very bad reputation for being destructive; but they are just trying to survive outside in a world overtaken by humans and constant development. They are clever, crafty creatures and you got to commend them for adapting. Don't get pissed off because they dumped your green bin on the sidewalk. Be smart, don't put the bin out until the morning of pick-up. Secure your green bin wherever you store it. We use an old car battery on ours, out on our front porch. We've never had an issue. Regularly inspect the exterior of your home for signs of tampering or possible entry from wildlife. Don't act like it will never happen to you and then blow your lid when it does. But as I said above, "how could I not try and help?" This animal was badly injured. I had the highest of hopes for him, but in the end him being humanely put down was far better than how much more pain and suffering he would endure outside as winter rolled in.

Look at that face. I was a little intimidated by the sounds he made during my attempt to capture him but I wasn't giving up. I am by no means a trained professional but am chocked full of common sense and was fortunate enough to have a cage sitting in the shed that assisted me in catching him that night. Without that cage, I don't think I could have done it. Actually I know I could not have done it.

As much positive feedback I got from helping this Raccoon, there was negative too from the soulless cold hearts that see nothing but vermin with a Raccoon.

And that word vermin comes up as well with my pal Pierre and his gang. Pigeons = flying rats. Useless city birds that shit on everything and are good for nothing. I guess crazy and passionate come into play here once again. I've been warned many times of the disease carrying varmints those birds can be. Nothing a good hand washing after their visits don't take care of. It's not like I hand feed Pierre and then grab a sandwich right away. Sheesh! It's pretty cool how he walked into our lives one day, chose us, no coaxing with food, and has hung around all this time.

Pierre last week, March 12th, with hopefully the last big snow storm of the season.

And one more story that sent ripples through the realm was this one about a celebrity raptor in south western Ontario. A Red-tailed Hawk that one can pretty much go up and give a pat on the head. I never even said anything about anyone, just my experience, what I felt. But I guess it shows my stand on somethings dealing with humans and wildlife, and with that, it seems some have taken a step back from me, as unfortunate as it is. While no real discussions have been made their actions speak louder than words from this as they distance themselves from me. Apparently I might be a bit of a buzz kill with photographers who enjoy such shenanigans with wild birds of prey. What can I say? You go your way, I will go mine. I guess they are proof to this Beautiful Hawk, Ugly People story.

The blood spilled from other living creatures, shown across the face of this Hawk, came from humans all in the name of getting a photograph.

I want to end this on a high note. Many may recall that banded female American Goldfinch from late last summer who was visiting our nyjer feeders. That was one heck of a great story to many in the birding world. I Got Her Number. I shared the adventure almost from day 1 of spotting her until the day I got her full band number and was able to report her. Friends and strangers alike cheered me on through this, and many felt like they were right there in the backyard for this adventure. I was crazy to spend so much time and take so many photos of her legs to get those numbers, but there's that passionate bit as well. People were on the edge of their seats as I got closer and closer to getting the full number. And when it was over, there was a big HOORAY across the birding world, er, those around me in the birding world, and those who followed me through social media as I got it. Once again, another adventure that got people talking. No negativity this time and even those not really into birds were quite impressed and interested. It made others open their eyes a little more to the birds visiting their backyards because you never know when you may too have a banded bird show up at your feeder. And I like to think I've inspired others to try and get that band number in the future. I still remember the banding people I told this tale to and each and every one of them was so happy to know she was alive and well.

So while there isn't always a comment under a blog of mine; there's still much activity because of the stories. I like the discussion one might bring up. It's so cool when someone out of the blue comes up and talks to me about one of the tales. I'm surprised they read it and happy to chat about it. I will engage the negative ones as well. In the end people learn more about me, but more importantly about the wild world around us, not needing to even leave their own town or backyard to experience it. I learn about others because of my blog, both good and bad. Those I seldom speak to discovering we have something in common, or they just want to thank me for the stories and seeing what I see. If someone turns off the television and goes outside, looks at a bird, gets online to ID it, maybe suddenly finds themselves buying a bird guide for the future sightings, perhaps volunteering with one of the many organizations around us, maybe opening up their wallet and making a donation, comes up and talks to me about these things, maybe develops a new friendship because of this stuff... then it's all worth it to me. If none of it, it's an online journal for me, great reminders as time goes by of things I've seen or done, and so far almost all so close to home.

March 7, 2014

My New Friend

Winter rolls along, the bird activity at home is very sporadic. I miss the days of constant flow at the feeders, having double digits of American Goldfinch, more than one pair of Northern Cardinals, White Breasted Nuthatches, etc. Even the masses of Starlings kept things interesting. I guess that's life, things change for one reason or another, and so have I.

Most know I've done a complete turn around on my feelings towards Pigeons. No longer are they a nuisance and just Hawk food. As most are aware, one Pigeon we named "Pierre" changed all that some time ago.

Pierre and I have a unique bond that has built up over time. He was the one who broke the barriers that summer morning back in 2012 by walking up to Angie and I, and landing in our laps.

But in the last 6 months, some of his flock have caught on to the game of getting good grub from my hand. Pierre's lady Maggie was next in line, followed by Jesse, an early arrival couple named Walter and Skye. Jesse wasn't a take on Breaking Bad at first, it was just a unisex name. Then we got hooked on the show last summer and later on came along the Walter/Skye couple who feed together so nicely. I've got Norman New Guy or maybe it's Norma New Girl. And then there's the Ginger Kid. A reddish Pigeon who has been around twice as long as Pierre that I can recall. Yep, everyone is catching on.

There's more who've come and gone in the last while, not sure where they all go. Hawks get 'em? Or they just have other feeding stations to hit through the day. I like to believe it's the second one for all of them but who really knows. Pierre has lengthy absences in the colder months or when the Hawks do a few attacks. He was last seen on Monday and later that morning a Coopers Hawk did a bold attack on one Pigeon right in front of me out on the back deck. Since then, the regulars in the flock have not come around. A pair of courting Red-tails in the 'hood are adding to the dangers.

But a few lone birds fly in and one has got my attention.

Surely he's been around with the others and I've not noticed him. But with everyone else gone, he's coming after me whenever we cross paths. What I really notice about this bird is how much of a light weight he is compared to Pierre. No stock on this one at all. And when I rub my fingers along his front, all I feel is skin and bones under those feathers.

I'm sure it's a matter of time with him coming to me before he's got some bulk to him.

Those photos were from yesterday, March 6th, my first encounter with him.

Today has been a real quiet morning. I'm not sure what threat is around but there have been no birds stopping in. The Squirrels have been crying much of the time. Jays are screaming a few houses over. But as noon rolls around, this guy shows up again. He's on the same clock as Pierre. As soon as I step outside, raise my hand, he's on me.

He eats and eats and cleans my hand right up till there's nothing but seed dust. Then flies back to the clothes line rail and waits for another handful. We go through this a few times.

Yesterday upon doing this belly rub, he would nip at my fingers.  Today...  no problem.

It's funny how my fingers disappear under his feathers.  That doesn't happen with Pierre.

I should post a Pierre in hand pic like this to show the difference in size between the two birds.

The way he sits on my hand is different too. He squats right down over the food, like he's protecting it.

I'm sure Pierre will be around again soon and it will be interesting to see these two mingle. I know Pierre is gonna give him a beating. I'll have to feed one in each hand, probably spread my arms apart. We went through the same thing with Jesse.

So, meet my new friend. Name yet to be given. Ta daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

March 5, 2014

2013 Year In Review

I started this blog at the end of January 2014 and it's now the beginning of March. Some long hours in this blog, and a few times I just left it aside as I birded, nursed a cold or life just got in the way. Well, it's done now, it's long with a lot of links to other blogs, other sites, lots of pictures and I hope you enjoy stepping into my world for the year of 2013 with the animals. It's been a fun blog for me, re-visiting many moments, some just so brief but still did something for me, my day or the creatures around me. Grab a hot beverage, it's still negative double digits out there, and read on...

Here we are nearing the end of the first month of 2014.  I thought I should do a year in review of 2013 before it becomes a total blur.  Even as I key this, my memory fades of the past year as it was filled with highs and lows...  or maybe that's just my brain frozen as we continue this deep freeze here in Toronto?

January.  The year sure started off right with some amazing views of Snowy Owls for Angie and I on New Years Day. 

My battle with the selfish idiots and the uneducated continued on with trying to protect a little over wintering Northern Saw-whet Owl I named Sam.  Such worrisome frustrating times but through this I got my voice.  No longer do I just shake my head and walk away, I will speak up for those that cannot speak for themselves.  It blows my mind how many people are so misguided with wildlife, thinking it's quite okay to shove your smart phone in an Owl's face and spend long periods of time with it.  I blogged about it here and its had many readers the last year.  Some think I am a little crazy while others see the passion.

February.  Once again Angie and I are on a birding trip with our friends Jim and Lynda.  We head to Algonquin Park for a weekend.  It was a very pleasant winter getaway.  We had our best views of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks ever!  The coolest thing though was seeing this partial leusistic Black-capped Chickadee on Opeongo Road.  We met the bird the year before, so it was a nice reunion with him.

We always have such a blast in Algonquin.  The look on Angie's face is testimony to that.

I also made a trip to a very popular area in South Western Ontario for raptors out of curiosity.  It was a rainy Tuesday morning, not a human to be seen, and I was greeted by a Snowy Owl.  How cool but so odd to see this Owl, first he's out in the field, but as soon as I parked my truck and got out, the bird came flying right towards me and landed behind the truck about 20 feet away.  He sat there for a few minutes staring at me and then flew back out to the field.  Gee, I wonder why he acted this way?  *insert sarcasm*

And I cannot forget the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count from 2013 where Moonie and I ended up in the Toronto Star promoting the event.  See blog here.

March.  Angie and I had a lifer with this Western Grebe that spent a few weeks along the shores of Lake Ontario in Col. Sam Smith Park at Kipling and Lakeshore.

I finally saw my first and only Long-eared Owls of that winter; big thanks to a tip from a birding friend out in the east end of the city.  You rock Phil!

We attended the Ontario Eastern Bluebird Society's annual conference. This was a special one, being their 25th year. We didn't plan on staying the whole day there but found ourselves unable to leave, we had a blast with all these "blue birders". I tell ya, the $15 annual membership fee is worth the admission to this annual conference at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

As March was coming to a close, I embarked on a trip out west to Alberta where I met Angie out there who had arrived a few days earlier to spend time with her brother Jeff and his family.  The trip almost did not happen as I had been terribly ill for a couple weeks.  Some stupid bug that just wouldn't give up.  Anyways, I made it out there, and had an enjoyable couple days with them.  Almost 10 years with Angie and finally met these fine people.

So, with the Alberta trip I got a lifer in way of seeing some Magpies.  The Prairie Pigeon as they refer to them.  Bohemian Waxwings were a plenty in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  I guess the biggest highlight was Angie and I introducing them all to hand feeding Black-capped Chickadees, something none of them had ever experienced before.  It was great!  Everyone had a blast. 

Auntie Angie loved seeing her nieces get that Chickadee feeling!

I also took notice to the Northern Flickers out their way being red-shafted while here in Ontario we have the yellow-shafted.  It took some time before I caught on to the red mustache.

We also enjoyed the antics of a number of Richardson's Ground Squirrels.  I thought they were just Gophers.  LoL!

Our pal Jimmy up at the Humber Arboretum built Angie and I a birdhouse. He called it a late wedding gift. We love it. In March, when the ground was softening a bit, I joined Jimmy out in the meadow and helped put the bird house up. I watched over it through the Spring and Summer. I discovered a House Wren had made a nest in it but apparently the female will choose one of his many nest spots created, and the rest get abandoned. Oh well, maybe next year.

April.  The sights of Spring are a plenty around us now.

This American Robin showed up in the yard again.  He announced his presence to me one morning, like he's done the last few Springs.  And we enjoyed many days of me tossing blueberries out to him and his mate.  I got a kick out of watching them chase the rolling blueberries across the grass.  And it made me happy to help them out in this difficult time where it's still a little too cold some days for them to find worms and bugs, and very little fruit left over from the winter. He's made the blog before, see here.

Turtles started showing up in the ponds nearby.  A number of Painted Turtles; and I got to view a pair of mating Snapping Turtles too.  Prehistoric and barbaric can only describe the *ahem* deed.

Our resident Chipmunk woke up.

We started seeing Warblers again. Here's a Pine Warbler that Angie and I saw on a snowy cold morning.

Pierre got himself a girlfriend we named Maggie. And I swear that's little Jesse in the background taking notes.  Note...  Jesse at this point had not been known, not landed in my hand, etc.

Pierre is great company most days.

And we started seeing babies like this Great Horned Owl nest.

And lots of goslings in the parks.

A new yard species showed at the end of April.  Purple Finch!  He hung around with us for close to 2 weeks.

And our partial leusistic female House Sparrow we call "Snowflake" came back for another season.  How odd that she migrated, or so it seems, disappearing from October of 2012 until April 2013.  I didn't think any House Sparrows would leave for the winter.

May. Hoo boy! I don't have to think too hard about this one. Pelee National Park and all the Warblers. Once again we visited the park in May with Jim and Lynda (almost a tradition), and had many run ins with our good friend Dave who was always 2 steps ahead of us. He became more like a scout in the days we were there. It was a cold early May and the birds were low, struggling really as they tried to find food. We'd seen hundreds of birds out on the tip, the beach was littered with a variety of species of Swallows trying to take in the rays. So bizarre. There are far too many moments from that trip to post here. I'm picking three highlights to share here...

Blackburnian Warblers all over the park, and right in our faces! I love these fiery looking little birds.

We saw at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. Wow factor or what, eh?

A lifer we had as well with this banded Piping Plover strolling the beach.

Meanwhile at home, this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak stopped in for a few days during his migration. I believe this is the third year we've had such a species, and two years ago there were 3 of them visiting at once!

We took our good friend Patty Gale to Ruthven Historical Park for her very first time where she got to see the banding station in action, pick up a few lifers, and get to release a couple Sparrows. Patty was over the moon with joy! And that warmed our hearts to see her like this.

We were delighted to see the Baltimore Orioles had returned to spend another summer with us!

Oh, so many highs already. It was only a matter of time when a low would come and it did. On May 22nd our birding bud and good friend Frank Butson, aka: Big Frank passed away.

It was a sudden passing which shocked and saddened so many in the birding community, not just locally but globally. We all miss him and many of us have some great story involving Frank. Here is mine.

I got my first Tick bite ever! Little bastard was sucking on the back of my leg all day before I came home and Angie spotted him. He was quite full and not willing to let go of my flesh. But I got him, all of him. And this all happened when I was viewing this Screech Owl in a park near us. I overheard some pissed off Robins in the bush, upon closer inspection I found this Owl and I recon the Tick hopped on to me and went for a feed.

May also included us participating in a Chimney Swift watch at Moss Park with some fine people from Bird Studies Canada. There were hundreds of birds going to roost in this chimney downtown! But it seemed like they were never going to bed. We left long after dark and the Swifts were still out and about, snagging insects in the park, most likely due to the baseball game and the lights over the diamond.

Through the early months of 2013 we befriended a lovely cat the neighbours named Smudge. He was homeless, most likely abandoned. I can't see it any other way because of how lovable and affectionate this big hairy kitty was. It was in May that I really amped up my attempts to find him a home.

Meadow was having no part of Smudge being with us.

I blogged about Smudge a number of times especially as I tried so hard to get him in a home.

We made a trip out to the Carden Plain near Kirkfield, Ontario. An important bird area north/east of Toronto. We usually visit Wylie Road once per Spring and enjoy Bluebird, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrow sightings to name a few. This time around it seemed to be the year of the Eastern Bluebird, much to my delight. The only thing I found frustrating was the amount of broken tree branches wedged in/around the Bluebird nest boxes that obviously some photographers placed in hopes for more natural unobstructed photos. And a few people parked themselves mere feet from one nest box on Wylie Road, which intimidated the adult male while he hunted and tried to feed his young. We saw many times he was too spooked to enter the nest box with a mouth full of insects for the kids with people situated outside his house with their cameras. *sigh* I did find a quieter spot along the road, the nest box on private property and we enjoyed watching the adults from the side of the road.

We hit Toronto Islands one cool Saturday with our friends Dave and Andi. Highlight was spotting a juvi Bald Eagle!

A Song Sparrow joined our gang of feathered friends for a week or so. I love the call of the Song Sparrow and many mornings I could hear him outside singing his song. We never had a SOSP visit our backyard before (that we know of).

And as May came to a close, Peregrine Falcons had been hatching young birds everywhere. Angie attended the Etobicoke Sunlife nest site banding ceremony, the site Frank watched over the last few years, and got to witness the banding and naming of one Big Frank.

Little did I know how involved I was going to become in the Falcon fledge watch this year.

June.  Peregrine Falcon fledge watch kicks off.  The number of nest sites grows across Ontario.  But we have a main focus on the one close to us at Islington and Bloor; and occasionally helping out at Osler hospital in Rexdale.  It was a watch for me unlike any other in the past.  I saw amazing things with one young bird named Layton.  I felt a lot of emotion for the one young bird named Big Frank.  I concerned myself so much over little Shania as she collided with the reflective glass far too many times in her early weeks of flight.  And then there was sweet little Lizzie.  She was the first Falcon I ever did a rescue for.  I never even blogged about it because the watch carried on for many weeks and there was so much uncertainty with Lizzie's outcome that I just didn't get around to that tale.  I really should, there will never be another first Peregrine Falcon rescue for me.

The only picture I took of the rescue.  Lizzie is safe inside the carrier in the back, covered with a dark towel.

I wish all of them well, like I do every year.  But 2013, they all touched me more than ever before.  I expect to see Layton appear somewhere in the next year or two, taking up a nest site somewhere in North America.  This bird was a super star!  I only hope her confidence at such a young age does not get the best of her.  Time will tell.  You can check her tale here in this blog.

I had been searching for Raccoon families since late May without any sightings in my usual known spots previous years.  But doing evening watches at the Falcon site, I unexpectedly found two families nearby.  I love them Raccoons!

I almost forgot this one. We took part in the release of 5 young Red Fox returning back to the wild. Their den was in a construction site and sadly the mother abandoned the den with all the goings on. The Fox are small, but after some months in the care of a wildlife rehabber, there was nothing more that could be done for them except turn them free. They were all very good at hunting on their own, catching live rodents. Red Fox have been an elusive species for me to see ever since I got my new camera and the 500mm lens. This was such a heart warming experience and we all wished the little bums a healthy long life as they took their dash for freedom.

July.  Summer is typically a lot of time at home.  It's just too hot to do much, the birds are well hidden now with the foliage and we just love spending as much time out in the backyard as we can.  The Budgies love it too!

A Common Grackle stops by to say "hello" to Misfit and Moonie.

And I like to break out the macro lens and look for insects and arachnids around the property.  So much to discover in our own backyard through the warm months, microscopic creatures every where.

I was quite excited to find a Black Jumping Spider on our front door one afternoon.  Here he is sitting on the hood for my lens.  Small spider compared to one I saw a few years ago but I was thrilled none the less.

Another jumping Spider species sitting on a dime.

July holds some important milestones.  Like Meadow turned 10.  She goes for her annual on her birthday and we were so happy to have a clean bill of health for our little girl, and she lost a few pounds, bringing her back into a proper weight for a cat her size and age.  Yippee!

And here's a funny one, Pierre's one year anniversary is right around Meadow's birthday.  I remember him showing up in 2012, the day Meadow was in the vet for her annual.  Pretty cool our Pigeon buddy had hung around with us for a solid year now.  He did have some sort of breakdown early in the month.  I do believe something terrible happened to his lady friend Maggie as she disappeared.  Pierre's whole demeanor changed for about 3 weeks.  He was skittish and not really eating.  But he got over it and is back to being his old self and a lone bird amongst the flock.  Nobody else at this point was getting the special food and treatment like he enjoys.

I was still spending time down at the Falcon nest site watching over everyone.  Like I said, this watch went on and on.  I suppose I could have left the birds but there was much involved this year.  Layton and Shania were seen less and less come late July.  Frank was a bit of a momma's boy it seemed.  And Lizzie was trying to catch up to her siblings in developing skills to go out on her own before fall migration.

We had started noticing some growing Raccoon families in our neighbourhood by mid-July. There was 2 families for sure, one with a mom and 3 young, another mom with 2 young, plus a couple larger loners wandering around. Wow, at least 9 prowling our backyards at night. We were seeing Skunks too. At least 2 adults and 1 young.

One young Raccoon we named "Sniffy" as he wasn't shy and liked to come up and give us a sniff.

Lastly, I was visiting Smudge at Toronto Animal Services in Etobicoke every couple weeks. One day in July, I stepped in for an update and to give him a scratch under his chin when I learned he was adopted along with another older cat. Hoo ray!

I hated seeing him like this.

August.  As the CNE nears, we are seeing the signs of summer coming to an end already, fall migration is brewing up slowly.  Our Orioles have multiplied with younger birds coming in for feedings.  A lovely female Ruby-throated Hummingbird arrives to the backyard, much to our delight.  It's interesting how we do not get these birds until the fall migration each year.  I guess it's better than no Hummingbird sightings.

We participated in a Common Nighthawk watch with Bird Studies Canada at High Park late in the month.  It was incredible to see all the Nighthawks flying about an hour before dusk.  I forget what the count came to, someone said 80 approx.  I stopped counting at 25.  I was enjoying the birds too much.

A mostly quiet August with one milestone being Moonie's 2nd year anniversary with us.  Wow!  Seems longer than that really.  I still wonder where these Budgies come from, flying in to our yard out of the blue (pun intended).

I discovered an Orange Sulphur visiting our Butterfly bush. It's the first one I recognized on our property ever.

And for the last two years I had been observing a Peregrine Falcon near my work. I was making reports to our good friend Tracy at Canadian Peregrine Foundation about the bird(s). Unfortunately the ledges she sat upon were too high up to get any band ID's with my camera but I still tried. Around the middle of August I spotted her lower on the Revenue Canada building, and then to my excitement another bird flew in. They were both quite vocal and active! I immediately called Tracy and over the weekend her and Bruce spent many hours at this site. To their surprise they ended up with 3 birds! One being confirmed as Midnight, who has a nest site up Hurontario at the Brampton courthouse. The others were a young male named Ossie who was banded in 2012 at the Rexdale site being William Osler hospital. And the third was another female named Alfrieda from Buffalo area I believe. I need to check the records to be certain. I could never tell the birds apart so I would always say "there's the Pepsi Peregrine" or "Ms Pepsi" even though they weren't on the Pepsi plant, but close enough, and since me, the Pepsi worker is observing them... it works for me!

Meanwhile on the other end of the city. At the Peregrine site in Don Mills, a while back, the resident male Kendal had some kind of major mishap and ended up being rescued. He spent some time at Toronto Wildlife Centre, and then moved down to The Owl Foundation. To this day, he's still in recovery and it's not certain what his outcome is going to be. But in his absence, much to the disapproval of some it seems, a young male Peregrine Falcon arrived on scene and befriended Lady Quest. While we wish all the best for Kendal, we couldn't contain our excitement for this new young male. His name is Skye. He was hatched in 2011 at our Etobicoke site. And Skye was one of the first family of Falcons that Angie and I helped watch over during fledge watch. So to see one of the young from that year survive on his own the last couple years, going wherever his wings took him, is freaking amazing to us! The Harlequin pair is quite popular with Falcon watchers and the media. Here is one article.

Skye gives us a wave after not being seen for 2 years.

September. The dog days of summer are pretty much over now. *sigh* While we dislike the high humidity, we sure miss the days of lounging out back in the shade with our critters. And it's funny, with Fall migration upon us now, things start getting a little more interesting once again.

We noticed more Baltimore Orioles visiting our feeders. To our surprise, one adult male was banded!

He was only around for a few days and I never got his full band number. I called in the partial and got that he was banded in 2012, here in southern Ontario, either at Long Point or Prince Edward Point bird observatories.

And during the Oriole's visit, a female American Goldfinch showed up at the nyjer feeders. She was banded as well! Holy moly! Two banded birds at our feeders! We never noticed any banded birds before. This was so cool. I lucked out with her as she spent many days with us. I spent a lot of time, taking a lot of pictures of this bird, focusing in on her leg with the band. It took me about 10 days and 700+ photographs but I finally put her ID number together. What a thrill to be able to report this bird to the world of bird banders! And what a thrill for many of them to discover this little girl was alive and well. Normally reported bands on songbirds come from ones found dead. It was a great tale and a great read to those that have an interest in the birds. Check it out here.

It was a lot of work to get those numbers. I wish I had a band here to show you all just how tiny it is. But it was so worth it in the end, and I'm quite proud of myself with this one. The joy from others was a bonus.

We visited The Owl Foundation for their annual open house. It was a nice to see the operation once again, hear the stories of what's happened in the last year, see the resident Snowy Owls had 5 chicks this year, and of course it was awesome to see Kay. She was in great spirits and I had another interesting one on one with her. Most people who meet Kay have some special story to share, she's quite a character.

The Hummingbird visits continued almost regularly through September. This was the most action we've ever had with Hummingbirds. I can't say how many birds we had or if it was the same one coming and going. Whichever, it was great!

Angie and I did a trip to Algonquin Park for a celebration of my birthday and more importantly a belated honeymoon. We stayed at Killarney Lodge. She did a great re-telling of it here.

We had fun with the many Chipmunks that visited our cabin. And we saw our first Bull Moose that weekend; actually the first real good view of any Moose in the park. I blogged about that Moose adventure here. He gave Angie quite the scare.

I finally met Angie's dad, her uncle and his family as well in September. It was long over due, since we're nearing 10 years together. But with Angie's dad in Nova Scotia, us here in Ontario, and neither of us wanting to travel much... that's how it goes. We had a great visit in the quaint little town of Gananoque Ontario.

Upon first arrival to her uncle's place, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker on the property line. How cool is that? We seldom see Pileateds in our area.

And of course, another milestone this month that I could not forget... Misfit had her 6th year anniversary with us on September 17th! I still think about the day the egg broke inside her and we had a very touch and go situation. The blog I did about her is still one of my most popular according to the stats. It's still in the top 5 ever read, titled "Send Misfit Some Love". If you never read it, perhaps click on this link and send her some? She's a very special bird to us and has had quite the life.

Last bits in September found me setting up a Wood Duck nest box in the backyard. No, I don't expect Wood Ducks out there but the house is also suitable for Screech Owls, American Kestrels, Great Crested Flycatchers (all nest in our area) but I'll be happy if a Squirrel moves into it. Driving the post nearly 3 feet into the ground by myself led to a bad accident with my left index finger meeting the hammer. Let's just say I thought I was going to pass out from the pain, then I thought I was going to throw up, I never yelled, screamed or did anything... just kept at the task and was determined to have it set up. Nearly 6 months later, my nail is almost normal once again. The pain went on for a good 7 weeks. I hope my blood, sweat and near tears with this brings something awesome one day. No photos of the box right now, hoping to present it to you all with some news of something living inside it.

I was thrilled to find 5 Monarch Butterflies on our butterfly bush out front a few afternoons before going to work. No photos as I was leaving the house, no camera. As many of you know, there has been a huge decline in this species. I barely saw any all summer so to see this many at once was heart warming. The situation worsens unfortunately and it will be sad to think one day very soon, there may be no more Monarchs fluttering about our gardens in the days of summer. A news clip here.

October. I hope you are still with me here.

I enjoyed the sights of over a dozen Wood Ducks at a pond near our house. They seem to congregate here before leaving our area for the coming winter. We normally have 3 or 4 weeks of these birds in the ponds before they are gone. Such a beautiful Duck!

Our not so friendly, but oh so bold Sharp-shinned Hawk returned for another season. This is the third year that this bird has returned to hunt our 'hood. I have no doubts it is the same bird just by her character alone. She is fearless compared any other Hawk I've encountered. She could care less about my presence outside and occasionally flies to me with her kills, parading them over my head. I've named her Shirley. She's made life hell for the birds out back but have I got some stories about her through it.

We met our friends from the Canadian Peregrine Foundation on Thanksgiving weekend at the Woodbridge Fall Fair. It was nice to see everyone, both birds and human. Angie and I got to mingle with their newest educational bird Tiguaq the Snowy Owl. Who doesn't love Snowy Owls?

Where's Angie?

I was taking in the last of the warm evenings, spending many of them out back on the deck. I joked about my Whiskey Wednesday celebrations with the Raccoons. They were quite used to our presence by this time and Sniffy would often come up and say "hello". One night I nodded off in the chair and was awoken to him licking my leg. I'm glad I didn't jump and freak out because that could have spooked him and who knows what could have happened next?

The Skunks were around nightly as well. While winter is still 2 months away, everyone is preparing for it, fattening up the cold months ahead.

The 'Possums were seen a lot as well. One I called "Big Momma" as she is huge! And there was a little wee one too. I blogged about them here. We certainly were loving all the nocturnal mammals presenting themselves to us this Fall.

And with Fall, the leaves were falling, and I got into cleaning up the backyard, and the eavestroughs too. One morning I decided to play Hercules or something, moving a 28 ft ladder by myself (Featherlite does not mean light as a feather), and as I struggled to position the ladder up against the back of the house, working under pine, my shoulder snapped and put me in some serious pain for the next few weeks. Work became a thing of the past for the next 7.5 weeks. I had many trips to the doctor, physio and even emergency. I slowed the animal adventures somewhat but not entirely.

Nearing the end of October we surprised our friends Chris and Andrea with a trip to Mountsberg Raptor Centre and gave them a gift in way of a private raptor encounter. Andrea loves Owls and all wildlife really so she was beyond thrilled with the moment. Chris, maybe not quite as passionate as Andrea, but indeed a lover of all things and strong beliefs in respecting the creatures around us, totally enjoyed meeting some of Mountsberg's birds of prey. And of course Angie and I loved the encounter as well, we always do... usually doing them once or twice a year just to hang with our friends and catch up. Angie did a great blog about the morning, give it a read here.

Whenever I visited in previous years, the little Eastern Screech Owl I always mingled with was Otis. Unfortunately Otis passed on a little while ago. He looked so grumpy with his one eye but everyone loved the little bum. So, we all got a moment with "Angie's Owl" Echo. I love Screech Owls, they are a treasure to find in the wild. Having one sit on my hand for a little bit is awesome since I don't get that anywhere that close to them in the wild.

We came home from Mountsberg, my shoulder in agony and was ready to ice it when the backyard activity got my attention. To my surprise and delight, there was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings in our Holly bush! We see them Waxwings high up in our trees but never have they come down this low. I always hope the baths would entice them but it never happens. So this was a thrill for me. Unfortunately I wasn't using my big lens at the time because of my shoulder, so I worked with a much smaller lens from the respectable distance I keep from the birds. Not quite stellar photos to be had, but that's okay, it was an awesome moment and a first for us and these birds at home so the pictures in my head will always be better.

A bit later I was pulled out back again as I noticed something very large in one of the trees down back. A monster sized Red-tailed Hawk just chilling out. Once again, small lens, super crop job of the beast is shown here. And the only reason I am posting this is because RTHAs aren't unusual around here, but this was a first for me as she had caught one of our Squirrels and had him for lunch. I've seen a lot of birds end up on the lunch list out there due to the Hawks but never a Squirrel before. And as this winter moves along, while I am keying this, it wasn't the only Squirrel to meet the same fate.

November. I saw my first Northern Saw-whet Owl of the season. I felt joy and couldn't stop some sorrow and concern as the memories of the people who harassed little Sammy last winter were still quite fresh in my mind.

One morning after my physio exercises I went for a walk in one of the nearby parks. I got myself a coffee, grabbed my bins and left the camera at home. Well wouldn't you know it, a little Screech Owl I see occasionally through the year presented himself to me. He was sunning himself in a cavity he's been known to roost in! I blogged about that moment because it put my head and heart in various places. I was so happy to see the bird but cursed myself for not bringing my camera. See blog here.

While I was off work nursing my shoulder injury, I allowed myself one day a week for a little road tripping and spotting birds out of our local area... but not too far.

I was happy to see this red-morph Eastern Screech Owl in Burlington.

Another trip Burlington way, I visited Bronte Creek and was delighted at the number of Eastern Bluebirds I saw about the park. I think the count was 9 including some banded males.

Meanwhile at home...

Squirrels were still enjoying the Halloween pumpkins out back, filled with nuts and birdseed.

Red-breasted Nuthatches returned to our feeders almost like clock work for another season with us.

We took notice to a little gray Squirrel out back who stood out from the rest. He had some eye injury, walked a little funny and we thought with the eye condition it effected his ability to get around like walk a straight line. We named him "Sideways Sam". Over the next few days we did our best for little SS. We ensured he got a good feeding daily, protected him from the other Squirrels who knew something was wrong with him and made his life hell at times. Sam took refuge in the crook of one of our pines right outside the backdoor and this is where we found him most mornings waiting for a feed, or just hanging on the back deck when I was outside.

I blogged about Sam twice. First is after the first days of seeing him in our yard, see here. And again not too long after, when I caught him in a trap I borrowed from Toronto Wildlife Centre, and learned of his outcome. See here. I'm feeling sad now as I re-read this blog. It prompted me to create this piece below using an older photo of mine. I love this shot!

But there was good this month as well in ways of another animal rescue. Someone had a lost little blue Budgie visiting their feeders through October and I came out one day to try and help the man catch the bird. My attempts failed but I left a bird cage with Howie and a couple days later he caught her. Long story short, putting word out on social media, someone we lightly knew stepped up and brought the Budgie into her flock. Things are going great and they love the little bird so much. Big blog here about little Belle if you are curious about her story.

Angie and I, along with our friends Jim and Lynda at the Etobicoke Wild Birds Unlimited store, helped Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge with a fundraiser to hopefully build a couple songbird aviaries. Angie did a great job of covering that day in her blog, see here. We raised almost $1000 by that night as donations still came in online after the event was over.

And on the last day of November, being our 1 year anniversary, we found ourselves in quite an adventure that day. Once again, Angie did a great re-telling of the day. Perhaps the title itself will intrigue you to check it out? Our Snowy Owl Anniversary. See here.

I think this is a lovely wedding anniversary photo of us with our friend Alex the Great Horned Owl.

Little did I know with that Snowy Owl we took down to The Owl Foundation (see Angie's blog above), that we were in the beginning days of a major Snowy Owl invasion (irruption).

December! The year is almost over, and so is this monster sized blog of mine. I hope you are still with me.

I finally was able to return work. I sat back and couldn't believe how fast those 7.5 weeks just flew right by. I'd rather have good health and go to work over being in pain at home.

Anyways, I made another trip to The Owl Foundation early in the month; this time taking down a little Northern Saw-whet Owl. I blogged about the morning here.

I rescued another backyard critter from a miserable painful life. It was quite a task to catch this Raccoon in the darkness after work. And the noises that came from this creature not wanting to be caught would be enough to scare most people away from helping him. I blogged his story here. This one pains me as much as Sideways Sam but I know that this was the best thing for the animal even as much as I didn't like the outcome.

Look at that face...

We met the Rosetta Hawk Watch gang at East Side Marios in the east end of Toronto for a Christmas lunch. It was great to see our friends from out that way, who we don't see very often. We met them all thanks to our pal Big Frank. I won't post any pics of the gang since I'm not keen on posting peoples photos without their permission. I always look forward to the end of summer when we re-visit the park for the watch, the birds and the butterflies, and of course the people. It's a great social gathering!

Christmas is just around the corner, the house is decorated and Meadow is quite excited.

I had taken in a number of Snowy Owl sightings this month. It was awesome and I was getting a little competitive with myself, hoping to beat my record from the 2011/12 irruption of 13 Snowy Owls that I saw. By the end of the month I was already at #7. I think my favorite Snowy story from December is this one here. It seemed to generate a lot of comments from friends through Facebook and Twitter too.

I was happy to be able to share a Snowy Owl sighting with our friends Chris and Andrea. It was their first Snowy Owl in the wild and they were thrilled with the experience. The bird was a few hundred feet out in a marina but they appreciated the experience none the less. Watching others have their first with an Owl or other cool bird is refreshing.

The snow came early and it came hard. The bad weather brought in some new birds to visit us. One being this Northern Mockingbird, who really isn't a new bird species, but we've never had one visit in the winter and make our project feeder watch counts.

And a small flock of American Tree Sparrows hung out with us for a number of weeks. A new yard species in every sense that we know of. So cool to have these sweet little birds visit us!

The big ice storm hit us just before Christmas. Our 'hood got off easy with only a couple minor power outages. But it sure brought the birds in. The Sunday after the storm, we had approximately 128 birds in the yard throughout the day. I know this by how I learned to count the birds with PFW. First is species, then count the birds and only take in your highest count of that species in one moment through the day. I wish the birds were like that all the time around here but it's good for our bank account that they aren't, and it's nice to know they aren't dependent on us for food through the winter like some people say they are. I blogged about the ice storm here.

And with that storm, so many birds coming in... Pierre disappeared. I did not see Pierre for the rest of 2013. I looked out for him daily without any luck. I know he's a wild bird and one day he is not going to come back but I just don't like to think about that.

Okay, I can't end it like that, even though the year was over. To my joy, Pierre came home on January 2nd! It was a great beginning to this year, see here.

I hope to see you all in a year from now for another recap.