Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015

Well, the time is just about here, to that big day of the year!

It's not about the presents.  It's not about the tree.

It's about time together, with the ones we love... family.

Ours is mostly furry, feathered, slimy or scaly.

But they all touch our hearts daily!

Wishing each and every one of you the best of times.

I am so done with this rhyme!


Merry Christmas from Rob....  and the animals!


December 18, 2015

Welcome to Raptor City

The Hawk activity in our yard has been pretty intense the last week or so. 1 Sharp-shinned, 1 Cooper's and the resident pair of Red-tailed Hawks have been coming in looking to snag a meal from our other visiting birds.

I've not had to top up our bird feeders in 2 weeks now!

The birds do come in, but it's sporadic and very brief. It's made counting for Project Feeder Watch difficult.  I really got to be watching when species come in for these short spells, and try to spot the threat that chases after them. I was happy to spot 7 Northern Cardinals in one tree late Saturday afternoon. I should have got the camera out even if it was quite dark by this time. Oh well, perhaps another day? A couple days prior to our count days I estimate we had about 97 Pigeons come in at once. It was insane! No wonder the Hawks see this backyard as a potential feeding spot.

In that mix of so many Pigeons there were 3 "ginger birds" as I call them, the reddish brown types, which the Sibley guide says are scarce. I guess that's pretty cool if you don't mind these city birds? Seeing them reminded me of my old friend, who is no longer with us, the one I called "Red". You can read about him here if you like.

Red was pretty cool for a Pigeon, even though him and I got off to a wrong start early on.

That 97 count disappeared quite fast thanks to a lurking Cooper's Hawk who I have seen almost daily this week.

I'm seeing a Sharp-shinned Hawk usually first every day, and later on the Cooper's shows up, who drives the smaller Hawk away.

And on occasion the Red-tails pop up. Usually they just fly right in like they own the place, send everything fleeing for their lives and continue onward after whatever they choose. But a couple times I've seen one in a tree down back. Or both were on a neighbour's old television tower before work on Wednesday. I raced to get my camera after spotting them from the window, but the birds were gone by the time I got my shoes on and out the back door.

I shared this shot on my Facebook page and tried to start a little game of "caption this". My pick was this...

"Hi! I know this may sound crazy since we just met... but I really want to eat your Pigeons and Squirrels!"

I love all birds as I have probably mentioned in other blogs, like anyone needs me to tell them that. Gimmie Pigeons, gimmie Peregrines! It don't matter.

Of course I am missing my boy Pierre with the insanity. But he's smart enough to know when to stay away. Our encounters happen maybe one or two times a week and that is it the last few weeks. He comes in for a good feed, a little belly rub and off he goes again.

Here I am with the inability to smile for the camera while Pierre and his lady friend feed from my hand. Why so serious? I hate being on the spot, even when I put myself there, yet I really am happy to see him on this day being December 17, 2015.

Last bits... I've not seen any take downs, or remnants of a kill, but obviously things are happening around here. I always say if this backyard turns into a blood bath, I'd take a break from feeding the birds. The birds prove to me that I am not their only food source, they have other places to feed.

Here is a yard visitor I saw Wednesday night that is probably very happy with the mild temperatures so far this December. A big Virginia Opossum!

We sure are blessed with the nature channel we have in our own backyard!

December 10, 2015

December 10th

So this is a day that stands out for me every year.

For one, it's the birthday of a former long time friend of mine who turned his back on me after nearly 30 years of friendship. A story not for here, and a chapter in my life that is now closed. But the angering and painful memory comes back every year on this day.

In recent years though I notice that December 10th has brought me some great birding moments.

In 2012 I was blessed with the presence of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

In 2013, I remember this one very well... it was -15c, snow and ice covered, and after nearly an hour and a half out and about looking for Snowy Owls, I had just given up when I spotted this one resting on a fence near where I had parked my truck! It was like "Here I am!" to show up here after my outing, and not be there when I started my walk.

Then in 2014 I chanced upon 5 Long-eared Owls. It was almost 2 years since I last saw this species and almost 4 years since I found this species on my own.

I have no plans to go out this morning before work but I can't deny the temptation is there to go for a walk.

Owls Owls Owls! I love all birds but these guys are special to most of us just because they are gems in the wild, birds most of us do not see. I was hoping Momma Nature would put one in our backyard this morning for me since I swear I heard a Saw-whet out back on Sunday morning. Not so...

Oh well, the day is young, we shall see what comes of it. Stay tuned!

November 25, 2015

Hard to Blog

I made mention recently on the difficulty to blog. Sometimes it's lack of inspiration. Sometimes it's just laziness. I can blame work. Other times it's me wanting to be out there in the wild living my future blogs. And a lot of the times it's our cats Merry and Molly.

They sure have grown since that photo was taken. Almost 7 months old now. They were spayed a couple weeks ago. Time sure does fly.

They are a handful. Neither of us ever had 2 kittens before. I recall the days with Meadow as a wee little kitty, it was just her and I. I had just moved into this house. So being single and a bachelor with few things to my name, the house was pretty empty. There wasn't much for Meadow to get into. No computer. No cable. No land line. No wires to play with, no things to get behind. It also meant that all my time at home was just Meadow and I in the early days. I told Angie I was her whole world (so true). Without the distractions, it did mean a lot of bonding time between her and I. I'd be playing with her for hours before and after work. I remember so many nights, us up till 3 or 4am, throwing things around the kitchen, cranking some Ramones and that was life here.

Now the house is "fuller" with Angie and I together. We have all those things I did not years ago.  And we have Merry and Molly.

So, trying to blog with one eye and ear open to the house is distracting. Always listening for bumps and thumps, wondering what they are getting into, what they may trot into the kitchen with. And if they aren't elsewhere in the house, they are right here at the computer with me. I know Angie experiences these same "pains"... lack of a better word.

The photos below give you an idea of what it's like to blog with our 2 little girls.

Merry is a real lap cat especially come computer time.

Molly has an obsession with the computer screen and the moving cursor.

Molly catches the mouse, doesn't know what to do with it so she "sleeps on it". *wink wink*

I can deal with this scenario. I have to put a "stinky" work shirt on the desk and Merry will use it instead of my lap.

They love the computer chair so I wonder if the "let's bug the heck out of our human" is their clever way of getting the chair back?

Young cats are insane. I know we need to embrace their playfulness because before we know it, they will be just lazy old cats. But after a long day at work, the nuttiness can be a little too much, and too extended. A line from Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon sums it up perfectly...

So if you are ever wondering where that next blog of mine is, this may be why. A draft could be sitting here until I get the next peaceful moment.

November 20, 2015

Pigeon Pages Volume 1

For starts, happy 40th month to my pal Pierre! This week marked the mini-milestone.

We've had a few mornings together this week, even just before I started this blog he and the missus spent some quality time with me on this chilly November morning.

It seems his flock may have a new member as of this week, which is what this blog is about.

On Monday November 16th this bird made his first appearance to our backyard. I was scanning the back with my bins and he got my attention with how he was standing alone down by the shed, far from my regulars. Then as I zoomed in on him, I took notice to his leg bands.


Guelph...  is that where he's from?

I know leg bands on a Pigeon aren't all that thrilling to most people, but I do find it interesting, just to know where the bird came from. He's not the first banded Pigeon to come visit us over the years. About 2 years ago one came in from Quebec and spent 3 days with us. That bird never mingled with my buds, just did his thing, grazing anywhere the others were not. He would spend most of the day with us and when dusk came, he would fly off in the opposite direction of my buds. I managed to make contact with his owner, just to say "hey, your bird is hanging out here in my Toronto backyard". The guy really wasn't interested. I found that odd. For me, I'd be very interested, especially since that one was almost 600 km from home.

So now we have this one. I once again tried to make contact with his owner through the CRPU and also through their Facebook page. That was on Monday, it is now Friday, and no one has gotten back to me. I am not going to pursue this any further.

I've watched this bird every morning this week. He's gone from a loner...

to slowly mingling with my flock, feeding with them, and after a couple days he was flying in and out with them.

Blending in with the bunch but I see those bands.

Here he is with some of the "Helmets".  There's a small group that come in with others, but these birds have white on their heads, some more than others and we call them that.

Pierre joins the party.  This is rare because my boy doesn't like to hang out in the open space at the back.  He knows there are threats of Hawks especially as the weather gets colder. Can you spot Pierre? Hint... he's obviously a stand out bird with me.

Trying to make friends with Ollie?  I know Ollie by those legs of his, plus he's a very vocal bird, always going on about something during feeds.

Classy artsy fartsy shot of him in a tree.

I've had some discussions with others via social media about him, and with a co-worker as well who has over 100 birds of his own. For many in these racing clubs, the birds who don't come home, who get lost can pretty much stay lost. They aren't doing their job as winning these races and are useless. I don't mean to offend anyone who is a part of these clubs and thinks differently than this but so far no one has spoken up otherwise. I'm not the only one who has ever tried to connect one of these birds with it's "owner" and come up confused, frustrated and thinking "WTF?" Maybe these clubs get tired of the people contacting them about stray birds (hence not getting back to me)? My co-worker had one of his disappear on him and flew back home almost 3 months later. Oh the stories that bird could tell!

If he decides to stay, he is welcome here, both from myself and my wild flock. He will have a good life with us all as my buds know how to survive even without me feeding them almost daily. Pierre's absences for up to 2 weeks is proof of that. The Helmets were MIA for almost 2 months recently. I finally saw Petey this week after nearly 3 weeks and he's been in every day so far.

Petey and I a couple weeks back...

Some of you love Pigeons. Some of you have grown to acknowledge and even admire them through me, thanks to Pierre. They are very cool birds if you take the time out to watch them, no two are alike. They are living beings who feel just like us. Pierre has taught me that. I recently shared a Facebook memory from 2009, I wasn't embarrassed about it either, it shows I have grown as a person, and my friends all got a chuckle out of it... I am so happy that none of those annoying Pigeons are present in the backyard this morning True story!

If you'd like a read about life away from the animals, check out Angie's latest blog here.

It's Friday! Have a great weekend!

November 17, 2015

Every Picture Tells a Story...

I've not gotten out much lately, and I know the reasons why. I will blog about this soon. I could say it right now but it might take away from this blog.

As you can tell, I like to take photos. I'm not a pro. I'm not a die hard about it. I don't like to be called a photographer. It's not my purpose. The photos started way back in the early days of birding in order to help ID certain birds. Capturing them with the camera allowed me to take the image home, a secure image on a device compared to one in my memory that could easily distort over time until I got to a bird guide.

Every picture tells a story, captures a memory, and while most of mine I can think back to a place and timeline, some stand out a little more and allow me to share a story. I have a lot of such photos and hope to be able to share a moment with you from just one photo. I'd like to start with this one...

Here is a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I know I've blogged about her before. I named her Shirley. I don't really know if this Hawk is a female but I like "Shirley Sharpie".

Shirley showed up religiously every Fall for a few years. I knew it was her just by her actions. I've never seen such a bold Hawk before. She's fearless, even of me.

The morning I took this photo, she was really at it, giving hell to all my backyard creatures. She was a great hunter. For her to take out a Mourning Dove wasn't much of a problem. I'd seen her on a few over the years. Maybe to some that doesn't sound all that impressive, but Sharp-shins are a small species of Hawk, comparable to the size of a Blue Jay... and a Mourning Dove.

Mourning Doves range in weight of 96 to 170 grams. A Sharpie ranges from 87 to 218 grams. The overall length of a Mourning Dove ranges from 23 to 34 cm. A Sharpie ranges from 24 to 34 cm. The average wingspan of this species of Dove is about 45 cm. The average wingspan of this Hawk species can be from 43 to 56 cm. I got all this info from Cornell's site. So as you can see, these birds are rather equal in size and while the Dove is not a fighter, it's not small prey for this Hawk.

No Mourning Doves were to be seen on this day of the photo. All the Sparrows were in hiding. The Juncos had not arrived to our area yet for the cold season. The Jays were absent, who aren't afraid of Sharp-shinned Hawks. Angie and I have witnessed some pretty crazy battles between the two, sometimes lasting for well over an hour. The flight displays of the Hawk are something to witness!

The Pigeons, a much larger species of bird, did come in a few times that morning. The weight of a Pigeon ranges from about 265 to 380 grams. Remember the Hawk's (see above)? The funny thing is the Pigeons, despite being much heavier, still don't take chances with this type of Hawk around. The Pigeons flee for their lives at the first alarm call from any other bird.

The Pigeons would fly in, shit would hit the fan, and away they would go. A short bit later, some would return, soon after realizing things are still not safe and away they would go. Shirley would attack the Pigeons. Was she that hungry and desperate? Did she really have such a bold attitude and think she could take one down? Or did she not like these birds in her hunting grounds and was trying to get rid of them? I'm in favour of either of the last 2 suggestions.

One of the "flushing of the Pigeons" moments had her on their tails as they left the property. This one poor Pigeon didn't get the height it needed to go over the house next door and ended up striking the neighbour's upstairs bedroom window. I was outside watching this all. The bang of the bird on the window was so loud! I am surprised the window did not break.

I watched the Pigeon spiral to the ground, being stunned by the impact. Shirley took notice of this as well. She landed on this rail not too far off and watched. The Pigeon lay still for a few moments before finally rising. I could tell he was still stunned. He walked like he was intoxicated.

Something else got Shirley's attention and away she went.

I hopped over the fence to the yard next door and gathered up the Pigeon. He was stumbling up the side of the house and I did not want him wandering out to the street. I set him up on our deck, under the table, and put a towel over to give him a time out.

Whatever Shirley had gone after, got away from her. She now returned to the area and back on this rail. This when I took this photo. She's looking at me and everywhere else. Shirley, as I mentioned, is not afraid of people. She stood her ground there with me.

We both take notice to the Pigeon coming out from under the table on the deck. He had his bearings now, or mostly. He still seemed a little wobbly to me. He walked off the deck and fluttered to the ground. In the blink of an eye, Shirley rocketed from this perch and went after the Pigeon. I thought that was it for the bird. But he took flight. Shirley connected with him and they fought. She really tried to pin him. And he fought to get away. The Pigeon got some air and flew up over our little chain fence. Shirley was still on him. They fought like mad up between the houses. I am standing there watching in awe. I couldn't even raise my camera at the action. I was frozen!

The distance between our house and the one next door is probably about 8 feet (not much). I watched the birds duke it out and make their way out to the open space at the front of the houses. It reminded me of the old cartoons, watching some characters have a fight, and it's just a flurry of action, occasionally seeing a fist (or wing in this case). I swear they even bounced off the brick walls a couple times. In no time, they were out front and with the open space, the Pigeon got his break and away he went. Shirley gave chase until they crossed the street, then she backed off and returned to the backyard.

She spent the rest of the time sitting in a tree out back until I had to go to work.

I have a few stand out stories about this bird. I may share another some other time.

We have a Sharpie hitting the yard this year. Sometimes I think it's Shirley, other times not so. Bold one day, not so much others. I am certain Shirley did spend at least 3 winters with us.

I hope you enjoyed this tale. Back again soon!


October 28, 2015

Please Help Us Help...

Hi everyone,

A favour to ask of any stopping in who are on Facebook.

We have entered our cats in a Halloween photo contest with our vet clinic. The winner gets a gift basket full of goodies for cats. If one of them wins, looks like Merry has a very good chance, we will be donating the basket to the Toronto Cat Rescue.

Last October we entered Meadow and she was one of the finalists. There were a number of entries and they ended giving out baskets to the top 6... 3 cats and 3 dogs if memory serves me correct.

Meadow's photo entry...

Meadow with the loot bag!

So now we are trying this with our 2 little girls Merry and Molly.

This is the photo we entered of Merry...

This is Molly's entry, which has not been put in their album yet. But she can be found in the comments section of the album and any likes for her there will be counted.

Here is a direct link to Merry. Open up the photo and click "LIKE" just below the photo.

Here is a link to the album and if you go through the comments section you will find Molly's photo. You can go through the album and vote for other entries too! Yes, I am a good sport about this.

I feel like I am begging here but really I am not. We just know Toronto Cat Rescue and some lovely cats in need of a home would certainly appreciate the donation.

Thanks for your help and may the best photo win as there are some cute entries!

Merry and Molly wonder what you are waiting for. ;)

October 24, 2015

Take My Advice

On Friday I took advantage of a beautiful late October morning with the warm sun and blue skies. I knew Saturday was calling for rain. So I went out for a woodland walk not far from our home. I was in the mood to be alone, not for any real reason, just wanted a quiet peaceful outing with all nature had to offer. Sure I live in Toronto and that can be hard to accomplish but I know some spots.

I'm walking for an hour or so, looking and listening. I see probably 8000 American Robins in my journey and little else. Yes, slight exaggeration on the Robins but there was a lot of them regardless. If this was all I was to see in my outing, so be it. I'm at peace with the world in this moment and that's great.

I'm walking in the woods, the canopy of fall colored trees is breath taking. The trail is covered in the colorful fallen leaves. I know the trail well and don't have to worry about straying off. Suddenly up ahead I see another human. He was completely decked out in camouflage gear from head to toe and carrying a big ass lens like mine. Some days I wish I didn't see some individuals like this, wishing their camo clothes would REALLY work on all. I had hoped to pass the person by without any words being said other than maybe "good morning" but that wasn't the case. The guy pretty much blocked me on the path, no hello or nothing, just "have you seen any Owls today?"

Fuck! Why one of these types? It's like clock work, late October and out come the shit heads. I recognized the guy from a couple encounters a few years ago. I was hoping he would not recognize me but I guess that is hard to do since I have a tendency to stand out in a bird crowd with my not so stereotypical appearance... a stereotype that really isn't as common a sighting in this day and age with bird people (we come in all shapes and sizes, ages, etc).

So yes, he did recognize me, but didn't remember my name. He just said I remember you from the other winter. "Uh huh" was all I could say. I knew what the guy was going to talk about since he's done this every time I've seen him in the past. It's all about his photos. His memory card is full of them, photos from 2, 3, 4, 5 years ago. He prides about these glorious shots of his, which really aren't all that good. He's no pro, neither am I, but I don't go running around bragging even when I do get something pretty awesome. He's a self proclaimed expert on Owls, Coyotes, Hawks and Deer with a love for the Bucks in full antlers. I remember his talk about Owls the other winter and so many times I had to correct him on his sprees about them.  He didn't know many of the species migrate and that Toronto is a southern region for them.  He has this bizarre belief that Saw-whet Owls are tame birds and enjoy the presence of humans, so much that "in your face" is acceptable because the little Owl does not fly away.

He tried to show me his photos, and I showed him my lack of interest. Some pics I had seen how many years ago? I would even tell him that. It's not very often that I am rude to people but this guy does get that side of me. What's really sad is he is so into himself that he doesn't see the lack of interest on my part, the slight insulting jabs, nothing. He asked me about a few creatures we both knew of from the other winter. I told him they all died and gave him slight stories on each one and how they met their demise. I could see the wheels in his head turning, really wondering if I was fucking with him or not. Why am I wasting my time with this guy right now? He doesn't deserve any of my time. In the past I've had to endure this person follow me, never shutting up and if something came in our sights, he would chase after it. Of course he would spook the hell out of the creature and ruin it for all. A friend and I ditched him a couple times one morning, he'd go one way after blabbing our heads off, and we would simply go the other or turn around and head back the other way. He would notice us ditching him but somehow later would find us again; try and gain our friendship, or probably just an ear to listen to his bullshit and hopefully "oooooooooooo" and "ahhhhhhhhh" over his photos.

This morning as he yammered, I gave him little eye contact. I kept looking elsewhere. I even told him at one point to be quiet because there was a very pissed off Cooper's Hawk in the area. The bird was vocalizing every 30 to 60 seconds, sometimes taking flight from the tree and I could see through the leaves it was after something in the same tree. After saying that, I cursed myself because maybe he would tune in, figure it out, or decide to follow me. Once again, the guy was too into his own bullshit and photos to get it. Luck have it for me though, I believe the light went on in the guy's head that I had no interest to be in his company any longer (not that I ever did). He quieted for a second and then was saying "see you later" or something but I was already many steps up the path, leaving him standing there. Thank Jeebus he went the other way!

I advise people to keep their eyes and ears open, and to shut their mouth when out in the wild world. Listen to the birds and animals, they will tell you things. The Cooper's Hawk continued it's squawky aggression at something high up a tree in the area. A few Squirrels cried out their unhappiness to whatever was going on as well. I slowly made my way over to the area of interest, occasionally looking over my shoulder to ensure I was not being followed. No sight of that jack ass. I already had a plan to not hit the location if I saw him following me, and would do a route out of the area and back to the parking lot. So ya, with him gone, I'm really feeling lucky now!

The trees are still quite full of leaves, while I could hear the Hawk, I couldn't exactly pin point which tree the commotion was coming from. With all the yellow leaves above, it was like all the trees melted together. The Squirrels were all around me, clinging to the sides of the tree trunks, crying away. I waited and watched, hoping to spot the Hawk take another flight. Finally he did. I refused to turn my head or blink. I even pointed my finger up at the spot while I got my bins out with the other hand. I'm looking and still don't see anything but the Hawk on a branch. I know something is there. I suspect an Owl. I scan and scan and scan some more. I watch the Hawk, it's still pretty pissed, and takes another flight. I kinda see something now. One move to the right and I lost all sight. Two moves to the left and I see a grayish body with some streaking. I'm betting my left nut it's a Barred Owl. Though I was in disbelief at the height this Owl was at; I'd never seen one so high up... 60 ft maybe. He was in the leaf cover, occasionally getting some sun as everything blew around with the warm gusty winds.

Can you spot the Owl in the leaves?

Finally I see a face. Yes, there is a Barred Owl up there and it's looking right down at me now.

The Cooper's Hawk cared little about my presence down on the ground. He wanted this Owl out of his turf. The dueling pair making some eye contact up there.

I don't like to see animals fight but I was pretty pumped about discovering this Barred Owl; it being the first of the season for me. I really don't see them throughout the year but somehow have been fortunate to spot one or two the last few Autumn seasons. I always wish Angie or a couple good buds of mine were present with these finds, but nothing can be done about that, so I take in the moment. A few photos, watch a bit, a few more photos. I'm well away from them physically but I still think about my time there, how their focus can still be on me, I'm added stress. I leave the area and go wander elsewhere for a little while. Some Jays, Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers but nothing comparing to what I left back there. Sure those birds are great, I love them all, we see them daily in the backyard... how often do I see a Barred Owl? It's getting near time for me to leave but I make sure I pass the area one last time on my way out. The Cooper's Hawk seemed to have given up as it was no where to be seen or heard. The Squirrels even stopped their cries. The Owl was still up on that high branch in the leaf clutter.

Zoning now.

I went home just beaming about this outing. I didn't forget about the guy I ran into prior to the Owl. I laughed about his misfortune. "Serves him right!" is what I told myself. Of course if I ever run into him again I won't tell him what he missed. He doesn't deserve that kind of information and more so I just don't want to converse with him.

I had the opportunity to revisit the area about 6 hours later, and I did. It was late in the day now, the sun would be setting soon. The area was quiet. I decided to start my search where I last saw the bird. Of course he was not there. No birds were alerting me to his presence. The Squirrels were doing their thing, either oblivious or they knew he wasn't around now. I started to walk the trail south and a few short steps along I spotted him just to the east. He was maybe 20 or so feet up a tree, just watching the world go by. Amazing views of him from the path! The only downfall was the dim lighting due to the leaves above us. Occasionally the wind blew the leaves apart, letting in the last light of day. I worked with what I had to capture a few more photos of this bird. A few years ago I'd have been screwed to get anything since I had no clue how to work in manual settings.

Total zen moment with the bird.

He's well aware I am there and watching him.  An Owl can hear a rodent under 3 ft of snow so surely it can hear a 175 lb guy walking on crunchy leaves.

I'm not a fan of full frame shots of most birds especially in the fall when Mother Nature paints such a beautiful background.  I'm loving this shot below.

It was quite dark from this angle, so I cranked the shit out of my ISO and some other tweaks.  Gee I'm using some colorful words today!

The larger Owls seem to have less concern over a human presence compared to the smaller species.  Plus I am not close to him thanks to my 500mm lens.

I could have sat there for the next hour and watched him zone.  I probably would have leaned myself up against a tree and passed out too.  Notice the changes in the photos?  Messing with them settings.

So take my advice if this is something you don't really do already... eyes and ears open, mouth shut. But don't shun all the camouflage wearing, camera carrying people though as some of them are really nice, some are my friends.