Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

January 27, 2015

Positive Thoughts, Snowy Sightings

We are just over one month into winter now, yet it feels like we've gotten over the hump of it already.  I took notice to the daylight still showing itself at 5:15pm about a week ago.  News people have been commenting on Spring and counting the days.  A male Northern Cardinal has been belting out his song since New Year's, even the neighbourhood House Sparrows have all changed their tune to something I am more familiar with in the Spring.

Why are we rushing this season along?  Who can forget the 2013/14 winter? The ice storm? The frost quakes? The countless extreme cold weather alerts?  This winter is definitely nothing in comparison.  A much milder winter and one I am embracing as should others.  Every season has something to offer, giving us something to appreciate if we chose to see it.  For Angie, many of our friends and myself it's the different birds winter brings us...  and more specifically this winter, yet another Snowy Owl invasion.

example of an eBird map with reported Snowy Owls in a 2 month period

I know some people in the GTA who still have yet to see a Snowy Owl despite 3 big years for them in the last 4.  A person really isn't trying that hard or at all if they have not seen one and want to.  Of course not every sighting is going to be something up close, not needing binoculars, and giving someone with a camera an amazing photo opportunity...  but any sighting of such a beautiful bird is nothing to complain about (so I think). 

As I stated in a previous blog, I am not making much effort to see them like other winters, I am not after a big count.  I will take them as they come along and enjoy them for what they are. I really should have started jotting down the number of sightings this season instead because it's almost staggering in the last couple weeks.  This is a wonderful surprise because I am seeing birds on average of 3 nights a week on the way home from work (after 10pm).  The bird counts range from 1 to my new record of 4 in an approximate 5km stretch.

My drive home has me pass the south side of Pearson Airport and despite the trapping/relocating of 14 Snowy Owls around Christmas, birds are appearing.  There was a lull for a few of weeks which I suspect is because of the trap/relocate program; so are these new birds or the return of those previous visitors?

A few co-workers go the same route home as I do and I am always asking them if they saw the Snowys in this stretch.  I always get "no".  It stuns me because the birds are so obvious to me and these guys even say they are keeping their eyes open for them.  One of my buds, Tim, says either you have an eye for them or you don't (and he doesn't).  Seems he's had some discussion about this with another friend of ours, Chantal (seeing if you are reading this).  I think once you spot one or two, you tune into them with future drives.

Of course one must pay more attention to the road than look for these birds.  And spotting one is just that, you see it and you keep going because who can pull over on the side of the 401, day or night?  In some cases, depending on where I see a bird, I may pull off at the next exit and back track along the side roads to try and locate them. 

I've been practicing shooting in manual these days with my camera, and while the night photos aren't anything overly spectacular, I am liking the captures with that neat sepia effect.  But to me, it's more so the memory.  I love watching them from the truck, the birds aren't being flushed and chased, they are flying because they want to fly, and I am having those zen moments with them.

Not very often do I come across such a specimen like this one, nearly all white.

Winter night birding!  Who would have thought that possible? After a long aft/eve at work, I am always excited to punch out and head for home, and this just adds to my thrill of leaving the "pop shop". Sure it's just another Snowy Owl to some people sick of the birds this winter but for me... "holy s**t, there's another Snowy on my way home from work!"

We are in the last week of January now and in the next 5 weeks or so, these birds will be on the move north again. Enjoy them while they are with us.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning this past weekend, 3am to be exact, Angie woke up and minutes later wakes me up and asks if I want to go look for Snowys. It took me a few minutes to process this and then I said "yes". She had hoped to experience some of what I've been lately, seeing the birds after dark and doing their thing. We lucked out and found two in a 10 minute drive from home. Both birds were chilling out on lamp posts, paying little attention to us below in the truck. Feathers blowing in the wind, scanning the grounds below. A couple minutes of watching and then we moved on. Gotta love having a crazy passionate spouse with common interests, eh?!?!

The ones I have been spotting after work, watching off the busy 401 have been great. The big white guy I shared a shot of above did some spectacular flight displays for me, hunting a field, swooping down and then returning to the same lamp post.

This bird below has been in the same stretch of road for a week now, and usually on the same lamp post.

Although one night he was further along, at the off ramp (pretty sure it was him). I watched him as I waited for the light to turn green. He started doing the dry heaves like a cat with a hairball and then he expelled a pellet right there, which almost landed on the truck. This was 12:30 in the morning, I had the window down so I could see him better, and I heard the pellet go splat on the road. No other vehicles around, I put the truck in park, jumped out and scooped up the pellet with some paper towel (it's drying now and I look forward to picking it apart). Who knows what could be within? Rodent skulls are the prize in my opinion.

Only a couple nights have I had my camera with me. I'd leave early for work during the day, taking the side roads west, hoping to spot them sitting out in one of the fields but have yet to find one. I always see the Red-tails in my day searches though. After dark, the Hawks disappear and out come the Owls.

I've inspired some to get out looking since sharing bits on social media and maybe some who've yet to see a Snowy will try a little harder soon before the birds are gone.


this isn't just about birding anymore either. I've decided to try and find something good in every day, no matter how miniscule or how brief the moment is, but something which will impact me positively. There's so much shit and stress in our lives, we all have more than our share of negatives and I am making the effort to fight back. I am not avoiding the issues that need to be dealt with but acknowledging these better moments sure helps me keep going. It can be these Snowy sightings, an exceptionally great cup of coffee, not hitting any red lights on the drive to work; or listening to petty complaints and negative rants from those I have to deal with daily, that I don't consider friends, and that I don't let sink me down with them but instead walk away with a smile on my face and silently thank that I am not them.

Soon I will be looking for the returning Red-winged Blackbirds, first flowers of Spring and the rise of the Wooly Bears. But for now, these Snowy Owls sure do wonders.

I can't say I'm happy with the title of this blog. I always try for something creative, but much like the name of my blog overall... it's to the point.

January 20, 2015

Pierre turns 30!

This past weekend Pierre celebrated another milestone with us... 30 months of coming to visit. Two and a half years! Why do I mark these things? I think it's pretty cool to know how long some of our unique backyard buds have been with us.

But the day before his special day, he came pretty close to not seeing the next.

Friday I was out back before work. A cold January day, the birds were hungry and coming in like crazy for some grub. The hand feeders were all squabbling to get at me for some finer dining including shelled peanut bits and sunflower chips instead of the cracked corn on the old bench. Lately the Pigeons have been stealth like due to the Hawk visitors. But without a sighting in a few weeks, I guess everyone has relaxed. Lots of commotion for many minutes when suddenly a Blue Jay let out an alarm call, and all the birds jetted off in various directions. Smaller birds took cover in the conifers and discarded Christmas trees, the Pigeons separated into smaller groups going in various directions. My focus was on Pierre since he just left my hand. He and 7 or 8 others went straight out through the back, making a turn north/west before doing a circle and heading south/east to their suspected roost. But as they went down to the back of the yard, a Cooper's Hawk was rocketing in, coming from the east, which put them all in his sights. The whole ordeal took mere seconds but felt a lot longer as I stood and watched, unable to do anything.

It was something to witness as the Hawk was almost on my Pigeon buds, close enough that the talons were out and about to grab one of them. At this point I could not tell who was in tow with the bunch but the last Pigeon narrowly escaped being lunch for this accipiter.

And honestly, I don't know what I would have done if the Hawk brought one down right there in front of me. I may have acted out in upset fearing it was Pierre. Normally I wouldn't, the Hawk worked for his meal, the other creature is dead or better off at this point, and I let nature take it's course. Let's leave it up to wonder and mystery, and hope it doesn't happen.

I had to leave for work and knew that would be it for the day with my buds coming in.

Saturday comes, it's Pierre's special day and I really did not expect to see him after that near miss. But early afternoon there he was with his flock.

Pierre always stands out.

They all got a good feed from Angie and I. She even had some one on one with Pierre; not surprising but with her work hours, she doesn't see Pierre nearly as often as I do. I'm only seeing him 2 or 3 times a week this winter which I figure is due to the Hawks.

By March the Hawk visits fade out for the most part, Cooper's and Sharp-shins go nesting wherever (not around here it seems). The Red-tails still remain along the rail line which Pierre and the gang must cross to get to us. But I expect more frequency with his visits again.

I'm already looking ahead to the 3 year anniversary in July.

This year I am even marking the visits from Pierre on the calendar. He's older now. I can see it. He may be wiser and physically larger than many of the others but his spunk isn't there like it once was. He takes some good shit kickings from the younger birds. I always look out for him though. Whenever he comes to visit, he gets special treatment. I ensure he has a good peaceful meal, hand feeding him and keeping him close to my body... the others won't dare try and knock him off from this position. None of them have that level of comfort with me like he does.

I'm not all doom and gloom about this with tracking his visits. It's a reality that one day he won't be here with us. A few times I really thought he was gone with his lengthy absences, sometimes gone for more days than ever before. So I embrace our visits. I have no idea how old he is. 30 months plus ???

Some of you may enjoy this blog while others may roll their eyes. He's got as many fans as he does who don't care for him and his kind. Funny how at times it's just so out of the blue for someone to come and ask about him, people I don't expect this from, co-workers or acquaintances, heck even a stranger one day at the nearby Tim Horton's who recognized me from that Global News piece last winter all asking how he is, if he's still coming around. Then the haters chime in at other times constantly warning me about Pigeons carrying many diseases, jokes about bird flu, I am probably hated by neighbours and these birds aren't nothing more than pests and better off in the clutches of a bird of prey. It's the same old crap and I just ignore them now because obviously their attitudes will never change. I just joke that they are jealous that they can't make friends with animals.

Well a bunch of them just flew in. I think it's time to end this blog.


Here's a few fun phone photos from the last while...

Meadow likes Pierre when he's not on me, taking my attention.

We sure have our moments.  And through that window in the back, the lady next door is highly entertained.  She thinks Pierre is a real character and even took him for a walk about her property one morning.

Pierre embraces our encounters as well.

January 6, 2015

Zen and then...

With most of us returning to work this week after the Christmas and New Year's time off, I took advantage of a bitter cold Monday morning before I started work to scope out a lake park here in Toronto for any Snowy Owls. I figured I would be one of the very few crazy people out there strolling around in the deep freeze. And I was right in every sense of that last sentence.

I'm not in hot pursuit this season to see as many Snowy Owls as I can like I was the last few years. I went from a proud light search in 2011/12 with 13 to "I stopped counting at 2 dozen" in 2013/14. Who doesn't love these majestic birds? In no way am I sick of them. I've decided to not be in competition with myself this season and just take it easy.

The only thing I was hoping for this season was one great sighting. By that I mean a bird in decent range, get a lovely photo and it didn't have to be a flight shot either... and if possible have that zen moment I like with the birds (no bullshit due to some selfish idiot trying to get the perfect shot by any means). And yesterday I got all that... mostly.

I decided to hit a different lake park where one was being reported near home throughout the weekend (actually there may have been two). It was nice and sunny out but no way could anyone feel the warmth of the rays with those cold lake winds. I was bundled up and only had to deal with a freezing face through my walk. The search for anything was looking pretty bleak unless I was into Canada Geese where I found dozens. That's okay. It's part of the thrill of the "chase". And the fact there were so few people around made things even more pleasant.

I was giving up after 40 or so minutes out. The walk back to the truck seemed so long. I was okay with not seeing a Snowy Owl. I chalked this walk up to getting some fresh air and hopefully burning a few calories from all the holiday treats. The truck is in sight now and suddenly so was this...

The Snowy was sitting here the whole time, almost in front of the parking area. But from the view point of the lot it could not be seen due to the lower elevation along with shrubs and rocks.

I got moving rather quickly now, heading up to the road with a quicker pace instead of staying along the lake trail where my movement despite being far off may spook the bird. From his location, there was a higher level of rocks on land that I could sit and watch the bird with ease. He was just over the mound out on the water. No full body view but it was nice to see his head, partial body and take in a peaceful moment with the bird. He was aware of my presence and tolerated it, not giving full attention to me. I watched, took some pics, and just chilled out with him. As time passed, my stillness paid off and bird went back to preening, yawning and just doing his thing.

I was accompanied by another person. They were in awe at the sight of this bird. They could not believe that Snowy Owls show up in Toronto. It's great to see the joy and excitement in another individual. They were taking pictures throughout our time.

Unfortunately they weren't content with this for very long and wanted to move in closer. I said "please don't, the bird is going to fly away" but they didn't listen. I also said that from down below they would not be able to see the Owl, that this was the best spot of viewing. I watched them climb down from the rock ledge and try to sneak across the rocks going out from shore to this small island (not sure what else to call it). I wanted to yell and lose my shit on this person but didn't. She was 5 foot nothing and seemingly just an inexperienced overly curious person. I didn't want to terrify her or the Owl. I chose to sit back and watch as I was certain how this was going to play out, and maybe a lesson would be learned. I also expected a photo op coming. I knew she wasn't going to harm the bird. I figured worst case scenario would be her losing her balance somewhere out there and maybe damaging her gear.

She tried very hard to get closer to the bird. The Owl was well aware of her the whole time. They can hear rodents under 3 feet of snow, they certainly can hear us big humans clunking around, trying to keep our balance on rocks over the lake.  The Owl would stretch his head up as she moved closer (the above photo was about as close as she could get).

And as expected, the Owl took flight and got out of there.

He landed further down the beach.

She stood up, laughed like a happy little girl and said "you so lucky!" I said "I told you so". It was near time for me to leave for home. I waited for her to climb back to land and tried to educate her one last time about respecting the bird's space. As conversation continued I realized she wasn't such an innocent overly curious person. She talked about the St. Catherine's Snowy Owls from last winter. And everything to do with these birds was about how close she could get to them for photos. UGH!

The Owl was just down the hill from the main path now. The foliage in the top of the photo has the path right behind it. More people were out and about now and not one person saw him.

I talked to her a little more, suggesting to try and just enjoy the bird where he is, maybe use the path and foliage as a shield like I intended for one last opportunity.

All was good and now I really had to leave. I said "goodbye" and silently wished she would not try any further goofy antics. Instead of a goodbye back, she says to me "you owe me." Huh? She asked that I now take steps towards the Owl, flush him, so she could get some flight shots. I said "no way!" instead of the profanity I fought to contain. My last words were along the lines of "please leave him be where he is" and I left. As I neared the lot, I turned back and she was still in that same spot taking pictures. I hope it ended that way with her just walking away.

I expected to just get in my truck and head for home, embracing the moment prior to the goofy crap when I was stopped by an older man. He commented on the beautiful Snowy Owl, how cold the day was and all to which I agreed. He then asked me if I would like to go up to his condo for a hot chocolate and watch a porno! I used to say that the worst question asked to me when out on a nature trek was "do you know where any Owls are?"... I think this one trumps that one by a long shot. I was totally shocked by this. I said "not interested" and quickened my steps to the truck. He didn't follow me, just stood where he was, watched me get in the GMC and drive off.

See, I told you only the craziest of people would go out on such a bitter cold morning!

If you care for another uncomfortable bird outing in Toronto of mine, check this blog!

January 5, 2015

Trash Can Hawk Final Update

2014 was coming to a close. It had been a roller coaster of a year which I will lightly touch upon soon in a "year in review". I know I did a massive year in review for 2013 which took me weeks to do but for 2014 I intend on something not so in depth.

I had been inquiring about the Red-tailed Hawk approximately every 2 weeks since I brought her into Toronto Wildlife and the updates from the girls at the centre were great, no promises of what the outcome would be, but every bit was positive and they kept the hope up for this big girl.

Angie and I awoke on December 30th to our furnace acting up. Our unit is in/around 15 years and the last 3 years have had Direct Energy on us about replacing it. Yes, one day, especially since it's a mid-efficiency furnace and the gov't has outlawed these things but who has $4,000 laying around to drop just like that? With the fear of needing a new furnace ASAP had me thinking "dammit, the year is gonna end on a low like this?!?!" Hard to keep positive when it's -9c and there's cold air blowing through the vents.

A service rep was to arrive somewhere between the hours of 8am and noon. Great! Mess up my whole morning before work, waiting and wondering, worrying about our Budgies getting a chill.

The guy arrives and I leave him be downstairs to hopefully find the problem and repair it.

The phone rings and it's someone named Stacy from Toronto Wildlife. She introduced herself and apologized for the short notice but wanted to let me know they were releasing that Red-tail in about 45 mins near the area where she was picked up. I was happy to hear about the release but with such short notice and the issue at home, I had to thank her for the call with the invite to join them and unfortunately decline. I couldn't just take off while this was going on at home. It was agreed that we both should hang around and wait for the outcome with the furnace in case it was something serious. I was kinda crushed about turning down the opportunity to join them.

See, I've brought in or been closely involved in bringing about a dozen creatures in need to TWC over the last 6 years or so. Out of those dozen, only one ever saw freedom again. I was starting to feel like the Grim Reaper driving the black truck of death with any wildlife I had something to do with going in. I am well aware that even those who were put to sleep was a much better ending than suffering any longer out in the wild. I get that, but it still sucks. So now, finally there was another one getting a second chance, and I couldn't go.

I went back to getting lost in my mess of a closet, packing summer clothes, tossing this and that, getting other stuff for Goodwill. I wanted to be alone and try not to sulk too much about this.

Angie came in and talked to me. She told me to call TWC back and get up there for the release. I refused over and over despite her attempts to convince me it was okay to leave. She gave up and went back to whatever she was doing. Minutes go by, more clothes sorting, more humming and hawing, when suddenly I hear the service guy coming through the living room. It turned out to be a dusty sensor inside, so the furnace wasn't igniting like it should when it turned on. Both of us were relieved we weren't going to have to go shopping for a new unit just yet. I looked at the clock and wasn't sure I had the time left to meet them for the release but called in anyway. I swear it was like the clouds lifted, the rays of the sun shined down on me and all was good with the world again. There was plenty of time to still come for the release. I got dressed, got my camera and out the door I went. Here it is January 4th and all those clothes I was sorting are still in a huge pile on the floor. Shame on me. LoL!

Thank goodness for so many people having the week of New Years off from work as the traffic was light. I got to TWC in record time. I met Andrew and Stacy outside the building, they were in the van waiting for me, and Andrew said to just follow them. He gave me insight on where they were going in case we got separated.

We get there and I am super thrilled. I haven't spoken with Andrew in almost 3 years. He helped me with a Great Horned Owl in Lambton Woods. I read and hear about all the amazing things he does for wildlife in our city with his rescues. I admire him, and all the TWC staff a lot.

There was the formal introduction and Andrew brought up remembering me from our Owl adventure. We had a re-cap of the Red-tail's story to which I added my bit about how she was picked up in this area and then driven with a construction crew to Richmond Hill, where I picked her up and brought her back to TWC. I made mention about my feeling like the Grim Reaper and they got a chuckle out of it, knowing I was being comical. I also told him and Stacy that this was going to be my 50th release in the short time I've been signed on as a volunteer driver. It was an amazing milestone release with how this all played out. From there we went to the spot for release and he explained to me in detail about what they were doing, what to do if this or that were to happen, how I could stand anywhere providing I was behind Stacy and the bird, etc. I thought it was really cool how good and informative they were with me through this. I did not feel like an outsider by any means.

Below is a bunch of photos of the release. I told them I like to try for pictures, nothing will compare to what is in my mind but even the crappiest grainy images will take me back to this wonderful moment. The knowing this bird is healthy and free once again is what matters most. It's a privilege I am here to witness her go home.

Stacy slowly opening the box...

Out hops the Red-tail...

The Hawk stood on the other side of the box for a few moments...

And away she went...

Getting some air...


And higher...

I thought she was flying as far away from us as possible now...

But then she does a turn...

She's coming around...

And we are getting real good looks at her now...
 She was over the road now...

And decided to land on one of the hydro poles not too far from us...

We stood and watched her for a number of minutes to see if she would fly again, but she was content on staying there...

So we left her be.  I silently wished her a good long healthy life.

I once again thanked Andrew and Stacy for this. They thanked me for all I've done. That part gets me (in a good way) as it reminds me of the police officer who thanked me for doing the Peregrine Falcon fledge watch. A little more chit chat about this that and the other. I wished them a "Happy New Year". And then we went our separate ways.

I had one of them ear to ear grins on the ride home. What a fantastic experience and how awesome of an end to 2014. Sure there was 36 hours left in the year but this certainly was putting a high note on the final hours.

I get home, tell Angie all about it. I told some of my close bird friends too throughout the afternoon. But left the majority, especially those on social media guessing for a few days. My post to them was a camera phone shot of the back of the TWC van on Keele Street and said I was on a special journey with them.

When I finally shared a picture of the released Hawk, giving a little reminder on her story and now the outcome, everyone rejoiced. There's been a lot of people behind this bird since she was admitted. I do my best to remind people that these places rely heavily on volunteers and even more so on donations (no amount is too small).

Anyways, thanks to everyone who has been following her story and sending out the healing vibes! Cheers!