Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

March 27, 2015

SNOW Stormin' 2015

It's been quite a winter with sightings of Snowy Owls. We had an irruption of these majestic birds in the winter of 2013/2014. This winter, they called it an "echo", kinda like a smaller irruption. The 2103/14 winter, I stopped counting at 2 dozen. This winter, I gave up before I really got started. I made mention of that in a blog back in January. I took it easy and just enjoyed the show. I only wish I did what I said I was going to do and document my "encounters" because that number would be staggering. So many nights coming home from work I've spotted these birds along the stretch of the 401. Most nights one bird, sometimes two and a few nights up to four I spotted in what is probably a 10 km stretch of road.

There was a lull back in December for a few weeks. I heard they were trapping the Owls around Pearson Airport and relocating them. Within a couple weeks, I was seeing birds once again, just out of range of Pearson. I was fortunate to spend many lunch breaks with an Owl or two near the Pepsi plant in Mississauga. We had a nasty storm in February, everything iced up, the weather turned frigid for what felt like forever and suddenly the birds were gone again.

March rolled in. Spring was approaching. I figured that was it for steady sightings but could probably spot a few migrants in the coming weeks. And that is happening now. I've had one or two Owls 3 of 4 nights so far this week. Last week I had 2 nights of the 5 spotting one Owl. Same Owls? Perhaps? So hard to tell since they are nomadic and move with where they can find food. Hence my want to count the encounters instead of really trying to count Owls.

I get a whopping 30 minute break in my 8 hour shift. In those 30 minutes, I have my lunch, get out to the nearby Tim's for my coffee and do little drive around a couple spots no more than a few blocks from the plant. It's a nice break, taking in the fresh air, the noise of the traffic and passing planes doesn't bother me as it's nothing compared to sitting on a 16,000 lb propane forklift with the motor right under my seat (add all the production lines running, producing those Pepsi products for the masses). Yes, the outdoors, I can shut those things out and tune into the natural world. Hell, even the radio gets shut off so I can focus on my surroundings better.

Please note, any 401 sightings do not have me pulling over for photos. I don't care if it's day or night, it's not worth the risk of getting killed for a photo op (not to me anyway). If the birds are in vicinity of some back roads, I may take the next exit and seek them out. Most nights though I grin at the sight of them and continue my journey home.

It's funny how people get wow'd by what I see after dark in a rather busy part of Mississauga. To me, and other bird buds, it's really freakin' cool but not beyond belief. It's what interests me. It's part of my passion, seeing and being amongst the wildlife around us. I get wow'd by the guys who know stats on their fave hockey players, sometimes the whole team. Sure I like hockey but I'm not that "into" it.

My night sightings intrigued Angie enough to wake me one Sunday morning at the wee hour of 3am to go look for some. We found 2 about 10 minutes from our home.

It's a very different experience seeing the birds at night. They are active because they chose to be active and not because they are being flushed by someone getting much too close for a better photo. It is peaceful for me because it's just the Owl and I. I may have just finished work 20 minutes ago but that is out of my memory at this point. I almost forget that work thing when I'm on lunch and the clock is ticking.

It's March 27th. I wonder how many more encounters I will have before they are gone?

Enjoy the night photos, some are cool and ghostly, nothing museum quality, but they are memories of a fantastic winter with these Owls, and the best winter to date for me personally. This may not happen again for another 5 years.

Flash is never used. I use manual settings and take advantage of the "natural" HA city lighting around us.

If you are still here, have yourselves a fine weekend!

March 25, 2015

The Kids Are Back

I've been doing my best to monitor our visiting Virginia Opossum. He's looking a little rough these days, probably suffering from some frost bite about those exposed parts of his body, meaning the ears, toes, tail and nose that lack fur. They are not made for our winters, especially once it really kicks in and we have countless extreme cold alerts. I try to tell people to go stand out there some frigid night in their bare feet and see how long they last. Now, whatever duration they can stand it, multiply that by 24/7. An Opossum does not have a heated house to go into.

A cropped close up of his nose and toes. Too hard to tell because of the poor lighting and the dark raw pink could actually be camera manipulation with the settings.

But here, it is evident he's got some frost bite on that tail of his.

I've sent pictures to a couple rehab places, and a short video. Nothing screams he needs help with his mobility. And really, 'Possums are peculiar looking creatures to begin with, and their movement is just as strange looking.

So I do my best to keep an eye out for him and just watch him as he gets around. Here he is March 24th, enjoying an apple core. I watched him devour that in less than a minute!

He's not a happy guy in the last week as suddenly the local Raccoons are really starting to come to life once again. The 'Possum is terrified of them. I've seen him come in close vicinity of a Raccoon or two, and once his eyes focus on the big hairy beasts, he pretty much runs for his life and doesn't stop till he's well out of the backyard. It's all about survival of the fittest, the biggest, the hungriest, the one with the bigger attitude. The Opossum is no match for the Raccoons.

And speaking of Raccoons, I took notice to a couple Friday night and they took notice to me as well. I saw the glowing eyes peeking out from under the shed with my flashlight and in seconds they came running out, one right up to me. No doubt these 2 are the crazy kids of last summer.

First sight of these 2 on June 8th 2014.

July 1st. They sure grow fast!

There was 4 actually, and these 2 paired up, being the bolder ones of the bunch. They left the comforts and protection of mom earlier than I've ever seen young Raccoons do. Many evenings last summer did I find myself accompanied by them, and one of them being THE boldest I've ever encountered. I can't call him "brave" because he's young and inexperienced. He doesn't deserve to be called "stupid" because he doesn't know any better.

Yes, quite a character he is. Day time.

And at night. A little photo shopping and this could have him saying "Fly you fools!" like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. Heh heh heh!

Now what do I do with such a situation? I know not everyone out there is appreciative or even tolerant of these mischievous creatures.

One of the neighbours beat on these little guys one Saturday afternoon, knocking them out of her tree with a long tomato stake. Poor things. It was raining baby Raccoons. Of course this caused some outrage from our yard, and Angie voiced her disapproval to this woman's actions. What happens in the next week or so? She starts feeding them. Leaving plates of spaghetti and veal out for them nightly! Talk about extremes! Her daughter, an animal lover, had a huge influence on this. So no wonder this guy started coming around and sitting in the deck chair next to me. I normally fill the bird feeders after dark, so they are ready for the morning crew. The one I am speaking of took delight in my evening feeder filling, seeing this as an opportunity to fill his belly too. What, not enough spaghetti from a couple doors over? If I left any seed bag, especially peanuts, he was on it.

With me working an afternoon shift, getting home after 10 at night, having the night life about the back is great. I don't turn on the television. I'd much rather sit out back for an hour and watch our personal nature channel. When they come around, it's not always about relaxing especially with one overly curious rambunctious soul like him. His peanut addiction soon followed with a want for my Tap 357 maple whiskey. I could have Crown Royal maple and he showed no interest. I have a glass of Tap and he's trying to take the glass from me. Even a now empty glass has him seeking it out. The aroma drove him crazy!

Even without a bag of peanuts or seed in sight, he still hung out (the other was always nearby but not close like him). Many nights just sitting in the deck chair, washing away. I felt bad for this guy because I remember how bad he stunk of Skunk. The initial days he tried so hard to get the smell off him. It wore off over time, but even weeks later, there was a faint odor about him. Once again, that overly curious nature of him got the best of him as he tried to befriend a Skunk in his travels.

They would groom. They would play, be it chasing each other and wrestling, or toying with some of the funny things they found in our backyard like the garden hose nozzle and some of the lawn ornaments.

Wrestlemania in August, they played hard under this Bluebird garden flag, often reaching to it like a kitten under a curtain. Nice to witness them doing this instead of just waking up and seeing the wreckage. Like I say, "who needs television?" As they got bigger, the flag shredded, the pole bent. We accept that things don't last outside, and some things ya just got take in or else they will be destroyed.

We threw some dog toys out there and they had a blast with those. Nothing lasted long with these guys. We would just leave things about the yard for them to discover and have at. The mini soccer ball did not stand a chance. Sorry no photos. We missed the rip fest, just saw the remains of that ball.

They all love the bird baths and bath basins. Water is so much harder to come by than food. Raccoons like to wash their hands too. The little ones love to play in the water.

Even the adults find comfort hanging around our backyard.

So, with the way these 2 acted on Friday night, as I said, no doubt it's the kids. The last I saw of them was around mid-October of last year. I figured everyone moved on, searching out their own territories and places to sleep. I did not expect to see these guys again. If it weren't for their actions, I probably wouldn't have identified them. How long do siblings hang out together? Something I should try and read up on.

It's great to see the little bums again. I can only imagine what kind of shenanigans we are in for as the weather warms and we see them more often.

From Sunday night.

Since the cold snap the last couple days, no sign of them again.

It's hard to ignore them. I won't chase them. We will co-exist. I don't mind them coming here for water and cleaning up under the feeders. If buddy wants to sit in the chair next to me and wash his belly, so be it, but no matter how cute he looks, he cannot have my Tap whiskey. Last summer I told him he was too young to drink. LoL!

We work hard at Raccoon proofing our home. They used to have access up to the roof due to the old tv tower, and found a spot to empty their bowels (this was years ago). The tv tower came down and no more getting up there to poop. But recently I was cleaning ice out of the back gutter, left the ladder up against the house, and next thing I know Raccoons are climbing up there to do their business once again. Now these aren't the same Raccoons from 5+ years ago but I guess there is a mark up there, they can smell it, and it tells them this is where you can "go". Sure, why not? Up on a roof top, out of sight, and undisturbed. Who doesn't want quiet time when going #2? I feel their plight but sorry, not happening. We do our best to keep them out of the garbage and recycle bins too but sometimes they get in anyway and sights like this are more frequent in the summer.

Always check your bins. One night we had one stuck in each of the bins. They were too small to climb out. We've had a big one get stuck too, and he just slept at the bottom until I discovered him and let him go. As always, keep your cool. Freaking out will only get them freaked out. I keep one hand on the bin lid, and slowly tip the bin over. Once the bin is on it's side, I open the lid and just walk away. It takes no time for them to get out and run off far far away from that trap. Sometimes this is enough for them to learn never to do that again.

I hope you enjoyed my pics, stories and thoughts on these visitors. And how we deal with them.

Like it or not, this planet, it's their home too. They have every right to be here, just like us.

March 20, 2015

Luck with Owls

On Monday I was fortunate enough to chance upon this Long-eared Owl sitting right out in the open, in a west end Toronto park. I figure he was roosting in some low conifers and an off leash dog sent him fleeing. Long-ears aren't such show offs and are really tough to spot most times. This is my second "encounter" this winter with this species. Prior I had gone almost 2 years since last seeing one. I looked throughout last winter never finding anything more than a pellet or some spray.

Call it pure luck. No sense buying a 649 this week as all my luck has been spent on this bird.

It was an amazing moment, epic really. To my closer friends, add some expletives for emphasis. Quoting something I saw on Twitter not too long ago, "I was harder than a $3 jaw breaker!" Oh my gawd! Really?!?! Did I just say that? Are jaw breakers really three dollars now? Ha ha ha! And no, there was no sexual excitement at seeing this bird. Joking. Jeezus. LoL!

Okay, seriously... back to the blog... epic moment indeed. Envy of birders and photographers for one brief moment. I was in awe. How I got a few decent pics is beyond me. I was star struck. I kept a cool calm exterior while I was freaking out in my brain. The bird wasn't more than 30 ft away from me. I was on the path, and there he was in full view. I did not need to step any closer. I didn't even check the settings on my camera, I shot away a few photos while the bird looked around.

I watched him for a little bit before continuing up the path on my journey. I was going to pass the Owl, but still be 30 ft or more at any given time until getting to the other side of him. I expected him to flush at any moment. But he didn't. Not just yet anyway. I managed a couple side shots before he had enough of me and flew off to some distant conifers, disappearing out of sight.

I did not give chase. I was thankful for what I just had and that was more than good enough for me. I just hoped I had captured something with the camera to share.

I can never fully express the feeling of finding any Owl on your own. I'm talking about an unreported bird that isn't under the eyes of the bird paparazzi. Just one with the Owl, or maybe sharing the moment with some good friends or family. That stuff lasts a lot longer in the memories.

Please note I never have ill feelings towards anyone visiting the celebrity birds. Sometimes we just want a fix. Some seem to need a fix almost daily, like a heroin addict, and that I may have an issue with.


On Saturday we were in an area where such a celebrity bird is, and has been for a few years now. This place is approximately an hour from our home, so we seldom go. But if in the area, we do try to stop in and have a look for him. Sometimes we see him, sometimes we don't. Some will know the bird and the area immediately upon seeing this photo below. The thing for me this time is that he's moved roosting spots. I had a general idea on where to look thanks to a birding bud of ours Joanne, but there still was some searching with the bins to spot him, IF he was showing himself. Lucky for me, he was on the edge of his cavity at that moment and I had a nice view of him. I was happy there was no one else around, total peace and quiet, seeing him chilling out. After my view, I tuned into reality again (taking myself out of just the bird and I), viewing my surroundings, if I looked for this earlier, would have lead me to his new roost much quicker... there were foot prints everywhere leading to his tree, and some went right up to his tree. We see on birding pages countless people sharing photos of this Owl, some share shots week after week. Why? Anyways, seeing the prints right to the base of the tree... if I had of been on scene with someone right there at the base of his tree, I don't know what I would have said, but I do know the whole moment and feeling would have been much different. Unfortunately, some 4 hours later, when Angie and I were leaving the OEBS annual general meeting, I took her back through for a quick peek of him and he was gone. Another time, who knows when...

And, as I continue the blog...

Sometimes it's the only bird around. But is it really? In some cases, like a Great Gray or a Hawk Owl, ya, it probably is. As for Screeches, Saw-whets, Great Horns, Barreds, and Long-ears, so not the case. Screeches and Great Horns are year round birds, not just wintering like the others for the most part. It just takes work, sometimes a lot of work, research the birds, know their habitat and tune into the natural world. I tell people to listen to the other birds, know their calls, and learn what some mean, especially the alarm calls. Owls are elusive creatures, some of you have seen my blogs about them being masters of camouflage Don't be lazy. Make an adventure of it. Just get out, enjoy the day, see what you see and maybe you will be surprised at a discovery. Just don't go out expecting anything. With the above Long-eared, I went for a walk, taking in the returning Red-winged Blackbirds, looking out for other early migrants when I saw him. Zero expectation hence my overload of excitement (see the jawbreaker comment above).

We have a Screech Owl hanging out near our home. Sometimes I see him without any help. Sometimes the other birds alert me of his presence. See this short video link of mine to see what I am talking about. This is not the first time the birds have helped me find Owls. Crows have pointed out Great Horns and Barreds, Chickadees Downys and Nuthatches have alerted me to Screeches and Saw-whets, I've had Jays flush Long-ears for me in the past. I always say keep your eyes and ears open, and shut your mouth when on a nature walk, especially if you are trying to find an Owl.

Above mentioned Screech Owl barely visible.

But Spring arrives in mere hours, many Owl species will be leaving the GTA (greater Toronto area for those not from the area), and it's time to get ready for the Warblers, Tanagers, Cuckoos, Kinglets and so many others.

Time to get off this thing and enjoy the remainder of the day. I think you should too.

March 12, 2015

Pierre is Dead... wait... WHAT?!?!

Nice blog title, eh? Now that I've got your attention... yes, that is what I was starting to think in recent days.

Weird things have been happening with my flock, numbers drastically reduced and my hand feeding half dozen went missing for the most part. What the hell?

Anyways, this was the longest spell ever for Pierre to not have a visit with me. I've grown used to his lengthier absences this winter, and at first I didn't like it (I still don't) but he's accustomed me to the fact, making me realize that one day he will not be coming around.

I started marking our "encounters" in 2015. One reason solely out of curiosity on how many times I see him. Second, with his "more days away" since late last fall with the arrival of the Hawks, it's easier to go look at the calendar than sit and wonder when was the last time I actually saw him. So this last spell really got me starting to worry and eventually think that maybe he was really gone this time. Add that most of his flock aren't coming around either. So weird.

I believe in signs being around us, if we choose to see them. Last week, two random conversations with individuals both complaining to me about Pigeons (everyone knows about Pierre and I), and both brought up poisoning the birds in their fight against them. First person admitted putting poison (tainted food) on their balcony to rid them of the pests, the mess and be able to sleep in. Second person was pondering the thought because of the same complaints. It stuns me at times how some people will come at another, blast their disliking to something they clearly know the other person is pro to. I'm talking simple stuff like this, not things like "maybe you ought to lay off the cocaine for a while, drugs are bad m'kay!" I listened to this a lot last summer, upcoming bit, and not the drugs comment... "Ya know they carry 32 different kinds of viruses and some can effect a human. They are disgusting useless creatures." Blah blah blah. Nobody ever hear of washing their hands?

The world would be a lot quieter if people stopped complaining, didn't speak of negative things. How wonderful of a world it would be! I wouldn't have to visualize a crazy Hollywood movie type scenario like a throat punch, maybe whispering in their ear "I don't give a shit" or something completely off topic and inappropriate like complimenting the sexual talents of a female member in their family.

So, with the unrelated two poisoning bits being brought up mere days apart like that. My mind got thinking. Yes, I went all negative and to a dark place. How could I not? So bizarre to have so many birds disappear like they have. And it's not like it's not happened before in these parts. It never makes the news. Local people just talk about it. "Dead Pigeons about a high-rise property, lots of them." People don't think too much into it. Very few say "oh those poor birds". And even less think about the consequences of poisoning, like how the slowly dying birds become easy prey, and the predators then also ingest the poison and fall victim to it. Everything has a chain reaction. It's disheartening to see time and time again that so many people feel they are it, all that and a bag of chips, and any other living creature on this planet is far beneath them.

But, I will leave the rants at that. I'm sure the last couple paragraphs are giving some something to think about.

Back to Pierre and his crew. I look out for them everyday. And not seeing them, my hopes dwindled a little more with each passing day. One morning last week, Jesse and Mickey fly in. I'm quite happy to see them.

Not from this day, but giving you a visual.

Jesse is acting like a total spaz for some reason. Jesse is your average looking Pigeon, the dark blues mixed with lighter blues and I have a hard time spotting him a crowd. It's only when he comes to me, lands on the tips of my fingers, clenches really hard, nails pinching right into my skin that I know it's him. He wants to be on my hand but as far away as possible still.

Only today, he's hanging on and not letting go of me. Not for anything. I walked about the back deck, even opened the back door to get more sunflower chips and still clung to me. He was vocalizing a lot, and some strange sounds too. It was the tail end of the brutal cold snap we had, and perhaps he was just really hungry? My frame of mine, with that imagination of mine, got me thinking he was trying to tell me something else. Kinda like Lassie and Jimmy fell in the well. Not really thinking he was saying something happened to his friends, but more acting out, showing his upset to something tragic. Spending so much time with these birds, I know they feel. When Pierre lost Maggie, he was a mess for weeks (I've shared that tale before). His whole demeanor for weeks after Maggie's sudden disappearance was very different from the normally cool and casual guy he is. All animals feel. Anyone with pets know this for a fact. It's a little more difficult to see with wild animals, but consider all the time I've spent with these Pigeons, I see it.

Walter showed up another day last week.

One morning last summer he came in the back door while I was getting food.

But where the hell is Pierre?

Tuesday past, March 10th, I see a few birds fly in and land down at the back of the yard. I put my bins on them but with the snow piles, I can only see the tops of their heads. I'm doubtful it's Pierre but decide to step outside and have a better look. No sooner do I open the screen door when two birds take air and come racing to the back deck. I was in shock it was Pierre and his lady. I know I said "holy #@!$" Pierre was all cool about things, like no time had passed, which was odd but whatever. He's usually good for showing excitement when not seeing me for days on end, vocalizing, poofing out his chest, etc. Now his lady though, there was one real excited bird! She rarely comes to me like she did, normally just following Pierre, not landing on my hand but will feed from it if I put it next to her. This day, right in there, pushing him out of the way. I was so happy to see him (and her), I tried for a couple photos, but decided to stop and just enjoy our moment. They had a great feed, hung out back with me for a bit, and then left again.

Some say their absence is because it's nesting time, but Pigeons nest throughout the year. I've never had them go away for as long as they have this time. I can't help but worry about harm coming to them from another person. Two reminders about that last week alone. I sometimes worry that someone will try and trap them since they are such tame birds. How many times it's been suggested by others that I do that. But even with that, I have seen Pierre's hesitance to come to others in the last while... meaning neighbours and friends. They are wild and free, despite the dangers they face daily, I'm sure they are happier than if I or someone else were to ever lock them up. Obviously they have other food sources and maybe are getting a better feed elsewhere? The local Red-tails are courting these days, I saw the male do some spectacular displays earlier in the week and did a dive at our Squirrels a few times. The female has been good for flying in, flushing the Pigeons and giving chase. I know the Pigeons have to cross the Red-tail nest site to come here. This may be the reason. The not knowing, the mystery to it all, the worrying when I shouldn't because really I am powerless in this... it's giving me grey hair (not that I'm 45... LOL).

Well, this was an update to fans of Pierre. My story telling moment with a little vent about a few things.

Those who are "Team Pierre", let us celebrate his return. Those who are not, may your morning toast be as black and charred as your heart and soul. Where's that demon emoticon? 3:)

See you all again real soon.