Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

May 30, 2009

Latest on the Chickadees

So it's been a number of weeks now since I became certain that a pair of Black Capped Chickadees moved into my ornamental bird house which looks like an outhouse. Of all places! It seems they prefer this kind of nesting box. I am always learning something about the birds around me since I take extra interest in them over one I don't normally see.

The male has been quite busy lately, forever bringing food to the nest. I am guessing it is the male, still not sure how to identify between the two. I assume it is him since this one is out and about quite a bit more than the other. The female goes out for suet meals and then right back to the nest. I have a number of feeders about the property but right now the male is bringing live bugs back and not seed. Good boy! Take care of the bug situation around here...

Here are some of the best pics I have gotten at the birdhouse lately. I will be getting these developed for my "bird album" and certainly are great memories for Spring of 2009.

This first one is my favorite. I like his stance on the side of the house.

I almost would think he is asking me what I am doing looking at him.

He realizes I am no threat and continues on his business of bringing home dinner.

Today I notice a lot more noise from the Chickadees. They are very vocal and loud. I see no threats around as I have been outside most of the morning (just stopped in for some lunch and H2O). Usually, these two anyways, are very low key, soft peeps and few of their most common noises like "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" which is so different than the ones I see in the park/forests.

Have the eggs hatched? Are they almost ready to hatch? We shall see...

stay tuned

May 25, 2009

Rattray Marsh, Mississauga Ontario

Recently Angie and I made a visit to Rattray Marsh in Mississauga, Ontario. A new nature spot for us to explore and enjoy.

I have to say this is one I will want to visit again and again. A few weeks earlier would have been great, just before the leaves exploded in the trees. That is one thing we have learned about going out and looking for birds, as soon as the leaves pop out, your chances decrease incredibly. Down there, you just know you are surrounded by so many species of birds by all the calls, but few can be seen. Mind you, coming a few weeks earlier may not have had as many migrants either.

For starts, pretty much anywhere you go, you will come across Red Winged Blackbirds in the area. A marsh is the natural nesting grounds for RWBBs.

This is a close up of a Red Winged Blackbird nest with the female sitting on top. The nests are well hidden within the marsh. We only spotted this one as we watched the female swoop down into the brush.

The trails are mostly man made boardwalks. So, while it takes away from the natural appeal of the area; it also keeps humans from trampling over the vegetation, disrupting the wildlife, etc. They also deter cyclists from the area. A lot of the old trails are blocked off with wooden blockades and forest growth. Police frequent the area on mountain bikes themselves looking for cyclists. There are signs at all entrances informing the public of no cycling in most parts of this area.

Another section of walkway up around the bend someways...

In our travels along the paths and walkways we were occasionally graced with the presence of a species of wildlife such as this Song Sparrow. A Sparrow is a Sparrow, right? Think again. There is good reason why these guys are called Song Sparrows. This little fellow perched himself in front of us and let out his beautiful song... like right out of a Disney Fairy Tale.

We happened to notice a mid-sized blackbird way up in the trees, moving about, going back and forth to one spot on a tree. Upon further notice we realized it was a European Starling feeding it's young in that tree hole. The photo below shows the beak of one baby sticking out waiting for mommy to return with some food. Click on the picture for a blow up of it and get a really good look at that bright yellow beak.

Looking way up into the trees, trying to follow songs and calls, we happened to notice 3 of these birds which I am certain are Cedar Waxwings. This was the best shot of many I took; not bad from over 100ft below.

Another bird that we are about 95% certain to see and identify is this silohuete of an Eastern Meadowlark. Our memory still gives us a clearer picture than what this photo shows.

Other bird sightings included Baltimore Orioles, Northern Cardinals, Common Grackles, Canadian Geese, Swans, Robins, Hairy Woodpeckers and Black Capped Chickadees. Through discussion with some others down there with binoculars and bigger cameras, we learned of numerous Red Eyed Vireos and Indigo Bunting sightings. They also pointed us to an area known for Warblers but we didn't make it over there. Below is a photo of an Indigo Bunting that I borrowed from Google Images (I did not take this shot). I just wanted to show others what a Bunting looks like and why it would be so cool to see this bird buzzing around a forest in the greater Toronto area...

A few dirt trails lead down to the lake which is nice for a few reasons... one being to cool off with the breeze off the water, another is see all the water fowl. We watched Common Terns (look like Seagulls with a black mask) fishing, which is diving head first into the water and flying back up in the air with a fish. They are not easy to photograph and sometimes it is nice to just put the camera down and watch what is going on around us. Here is a shot from the beach looking over to the downtown of Toronto.

So as I said, we plan to visit this marsh area again and probably many times after at different times of the year too. If you are ever in the area of Mississauga Rd and Lakeshore Rd West and wish to check this place out, continue west to Jack Darling Park on the south side of Lakeshore, park the car and walk the path going west till you see the sign "Rattray Marsh".

Lastly, here's my nature/bird adventurer counter-part Angie. She's great to have along because when I can't see something, chances are she is going to spot it or keep trying with me. She knows it pays to be quiet and still at times to better your chances in a nature trek.

May 22, 2009

Meet Jigger the Squirrel

Everybody, say "Hello" to Jigger the Squirrel.

Jigger is one of many who frequent the backyard daily but also one of the few who have been given a special name due to his stand out behavior, lack of fear to us or knows we aren't going to hurt him and his realization that we are the ones with a never-ending peanut supply.

He is quite the little character, always on the move and forever around our feet, on the table between us, circling me in the garden and occasionally known for jumping up at a pants pocket or onto a chest when peanuts be in a shirt or jacket pocket.

I am forgetting when we first met. Last year? The year before?

He has been given this name due to the little jig (dance) he does as he inches up to a hand holding a peanut.

While I always tell him he is a true pain in the a$$; I can't imagine a morning without him out there as I tend to the property.

May 20, 2009

A Portion of What I Have Learned Backyard Birding

So, a nasty bug of some sort, and not this "swine flu", floating around, has kept me at home for the whole week. I know I wrote yesterday and said I am going to lay off on blogging much the next few months. While that is true, my actual stories and information bits will slow down; but I do plan to keep up with photos and stories of the backyard and wherever else my journeys go.

It is a wonderful time to be outdoors right now. Here in Toronto we are having great days of warmth and lots of sun and our nasty smoggy humid days haven't kicked in yet.

I think I would just like to share somethings that I have learned about backyard birding over the last near 5 years now. From where it began to where it is now.

I remember back then, Angie made mention to me how she was surprised that I did not have a bird feeder in the backyard... what with being such an animal and nature lover. Why didn't I? Probably still living a bachelor lifestyle, although much more mature than previous years. I was away from home much of the time, out with friends or working. It was our first summer together for Angie and I. The following weekend I believe we went out and bought a small gazebo type feeder and some seed with a pole/hook and waited. About 2 weeks later I called Angie in an excited tizzy because the first two birds I saw at this little feeder was a pair of Northern Cardinals. My favorite songbirds! Over the next 4 years the backyard birding experience just exploded...

There is so much to share and I think I will start with feeding working into attracting and feeders. To walk into many places that offer bird seed, it can be overwhelming with the many different blends and varieties. Unfortunately a lot of the seed blends offer a lot of crap in the seed. It's not poisonous to the birds but many of them do not like the filler bits. I wish I could remember the names of this junky stuff but it has been so long since I have bought any "Wild Bird Seed Mix" that is sold around the Toronto area. Milo and oats come to mind but I may be incorrect about it. With such seed purchase you may be throwing your money away. That is unless you do not mind the ground feeders that eventually will show up to eat this seed that most songbirds are going to toss to the ground. Pigeons are my biggest pain. I've had some summers bring me 27 to my property. While I truly have no hatred for these larger birds they do make a habit of sitting up on roof tops, looking down to the yard and keeping an eye on the feeders, and me, when I go out to fill them. Pigeons make one hell of a mess up on those roofs and it's very destructive to the shingles over time. My neighbor complains because they like her roof and normally show up by 5am. They run back and forth across it and make their regular cooing noises. I guess this wake up call might be okay to someone who gets up by 5am? Never have to worry about sleeping in.

My other ground feeders who show up are Mourning Doves. A much nicer and more pleasant lot but fewer in numbers than Pigeons.

Then the mice come along too! Those cute fuzzy little critters, see how they run! See how they find their way into your home or shed when the cold weather comes. I have enough cats in the neighborhood to do some control over this but it's not uncommon for me to find little mouse corpses in the garden or grass. This may prove upsetting to some.

Other uneaten junky seed may turn into a funny looking plant the following year. I've had that!

I myself prefer to mainly use Black Oil Sunflower Seeds. Very little gets wasted, it's a popular seed with most of my visiting birds. The one problem with this seed is the shells. If you don't mind keeping the area clean with some raking and scooping occasionally, then it's a perfect seed to start with. The seed is quite inexpensive when bought in large quantities. There is a shelled blend called "Sunflower Hearts" but is double the price if not more. It all depends on what cost it is to you to clean up seed shells. I've even found that B.O.S.S. is different from one place to another. A specialty feed store has a cleaner blend compared to the bags purchased a big stores like Walmart or Home Depot. If you leave this seed sitting for extended lengths of time, do not be surprised to open it one day and fine moths flying out. The dirtier blends can have moth eggs within that will hatch eventually.

I also have one feeder that I fill strictly with Safflower. Almost all the birds will not eat this seed but the Northern Cardinals enjoy it (my faves) and so do the House Finches.

The Cardinals are pretty much the first birds to arrive at my feeder(s) in the morning and the last ones before the sun goes down as well. So I never have to worry about them not getting a bite in these off hours with a Safflower feeder.

I also have 3 seed sacks filled with Nyger seed to keep the small flock of American Gold Finches coming back to visit. It is a tiny seed and I thought that ONLY the Gold Finches enjoyed dining on this seed. This past winter I learned about some other birds who enjoyed it as an "Irruption" occurred and I ended up with 2 new species of birds to the yard... Pine Siskins and Common Red Polls. You may have read about them in a post or two of mine from a few months back. Occasionally the House Finches will dine on the Nyger as well. The Gold Finch pictured here showed me they enjoy Black Oil Sunflower Seed as a secondary food source. To attract them, Nyger is a must and some bright yellow ribbon or tape to the feeder speeds up bringing them in.

This seed sack has all 3 species I mentioned above enjoying the Nyger seed. Can you tell the difference between the Gold Finch, the Pine Siskin and the Common Redpoll? American Gold Finches turn more of a brownish yellow through the winter and the males brighten right up as summer approaches.

Next is the suet cakes (animal fat or vegetable based... depends on what you buy). I prefer a pure suet, which is strictly animal fat. I've found that it is a preferred diet for the Downy Woodpeckers and Hairys as well. When I tried other suet blends with seeds and nuts in them; those cakes would be devoured within hours by House Sparrows and European Starlings or one Squirrel. Pictured below is our pair of Downy Woodpeckers enjoying a suet cake together.

Here is a male Hairy Woodpecker enjoying suet from an upside down feeder. The makers boast this feeder caters to Woodpeckers and Nuthatches but deters other birds since it is upside down. Don't you believe it! A determined bird, regardless of the species will figure out how to get underneath; and I have seen it with Starlings and Sparrows often. It still is nice feeder, you get to watch the birds feed from a different angle. First glimpses of one trying to figure it out is also entertaining to watch.

House Sparrows used to be a bit of an issue here. I like the little buggers but when there's 20 or 30 of them around, even in their physical size but due to their massive numbers, they were a deterrent for other birds to visit. When I cut out the mixed wild bird seed blends their numbers reduced. A number of them still buzz around and they are always adding a soundtrack to the backyard.

European Starlings are a much larger pain. While a beautiful song they carry (when they want to) but often just go with these odd squawks. They are like a bunch of unruly teenagers or a motorcycle gang. They come in large numbers and dominate the area. They will even chase other birds away from feeders that the Starlings actually have no interest in feeding from. They see all others as a threat to their food source and try to rid them with their aggressive attitude, large numbers and just have an over-all terrible etiquette to backyard feeding.

With the wild bird seed mix that I initially started with, I have to say I am thankful for it as 2 years ago it brought one lost little Budgie to the yard who has become a member of the household. She's a funny little thing, singing, chirping and squawking away right now as I type with the kitchen window open for her to chat with the others outside. You may have read about Misfit in one of my earlier blogs.

A lot will depend on your area and what food to offer.

We learned Baltimore Orioles are in the Toronto area so we put out orange halves along with grape jelly and sure enough they came. We have a pair who are visiting as of now for the third year in a row.

There is a couple Hummingbird feeders out but I realize they enjoy the flowers in August here much more than those nectar feeders.

So, with that discovery the other year, I have been in the process of planting a sort of bird garden to attract birds and butterflies. Honeysuckle, Red Hot Pokers, Dogwood and a couple Viburnams (Blue Muffin and Cardinal Candy) to start with. I also don't mind sharing my strawberry patch, raspberry and blueberry bushes as well... as long as they save me some. My biggest surprise was how much the Hummingbirds enjoyed this monstrosity of a tobacco plant last year with small pink flowers. The plant rose to at least 13 ft high, with a lot of support around it and through late August it wasn't uncommon to find a Hummingbird visiting the flowers high in the air. Dogwood is pictured below, newly purchased two weeks ago.

As for feeders, what to use, what is best. That is as tough as it is easy. I mean, just put food out and they will come. Some feeders work great. Some not so great. Some foods they love, others not so much. What works for me, may not work for you. What works for friends of mine, doesn't always work for me.

Squirrels are an issue. always have been, always will be. We solve that with roasted peanuts in abundance. If you can't beat 'em, feed them! At the request of more than a few neighbors, we are shelling most of them first. "Peanut shells everywhere!" is what I have heard many times this spring after the snow melted. I disagree with those who purchase a Squirrel proof blend which contains a hot pepper powder over the seeds. Birds lack the senses to feel the heat of the seed unlike how a Squirrel would and I think that is just cruel. You would think that hot pepper powder might burn the insides of a bird anyways even if they don't first sense it while ingesting the hot seed.

I have yet to give a recommendation to a "Squirrel Proof Feeder". Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is hunger in a Squirrel's belly and bird seed around (except Safflower... they won't eat it)... they will get to it or try and try and try some more. My Squirrel Proof Feeder had it's roof torn off and the lock mechanism broken by two Squirrels. It's been repaired and modified where the Squirrels cannot rip the top off anymore but they still get at the food despite the other mechanism on the actual feeding part which is like a scale, too much weight such as a Squirrel and it closes. Nah, they just pop that piece out and it's a free for all once again. This is my $60 Squirrel Proof Feeder... or as I put it, "my $60 metal bird feeder". It used to be a bright cherry red but is very sun bleached now.

One of the "Dirty Dozen" as I fondly refer to them. There's usually 12 running around.

My only true Squirrel proof success is over 15 ft of pole up in the air, with a metal umbrella about 3/4's of the way up (Squirrel Baffler) and numerous feeder bars and hooks that branch out from the top. I've watched them climb the trees, clothes lines and other wires nearby to get at this apparatus. I finally have it at a spot where they cannot get to it anymore. Some of the feeders I can reach, others I need one of my garden rakes to bring them down from so high up. It's a pain but if it keeps food in the feeders longer, so be it. I love the Squirrels but they too have a lack of etiquette, they don't like to share and will eat and bury every last bit until it's all gone or the sun sets.

I can thank the Squirrels for one thing with their feeder rampages over the years... they have planted many sunflower seeds about the gardens so we are lucky enough to have more than a few Sunflowers pop up every year. Unfortunately though, just as they are full and lush, another Squirrel comes along and tears it apart for the new seeds. At least it didn't cost me anything.

I know this got a little long winded but hopefully someone may have learned something about backyard birding, especially if they are new to the hobby. I am only sharing what has worked for me... for you, it may not work, depending on your area, what birds are around, what your property is like. Where you place your feeders can be an important factor as well. There are many threats to the birds which include cats and birds of prey. I've lost many Sparrows to cats. I've lost many Pigeons and Starlings to a few species of Hawks. I have to admit I am not overly saddened by this... I get to see Hawks so up close! Angie had a Northern Goshawk fly right at her head last August. He wasn't impressed with her trying to get a closer look. The neighbors occasionally aren't impressed either when left with a sight such as below after a Hawk attack.

Last bits... add a bird bath! Birds love water and we love to watch them bathe. Please change it frequently as they tend to poop in it as well. Many birds drink from the bath so having water mixed with feces can make them sick.

Just because you want to feed the birds (and Squirrels... give them a chance, they are funny creatures), your neighbors may not be thrilled about it. Be ready for complaints, try to work something out or be a little courteous to them providing they are to you.

If you do not want Pigeons to your property with backyard bird feeding, the first sight of one, remove your feeder temporarily. Consider another spot. Be certain food is not being tossed to the ground as waste. One Pigeon will definitely bring a lot more. Can you spot the 8 in this shot?

Any questions, feel free to ask. Any suggestions, please add them in the comments section.

Happy birding!

May 19, 2009

Ciao For Now

It's late May now, the weather is finally getting nicer and staying nice too. I plan to spend a lot more time out in the yard over the next few months, as I normally do every year, minus the high humid or stormy days (who doesn't?).

I don't plan on blogging/writing a whole lot but will probably share photos every week or so from somewhere in my travels. Unless, of course, something big happens and I will make the time. You may have noticed that with my last few blogs, more pics, less chit chat from me.

Anyways, I wish everybody a very happy, healthy, fun summer...

This was the highlight of my one outing this past long weekend... seeing this pair of Wood Ducks down at High Park. I never gave Ducks much thought over the years. I mean, nothing against them, just since they don't hang in my yard and visit my feeders, they kinda get pushed to the back of my mind. I normally see lots and lots of Mallard Ducks in my travels. So, when Angie and I discovered Wood Ducks in the area... we were in awe. The male looks like he was painted by Picaso! The colors, the lines, those red eyes! The female, not quite as spectacular looking, but still one fine looking Duck as well.

Our first time trying to see them was at a Bed and Breakfast who boasted having a pair in the pond on the property. We never saw them. The mosquitoes sure didn't help us look too hard either. About 5 months later we stumbled across a pair accidentally in our travels which made the day out all the better. This is the second time I have ever seen a pair of Wood Ducks. If you ever happen to spot a pair, please take a moment to view/enjoy them as they swim about.

Oh, and please do not feed them bread... do not feed any water fowl bread, or any bird for that matter. I plan to write about that in the future, how bad it really is for them. I see people with bags of Wonder bread in the parks and I just want to run over and kick them.

See Yas all another time... cheers! \"/

May 11, 2009

High Park in early May

This weekend we went to High Park on our annual May search for the Orioles return to the city; but with it came some other great surprises.

The Orioles were found within minutes from exiting the car where we parked at High Park. I haven't heard that song since last August but I didn't forget it. Funny how it sticks with me even if I only see these birds for maybe a span of 4 weeks per year.

We know a "hot spot" in the park where we are pretty much guaranteed to see some Orioles and were not disappointed. That rush of excitement upon first glances of their return is something only one who appreciates our feathered friends can understand. I bet more people would be stunned by the visual beauty of an Oriole if they just stopped and looked at one (not that they are easily seen).

In the span of the next hour or so we happened to see a number of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds in the same area. I didn't expect to see them in the area already. It is early May and frost is still happening the occasional night. They were quite attracted to some shrubs we learned are called "Weigelas". The bright red flowers and the nectar within are a real treat for the Hummingbirds. The one thing about Hummingbirds is that they do not stop moving... so good luck in photographing one, especially still in the ranks of being an amateur photographer like myself.

A number of very small birds buzzed about the area too and we had no idea what they were. We made mental notes of a lot of the details about them... blue grey backs, dark wings, white undersides, long tails, white rings around the eyes, overall size, etc. With the help of our friend Lynda at our local Wild Birds Unlimited store, and a guide book we saw a new species to us... a Blue Grey Gnatcatcher. Another tough one to photograph, constantly moving and often higher up in the trees.

A lot of other new calls and songs were heard but nothing else stood out in our sights as a new species to identify.

I wanted to make mention that a visit to High Park is not just about the birds. Sure, it's a big part of it, but any outing to a park/forest/waterfront is also just about enjoying the day. Taking in the warm sun and enjoying all around us. To be surrounded by trees or water sure is nice. The less concrete I see, the better. The lack of noise of the passing cars and trucks as we go deeper into the park is great. I have learned over the last couple years that going out with just the mindset of seeing some birds is not the best way to go about things. I would get so wrapped up in just that, ignoring the beauty around me, the joy of what else the day and area had for me... and there are times when the birds just weren't around for whatever reason.

As the forests get greener everyday, the window for good bird spotting lessens... something others interested in attempting to watch the birds need to keep in mind. I will attach a few other of my favorite photos from this day out... enjoy! I am off to research these little Blue Grey Gnatcatchers as I know nothing about them, only now, that there is such a species.

A Chipmunk enjoyed our company as we tossed him peanut after peanut.

A male Red Winged Blackbird up in the tree, singing a song, waiting for some grub or enjoying the sun. Notice how the trees are still quite open? When it's full of leaves, the birds can hide in there quite well and then you can only hear them.

I am not sure what this flower is called but I saw a large patch of them. I got in close for this shot and didn't even notice the couple insects within until after I loaded the photo to the computer. Looks like 'Skeeters to me!

A bazillion red ants! Where's a Flicker when you need one? I've only seen it once when a Flicker attacks an ant site... quite a sight!

One of the many American Robins running about the grounds.

The Weigela plant as I mentioned... Hummingbird attractor and the Orioles seem to like it too.

Another neat looking flower off the path in the park. Please don't step on them.

The next Blog of mine below is also full of photos from High Park, the day before this one. If you like Northern Cardinals, check it out!

May 9, 2009

Trying to make the best of a rainy day...

The weather people couldn't make up their mind for today. I heard rain, chance of rain, cloudy, occasional showers, partly sunny. It almost all sounds the same, eh?

So, with a number of hours to myself, not sure what to do because of the weather... I finally packed up some seeds, peanuts and the camera; got in the car and just started driving. I visited a couple cemeteries, local parks and finally got out for a walk when I heard quite a few songs through the air.

It would rain for 10 minutes, stop for 10, rain again, stop again. I was only out of the car for maybe 45 minutes and got some pretty good shots of a few of my faves in the area... oh, and I got pretty soaked too but I kept that camera covered at all costs.

It's amazing, to me anyways, what one can see if they have a bit of nuts and seed along with patience. A decent camera to share the adventure later is a bonus. I hope you enjoy a few of the moments of my outing today.

The Red Winged Blackbirds are pretty aggressive; hence leaving this male Cardinal off to the side hoping for some leftovers. Boys will be boys...

The male House Sparrow didn't mind sharing the feasty find with a female Cardinal.

This one didn't come out so clear but it was cool to see all 3 of them sharing the small pile of food. Blame my shaky hands and the damp windy weather.

I put some more food on another fence post and the male quickly came over.

I wandered around a bit and followed the girl Cardinal to this spot. I really like this shot of her.

As always here and just about anywhere in North America you can be guaranteed the visit from a Squirrel or two or twelve.

One of the many flowers in the area...

On my way back to the car I ran into this guy, a Raccoon. Wonder what it was doing out and about in the early afternoon?