Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

March 27, 2013

Owl Adventure #496

I guess I can consider myself quite fortunate the past couple years with "Owl Luck". Anyone whose been following my blogs certainly knows that. I know, I said I wasn't going to blog about these birds again until next winter... but something happened last night that I would like to tell the tale of. Not quite certain what Owl adventure this is, there has been many, and #496 sounds like a good number at this very moment.

Unfortunately this isn't exactly the greatest story to be told but it happened so close to home, that I must. Driving home from work last night, it's nearing 10:30pm and I am not much more than a block away from our side street. I notice a clump laying in the right north bound lane of Scarlett Road. Obviously some kind of wildlife that had been hit by a car. I'm quite used to Squirrels, Opossums, occasional Raccoon along this stretch of road. But this was a bird and immediately before getting a good focus on it, I knew it was something "unique". Curiosity got the best of me and I did a U-turn, headed back, pulled over and got out to investigate. To my surprise, and sorrow, it was an Owl; a Northern Saw-whet Owl to be exact. I couldn't see his head at first but those fuzzy little feet and sharp talons were my first indication. One of his wings was over his face and seeing my little Sammy so many times this season, I am quite familiar with the feather details of these birds.

I didn't spend much time out here on the road looking at this bird. Its dark and while it's a 50 km/hr zone, people don't abide especially since this stretch is on a down grade. I put shop gloves on when I got out of the truck, and had some small towels in hand because I knew I was going to be doing something, even before knowing it was an Owl. So I picked him up, wrapped him in the towels, put him in the back of the truck and headed home. Not much to do with him now, so I set him out back on the deck and dealt with the situation this morning.

Day light comes, filling feeders and I give the body a look over once again with the sunlight over me, my clear eyes thanks to the coffee flowing through my veins. Yes, a little Saw-whet Owl indeed. How sad! And to think of how close to our house this little guy was. A golf course and some parks line this stretch of Scarlett and sadly, he crossed low over the road, and met his demise with a vehicle as so many Owls do each year. Perhaps just too focused on his prey? Their inability to move their eyes sure can be a fault, since they can only see straight ahead in flight, unless they turn their heads. So no real chance it saw a car coming towards it as it went to cross the road.

Happy the ground has thawed enough out back that I could bury him under the apple trees where many others already rest in peace (birds, a few Squirrels and a number of small pets). Sure it may sound a bit wonky and weird but I had to do it. I call the city for cats and large mammals that lay dead on the road around us. Most times birds and Squirrels are one with the road already.  We live in a very mature area, lots of big trees, the Humber River is near, so there is lots of wildlife; but it's still the city and lots happens out there on the roads.  And I'm not playing favorites here but I just couldn't leave this one on the road or throw him in the trash. Owls are a gift to see, such amazing mystical creatures and I am thankful for the many I have seen over the last few years.

And as I dug the small hole for this dead Owl, I took notice to something in the corner of my eye... our resident Chipmunk woke up today. He was scurrying around under the feeders, stuffing his cheeks. A reminder to me that while this Owl died last night, Spring is about birth, and in the sense of our Chipmunk coming back for a third season now... re-birth.  It made what I just did a little easier.

March 13, 2013

Masters of Camouflage Part 2

I got looking at some recent photos of mine with the Owls, and thought I'd share a few of them, with some good showings of their mastering the camouflage. Enjoy!

A Long-eared Owl sure blends in on the edge of a cedar at a lake front park. The local Crows knew he was there though. I tell people all the time, listen to the wild when out and about, and some may point out such sightings you could easily walk right by.

A Great Horned Owl that I discovered right around the corner from the house showing it's skill of blending in.

And the first day that I noticed it, it wasn't as above. I happened to spot it's backside way up in a pine. How I ever took notice to her that day, without the assistance of any alarmed wildlife or online reports is beyond me. Just pure luck.

I never thought a Barred Owl could disappear in the woods, their feathers appear quite white on the eyes, when in close view. But a little further back and I can see why so many people walked right past this guy in Etobicoke in November.

I know a few people who've gone the same route we have looking for Snowy Owls this winter and say they never saw a single one every visit. While we saw on average 3 each time and others we know were spotting 6! Of course it could very well be the Snowys weren't around, but then again, maybe a double or triple check on a lump out in the field is needed.

Maybe if I didn't centre the Northern Saw-whet Owl here, you might have to take a moment to find him?

The Screeches are the true masters in my opinion.

And of course, so many times, we think we see something, such as an Owl, but it turns out to be not the case. I really did think that lump on the branch was one. I bet my next walk of this area when Spring migration is in full swing will have me do a double look here again.

Like Ferris Bueller says "life moves pretty fast, you gotta stop and look around once in a while, you just may miss something" and I add this... "like an Owl".

Thanks for viewing, comments are always appreciated. I don't forsee any more Owl blogs/photos coming up in the next while as Spring migration is rapidly approaching. But you never know. In the meantime, perhaps you may want to check out my first "Masters of Camouflage" blog, or how about why it's not good to tell everyone in the world where an Owl is, especially a nesting one with my "Stealing An Owl Ain't Cool..." blog and lastly, one of the most heartfelt important blogs I have done regarding a lovely little Saw-whet Owl that roosted in our area this winter "Through the Eyes of a Saw-whet Owl"... it's a long one that should keep ya going till my next entry. :)

March 7, 2013

Moonie is a Star... in the Toronto Star

A series of events lead to this below.  Moonie and myself making it into the Toronto Star on Friday February 15th, 2013.

It's a bit of a lengthy tale that I am not sure I feel like keying out right now.  I'm home sick with some kind of cold bug and my eyes are feeling pretty heavy looking at this screen.  Plus, since this story involves a few other people, I'd rather get approval of using their names beforehand.

I can jump ahead to the latter part of the tale, where at the end of an hour or so telephone interview with a reporter from the Toronto Star has her asking me if I'd be okay with a photographer coming out the following morning to take some photos in my backyard.  To which I replied "absolutely!"

The article was about the Great Backyard Bird Count that was happening across the world on the Family Day long weekend us people in Ontario get to enjoy each February.  So the idea of pictures from someone's backyard seemed right; although great backyard means anywhere and everywhere outdoors.  It is encouraged for people to get outside and enjoy the birds this particular weekend.

The online edition differs from the actual newspaper in way of the photo they used, see here.

So, this photographer shows up on Thursday morning.  He was a very pleasant man, we had some good discussions during his time with me at the house.  We spent 40 or so minutes out back waiting for some birds to come to my feeders.  A day earlier, the yard was full of birds, and even my buddy Pierre was around...  and I silently asked him to be sure to come today, and early.  But nobody was out back for much of the time.  He began taking photos of me by some of the feeders.  I was honest and said it was odd to me, hard to smile, and I'm just not a guy who likes to be in front of a camera (centre of attention).  He told me to not worry about it, don't smile if I don't want to, and to not look at the camera.  It sure made things a lot easier for me. 

Suddenly a couple Starlings flew in and as quick as they arrived, they flew away again.  Same thing seconds later with 2 Pigeons.  I told Colin (the photographer) that the birds know of something we do not.  I put my "bird sensors" on and tuned in.  Soon enough I spotted a Coopers Hawk hanging out in a neighbour's tree focused on my yard.  I pointed him out to Colin, saying "that's why there are no birds at the feeders".  Colin pondered going out to his car and getting a big lens to grab a shot of the Hawk but didn't.

We decided to head into the house for a bit, warm up and see if the Hawk will move on and birds start returning.  We got talking about the Budgies, Misfit and Moonie, and I told him, as I did the reporter on their tales of how they ended up here.  Both being backyard rescues, coming here from who knows where, because of the other birds and the feeders.  Colin thought it might be fun to use one of them for a bit, just to shoot something.  Moonie is the easier going of the two.  I don't know how many pics he took of Moonie or Moonie and I, and Moonie was getting tired of the attention and especially this camera pointed at him.  So we put him back in his house and tried out back one more time.  Still no birds and the Hawk was not to be seen either.  About 15 minutes later he had to leave because of another appointment.

I went about the rest of my morning before work, wondered about what the article was going to look like and so on.  A couple hours later Colin phones me and asks me for the correct spelling of Moonie's name.  I told him, he thanked me and said "have a great afternoon".  So in the back of my head, I'm thinking Moonie is going to make the paper, but also thought that was just crazy talk.  I knew a lot of photos were submitted for this article from various people.

That evening I'm working away and suddenly I get a notice on my mobile that someone tagged me in a comment after reading the article online already.  I wasn't aware online editions came out that early.  It took me forever to load the page in my phone but finally I did and saw the one linked above with me on the deck looking up at a feeder.  It was too much strain on the phone to try and open up the article to read it all.  So you can imagine come quitting time that I raced home for a view on the computer.  I was happy with the article and honored that it finished with my 2 cents in a couple paragraphs.

The next morning Angie is phoning the house and texting my phone.  Home line was unplugged, my mobile gets turned off at night, so she couldn't get a hold of me.  Turns out they used a different photo in the paper as you can see.  Basically Angie was on the subway going to work, and she noticed someone next to her or in front of her, reading the Toronto Star, and when they opened up the page to the GBBC article, she freaked and shrieked "that's my husband, and my Budgie!"  I can visualize her doing this and the other morning people around her in transit heading to work suddenly waking up on the train at 7 in the morning to this.  Haha!

I'm sure some out there may be thinking "what the hell is up with a Budgie's photo making this article?"  But I think they tied it in rather well to the story.  Of course Moonie belonged to someone, somewhere in the city and was probably captive bred, bought in a pet store or from a breeder.  He escaped or was let go, and suddenly became a wild bird at a very young age.  He flew to our house and became one of the family.  While he cannot really participate in bird watching with us at this time of year, he does enjoy the summer days out back with us all...  his family and the wild birds around us.

March 4, 2013

Owls, Lifers and Assholes. Oh my!

As promised to friends I made mention about this upcoming blog, I decided to stick to my word about this title.  It pretty much sums up the weekend which overall was a great one despite the antics of a few individuals.

Saturday had Angie and I go out for the afternoon with our friends Dave and Andrea.  We did a road trip to Cayuga and from there we snaked along many back roads making our way down to the shores of Lake Erie in Nanticoke where it can be Bald Eagles a plenty on a good day in the winter.

The day did start out slow in Ruthven Park.  The banding station was closing up but the feeders were still active with regular winter avian visitors.  We were hoping for the appearance of a Tufted Titmouse (there's 6 in the park now) but none showed up.  Most unique during our stay was a handful of Common Redpolls.

Dave drove as he knows the area better than me.  And I am forever grateful to my friends who don't mind doing these long drives.  I find they burn me out too much some days, especially when I am unfamiliar with the area.  Plus, our GMC Jimmy is a thirsty truck and fuel consumption would have been double compared to Dave's PT Cruiser.

Through the afternoon we saw so many Red-tailed Hawks that we lost count.

The biggest flock of Snow Buntings we chanced upon somewhere along the way.  I estimate there was 400 or 500!  We found a few smaller flocks but this one in particular.  Holy!  What fun watching their amazing flight show.

And through the mixes of Snow Buntings, we were also blessed with some great views of Horned Larks.  I really like these birds.  They sure do look like they have horns.  And a treat to see in Southern Ontario through the winter months.

We finally made it to Nanticoke and luck have it that we got a young Bald Eagle near the side of the road!  Don't let the age fool you, they are still enormous sized birds.  Both Angie and I think the young'uns look much bigger than their parents.

We were pretty certain we saw a couple more Eagles in flight over the power plant but as quick as we saw them, they were gone just as fast.

A field near by had us spot somewhere in the range of 50 or so Wild Turkeys.  Big goofy birds they are to me; but nice to see.

And down in Lake Erie had Angie and I get a lifer in way of many Tundra Swans.  From a distance they sure look like Trumpeter Swans only missing the big yellow ID tags most have on their wings.  I tuned into their calls, double checked with my Sibley's guide on my mobile, and confirmed they definitely were Tundras.  For whatever reason, my camera would not focus on those birds far out on the lake.  Our friend Dave snapped a few photos despite the distance.  I mean, hey, why not?

As we headed back, we chanced upon a Short-eared Owl.  Apologies to those asking "Where?  Where?" but I don't publicly post Owl locations.  The road appeared to have a few cars with birders and photographers on it.  Some were walking along the edge of properties and one could only wonder if they had permission to do so.

Andrea spotted the Short-eared Owl first.  And before we could do anything, this small silver Volkswagon comes around us and parks right in front of the tree where the Owl was sitting just off the road and not that high in the tree.  Two guys jump out, one with a big ass lens and try to get it's photograph.  Of course they spooked the Owl and it flew up the road.  We were furious!  Short-ears are a rapidly declining species and I believe on the endangered list in Ontario.  We wanted a view too, and a few photos, which we were willing to do so from within the vehicle.

Dave pulled upside them and voiced an opinion all of us shared on what these two, yes...  assholes, just did.  The one guy apologized but soon after said they had been chasing it up and down the road for the last half hour or so.  "Are you serious?!?!?!" is what I was thinking.  UGH!  It's kind of a blur after that, not sure how much else was said, and then we slowly drove ahead.  We found the Owl again, on the other side of the road, a few hundred feet up.  Dave pulled over and we watched it for a bit, took some shots within the car.  It was rather comical as for Andrea and I, we were having trouble taking photos, trying to shoot across the car from the inside and out the driver's side windows.  Dave offered to be my tripod and had me set my 500 mm lens, full zoom out, on his arm and shoulder.  He leaned right over to help me try to get some photos.  I don't know if my excitement at seeing this bird or my laughing at our situation in the car was the cause for so many shaky shots.  We all were having some good laughs and enjoying the moment.  We long forgot about those two guys who were parked behind us now but not getting out of their car.

Angie suggested she take my camera and try some shots out the window since she was closer and could use the window for support.  I am glad she did, because she captured a few nice clear shots of this not commonly seen species of Owl, despite the distance between us and the bird.

And sure enough, as soon as well started to pull away.  Those two guys jumped out of their car and went after the Owl again.  We have no idea if they stayed on the road now or ventured onto the property where the tree and Owl were.

I felt bad for this Owl.  I feel bad for so many Owls.  Just about every one I have chanced upon this winters has had to put up with some real selfish people.  But I was happy we pushed these people out of the moment with the bird, we didn't give them the power to ruin our time, and just know they could never get close enough to the Owl to harm it.  Yes, I am fully aware their constant flushing does harm in its own way.  What more can we do?  Give them a bit of a scolding and hope they back off.  Anything else can land us in trouble.

So, as we headed back Burlington way for supper, we noticed a huge "herd" of White-tailed Deer in a field just outside of Cayuga.  I counted 40.  Never seen such a number of Deer in one spot.  Apparently they aren't called a "herd" but that's what I call 'em.

Sunday was supposed to be a rather low key day after the big outing on Saturday.  But I ended up doing a small grocery run.  Then home.  Then back out again with Moonie riding shotgun as we ran a few more errands and he got a little trimming at the pet store along the way.  We do this every now and then since he's still got some attitude when he's flying around.  Misfit comes and goes as she pleases, but always ends up back in her cage.  Not sure what Moonie's deal is but he never goes home unless we trim the wings back.  He made a friend at the drive through for lunch which was funny.  I laughed at the praise he was getting and one line I said to the girl was "no, he does not eat french fries but thanks for the offer".

Later Sunday afternoon Angie reads a report about a Snowy Owl appearing not far from our place.  I kinda bounced around a little bit.  Sure I can be a little cuckoo for Snowys but also with it being March now, they aren't going to be around southern Ontario for much longer.  So off I went, but Angie passed on the idea, still not feeling 100% after some recent surgery.

Before I get into my bit on the Snowy Owl, which I saw almost immediately, let me jump ahead to the unexpected lifer I had that afternoon being a Western Grebe that has been reported along Lake Ontario, being spotted in a couple different parks.  His presence was pointed out to me by a kind birder who had been viewing him moments earlier.  This bird is well out of his winter range which is actually along the Pacific coast.  I don't know much about this species but if you would like to know more, check out this link.

So, ya, it was pretty awesome to see this bird.  And as some said to me, no binoculars required, which was so true.  I watched him for a short bit in the bay and eventually he swam to my side of the shore and he was maybe 30 feet out from where I stood.  Wow!  The lighting was pretty bad now as the sun was setting but I was one happy guy.

Now, back to my Snowy story...

If you remember the title of this blog, "Owls, Lifers and Assholes.  Oh my!"  Much like the earlier story with the Short-eared Owl and those assholes; I once again found myself seeing this Owl and yet another asshole.  I tell my friends I cannot wait for Spring migration and the Warblers.  I love and hate Owl season all in one breath.

I spot the Owl out in the marina.  She's sitting on one of the docks.  It's quite a distance from the shore and bay is about 95% ice.  A few open spots are close to shore.  I figure it's 300+ feet from shore to the docks but a friend, with the help of some computer tools or whatever, says it's more like 500 feet which I can believe.  And everyone over the years that has seen a Snowy in this marina or any other in the GTA all say they are very safe out there with the ice and water separating us.  I was a firm believer in that as well until Sunday afternoon when I watched this man, or can I say "asshole" walk out onto the ice from the east shore, with his dog on leash and head towards the Owl sitting on the dock.

I stood there in shock.  I was fuming too!  Mainly for the fact of where he was going, right for the Owl.  It was upsetting that he put his dog in a dangerous situation too.  And as he neared, of course he spooked the Owl and it flew to the next line of docks just west.  The guy stood there, watching it fly and where it landed, and he continued onwards towards it for another look.  He had no camera and no binoculars.  I guess he wanted a close look at the bird.

I'm not one for being loud in public, I really got to be pissed for me to speak up and this was one of those rare moments.  I'm not sure all I said, shouting across the ice at this guy, but "what the hell are you doing, you fucking idiot!" was in it.  I know there was more but I was blind with anger and frustration at this guy.

He made the Owl fly yet again and then he stopped.  He watched it go further out on the ice and then he turned to look at me.  I guess I was still shouting who knows what at him.  And then he decided to get off the ice, heading to the southern part of the land that surrounds the marina.

Funny thing is I had no idea there was a young woman layed out on the bench right behind me during my rant.  She was tuned in to her ipod and enjoying the frosty lake air.  She was actually asleep as hard as that is to believe but once I was started freaking out, she jumped from her sleep and sat up, stunned and puzzled at me.  I explained to her what my problem was.  She was still puzzled.  She said "isn't High Park full of Snowy Owls?"  I was too pissed at this point to give much of an educational lesson and replied with "no".  I apologized for my outburst and disturbing her.  I pointed to the guy just getting off the ice now with his dog and said "what a #@*" one last time and walked west to where the Owl flew and where I soon learned about the Western Grebe.

Once I saw the Snowy, really out on the ice now, I convinced myself she was safe for certain from human disturbance.  She was not safe from a few angry Gulls that began to dive bomb her; but she gave little notice to them and zoned out for a while.  I enjoyed a brief viewing of her now, with no other people around.  And I forgot about yet another asshole disturbing an Owl.

As you can see, by this time, the Snowy forgot about him too.  :)

If anyone recognizes this individual, perhaps they could ask him what the hell was he thinking that afternoon?  I never take photos of people doing stupid shit in the field, as much as I want to; but I felt compelled to this time...  proof to what some people are capable of, and how stupid they can be in the moment.  And also if this guy happened to go through the ice, there would be a photo of him if something tragic happened to him and his dog.