Totally captivated in 2007 by the live camera feed of the Hornby Island nesting Bald Eagles in B.C., I was drawn into birding and have never looked back. Thus begins my account of what I'm fortunate enough to discover each day and perhaps capture with my camera.

Unless otherwise stated, all images were taken by and are the property of Janice Melendez

Species Counts:

2014 Final Year List: 255; 2015 Year List a/o June 5, 2015: 235; Life List: 327

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Full Circle for Our Coyotes

It's been exactly two weeks that four young Coyotes were released back into the wild by a group of us, thanks to the Toronto Wildlife Centre. I had the honour and privilege of being invited by Andrew, the Centre's Head Rescue rock star, to help out with the catch-up, or rather round-up of these four beautiful animals that had been admitted for mange a few months ago but had all made a full recovery. Now it was time to bring them back home from the large outdoor compound that they had called home for the past several weeks.

As it was a half day's drive to our final destination in northern Ontario, Ann and I left the city on Friday morning and took our time by birding en route, the highlight of which was an adult Bald Eagle seen terrorizing the gulls and Common Ravens at the North Bay dump, as this was one of our target birds for the week-end.

We were the first ones to arrive at our final destination at sunset and managed to get settled in (code word for "we-were-so-tired-we-crashed") well ahead of the others who arrived around 11 p.m. Next thing we knew, Andrew was bellowing out to us that it was time for the midnight feeding of the Coyotes, so off we went in the dark, climbing over rocks and trees to arrive at the massive enclosure, armed with enough food to feed an army. Of four Coyotes, that is! We used our headlamps and flashlights sparingly, but we had our first glimpses of the four young Coyotes, furtive eyes glowing in the dark, it was a wonderful moment, under a clear, dark sky where the winter constellations of Milky Way were almost blinding! 

The next morning I quietly snuck out to enjoy an early frosty sunrise over the river:

In the end I was so glad that I did, as this was the only frosty morning that we had:

It was such a magical moment, but it vanished within an hour as the morning sun melted away the frost:

I quietly made my way next to the enclosure, wanting to see it in daylight and perhaps catch a glimpse of the Coyotes without disturbing them, this being their last full day under the care of TWC. It was huge, three quarters of an acre, I was told later by Andrew. Of course the night before we had no idea because it was pitch black out. I quietly sat myself down behind a tree, on a chunk of pre-Cambrian shield and waited. And waited. And finally saw this beautiful young, healthy, Coyote:


But respecting their privacy and not wanting to stress them, I did not linger, and returned to the river for my final views of frosty reflections in the icy waters:

By now everyone was back in the land of the living at the cabin, so seven of us had an amazing breakfast in town and then split into smaller groups for the next few hours to explore the area. Emily and Andrea joined Ann and I as they just could not refuse our invitation to the dump (yeah yeah, don't say it) hoping for more Eagle sightings. Our first stop on the way out of town was at a American Bison farm where there were several young calves we could not resist:

The male is larger than the female, and here's mom, with her pretty-in-pink-and-black tongue sticking out! I admit to being incredibly thankful for the fence between her and me, as these suckers weigh anywhere from 350 to 1,000 kilos, yikes!

On the birding front, the week-end highlight was no doubt the reliable flock of Pine Grosbeaks that I spotted while Andrea was enjoying her closest view ever of a Common Raven. One thing I have learned with birding is to always look around, as well as to listen, and especially look where others are not looking, which is exactly what happened with these Pine Grosbeaks who were gorging themselves in berry bushes:

This male, albeit a sloppy eater, is a spectacular looking bird:

The female Pine Grosbeak is much more subdued in appearance, but still is quite lovely:

The male had much more gray than I ever realized until now, as this was the closest I had ever been to them:

There were a few first year males mixed in with the flock, as identified by more of a reddish tinge on the head and rump:

But back to that adult male, those dark wings with the white bars contrast perfectly with the rosy red and gray on his body:

What a handsome bird!


We dipped on Eagles at the dump, but at least now Emily and Andrea are in on our dirty little secrets at the dump! We met up with the gang later on and cooked up an impromptu feast of a dinner that could have fed us for days on end, it was a fabulous evening as we all shared wildlife stories, played cards, enjoyed wine, baking, nibblies, junk food, healthy food, pasta, salads, Empress snoring, etc, etc. 

The next morning was different, though, as we all knew what we had to do that afternoon, so some of us broke off into smaller groups again for a few hours. Yes, Ann and I did another dump run, but on the way there at dawn, we stopped off at a farm to see some Elk, when I suddenly realized that one of the farmer's Elk was on the outside of the fence!

What to do, what to do??? I decided to go knock on this poor farmer's door at 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning to let him know one of his Elk was loose, only to be told that no, it in fact was a wild one that came by to visit his herd every few days. Okfine, at least now I could count it as a wild versus captive sighting, whooohooo!

Other than that, and a few distant views of Bohemian Waxwings and of course the Pine Grosbeaks again in the same berry bushes (!), it was quiet, so we returned to the cabin to get packed up, and I snuck off again for a few quiet moments at the water's edge:

But it was almost time now for the Big Event, and I needed to learn what my role was, as well as everyone else's, to be prepared. Andrew explained it all to us, indicating it could take anywhere from one to two hours to round up all four Coyotes.

In the end, it took less than an hour, it was an unbelievable event that I will never forget. Here are a couple of photos taken with my toy camera before quickly putting it away to focus on the serious task at hand. The Coyotes had remarkably established a system of trails in their enclosure, it was incredible to watch them follow these trails as we conducted our big Round-up, can you even find the Coyotes in these photos?? Double click to enlarge them!

All four Coyotes were eventually caught up without incident, quickly examined by a vet, and then given one final dose of medication to help protect them a little bit longer as they transition back into the wild. Andrew gave me the honour of restraining one of them, as well as administer the meds to a second one, what a thrill! Thanks go to Andrew for his tenacity, professionalism, dedication, compassion, and caring for the welfare of the Coyotes at all times:

We returned back to the city with the Coyotes and they were successfully released exactly two weeks ago now (as I just checked my clock!!), it was wonderful, a full circle for our Coyotes!

Nothing was heard of the four Coyotes until just last week, when the home owner where the release took place heard yipping and howling outside. Upon further investigation of the sounds, he saw at least two, if not three Coyotes run across his property that backs onto a creek and some woods.

No doubt it was our Coyotes that were there, healthy and happy, thanks again to the Toronto Wildlife Centre!   

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Double Trump!

I enjoyed my first official outing as a new member of the Peterborough Field Naturalists as several of us explored the Rice Lake area on Sunday, November 25th. This was a first for me on many fronts, as I am only usually in this area in April to see dozens of Osprey return to Ontario for the breeding season to fight over the best nest locations that are well-established along the shoreline of Rice Lake. It was an odd feeling to see so many abandoned Osprey nests, but instead we enjoyed seeing several species of waterfowl, including Common, Red-breasted and Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Buffleheads, Common Loons, and Canada Geese.

Martin and Jerry shared with the group some of their special birding spots along the shores of Rice Lake as well as the Otonabee River, but for me the unexpected highlight of the day was our final stop. Martin had a lead on a pair of Trumpeter Swans that had been reported in the area, but upon our arrival, the distant pair of swans were seen only through our scopes, but the homeowners showed us photos. Much to my surprise and delight, it was J83 and J86, two of the record number TEN cygnets born at Sturgeon Lake in 2011, aka my "Trumps"!!

In October, 2011, this massive family appeared out of nowhere in our back swamp at my family cottage:

Dad is tagged as 902, and at that time mom was "naked", having lost her 131 tag but has since been re-tagged. There were ten cygnets in all, go ahead, count them!! I decided to report my sighting to the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group and it turned out that this was a record number of cygnets for the province! They over-winter each year at LaSalle Park in Burlington, which was where mom and dad were tagged by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Even though October marked the end of cottage season for me, for the next several weeks I kept track of "my" Trumps through good friends from the Kawartha Field Naturalists. I learned that my Trumps had taken up temporary residence across the lake, having scored an excellent food source with Sharon and Joe who provided corn to them, in an effort to "tame" them up so they could eventually be tagged and banded at LaSalle Park where they would presumably go with their parents.

But for a few weeks, there was also quite a bit of drama with the Trumps, as one of the cygnets went missing and was presumed dead. We were all quite saddened when suddenly she returned to the family. Sharon and Joe and I were thrilled, but the parents, 902 and 131, not so much, as they chased off the wandering cygnet any time she got too close to the rest of the family. I named her "Outcast", as she truly was an outcast now, and any attempt to feed her corn was met with a relentless attack by a parent. But with time she was allowed closer proximity to the family, but even when they all arrived at LaSalle Park, she was always a bit separate from the family, but easy to pick out amongst the few hundred over-wintering Trumpeter Swans. 

Beverly Kingdon and her volunteers from the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group notified me when my Trumps arrived at LaSalle Park and allowed me the honour of watching them catch up, tag and band two of the cygnets. Ten consecutive tags for this special family had been selected, J80 through J89, and the first cygnet caught up was destined to be J86:

Julie fed corn to one of the unsuspecting cygnets and suddenly grabbed it up, no easy feat when you consider their weight, which I know first hand from my own volunteer experience at the Toronto Wildlife Centre:

It was then banded, tagged, and sexed (male) by both Julie and Kyna:

...and then released, notice the amount of brown on its wings and back!!

A second cygnet was caught up next before we lost our light for the day and was now J87. A few days later, and not surprisingly the last cygnet from this record family, "Outcast", was caught up and tagged as J89. I returned to LaSalle later that winter to see my Trump family again, but did not see them at all this year on Sturgeon Lake at my cottage, even though I knew the parents, 902 and 131, had nested again in the area with a paltry six cygnets, perhaps a more manageable number for them to cope with!

Until last Sunday, that is, on Rice Lake, just before sunset, here were both J83 and J86!

They looked wonderful and healthy, and soooo white now, with any of their brown and gray feathering from last year virtually gone:

And here's J86, the very same male that I had the pleasure of seeing tagged almost a year ago, how crazy is that??

I would imagine that they will soon return to LaSalle Park to spend their winter, so I look forward to perhaps seeing them again soon, especially "Outcast" that I admittedly have a soft spot for. 

By coincidence, I received a press release in the mail yesterday from the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group, drawing attention to a proposed marina expansion at LaSalle that may in fact threaten their wintering habitat. For more information please contact Beverly Kingdon