Friday, September 24, 2010


Yesterday I wrote about a little mouse named Guy but tonight I'd like to write on a more serious note.

This is the time of year when wild mice seek out warm shelter and food supplies to help them through the winter to come. In the process some will enter our houses if given the opportunity (improperly sealed external walls, etc.). This occasionally happens at my work place and the company puts down glue traps or spring traps. Glue traps are notoriously cruel causing the mouse to lie stuck and in terror until it starves to death and the spring traps are little better when they don't kill outright but only strike and maim the mouse where it is also left to die slowly. To counter this, I started searching for humane alternatives and lo and behold they are readily available, cheap and effective! One needs only go to Zeller's or a similar store or hardware store and buy a live trap.

Check out humane traps here and here. A friend of mine actually constructed one herself and caught several mice one season which were taken outdoors to a suitable location (there should be plenty of cover like bushes or tall grasses) and released. Her large dog became fascinated by this process and insisted on accompanying her to the release site where it would put its face close to the trap and watch the mouse's exit. He never attempted to hurt the mouse and just excitedly watch the event.

So the more we can deal with the little lost animals on subway platforms to the little hungry ones seeking warmth in buildings in humane and life-affirming ways, the better off we all are. Here's to the tiny creatures that need some empathy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guy the mouse

I found something the other day which has brought back memories of a rescue I made about twenty years ago! It is a "mousie" bag and this is the story of the mouse named Guy.

One day in 1989 or 1990, I had a doctor's appointment downtown and since my sister Diane worked not too far away, I thought I would take the opportunity to meet her for lunch. I did have to eat after all and it wouldn't take much more time than my regular lunch period at work (or so I thought). That was before I realized that fate was engineering a little drama to come. I left the doctor's and headed for the Guy Metro station to go the couple of stops to her workplace.

While waiting on the platform, my attention was taken by some sort of commotion a few meters away. I looked over and saw a small white mouse running along the side of the wall of the station towards me. I looked down and saw that there was a little jutting out part of the wall that would slow the mouse in his tracks when he reached it and, positioning myself to pounce, it all went off like clockwork! The mouse paused at the "roadblock" and I grabbed him and quickly dropped him in my purse! The purse had a zipper closure and I closed it just enough to prevent his escape but to provide him air. I also managed somehow to remove all its contents (and stuff them in my pockets) without him escaping. Suddenly a woman came up to me who had been waiting on the platform too and offered the mouse a few pieces of her bagel. She said "he might be hungry". I was touched!

I am not sure how this mouse (soon dubbed "Guy" after the Metro station) came to be there although I vaguely remember teenagers making a commotion at the time he was running (maybe they had released him as a joke to play on the passengers?) but in any event no one tried to claim him and I would have resisted attempts to take him from me.

Now of course I had a mouse in my purse and was on my way to a lunch date. So imagine my sister's surprise when I arrived and then announced that we were being joined by a surprise guest! Unfazed, we still had our lunch at a nearby restaurant where I surreptitiously passed little samplings of my salad to him.

After lunch of course I couldn't just head straight back to work so I had to detour to a pet shop and buy him a cage and supplies and then take him home and install him in my apartment (in a separate room from my cats!). This simple doctor's appointment stretched into quite a few hours. But it was all worth it. Guy was a friendly little fellow who would come to the front of the cage for treats and petting. He also lived a long life of three years which is well above the average lifespan. Here he is.

He was also treated to fresh salads whenever I went to "La Cage aux Sports" restaurant after work which was just across the street from my company. I asked the waiter one time for a bag in which to take home my left-over salad explaining the story of Guy and that it was a "mousie" bag rather than a "doggie" bag. He was rather taken by Guy's rescue story and even made this special bag up for him. I have kept it all these years.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Well, since I devoted a post to the Walking Stick I thought I'd give Cicadas equal time. Granted I don't think they are quite as cute but they are interesting too.

The picture below was taken in Toronto and as far as I can tell it is Tibicen Pruinosa. If you enlarge this photograph you can see three tiny red eyes which lie between the two large eyes on each side of its head. Rather alien looking, eh?

This fine fellow was in Arizona and again my best determination is that it is Tibicen Dorsata.

And finally, this is the discarded skin of the Arizona species.

An interesting fact about Cicadas is that they live the major portion of their long lives in the nymph stage. And of course, we have all heard their incredibly loud whine on our hottest summer days.
You can watch an amazing video of one shedding its skin here.

Another cool bug!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Photogenic birds

Although I mentioned in the last post that birds prove to be difficult photographic subjects, here are some that were quite cooperative. In fact the Black-and-White Warbler came so close I had to keep walking backwards to try to keep it in focus!

White-breasted Nuthatch peeking out of a tree cavity.

Black-and-White Warbler

Downy Woodpecker on a stalk of Mullein

Monday, September 13, 2010

An anorexic grasshopper?

On Saturday I had the great serendipity of finding a "Northern Walking Stick" insect while checking leaves for interesting caterpillars. Lately I have been taking quite an interest in insects (especially as birds are generally very difficult photographic subjects!).

I was so thrilled to see this little guy! First I couldn't believe my luck and then I began to suspect it was wishful thinking. I could only see four legs (if indeed they were legs) and I know insects have six. So what was going on? I very gently prodded it with a small fallen leaf and it recoiled so I knew it was alive. So the solution for me was to photograph it and then examine it more closely on the computer.

Here are the photos. The second one shows it after it had moved to another leaf (and to that leaf's underside where I would never have noticed it if it had been there when I first passed by). Upon examination one can see that it has extended its front legs (green) to be parallel to its very long attennae (brownish). This further enhances the "stick" look and made me think it only had four legs.

From the Internet and books, I have learned that Walking Sticks are strict vegetarians who use their camouflage to escape notice by predators. They are preyed upon by birds mainly but also mice and chipmunks of all things! Some species can even change their colouring to match their surroundings like chameleons! They also have the amazing ability to regenerate severed limbs which is almost unheard of insects.
Not only that but some species reproduce by parthenogenesis (without a male partner) and seem content living on their own. Hmmm - a vegetarian, likes to live alone, has no sexual partner - sounds familiar! ... but I digress. :-)
Another interesting fact is that they produce eggs singly and drop them from leaves to the ground below where they lie dormant over the winter and hatch in the spring as nymphs. After six moults the nymphs resemble the adults and their development is complete.
I hope all these facts fascinated you as much as they did me. What an amazing world we live in!
Oh, as to the title of this post? Well - this was a friend's description of the creature. I liked it.
And for a little bit of trivia, David Hyde Pierce ("Niles" on the TV show "Frasier") was the voice of the Walking Stick named "Slim" in Pixar's wonderful animated film "A Bug's Life".

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Toronto trip - Part 3 (final)

Toronto's High Park was the last nature area that I visited during my short stay in the city. Because of the intense heat wave, I think more time was spent at the Grenadier restaurant drinking cold orange juice than at the Grenadier pond but I still saw some wonderful wildlife.

A lovely reflecting pond.

I found this hovering bee quite cooperative while trying to get a mid-air photo.

I noticed a whole string of Wood Duck boxes along the far shore of the Grenadier Pond and obviously they were productive!

One of my favorite subjects!

This photo shows just how expansive and wild the pond is.

And, proving the "wild" point, here is a Black-crowned Night Heron.

And, the ubiquitous Great Blue Heron was also out and about.

Another ubiquitous creature (at least at this time of year).

And lastly, this little fellow. The squirrels I had seen up to that point had been quite shy but this one was flattened out in the grass to try to cool off and was not about to move for anyone!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Toronto trip - Part 2

Having scouted out the area via the Internet before leaving for Toronto, I found the Ernest Thompson Seton Park was not too far away from my hotel. It turned out to be a 50 minute walk and was well worth it. Ernest Thompson Seton was a renowned naturalist, artist and writer and he travelled the ravines of Toronto sketching and observing the wildlife.

Here is a friendly Torontonian that I met during my walk in the park!

Early morning mist.

A Downy Woodpecker along the trail.

One view of the trail.

This photo is rather "busy" but I liked all the patterns and textures of the water and the duck's feathers.

The hot, humid weather and the over-grown vegetation made me feel like I was in the tropics. I was thinking of Egrets when I suddenly spied this Great Blue Heron. It felt magical.

These graffiti messages struck me as poignant and a good use of chalk on concrete.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Toronto trip - Part 1

On August 27th I ventured off to the big city of Toronto. The main reason was to attend a family wedding but I also hoped to visit areas where wildlife could be found. On the very first night I found the Mount Pleasant Cemetery which turned out to be as much of a treasure trove as the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal (and even more so as will be seen further on). This map shows the location of my hotel at the corner of Eglinton and Mount Pleasant and two of the major places I visited (outlined in red). Unfortunately it will not enlarge for some reason.

The next post will be devoted to the Ernest Thompson Seton Park. For now we'll see some of the sites of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

The beauty of the area.

One of a small flock of migrating Red-Breasted Nuthatches.

A Monarch Butterfly. These gorgeous creatures were flitting about everywhere.

I have tried to get a good close-up of the berries of the Bittersweet Nightshade for a long, long time. I finally got it!

I found these bees on one of the most colourful flowers in the cemetery!

Aside from the Gray and Black Squirrels, several Red Squirrels were out and about and this one seems ablaze in the late afternoon light.

But here is the sight that I have never seen at the Mount Royal Cemetery!! I was astonished to see a deer come running close to me. It was stressed by a loud grass mower hence the open mouth but afterwards it ran to another area and then just calmly walked.

And lastly, here I am. My reflection is caught in the polished granite of a tombstone. I thought it gave a dreamy image of the foliage and sunshine. Contrary to what people may think, I believe cemeteries are for the living and are poignant reminders to live life as fully as possible.