Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Gothic Mansion & Wildlife Sanctuary

During the past few weeks while the insomniac  was attempting to capture a few “artistic” photos of the garden in bloom, there were quite a few instances where just as the picture was being taken, some form of wildlife or other suddenly ran or flew through the shot. In the two short years that Kaos, Protector of the Gothic Mansion has no longer been patrolling the grounds, the wildlife population has virtually exploded, and from the number of species that now consider the grounds their permanent residence, it seemed it might be time to officially rename the Gothic Mansion to the slightly more pretentious Gothic Mansion & Wildlife Sanctuary.

But the overabundance of White-tailed Jackrabbits and Spruce Grouse inevitably bring the beasts of prey, as well. Two weeks ago, a mother coyote and her three pups downsized the jackrabbit colony by at least two members. By the time the spouse came upstairs to announce the coyotes' arrival, it was too late for a picture, as Mama was carrying dinner off somewhere more secluded so she and her pups could finish eating in peace. Later that week, the Sanctuary was lucky enough to witness the appearance of another magnificent  predator; a Great Horned Owl.

I see you, trying to get a decent photo of me ...

This is not the first time a Great Horned has made a visit, although they only appear twice yearly, in the spring and autumn, and only stay for one day. Even though they are year-round residents of Alberta, it always seems as if they are on their way to or from somewhere else, and have just stopped at the Sanctuary for a quick rest before continuing their journey.

The insomniac  recalls the first time a family of Great Horned Owls arrived in the middle of the night, probably sometime in late October since it had already snowed. Awakening to a “hoo-hoo-hoooo”, the insomniac  elbowed her long-suffering spouse in the ribs and shrieked, “There's an owl on the weathervane!” to which he replied, “It's one of those effin' pigeons!”, yanked the covers over his head and rolled over, all the while muttering further obscenities. Having not received the enthusiastic response she had hoped for, the insomniac  then proceeded to wake her youngest offspring, forcing her into snow boots and parka, and dragging her out into the frigid night to see the Owl Family, confident this would be a memory her offspring would cherish forever. However, when recently quizzed about the incident, said offspring had absolutely no recollection whatsoever of this cherished memorable moment.

He's staring at the magpies, who are
chastising him severely for invading their territory ...

The owl landed in the Blue Spruce at 4:11 a.m. The reason one knows the exact time is because one grabbed the alarm clock to check, having been rudely jolted from a deep sleep by the deafening uproar from the crows and magpies which heralded his arrival. Every bird in the neighbourhood was extremely concerned about the owl's exact whereabouts, and there was a steady stream of them landing on his branch the entire day, presumably checking to make sure he hadn't moved and started hunting yet. On the plus side, the diversion did manage to keep the Flicker away from the Gothic Mansion's metal chimney for a few hours, which he uses to sharpen his beak and which creates a melodious clanging echo from the attic right to the basement.

The Northern Flicker (centre) who kept anxiously coming back
to check on the owl's whereabouts ...

The owl spent the whole day in the tree trying to catch a bit of sleep, and left sometime around 10:00 p.m., causing yet another great uproar. During his stopover at the Sanctuary, there was nary a Jackrabbit nor Spruce Grouse in sight, but a few days later everything was back to normal and the wildlife back in full force.

Ever since moving to the neighbourhood twenty-five years ago, there has always been a pair of Spruce Grouse in residence. Last year was their most prolific yet, with nine babies - eleven of them parading across the grounds providing much amusement. The grouse seldom fly, preferring to quickly run away when startled. Unless Kaos happened to have an atypical burst of energy that day and gave chase; then they flew.

Spruce Grouse - this year's brood should be arriving any time ...

The colony of White-tailed Jackrabbits has definitely expanded since Kaos of Illinois has been gone, and with an average of four babies per litter and one or two litters per year, it's no wonder the Sanctuary is overrun. (Kaos was born in Illinois, in case you were wondering how that particular nickname came about.)

Every morning this past week as the insomniac  left for work at 6:25 a.m., one of the new baby jackrabbits was sitting in the middle of the driveway, seemingly just waiting for one's arrival. Once the car started down the drive, he would run just slightly out of the way, then stop. And this is how it progressed: insomniac  moves the car a couple of feet - baby rabbit runs a couple of feet - insomniac  moves the car a few more feet - baby rabbit runs a few more feet - insomniac  moves the car ... An additional ten minutes was added to the morning's commute, because it is a long driveway.

White-tailed Jackrabbit - Summer Coat

White-tailed Jackrabbit - Winter Coat
In the long driveway ...

There's been a Murder of Crows hanging around the Sanctuary lately - six to be exact. According to one's limited research, when crows live in the city they are known as Urban Crows. Two of these Urban Crows were obviously this year's babies and two were the parents, but the remaining two looked to be older than the babies but younger than the adults (judging by the length of their tails, which is the only way the insomniac  knows how to distinguish young from old). After further research, apparently offspring from the previous year remain with their parents and help care for the new babies. The amount of information one can gather from just a few minutes on Google! In any event, the insomniac  always welcomes the yearly return of the baby crows and magpies, as they are quite curious and unafraid of human contact, allowing one to get quite close for photos. And yet the pictures still manage to come out pitiful ...

Bird's Eye View from the top of the gazebo ...

Watcha' doin'?

The crow on the left dropped something down the chimney,
and now he's looking to see where it went ...

Along with the Urban Crows, another of the insomniac's  favourite birds that frequent the Sanctuary are the Black-billed Magpies. Although judging by conversations overheard after the arrival of the Great Horned Owl, perhaps not everyone in the neighbourhood enjoys them quite as much as the insomniac  does. Once again, one's scant research revealed that magpies are permanent residents, seldom venturing far from where they were born. Generally, one can look forward to the arrival of two or three offspring each year; these offspring will begin breeding in one to two years. Which explains why there isn't a day goes by when one hasn't heard the familiar yak-yak-yak that seems to annoy the neighbours so much.

Mom (or maybe Dad) gathering the uneaten fish food, which the spouse
retrieves from the skimmer and puts on the rock especially for the magpies
(and yet he claims he doesn't like them) ...

Fish food spilling out the sides of her beak ... she (or maybe he) does have three
hungry and very vocal youngsters to feed this year ...

Besides the permanent residents at the Sanctuary, there has been an occasional visit of a more unique nature, such as the appearance inside the Gothic Mansion of a small brown bat a few years ago. One is still not quite sure how he managed to get inside, but it was definitely an adventure trying to get him back outside. The spouse was in the parlour holding a window screen to keep the bat from flying into his hair (wink,wink) while the insomniac  sat on the stairs and tried to prevent the bat from flying up into the second-floor bedrooms. Each time the bat came near the stairs, the insomniac  would jump up, flail her hands and yell, which caused the bat to make an immediate about-face and fly back into the parlour, where the spouse would try to guide him towards the open front door, using the screen as a shield. After thirty minutes of this nonsense, the bat finally flew into the screen (possibly his bat radar wasn't working due to exhaustion), which stunned him long enough to allow one to pick him up and rush him outside. After a few dazed minutes, he regathered his wits and flew away into the night, never to be seen again. Unless that was him again last summer, flying around the insomniac's  head as she was sitting by the pond. Perhaps he came back to say a quick hello ...

Would a bat make a good pet? He was pretty adorable, but freakishly fast ...

The insomniac  and her spouse consider themselves quite blessed to have all this wildlife on the grounds, providing them with a constant source of entertainment. Especially since the Gothic Mansion & Wildlife Sanctuary is situated right smack in the middle of inner-city Calgary. Between coyotes, owls, and the occasional lynx, it really couldn't get much better even if one were living in the country - although then you'd have to deal with larger and much more frightening predators. There's a lot to be said for inner-city living.

Last week was the two year anniversary of Kaos' passing. We really miss you, Big Guy ...

Kaos, the Wonder Windhund. He went by many names ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... Personally, the insomniac  is hoping to sleep in slightly longer than 4:11 a.m. this weekend. Goodnight, my pretties.


    Lone Pine Compact Guide to Alberta Birds
    Google and Wikipedia


  1. Oh how nice to have a visit of an owl! I live surrounded by nature but haven't seen an owl here. I have lots of visits from the damn deers eating my salad and flower buds :( I went evil and put spiky rose twigs in the flowers, hopw it will work otherwise I have to use sheep wool (it stinks). I will drag my family to the forest today to pick blueberries and fungus and hopefully not meet any predators. Thanks for you kind comment on my haircut and blog :) /Therese

  2. One feels your pain - the jackrabbits cause enough damage to the plants and trees, to the point one has almost given up buying anything new for the garden. One can't even imagine the damage deer would cause! Hopefully the spiky rose twigs will work, and an excellent idea which the insomniac  will share with her gardener (spouse).

    Have a lovely walk in the forest today with your family. It's always an excellent idea to drag the offspring out and force them to enjoy nature. ;o)

  3. ...♥...
    We have a family of crows...the flock of top knot pigeons that feed in our occassional willy-wag-tail, regular visits from a yellow honey eater and a mouse or two that our cat finds to play with
    and i'm happy with that

  4. One is going to have to Google Top Knot pigeons, Willy-Wag-Tails and Yellow Honey Eaters, as one has never heard of any of them - quite exciting! Mice are definitely another story; plenty of those, but no cats to keep that population under control!!

  5. The Willy-Wag-Tails are AWESOME - they look like miniature magpies!

  6. What delightful stories! I get excited by any bird and animal visits, even when it is the herd of massive feral muscovy ducks that live down the road. We have a tiny gap under the door where little skinks/ lizards sometimes run in. I have given up chasing them around the house nand am now assuming they know the way out.

    Another fun visitor we had was the 'screaming woman owl' who used to hang around outside my mum's window at night, screaming like a woman being murdered. It terrified her the first time, but she was clever enough to check the bird books, and found an owl nicknamed the 'screaming woman' for its awful cries.

    I adore Willy Wagtails! They do the funniest little dance! They were important in a classic Australian kid's book called Dot and the Kangaroo, where it helps them get home.

  7. The insomniac  had no idea that ducks could be feral!

    The Screaming Woman Owl sounds AWESOME - who wouldn't love to hear that in the middle of the night! ;o)