Corvid Flash Mobs

Somewhere between harvest festivals and soccer riots, these autumnal corvid gatherings are a sure sign of the seasonal shift.

Crow Crowd

A quiet street corner that is normally the domain of a one crow family is suddenly full of noise and dark feathers. It’s usually early evening when they come, making a stop on the longer trip to the nightly roost.

crow crowd on wires

Wires that are normally punctuated by only two or three crow silhouettes are suddenly sagging under the weight of dozens.

And it’s loud. Not, I grant you, as spectacularly cacophonous as the Still Creek roost — but enough to make itself heard over the indoor household noises.

Enough to make you put on a jacket and go outside to see what’s up.

Often there are additional sounds among the cawing. Crack, plop, bang.

Like giant hail, nuts are falling from above.

 

 

In our neighbourhood, two hazel and one walnut tree produce their bounty at about the same time. It seems that the crows of Vancouver have those dates indelibly written in their mental calendars, because every late September/early October (and I’ve been watching for several years now) they come.

Hazelnuts and Crow

The crows leave many nuts on the roads so that cars can do the heavy nut cracking work for them. Because it’s not a very busy street, they entertain themselves between vehicles by dropping the nuts themselves. This seems to have little effect, but they do look as if they’re having fun.

And it’s not only the crows that have this time of year noted in their “things to do” list. Squirrels are darting about amongst the crows, determined to get their share of the seasonal windfall.

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Last year (alas, I did not have my camera) there was a human vying for his portion of the nut harvest. Clearly he knew what he was up against as he headed out for his task wearing a bicycle helmet.

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nuts

I managed to harvest these two, without a bicycle helmet.

The nuts are the focus of all this celebration, but it really feels as if more is going on.

There’s a real party atmosphere when they gather in these loud unruly groups.

The long, hot, dry summer is finally over. Life is easier now. There are puddles to splash in, and worms to dig out of the dirt again.

Crows that have been busy — first nesting — and then trying to keep fledglings alive —since early spring, finally have some time to themselves. The young ones are big enough to forage for themselves and join in the harvest festival fun.

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Young Erica, Eric and Clara’s fledgling from this year.

Another reason for celebration — the endless molting season is nearing an end. Crazy bald-patch zombie crows are starting to revert to their true sleek selves and that has got to feel really good.

crow calendar Sept

Baby crows that have survived their first couple of months are now able to fly to the roost every night so the big nightly party is back on. These “block parties” are just the warm up to the main event at Still Creek.

Crow Choir

Getting in tune for the roost later on.

Just as the sun goes down a crow somewhere in the mob sounds the signal.

The wires erupt into a clatter of shadowy wings and commentary.

Slocan and Parker

Then suddenly they’re gone. All of them.

The wires are vacant and the nut-strewn street is silent.

Golden Poplars and Crows

A small tributary of crows trickles through the stand of poplars, golden in the last light of the day.

Environmental Dead Zone

My previous post was more of a sentimental ode to the patch of scrappy urban nature that may soon be gone.

This one is bit more pragmatic — and a plea to any readers who know of research or information that would support the preservation of a few more fragments of wildlife habitat and green space.

Mavis and Marvin

As a young couple, struggling to make it the Vancouver housing market, Marvin and Mavis worry that their nesting site is going to be gentrified into oblivion.

The school that plans to fell the trees and install the artificial turf stadium is a private one and they own the land. They are quite entitled to have a sports facility for their students, of course, and we would love to see a field installed for the kids. We wish, though, that they could be content with a natural grass field. One that would allow a bit of nature, including the poplars, to co-exist with their sports needs.

In fact, this is a conversation that local residents had with the school over ten years ago, and was something we’d thought settled to everyone’s satisfaction when they submitted plans for a grass field in back in 2008.

Now we’ve learned that an amendment to the permit was submitted at the beginning of this year, with no notice to local residents. It’s come as bit of a shock.

The crows have held some ad hoc protest groups already …

 

If we want to keep a tenuous (and precious) thread to the natural world intact in our cities, we need to make a few compromises.

One of my favourite resources on this topic is John Marzluff’s book, Subirdia.

Marzluff offers ten commandments for small compromises we city dwellers can make in order eke out just enough habitat for our wild neighbours to survive, and maybe even thrive.

Needless to say, cutting down stands of trees and laying down artificial turf are not on his list of suggestions.

Marzluff writes eloquently about why the effort to make space for nature in our urban lives is worthwhile and vital:

“Experience shapes our ethics and actions. If experience no longer includes nature, then our ethics cannot reflect the full needs of our natural world. Our interaction with nature is reciprocal — as we affect it, it affects us. Strengthening our place in the city’s ecological web builds resilience to change and allows us to co-exist with a wonderful diversity of life. Cutting our ties to the web is like cutting the belay line climbers rely upon as they stretch for a distant handhold. As we stretch to live within a rapidly changing world, are we ready to gamble on an unprotected, solo climb?”

While high school students need sports and exercise as part of a well-rounded education, surely ecology and ethics should also be on the curriculum.

I am hoping that the school will be convinced to let the trees remain because of their importance to the shelter, breeding, and feeding for local birds, as well as for their simple beauty.

Mavis Sept 22-18

Mavis ponders life without the Notre Dame poplars

I never thought I’d find myself writing in favour of grass fields, but I also hope that the school and the City will give the artificial turf choice a hard second look. While large grass areas do have many environmental problems — their water water and pesticide consumption being the most obvious — I’m not sure we should replacing grass sports fields with artificial turf without some serious consideration.

The artificial turf “solution” may turn out to be one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things. Some of the articles I’ve read on the pros and cons of artificial turf are listed below.*

This battle is going on in almost every city around the globe. It’s a rather unequal contest between urban development, and quieter voices trying to save some little bits of nature within the sprawl.

To return to Joni Mitchell’s words, “you don’t know what  you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Even if you don’t fully realize that your day is made a little more sane by the distant sound of birdsong, or the antics of a crow on the power lines, I’m pretty sure you would notice a silence and an absence.

Eric in Poplars

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See my previous post: Urban Nature is Fragile

Follow for news of community actionNotre Dame Neighbours

*SOME ARTICLES ABOUT PROS AND CONS OF ARTIFICIAL TURF

Government of Western Australia: Broader Environmental Considerations: Chapter 7 of the Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf Surfaces Study Final Report.

The Conversation: Why artificial turf may truly be bad for kids

Mom’s Team, The Trusted Source for Sports Parents — Turf Wars: the Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Mike Ozanian, How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field

Huffington Post:  Artificial Grass May Save Water, But Does It Endanger People?

The Guardian:  Growth in artificial lawns poses threat to British wildlife, conservationists warn

Urban Nature Is Fragile

I am filled with sadness every time I look out of my window lately.

We have lived here for 27 years and my favourite view has always been of the row of Lombardy poplars fringing the private school at the end of our block. In the fall it is golden, in the winter and early spring it’s a shadow puppet show of bird life. From ravens to tiny bushtits — the branches are full of bird activity all year round.

When the wind blows, the trees make a sound like rushing river.

Urban nature can be tough and tenacious. Dandelions forcing their way to the light through tarmac. Moss or rust overwhelming almost any surface, given time.

But urban nature is so very fragile in the face of human decision-making.

The school has not had a sports field for over ten years, since they redeveloped the site. We’ve been expecting a field to go in at any time over those years, and local residents are looking forward to the project being finished and seeing the students with somewhere to play and exercise.

But now we are realizing that they are not just going to build a field — they have plans for a sports stadium — complete with artificial turf and (most likely) the removal of the beloved poplars.

The neighbours are upset for many reasons — mostly the noise, traffic and parking headaches that the stadium will bring.

I’m anxious about those things too — but what makes me truly heartsick is the idea of converting  that little bit of urban nature into an environmental desert.

If the trees do come down, the City of Vancouver will require that some new trees are planted to replace them — but they won’t be anywhere near the stature of the existing stand of poplars.

The entire rest of the school campus will be covered with building, parking lot, and plastic grass.

It was on this campus that I spotted migrating mountain bluebirds this spring, and where I had my wonderful conversations with a raven.

The white crowned sparrows and finches like to bathe in puddles and feed on seeds from grass growing in currently fallow areas. 

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Northern flickers, I’ve noticed, love to watch the sun rise from the tops of the poplars.

I watched the whole unfolding drama of two crow families building and tending nests in those same trees from March to July.

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Nature in the city is a delicate balance.

It’s not as if they’re really taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.

You couldn’t really call it paradise — a big, rutted parking area with weeds around the edges and a big patch of free-growing grass left from when an old wing of the school was torn down years ago.

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But it has actually been paradise to those birds. They don’t really ask for much.

And, in terms of putting up a parking lot — there will be a new parking lot — but that parking lot will probably be marginally more environmentally friendly than the artificial turf football field  — an ocean of sterile plastic grass that will fill almost every square remaining inch of the campus.

So, yes — every time I look out of my window now, I’m sad as I wonder how many more times I’ll see the sun and moon rise behind those branches, and I ask myself where the birds will be nesting next spring?

 

See part two of this blog, coming soon, for a less heartbroken, and more pragmatic, view of this issue.

For more information on community response to the proposed Notre Dame Stadium, see the Notre Dame Neighbours website.

 

Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

Bringing you, direct to you from the runways of East Vancouver, the very latest in autumn fashion inspiration. I encourage you to leaf through the new trends and adopt some elements to create your very own signature fall look.

I can guarantee  you will stand out from the crowd.

Eric and Clara Molting Sept 2018

Eric and Clara model “dragged through a hedge backwards” look that is so of the moment.

 

The Statement Nostril

I really can’t over emphasize the importance this new must-have fashion staple!

A particularly severe molting season this year has left many a corvid nostril exposed to the elements. As with most things in life, if you got it, you might as well flaunt it.

 

Nostrils

Flaunt those nostrils …

Marvin's Nostrils

Own those nostrils!

 

How To Wear It

This season’s look screams, “I don’t care what I look like!” along with a touch of “I’ve pretty much given up on grooming.”

A determinedly devil-may-care attitude is required to successfully pull off this somewhat challenging fashion trend.

So worth the effort though. Just look at the results when it’s successfully done …

Feather Flaunting

Don’t be shy. Get out there and strut your tattered stuff.

Mabel with Pizza

Mabel, last year’s calendar cover model, demonstrates how the careful use of accessories can help pull off this look. A bit of hard old pizza in your beak makes you the indisputable Queen of the Runway.

Multicolour Molting Crow

Who you lookin’ at?

 

The Neck Ruffle

Hot from the fashion presses, this dynamic new look is a sort of mullet hybrid.

Quite the party in back, although not much business in front (see next trend below.)

Neck Ruffle

 

Mrs Pants Silhouette

The Indie Beard

This electrifying new trend is taking all of East Van by storm. Some humans even sport the look. While thoroughly of the new and now, we see in it a nod to the first beatnik hipsters.

Mr. Pants (such a fashion guru) was an early adopter of this bold new facial experiment …

Mr. Pants Beard

 

But now some of the younger crows are hopping on the straggly chin bandwagon …

Marvin Beard

Marvin thinks he looks pretty groovy.

 

The Most Important Fall Fashion Question

Of course, these are only fads and foibles. What those of us in the know most want to find out is:

Will Mr. Pants regain his full trousered splendour after the molting season???

Here he was, back in early August when his Pants were at their most magnificent.

Rhapsody in Purple

Things have been looking a little sparser of late …

Molting Mr Pants

But, take heart, Pants fans.

I checked a post I wrote this time last year and voila, our cover model was Mr. Pants himself, taken in August 2017 with a full set of glorious pantaloons.

This gives me great hope that His Pantship will be back in full regalia once the molting season is over.

Mr Pants 2017

We do hope you’re going to try some of these looks, brought to you by the Crow-dashians of East Vancouver. Do send us any photos of the results!

I have felt a bit like one of those fashion bloggers who photograph edgy street fashion over the past few days. It’s been quite a laugh.

Seriously though, the poor crows are kind of miserable and irritable during the molting season, so do be nice to them. If it’s still dry where you are, think of leaving them some water. Kind words are also always appreciated.


logo with crow
www.junehunter.com

 

September studio sale 2018 LEAVES

Fall Fashion Tips

Memories of Bird Expo

Pretty much every day is a bird expo around here, in its own little way.

Molting Mavis

Mavis, positively piebald in her molting magnificence.

But last week I had the great privilege of being part of the Bird and Nature Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre. It was an event that combined, for the first time, three important gatherings:

  • the 27th meeting of the International Ornithological Congress (IOC)
  • the first Vancouver International Bird Festival
  • the 8th Annual Artists For Conservation Festival
Photo 2018-08-23, 5 01 52 PM

At my booth with Rue the Kenku (member of a mythical bird race) and Rob Butler, Chair of the Vancouver International Bird Festival.

The IOC is the oldest and most prestigious meeting of bird scientists, having started in 1884 in Vienna, Austria. They meet every four years, and this was the very first time the event took place on the Pacific Coast.

The Vancouver International Bird Festival is an expansion of the successful Vancouver Bird Weeks that have been enjoyed in the city since 2013. The event included talks, walks, tours and community art celebrating and spreading the love of birds. All of it came together in the Nature and Bird Expo.

Artists For Conservation (AFC) is an important group of artists dedicated to supporting the environment through their beautiful work. A highlight of the Nature and Bird Expo was their stunning Silent Skies mural — a hundred foot long mosaic in which many AFC artists collaborated to depict 678 endangered bird species.

Silent Skies Mural

So, having explained the nuts and bolts of what was going on, let me tell you a bit about the atmosphere.

bird ephoria

As someone who spends a lot of solitary work time — thinking about, writing about, looking at, and photographing birds, there was something quite euphoric about being in a room with hundreds of people who are similarly obsessed. Many of the people I spoke to were scientists, rather than artists, but there is no divide between disciplines when it comes to sheer bird enthusiasm.

At the back of the huge space in which the Expo was held was an area where scientists who weren’t presenting their abstracts in a bigger venue could pin up a poster about their research and have half an hour or so to present it to anyone interested. That area was like a beehive, buzzing with ideas being shared, vibrating with energy.

I met bird scientists from Russia, Korea, South Africa, China, Columbia, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, all parts of Canada and the United States. One thing they had in common was —  if you asked them what their area of research was, they positively lit up. I’m pretty sure the percentage of people who love their jobs was way above the general average.

The Expo showcased organizations that work with birds, rescue birds, rehab birds, publish books about birds, sell binoculars and cameras, the better to watch and photograph birds, and equipment to track birds. Really, you name it, if it had to do with birds, it was there. On Saturday, there was a kids’ bird feeder building workshop, paper bird puppets were made and the place was full of children working on various bird-related projects.

Boobook Owl

Wide-eyed Boobook Owl — native to Australia, but abandoned in Canada and rescued by OWL — an orphaned wildlife rescue association, specializing in raptors since 1985. Mr. Boobook was at the Expo with OWL to meet and greet the public during the week.

Harris Hawk

Handsome Harris Hawk, brought to the Expo by The Raptors, a group of biologists dedicated to educating the public about birds of prey, working to conserve them, and to using falconry as a natural method of wildlife management.

And the bird-inspired art was, well … inspiring.

My neighbour was jewellery Joanna Lovett Sterling who makes gorgeous jewellery with thoughtful bird-sparked stories. I’m not sure how it’s possible that we both live in Vancouver and hadn’t met until then, we have so much in common. We did a a lot of laughing over the five days we were there.

Photo 2018-08-22, 12 30 00 PM

In the wider art world, there were breath-taking bird paintings, drawings and sculptures and even intricately carved bird eggs.

Birds on Parade

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I was sorry to have missed the Bird Parade that opened the event. We had visitors from the UK and we couldn’t quite coordinate things to get downtown in time — but we did manage to get to the Still Creek Roost that night, so they did witness a bird parade of a different sort.

Happily, some of the stilt walkers came by the Expo later in the week and I did meet the American Crow.

stilt crow

Also, some of the bird stilt walkers will be parading again soon at the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival on September 22, and we can keep up with them at  Birds on Parade on Facebook.

Costume Artists

One of the really interesting things about last week’s event was the variety of ways in which people shared their love of all things avian. Two costume artists (one from Seattle, the other from New York) were some of the most dynamic.

You can read more about the amazing work of H. “Rah” Esdaile (@rah-bop) and Jennifer Miller (@nambroth)  on the IOC web site at Artist Showcase  (scroll down to Bird Costumes.) The costumes they made were spectacularly detailed, and their movements stunningly bird-like. Their presence brought an electric energy and everyone was thrilled to have their photograph taken with them. It was as if “Bird Elvis” was in the building!

Vulture and Eagle Costumes

Costumes by Jennifer Miller, with Jennifer and her husband Brian as a bearded vulture (Lammergeier) and a endangered Philippine eagle. Note excited people in the back, reviewing photos taken with the bird people.

sarah-hammond.jpg

Bird artist, Sarah Hammond, surrounded by giant birds.

June and Rah

Rue, member of the mythical Kenku bird race. Of course, she had many corvid qualities, so I was particularly star struck!

Rue Costume Detail Belt

Some of the amazing detail in Rah-Bop’s amazing costume design — Rue’s belt of  mysterious collected treasures. 

Eye closing detail

One last amazing detail in Rue’s costume. The eyes can close to allow a great range of bird expressions!

Lost Delegate

Finally, for those of you who were worried about the small, confused Expo attendee shown below, (many people wondered about his fate after I posted him on Instagram and Twitter) rest easy. His story has a happy ending. He did not run into the Harris Hawk, but was reunited with the pigeon delegation in the great outdoors.

Well, the Expo, Congress and Festivals are over now, but my head is full of great memories and happy thoughts about the wonderful people I met. I feel as if the world is a better place, just knowing they’re all out there doing their various bird-focused work.

Back now, to my owl small Nature and Bird Expo. A new one each day when I take my morning walk around the neighbourhood.

Rainy Day Mavis

Mavis, reliably spectacular in all weather …

www.junehunter.com

logo with crowbird costumes ioc2018

Crow Welcome

Mr P against red sun

Ideally, when your long awaited visitors arrive, you and your home are looking their spiffy best. As we know, this often does not work out exactly as planned, but it’s important to make the best of things and make the guests welcome anyway.

This week, bird scientists and activists from around the world are arriving in Vancouver for the International Ornithological Congress 2018, and to enjoy Vancouver’s International Bird Festival. Our city is just full of bird-focused visitors, looking skyward.

Today I went on my usual early  morning “urban nature enthusiast” walk, which mostly consists of chatting with my local crows and topping up their strategically located water bowls. As I visited my corvid acquaintances, I began to imagine what they might have to say to our out of town visitors.

Crow Conversation

First of all, sorry about how we’re looking.

We’d really hoped the molting season would be over by now and we’d be sporting our fabulous fall feathers. All midnight blues, deep amethysts and shimmery sheen. Sigh. Instead, we’re still in the midst of our crazy “hey, look, I could be an extra in a low budget pirate movie” phase.

We like to think of this as our Late Summer Casual look.”

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Mr Pants

Mr. Pants shows off his molting season hipster beard.

The crow shown here is one I’ve been following and photographing for a few months. I started calling him Fluffy Pants, meaning to come up with a more dignified name later. Somehow he’s gotten stuck as FP, but we call him Mr. Pants for short which I like to think is slightly more respectable. His claim to fame is (obviously) his extravagantly feathered pair of trousers. He had them last year too, so I assume they’ll stick with him through the molting season.

Although, this morning, as he flew over my head, one of his precious pant feathers came loose and spiralled slowly, slowly downward — right into my waiting hand.

Here it is, as fluffy and delicate as you’d imagine.

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Mr Pants in Full Fluff

Mr Pants looking more fully fluffy and pleasingly purple, only a couple of weeks ago.

This is Mavis, one of the crows that lives right beside my house. She’s usually the first bird I see each morning. Fluffed up, her molting feathers, in all their faded colours, look rather magnificent

Mavis on A Washing Line

Mavis’s mate, Marvin, was looking a bit more dishevelled today. You can actually see the “nostril” holes in his beak as he’s lost the feathers that usually cover them.

Marvin Molting

 

“So, yes, human visitors, we realize that we crows are not looking our most magnificent for your visit.

But don’t write us off. We’re as clever, funny, feisty and fascinating as ever. Make sure and keep your eyes open for us. You can’t miss us. We’re everywhere. Watch for us at dusk, when we fly in crowds to the east for our nightly roost at Still Creek.

Oh, yeah, you may also have noticed that the much hyped mountains, and some other breath-taking vistas, have disappeared behind a pall of forest fire smoke.

Things are breath-taking, just not in a good way.

It’s been yet another long, hot, tinder dry summer and lots of BC is burning.

We’re sorry the view is more dsytopian than utopian for your visit.

On the small bright side, it’s visceral proof that the human race really needs to take a look at what it’s been up to for the last couple of millenia.

Many of you are scientists and activists, and we crows are cheering you in your work to help chart a new course for this environmental pirate ship we’re all crewing on.

Ahoy matey.”

Apocolypse Sunrise over Iron Workers Bridge

Otherworldly sunrise over the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, East Vancouver.

East Van Sunset

Vancouver summer 2018

On another note (June speaking again, not crows) ….

Urban Nature Enthusiast

… I’ll have a booth at the Nature and Bird Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre this week. Hope to see you there (Booth #623) and we can talk crows and murky skies …

Red Sun, Crow and Wires

 

www.junehunter.com

Hip To Be Square #TBT

1200px-Kodak_Instamatic_100

This was the first camera I owned. Well not that one exactly, but this type. I received it for my ninth birthday in, gulp, 1963.

I don’t believe it came with a manual as it was so utterly basic. There was no focusing, no exposure settings, certainly no filters. Framing choices were limited to square.

It was case of: point, shoot and hope for the best.

Perfect for an enthusiastic nine year old!

June just got camera f

This nine year old me does not look very excited, but I was. Our class went on a thrilling school trip to the Flamingo Park Zoo, in distant and exotic Yorkshire! However, as you can see I was always going to be more comfortable behind the camera, rather than in front of it. Or maybe I was just worried my friend was going to drop my new treasure …

tigers at Flamingo Park Zoo f

A picture from the first roll of film I ever shot, again at Flamingo Park Zoo. There were also a lot of photos of flamingoes …

Perhaps because of this early viewfinder, I always “see” my images as squares, even when using a rectangular viewfinder. Square format came back into fashion during the Polaroid era, and now Instagram has brought it back. That’s nice — makes it easier to find frames!

However, I do like to think I “invented” the one and only thing you could do to vary my square photographic universe — the “groundbreaking” Diamond Shot.

june in a box

Me and my first Canadian dog, Finlay, taking a break while tree planting in northern BC — a photo made using the exciting Diamond Shot method.

cactus diamond shots

A pair of cactus-themed diamond shots taken on a road trip to the Mexican desert.

pontiac-2 f

A more conventional square shot of some roadside repairs being done on the car that took us (unbelievably) to Mexico and back to northern BC again.

The good old Instamatic, although technically rather stunted, was super portable. It travelled with me through schooldays, university, and moving to Canada.

It’s portability, in the end, proved to be its downfall. While tree planting in a particularly gorgeous spot near Mount Robson, I decided to bring the camera with me to the top of a “run” so I could get a photo of the view. Sadly, the only place to carry it was in my tree bag, where it got wet from the peat moss meant to keep the trees moist and alive. As I advanced the film for the last shot, the lever made a sort of grinding noise from the particulate matter in there.

Still, the film did come out, and this is the very last photo on the roll. Great view, right?

McBride-4f

It was a sad goodbye to an old companion, but that Instamatic had been a trusty friend for almost twenty years, so I really couldn’t complain. Plus, well … wet peat moss …

After some brief flirtations with Canon and Minolta models, I finally settled on an Olympus OM-1 film camera to replace the old Kodak. No automatic features, but tons of fun to be had playing with f-stops, film speed and exposure length. I’m still using an Olympus — now the digital variety. I’m on my third model after “killing” the first two, both times without the aid of wet peat moss!

Ah, they really do not make ’em like they used to.

june cabin in winter

Last bit of nostalgia. The little cabin I built and lived in by a creek in northern BC, circa 1978.

Calendar cover 2019 blog new

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