Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up

This a re-post of my original blog, first written in 2014.
I was reminded of it by the appearance of one of my images in the newly published Book of the Raven next to the chapter about Charles Dickens’ raven, Grip, who is said to have inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven.


And to the original post, with the addition of some newer raven images …

I have concluded that Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, is nothing more than an unfortunate inter-species misunderstanding. Let me explain …

I was thinking of calling this new crow portrait “Nevermore”. Before making my final decision, I decided to reread the famous poem that has forever linked ravens with the word “nevermore”.

The last time I read it was in the 1970s when I was studying literature at university. Steeped as I was in the poetry and prose of the English Romantic poets, I rapturously devoured The Raven, reading it as the dramatic story of a heartbroken young man, mourning the loss of his true love, receiving a dire prophecy of everlasting gloom from his nocturnal avian visitor, a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore”.

Read in that light, I’d be reluctant to link “my” handsome fellow to such a bleak and rather morbid portrait of raven-kind. But then it came to me — the whole episode described in the poem is simply a terrible misunderstanding!

The raven isn’t saying “Nevermore” at all. He’s showing the typical corvid aptitude for mimicry and repeating what he’s heard the heartsick human calling out into the darkness – the name of his lost love, Lenore. (It’s sometimes a little tricky to interpret the raven accent.) Perhaps he’s even trying to cheer up our lachrymose hero.

So really, instead of calling upon the raven to “get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore,” he should have gone out for a nice brisk night-time walk with the friendly raven for company, and possibly felt quite refreshed by morning.

So, with this cheerier interpretation in mind, I think I’ll go ahead and call my image, Nevermore. The image is for sale as a fine art photographic print in my online store.

With apologies to serious Edgar Allen Poe fans everywhere.

But, if you would like to re-read the poem and decide if you see any truth in my interpretation, here is the poem:

Poe

THE RAVEN

by Edgar Allen Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted—nevermore!

 

Raven asking how Poe could have got it so wrong …

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cue The Ravens

I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today. Nothing too serious — just a sudden tweak to the back sustained, somewhat ironically, while tying the laces on my exercise shoes.

As I’m currently housebound, it’s time to access the memory vault of recent raven encounters.

Corvid-like, I cache these recollections like an emergency rainy day fund, or a jar of home-canned apricot jam set aside for a hopelessly dark and wet morning some time in January.

In peering into the raven pantry I hope to cheer myself (and you too, if you need it) with a reminder of all the raven beauty out there. The fact that it’s certainly going on right now, even if no human is watching, is always a source of comfort to me.

Here are some highlights from three recent trips to the back country.

Raven Reminiscence 1 — Dog Mountain

Near the end of August, with the diminishing of heat and crowds, and the completion (more or less) of major home renovations, we ventured out for the first hike of the summer. The short trip up to Dog Mountain was made tricky by the latticework of wet and slippery roots everywhere. The view at the top was just becoming veiled in cloud with nary a raven in sight.

A group of walkers had wandered off, leaving their lunches and backpacks unattended at the viewpoint. Rooky mistake — and yet  the bags were left unmolested, leading me to believe there couldn’t possibly be any ravens on the mountain that day.

Still, it was lovely to be up there and I was resigning myself to a raven-free expedition (it happens) when, out of the blowing mist …

Well, hello!

And where there is one raven, there is usually a mate

Summer’s End Raven

Raven Reminiscence 2 — Lillooet Lake

Right at the end of August we visited friends who live on Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton. So much space, and the distant sounds of ravens.


On one particular early morning walk along the lake shore we heard some raven calls I’d never experienced before.

A solo raven sat in tree by the lake making a few general “Here I am. Where are you?” calls to his mate, along with some gentle “water dripping from a bamboo pipe” sounds. There were small birds skimming across the surface of the lake too and we noticed that the raven began to turn his considerable vocal talents to mimicking their cheeping calls.

Moments later some distant dog barking inspired this next bit of impersonation …

Next, we see the raven couple enjoying a quiet moment in their enviable back yard. Raven real estate listings would include “Miles of lake, hundreds of kilometres of forest, towering cliffs for soaring, few people, birds of all kinds to imitate …”

Raven pair at Lillooet Lake

Raven Reminiscence 3 — Black Mountain

The third, and most recent, experience actually involved some amateur raven conjuring.

We’d hiked up to the Black Mountain area of Cypress Bowl. It was a beautify morning with not another human to be seen. The view was breath taking, the weather was perfect.

Geordie in his happy place …

Me too!

Taking it all in, I said “This is so perfect. Only one thing could make it better . . . ”

I don’t need to tell you who landed with a dignified “quork” before I finished the sentence.

Only one single feather out of place, in spite of a light breeze.

 

Raven obligingly posing in front of the landmark Two Sisters peaks — also known as The Lions.

We walked around the whole area for a couple of hours and every once in a while we’d see our wish-summoned ravens in the distance. As usual, there was a pair of them.


The most surprising raven thing of the summer happened when we took a last break at Cabin Lake before hiking back from Black Mountain to the parking lot.

Our raven showed up once again. Popped up, in fact …

There was a bit of a raven promenade along the boardwalk …

One of them confidently took up a post on top of a park sign.

That still wasn’t the amazing thing.

Nor was it the fact that the raven stayed there, quite unperturbed,  as several hikers walked along the boardwalk inches away from him.

No, the amazing thing was that the humans didn’t seem to even notice him!!

How can anyone walk right by such a commanding bird, so close and at eye level, and not even cast a glance their way — or at least offer a respectful greeting???

My mind was a bit boggled, but then again, perhaps those people were obsessed by lichen, wholly consumed by cloud formations, or just fitness-fixated and on to the next peak.

We all have our foibles, I guess.

But I would always, always advise taking a moment to greet a raven.

Sometimes they’ll even greet you back!

And, speaking of backs, time to go get the heat pad on mine after this little delve into the repository of raven recollection. If I start feeling really low I may have to revert to watching my “ravens playing in snow” videos on repeat.

Some other raven posts you might like/need:

P.S. Some of the new raven images featured in today’s blog post are available as prints in my shop in sizes up to 16×20-inches.

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

The Tiniest Owl

I have been so slow at writing new blog posts — not because of a lack of things to write about, but Too Many Things!!!

I have a backlog of news about teenager crows and molting crows, ravens, some books I love and pressing local tree issues.  But I’m putting all of those on the back burner for today to write about today’s big (well, tiny, actually) happening.

We decided to squeeze in a short walk on Cypress Mountain today. I had numerous errands to do before we left, so it was a lot later than we usually like to hit the trail. A perfect, crisp, sunny day in the last week of summer holidays and it was, predictably, kind of busy, but we were happy just to make a quick jaunt up to Bowen Lookout.

The lookout was pretty crowded and I was just talking to some fellow visitors about the Whisky Jacks when I noticed, only a few feet from our heads, an impossibly small owl. I’ve seen Northern Pygmy Owls a couple of times before, from a distance, and they are SMALL. But this bird was about half the size of an adult Pygmy Owl — a little fluffier, a lot fiercer, but not much bigger than the juncoes that were hopping and clicking around.

So tiny, she would fit into the palm of a hand  — but judging by that expression, not something to be contemplated.

The lookout was busy with juncos, Steller’s Jays and Whiskey Jacks — all anxious for bits of trail mix or crumbs provided by the many human visitors.

Like their crow cousins in the city, the jays were all well into moulting madness season.

The distant raven looked pretty sleek, however.

But back to the breathtakingly small raptor. She was not content just to sit around  being cute and fluffy.

Oh no, she was there on a mission.

She’d swivel her neck in an impossibly wide scanning arc (owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees without doing themselves any damage)  and bob her head up and down, triangulating the exact position of her chosen target.

Her quarry did not seem to include the juncoes that would have been more realistic prey — she had her enormous eyes on bigger prizes — the Steller’s jays and Whiskey Jacks that were twice to three times the size of her.

She’d watch, swivel, triangulate and dive, over and over, at the relatively enormous birds. She didn’t have any success that we saw and the jays didn’t seem too worried about her presence. I wondered if her parents had left her there for the day just to practice her technique.

Day camp for baby owls.

I was so excited to see her so close that I neglected to take any wider shots to show just how tiny (did I mention how SMALL she was?) compared to the other birds. Ah well. But in the video below a Whiskey Jack lands beside her by accident and they scare each other. You can see in the blur of action at the end now big the jay is in comparison to the owl.

So, sometimes you set out on a trip, late and  with modest expectations, and the universe surprises you with a fierce and wonderful baby owl.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Marvin and Mavis News

Marvin and Mavis have had more than their share of nesting tragedy over the years. They’ve lost hatchlings to bald eagles, raccoons and cars. One particularly sad year, their only fledgling left the nest too soon and didn’t survive the landing. Marvin and Mavis seemed to have the hardest time accepting that particular loss, sitting and peering into the nest for days after, as if hoping the baby would magically reappear.

For a while it looked as if this year was heading down the same sorrowful path.

Things started happily enough, with a fledgling sighting in front of our house on the evening of July 18. I took a couple of photos of the new baby hopping in the flower bed and left the protective parents to it.

But when took a last peek out of the front door to see if they were OK before going to bed, I was just in time to see the fledgling flapping about across the street and crashing into a neighbour’s garden gate. Marvin and Mavis were beside themselves. With sinking heart, I went over to to see what had happened. The little bird was lying motionless and looking quite dead, just inside the gate. The neighbour came out onto her balcony and we discussed the situation, deciding to leave the body till morning — especially given that the parents were clearly distraught.

It was such a sad end to the day, and a seemingly very short life story for this little bird.

I was up first thing next morning, prepared for the worst — but there was no trace of the baby crow — not a single feather, nor any other evidence that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. Absolutely no sign of Marvin and Mavis. Later in the day I checked in with the neighbour and she told me she’d gone out after dark the evening before and there was no sign of any crows by then, living or dead.

All was very quiet for a day or two , but then one morning I woke up to the softest crow conversation I’d ever heard  going on in a tree near the house. Little mewing sounds and soft quacks were being answered by very soft, almost raven-complex, murmurings from M & M. I honestly have rarely heard anything so lovely.

I peered up between the leaves, and there was this little face.

I’d been clinging to the very faint hope that the fledgling had just been stunned and given time to come round, had been whisked away by Marvin and Mavis. That just seemed too much to wish for, and yet . . .

In the next day or so, it almost seemed as if I heard an echo of the baby’s calls. A second fledgling really seemed far too much to hope for and I never could see more than one at once, given the jigsaw of leaves the family was hiding in.

But then, a day or so later, on the neighbour’s roof, incontrovertible proof  . . . a pair!

It’s been so very hot and dry, I’ve been constantly providing fresh water for drinking and bathing. Also popping out every hour or so to see if I can still see or hear both of them has become the routine of the summer.

“Still two” is my relieved report after each outing.

Different baby crow personalities emerged almost from the beginning.

One of them seemed to need a lot more attention in the early days.
In the video below, mom and dad are both engaged in soft preening to try and sooth those sad little calls.

Meanwhile, the other fledgling seemed more of an explorer,  enthusiastically collecting data on that essential “is this food or just fun?” research project while Marvin and Mavis were otherwise engaged.

As the days go by, both of the babies, even the initially needy one, are starting to get more independent.

You can see that the wings aren’t fully developed yet which, along with inexperience, is why the fledglings are not yet super proficient at flying.

Looking around at the big new world

Sometimes Marvin and Mavis even get a few moments to themselves now, while the siblings entertain themselves nearly — although one here seems more interested in napping than playing.

Sometimes the kids go off on their own down the street …

. . . while mom and dad ask themselves that question common to all new and exhausted parents, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

 

More updates coming soon!

 

See also: Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story, 2019

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Keep. Your Cat. Inside.

Apologies in advance for the rather emotional blog post to follow.

I had planned a rather more joyful one about all the local crow babies, including two belonging to Marvin and Mavis. I have hundreds of photos, and posts will be coming soon, but this morning I am upset.

Every morning, when I’m out walking the dog in the early hours, I see cats in the neighbourhood. Many of them are clearly in hunting mode.

Early today I watched in horror as a cat about half a block ahead of us clawed excitedly at a baby bird on the sidewalk as the fledgling fought to get away. Although I am not one of nature’s runners, I pelted, with Geordie, towards the cat, yelling like a maniac. The cat kept right on toying with the bird until we were a foot away, when it backed off a very short distance. The bird (a juvenile starling, I think) hobbled off into a nearby grapevine. The cat stayed close, waiting for us to leave so he could finish his mission. I stayed there and called Phillip to come from home with a box and towel. The bird clearly had a broken wing, so I tried to capture him for delivery to Wildlife Rescue, but failed, and the bird flapped off into a dense brush area. I spent a long time looking for him, but eventually had to give up, feeling by now that I’d made the poor bird’s fate even worse than if I’d just let the cat get it in the first place. I’m feeling very sad and guilty about that.

Injured juvenile starling

But I also feel angry.

It’s upsetting when an eagle gets a baby crow, or a crow snatches a baby robin, but I know they’re just doing it to feed themselves and their family. A cat killing a bird is not a legitimate part of this circle of life and death. A cat will not cleanly kill a bird to eat it — it will maximize the entertainment by playing with it first. The cat is not hungry. It’s a pet, fed and pampered at home and is out killing wildlife recreationally.

I know this sounds hard, but it’s the truth.

I love cats. Cats are wonderful, and anyone who knows me knows I adore our cat, Edgar.

Many cat owners contend that their particular pet is too gentle, too lazy, or too old to be a hunter of birds. You may tell yourself that, but I present our aforementioned genteel Edgar as proof to the contrary. Although he’s an indoor cat, Edgar is allowed onto our back deck, under supervision, where he usually lays in the sun, keeping out of trouble except for the occasional verbal exchange with the crows.

One day, however, he accidentally got left out there for a couple of hours by himself and by the time we figured out where he was, I found him sitting, looking pleased with himself, beside a beautiful, but very dead, juvenile yellow warbler. Clearly the baby bird had landed near him on the deck and nature just kicked in. Not Edgar’s fault. Mine for leaving him out there and allowing it to happen.

Thirty years ago we had another cat; Elvis. At that point, we hadn’t realized the perils for both cat and wildlife, and allowed him to be an outdoor cat. Some vivid memories of Elvis: the time he brought a live pigeon into the house when I was home alone with a newborn and a two year old; the time he got sliced open by a raccoon and cost us several mortgage payments to have him sewn up again; the sad day we found him dead in a neighbour’s garden, having drunk anti-freeze that someone allowed to drain into the gutter.

Elvis as a kitten, with Finlay

Elvis lived outdoors, and to my regret, probably killed hundreds of birds, as well as suffering through, and finally dying from, his neighbourhood adventures. I will never have an outdoor cat again.

Please.

Keep.

Your Cat.

Inside.

 

Some Reading:

 

 

 

 

I shouldn’t really be writing a blog post, having promised myself that I will dedicate this month to (a) getting the City Crow Calendar 2022 ready to go the printer and (b) finishing my upcoming Crow Therapy online presentation.

But it’s crow fledgling season out there and therefore hard to stay on task. As justification for the distraction, one small drama currently playing out meshes rather well with aspects of my Crow Therapy talk.

It concerns periscopes and perspectives

As we go about our day, periscope firmly pointed in the direction of human life goals — not being late for a meeting, what to make for dinner, what’s going to happen next in our favourite TV show — it can come as a bit of a shock to be attacked out of nowhere by a crow.

As always at this time of year there are lots of news stories and tweets about “harrowing” experiences with “crazed” crows. I guess it can seem like that if it comes out of the blue.

But crow nesting season is a perfect time to swivel the periscope in your personal submarine and take in a different view.

There have been some screams from the end of our street lately. The elementary school there is currently being used as a training centre for School Board staff so there’s a lot of coming and going. At least one unsuspecting person has been pursued by furious crows.

Mabel and her mate to be specific.

Frazzled parent, Mabel

From the point of view of the dive-bombee, the crows have inexplicably gone bonkers and need to be restrained in some way.

But (swivel periscope … c-r-e-a-k) let’s look at the situation from Mabel’s point of view.

Mabel and mate have been tending a nest just across the street from the school since April. Early this week their fledgling (probably against parental advice) exited the safety of the nest and took refuge in a small bush right on the corner of school.  Junior can’t yet fly enough to get into a tree, or onto of the school roof, leaving them heartbreakingly vulnerable in a terribly high traffic area.

At one point, I’m told by a neighbour, a landscaping crew heedlessly started weed whacking in the area!!!

From the point of view of Mabel and her mate, people are definitely bonkers and need to be restrained in whatever way possible.

The innocent people walking into work don’t have any idea where all this avian wrath is coming from. Minds inevitably turn to Hitchcockian scenes of malevolent bird invasions.

Mabel and her mate just know that people are deeply unpredictable and often dangerous.

They might step on their baby without even noticing, or back their car over it, they might let their dog or cat attack it, they might inexplicably assault the bushes in which the baby is hiding with a foliage chopping hell machine. You can’t make this stuff up!

So, if warning caws are ignored, humans must be kept away from the fledgling using the only way open to crow parents — the time honoured dive bomb technique.

I’ve attempted to bridge the understanding gap by explaining to a human person from the school what is going on, so hopefully periscopes will be redirected on the human side.

At least until Junior here figures out the flying thing.

I’ve also had a word with Mabel, but I’m not sure she’s about to change her mind.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Viewpoints

Small Change

This a little story of serendipity involving Agnes (the small but determined bushtit), a friend, and the coins of the realm.

Here is Agnes, a female bushtit.

If you would like to read more about why bushtits are such awesome birds, check out my 2020 post Consider the Bushtit.

Agnes is the model for one of my most popular prints, Small But Determined, and is  a member of the ensemble cast in Birds of Judgment.

She also makes tiny guest appearances on some of the parcels I send out to customers in the form of stickers I have made to adorn outgoing orders.

I often put one of Frazzled Mabel, for example, near the flap of a package so that the recipient can have an extra little smile as they open it.

I don’t put Agnes stickers on every parcel — I often consider what the customer ordered and “customize” the sticker combination according to what I guess they might like most. (Shhh … don’t tell the time and motion efficiency inspector!)

What you might call … badaboom … Flicker Stickers

So the situation is that there are a few Agnes stickers out there in the world.

Now to my friend.

She and her partner have recently moved away from Vancouver. We had a farewell drink with them in the garden just last week. One of the last things she did before starting the trip to the new place on Vancouver Island was to pick up some groceries. Later, when she looked at the change in her pocket, she found Agnes gazing up at her …

… having been stuck on the back of, what we call in Canada, a loonie. *

It fit perfectly as the stickers are, as we say here, loonie-sized.

My friend sent me the photos above and we both thought what a funny and crazy coincidence that was. I also thought … maybe it was the universe giving me one more chance to wish her bon voyage.

* This is why we call them loonies!

So, if it was you who put Agnes on the coin, thanks!

And now I think we can now describe Agnes as, not only small and determined, but also well travelled, and occasionally, legal tender!

Nervous Nesting Notes

Crow couple photo

It’s a stressful time of year, nesting season.

Mostly for the birds, of course — but peripherally for those of us who anxiously watch the goings on.

Yesterday, for example, was very tense.

I don’t know where Marvin and Mavis are nesting this year. I used to be able to see them from my house, when they nested in the Notre Dame poplars and, for good or bad, could distantly watch every development.

In the absence of those trees, I mostly see them on construction fences of various kinds, or perched on the new duplex being built on the corner. Their nesting location this year remains a mystery.

I’m pretty sure they have built one nearby somewhere, as Mavis has been mostly absent for a few weeks, presumably sitting on eggs. One local nest possibility is a big tree in a neighbour’s garden. It looks like a pretty promising location — on paper — but they suffered a raccoon-related nesting disaster there about four years ago.

Crow collecting “soft furnishings” for final touches to a nest.

Yesterday it became clear that (a) someone WAS nesting in there and (b) raccoons have a good memory. We had a crow riot as about a dozen birds whirled round the tree, calling angrily from nearby wires and diving into the branches from time to time.

At first I couldn’t see the raccoon, but  eventually spotted her on a neighbour’s deck, moving somewhat clumsily up to the drain pipe …

Raccoon on a drainpipe

… and from there to the roof to examine the feasibility of leaping directly back into the tree.

In the end, she decided the jump was too much, but must have found another way up as the frenzied cawing went on from the afternoon and into the evening.

I imagine the raccoon probably got what she was after in the end. They usually do, in spite of all the crow racket and, after all, she doubtless had hungry kits waiting at home.

Many crows came to harangue the raccoon and, while I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were among them. I don’t know if this was actually their nest or not. Only time will tell, I say to myself, in an effort to see the big “Nature Unfolding” picture without giving myself a heart attack in the process.

The local bald eagles are another constant threat to the crows’ nests. They have their own nest nearby and cruise the neighbourhood several times a day, inevitably pursued by large groups of irate crows.

Crows pursuing a bald eagle

In the photos above you can see how close the crows are willing to get to those big claws. In the second photo the crow looks as if he’s trying to grab the eagle by the tail and pull the bigger bird back. You can also see that, in the eagle claws, is a bird  — most likely a crow fledgling.

So, you see what I mean about this being a tense few weeks!

In other, less traumatic, nesting news   — I’m starting to see the breeding female crows again. In April it’s as if they’ve all  joined a witness protection program, suddenly disappearing from sight in order to sit (ever so, ever so, quietly) on the nest.  If you hear a subtle croak from the nest in April, it’s most likely not a hungry fledgling, but a female quietly reminding her mate that he needs to bring her a snack. The males are also quiet and uncharacteristically low key. Definitely not the time of year to be drawing any unnecessary attention to yourself and give hints to nest location.

White Wing and her mate live on a shady street with a lot of big trees and she’s usually among the first of the local female crows to disappear into the nest. She reappeared this week, indicating that the eggs have probably hatched, and now she’s joining her mate in foraging for food for those endlessly hungry little beaks.

It also seems that, perhaps to entertain herself during those  tedious weeks on the eggs, White Wing was taking language lessons as this (earlier this week) was the first time I’ve ever heard her make sounds like this.

Just around the corner, Mr. Walker has been seen solo for a number of weeks now, keeping lookout on his favourite tree.

In recent days he’s been absent too, so I imagine he and his mate are being kept extremely busy somewhere up in the leafy branches.

In the next few weeks, I hope to see some of these little faces popping up around the neighbourhood.

The parents will be fiercely protective, especially during that high risk period when the baby is out of the nest but can’t fly. There may well be some dive bombing of unwary humans. But we should try to remember how hard these crow parents have worked to get that little fledgling to this stage, how many perils there were along the way, how many more dangers still stand between this little crow and adulthood. The crow parents may seem a little crazy at this time of year, but if you know the backstory you can understand why.

A few tips to avoid being dive bombed:

  • Avoid the area for a week or two if possible;
  • Put fake eyes on the back of a hat (they won’t dive bomb if they think you’re looking right at them;
  • Use an umbrella;
  • Leave a peanut or two as a token of peace.

More about crow nesting season in last week’s Georgia Straight (with Mavis on the cover.)

 

And remember, fingers crossed, in a few weeks time we should be getting to know some brand new crow friends in the neighbourhood!

One of Mabel’s fledglings, summer 2020, with tell tale blue eyes and pink beak edges.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Tale of Two Robins

It seems that nostalgic European settlers have long been prone to naming any bird with a flash of red on the chest “robins” after the beloved little birds they remember from home.

The European, and seemingly original, robin is a small bird — part of the flycatcher family, with a red orange breast and face. The North American robin is an entirely different bird. Part of the thrush family, it’s much bigger, with a yellow beak and striking white markings around the eyes. Really the only point of commonality is that red breast.

Further afield, in Australia you can find the Flame Robin, Scarlet Robin, Red-Capped Robin — none of which are related to either the European or American varieties, except in that little flash of red breast. More homesick settlers, I’m thinking.

I grew up in the UK, so I have tended to think of the British robin as the “real” one.

In reality, the only birds I was actually familiar with as a child growing up on the industrial docks of the Tyne,  were gulls and pigeons. Lots and lots of pigeons!

But robins did loom large in my imagination. Each Christmas my mum decorated the snow-peaked ( and rock hard) royal icing on the Christmas cake with with a small flock of plastic robins, to accompany the rather frightening plaster Santa with mis-matched eyes.

Somehow, I still have a single one of these little robins, although most of his red breast paint has now worn off.

Robins were, and still are, as far as I know, featured on cards and stamps to celebrate the Festive Season in Britain. In the Victorian era, when the sending and receiving of festive greeting cards first became fashionable, the mail carriers wore red tunics and were nicknamed robin redbreasts — bringers of winter cheer, just like the birds.

The British robins stay put all year round, but are less obvious in the summer months — probably being busy with nesting and all, and are more associated with chirpy, charming and colourful company through the winter months.

Whenever I go back to Britain I’m constantly on the lookout for a robin. For some reason, the only place I ever see them close up is at the tea rooms of Portmeirion village in North Wales.

Portmeirion Tea Room robin, 2010

Welsh robin on a picnic table

Portmeirion Tea Room robin, 2019

I like to imagine they’re all there, just waiting for me, one robin generation after another.

British robins are very, very territorial, so that’s just about possible. They are so very fierce about defending their home turf that 10% of mature male birds actually die doing just that.

Welsh robin and stone wall photo collage by June Hunter
Having been in Canada now for most of my life, my Robin Reality has now switched to the North American variety, which has its own charm.

American robin in cherry tree photograph

Seasonally, the robins here are most associated with spring, when they’re the first birds to sing in the morning, and the last to fall quiet at night.

Although we think of them in connection with spring, when their courting song fills the air, they’re actually around all winter here in Vancouver. Perhaps we don’t notice them so much because they behave very differently during the colder months.

American robin camouflaged in gum tree photograph by June Hunter

Spot the robin …

In spring they form pairs and are territorial like their European namesakes, but in winter they live rather cooperatively in large nomadic flocks, sometimes with starlings and other birds, like Cedar Waxwings. They pop up in large groups whenever they find a good source of fruit on trees. Holly, juniper, crabapples and hawthorn are all robin-approved winter fare.

American robin and crabapples photograph by June Hunter

Fun fact: American robins have an extendible esophagus, which allows them to store berries harvested in the daytime for an evening snack to help survive the cold nights.

(I am reminded of the rather terrifying Horlicks TV ads of my youth, where a scientific looking graph traced the worrying arc of “night starvation” — a fate that could only be avoided by imbibing a nice cup of pre-bed Horlicks. I expect night starvation is much more of a reality for a wild robin than for a well fed child of the 1960’s.)

Once spring arrives, the flocks disperse and robins break into pairs, staking out and aggressively defending nesting territory.
When the berries are finished they’ll happily switch to yanking worms out of lawns.

One of my favourite things about the spring and summer robin, apart from the singing, is the gusto with which they take a bath. If the birdbath is suddenly empty, I assume that an enthusiastic robin has just used the facilities.

The folklore around how robins of all types first acquired that fiery red breast is strikingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic. In all versions of the tale,  the brave little robin saves sleeping humans from freezing, using their wings to fan the embers of a dying fire, in spite of the heat and danger. As a reward for their heroism, the robin is awarded the red breast as a badge of honour.

Here’s a beautifully illustrated version of the Sechelt People’s version of the story by Charlie Craigan.

Click fo enlarge

It’s nice to know that however far you travel, they’ll always be some sort of robin to fall in love with.

Echoes of If You Can’t Be with the One You Love, Honey, Love the One You’re With.

Here’s lookin’ at you …

 

 

For more posts on the joy of watching robins, and other birds, bathing:

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Along for the Trip

Good companions can make or break any travel experience.

Of course, very few of us have been doing any real traveling lately — but the past year and a bit have felt strangely like a long voyage through strange lands. Witness the popularity of seafaring shanties and the marmalade craze. I theorize that the latter was a subconscious urge to ward off psychic scurvy as we scour the horizon for post-Covid land. That could have just been me though.

This trip we’re on has involved a lot of sitting around and waiting. Waiting for new graphs and statistics, waiting for test results, waiting for vaccination appointments, waiting to see people we miss, waiting for things coming by mail, waiting for second vaccine appointments …

It reminds me of train trip gone awry, leaving you stuck in a dusty waiting room on an obscure rail line you hadn’t meant to travel on. Every once in a while the public address system crackles to life and emits a very urgent sounding, but totally incomprehensible, announcement; its purpose only to add to the generalized anxiety.

But I digress. I’m writing in praise of my travel companions, Edgar and Geordie.

There have been a couple of humans in the covid rail car too — my husband and my adult son. It’s really in no small measure thanks to the pets that we are still speaking to each other. It’s often easier to “hear” things from the animals.

“Edgar feels  that you’re freaking out and that listening to the news less would help.”

Or, “Geordie is really worried that you’ve forgotten it’s you turn to make dinner!”

Over the last few months I’ve gotten into the habit, being up first among the humans, to spend a quiet half hour with Geordie and Edgar. In part it’s “snuggle training” for Geordie, who’s early months as a stray seem to have put him off cuddles and such nonsense. I encourage him to sit by me on the couch while I have my coffee (treats are involved) and we have a quiet chat that might approach a snuggle. Inevitably Edgar wants in on the action and the three of us end up having our lovely moral boosting coffee meeting each morning before attempting anything more challenging.


I sometimes suspect that Edgar is briefing Geordie on plans for a world wide pet takeover.

Of course, even the best of friends are apt to fall out from time to time during this difficult time …

Sometimes it’s good to have another friend to share your problems with …

At the other of the day, there is entertainment to be had in seeing how Edgar and Geordie sort out their sleeping arrangements.
They each have a bed — a big one for the dog and a smaller one for the cat.
I’m sure you can see where this is going.

On rare occasions, things are arranged in a logical manner …


But much more often the arrangement is something like …


Inevitably leading to …



Once Geordie is resigned to the cat bed, Edgar, having made his point, often vacates the dog bed and wanders to his second luxury cat bed by the fire in the living room.


If I happen to be awake in the night and come upstairs for a cup of Ovaltine and some reading and ruminating, then Edgar is always up for company. He will gradually purr me back to sleepiness.


All in all, you really couldn’t ask for better cabin mates on the Covid Cruise ship we’ve been adrift in.

I hope your voyage is going tolerably, or perhaps even nearing its conclusion, but in case you’ve hit a choppy patch, perhaps Geordie and Edgar can offer companionship from afar.

 

You may also enjoy:

For yet more on Edgar, just put his name in the search bar at the top of the blog.

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.