In a competition judged on cuteness and goofiness, I would have said that crow babies would be the hands-down winners. Until, that is, I came across baby ravens. They are like giant baby crows — with impossibly large feet. This is a series of images in which I’m exploring beauty of these birds in their urban setting.
Crows and their babies seem pretty robust, especially in comparison to the little garden birds like chickadees and sparrows. When you see a raven close up, then you understand why the crows mob and chase ravens from the nesting areas with the same ferocity they exhibit for eagles. Clearly the raven is something of a bird of prey with these massive legs and a beak that is all business. The crows look positively delicate by comparison.
Note the size of these feet!
Look Ma! No Hands!!!
These new crow and and raven portraits are available for sale on my web site. There you will also find more detail about how the images were composed using many layers of my own photographs; including ancient graffiti from the cave of a Welsh saint, and the Vancouver skyline.
I would love to hear what you think about them.
Our eyes met across an East Vancouver alleyway. I was out for a pre-coffee, early morning stroll, when my eyes fell upon it in a neighbour’s backyard. I fell in love, suddenly and completely. I’m not sure how this happened after so many years of gardening and countless hours in botanical gardens and gardening centres, but somehow I’ve never noticed this plant until yesterday. Now I can’t rest until I find a spot for a clump in my garden.
The subject of my new obsession is Acanthus mollis, or Bear’s Breeches. It’s a native of the Mediterranean region, so it’s going to need a sunny site. The leaves of this wonderfully sculptural plant inspired a lot of ancient Greek architectural detail, a distinctive detail of Corinthian columns.
The curious common name, Bear’s Breeches, is a little hard to figure out. In the 17th century they were called Brank-ursine, meaning bear’s claws, possibly referring to the shape of the flowers. Another theory is that “breeches” refers, not to ursine trousers, but rather breech in the sense of the opening in the flowers that the bees use to access the pollen inside. I have also read that the flowers can look (presumably after a few gin and tonics) like hairy bear’s hindquarters. Let’s just say that the curious common name remains shrouded in mystery.
So, bees love it, it’s gorgeous and the leaves have quite a few application in herbal remedies. The only possible downside is that it can be a tad invasive. So now the hunt is on for a nice container to grow some in. Then it will be time to sit back and admire it in my own garden. Perhaps have a few gin and tonics and see if the meaning behind the Bear’s Breeches name is revealed!
Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Association of BC out at Burnaby Lake, the female downy woodpecker is back on home turf. A volunteer called me this afternoon and we headed over with the same box I used the transport her to the refuge two weeks ago. Then she was unable to fly, quiet and still in box as I drove to Burnaby. She’d been attacked the day before by a cat, suffering bruises and abrasions.
Today, after two weeks of care and medication from the fine folk at WRA, she was deemed fit for release. She was certainly a lot more feisty on this drive, thrashing about impatiently in her box.
Let me out of this wretched box!
The moment we took the lid off she was off. First of all she hopped about in the snowbell tree and then the corkscrew hazel, before stopping for a refreshing drink at the birdbath.
Then she flew over to the other side of the garden and rediscovered the suet feeder.
Getting her bearings
Now this is looking familiar!
Currently she’s flying around in the garden getting reacquainted with things. No sign so far of baby and dad downy woodpeckers. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a reunion and report back.
Two weeks later: I spotted a male and female adult and a juvenile downy woodpecker in the garden. I choose to believe that this is our original family, united at last.
One evening I was leaving Granville Island after a day at the market. Daydreaming as I wandered back to where I’d parked, it took me a few moments to realize that I was experiencing an audio disconnect. My ears were hearing ancient forest soundtrack, but I was actually under the mighty iron girders of the Granville Street Bridge. What was causing me to feel momentarily off-kilter was the unmistakable and haunting call of a raven — presently answered by a second. I caught a glimpse of them retreating to a high perch under the bridge.
That was a couple of years ago and since then I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of this pair. Once, one of them flew right over my shoulder. I was between her and a dumpster and it was dark, so maybe she didn’t even see me. Quite a wind from those wings!
Last weekend I was bike riding with my husband near our home in East Vancouver. This time I knew the sound I heard was a raven, but with a twist. It sounded different from a raven in the way that a baby crow sounds different from an adult crow; a plaintive quality to the cry. We peered in the direction of the sound and way, way up, on the roof of an almost finished office building we saw a pair of black silhouettes, much bigger than the usual crows. From their posture it was clear that one was a baby and the other a parent. Excitement!
It’s the classic “feed me” pose.
There was even more delight when we cycled back that way later and found that parent and baby had come to ground level. And I had my camera! With the long lens! I spent a happy 15 minutes photographing them. Neither baby nor parent seemed very perturbed by my presence. Perhaps they are more confident than the frantic swooping crows. Just the thought of being dive-bombed by a raven is pretty hair-raising.
Just hangin’ with mom (or dad) on the dumpster.
Like the baby crows, the fledgling raven has pink at the side of the mouth.
We returned to the same area a few days ago to see if we could see any sign of the raven family. It was crow migration time and the spot was right on the crow flight path. We concluded that hanging out there at such a time would mean a world of aggravation for the ravens so they had probably wisely relocated, at least for that time of the evening.
The building that was a perch for the ravens a few days earlier is a popular stopping point for crows on their evening migration to Still Creek.
More urban raven watching today – this time back on Granville Island. I had dropped my daughter off at the market where she was going to be minding my table of art and jewellery for the day. I headed to Opus Framing for some supplies and noticed the ravens making repeated trips between the cement plant and the bridge. Luckily, I had my camera with me again, so I was able to get some shots of them making their gliding trips.
A raven soars effortlessly over the Granville Island cement plant.
Then (bonus) one of them landed right in front of me to pick up some food someone had dropped.
Just hanging out with the tourists and traffic.
Raven remembers he has somewhere else to be
No getting caught in traffic for ravens!
I did some research on “ravens in the city” online. I found this National Post story about the bird watching community being “abuzz” at finding nesting ravens in that city.
So I guess we should be pretty abuzz here too. A bit of bad news for crows and smaller birds that will be part of the raven food chain, but still, so very cool.
I called the Wildlife Rescue refuge out at Burnaby Lake again yesterday to check in on our little downy patient. The news is still good. She’s lively, off medication and flying around in a large enclosure. They are keeping her a while longer so she can build up her strength and agility and not be easy prey for another cat once she’s released. They did tell me that’s she’s very lucky to be doing so well. Most bird/cat encounters do not end this well for the bird!
I’m told to check back next week when it’s likely I can go and pick her up to return her back to her own neighbourhood and, hopefully, her downy family.
Yowza!! Major excitement in the neighbourhood this morning. The crows are pretty noisy at this time of year anyway. They’ve mostly given up dive-bombing pedestrians in our neighbourhood now that the babies are out of the nest. The young ones are pretty mobile and not so much in need of ferocious parental protection now. Still, there’s a lot of raucous crow conversation every morning as the babies cry out incessantly for food and the parents caw out safety advice. “Oy, Junior, that’s called a road. Not a good place to hang out. Those big metal things – cars – they hurt!”
This morning it was different though. There was frantic cawing coming from every direction in the neighbourhood. Crow delegations were dispatched from all of the local families and converged on wires one street over from us. Cacophony! I had to investigate! The cause: not one, but TWO ravens, sitting on a roof on our street. Just as I arrived the ravens casually departed and the protest rally quickly dispersed.
An update on the downy woodpecker, injured last week by a cat and taken to the Wildlife Rescue clinic at Burnaby Lake: she’s doing much better! She has abrasions and bruising and they expect her to recover. Even better, when she’s ready to release, it’s likely that I’ll be able to go get her and release her back in our neighbourhood. I’ve seen the two males in the garden over the long weekend. I’m pretty sure they’re her mate and the baby and that they’ll be happy to see her!
While doing a little downy woodpecker research on the weekend I came across these two descriptions of these lovely little birds.
Audubon, in 1842 remarked that” it is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”.
Another 19th century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, in 1832 said that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and describes a pair of downys woodpeckers working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”.
I feel quite thrilled every time I see one of these wonderful little birds, especially right here in my East Vancouver garden, so really rooting for Mrs Downy to make a full recovery and come home.