Counting Birds in Fog

Bundled in my stylish plaid dressing gown, I climbed to the top deck of our house first thing this morning to participate in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

As I surveyed a sea of fog, things did not look promising.

The february sun takes on the fog

A pale February morning sunrise.

I could hear a lot of frantic crow activity, although it was hard to see where it was coming from, or what was causing it. Suddenly a raven burst out of the fog into a patch of blue sky directly above me and, just as suddenly, disappeared — followed by his retinue of angry crows. I could hear the chase continue in the distance – to the west, then north, then off to the east – all hidden by thick mist. Sentry crows called from vantage points all around, offering helpful advice to the chasing committee.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

Another group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

A group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

One of the crows decided it was time for breakfast, landing on the hydro pole with a snack in beak – forcing a quick exit by the pole’s previous tenant, a starling.

A crow and a starling seems set on a collision.

Crow arrival, starling exit.

While the foghorns continued their mournful calling down by the Second Narrows, all of a sudden it was a full-on scorcher where I was. There had been a clear winner in the sun vs. fog battle.

The northern flickers I’d been hearing came into view, landing on the hydro wires in the alley. The family of three was clearly enjoying the sudden warmth.  One of the flickers luxuriantly spread a wing to soak up the sun – or perhaps he was just showing off his finery to the others.

Sunworshipping.

My feathers are prettier than your feathers

 

The flickers flew off and were quickly replaced by another sun worshipper — the collared dove that I’d heard eerily hooting in the fog earlier.

Sunbathing collared dove.

Sunbathing collared dove.

The lilac in the garden was full of the usual suspects – house sparrows, song sparrows and chickadees. I even spotted the first golden crowned sparrow of the spring in our neighbour’s plum tree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eventually I was so hot I had to come inside – another first for the season.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

Turned out to be a perfect morning the great backyard bird count.

Not too late if you haven’t done yours yet.

GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT

Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Occasionally the most ordinary of days is transformed out of all recognition.

It started with a dawn trip downtown for an early morning physiotherapy appointment (tennis elbow: even less fun that it sounds).

Post-appointment I popped into the Vancouver Art Gallery to drop off one of my bracelets, ordered by the gift shop. It was still so early that the gallery wasn’t open yet, but my friend was there so we went out for a quick coffee. Already the day was on the upswing!

After coffee, I decided to go back once again to the gallery with her to take a photo of my work on display in the shop. As we reached the entrance it was hard to miss the massive crow commotion going on in the tree just outside. My friend immediately guessed it was the barred owl that she’d seen several times over the years, usually in the evening. I guess this time the owl had pulled an all-nighter, because there she was, high in the tree, with about two dozen crows flapping around and cawing furiously.

Crow-owl stand-off.

Crow-owl stand-off.

 

Quite a large owl with big, soulful eyes, she was a breath-taking sight and not at all something you expect to find in downtown Vancouver on a Friday morning. Miraculously having my camera with me, all other plans for the day were put on hold.

Barred Owl at VAG

Barred owl on branch

The crows came and went … and came back again. The initial twenty or so dwindled to a skeleton crew of two dedicated owl harassers. For about 15 minutes even they left and all was quiet. Then they were back and the furious cawing resumed. Mostly the owl was able to ignore the hullaballoo and, secure in a particularly dense part of the tree, she seemed to nod off for a while. Then a crow would get too close and she’d make a lunge for it. Crows would explode from all sides of the tree. The owl would relocate to another branch and the game resumed.

The owl finally found a spot where the crows couldn't get too close.

The owl finally found a spot where the crows couldn’t get too close.

The Barred owl attempts to get some shut-eye in spite of the crow racket.

The Barred owl attempts to get some shut-eye in spite of the crow racket.

During the course of this I spoke to many people who were curious about the goings on – a couple who came equipped with binoculars, people who worked in the gallery, tourists, school children going in to see a show, a nice man from Ireland. Opinions were exchanged, stories told.

The Irish gentleman had a particularly memorable corvid tale. Back in Ireland, his aunt lived in a cottage close by a rookery. The rooks were very noisy and she tried to get rid of them by smoking them out – and in so doing, burned her own house down. The ultimate in “why you shouldn’t be mean to crows” stories.

Then a woman came to join the conversation and I noticed she was wearing one of my pendants. I commented on that and it turned out that she has several of my pieces and is a poet. She told me that she loves crows. We exchanged cards. Her name is Daniela Elza and her newest collection, milk tooth bane bone, explores her fascination with crows. I have just read a wonderful review of it here. I am seeking a copy immediately!

She also has a wonderful blog called Strange Places.

So, it was a day of multiple wonders – owls, crows, rook stories and poetry. Who could ask for more!

An hour of looking up into the high, high tree branches has left me in need of a new string of physio appointments, but so worth it.

Barred owl and tree trunk

Looking down