Just a short follow-up to yesterday’s post, Owl Dreams.
At 8pm last night, the barred owl was still in the tree in front of our house, sleeping peacefully. We took Geordie for his evening walk and he was still there when we got back, but his behaviour was changing.
There was much more head movement and he was clearly shifting into night hunting mode. I took a little video to try and capture it. The quality isn’t great, but you can see what I mean.
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Some days just don’t go as planned, but in a good way.
Today, for example, I had a number of studio tasks set out for the morning, all of which seemed very important — until the crows started going bonkers outside.
I always try to go see what the crows are on about.
It’s usually something interesting — sometimes it’s just a cat, but often a skunk, racoon or, occasionally, a coyote or two.
This morning’s furor was in the katsura tree right in front of our house. I opened the front door to see what was up, and instantly found myself caught in the hypnotic gaze of a beautiful barred owl.
Well, good morning!
Work rule number one is that when there’s an urban nature event unfolding, it rockets to the top of the to-do list. Everything else has to wait. Tiles remain unfinished, web sites, neglected.
Today that rule DEFINITELY applied.
The katsura tree was full of crows from near and far, all voicing their displeasure at the owl. Even a young Northern Flicker was joining in the scolding. You can hear him in this video.
This next video gives a cool look at the owl’s blinking mechanism – the nictitating membrane that makes the eye look blue, and then the fluffy feathered eyelids. He was also making a little beak movement when blinking. So amazing!
For about half an hour the crows, with occasional flicker input, continued their furious show. Gradually most left, leaving only the paint-splattered crow that currently considers the tree “his” and his mate. Eventually even they grew weary and flew off for a rest.
It’s a rare sight to see an owl in daylight. They’re usually sleeping off a busy night of rodent hunting. It does happen though. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see a similar sight outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery, right in the downtown core. I wrote a blog (Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry) about that day too.
But this time he was right in front of my own house. What an amazing treat.
He was there all day, so I was able to spend hours watching him. Neighbours came out to watch too. Our owl was a bit of a local celebrity for the day.
Sometimes the owl would fluff up his feathers if he felt the crows were getting too bold.
But no crow with an ounce of sense would get too close to these feet. Owls are one of the reasons that thousands of crows fly every night to Still Creek, seeking nocturnal safety in numbers.
In this photo, the owl looks for all the world like a character from a Harry Potter novel.
Gradually the crow posse seemed to forget about the owl all together.
Most of the afternoon was peaceful enough to allow a bit of a beauty sleep catch-up.
It’s late afternoon now and he’s still snoozing out there. I expect he’ll be there until dusk and then it will be hunting time again.
For me, I’ve spent the majority of the day photographing him, sorting out photos and writing this blog. That’s OK though, because that’s really the most important part of my “job.”
Every time I close my eyes, I see his eyes looking back at me.
I expect I’ll have owl dreams tonight.
See what happened at the end of this amazing day in the next post, Night Owl.
Watch for the last few seconds of this baby crow self-grooming video. I think he’s auditioning for his own show on Comedy Network.
It has been a bit quiet in the neighbourhood of late.
That’s all changed with the advent of the corvid triplets. They do not keep their feeling to themselves. When hungry (pretty much all of the time) the whole neighbourhood knows about it.
The parents both look pretty exhausted. That dishevelled “new parent” look is made more extreme by the onset of molting season.
This is one of the parents of the three Firehall baby crows. Although my “babies” are now in their twenties, I still remember the slightly stunned, “Am I really qualified for this?” feeling that this parent seems to be experiencing.
I call them the Firehall family because the parents seemed to have their nest in a tree right beside the fire station that is on the corner of our street.
The triplets are venturing further and further from home base. One of them made it all the way to my garden, looking impossibly cute in the coral bark maple tree.
In the video below a harassed parent tries to get away from the ceaseless demands. Again, I do empathize.
Meanwhile, where are Mabel and Eric and Clara?
Now that George is gone, Mabel seems happy to stay with the “teenager” crow she and George had last year, in the alley one over from ours. I visit her daily and she seems well.
Eric and Clara are in their usual territory. They didn’t have any babies this year, having lost their nest high in the poplar trees to a windstorm early in the season. They’re kind of taking it easy this year, watching their triplet-tending neighbours with something like relief.
City Crows 2018 Calendars
My 2018 City Crow calendar is at the printer’s now and will be ready to ship in the first week of September. You can order yours now! The first 100 orders will come with a large (1.75-inch) Frazzled Mabel button.
If you’ve already ordered a calendar, don’t worry, you’ll be getting a free button too.
This blog post is really just a huge thank-you for all the lovely, thoughtful, funny, comforting, poetic messages I’ve received after my last post about the passing of George. They’ve come via blog comments, email, text, Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I expect a carrier pigeon at any moment …
There have been stories of how people enjoyed hearing about him; how he taught them new things, maybe even changed their minds about crows. There have been whimsical descriptions of bird companions loved (and sometimes lost). I’ve laughed and cried reading them all. I have tried to write back as much as I can, but I fear I’m never going to manage as many replies as I’d like. If I haven’t written back to you, please know that I really appreciate your words and feel as if I’ve had a big hug from the world.
This is one of my favourite photos of George when I first met him. You can just see the wisdom and engagement in his eyes.
It was tough to lose George. As my husband said, when called him in tears to tell him the news, “It’s not all beer and skittles, being an urban nature enthusiast.”
So true — disaster and heartbreak is always lurking around the corner. But that is, as they say, life. And to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
When I picked George up to bury him, he weighed almost nothing at all. I had never held him before, so it was a surprise.
I keep thinking about how very light he was. That lightness seemed such a contrast to his substantial personality and presence.
George was a gift. I hope he’ll pop into our minds whenever those of us who knew about him see other crows. And we’ll smile when we think of him.
George on one of his favourite perches at the local elementary school.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my City Crow Calendar to the printer, but I keep re-writing it. You would think I was working on a major novel, rather than a calendar.
I keep going back and forth on George in the calendar.
No George, therefore no morbid “dead crow” associations?
Lots of George, to honour him?
In the end, I’ve decided on some George, and a special page at the end to celebrate him.
This picture of George’s magnificent feet will be one of several in the 2018 City Crow Calendar.
Thank-you once again for all of the kind thoughts and messages.
I like to think that George, from his perch up in the Great Sky Roost, enjoyed them too.
I knew I’d be upset when, inevitably, something happened to one of my crow acquaintances.
Even so, I’m surprised at how many tears I’ve shed since burying my pal, George Brokenbeak.
He’s laid to rest on the “garden of tears” side of the yard, along with countless beloved goldfish and hamsters, and the late Elvis (our cat, not the human — although there was some confusion about that when my son was little …)
George has been gone since Friday, but I didn’t want to cast sadness over the long weekend by writing about it then. I don’t really want to write about it now because it makes me cry again, but I thought you’d want to know.
On Friday morning I got a phone call from a friend and fellow dog walker (two rescue Westies.) We often stop and chat about the foibles of our dogs, and the comings and goings of the local crows. He knew George quite well, because he and Mabel were spending the summer hanging out behind his house — and dunking food in his dogs’ water bowl. George, in fact, was a minor local celebrity.
Not nearly as famous as Canuck, his much more well known fellow corvid, but known in this immediate neighbourhood for his friendly manner, as well as his distinctive profile.
You could tell George in profile from far away. He and Mabel, sharing a quiet moment in the poplars in my “Delicate Balance” image.
My friend had found George lying dead earlier that morning, and he knew I’d want to know.
Since about May, George and Mabel stopped coming to my garden, staying closer to their annual nesting site a block or so away. Still, I’d see them almost every day when out walking the dog. We’d exchange pleasantries and peanuts.
I last saw him what must have been a day or two before he died. All of the crows are looking pretty scruffy at the moment with the molting season underway, so if he looked a bit the worse for wear, I didn’t worry too much.
I think this may be the last picture I took of George.
It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in British Columbia. As a result, many parts of the province are, or have been, on fire. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and many have lost everything. Livestock and wildlife up there have died.
Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to only have the smoke to contend with, blocking a lot of the summer sun.
The sun rises in the eerie smoke-filled sky behind the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge in East Vancouver.
But from an urban wildlife perspective, this summer is a disaster. We had less than two mm of rain in July. None so far in August. Every puddle dried up weeks ago. Any worms must be ten feet down in the earth by now. I’ve seen skunks wandering the streets in broad daylight. They’re normally nocturnal and shy, so this is stressed behaviour. This morning I saw two coyotes on the corner of our block, again in daylight.
In the end, I’m not sure what killed George, but I suspect that, with the extra challenge of his broken beak, it was just too hard to get enough to eat and drink. I’ve been putting water out in front and back of my house, and over by the school at the end of the street. I know George had access to my friend’s dogs’ water bowls, but possibly it was too hard for him to drink efficiently enough for these harsh conditions.
George was found lying at the end of our alley — just a few houses from my back yard. I can’t help wondering if he was making his way back, coming for a drink in the birdbath and some peanuts. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near that part of our neighbourhood since May, so he was on some kind of special mission.
There was no crow funeral being held for George when I got there. He was just lying there, looking rather peaceful. No signs of injury.
At first I thought I’d just leave him to Nature. Or the City coming to pick him up. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I came home, put my rubber gloves on, and found a shoe box.
I dug a deep hole in the pet graveyard, wrapped George in a linen napkin, and sprinkled flowers on him. I’m sure he didn’t care about any of this, but it made me feel a little better. I placed a flat stone on his grave and stencilled a crow silhouette on it.
Let future archaeologists make of this what they may.
My daughter summed it up well when she replied to my distraught text with the words: “He was a good crow.” Indeed he was. Perhaps it was just his time to go, two years after his original beak injury. For some reason I had come to think he was immortal.
To read more about the wonder that was George, you can visit earlier stories:
It’s going to be a scorcher this week in Vancouver. The news is full of dire sunstroke warnings, and tips on how to beat the heat.
The birds know what to do, and here is one of our backyard Northern Flickers to do a little demo for you.
Stick to cool, shady places. Preferably near water.
If the thermometer is really sky rocketing, it’s time to take the plunge.
Get thoroughly soaked. Feel your core temperature go down.
Aaah. Now that’s better.
This part of the flicker post-bathing behaviour might not be so advisable for humans.
I <3 Flickers
NOTE: In this hot dry weather, the birds may need a little help from us to stay cool and hydrated. If you have a bird bath, keep it clean and full. If not, a simple shallow container of water put out for the birds is a big help when there are no puddles to be found.
Apart from enviously watching the bathing birds, I’m working feverishly on putting together to 2018 City Crow Calendar. It’s coming together well. In fact, it would be done if not for the little anecdotes and smaller pictures I’m adding to spare spaces in the grid parts of the calendar.
Anyway, it should be off to the printer soon, and available to purchase on my web site by the beginning of September.
The cover model for the calendar will be … guess who?