The night’s watch at Still Creek
Crow roost visiting as therapy — I’m not sure it will catch on as a mainstream practice, but it works for me.
The first time I went to the Still Creek crow roost was about ten years ago. I’d recently received some bad news and, having moped about for a few days, felt the need to press the “reset” button on my mood.
I’d already been photographing crows for several years, but I had yet to make it to the mythical evening roost. Somehow I thought that seeing it at last might cheer me up.
It did. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say it changed my world view.
How did it feel?
Like witnessing a massive storm tide at Long Beach.
Like being bathed in a sea of sound, with significance just beyond my understanding.
Like standing on the edge of another world.
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All the more amazing for the fact that I was standing in the midst of rush hour Vancouver traffic in a light industrial, urban area about ten minutes drive from my house.
That experience somehow put my troubles into a new and manageable perspective.
Since that evening, I’ve visited many times. I persuaded my husband to come along after the third or fourth trip, and now he’s hooked too. We don’t even have to be depressed to go — mostly we just go to join in the celebratory atmosphere.
Our routine is to arrive at the edge of the Costco parking lot just east of Willingdon about half an hour before sunset. Sometimes we arrive a bit early and find no crows at all. Has the roost been called off? Suddenly a single crow materializes in a nearby tree.
In the blink of an eye, there are ten, then twenty crows, in the same tree.
Then you look to the horizon on all sides and you see them coming. On a clear night you can see the mountains far to the east, pink in the twilight, with a corvid river meandering in front of them. They pour in from the west side of town, and from the north shore.
There’s an overpass just to the west of the Costco parking lot. We like to climb up the stairs to the higher level for a better view of them all rolling in, like a black, noisy tide.
One purpose of the roost is the give the crows a “safety in numbers” sleeping spot, but they really seem to have a whole lot on the agenda before they finally go quiet and turn in for the night.
Clouds of crows land on every tree branch, power line, lamp stand and roof within view. And they are loud. I mean, really, really loud. Amid the racket, you can pick out many different types of calls. Bossy, sergeant major calls, clicking, cooing, croaking and good old cawing. On our last visit to the roost I heard at least two crows that really seemed to be mimicking Canada geese!
What could be going on here, apart from crows seeking safety in numbers from owls and other night terrors?
Possibilities: a massive gossip session; a round-up of restaurant reviews (the highly coveted five star dumpster rating is given only occasionally); music class; singles club for young, unattached crows … *
With each explosive take-off the crows are generally moving from the east side of Willingdon, over to the west, towards the McDonalds restaurant.
At a certain point in the evening, the grass outside the McDonalds and the roof edges, are crow-carpeted.
Delicious as the smells coming from the McDonald’s may be (to them), that is not their final destination. As the light dims, they all move a little further west into the industrial/office area between Willingdon and Gilmore.
There always seem to be a few single crows, strategically positioned on posts and signs acting like raucous traffic wardens or air traffic controllers.
Last call for good spots on the Yellow Pages office building! Move along there!
As it gets darker, it’s harder to make out the moving crows. They take on a ghostly air as they fly to their chosen resting spots for the night. .
On a less ethereal note, I’m told that you can tell the “ranking” of a crow by how much white they have on their feathers the next day. The top tier crows get the highest spots, so the younger crows at the bottom of the roost are going to be wearing a lot of crow guano by morning.
If you stay until it’s fully dark, things will become a lot quieter and the crows will settle among the herons and other wildlife in the wooded area around the actual watery part of Still Creek.
You will also see their shadowy outlines on top of most of the buildings between McDonalds and the Still Creek/Gilmore intersection, on each of the small boulevard trees, and lined up like clothes pegs on the power lines along the road.
Note: Do not linger under any of these, unless you want to bear the mark of the low ranking crow.
Somehow the name “Still” Creek seems perfect.
Although the twilight hours there are some of the noisiest and busiest in the city, you can also find yourself being unusually still and peaceful in the middle of it all.
Still Creek Moon, print available online.
* A study is currently underway at the University of Washington, using recordings of the nightly vocalizations at their local roost, to try to unravel the mystery of what those crows are really on about.