Snow Birds

Already it seems as if we might just have dreamed it.

Once upon a time, one Saturday morning in February, we woke up in a crystal palace.

A thick and flawless blanket of snow had fallen silently through the Vancouver night. The sun had come out. Everything looked like a fairy tale.

Photo of me, like a kid on Christmas morning, out in the garden in my dashing plaid housecoat.

The landscape itself was breathtaking so we just stood around, being robbed of breath.

Movement in my the trees made me think “… and there are birds.”

Not only is there landscape, but there are BIRDS in it. It felt like a surprise gift.

Of course I know this —  given that I think about, follow, write about, and photograph the darn things every day of my life. But somehow it just struck me then that birds are like an extra dimension. Like a new hue in the colour spectrum. A huge bonus.

Northern Flicker in a white landscape

It made me remember that I didn’t really notice birds much until my 50’s.

In my twenties, I lived in a cabin miles from anywhere, and there must have been many birds in my solitary world. Somehow I remember the trees, the moss, lichen and wild flowers in great detail, but no birds. There must have been ravens, for heaven’s sake, but I just didn’t register them.

Intrepid song sparrow

People often ask me how I came to start taking pictures of crows and other birds.

When both of my parents died within a couple of years of each other (almost twenty years ago now) I started photographing as a form of home-made therapy. I obsessively made very closely observed portraits of plants for several years, eventually turning it into my profession.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I was out in the garden, hunched over a hosta (as per usual) when I heard some crows making a terrific racket above me. I’m sure this was not the first time, but for some reason that day my head, tilted for so many years towards the earth, turned to look at the sky. In my mind, there was a creaking sound as I made the adjustment.

There are birds.

I finally noticed.

Better late than never, I guess.

Marvin and Mavis in the coral bark maple

And, as many of you know, once you start noticing crows, there’s no going back.

And they’re just the thin end of the wedge. Once you start watching crows, the next thing you know, there are house sparrows and starlings and robins and chickadees and flickers. And, good grief, was that a hummingbird …?

So, the snow day, beautiful as the scenery was, also served to make me appreciate the bird dimension of landscape all over again.

It was as if I’d forgotten about them all for a minute and then remembered.

Marvin “snow swimming” on the neighbour’s roof.

A robin and a flicker share the heated birdbath facilities.

A junco enjoys the pool to himself.

Marvin and Mavis enjoying some welcome sun.

Chickadee on one leg, trying to warm up one foot at a time.

Snow covered crow’s nest.

Marvin, having looked at snow from both sides now …

















9 thoughts on “Snow Birds

  1. It was magical and I loved every minute. Friday I walked in the snow and Saturday out early with my camera. People shovelling but in cheery moods. Now feels like we were away for the weekend. All gone. I would’ve happy if we could plan on one magical weekend like this a year😄

  2. It is lovely, June. But I can’t get out of my head the saddest sight
    I saw Friday night downtown. It was late, 8:30, dark.. and on
    Granville Street, I saw a poor crow flitting back and forth across the
    street. It had obviously missed its window to head home to the roost
    that day. I wonder how that happened, but the poor bird did not seem
    in good shape. It seemed upset and stressed, and the night was just
    so cold and the snow had started again, and the wind was blowing. I
    do wonder how it made out. It was a very sad sight. 🙁 I hope it was
    able to take some shelter somewhere. I just couldn’t get it out of my
    mind, and wish I could have helped it.

    • Ah, that’s the down-side of noticing birds. You also can’t help seeing when they’re in trouble. Sometimes, as in your situation, there’s really nothing you can do except to hope that they make it through to another, better, day.

      • Too true, June. Thanks.
        ps I love that you have a heated birdbath! I’m stuck doing the old-fashioned thing, pouring boiling water on mine to melt the ice! 🙂 I’m so glad we’re back to normal Van temps already and that the snow is nearly all gone! I’m sure the birds would agree with me. I did enjoy your snow photos tho’!

  3. Loved the vancouver winter photos of the yard and birds. Of all the birds I was most touched and worried about the high energy and fragile humming bird.
    Thanks for the visual treat.
    Cheers Vincent & Marlu

  4. Hi June, Loved your blog! Always find it so interesting to learn more about you and how you became the Artist you are today. The photo you took of the snow covered crows’ nest, do you have any plans to use that photo for tiles, prints, cards etc.?

    Wishing you a lovely day!

    Corinne Palmer
    The Painting Crow

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