When Edgar Met Geordie

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For two years after Molly died we were a one-cat, no-dog, household. It was a situation that could not last. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that life is incomplete without a dog.

I thought, since we’d be quite old by the time this new dog was in its senior years, we should get a small lap dog. Having cared for several large dogs in their geriatric years, it seemed that a dog that could be moved without a winch might be a good idea. This pronouncement was met with some mockery from my family, since the last time we’d been looking for a dog I’d started out seeking a Cairn terrier … and yet we somehow ended up with two labradors.

The main requirement for this new dog was, of course, that it be Edgar-approved.

Via a series of fortuitous circumstances Geordie ended up on our doorstep.

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Not a lap dog, in size or temperament, and yet still somehow perfect for us.

I’ve outlined the whole story of how he got from a shelter in California to our house in Gone to the Dogs, but this post is more about Geordie and Edgar’s relationship.

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It took half an hour to persuade the very nervous Geordie to enter the house on his first visit, so he was quite happy to leave Edgar well alone for the first little while.

But, timid or not, he was still a puppy and eventually he had to go check out the regal ginger being on the chair. After a few respectful sniffs, he got a bit carried away and Edgar had to resort to a fierce hiss and rapid fire series of (clawless) paw swats.

Luckily Geordie is a very quick learner and, although he needed a few reminders in the early days, he has now fully absorbed the lesson that Cat is King.

You may have noticed in recent posts that Edgar sometimes like to sleep in Geordie’s bed, although he has a perfectly fine cat-sized one of his own. This was a pattern set early on, when he would claim Geordie’s special sleeping mat.

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He would also eat the food right out of Geordie’s bowl.

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Geordie learned at the feet of the master, even adopting Edgar’s signature “crossed paws” poses very early on. Either that or they are just naturally demure soul mates with excellent posture.

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Treat time — cats go first.

They’ve been together now for just over four years and have settled into a mellow groove, Edgar gradually passing on his wisdom to the young acolyte.

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Group effort to remind the humans it’s dinner time.

While Edgar has a number of other fine canine acquaintances, it’s really hard to imagine a more perfect full-time pod-mate for him than Geordie.

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Edgar: A Short History

I am asked so many things about Edgar. How old is he? What kind of cat is he? Has he always been this cute? How does he get on so well with the dog?

This blog post (apart from a shameless excuse to post adorable older pictures of him) is an effort to answer those questions.

Who am I, really …?

We think Edgar is about 11 now. He was given to my daughter, Lily, when he was a few months old by a friend of hers who was moving and couldn’t keep the kitten. I didn’t meet him until he was about a year old and Lily moved back home, bringing Edgar with her, in 2010.

The friend who gave Edgar to Lily owned his mum, who was a pure Scottish Fold ginger and white cat.  Scottish Folds are known for their tiny folded ears, large eyes and propensity for quirky poses. All are descended from Susie, a Scottish barn cat born in the 1960’s.

The background of Edgar’s father remains a mystery as his mother got out of the house one day, and …

A typical Edgar pose.

As a half Fold, Edgar has inherited most of the typical characteristics. His head is somewhat smaller and less fuzzy than a pure Scottish Fold, making his eyes look even more enormous, and his general demeanour, even more owl-like.

I didn’t see him as a kitten, so I can’t say how cute he may have been then.

But … fear not, Lily found some photos, given to her by her friend,  that she has kindly forwarded to me.

So, yes, pretty cute, I’d say …

Edgar and his brother with their mum.

Edgar has been with us for ten years now. Lily moved out again, but kindly left Edgar with us, as he has more room to range about the house here, and someone is always home. These are the logical reasons. There was also the small matter of me refusing to let him go.

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He is, after all, an invaluable office assistant.

… and the best possible role model for a relaxed approach to life.

When Edgar moved in with us, I was a bit worried about how he and the dogs would get along. Back then we had two of them — brother and sister yellow labs, Taz and Molly.

Luckily all three of them shared an interest in repose, so things worked out very well. Edgar is a very easy going cat and takes most new things in his stride.

He’s always been an indoor cat and seems very happy to be that way, enjoying his social life via the pals of various species he finds himself housed with.

Taz and Edgar were good buddies (sharing similar ultra-chill temperaments) and often chose to hang out together.

Taz and Edgar, pursuing a shared interest.

Unfortunately Taz died at 12, just a year or so after Edgar arrived, leaving Molly (with her slightly more uptight personality) and Edgar to maintain a cool but civil relationship for the next couple of years. As she got older, deafer and slower, the two of them became closer.

Molly and Edgar

Once Molly died (at a venerable 15) there followed a long period in which Edgar was the only quadruped in the household. He seemed just fine with that too.

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Edgar with Christmas Lights

Edgar on his ladder

Edgar loves Christmas — not because of the decorations — but because of the ladder that comes out to assist with the hanging of them.

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Standing up to receive a treat.

His days as an only-pet ended in 2016 when Geordie arrived in our lives.

More on When Geordie Met Edgar in the next post …

 

Urban Nature Challenge

“Explore your own neighbourhood,” advises our provincial premier, John Horgan for this long weekend in British Columbia.  We’re all being asked to stay relatively close to home to limit the spread of COVID-19. So, much as I long for the forest and mountains after weeks and months confined to the city, I decided have some fun and set myself a real Urban Nature Enthusiast challenge.

Geordie and I heading out on our urban nature safari.

We headed out to one of the least promising-looking locations, nature-wise, in our East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Our destination was the old Grandview Hydro Substation located at the noisy intersection of First Avenue and Nanaimo Street. This cavernous space is a perennially popular filming location for the local movie industry. From what I can discover, it was built in 1937 as a substation for the BC Electric Railroad Company to help power the old interurban rail lines that once criss-crossed the city.

As the traffic roared past, Geordie and I scouted around for some interesting moss, lichen or rust. I wasn’t really expecting to find much in the way bird life, but the trilling, whistling sound of many starlings lured me around the corner of the building.

The east side of the substation is covered in a cascade of ivy and, at first, that’s all I could see. It took a few moments before I realized that it was alive with starlings; specifically, fledgling starlings, merrily feasting on the ivy’s dark berries. Very few adult starlings were around, making it seem like a massive starling nursery — a relatively safe place to leave the kids while running errands.

Roll call at the starling nursery school.

Apart from the starling crowd, there were some robins and sparrows also enjoying the dining facilities. Nearby, a pair of crows seemed more focussed on another project.

These two were industriously flying back and forth to a nearby tree with a succession of twigs, mud and grass.

First, some structural stuff …

… and then some soft furnishings …

… finally, some scraps of cedar bark fibres, which crows often use to line the nest for its antimicrobial properties.

I thought that was a pretty good dose of urban nature for a trip to an old substation in a busy traffic area next to a gas station and was about to call it a day when I noticed the swallows.

At first I thought they were just more starlings darting around in the sky, but  I could see they were much smaller and more erratic. When one swooped only feet from my head I realized they were Violet Green Swallows!

I tried for quite a while to get a photo of them flying, which is hard enough because of their speed and random direction changes, but just about impossible in an urban area with all the power lines and poles getting in the way of the camera’s focus.

I found the best strategy was to focus on one bird when it stopped on a wire and hope that some others would fly close by. I just had my light “walking” lens with me, so success was limited, but here are few shots of the magical substation swallows.

I grew up in a very industrial part of a northern English town and I spent my childhood playing along the Newcastle quayside, discovering places like this all the time. Forgotten by the grown-ups, slightly dirty, dodgy and dangerous,  but full of adventure and new understanding for free range kids. My substation outing reminded me of those days, and the sense of having made small but amazing discoveries.

If you’re looking for something to do, I really suggest setting yourself an urban nature challenge, checking  out some new part of your local neighbourhood. It’s important to give it a a few minutes of waiting and watching to see what’s going on in the slightly hidden world of nature in the city. Bring the kids — they love a good expedition and, if it helps,  imagine it being narrated by David Attenborough!

A small chickadee making himself heard over the river of traffic.

Marvin and Mavis Nesting 2020

I know I haven’t written about my crow neighbours for quite a while. There are a couple of reasons, apart from the distraction of Edgar and the Cabin Fever series.

One: I have just SO MANY images and stories filling up my brain and computer, I’m having a hard time knowing where to start. But, since it’s also time to start thinking about the 2021 City Crow Calendar, it’s time for a dive into Crowlandia.

Two: it is nesting season, which fills me with a certain level of anxiety. Like most of us, I already have a bit of an anxiety surfeit,  so I was trying to keep a slight emotional distance from the rough and tumble of the bird reproductive season.

But I know it’s hopeless, I can’t stop myself from getting invested in the drama.

I’ll start with a bit of an account of Marvin and Mavis’s nesting season so far. I worry especially about these two as they are my regular visitors and, over the past years, I’ve seen them lose three seasons’ worth of fledglings — to racoons, falling-out-of-tree mishaps and bald eagles.

Marvin and Mavis’s nest, May 2019

For the last two springs, they built their nests high in the Notre Dame poplars.

While those trees have the advantage of height and protection from ground predators, they are also a favourite buffet for the local eagles and hawks. All of the local crows seem to have come to the same conclusion, as I haven’t seen any of them building nests there this spring, although they’re still popular with smaller birds.

Marvin and Mavis got an early start on this year’s nest building back in March, choosing a nice dense pine tree. I’m not sure what went wrong with that project, but by April they were real estate shopping again.

They turned their attention to the dark red-leaved plum trees on our street, which offer great camouflage for dark coloured birds.  A couple of problems arose there.

First of all, Mabel and her mate got an earlier start, with their substantial nest all finished in another plum tree weeks ago. With the added advantage of two youngsters born last year hanging around as nest helpers, they’ve been able to wage war on Marvin and Mavis whenever they start a new building project.

Marvin and Mavis warding off a Mabel clan raid from our roof.

On the lookout for incoming raiders

Marvin and Mavis persevered, however, and managed to start a nice looking nest in one plum tree at the far end of the block from Mabel and co.

While it’s wonderful that many people, forced by the pandemic to slow down and stay close to home, have started appreciating their bird neighbours in a new way, it’s also true that it’s given people more time to become very particular about their gardens. Unfortunately for our intrepid couple, the humans whose house they were building in front of decided they did not want to experience the thrill of a crow’s nest so close to them, and started to knock the partly built nest out of the tree. I did try my best friendly Crow Evangelist pitch to get them to leave it alone, and I thought I’d made some progress, but by the next day the nest that Marvin and Mavis had started rebuilding was gone again, so I guess not.

Having read the writing on the wall, M & M selected another plum tree. This is where they are now — trying to be very quiet as it’s rather too close for comfort to Mabel’s nest. Luckily, all of the crows now seem to have entered the “witness protection” phase of the nesting season where they’re all just trying to be invisible from any potential predators.

Mavis checking out the view from the new nest.

Fingers crossed for them this year. I don’t think they have eggs in there yet as both of them have been coming to the house to visit several times a day — for pep talks and some peanuts.

I’m trying not to draw too much attention to their nest as they try to keep a low profile, and hoping that things go well from now on. Fingers crossed for some little Marvins and Mavises this year, even as I try not to get my nerves too jangled at every twist and turn of the nesting tale. I’ll keep you posted …

Some other posts about crow nesting seasons:

 

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The Charm of Goldfinches

While social gatherings of the human sort are still not an option, we’ve been lucky to host a succession of very charming avian guests in the garden lately.

This week seems to be goldfinch week out there, with beautiful singing and frequent flashes of saffron in the foliage … and at the fountain.

The recklessness of some of the flying manoeuvres I’ve witnessed today lead me to believe that a new generation of goldfinches have come to play. You know when you have to duck to avoid finch/human contact that you have some L-plated flyers in the ‘hood.

Juvenile American Goldfinch

Junior goldfinch taking a breather.

A few years ago we only had house finches coming to the garden. About five years ago the goldfinches finally arrived, but the house finches disappeared. I thought they might be fundamentally incompatible, but last year and this year, both kinds of finches seem to be happy in the garden, along with a gang of feisty siskins.

Male House Finch feeds a nesting Female.

Fierce little siskin bossing Norman the Nuthatch about at the feeder.

This week’s warmer weather inspired me to set up the mister at the bird bath. First customer was a rather excited female Anna’s hummingbird.

Hummingbirds don’t normally frequent the bird bath as they get all the liquid they need to drink from nectar, and the water in it is too deep for them to bathe in. For bathing they prefer either a mist or a shallow water receptacle, like the leaf I noticed a hummingbird bathing in last year.

Birds like the white crowned sparrow below, however, are very, very happy with a regular bird bath — as long as it’s kept nice and clean, with fresh water added daily.

Our hummingbirds also seem to enjoy the fountain, where they can dart under the falling water for a quick feather refresh.

The goldfinches are also big fountain fans for some reason.

Freshly bathed and ready to impress some lady goldfinches.

I hope that you’re also managing to spend some time with feathered friends.

Last week’s local newspaper, the Vancouver Sun, featured a story Backyard Birding Takes Flight about the delight that people stuck at home are finding in getting to know their avian neighbours, and the joy of discovery to be found within their own neighbourhoods. I do hope this is something we’ll take forward with us long after the COVID-19 situation has passed. You will notice that Norman the Nuthatch and one of my Steller’s Jay photos are featured in the article, and I am quoted in it.

You can read the article online HERE.

Treat yourself this weekend to just a few minutes of bird watching. You don’t have to go far at all and you can maintain your social distance. Tomorrow, May 9, offers the chance to do that and be part of a world wide community of bird enthusiasts contributing to science for the Global Big Day of bird observing and counting. You can spend all day doing it, or ten minutes. If you want to add your findings to the overall count, you’ll need an eBirds account. It’s totally free to sign up and participate.

I can honestly say that thing that calms me down the fastest in these days of specific and generalized anxiety is to just stop what I’m doing, step outside and look around to see what the birds are doing. Sometimes a minute does it, sometimes a whole hour is required. Often there seems to be nothing of interest going on, but there always is if you just take a few deep breaths and wait. Common birds doing their normal amazing things, and occasionally a rarer bird. Either way it’s time well spent.

Swainson’s Thrush in the garden last week — only the second one I’ve ever seen.

 

 

Edgar Update

Some days have us all feeling rather tense …

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… while other days are just so relaxing …

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Edgar’s days are mostly of the chilled out variety and he is a very good influence on his fellow pod-mates.

Geordie, before Edgar’s life lessons …

… and after …

For his human housemates, Edgar promotes rigorous adherence to a daily stretching routine. He likes to keep a very close eye on his students, sometimes making social distancing on the yoga mat a bit challenging.

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The arrival of some warm May weather is very much appreciated by both Edgar and Geordie.

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blossom Geordie

Edgar has such a wise little face, you can read into his expression whatever advice you most need at the moment … “all will be well,” “be kind, be calm,” “give me tuna treats.”

On Sunday I chose to interpret his look as “make some cinnamon buns today” and, what do you know, it turned out to be the perfect recommendation!

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