Crow Gossip

Just in case you tire of human news, here’s a “celebrity profile” of a different sort.

I’m not sure “who” this up-and-coming power couple are wearing this fall.

Their lives seem to be pretty scandal-free, although you’d have to listen to the roost rumours to be sure of that.

Politically, I’d say they’re pretty apathetic — although very vocal on some local issues.

Marvin and Mavis have claimed my garden as their territory this fall. We’re really just starting to get to know each other, but I can already share a few juicy details about the lifestyle of the loud and feathery.

First of all, they’re art fans — with a particular fondness for sculptural pieces. Marvin was first wowed by the rusty metal jay bird on the back gate.

Then, he became intrigued by the metal figure on the bird feeder.

He’s so impressed with the whole “birds as art” concept , he’s taken to posing as a crow statue.

Corvid performance art.

It is said that crows can tell each other apart by their calls. Until recently, I thought that the difference must be too subtle for human ears, but Marvin has a particularly guttural caw that I can actually recognize at once.

 

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What gets both Marvin and Mavis really riled up is … cats. This is actually quite handy for me, because they often warn me that the neighbour’s cat is in the garden and lurking under the bird feeder, or by the bird bath. They’re quite pleased with how quickly they’ve trained me to run out of the house, waving my arms and yelling at the evil creature. They also notified me when Edgar, our indoor cat, snuck out during the Halloween preparations. Again, they were gratified to see how promptly the ginger devil was captured and contained.

For Halloween, apart from the usual chocolate bars, I also bought some mini bags of Cheezies. I wanted to save some for after Halloween to test Marvin and Mavis’s junk food susceptibility.

All crows I’ve ever known have had a weakness for these frighteningly orange snacks. I don’t buy them often because (a) I don’t want to fill my crows up with junk food and (b) I can’t resist them either.

I can reliably report that Mavis and Marvin are as weak in the face of Cheezie temptation as the rest of us.

Note that the dog kibble and peanuts have been left for a second trip. Best get the Cheezies while the getting’s good.

 

Well, that’s about it for the latest hot crow gossip around here. Stay tuned for the next instalment. Perhaps fashion and beauty tips …

Marvin and Mavis, captured in a candid moment by the relentless paparazzi.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

A whole year’s worth of corvid rumour and gossip in the City Crow Calendar.

Marvin is the model in this newest miniature crow pendant.

Collecting Hidden Beauty

Sometimes, on my walks, I like to play a little game.

I call it Alleyway to Art Gallery.

Something catches my eye —  a piece of rust, moss on a worn fence, a shattered windshield,  even some crumpled paper floating in the gutter.

At that moment, in that light, it is astonishing.

That’s how the game begins.

Part two is imagining that the little piece of beauty has been magically transported from the gutter to a pristine white gallery.

The lighting and ambience are perfect. The exhibited piece is HUGE. Twenty feet high.

Perhaps sparkling wine is being served …

The colours, the textures! It’s stunning.

In some ways, the game can be a little depressing since the imaginary exhibit is far more gorgeous and spontaneous than anything I’m likely to create.

But, therein lies the fun of it. It’s an inspiration. Something to aspire to.

Plus, before you know it, I’ve been on a little fantasy VAG, MoMA, or Tate Modern trip during the course of a dog walk.

It’s my little secret. Until it wears away, blows away, or the light changes, it’s part of my own private collection.

The pictures in this blog are of a treasure I found in a local alleyway around this time last year.

As you can see in the photo above,  the alleyway in question did not seem, at first glance, to hold a lot of promise. I can’t remember how exactly I came to notice it. Perhaps Geordie wanted to pee on it.

It was a large painting, done on some sort of wood veneer with thick, swirling sweeps of paint. Hard to say if was acrylic or oil paint, or what the original subject was.

I’m not sure how long it had been languishing in they alley when I found it, but much of the paint had worn off and the wooden base had started to de-laminate. Moss was beginning to colonize parts of the wood, and windy weather had caused brilliant fall leaves to pile up in front of it.

One or two other leaves had become plastered to the old painting and random, yet somehow perfect, intervals.

It was one of those overcast, damp days where the sky is a dull grey, but all terrestrial colours seem extra bright to compensate. Flecks of blue left in the painting, and the touches of red in the autumn leaves, seemed to add little jolts of electricity to the overall composition.

I visited my little secret art show several times over the next few weeks, until it disappeared under the winter snow.

I considered all the the elements that went into the accidental “installation”.

The painter and their original inspiration.

The decisions and/or circumstances that led to the painting being abandoned in the alley.

The wind, the leaves, the moss, the light.

My decision to walk that way that day.

Geordie’s sudden need to pee.

Somehow this little game brings me much joy.

More and more I’m trying to find ways to steer my mind onto calmer pathways and thinking about beauty and serendipity makes a welcome change from too much news or  the never-ending “to-do” list.

I recommend it.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like, The Gift.

www.junehunter.com

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A Puzzlement of Crows

It’s taken me a ridiculous length of time to get to this simple little blog . I’m just trying to update you on the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of the local crow families. But it’s complicated!

I tried writing it all in words and it was confusing even me, so I decided we needed a map. Voila!

Honestly, I did feel as if I could use something fancier, like the opening credits to Game of Thrones to do the situation justice but, alas, the budget is limited and so the map will have to suffice.

In the post-summer corvid reshuffle, you can see we have four families vying for hegemony* in this little corner of East Vancouver.

Let’s have a look at the protagonists in this little neighbourhood drama.

MABEL

Normally, at this time of year, George and Mabel would have returned from their nesting area at the west end of the block to reclaim our alley way and my back garden.

Since the sad death of George this summer, Mabel seems happy to stay in the nesting area with the junior crow that she and George fledged the summer before last. They claim the elementary school end of the block and the alleyway to the south of our house.

ERIC & CLARA

Eric and Clara are sticking to their traditional territory which includes the south side of Notre Dame School (including the highly prized school dumpster in the parking lot), the east end of Parker Street and points west along Parker to Rossland Street. Of course, their jurisdiction includes the all-important ceremonial fire hydrant.

Sometimes they will make a sortie to my front gate if they see me coming out with the dog, or going to the car. They will also venture part way down “Mabel’s” alley, but turn back at “her” Hydro pole.

Eric takes his Block Watch duties very seriously.

They didn’t have any baby crows this spring. The nest they were working on blew away in an early summer windstorm and they didn’t seem to have the heart to start over.

THE FIREHALL FAMILY

The Firehall pair, on the other hand, had a very successful baby-raising year.  They have three surviving adolescents — quite an achievement, given the long drought and tough conditions this summer. Their little population explosion has been one of the major factors causing a fluctuation in the customary corvid boundaries.

The Firehall Triplets

I imagine the three young ones will soon go off and start their own little empires elsewhere but, for now, with five mouths to feed, they’re venturing out of their usual stomping grounds.

Crowded up there on the Hydro wires.

They’ve even had the nerve to go and try pinching peanuts off Eric’s fire hydrant. Such audacity is met with firm resistance. They also come to my back fence sometimes. They’ve never done this in previous years and their visits have led to some minor scuffles with Marvin and his mate.

MARVIN & MATE

In the summer months, when George and Mabel would abandon my garden for their nest site to the west, a notice must immediately have gone up on the Corvid Craigslist. I imagine it read something like: “Temporary vacancy in well-appointed garden with well-trained, peanut-serving human.” This year our summer tenants were a crow with paint on his neck and a  companion with the colourful feathers of a younger crow.

I believe that the crows that are most often coming to the garden now that it’s fall, are these same two — but it’s hard to tell for sure as the late summer moult took care of the  easy-to-spot painted and the colourful feathers, leaving us with two anonymously glossy black crows. I think, from their behaviour, it’s the same two. I’ve called the formerly painted crow Marvin after Lee Marvin, who starred in the movie, Paint Your Wagon, many years ago. I haven’t yet got around to a name for his mate. Indeed, I don’t really know who’s “he” and who’s “she” for sure at the  moment, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

We’re beginning that fun “getting to know you” routine, which involves a lot of “risk/benefit” calculation on their part. You can almost hear their brain cogs whirring as they try to figure out how close it’s safe to get to this crazy human and her dog.

They don’t look too dangerous …

How about from this angle?

I feel safer up on the roof.

Hmmm….

Gradually, they’re getting bolder. Or possibly just more desperate as the weather takes a turn for the worse and they settle in for the winter. I think we’ve even got to that cosy stage where they blame me for the weather.

So, for now, things are a bit fluid — and I don’t just mean what’s coming from the sky. When a crow shows up in my garden at the moment, it’s a bit of a guess as to whether it’s Marvin & co, or a Firehall visitor, or even Eric and Clara, testing the northernmost limits of their territorial boundaries.

This time last year I was pretty sure who was who, and now it’s like starting the puzzle over. But, hey, I figure it’s good exercise for my aging brain. I’ve never tried Sukuko, but examining and sorting all of the corvid “who’s who, and where?” clues has to be almost as good.

NOTE    * I have been waiting for 40+ years to use “hegemony” in a sentence. I believe I first came across it when reading about the foreign policy of Frederick the Great of Prussia for a very boring university essay in the mid-70’s. I knew it would come in handy eventually.

www.junehunter.com

A new project I’m working on — crow shapes with rust and other textures. Watch out for them in my online shop in the next week or so.

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Owl Wrestling

Let me be clear. Actual owl wrestling is definitely not something I’d recommend.

However, it does feel as if I’ve been metaphorically getting to grips with owls for the last few weeks.

One particular owl, in fact.

Since the wonderful day a few weeks ago when a barred owl appeared in front of my house, I’ve been working on distilling the magic of that day into a small set of images.

It was such a special day, I really wanted to make sure that I did that beautiful owl justice. To that end, I’ve been faffing about with this series for weeks.

First of all there was the issue of making a short list of the photographs to start working from. That gorgeous owl posed so obligingly for me, for so many hours — it made choosing the final four images quite challenging.

Then I had to decide which other images to layer the owl portraits with. Below are most of the final images that, in the end, became merged with the owl — but in the process of working on this series I tried dozens of other combinations of  tree, foliage, stamp, fabric and texture images. They all ended up on the virtual cutting room floor, leaving the set of images that are now on my web site.

Lupins, cracked concrete, katsura leaves, sky, forest, an old barkcloth curtain and owls — all combined to create the atmosphere in the final set of four owl images.

 

Owl Dreams 1

Owl Dreams 2

Owl Dreams 3

Owl Dreams 4

Some of the other images of birds of British Columbia on my web site. Buy four or more, and save 15%.

www.junehunter.com

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Squirrel Safari

Every dog walk with Nina is an adventure these days. Our objectives are in direct conflict.

Nina’s goal: nab a squirrel.

My goal: avoid becoming airborne* — I hear the waiting list for new hips is long.

Nina is my daughter’s dog and lives with her, but Lily works long hours, so I do some dog sitting most days. My dog, Geordie, has a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards squirrels. Nina, on the other hand, considers it her highest destiny to one day catch one. This seems entirely unlikely as she’s a lot slower than a squirrel on the flat, and her tree-climbing capacity is negligible.

However, a girl can dream.

I know you’re out there …

Generally, we see one or two squirrels on every walk. I keep a close eye on the landscape and try to detour us away from dog/squirrel proximity.

At this time of year though, squirrels are everywhere. And I do mean, everywhere. In the garden, outside of the window, velcro-ed to the neighbour’s stucco wall, up every pole and in every tree. Not only that — they seem fearless. They sit, waiting for us on the road, looking like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

Make my day, punk.

Many of the local trees are dropping hazelnuts and walnuts, so I imagine that thought is filling their little rodent brains. The microscopic danger posed by Nina and her ambitions are as nothing to them. “Must store nuts.”

One year, the squirrels in our garden “harvested” most of the LED bulbs from our outdoor Christmas lights. Our next door neighbour still occasionally digs one up in his garden. They didn’t do it the next year, so I presume that they remembered how disappointing that particular nut harvesting effort was.

Evasive action is pointless.

If I make a quick change of course to avoid one squirrel, there are three more, making each expedition with Nina a tense and exciting operation.

This baby squirrel got “stuck” on our neighbour’s “beer bottle stucco” house wall for several hours. Nina, of course, when bonkers every time we went outside, so we had to go out of a side door to go on walks until the squirrel finally figured out how to climb down and escape.

All of the squirrel photos in the blog were taken when not in Nina’s company. Geordie is quite happy to wait while I snap a squirrel. After all, he is now trained to be patient for my endless visits with the crows, so he probably just considers the squirrel another boring delay on his walk.

Looking down as Geordie takes a leisurely pee at the foot of this squirrel’s Hydro pole.

Going Up!

Going Down!

I was sure I left that walnut in there …

I’m not sure if the squirrel in the video below had hiccups, or was making some sort of garbled announcement with a mouthful of walnut.

* I do have past experience of being airborne on a dog walk. We used to have two yellow labs (brother and sister). One day they spotted a cat scooting under a skip full of rubble by the side of the road. The grass was muddy and wet and I lost my footing and was momentarily flying. Luckily I emerged from that adventure only muddy and slightly bruised.

 

www.junehunter.com

A few bonus Mabel buttons available with purchase of City Crow Calendar.

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Cloud Mystery

The clouds this morning made me really, really happy.

I was so happy, that I had to question what it was about them that made me feel so darn chipper.

Perhaps is because they made such a spectacular change from skies that have been either blue and cloudless or filled with sepia smoke for the past few months.

They weren’t just any old boring grey clouds, either. It was a symphony of mauve and lavender to begin with. Then piles of dark navy clouds budged up against  candy floss threads of peaches and cream.

The clouds seem to mark the change in the seasons more accurately than the falling leaves. It’s hard to tell if the leaf drop is a sign of autumn’s arrival, or the result of the long, hot, dry summer.

All day I’ve been thinking about why the changes in the sky and the season make me feel so excited.

Partly, of course, it’s because I’m a photographer, and intermediate and changing light is always more interesting that boring old sunshine.

But I think also has something to do with “in between” spaces where more interesting things seem to happen. There’s something about seasonal change that seem to open new doors.

It’s like the edge of something and edges are always a bit exciting. One thing ends, another begins, but they get to overlap and mingle for a while. When day is turning to night, night to day, summer to fall, winter to spring: these times, with their transitional magic, are my favourite.

Of course, the other great thing about clouds, is what they’re sometimes hiding.

I could hear a sound like laughing getting closer and closer. A pair of ravens burst out of the clouds over the North Shore, flipping, diving, air-wrestling and squabbling their way across the sky until they disappeared somewhere to the south.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Dishevelled Crows

My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.

If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”

I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.

They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.

Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.

This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and  constant appeals for food.

The Firehall Family

Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.

Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”

Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.

Eric and Clara

This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.

As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.

Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!

Mabel

Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.

Painted Crow

My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.

 

So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.

It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.

www.junehunter.com

 

 

Crow calendars now available online, or at the studio sale.