Fledgling Alert

Baby Crow with Attitude

They’re out there now. Full of attitude and completely gormless — you’ll see them staggering around a neighbourhood near you soon.

No, not zombies — baby crows.

I’ve seen several fledgling crows on our dog walks lately. A lot of them have been taking shelter at the edge of roads, sometimes wedged between parked cars and the curb.

Baby Crow in Gutter

Baby Crow Struggles Out of Gutter Gap

Baby crow struggles out of the narrow gap they’d gotten stuck in between tire and curb.

Baby Crow On Road Edge

Whew made it out. But a minute later it was back in there again.

So, PLEASE CHECK AROUND YOUR CAR before you drive off — just in case there’s a sleepy little baby crow nestled against your wheels.

If you do find one (even though it’s best not interfere with baby crows in general) you can quickly move it to a safer spot close by (within 20 feet) — a bush, or long grass.

See Corvid Research’s informative blog post: 5 Reasons To Leave Baby Crows Alone.

Baby Crow in Tree

In case you have questions as to whether you’re looking at a baby crow or an adult crow, below is a little “cheat sheet” I put together for a blog post a few years ago.

It includes my annual plea for understanding for the dive-bombing crow parents. Don’t take their aggressive behaviour personally.

Just imagine you’d just given birth to three or four kids at once and they were all instantly teenagers who think they know everything. I expect you’d be behaving a little erratically too …

 

How to Spot Baby Crows

So, have fun watching out for the new neighbourhood babies.

And — do remember to check around your car for someone like this before you drive off.

Baby Crow Shelters In Gutter

Corvid Clarity

 

Crow and Raven

How can you tell if it’s a crow or a raven?

This is a question that often comes up in my email and social media.

There are a lot of excellent resources to help out with this (more on these later) — but I thought I’d try my hand at the explanation too, based mostly on my own observations.

First of all, I made a special set of magnets, titled Corvid Clarity, so that you could keep a small reference guide where you’ll see it often (on your fridge or filing cabinet.)

June Hunter Crow Raven Magnets

The magnets show the first two ways I write about to tell a crow from a raven.

TAIL SHAPE

First of all, if you just catch a glimpse of a crow/raven mystery bird flying over you — check out the tail shape.

The raven’s tail feathers form a diamond shape, while the crow’s tail is in more of flat-edged fan arrangement.

Crow and Raven Flying Silhouettes

Raven in FlightCrow Take Off

While you’re watching them in flight, note if they’re doing more soaring or flapping.

Raven are more prone to  using the air currents for long, effortless glides, while crows tend to rely  more on flapping.

That being said — I have seen crows having a lot of fun on windy days, just riding the gusts of wind like a roller coaster.

THROAT FEATHERS

The raven is distinguished by a rather magnificent arrangement of throat feathers — something like an very opulent cravat.

Raven Portrait

Crows, while also (of course) magnificent in their own way, are less generously endowed in the cravat department.

Crow on a Fence

 

RELATIVE SIZE

Having been unable to persuade either species to remain still while I measure them, I’ve had to rely on information gleaned from the internet here.

Ravens, I’ve read,  measure up to 67 cm (26 inches) long with a wingspan of up to 130 (51 inches).  Their smaller relatives, the crow are about 46 cm (18 inches) long and have a wingspan of around 95 cm (36 inches).

Unless you happen to see them sitting side by side at an equal distance from you, it’s difficult to make an identification based on size alone.

Crow Raven Size Comparison

In this case the two birds were more or less the same distance away, although the crow was a bit higher up in the tree, probably making him look a little smaller.

Raven and Two Crows on Wires

Raven and two crows — here the crows are considerably further away, making the scale deceptive.

 

BEHAVIOUR

If you see a large black corvid being mobbed by one or more smaller ones, you can pretty much guarantee that the big one is a raven and s/he is being harassed by the crow Neighbourhood Watch committee.

Crows Mob Raven

In spite of their family connections, ravens will blithely raid crow nests for a tasty egg snack — putting them firmly on the crows’ “naughty list” along with eagles, hawks, racoons, squirrels, coyotes, cats and etc.

Crow Raven Pursuit

SOUNDS

By far the easiest way to tell a crow from a raven is by the sound they make.

Crows caw and ravens have more of a croaking sound. But that’s a great simplification of their complicated call sets.

Here are just few examples to help you tell them apart:

CROW ALARM CALL

This is probably the most common corvid you’ll hear in a city. This example is Marvin and Mavis expressing their displeasure at our cat being out on the deck.

CROW “RATTLE” CALL

This is another crow call, less often heard because it’s a softer, more intimate form of crow-munication.

RAVEN CALL

This seems to be the most common raven call I hear, both in the city and in the mountains.

RAVEN KNOCKING CALL

This beautiful sound is more like the crow’s rattle call – more subtle and melodic – almost like water dripping or a hollow bamboo tube being tapped.

RAVEN RECITATION

In this clip a raven seems to be performing a jazz concert of different subtle sounds — an example of how complex corvid language is.

ATTITUDE

When it comes to confidence and attitude, ravens and crows have so much in common.

Both are highly intelligent birds — you can almost hear the cogs of their brains whirring as they work out myriad “risk/benefit” calculations when they come close to humans.

It’s really not surprising that both crows and ravens are often characterized as tricksters in stories and legends.

Crow Raven Dancers

 

OTHER RESOURCES

Kaeli Swift – Corvid Research

One of the best places to find out all about corvids is on Kaeli Swift’s awesome blog Corvid Research.  Kaeli covers every corvid related topic you can think of in her posts. You can also follow her on social media and participate in her skill-building weekly Crow or No? contests.

John Marzluff

His books In The Company of Crows and Ravens and Gifts of the Crows, are just full of interesting information on both of these amazing birds.

LINKS

Audubon: How to Tell a Raven From a Crow

Cornell University Birdlab : Crows and Ravens by Kevin McGowan

See also:

Vancouver’s Urban Ravens

Crow Gifts of All Kinds

The Colour of Crows

Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up

Learning to Speak Raven

 

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Crow Photo Tips

Marvin 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months … possibly years.

I’m often asked about my photography — what kind of equipment I use, lighting and so on — so I naturally I thought I’d blog about it.

Starting a new post is a bit like deciding the angle from which you will dive into a pool. The first few attempts often end as belly flops.

I began composing an epic, encompassing my personal photographic journey, plus every thought that’s ever crossed my mind about the possible significance of photography.

You will be relieved to hear that it has, after days of literary struggle, been edited down to a more modest offering. Hopefully a cleaner dive.

If you’re in a BIG rush, here’s the Cole’s Notes version:

  • Keep everything portable. The best camera is the world is no good to you if you didn’t bring it along because it’s too heavy and/or precious.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the technology.
  • Flat light is your best friend. There are exceptions to this (and most) rules.
  • Photograph subjects that mean something to you, and aim to communicate why it’s special in each image.

 

EQUIPMENT/TECHNOLOGY

I am utterly hopeless at retaining any kind of technical information. Each and every time I go to reply to someone about what kind of camera and lens I use, I have to go and actually find the camera to have a look at the the numbers on it.

olympus OMD EM1 blog

So — this is the camera I use currently. It’s an Olympus micro-four thirds model, the OM-1D EM-1 model, about four or five years old. As you can see, it’s a bit battered, because I just pick it up a take it with me almost every time I head out of the door. It’s been soaked more that once. Last fall it suffered the camera version of a stroke — I took a picture and it made a terrible sound and everything went white. The shutter was stuck open and I had to take it for repair. It’s back in business now, but has never really been the same.

I almost always have my camera on the same setting for my crow photos — fast ISO, big aperture (so the background will be out of focus) and speed as fast as the available light will allow. Since my camera’s brush with death these are the only settings at which it will work properly — so I guess woman and machine have become one.

OMD w lens blog

The lens I use almost exclusively is an Olympus zoom, 75-300mm. It’s not the “best” quality lens by any means. It’s plastic, rather slow, has eccentric focusing habits. It too has also had to be repaired a couple of times. On the plus side, it’s not too heavy and relatively inexpensive, so if it does get terminally injured on a raven-seeking mountain trip in the snow, it’s not the end of the world. I do own an Olympus “pro” lens (40-150mm) and it is unquestionably a superior lens. I use it when photographing close to home, or when I go to the Still Creek roost, because it’s better in low light. But the weight of the thing! And the cost!!

camera strap blog

One technical tip — if you have a larger than pocket-sized camera, replace the strap with one like this that allows you to wear it over your shoulder and tuck it behind you when it’s not needed and swing to the front when you do. This one’s a Joby (there are lots of other brands) and the only reason I made this awesome discovery is because I won the strap, and some other gear, in a photography contest a few years back.

LIGHT

Coat of Many Colours

A bright sunny day would show this young crow as a black bird. The myriad subtle shades of sepia, indigo and mauve in those lovely immature feathers would be quite lost.

Flat light is what I love the most — those days when there is some high cloud and a weak sun filtering through it. Yes, I am one of those obnoxious people who complain about a long run of hot sunny days.  They’re terrible for taking photographs of dark feathered birds — too much deep shadow and burning highlight, and almost impossible to get the subtle detail. In the middle of summer I tend to get up really early to try and get  some photographs before the sun is fully up. I always aim for a photograph that looks as if it could have been painted, and diffuse light really is the only way I’ve found to achieve that effect.

Junior crow portrait

Exceptions to the Rule

Bright sunny days are often good for taking interesting corvid silhouette pictures.

Ruffled Crow Silhouette

SUBJECTS/REASONS

Obviously, crows and ravens are MY subjects, with occasional other birds, and a bit of rust and foliage on the side.

Whatever “your” subject is — fashion, flowers, architecture, slugs, barbed wire fences, kittens, soup tins — just follow it. Set yourself little assignments every day, if you can. Look at the results and see what you like and what you don’t like.

Does the image tell the viewer something specific about the subject, something that conveys the emotion you feel in its presence?

If yes — do more of that.

If no — try something slightly different next time.

The side effect of this process is that you set up a bit of a feedback loop. The more you look at your chosen subject, the more you think about the reasons why you take photos.

Picket Fence Crow

Some Reasons to Take Photographs

  • to create a periscope up from the choppy (or becalmed) sea of daily life
  • to try to stop time from moving on
  • to make yourself think more about a subject
  • to see that a single subject can look very different from another angle
  • to simply record things (many photos I take are just to keep a note of which crow is where and when)
  • to try (perhaps over years) to find the truth in something

 

Junior Crow on Blue Fence

I consider my work to be a combination of wildlife and portrait, with an emphasis on the latter. My daily struggle is to create images that don’t just tell the viewer what the bird looks like, but also to hint at what is going on behind those glinting, intelligent eyes.

Ultimately, I’d love to create the corvid version of Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill.

Moody Crow

Failing that, maybe just a few more like this …

Interpretive Dance

Corvid Interpretive Dance, Vol: 1

 

 

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Nesting News

Eric Face

In our local Crowlandia we’re ricocheting between serenity and stress.

Suspense is the name of the game as eggs and hatchlings start to fill the nests.

Most days it’s seems really very peaceful. The crows maintain an uncharacteristic hush behind leafy screens, quietly guarding their nests.

In April, it was possible to see a pair of crows constructing, and then sitting on, a nest high in the poplars from the comfort of my dining room window …

A couple of weeks later and the nest is discreetly hidden by foliage.

I’m pretty sure that this nest belongs to the Firehall Family of crows.

One day earlier this week both of the nesters made a rare double trip down to terra firma for a chat.

Perhaps they were out on a date, although one of them seemed to be feeling the need for a little personal space ….

Eric and Clara are around too. I think their nest is also in the poplars, just a bit to the south of the Firehall nest. It’s not within view of my window and too far up to see from the ground, but Eric is guarding his corner diligently.

Eric on Alert

A couple of weeks ago there were a few inter-crow skirmishes between Eric and the Firehall gang, presumable sparked by minor breaches of neighbourly conduct.

Crow Skirmish

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A detente seems to have been reached lately.

A circumspect hush has fallen over the neighbourhood.

Now that nests are becoming populated, location is an even more closely guarded secret. Energy must be saved for the most important things.

Part of the silence seems due to the absence of some of usual crow enemies at the moment.

The ravens have moved on. I haven’t seen or heard one near here for almost a month now. Also missing: the pair of bald eagles that usually cruise the area at this time of year. Perhaps both ravens and eagles are waiting to hear the quacking of baby crows before they start their “grocery shopping” expeditions.

But there is one sure thing around now that will get the nesting crows to break their silence.

With a vengeance.

Crow Raccoon Committee

Meeting of CCC (Concerned Corvid Citizens) in the alley earlier this week.

Cawing Marvin

Two weeks ago Marvin cawed for an entire day. He was cawing when I got up, before 6am, and he was still at it when dusk fell. Even by crow standards, he was sounding a bit hoarse by then.

The culprit, in both of these incidents, was almost certainly the masked bandit. The tree in which Marvin and Mavis seem to have their nest has been robbed by racoons every spring since I’ve been noticing such things.

Yesterday, on the dog walk, I heard a furious crow, then noticed a small, lollipop-shaped tree in someone’s garden shaking as if in a hurricane.

As it was a windless morning I decided to wait and see what happened next.

Sure enough …

Raccoon climbs out of a tree

Raccoon on a Wall

I’m not sure if the raccoon scored any eggs this time. Perhaps Geordie and I interrupted this particular heist, but those clever little hands are very adept at nest robbing. I suppose there are little raccoon kits waiting for lunch somewhere.

Circle of life, and etc …

Crow Seeking Advice

Marvin and his trusty pal, Rusty, engage in philosophical discussion on the back gate.

Marvin is still coming by occasionally for a snack and visit. I imagine Mavis is on the nest, so I’m hoping Marvin is thoughtfully saving some peanuts to take back for her.

Morning Visit from Marvin

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On a recent dog walk I heard a crow begging call coming form a cedar tree. It sounded just like a baby crow calling for “food, food, food” — but it’s too early for such noisy youngsters. As I suspected, it was a mother crow, confined to nest duty, calling out to dad to quit lolling about, pondering the meaning of life, and *@#*%! bring her something to eat.

Mother Crow with Nest

Soon, we will be hearing the ceaseless “quacking” sound of dozens of baby crows, all vying for parental feeding service

Calling Baby Crow

Feeding Baby Crows

I am the cutest of my siblings. I am the loudest. Feed me. Feed me. F-E-E-D M-E!!

For a further preview of things to come, see my 2014 post: DIVE BOMBED BY CROWS

In the meantime, at least when the area is raccoon-free, it’s pretty quiet around here.

But those devoted parents are ever-vigilant. Was that the shadow of an eagle  … ?

Crow Sky Watchers

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Ordinary Days

Some days there are no ravens.

Most days really. And there are no spare minutes to go swanning off after bluebirds.

There are days that are just endless paper jamming — waiting on hold — stuck in traffic — number crunching — brain numbing — is it over yet? — sorts of days.

At these times you need crows. And rust. And weeds growing in cracks in the asphalt.

Barkerville Rust

Rumpled Morning Visitor

Alleyway Flora

The beauty of crows is …

Ah well, there are so many things that are beautiful about crows …

Style Crows

OK, let’s just say that one of the great things about crows is that, here in Vancouver at least, there is almost always one handy to distract you for a moment.

Antenna Crow

Even when you’re stuck in traffic, waiting for that freight train to budge, or the log jam of cars to clear, you can almost always catch a glimpse of a crow or two doing something interesting and/or silly within view. The trick is not to get too interested so you miss when the traffic starts to move.

Crow Debate on Wires

 

Vancouver Blue Bird

Sometimes a crow in the right light can be the perfect substitute for a Mountain Bluebird — Vancouver’s very own bluebird of happiness.

No matter how rushed and boring a day, there’s usually at least time for a ten minute walk outside.

And, if you look a little bit sideways, put your eyes out of focus a little, you can find beautiful things almost anywhere.

Dandelion Clock


“There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.

….

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
as though with your arms open.”

From — Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?
–by Mary Oliver


Pender St Smithrite

Smithrite with awesome graffiti, including (in elegant script) the word “knit.”

Flowering Quince

Flowering quince in evening light against a the side of peeling set of concrete stairs.

Blue and Green

If you can’t get to the woods, sometimes a miniature horsetail forest will do.

Of course, there are days much worse than the paper jam days.

There are days when you’re in pain. Days when you receive very bad news.

Days when you feel as if you are nothing more than a hollow conduit for an endless river of sadness.

In The Wind

I’ve had days like those too, and ordinary, or even extraordinary,  beauty alone would not do the trick.

But it’s always been there, part of the healing recipe of family, friends, doctors, medicine, therapy and time.

Crows, rust, weeds, poetry, clouds, trees, the sound of wind, bird calls, snippets of graffiti, lichen, peeling paint, the occasional raven or mountain bluebird — they all seem like the dots and dashes of a distant morse code message.

The meaning is alway just out of reach, but it gives purpose to each day to attempt the translation.

Dandelion Seeds


This is a sequel to the previous post, Special Days.

If you enjoyed this blog, you might also like:

In Defence of the Commonplace

The Gift

Collecting Hidden Beauty

Special Days

Some days there are ravens.

Some days, there are even mountain bluebirds.

When such things miraculously appear in my own urban neighbourhood I tend to (if at all possible) just drop everything and follow them.

I’ve been ridiculously lucky for the past two weekends.

It was the raven the weekend before last. She hung around for most of Saturday and Sunday and I was able to take several hours each day just to watch and listen.

I became quite convinced that this raven was here specifically to continue my rudimentary language instruction. We were moving on to “Conversational Raven.”

VIDEOS to follow—  so remember to go to the BLOG POST ITSELF to see them.

We started our day early when I saw her on the first dog walk of the day. You can see her raven breath in the chilly morning air.

In this next clip, I honestly felt she was trying to get through to a particularly slow student when she making her oh-so-carefully articulated speech.

Sometimes, you know how you choke up for the big performance. Especially when you have an audience …

But, for me, the highlight of the day was when I realized why it’s often so hard, just listening to her calls, to figure out exactly where she is. Sometimes it sounds like two birds calling to each other. Sometimes she sounds close, a second later, really distant.

The mystery was solved on Sunday, when I found her calling in a spot where she was surrounded by walls on three sides. The echo was so amazing that I just stood there for quite a while before I thought to try and video it. Unfortunately, the tiny and uni-directional microphone on my camera doesn’t pick up the echo that well — but you can see her stop and listen to her own voice coming back to her.

I wondered if she thought it was a second raven, or whether she did it to sound as if there were more of her and to generally drive the crows crazy.

Raven with Two Crows

Speaking of driving the crows crazy, I think this is Eric and Clara keeping an eye on her raven shenanigans.

Raven Grooming

Madame Raven completes her morning toilette, heedless of the scolding crows and the clicking cameras.

And then, this last weekend, came the bluebirds.

I only noticed them because I was scouring the area for the raven.

Something darted over an unused piece of grassland that looked, in it’s flight pattern, more like a swift or swallow that the usual small birds I see around here. Upon closer inspection, there was an improbable flash of summer sky blue.

Mountain Bluebird on Fence with Mountain View

Poor Geordie. I’m sure he sighed an enormous doggy sigh as our walk came to an abrupt halt and I started feverishly consulting the Sibley’s Bird app on my iPhone.

Not a Western Bluebird then — they have brown/orange chests. Could it be a Mountain Bluebird? I had never seen one, even though I lived and worked for years in the north and interior of BC, which is more their usual spring/summer range. It seemed so odd that they should make a sudden appearance in East Vancouver. The Sibley’s map shows the coast of BC as part of their migration route, so just passing through.

Mountain Bluebird on Twig

They like open grasslands with some trees for shelter and they had found exactly that for their Vancouver stopover. I guess they did some excellent BirdAirBnB research in advance.

The piece of overgrown grass had small bushes and fences for them to perch on to view their insect prey before diving in to dine.

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I “visited” them several times over the weekend, often pointing  them out to neighbours passing by. Some of them went to bring their families to see the amazing sight. None of us had ever seen them before. They reminded me of the little birds that helped Cinderella to do her housework and get ready for the ball in the original Disney animation.

More real … still magical.

Male Mountain Bluebird

Female Bluebird on Fence

The male birds are impossibly vivid. The females are more subtle in the their colouring, but there would still be a spectacular flash of blue from their wings when they took flight.

These appearances were, as they say in the furniture flyers, Limited Time Offer Only!

May many of your days be special, and may the Bluebird of Happiness fly over to your shoulder …

Bluebird Over Shoulder

… and rest there for a while.

Bluebird on Shoulder

Oh, and if you’re wondering, when will their be bluebird cushion covers? … don’t worry, I’m on it!

Mountain Bluebird Photo Collage

Coming soon to a couch near you!

See the sequel to this post at: Ordinary Days.

In Anticipation of Spring

The weather forecast says it’s going to be WARM next week. Can it be true?

At our house we are skeptical, a bit like wet West Coast versions of the winter-traumatized Canadians in this video from the Rick Mercer Show.

But the robin in our garden seems to be getting ready for something special, so maybe there’s some truth in the forecast this time.

NOTE: Videos to follow, so if you’re reading this as an email, CLICK HERE TO SEE THEM.

This joyful exuberance explains why the bird bath needs to be refilled every day …

When you’re anticipating tail-feather-shaking weather, you must have each and every tail feather in top condition.

Spring cleaning complete!

Tomorrow is a brand new day.

In the words of Van Morrison:

“When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love”

May your weekend contain as much fun and freedom as the robin.

Whatever the weather brings.

Robin on a branch

 

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