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.

Night Owl

Just a short follow-up to yesterday’s post, Owl Dreams.

At 8pm last night, the barred owl was still in the tree in front of our house, sleeping peacefully. We took Geordie for his evening walk and he was still there when we got back, but his behaviour was changing.

There was much more head movement and he was clearly shifting into night hunting mode. I took a little video to try and capture it. The quality isn’t great, but you can see what I mean.

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Can’t see the video?

If you’re looking at this in an email, the video won’t show. You will need to click on the blog title at the top of the email and that will take you to the actual blog, where the video and all the photos will be found, and the blog layout will be much better.

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Just after I took the video, the owl flew off the tree, landed briefly on our car and then on to a plum tree across the street.

Goodnight, Owl

And then he was off and away like a ghost in the night.

He had been in front of our house for a full twelve hours.

I can still hardly believe that yesterday happened!

www.junehunter.com

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Owl Dreams

Some days just don’t go as planned, but in a good way.

Today, for example, I had a number of studio tasks set out for the morning, all of which seemed very important — until the crows started going bonkers outside.

I always try to go see what the crows are on about.

It’s usually something interesting — sometimes it’s just a cat, but often a skunk, racoon or, occasionally, a coyote or two.

This morning’s furor was in the katsura tree right in front of our house. I opened the front door to see what was up, and instantly found myself caught in the hypnotic gaze of a beautiful barred owl.

Well, good morning!

Work rule number one is that when there’s an urban nature event unfolding, it rockets to the top of the to-do list. Everything else has to wait. Tiles remain unfinished, web sites, neglected.

Today that rule DEFINITELY applied.

The katsura tree was full of crows from near and far, all voicing their displeasure at the owl. Even a young Northern Flicker was joining in the scolding. You can hear him in this video.

 

This next video gives a cool look at the owl’s blinking mechanism – the nictitating membrane that makes the eye look blue, and then the fluffy feathered eyelids. He was also making a little beak movement when blinking. So amazing!

For about half an hour the crows, with occasional flicker input, continued their furious show. Gradually most left, leaving only the paint-splattered crow that currently considers the tree “his” and his mate. Eventually even they grew weary and flew off for a rest.

It’s a rare sight to see an owl in daylight. They’re usually sleeping off a busy night of rodent hunting. It does happen though. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see a similar sight outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery, right in the downtown core. I wrote a blog (Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry) about that day too.

But this time he was right in front of my own house. What an amazing treat.

He was there all day, so I was able to spend hours watching him. Neighbours came out to watch too. Our owl was a bit of a local celebrity for the day.

Sometimes the owl would fluff up his feathers if he felt the crows were getting too bold.

But no crow with an ounce of sense would get too close to these feet. Owls are one of the reasons that thousands of crows fly every night to Still Creek, seeking nocturnal safety in numbers.

In this photo, the owl looks for all the world like a character from a Harry Potter novel.

Gradually the crow posse seemed to forget about the owl all together.

Most of the afternoon was peaceful enough to allow a bit of a beauty sleep catch-up.

It’s late afternoon now and he’s still snoozing out there. I expect he’ll be there until dusk and then it will be hunting time again.

For me, I’ve spent the majority of the day photographing him, sorting out photos and writing this blog. That’s OK though, because that’s really the most important part of my “job.”

Every time I close my eyes, I see his eyes looking back at me.

I expect I’ll have owl dreams tonight.

 

See what happened at the end of this amazing day in the next post, Night Owl.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Noisy New Neighbours

Watch for the last few seconds of this baby crow self-grooming video. I think he’s auditioning for his own show on Comedy Network.

 

It has been a bit quiet in the neighbourhood of late.

That’s all changed with the advent of the corvid triplets. They do not keep their feeling to themselves. When hungry (pretty much all of the time) the whole neighbourhood knows about it.

The parents both look pretty exhausted. That dishevelled “new parent” look is made more extreme by the onset of molting season.

This is one of the parents of the three Firehall baby crows. Although my “babies” are now in their twenties, I still remember the slightly stunned, “Am I really qualified for this?” feeling that this parent seems to be experiencing.

I call them the Firehall family because the parents seemed to have their nest in a tree right beside the fire station that is on the corner of our street.

The triplets are venturing further and further from home base. One of them made it all the way to my garden, looking impossibly cute in the coral bark maple tree.

In the video below a harassed parent tries to get away from the ceaseless demands. Again, I do empathize.

 

Meanwhile, where are Mabel and Eric and Clara?

Now that George is gone, Mabel seems happy to stay with the “teenager” crow she and George had last year, in the alley one over from ours. I visit her daily and she seems well.

Eric and Clara are in their usual territory. They didn’t have any babies this year, having lost their nest high in the poplar trees to a windstorm early in the season. They’re kind of taking it easy this year, watching their triplet-tending neighbours with something like relief.

 

City Crows 2018 Calendars

My 2018 City Crow calendar is at the printer’s now and will be ready to ship in the first week of September. You can order yours now! The first 100 orders will come with a large (1.75-inch) Frazzled Mabel button.

If you’ve already ordered a calendar, don’t worry, you’ll be getting a free button too.

 

www.junehunter.com

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