Environmental Dead Zone

My previous post was more of a sentimental ode to the patch of scrappy urban nature that may soon be gone.

This one is bit more pragmatic — and a plea to any readers who know of research or information that would support the preservation of a few more fragments of wildlife habitat and green space.

Mavis and Marvin

As a young couple, struggling to make it the Vancouver housing market, Marvin and Mavis worry that their nesting site is going to be gentrified into oblivion.

The school that plans to fell the trees and install the artificial turf stadium is a private one and they own the land. They are quite entitled to have a sports facility for their students, of course, and we would love to see a field installed for the kids. We wish, though, that they could be content with a natural grass field. One that would allow a bit of nature, including the poplars, to co-exist with their sports needs.

In fact, this is a conversation that local residents had with the school over ten years ago, and was something we’d thought settled to everyone’s satisfaction when they submitted plans for a grass field in back in 2008.

Now we’ve learned that an amendment to the permit was submitted at the beginning of this year, with no notice to local residents. It’s come as bit of a shock.

The crows have held some ad hoc protest groups already …

 

If we want to keep a tenuous (and precious) thread to the natural world intact in our cities, we need to make a few compromises.

One of my favourite resources on this topic is John Marzluff’s book, Subirdia.

Marzluff offers ten commandments for small compromises we city dwellers can make in order eke out just enough habitat for our wild neighbours to survive, and maybe even thrive.

Needless to say, cutting down stands of trees and laying down artificial turf are not on his list of suggestions.

Marzluff writes eloquently about why the effort to make space for nature in our urban lives is worthwhile and vital:

“Experience shapes our ethics and actions. If experience no longer includes nature, then our ethics cannot reflect the full needs of our natural world. Our interaction with nature is reciprocal — as we affect it, it affects us. Strengthening our place in the city’s ecological web builds resilience to change and allows us to co-exist with a wonderful diversity of life. Cutting our ties to the web is like cutting the belay line climbers rely upon as they stretch for a distant handhold. As we stretch to live within a rapidly changing world, are we ready to gamble on an unprotected, solo climb?”

While high school students need sports and exercise as part of a well-rounded education, surely ecology and ethics should also be on the curriculum.

I am hoping that the school will be convinced to let the trees remain because of their importance to the shelter, breeding, and feeding for local birds, as well as for their simple beauty.

Mavis Sept 22-18

Mavis ponders life without the Notre Dame poplars

I never thought I’d find myself writing in favour of grass fields, but I also hope that the school and the City will give the artificial turf choice a hard second look. While large grass areas do have many environmental problems — their water water and pesticide consumption being the most obvious — I’m not sure we should replacing grass sports fields with artificial turf without some serious consideration.

The artificial turf “solution” may turn out to be one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things. Some of the articles I’ve read on the pros and cons of artificial turf are listed below.*

This battle is going on in almost every city around the globe. It’s a rather unequal contest between urban development, and quieter voices trying to save some little bits of nature within the sprawl.

To return to Joni Mitchell’s words, “you don’t know what  you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Even if you don’t fully realize that your day is made a little more sane by the distant sound of birdsong, or the antics of a crow on the power lines, I’m pretty sure you would notice a silence and an absence.

Eric in Poplars

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See my previous post: Urban Nature is Fragile

Follow for news of community actionNotre Dame Neighbours

*SOME ARTICLES ABOUT PROS AND CONS OF ARTIFICIAL TURF

Government of Western Australia: Broader Environmental Considerations: Chapter 7 of the Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf Surfaces Study Final Report.

The Conversation: Why artificial turf may truly be bad for kids

Mom’s Team, The Trusted Source for Sports Parents — Turf Wars: the Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Mike Ozanian, How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field

Huffington Post:  Artificial Grass May Save Water, But Does It Endanger People?

The Guardian:  Growth in artificial lawns poses threat to British wildlife, conservationists warn

Urban Nature Is Fragile

I am filled with sadness every time I look out of my window lately.

We have lived here for 27 years and my favourite view has always been of the row of Lombardy poplars fringing the private school at the end of our block. In the fall it is golden, in the winter and early spring it’s a shadow puppet show of bird life. From ravens to tiny bushtits — the branches are full of bird activity all year round.

When the wind blows, the trees make a sound like rushing river.

Urban nature can be tough and tenacious. Dandelions forcing their way to the light through tarmac. Moss or rust overwhelming almost any surface, given time.

But urban nature is so very fragile in the face of human decision-making.

The school has not had a sports field for over ten years, since they redeveloped the site. We’ve been expecting a field to go in at any time over those years, and local residents are looking forward to the project being finished and seeing the students with somewhere to play and exercise.

But now we are realizing that they are not just going to build a field — they have plans for a sports stadium — complete with artificial turf and (most likely) the removal of the beloved poplars.

The neighbours are upset for many reasons — mostly the noise, traffic and parking headaches that the stadium will bring.

I’m anxious about those things too — but what makes me truly heartsick is the idea of converting  that little bit of urban nature into an environmental desert.

If the trees do come down, the City of Vancouver will require that some new trees are planted to replace them — but they won’t be anywhere near the stature of the existing stand of poplars.

The entire rest of the school campus will be covered with building, parking lot, and plastic grass.

It was on this campus that I spotted migrating mountain bluebirds this spring, and where I had my wonderful conversations with a raven.

The white crowned sparrows and finches like to bathe in puddles and feed on seeds from grass growing in currently fallow areas. 

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Northern flickers, I’ve noticed, love to watch the sun rise from the tops of the poplars.

I watched the whole unfolding drama of two crow families building and tending nests in those same trees from March to July.

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Nature in the city is a delicate balance.

It’s not as if they’re really taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.

You couldn’t really call it paradise — a big, rutted parking area with weeds around the edges and a big patch of free-growing grass left from when an old wing of the school was torn down years ago.

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But it has actually been paradise to those birds. They don’t really ask for much.

And, in terms of putting up a parking lot — there will be a new parking lot — but that parking lot will probably be marginally more environmentally friendly than the artificial turf football field  — an ocean of sterile plastic grass that will fill almost every square remaining inch of the campus.

So, yes — every time I look out of my window now, I’m sad as I wonder how many more times I’ll see the sun and moon rise behind those branches, and I ask myself where the birds will be nesting next spring?

 

See part two of this blog, coming soon, for a less heartbroken, and more pragmatic, view of this issue.

For more information on community response to the proposed Notre Dame Stadium, see the Notre Dame Neighbours website.

 

Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

Bringing you, direct to you from the runways of East Vancouver, the very latest in autumn fashion inspiration. I encourage you to leaf through the new trends and adopt some elements to create your very own signature fall look.

I can guarantee  you will stand out from the crowd.

Eric and Clara Molting Sept 2018

Eric and Clara model “dragged through a hedge backwards” look that is so of the moment.

 

The Statement Nostril

I really can’t over emphasize the importance this new must-have fashion staple!

A particularly severe molting season this year has left many a corvid nostril exposed to the elements. As with most things in life, if you got it, you might as well flaunt it.

 

Nostrils

Flaunt those nostrils …

Marvin's Nostrils

Own those nostrils!

 

How To Wear It

This season’s look screams, “I don’t care what I look like!” along with a touch of “I’ve pretty much given up on grooming.”

A determinedly devil-may-care attitude is required to successfully pull off this somewhat challenging fashion trend.

So worth the effort though. Just look at the results when it’s successfully done …

Feather Flaunting

Don’t be shy. Get out there and strut your tattered stuff.

Mabel with Pizza

Mabel, last year’s calendar cover model, demonstrates how the careful use of accessories can help pull off this look. A bit of hard old pizza in your beak makes you the indisputable Queen of the Runway.

Multicolour Molting Crow

Who you lookin’ at?

 

The Neck Ruffle

Hot from the fashion presses, this dynamic new look is a sort of mullet hybrid.

Quite the party in back, although not much business in front (see next trend below.)

Neck Ruffle

 

Mrs Pants Silhouette

The Indie Beard

This electrifying new trend is taking all of East Van by storm. Some humans even sport the look. While thoroughly of the new and now, we see in it a nod to the first beatnik hipsters.

Mr. Pants (such a fashion guru) was an early adopter of this bold new facial experiment …

Mr. Pants Beard

 

But now some of the younger crows are hopping on the straggly chin bandwagon …

Marvin Beard

Marvin thinks he looks pretty groovy.

 

The Most Important Fall Fashion Question

Of course, these are only fads and foibles. What those of us in the know most want to find out is:

Will Mr. Pants regain his full trousered splendour after the molting season???

Here he was, back in early August when his Pants were at their most magnificent.

Rhapsody in Purple

Things have been looking a little sparser of late …

Molting Mr Pants

But, take heart, Pants fans.

I checked a post I wrote this time last year and voila, our cover model was Mr. Pants himself, taken in August 2017 with a full set of glorious pantaloons.

This gives me great hope that His Pantship will be back in full regalia once the molting season is over.

Mr Pants 2017

We do hope you’re going to try some of these looks, brought to you by the Crow-dashians of East Vancouver. Do send us any photos of the results!

I have felt a bit like one of those fashion bloggers who photograph edgy street fashion over the past few days. It’s been quite a laugh.

Seriously though, the poor crows are kind of miserable and irritable during the molting season, so do be nice to them. If it’s still dry where you are, think of leaving them some water. Kind words are also always appreciated.


logo with crow
www.junehunter.com

 

September studio sale 2018 LEAVES

Fall Fashion Tips

Memories of Bird Expo

Pretty much every day is a bird expo around here, in its own little way.

Molting Mavis

Mavis, positively piebald in her molting magnificence.

But last week I had the great privilege of being part of the Bird and Nature Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre. It was an event that combined, for the first time, three important gatherings:

  • the 27th meeting of the International Ornithological Congress (IOC)
  • the first Vancouver International Bird Festival
  • the 8th Annual Artists For Conservation Festival
Photo 2018-08-23, 5 01 52 PM

At my booth with Rue the Kenku (member of a mythical bird race) and Rob Butler, Chair of the Vancouver International Bird Festival.

The IOC is the oldest and most prestigious meeting of bird scientists, having started in 1884 in Vienna, Austria. They meet every four years, and this was the very first time the event took place on the Pacific Coast.

The Vancouver International Bird Festival is an expansion of the successful Vancouver Bird Weeks that have been enjoyed in the city since 2013. The event included talks, walks, tours and community art celebrating and spreading the love of birds. All of it came together in the Nature and Bird Expo.

Artists For Conservation (AFC) is an important group of artists dedicated to supporting the environment through their beautiful work. A highlight of the Nature and Bird Expo was their stunning Silent Skies mural — a hundred foot long mosaic in which many AFC artists collaborated to depict 678 endangered bird species.

Silent Skies Mural

So, having explained the nuts and bolts of what was going on, let me tell you a bit about the atmosphere.

bird ephoria

As someone who spends a lot of solitary work time — thinking about, writing about, looking at, and photographing birds, there was something quite euphoric about being in a room with hundreds of people who are similarly obsessed. Many of the people I spoke to were scientists, rather than artists, but there is no divide between disciplines when it comes to sheer bird enthusiasm.

At the back of the huge space in which the Expo was held was an area where scientists who weren’t presenting their abstracts in a bigger venue could pin up a poster about their research and have half an hour or so to present it to anyone interested. That area was like a beehive, buzzing with ideas being shared, vibrating with energy.

I met bird scientists from Russia, Korea, South Africa, China, Columbia, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, all parts of Canada and the United States. One thing they had in common was —  if you asked them what their area of research was, they positively lit up. I’m pretty sure the percentage of people who love their jobs was way above the general average.

The Expo showcased organizations that work with birds, rescue birds, rehab birds, publish books about birds, sell binoculars and cameras, the better to watch and photograph birds, and equipment to track birds. Really, you name it, if it had to do with birds, it was there. On Saturday, there was a kids’ bird feeder building workshop, paper bird puppets were made and the place was full of children working on various bird-related projects.

Boobook Owl

Wide-eyed Boobook Owl — native to Australia, but abandoned in Canada and rescued by OWL — an orphaned wildlife rescue association, specializing in raptors since 1985. Mr. Boobook was at the Expo with OWL to meet and greet the public during the week.

Harris Hawk

Handsome Harris Hawk, brought to the Expo by The Raptors, a group of biologists dedicated to educating the public about birds of prey, working to conserve them, and to using falconry as a natural method of wildlife management.

And the bird-inspired art was, well … inspiring.

My neighbour was jewellery Joanna Lovett Sterling who makes gorgeous jewellery with thoughtful bird-sparked stories. I’m not sure how it’s possible that we both live in Vancouver and hadn’t met until then, we have so much in common. We did a a lot of laughing over the five days we were there.

Photo 2018-08-22, 12 30 00 PM

In the wider art world, there were breath-taking bird paintings, drawings and sculptures and even intricately carved bird eggs.

Birds on Parade

Photo 2018-08-28, 5 16 02 PM

I was sorry to have missed the Bird Parade that opened the event. We had visitors from the UK and we couldn’t quite coordinate things to get downtown in time — but we did manage to get to the Still Creek Roost that night, so they did witness a bird parade of a different sort.

Happily, some of the stilt walkers came by the Expo later in the week and I did meet the American Crow.

stilt crow

Also, some of the bird stilt walkers will be parading again soon at the Renfrew Ravine Moon Festival on September 22, and we can keep up with them at  Birds on Parade on Facebook.

Costume Artists

One of the really interesting things about last week’s event was the variety of ways in which people shared their love of all things avian. Two costume artists (one from Seattle, the other from New York) were some of the most dynamic.

You can read more about the amazing work of H. “Rah” Esdaile (@rah-bop) and Jennifer Miller (@nambroth)  on the IOC web site at Artist Showcase  (scroll down to Bird Costumes.) The costumes they made were spectacularly detailed, and their movements stunningly bird-like. Their presence brought an electric energy and everyone was thrilled to have their photograph taken with them. It was as if “Bird Elvis” was in the building!

Vulture and Eagle Costumes

Costumes by Jennifer Miller, with Jennifer and her husband Brian as a bearded vulture (Lammergeier) and a endangered Philippine eagle. Note excited people in the back, reviewing photos taken with the bird people.

sarah-hammond.jpg

Bird artist, Sarah Hammond, surrounded by giant birds.

June and Rah

Rue, member of the mythical Kenku bird race. Of course, she had many corvid qualities, so I was particularly star struck!

Rue Costume Detail Belt

Some of the amazing detail in Rah-Bop’s amazing costume design — Rue’s belt of  mysterious collected treasures. 

Eye closing detail

One last amazing detail in Rue’s costume. The eyes can close to allow a great range of bird expressions!

Lost Delegate

Finally, for those of you who were worried about the small, confused Expo attendee shown below, (many people wondered about his fate after I posted him on Instagram and Twitter) rest easy. His story has a happy ending. He did not run into the Harris Hawk, but was reunited with the pigeon delegation in the great outdoors.

Well, the Expo, Congress and Festivals are over now, but my head is full of great memories and happy thoughts about the wonderful people I met. I feel as if the world is a better place, just knowing they’re all out there doing their various bird-focused work.

Back now, to my owl small Nature and Bird Expo. A new one each day when I take my morning walk around the neighbourhood.

Rainy Day Mavis

Mavis, reliably spectacular in all weather …

www.junehunter.com

logo with crowbird costumes ioc2018

Crow Welcome

Mr P against red sun

Ideally, when your long awaited visitors arrive, you and your home are looking their spiffy best. As we know, this often does not work out exactly as planned, but it’s important to make the best of things and make the guests welcome anyway.

This week, bird scientists and activists from around the world are arriving in Vancouver for the International Ornithological Congress 2018, and to enjoy Vancouver’s International Bird Festival. Our city is just full of bird-focused visitors, looking skyward.

Today I went on my usual early  morning “urban nature enthusiast” walk, which mostly consists of chatting with my local crows and topping up their strategically located water bowls. As I visited my corvid acquaintances, I began to imagine what they might have to say to our out of town visitors.

Crow Conversation

First of all, sorry about how we’re looking.

We’d really hoped the molting season would be over by now and we’d be sporting our fabulous fall feathers. All midnight blues, deep amethysts and shimmery sheen. Sigh. Instead, we’re still in the midst of our crazy “hey, look, I could be an extra in a low budget pirate movie” phase.

We like to think of this as our Late Summer Casual look.”

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Mr Pants

Mr. Pants shows off his molting season hipster beard.

The crow shown here is one I’ve been following and photographing for a few months. I started calling him Fluffy Pants, meaning to come up with a more dignified name later. Somehow he’s gotten stuck as FP, but we call him Mr. Pants for short which I like to think is slightly more respectable. His claim to fame is (obviously) his extravagantly feathered pair of trousers. He had them last year too, so I assume they’ll stick with him through the molting season.

Although, this morning, as he flew over my head, one of his precious pant feathers came loose and spiralled slowly, slowly downward — right into my waiting hand.

Here it is, as fluffy and delicate as you’d imagine.

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Mr Pants in Full Fluff

Mr Pants looking more fully fluffy and pleasingly purple, only a couple of weeks ago.

This is Mavis, one of the crows that lives right beside my house. She’s usually the first bird I see each morning. Fluffed up, her molting feathers, in all their faded colours, look rather magnificent

Mavis on A Washing Line

Mavis’s mate, Marvin, was looking a bit more dishevelled today. You can actually see the “nostril” holes in his beak as he’s lost the feathers that usually cover them.

Marvin Molting

 

“So, yes, human visitors, we realize that we crows are not looking our most magnificent for your visit.

But don’t write us off. We’re as clever, funny, feisty and fascinating as ever. Make sure and keep your eyes open for us. You can’t miss us. We’re everywhere. Watch for us at dusk, when we fly in crowds to the east for our nightly roost at Still Creek.

Oh, yeah, you may also have noticed that the much hyped mountains, and some other breath-taking vistas, have disappeared behind a pall of forest fire smoke.

Things are breath-taking, just not in a good way.

It’s been yet another long, hot, tinder dry summer and lots of BC is burning.

We’re sorry the view is more dsytopian than utopian for your visit.

On the small bright side, it’s visceral proof that the human race really needs to take a look at what it’s been up to for the last couple of millenia.

Many of you are scientists and activists, and we crows are cheering you in your work to help chart a new course for this environmental pirate ship we’re all crewing on.

Ahoy matey.”

Apocolypse Sunrise over Iron Workers Bridge

Otherworldly sunrise over the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, East Vancouver.

East Van Sunset

Vancouver summer 2018

On another note (June speaking again, not crows) ….

Urban Nature Enthusiast

… I’ll have a booth at the Nature and Bird Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre this week. Hope to see you there (Booth #623) and we can talk crows and murky skies …

Red Sun, Crow and Wires

 

www.junehunter.com

Hip To Be Square #TBT

1200px-Kodak_Instamatic_100

This was the first camera I owned. Well not that one exactly, but this type. I received it for my ninth birthday in, gulp, 1963.

I don’t believe it came with a manual as it was so utterly basic. There was no focusing, no exposure settings, certainly no filters. Framing choices were limited to square.

It was case of: point, shoot and hope for the best.

Perfect for an enthusiastic nine year old!

June just got camera f

This nine year old me does not look very excited, but I was. Our class went on a thrilling school trip to the Flamingo Park Zoo, in distant and exotic Yorkshire! However, as you can see I was always going to be more comfortable behind the camera, rather than in front of it. Or maybe I was just worried my friend was going to drop my new treasure …

tigers at Flamingo Park Zoo f

A picture from the first roll of film I ever shot, again at Flamingo Park Zoo. There were also a lot of photos of flamingoes …

Perhaps because of this early viewfinder, I always “see” my images as squares, even when using a rectangular viewfinder. Square format came back into fashion during the Polaroid era, and now Instagram has brought it back. That’s nice — makes it easier to find frames!

However, I do like to think I “invented” the one and only thing you could do to vary my square photographic universe — the “groundbreaking” Diamond Shot.

june in a box

Me and my first Canadian dog, Finlay, taking a break while tree planting in northern BC — a photo made using the exciting Diamond Shot method.

cactus diamond shots

A pair of cactus-themed diamond shots taken on a road trip to the Mexican desert.

pontiac-2 f

A more conventional square shot of some roadside repairs being done on the car that took us (unbelievably) to Mexico and back to northern BC again.

The good old Instamatic, although technically rather stunted, was super portable. It travelled with me through schooldays, university, and moving to Canada.

It’s portability, in the end, proved to be its downfall. While tree planting in a particularly gorgeous spot near Mount Robson, I decided to bring the camera with me to the top of a “run” so I could get a photo of the view. Sadly, the only place to carry it was in my tree bag, where it got wet from the peat moss meant to keep the trees moist and alive. As I advanced the film for the last shot, the lever made a sort of grinding noise from the particulate matter in there.

Still, the film did come out, and this is the very last photo on the roll. Great view, right?

McBride-4f

It was a sad goodbye to an old companion, but that Instamatic had been a trusty friend for almost twenty years, so I really couldn’t complain. Plus, well … wet peat moss …

After some brief flirtations with Canon and Minolta models, I finally settled on an Olympus OM-1 film camera to replace the old Kodak. No automatic features, but tons of fun to be had playing with f-stops, film speed and exposure length. I’m still using an Olympus — now the digital variety. I’m on my third model after “killing” the first two, both times without the aid of wet peat moss!

Ah, they really do not make ’em like they used to.

june cabin in winter

Last bit of nostalgia. The little cabin I built and lived in by a creek in northern BC, circa 1978.

Calendar cover 2019 blog new

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Wall of Sound

Crow Wall of Sound

It sounded as if Crowmaggedon was in progress  in the back alley.

 

I went out to investigate — expecting, from the sheer volume of sound, to find a full scale murder going on.

Instead, I found two crows — Marvin and Mavis.

Sometimes just Marvin, as Mavis kept making trips back to check on the nest.

It was same call they make when poor Edgar (the cat) ventures out onto our back deck. It is, I’m guessing, their “gound threat” alarm call. They seem to have a slightly higher pitched one for airborne enemies.

Edgar was sleeping innocently on the couch, so not the cause of the ruckus this time.

But I did glimpse a raccoon’s tail disappearing under the neighbour’s fence. It must have gone to sleep there, because Marvin and Mavis kept up their protest for several hours.

Raccoon with Turquoise Wall

This is a raccoon photograph taken the day after the Wall of Sound incident. I never did get a picture of the one that Marvin and Mavis were so mad at. I imagine it was snoring peacefully in the neighbour’s woodpile.

I guess one of the signs that you’ve truly become a “crazy crow lady” is when the ceaseless sound of cawing (which is, objectively, quite annoying after an hour or more)  becomes a source of fascination.

Here is Marvin making his point. It’s impressive, for a solo effort.

Note: Videos follow, so if you’re reading this in an email, you’ll need to view the blog online to see see them play. CLICK HERE

 

 

But listen how, when Mavis joins in, they cooperate to create a continuous wall of sound. Eat your heart out Phil Spector.

 

 

Mavis seems to time her calls to fill every gap in Marvin’s sequence, so that they truly do sound like a flowing river of corvid fury.

The other interesting part of the performance was the incredible number of dynamic shapes they cut against the sky.

Marvin Marching on a Line

Marvin would pace theatrically along the neighbour’s washing line — sometimes struggling to combine keeping balanced with the vocal effort. Rather like trying to sing opera while tight rope walking, I should imagine.

 

Marvin on a Line 1

Marvin on a Line 4

Marvin on a Line 5

Marvin on Washing Line Reel

If the story the crows wrote against the sky with their nest building silhouettes was one of peace and tranquility (see Crow Calligraphy) — this more recent essay would be on the subjects of fear, fury and determination.

Mind you, in the middle of all of this, there was time for a bit of curiosity and play. Something at the top of the washing line pole would occasionally distract Marvin from his ranting. Periodic moments of blissful silence would ensue, before he’d remember his sacred mission and pick up the protest.

So, fear, fury, determination … with a side order of comedy.

Marvin Playing

 

Marvin and Mavis on Wires

Mavis reminds Marvin to keep on task.

 

I enjoyed the energy of the performance so much, that I decided to use one of the pictures from that day as part of the cover for the 2019 City Crow Calendar I’m now working on.

Somehow it seems to capture a lot of all that is “crow.”

City Crow Calendar cover 2019

Hoping to have the calendar printed and for sale by August this year!

Later that day, raccoon finally decided to move on and peace was restored.

Here’s a more relaxed Marvin that evening, taking in the view from his favourite power line pole. The nest and the distant North Shore mountains all within view, no predators around for a moment — time to let go of all that raccoon stress.

Sunset Marvin

Crow Wall of Sound

 

Two Crow Families

FAMILY NUMBER ONE

Eric and Clara June 22 2018

Clara and Eric early this morning.

Our first crow family consists of my old friends, Clara and Eric.

They started nest building in mid-April, choosing a spot in the poplar trees bordering the high school at the end of our street. It was visible for a while, but in May the leaves filled in and the nest was veiled in secrecy

Just before the leaves popped out enough to render the nest invisible.

Weeks passed by and I waited to see signs of baby crows. Radio silence — until last week when I woke up to a loud crow-fuffle outside the school.

Half a dozen adult crows were cawing at each other in a circle inside the school fence. Outside the fence sat this little bundle. It seemed as if the adults were trying, and failing, to reach consensus on what do do about the problem at hand.

Baby Crow on the Ground

The dilemma: baby crow was sitting right where, in another half an hour, cars would be pulling up as parents dropped off their children at school.

 

I went home to collect a protective hat and some conciliatory peanuts, and returned,  prepared to move the baby off the road to the relative security of the fence line about 5 feet away. Of course, this did not go over well at all with the adults.  A crowd of about a dozen outraged crows had gathered by now, and they all offered their opinions (loudly) from the trees and fence.

Whether it was their advice, or my getting closer, the baby crow picked himself up and scuttled under his own steam to the fence and off the road edge.

Baby Crow Hop

Day 2: My husband spotted the baby, somehow herded by it’s parents to the inside of the fence line and into an area overgrown with blackberry bushes. Excellent cover.

Day 3: No sign of baby, but parents being very loud and protective.

Day 4: Spotted the baby up in a small crabapple tree on boulevard beside the school.

Eric and Edgar Baby in Crabapple Tree

Day 5: Nightmare — the school gardener had taken a weed-wacker to the area where the baby had been taking cover. A sea of chopped up blackberry stems. No sign of baby.

Day 6: Spotted the baby hopping around the diced foliage. Phew. Parents cawing protectively.

Baby Crow Behind Notre Dame Fence

Day 7: Heart stopping moment when I see this inert form lying in the middle of the empty school parking lot.

Sock

Closer inspection reveals it to be a rolled up black sock. But no sign of baby and parents around but not being protective. Not a good sign.

Day 8: Up very early again to see if I can catch the faintest sound of a baby crow calling. Silence. No baby sounds, no parental cawing. Eric and Clara were in their usual spots but not seeming to be in protective mode any more.

Eric and Clara Rattle Call

Eric offers a rattle call this morning, around 6 am. I’m not sure if he’s trying to give me bad new.

If this fledgling hasn’t survived, it will be the second year in a row that Eric and Clara have not produced any young. Last year no babies made it out of the nest — I think because a big windstorm that happened just as they were about to fledge.

However, better news from …

FAMILY NUMBER TWO

This crow family lives about six blocks from us. I see them on the daily dog walks.

It’s rather hospitable area for a growing crow family — a quiet street, lined on both sides with very big, leafy trees The crows there seem to be the first ones in the neighbourhood to have their babies out of the nest.

Last winter I started to notice one particular crow around there. She stood out from the corvid crowd because of what looked like a streak of white on one wing. The flash of white is actually because one feather sticks out at an awkward angle, but the name White Wing stuck in my head.

Her feather mishap didn’t seem to slow her down at all and I saw her almost every day — until early March, when she disappeared. I was quite worried. as it seemed a bit early for the annual nest building, when couples do tend to make themselves scarce.

I saw her companion almost every day, but no sign of White Wing.

Until just over two weeks ago.

Remember this little fellow from my last blog post, Fledgling Alert — he had just dragged himself (literally) out of the gutter. It turns out that he and two siblings are White Wing’s offspring.

Three baby crows and Dad (Mr White Wing) in one of the leafy trees.

Now I see White Wing every day, being harassed by her brood of  hungry offspring.

Begging Baby Crow

Baby Crow Feeding

Feeding time.

These crow babies are gaining skills fast. They can fly now — airborne, if not graceful. This fledgling was playing with a twig on a roof and managed to hop/fly to another roof while still hanging on to her treasure.

Baby Crow Flies with Twig

Already the bright blue eyes of the first few days are changing to a soft grey. They’ll keep the bright pink “gape” of the mouth for a few more weeks as they continue to beg their parents to be fed.

Grey Eyed Baby Crow

Crow Fledglings in Puddle

Sibling puddle fun.

While life will continue to be a risky business for Whitewing’s three offspring — fledglings seem to do quite well in this little neighbourhood every year.

The leafy canopy of trees  provides some cover from aeriel predators like eagles and hawks (although there is a hawk’s nest in those same trees a block or so down the street). It’s a street with lots of gardens, providing plenty of cover, and not much traffic.

Baby Crow with Fire Hydrant

I’ll try and keep you posted on the progress of families one and two. I’m still hoping against hope for Eric and Clara’s single fledgling, but preparing to accept that things haven’t worked out for them this year.

There is also a third family on my radar — post pending.

Marvin and Mavis have a nest in the same trees as Eric and Clara and they seem determined to keep their babies in there until the last minute.

Stay tuned …..

Baby Crow with Parent

A chip off the old block already.

 

 

 

 

 

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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