As a sequel to yesterday’s post, here are some photos from this morning’s walk — just a few crows in an autumn landscape.
Most of today’s crows are not close acquaintances, but part of the mysterious entourage that follows me along the dog walking route.
As I mentioned yesterday, the autumnal rowdiness is kept in check by an absence of peanuts and a few kind words of thanks after I take their photos.
I’m not sure why they follow me, but I always get an especially warm welcome at the corner where (almost two years ago now) crows played a pivotal role in the finding of a lost dog. I always thank them when I walk by and they seem to remember me still.
This character, photographed close to home, is one of Mabel’s offspring. I can’t tell it’s one of the 2020 batch, or one of two 2019 youngsters who still hang around.
It’s a very grounding feeling to walk your own neighbourhood and see familiar faces, human and corvid, and exchange daily pleasantries.
It makes me feel that the world is still spinning on some sort of stable axis.
For humans, the 2020 autumn season is bringing with it — along with pumpkin spice — a sprinkling of existential dread.
For crows, however, it’s the normal rowdy, rollicking, freedom-from-fledglings social season.
No social or physical distancing for them.
In fact, the normal territorial boundaries are being blithely crossed in search of seasonal bounty. Any block with a nut or berry tree is a “go-zone” this month.
Contributing to the mayhem is the fact that the excitable new fledglings have yet to learn the finer points of corvid etiquette.
A certain amount of chaos inevitably ensues.
I find it’s best to employ my special autumnal version of Peanut Diplomacy at this unruly time of year.
Instead of stopping on my fall morning walks to exchange pleasantries and a few peanuts with each set of crow acquaintances on their territorial corners, a far more parsimonious peanut distribution system is in order.
Normally token offerings are made, accepted with grace, and I move on to visit new crows on new corners.
At this time of year, however, the dog and I seem to be claimed as territory-to-go and crows will follow us from their own domain and into their neighbour’s. This can result an accumulation of dozens of boisterous crows following us for blocks and/or unseemly crow brawling.
Fall Peanut Protocol is best deployed at this point.
Upon leaving the house, I offer a few peanuts to Marvin and Mavis, if they happen to be waiting, then a few more for Mabel and her gang at the other end of the block. From that point on I exchange only kind words with my crow (and human) walking acquaintances. I’m still followed, but it’s a much less fractious group.
Harmony restored …
I generally find that, by December, things will have settled down again and normal Peanut Diplomatic Relations may resume.
Besides, at this time of year, my paltry peanut offerings pale beside the bounty that nature has to offer.
As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.
By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.
I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.
A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!
I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.
On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.
They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.
The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.
For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …
Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …
Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.
Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.
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.
If you’ve been wondering where Eric the crow is these days, read on.
After a rather long day in the studio I was faced with the choice of a “feet up with tea” break, or a short walk. Luckily the sunshine outside persuaded me to go for the latter.
I do love autumn. The special light, the sharpness in the air, the colours. All were on offer for my half hour walk.
Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow
I set out in the direction of Notre Dame School at the end of our street and to my delight, as soon as I reached the corner, there was my old buddy, Eric.
Eric in his new schoolyard territory
He used to be in my garden all the time last winter, but he moved his family over to the school, with it’s stand of tall Lombardy poplars, for the nesting season.
Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker
Since then, my garden has been “claimed” by Vera and Hank who tried and failed to raise a family in the big tree just across the alley. They vanished some time over the summer to be replaced by George and his family, which includes an ailing baby crow. Recently there’s been a bit of a territorial conflict with George defending “his” space from other crows — which may include Eric. It’s hard to tell who’s who when they’re swirling about in the air. Much as I’d love to have Eric back in the garden, I pretty much have to leave it to the crows to sort out their own pecking order.
However, I do try to visit the school corner once a week or so to check in and see if Eric is still there and looking well. And, I am happy to report, he is.
Eric, looking good!
After a short chat with Eric (crazy crow lady alert!) and the donation of a couple of peanuts I found in the seams of my pocket, I walked south a bit and then west along Charles Street.
As you may know, I have a bit of a hydrangea obsession — particularly at this time of year when they are a bit faded, but displaying gorgeous moody and subtle shades.
Yet another version of hydrangea’s autumn colour palette.
The long view down Charles Street, with the sun behind the maple and dogwood trees created an explosion of autumn colour.
Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.
A bonanza of fallen berries on Penticton Street. When we had two Labs we had to avoid this street in fall, because they’d just stop to feast. With disastrous results later … Those berries always remind me of Molly and Taz.
A bounty of fallen berries
Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!
Gold and Scarlet
Finally, it was time to head home. At the corner of Parker and Slocan, I was greeted by George. I knew it was him at once because of (a) the meaningful look and (b) the sick baby crow he was with.
George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.
George’s magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.
George followed me the block home. We walked (well, he flew) down the alley.
Now that the leaves are mostly fallen, you can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at raising a family in the spring. Hopefully they’ll succeed next year after this spring’s practice run.
Back at the garden, George settles himself on the studio roof, waiting for a few peanuts.
Home Sweet Home!
I only had half an hour “off”, but I felt as if I’d been on a proper little mini-vacation!
You can see portraits of Eric and George and the other local crow characters on my web site in the Crow Portrait series. The current gallery is about to be retired (on Oct 31) and replaced with a new series.
My City Crow calendar features all pictures of Eric and his family, taken in 2014 and 2015.
Happy autumn. Remember to get out and take a walk. You never know what (or who) you might see.