Hummingbird Interlude

Ive been trying to write another blog post for over a week now, but I feel rather as if I ran out of words in my arguments to save the Notre Dame poplars until after nesting season.

That bid failed and I’ve been feeling a bit how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world -ish for the past couple of weeks.

The trees are gone, and only one day’s work at the site has been done in the last 7, so I am left wondering what the huge rush was.

However, in the interests of my psyche and my blood pressure, I am trying not to look that way or think about it for a while.

Today a small Anna’s Hummingbird cheered me up with a joyful visit to our small fountain.

So, by way of dipping my toe back into the blog posting world, here she is.

I hope she is as cheering for you as she was for me.

Urban Nature Challenge

“Explore your own neighbourhood,” advises our provincial premier, John Horgan for this long weekend in British Columbia.  We’re all being asked to stay relatively close to home to limit the spread of COVID-19. So, much as I long for the forest and mountains after weeks and months confined to the city, I decided have some fun and set myself a real Urban Nature Enthusiast challenge.

Geordie and I heading out on our urban nature safari.

We headed out to one of the least promising-looking locations, nature-wise, in our East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Our destination was the old Grandview Hydro Substation located at the noisy intersection of First Avenue and Nanaimo Street. This cavernous space is a perennially popular filming location for the local movie industry. From what I can discover, it was built in 1937 as a substation for the BC Electric Railroad Company to help power the old interurban rail lines that once criss-crossed the city.

As the traffic roared past, Geordie and I scouted around for some interesting moss, lichen or rust. I wasn’t really expecting to find much in the way bird life, but the trilling, whistling sound of many starlings lured me around the corner of the building.

The east side of the substation is covered in a cascade of ivy and, at first, that’s all I could see. It took a few moments before I realized that it was alive with starlings; specifically, fledgling starlings, merrily feasting on the ivy’s dark berries. Very few adult starlings were around, making it seem like a massive starling nursery — a relatively safe place to leave the kids while running errands.

Roll call at the starling nursery school.

Apart from the starling crowd, there were some robins and sparrows also enjoying the dining facilities. Nearby, a pair of crows seemed more focussed on another project.

These two were industriously flying back and forth to a nearby tree with a succession of twigs, mud and grass.

First, some structural stuff …

… and then some soft furnishings …

… finally, some scraps of cedar bark fibres, which crows often use to line the nest for its antimicrobial properties.

I thought that was a pretty good dose of urban nature for a trip to an old substation in a busy traffic area next to a gas station and was about to call it a day when I noticed the swallows.

At first I thought they were just more starlings darting around in the sky, but  I could see they were much smaller and more erratic. When one swooped only feet from my head I realized they were Violet Green Swallows!

I tried for quite a while to get a photo of them flying, which is hard enough because of their speed and random direction changes, but just about impossible in an urban area with all the power lines and poles getting in the way of the camera’s focus.

I found the best strategy was to focus on one bird when it stopped on a wire and hope that some others would fly close by. I just had my light “walking” lens with me, so success was limited, but here are few shots of the magical substation swallows.

I grew up in a very industrial part of a northern English town and I spent my childhood playing along the Newcastle quayside, discovering places like this all the time. Forgotten by the grown-ups, slightly dirty, dodgy and dangerous,  but full of adventure and new understanding for free range kids. My substation outing reminded me of those days, and the sense of having made small but amazing discoveries.

If you’re looking for something to do, I really suggest setting yourself an urban nature challenge, checking  out some new part of your local neighbourhood. It’s important to give it a a few minutes of waiting and watching to see what’s going on in the slightly hidden world of nature in the city. Bring the kids — they love a good expedition and, if it helps,  imagine it being narrated by David Attenborough!

A small chickadee making himself heard over the river of traffic.

Cocktail Party Guests

Cocktail hour is quite a big deal these days.

The rules are as follows: once the dog and cat have been fed (and they are very good at keeping us on schedule with that) it’s cocktail hour.

Actually, that’s about it really. So … rule. Singular.

As it’s still a bit chilly out, the front porch is the best bet for sitting al fresco without a blanket. Toque and down jacket, yes — but no blanket!

Photo 2020-04-12, 5 33 32 PM

Geordie, with  black and white tux colours and serious expression, does a passably good imitation of a maitre de in a very high class establishment.

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How are the first sips tasting, madam?

Really, it’s a highlight of the day. The only thing that could make it better?

Friends coming over, of course — but that’s not possible right now.

Or is it?

During cocktail hour a couple of days ago we noticed that we DID have company. Marvin and Mavis, after a hectic day of nest building, were enjoying the corvid equivalent of cocktail hour with us.

Bobbing gently in the breeze in the Katsura tree by the porch, they sat together, dozing, preening and softly chatting for a least half an hour.

Just as we were making a move to head inside, they flew off — only to replaced a second later by the next round of cocktail party guests — a pair of collared doves.

It was almost, almost, like sitting on the patio of one of favourite restaurants, enjoying a drink and some people (or in this case, bird) watching.

It’s the little things . . .

 

 

Spring Garden Notes for Sanity

I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to have a garden I can escape into, even if we’re confined to home.

It’s like having a cabin with an outside deck on the cruise ship of pandemic life.

The least I can do, in gratitude for my good fortune, is to share some of the things going on out there.

I hope to be posting every other day, about birds, or crows, or ravens . . . but some days  I (like many of you) feel just a bit too discombobulated to construct a sentence, so bear with me if there are gaps.

Newly returned pine siskin enjoying the bird bath.

Now that it’s officially spring, I took the bold move of finally removing the bird bath heater. Call me crazy! We may even go hog wild and get the small fountain out of winter mothballs too.

I keep thinking that the Steller’s Jays have moved on permanently, but then, when I’m reconciled to their absence, back they come. It’s not hard to know when they’ve arrived, what with the shrieking calls and flashes of electric blue — my cue to stop listening to the radio and rush outside and enjoy them before they move on again.

The finches, House and Gold, are providing a more melodic garden sound track with an almost constant chorus of song.

Mr and Mrs House Finch

The bushtits are back, but often in groups of only two, now that nesting season has arrived.

Female bushtit with her pale gold eyes.

And those bushtits are still using their clever little claws for holding their food like a the world’s smallest burrito.

I have been doing my Feederwatch bird count each week, even though sometimes it’s hard to settle down and do it. I have to say, I highly recommend it as a mental health strategy. Even if you don’t have a garden, you just need to pick a spot with some birds (even if it’s just a few crows or pigeons), register, and do a count when you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be every week — just when you can.

Often when I go out there to count it’s as if the birds know and they all scarper.

But I’ve learned that if you are quiet enough and just sit for a few minutes, you will find that there’s always a bird somewhere out there.

Often it’s just one modest brown song sparrow scuffling ever so softly through the shadowy leaf litter.

Or a finch, outlined against the sun on a high branch, gathering a long breath for the next musical recitation.

I suspect there may be a metaphor to be sifted out of that word litter  . . .

Song sparrow tightrope walking on the Daphne Odora

To close, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog, and sometimes writing to let me know it helps a bit.

The fact is that writing the blog helps me a lot too, by giving me something positive to focus on at this crazy time.

So, thanks and stay well, be kind to each other. And to the birds, of course.