Nesting News

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

Here’s a re-post from this time last year, and the chickadees are equally busy this year.

Also, a reminder, if you haven’t read it already, don’t miss the gripping sequel to yesterday’s post: Flicker Saga Part Two

The Chickadee Edition

On your marks, get set, go.

As soon as the plum blossoms flower on our street it’s the signal for serious nesting building to start. From the biggest to the tiniest birds, the clock is ticking.

With great good luck, we have a pair of chickadees, including my special buddy, Braveheart (with the teardrop marking) building a nest in the ornamental plum tree by our house.

Cherry Blossom Chickadee

When I feel too busy, I just go out and watch these two working ceaselessly for a few minutes. Their level of dedication to the job at hand is pretty inspiring.

Busy Chickadee in Plum Tree

Phase One: expanding the existing small tree cavity. The original hole was clearly not spacious enough for their interior design ambitions, so remodelling was undertaken with zeal.

With those tiny beaks, you can imagine how many trips it took do the job. For about a week, the pair of them took turns flying in and out, hundreds of times a day, with their micro-loads of wood chips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even when they stopped for a break, you could see the sawdust stuck to their hardworking little faces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASawdust beak

I imagine it was a pretty dry and uncomfortable job, chewing and spitting out wood for days on end. The photo below catches one of our intrepid builders coughing up a bit of sawdust. I felt as if I should offer them each a very tiny beer, but I guess they made do with the water in the bird bath.

Chickadee Cough

It’s hard to say if they finally decided the space was big enough, or they just couldn’t stand any more digging …

Chickadee Looking Into Nest

… but one day efforts suddenly switched from digging to interior design.

Moss Collecting Chickadee

Chickadee with Plum Blossom Flower

Nothing like some fresh cut flowers to bring a new living space alive!

I’m not sure what’s going on in there now. I try not to spend too much time hanging around in case I attract unwanted predatory attention, but I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

 

 

 

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Ups and Downs

We took Geordie for a short run in the woods this morning. Just being in the forest is wonderful, but watching Geordie let loose is really joyful.

He loves to run — doesn’t need anything to chase, or another dog; he just likes to run for the sake of running.

He’s the very epitome of joie de vivre.

But I have to tell you, as soon as we turned onto the wider path near the end of the trails his entire demeanour changed. He hung back, walking like a condemned dog. It wasn’t just that the run was almost over — he’s usually fine with that. The problem was that he realized that he was muddy . . . and muddy means B – A – T – H.

He really is a dog who’s too smart for his own good and he’s always half-waiting for the “bad thing” to happen. It’s partly his personality, partly his rescue dog past, but he’s an incurable pessimist at heart.

I must say that this is perhaps one of the reasons I love him so much.

I can so relate to that “living in the moment” to “worst case scenario” emotional seesaw. Especially now.

You should know that we spared him the bath this time. Just a brisk towel off (which he likes) when we got home!

 

Edgar’s Cat Therapy

My bird posts are meant to be small flares of love, joy and kindness fired out into a suddenly dark and uncertain world.

Lacking any medical or scientific knowledge, the only other thing I can think to offer a hurting population right now is Edgar.

You may have seen Edgar in my blog before. He is our cat. An indoor cat, about ten years old, with immense charm and a “keep calm” attitude well suited for the times.

I have revived his Facebook page, but I know for a fact that many of you don’t engage in social media, for various good reasons, so I thought I’d reproduce his Facebook posts here, so you don’t miss them.

DAY ONE

Edgar feels he may have valuable advice to offer at this time of being responsibly socially distant at home.
He has ten years of experience in this field, plus he’s a bit of a personal cleanliness fanatic.

DAY TWO

Edgar would like to advise everyone to get outside and enjoy some responsibly solitary fresh air when the weather is good. Socially distancing in wet weather is a more advanced skill, but fear not, Edgar will have tips for that too!

DAY THREE

Of course, Edgar will have most to say on how to survive and thrive as an “indoor person,” but we will have occasional guest suggestions from Edgar’s lovely assistant, Geordie.

Today’s tip is from Geordie and concerns food in a time of social distancing and staying home.
Many people have posted about how they are either
(a) eating too much from boredom and/or
(b) bored with what they have on hand to eat.
Geordie’s tip: stuff your food in a kong and then try to eat it (without using your hands, obviously.)
This will (a) use up calories while you’re eating and
(b) make any food automatically more interesting.
Your’e welcome.

DAY FOUR

Edgar needs to have a serious word.
Stay the @*#% home.
He means it.
That is all for today.

DAY FIVE

Edgar’s key tip for those of you staying at home: NAPPING
It may take you a while to work up to Edgar’s napping prowess, but time really flies when you’re snoozing blissfully for 18 hours a day!

DAY SIX

When I couldn’t sleep last night Edgar was a very therapeutic companion. Here are 30 seconds of his soothing purring sounds, in case it helps you through an anxious moment too. ❤️

Stay tuned for more from Edgar as we get through this together.

 

 

A Small Care Package

I had meant to write another crow update blog post today, but somehow it was a bit hard to focus on pulling the images and words together.

So, instead, here is a small, somewhat random bouquet of things that are helpful for my mental health at this tough time. I hope they help you too.

First, here is Norman the Nuthatch visiting the garden this morning.

It’s just 5 seconds, but I find playing him over and over again kind of restful.

Second, here is Mr. Pants, looking at me from the wires on our morning dog walk.

Crow Therapy is proving to be a lifeline for me at the moment.

Third, in exceptionally good timing we have Luke the Super Emotional Support dog staying with us for the weekend. Triple-strength dog therapy with Geordie and Nina. They take their work very seriously.

Fourth, and last, we need Edgar’s advice …

As an indoor cat he is already a master of both social distancing and extreme cleanliness.

Further advice he would like to share:  stay safe, nap frequently, and be very kind to others.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Inheritance

Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.

George, fall 2016

Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017,  only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.

Mabel, February 2020

The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.

A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.

In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.

As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed  one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.

Whew, that was close …

Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.

Family meeting on the railings.

Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.

Practice percher

The Heir Apparent, apparently.

I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.

I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.

I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.

Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows

In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.

Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …

And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.

I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.

 

logo with crow

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Norman the Nuthatch

Norman the NuthatchI had never seen a nuthatch of any kind until Norman arrived in my garden last fall. Suddenly there he was, a tiny flying badger, making peeping noises like the world’s smallest truck backing up in the lilac tree.

Norman is a red-breasted nuthatch, close cousin to the white-breasted, brown-headed and pygmy nuthatches, and the elusive brown creeper.

Red Breasted Nuthatch in Coral Bark Maple

Now, every morning when I go into the garden, after issuing my standard crazy bird lady greeting to the assembled avian company, “Hi there, Birdy McBirdles!” — I’m looking to see if I can spot Norman.

I’ve given him a name since he’s easy to identify, being the only nuthatch in the garden. Some time in late fall a second one showed up, but after a few days of noisy squabbling we seem to be back down to one.

Nuthatch at Bird Bath

The Cornell information on them describes the red-breasted nuthatch as “an intense bundle of energy at your feeder” — and that does just about sum up Norman.

Red Breasted Nuthatch at feeder

He’s a zoomer.

Zooms down to the feeder, back up to the trees — up and down, dozens of times a day.

Pretty fearless too, whipping by inches from my head, and unfazed if I walk right beside the feeder. The other birds are off in a feathery flurry if I get too close, but Norman and his dauntless black-capped chickadee buddies tend to stand their ground.

Nuthatch upside down in hazel tree

Norman often zigzags down the trees head first, like a Skeleton competitor. He is aided in this manoeuvre by the large hook-like claws on his back toes.

Nuthatch with peanut

He’s a picky eater and will often perch at the feeder pulling out, and impatiently discarding, one morsel after another until he finally unearths the specific one he was looking for, usually a nice big peanut.

He’ll fly off to a nearby tree and jam the nut prize into a bark crevice where he can pick away at it at his leisure. The tree bark is also the source of the tasty bugs that make up the rest of his diet.

Nuthatch Call

Beep, beep, beep …

Another cool fact about red-breasted nuthatches — they smear the entrance to their nests (usually excavated in a decaying tree or stump) with sticky resin, presumably to ward off predators or would-be lodgers. To avoid getting stuck themselves, they’ve perfected the art of diving directly and neatly into the nest.

I hope Norman can find himself a mate and they will have fun making a glue-guarded nest. Maybe we’ll see some nuthatch babies later this spring.

I’ll keep you posted on the Norman News.

Windy Day Nuthatch

Norman on a blustery day, showing off that big back claw.

Nuthatch Ahoy

 

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logo with crow

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Peanut Diplomacy

Peanut Juggler

Diplomacy —peanut and regular — is tricky. It’s only now that I sit down to write about this topic, I’m forced to face how much actual time pondering the the pitfalls and potential of the practice.

Here’s how the Merriam Webster dictionary defines run-of-the-mill diplomacy:
1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations. 2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility

Pretty similar, really, to my theory of Peanut Diplomacy:
1: the art and practice of initiating and maintaining diplomatic relations with another species (in this example, crows.) 2: skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility (towards yourself, or amongst your diplomatic counterparts.)

Marvin feet with peanuts

Why Peanut Diplomacy?

Let’s face it, unless you have inadvertently tipped a plate of french fries onto the sidewalk, you are of little specific interest to the busy crow population. If you want to open talks with them, peanuts are a great place to start.

Marvin with peanut

Benefits of Peanut Diplomacy

Practiced with finesse, the art of judicious peanut distribution has many benefits. You can have the thrill of being greeted daily by your new crow friends. I am sure they love you for yourself, but the peanuts really help them discover your interesting side.

Over time you can come to observe individuals and small crow families and learn to appreciate how different, funny, and interesting they all are.

Marvin the crow Fencewalker

Pitfalls of Peanut Diplomacy

As with political diplomacy, things can easily go sideways. You don’t want to bring any harm to your new crow friends. You also don’t want your neighbours starting to hate you.

Crow skirmish

Peanut Diplomacy Tips

Keeping the Peace

One of the things you don’t want is to create friction amongst various factions of your new friends. In the years I’ve been engaged in the PD field, I’ve always managed to keep the backyard visitors to one family of crows. This takes a bit of diligence, watching out for “your” crows to be nearby before you put out the peanuts and bringing the treats in again if “invaders” try to horn in.

Over the last decade there have been several peaceful coups.

First we had Eric and Clara and their offspring. They moved down the street, of their own accord and Hank and Vera took over. H & V didn’t come back after the mating season one year and we entered the George and Mabel years. Since we lost George in 2018, Mabel has moved down the street and found a new mate and we now have Marvin and Mavis as our corvid garden guardians.

George and peanut

George and his specially adapted peanut collection technique.

Currently, there is some local tension because Mabel has two juvenile crows from last summer and, while Mabel herself (well versed in the rules of territorial rules) doesn’t come to our garden, she doesn’t discourage the two teenagers from exploring this end of the block. Marvin and Mavis are not pleased, so I’m careful not to put peanuts out unless they are right there. I’d hate to see them attacking Mabel’s young ones because of me.

Juvenile Crow

One of Mabel’s kids optimistically hoping for peanuts in our garden.

Mabel Updo

Mabel takes exception to the intruder.

Sentinel Marvin

Marvin on sentinel duty

A subsection of keeping the peace, is distributing peanuts while out walking. In effect you and your peanuts become mobile territory to be squabbled over. I try to avoid this by observing the local boundaries and never dropping peanuts in the “no crow’s land” between domains. Some years it’s more difficult than others to keep the peace.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants didn’t have any surviving fledglings last year — but their neighbours did, and the larger family is trying to horn in on Mr and Mrs P’s corner. We had a few near “diplomatic incidents” when I tried to leave a few nuts for the Pantses earlier this year, so now I either walk another way, or if it seems quiet, try to leave a few nuts near them but out of sight of the bossy neighbours.

Crow Regurgitates Peanuts

Mr. Pants “unpacking” some peanuts he’d just picked up.

If I find I’m suddenly feeling like an extra in Hitchcock’s The Birds, being followed by a small murder of crows, all ignoring the customary boundaries, then it’s time to change my walking route for a week or two to break the pattern.

Portion Control

If there are challenging conditions out (snow covered or frozen, or drought-baked ground) I will offer more nuts. For Marvin and Mavis, when Mavis had pox on her foot, I put out more nutritious food too until she got better. Generally though, I try to just put out enough peanuts to assure my crow pals that I appreciate their letting me take their photographs, and value their friendship.

Marvin and Mavis snack

Marvin and Mavis enjoy their Valentine’s Day brunch

I don’t want them to come to rely on me for food — for their own good, and so I can sometimes go on holiday without fretting about their survival.

Mess Control

I’ve often read that crows prefer peanuts in the shell, and they do! But all those peanut shells end up everywhere. In your roof gutters. Even worse, in your neighbours’ roof gutters. In the interests of human diplomacy, I find it’s better to offer shelled, unsalted nuts. Good quality cat or dog kibble is good too.

Extra Peanut Fun

While Marvin and Mavis always get a “no strings” breakfast, sometimes they come back for visits later in the day and then we have some fun with doing tricks for peanuts.

I “trained” them to pose with my crow calendar at times during the last couple of years, but a favourite is putting the peanuts in more challenging spots. Here Marvin competes in the Picket Fence Challenge.

Marvin Fence Walker 2

Marvin Fence Walker 3

Marvin Fence Walker 4

Marvin Fence Walker 5

 

I’m sure some of you are already accomplished peanut ambassadors, so do forgive my ramblings. And, if you’re just thinking of exploring the world of peanut politics, don’t let me make it seem too complicated. Have fun and make friends!

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Good News, Bad News, Good News

If my personal life looked like a flow chart this week, it would be alpine in aspect.

Monday started very well when eagle-eyed Phillip spotted my ring, lost for over a week, in a melted spot of the snowy garden. I wear the ring, made by Vancouver artist Joanna Lovett Sterling, as my engagement ring. Having lost the central stones from two earlier engagement rings (my own and then the one inherited from my mother) I concluded I was too hard on my hands for rings with parts that could be lost. Joanna’s ring creates sparkle just from the way it’s made, without any gems to go missing, and I love it.

Imagine, then, my dismay as the “invincible” ring slid off my freezing finger and flew in a graceful arc over the deck railing to land out of sight somewhere in piles of fluffy snow that were just beginning to accumulate early last week. Now, you might be wondering what I was doing, flapping my freezing hands on the deck and causing the ring’s flight.  All bird-related, of course. I had put Marvin and Mavis’s breakfast (kibble and peanuts) out for them on the deck railing and then gone to the garden to top up the bird bath and check on the bird feeders. While I did that, the cheeky starlings came and polished off M & M’s food. I went back up to replenish the breakfast bar, but before Marvin and Mavis could get there, the starlings were coming in for second helpings.  I was waving my arms about to  deter them when the ring went on its unscheduled journey.

The snow was so deep and fluffy, the ring just vanished without a trace. And the snow just kept on falling, with about seven inches falling the next day and yet more piled up as we dug out the garden path. Patience was required, and a couple of friends kindly offered the use of metal detectors if necessary.

Luckily no Detectorists were required in the end because Phillip spied the ring, newly freed from its icy prison, yesterday morning. Hooray. Flow chart banks steeply upwards.

Finger and ring, reunited.

I was hoping that my good luck would continue for the whole day, as I was seeing my foot doctor in the afternoon and sincerely hoped he would tell me that my days in an air cast (six weeks and counting) would be numbered.

Unfortunately that’s not the way it went. My foot is still swollen. Apparently I am not that good at staying off my feet, and the doctor sent me for another x-ray with some ominous comments about possibly needing some non-weight bearing equipment (please, not crutches!)

Sadly, this means I won’t be able to host my usual February studio sale, and there will be no snow-shoeing (with ravens) in the foreseeable future. It was in a rather dark mood that I went to bed in last night.

This morning I woke up to a cheery email from the UK about the use of some of my images in a project over there (details later) and things seemed slightly less gloomy.

Then, as I was waiting for the coffee machine to warm up and was staring out of the window into the branches, I saw a varied thrush. Such a beautiful bird, and the first time in 29 years I’ve seen one in our garden. I felt the visit was timed especially to cheer me up, bringing greetings from the forest that I’ve been unable to visit for so long. He was telling me that it’s still there, waiting for me when I’m ready.

And, while I wait (with varying degrees of patience) to get back to where the ravens are, I can keep watching my video of some of them playing with snowballs last winter.

And the flow chart ascends somewhat.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Tiny Warrior Hummingbirds

The Anna’s Hummingbird is Vancouver’s Official Bird, elected to the post in 2017.
I imagine they won by simply staring at the competition like this  . . .

. . . until they withdrew their applications.

All of that avian attitude is certainly in play this week as temperatures plunge far below seasonal norms and snow blankets the Vancouver landscape.

Every morning when I open the back door, I hear a loud and indignant tutting.

I would not be surprised to hear an accompanying request to speak to the manager.

You can see why the Anna’s Hummingbirds might be a bit exasperated. Over the past 70 years, milder winters, flowery gardens and well-tended hummingbird feeders have convinced them to expand their range from southern California to southern BC.

Some time in the 90’s they started to forgo the southern migration and stay here all winter. This week, however, I think they’re wondering if it’s too late to book that package holiday to the sun. They are not alone in that.

Luckily, they’re remarkably tough little birds. Delicate as they look, they have a few winter survival tricks up their iridescently-feathered sleeves.

Unlike other hummingbirds, the Anna’s isn’t solely reliant on nectar for sustenance. Insects, spiders and tree sap broaden their dietary options.

During the cold nights they enter an “energy save” mode, called torpor. During this mini-hibernation, their heart rate slows from a daytime rate of 21 beats per second to a mediative one beat per two seconds. At the same time their body temperature lowers from a toasty 107 degrees to 48.

In spite of their toughness, they could use our help this week.

While temperatures are below freezing for days on end, the insect and tree sap supply is out of commission. Waking up from their night-time torpor, they need breakfast ASAP to top up the energy banks and, right now, hummingbird feeders are their only option. Equipped with formidable memories, these little birds can remember the location of each food source in their territory, and if they get to the feeder in your garden and it’s empty or frozen, they will be very, very disappointed in you . . .

. . . and you certainly don’t want that!

Some tips for keeping your hummingbird feeder thawed and snow-free:

  • Keep at least two feeders so you can keep one in the house thawed and ready to replace the frozen one outside
  • Hang the feeder under cover if possible, or with a bird feeder dome over it to stop the nectar ports from getting snow-covered
  • External heat sources will help to keep the nectar thawed. Ideas include: a trouble light hung nearby, incandescent (the old-style heat-producing) Christmas lights hung around the feeder, hand warmers, mug warmer or aquarium mat (for lizards) taped to bottom of feeder
  • Insulating the feeder with old socks or bubble wrap can help

If the worst happens and you find a hummingbird in distress and too cold or tired to fly, contact your local wildlife rescue. More information here from Wildlife Rescue BC.

If you’d like to read more about these amazing birds, this well-headlined Tyee article by Kerry Banks is full of fun facts:
The Amazingly Cool Anna’s Hummingbird Scoffs at Winter|
Vancouver’s official bird is a sex-crazed, smart, supercharged recent arrival.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Festive Greetings and Tips

Wishing you all peace, joy and a reasonable amount of merriment this holiday season.

Geordie and Edgar are, as you can see, anxiously waiting for Santa. There is a rumour that the man in red is bringing them each a cosy new bed.

I am still in my cast of course, so no far-ranging adventures until the foot heals. Luckily Marvin and Mavis come by several times a day to check in and assure me that they’ve both been very good crows this year.

Marvin, the always magnificent

Mavis, the ever-marvellous

Edgar wanted me to share with you some of his top tips for the having the best sort of holiday season …

  1. Do lots of bird watching (or whatever brings you joy)
  2. Keep up with your napping schedule
  3. Listen to “Drinking White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin (or your favourite holiday tune) and sing along
  4. Don’t worry about the dusting, or anything else that seems overwhelming and/or not fun. Domestic triage is key.
  5. Once the gravy is made, you’re entitled to a drink with rum in it

. . . OK, so those last few might have been me . . .

You can actually make up your own rules. I’m pretty sure Edgar’s good with that.