Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:
Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.
But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.
My goals for Crow Bingo:
get people out of the house
give parents a focus for walks with kids
introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet
So here we go …
For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:
You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …
Corvids don’t really kiss like humans … but they do show affection for each other in a number of ways. In the case of the pair above — they were touching beaks in a very affectionate way for quite a while.
I think this behaviour would come under the umbrella of corvid allopreening which usually involves a crow or raven gently (more or less) combing through their partner’s feathers. This solicitous behaviour strengthens the pair bond between them, and helps to keep those very important feathers in tip top condition. I’ve also read an article about ravens using allopreening to restore harmony after some sort of dispute — Ravens Kiss and Make Up After a Brawl (New Scientist.)
On our last snowshoeing trip a couple of weeks ago we saw this pair of ravens …
Watching them was especially therapeutic as it was the day after the storming of the US Capitol building. Such loving care made me want to cry.
Just seeing ravens in general was the equivalent of a Club Med vacation!
In spite of the wet snow.
Geordie also had an excellent day
A rather censorious Steller’s Jay
I may add some new images from the last trip to my Raven Portraits gallery, but for now, Raven Kiss is available now … in time for Valentine’s Day (hint.)
Some days seem harder than others. It’s November — with still more than a month to go before the winter solstice, when the light (slowly, slowly) begins to turn the tide against the dark.
It’s cold, dark and generally miserable. We’re in the middle of pandemic that looks set to get worse before it gets better . . . so, yes, this week seems particularly grim.
Keeping exclusively to our tiny household groups can make things a bit lonely. It’s certainly not a time to be getting out there and expanding your social circles.
Unless, of course, you’re looking to add some crows to your support group.
The benefits are many — in good times and bad.
I’ve written about my Crow Therapy theory before, but I thought a little pandemic re-cap might be in order.
Hang in there!
Not worrying about how crazy the neighbours might think you are is a bit of prerequisite for longer conversations with your local crows.
I imagine more of us may be at this point now than we were at the start of the year.
I often compare notes with Marvin and Mavis on how our respective years are going.
I know they’ve had a rough 2020, losing their entire tree territory overnight this summer and, in spite of building at least three nests this spring, having no surviving fledglings to show for all that hard work.
Consequently, it’s hard to say who’s sympathizing with who when I tell them about the latest political and pandemic news.
Nothing really surprises them any more.
Although sometimes . . .
If you don’t feel ready for fully fledged conversations with crows just yet, they also appreciate a simple generic greeting as you pass by, delivered in a suitably appreciative tone.
How’s it going, guys? Lookin’ good.
Of course, you may not feel ready to engage in any degree of chatting with crows (yet)— and this is perfectly fine.
The benefits of paying attention to crows can also be experienced from a discreet distance.
If you watch them every day, through the whole year, you’ll start see seasonal behaviour patterns. There will be lots of tender allopreening in the weeks before they start nesting, building that pair bond for the hard work ahead. There may also be some local skirmishes as they stake out nest territory. Then there’s the lovely “flying with twigs” period as they start construction.
Next, the nesting females will disappear completely for a while, hidden as they incubate the eggs. By early summer it’s the time of baby crows, with some dive bombing of unwary pedestrians as parent crows try to protect their flight incompetent fledglings. A summer of noisily begging baby crows and increasingly exhausted parents ensues. The end-of-summer moulting season blends into raucous fall behaviour, gradually quietening into winter, as new crows learn the rules of etiquette and everyone settles into their usual territory and predicable habits.
One of the main purposes of my annual City Crow Calendar is to give a small sense of this lovely pattern of parallel lives going on through the seasons — although, rest assured, it does also have dates and the usual calendar stuff in it too!
Observing this cycle of life has been especially grounding this year when so many human habits and expectations have been upended.
I heard my son telling a friend on the phone today about a lovely dream he had last night — of being at a party. It’s so sad that simple parties are currently the stuff of dreams. It’s not an exact substitute, but you can safely soak up a rave-like atmosphere by observing your local crow roost any night of the week.
While scouring the stressful news seems unavoidable this year, I do find it helpful to have the alternative narrative of what’s happening in my local crow world running in my mind. It’s a refreshing channel change to look at the world from their point of view — and there are truly plenty of compelling stories going on out there.
Stay tuned for some of the latest from the CrowFlix in coming posts …
There’s a lot (a lot!) of pressure on the gazing bowl this year.
Unlike tea leaves, the assorted bits of foliage in the gazing bowl confer no psychic abilities upon the reader — well, not this one, anyway.
Handy as that would be. Especially this year.
While the future remains stubbornly hidden, time spent peering into its depths does unveil some ephemeral truths.
Pondering the ever-changing patterns gives me a different way to see the world, if only for a few moments.
This year, I’ve been finding in it metaphors for history and ideologies — one layer affecting another —murkiness in the complexity —shadows and light — one thing reflecting another.
But then, the bowl (and everything else) depends upon Nature — and I hope we all remember that in the coming hours, days, months and years, and steer our history and ideology to reflect that truth.
Geordie, who seems to think that my prognostication receptacle is actually his water bowl, has lately been hinting that the murkiness I am seeing in it is less metaphorical, and more a question of diminished drinkability.
Begging his indulgence, I think I’ll leave it for one more day and then tip it out and fill it with clean, fresh water.
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.
Mabel and her mate began their 2020 nesting odyssey way back in April when I photographed the series above, written about in A Message in the Sky.
A nest was duly built in a nearby ornamental plum tree, and Mabel sat on it for a while, settled in a pretty pink world.
It seemed like a good early start, so I was all ears for baby crow sounds by mid-June. Sadly, something must have gone wrong with that nest location, as it was was abandoned sometime in June, and it looked as if Mabel and her partners might be deciding to take a year off from the parenting business. They did have an extremely busy time last summer with three demanding fledglings, two of which were still with them this spring.
She surprised me again last week when I heard not one, but two, and possibly three fledglings calling from her neck of the proverbial urban woods.
And there was one …
… and another …
I’m pretty sure I heard a third, but I haven’t seen all three together yet, so hard to say for certain. Either way, it looks like another long, hot, busy summer ahead for Mabel.
Hopefully the “teenagers” still with her be useful baby sitters from time to time. Mostly though, it’s Mabel I’ve seen doing the feeding and general herding of gormless babies out of danger.
One of her fledglings beginning that vital crash course on what is, and what is not, food. Small pebbles now ruled out.
Baby experiences his/her first heatwave
I saw Mabel and one of the babies near our house this morning. That’s not “their” end of the block but the parents do have to follow wherever their boundary-innocent offspring flap off to.
First, baby posed for a distant pop-up portrait …
Then, seeing how fearless mom is, in for a close-up …
Mabel must be getting on bit by now. It looks as if her right eye is getting worse, and yet she continues to add to her corvid dynasty year by year.
More crows in line for her throne and her rusty chain of office — although she looks ready to rule for many years yet.
Sat, June 6: An email arrives from the school — “tree work” will start next week.
Surely not? It’s nesting season!!! Sun, June 7: We write to the school to ask how they plan to do this “tree work” without disturbing nesting birds. Mon, June8: A reply from the school:
With regards to the status of the existing trees, which are addressed within our Building Permits and requirements, our landscape architects have a registered biologist currently conducting a review of the existing trees to be removed to confirm if there are any birds currently nesting in the trees. This is a provincial requirement based on the Wildlife Act and is standard throughout BC for construction happening on treed sites between the months of March and August. There are a range of requirements that need to be met to consider a nest “active” and the biologist assesses the trees for these requirements. If nesting is present the biologist will provide guidelines for how to treat the nest and what timelines are required to ensure the Act is met. There are strict protocols that we have to follow and these are being adhered to.
June 9-10: A frantic series of calls are made to City Hall to see how this could happen. Attempts are made to find out who to contact at Environment Canada as this seems contrary to federal rules.
I write my blog post about how a nest count seems unfeasible and send it, and an accompanying letter, to Vancouver Mayor and Council.
June 10: We hear that the school-hired biologist’s report has been submitted, stating that, in all of those 23 trees there is just a single White Crowned sparrow nest, so while some trees will be spared (the nest tree and some buffer trees) until June 23, pending another nest inspection, the rest can be cut immediately.
We don’t even know what the biologist’s report contained for sure, as it’s not publicly available. Incredibly, we were informed that a Freedom of Information request has to be submitted and processed, something that takes weeks or months, before we can see it.
June 11: (only 3 working days after the email warning of “tree work” arrived) most of the trees are gone. Not enough time or information to mount a fight to save them just until nesting season was over — and I can’t help but think this was part of the strategy.
The biologist who wrote the report was not present on the work site.
There were a host of community safely issues with the work site that had to be reported to City Hall, which I won’t go into here as that’s a whole other story — but speed over safety seemed to be the order of the day.
June 12: I receive an email from Mr. Sadhu Johnson, Vancouver’s City Manager, detailing how all the legal i’s and t’s were dotted and crossed, to make this cutting permit legally watertight from the City’s point of view.
Fallen poplars. Look how sound the wood looks.
This huge end tree was not noted as a nest site by the school’s biologist — but I heard white crowned sparrows in there every morning this spring.
Thankfully, he is no longer the bedraggled bird he was at peak moulting season last year. He got back to being a handsome, if unremarkable looking, crow by late fall.
Last spring I was away in the UK for the month of June, so I missed a lot of nesting season. For whatever reason, Mr. and Mrs. Pants produced no offspring in 2019, so I’ve been keeping a special eye on their progress this spring.
They had a rather trying fall and winter last year, with territorial trouble on their southern border from the Walker family. While Mr. and Mrs. P had no surviving babies last year, the Walkers did, and their need for more food and their numerical advantage led to bold and frequent incursions into Pantsland.
Both of the Pants couple spent most of their time with eyes scouring the sky for invading forces and they were very jumpy and seemed … if it is possible to discern this in crows … stressed out.
Mrs. Pants on guard
Mr. Pants keeping a wary eye on things from above
Mr Pants employing full tail regalia to defend his territory.
Now that nesting season is well underway, all the crows are keeping a lower profile and things have at last quietened on the contested border.
Mr. Pants takes a relaxed moment to pose with wisteria.
As I mentioned in the last post, Small News, many crows are choosing small street trees as nesting sites of late. While they’re closer to the ground and the risk of predation by racoons, cats, squirrels etc. they’re less likely to be raided by large birds like ravens, hawks and eagles — which seems to be an increasing risk as these birds gain a firmer foothold in the city.
The Pants have long favoured the small tree option and this year is no exception.
I spotted Mrs Pants last week sitting in their nest in quite small street tree — a crabapple of some sort, I think, and the same type of tree they chose two years ago. Fortunately they seem to have selected a healthier specimen this time, as the spring 2018 tree shed a lot of leaves in spring, leaving poor Mrs. P baking in the sun or thoroughly soaked, depending on the day, and not particularly well hidden. Even then, they did successfully fledge two little ones that year, although, sadly neither made it past the first few months. One just disappeared early on and the other succumbed to avian pox.
Being an urban nature enthusiast involves, as I learn anew every year, witnessing a lot of tragedy and well as joy.
Mrs. Pants on the nest this morning
Still, like the crows, we consider each day a new start, and each nesting season a potential bonanza of good news, so fingers crossed for the Pantses and all the other birds putting their all into the nesting business this spring.
For two years after Molly died we were a one-cat, no-dog, household. It was a situation that could not last. It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged that life is incomplete without a dog.
I thought, since we’d be quite old by the time this new dog was in its senior years, we should get a small lap dog. Having cared for several large dogs in their geriatric years, it seemed that a dog that could be moved without a winch might be a good idea. This pronouncement was met with some mockery from my family, since the last time we’d been looking for a dog I’d started out seeking a Cairn terrier … and yet we somehow ended up with two labradors.
The main requirement for this new dog was, of course, that it be Edgar-approved.
Via a series of fortuitous circumstances Geordie ended up on our doorstep.
Not a lap dog, in size or temperament, and yet still somehow perfect for us.
I’ve outlined the whole story of how he got from a shelter in California to our house in Gone to the Dogs, but this post is more about Geordie and Edgar’s relationship.
It took half an hour to persuade the very nervous Geordie to enter the house on his first visit, so he was quite happy to leave Edgar well alone for the first little while.
But, timid or not, he was still a puppy and eventually he had to go check out the regal ginger being on the chair. After a few respectful sniffs, he got a bit carried away and Edgar had to resort to a fierce hiss and rapid fire series of (clawless) paw swats.
Luckily Geordie is a very quick learner and, although he needed a few reminders in the early days, he has now fully absorbed the lesson that Cat is King.
You may have noticed in recent posts that Edgar sometimes like to sleep in Geordie’s bed, although he has a perfectly fine cat-sized one of his own. This was a pattern set early on, when he would claim Geordie’s special sleeping mat.
He would also eat the food right out of Geordie’s bowl.
Geordie learned at the feet of the master, even adopting Edgar’s signature “crossed paws” poses very early on. Either that or they are just naturally demure soul mates with excellent posture.
Treat time — cats go first.
They’ve been together now for just over four years and have settled into a mellow groove, Edgar gradually passing on his wisdom to the young acolyte.
Group effort to remind the humans it’s dinner time.
While Edgar has a number of other fine canine acquaintances, it’s really hard to imagine a more perfect full-time pod-mate for him than Geordie.
I am asked so many things about Edgar. How old is he? What kind of cat is he? Has he always been this cute? How does he get on so well with the dog?
This blog post (apart from a shameless excuse to post adorable older pictures of him) is an effort to answer those questions.
Who am I, really …?
We think Edgar is about 11 now. He was given to my daughter, Lily, when he was a few months old by a friend of hers who was moving and couldn’t keep the kitten. I didn’t meet him until he was about a year old and Lily moved back home, bringing Edgar with her, in 2010.
The friend who gave Edgar to Lily owned his mum, who was a pure Scottish Fold ginger and white cat. Scottish Folds are known for their tiny folded ears, large eyes and propensity for quirky poses. All are descended from Susie, a Scottish barn cat born in the 1960’s.
The background of Edgar’s father remains a mystery as his mother got out of the house one day, and …
A typical Edgar pose.
As a half Fold, Edgar has inherited most of the typical characteristics. His head is somewhat smaller and less fuzzy than a pure Scottish Fold, making his eyes look even more enormous, and his general demeanour, even more owl-like.
I didn’t see him as a kitten, so I can’t say how cute he may have been then.
But … fear not, Lily found some photos, given to her by her friend, that she has kindly forwarded to me.
So, yes, pretty cute, I’d say …
Edgar and his brother with their mum.
Edgar has been with us for ten years now. Lily moved out again, but kindly left Edgar with us, as he has more room to range about the house here, and someone is always home. These are the logical reasons. There was also the small matter of me refusing to let him go.
He is, after all, an invaluable office assistant.
… and the best possible role model for a relaxed approach to life.
When Edgar moved in with us, I was a bit worried about how he and the dogs would get along. Back then we had two of them — brother and sister yellow labs, Taz and Molly.
Luckily all three of them shared an interest in repose, so things worked out very well. Edgar is a very easy going cat and takes most new things in his stride.
He’s always been an indoor cat and seems very happy to be that way, enjoying his social life via the pals of various species he finds himself housed with.
Taz and Edgar were good buddies (sharing similar ultra-chill temperaments) and often chose to hang out together.
Taz and Edgar, pursuing a shared interest.
Unfortunately Taz died at 12, just a year or so after Edgar arrived, leaving Molly (with her slightly more uptight personality) and Edgar to maintain a cool but civil relationship for the next couple of years. As she got older, deafer and slower, the two of them became closer.
Molly and Edgar
Once Molly died (at a venerable 15) there followed a long period in which Edgar was the only quadruped in the household. He seemed just fine with that too.
Edgar loves Christmas — not because of the decorations — but because of the ladder that comes out to assist with the hanging of them.
Standing up to receive a treat.
His days as an only-pet ended in 2016 when Geordie arrived in our lives.