Signs of Spring

The signs of spring are there.  Admittedly, they’re a little tricky to spot in the world of snow and ice outside …

What the …?

Frozen puddle on this morning’s dog walk.

… but the birds know, in their featherlight bones, that spring is just around the corner. The small birds, finches and song sparrows especially, are  in full mating mode, chasing each other around the garden like daredevil Spitfire pilots.

Song sparrow diving into the season, even if it is covered in snow.

Female house finch and junco share a perch.

Male house finch in rosy finery

Goldfinch feasting on the coral bark maple tree.

A sure sign of spring is the sudden and ominous banging noise that makes me think the furnace is about to blow up …  an annual event which always turns out to be a Northern Flicker hammering on the metal chimney.  The neighbourhood will soon be echoing with the sounds  of amorous male flickers experimenting with different percussive surfaces, checking to see which offers the most impressive volume.

This flicker discovered that hollow aluminium deck railings deliver awesome reverb.

One morning a few days ago we left the house to find our street magically full of robins, singing their song of spring, and feasting on the large holly bush at the end of the street.

A close look at the ornamental plum trees on our street  shows some tightly furled little buds starting to appear.

 

In the 28 years we’ve lived beside them, the average time for these trees to bloom is the third week of March. They’re looking a wee bit behind schedule at the moment, but some sunshine and warmth in the coming weeks could get them back on track.

I haven’t seen any overt signs of nest building yet, but the crows are arguing along the edges of their territories. All of this squabbling leads me to believe they’re in the early stages of nest site selection.

Eric and Clara vie with Marvin and Mavis for hegemony in the poplars.

Marvin and Mavis view their real estate options from  the Crows Nest vantage point.

Ms. and Mr. Wing stand guard at the entrance to their fiefdom up on William Street.

 

Garden-wise, the signs of spring are obscure.

I feel a psychic kinship with the frost-fainted snowdrops.

The poor hellebores were breezily blooming in January only to be hastily buried in leaves when February’s snow and freezing weather swept in. They remain hidden, hopefully poIsed for a second act when things finally warm up.

Perhaps because I miss them, and possibly influenced by my convalescent hours with Monty Don, I’ve been playing around with some of my floral images from years gone by to create some new cushion cover designs.

While I dream of waking up to this view again …

… I’m working on some new images to invoke that spring feeling.

Spring Couple

New Growth

It’s difficult to say when Real Spring will finally show up, but Marvin seemed to be consulting a third party this morning.

Tell me, oh All Knowing Bird, when will Spring arrive?

As reliable source of weather information as any.

Perhaps I should ask him some of my financial planning questions …

A sequel to: Waiting For Spring

Best New Year’s Eve Party

It was going to be just me and my Buckley’s cough syrup for New Year’s Eve, but that seemed a slightly anticlimactic way to say farewell to 2018

Then I remembered the standing invitation to the wildest, loudest, coolest party in town. Attended by thousands, all in a mood to socialize … and everybody tucked up for bed by 5:30. My kind of party!

I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit melancholy, to be honest, so that, combined with the cold I’d had since just before Christmas, put me in need of an extra large dose of #crowtherapy

So, around 4pm, we arrived at Still Creek. Hardly any crows were there and I fretted, as I always do, that something was wrong and they wouldn’t show up this time.

We scaled up to our usual vantage spot on the Willingdon overpass, and from there, nestled among a small herd of abandoned Whole Foods shopping carts, we saw the crows coming. Rivers of them, as usual.

It’s always such a relief when I see them start to arrive. Larger swirling crow figures in the foreground and tiny, barely visible, specks on the horizon that mark those bringing up the rear.

Still Creek Crow Roost. Photo by June Hunter. ©junehunterimages2018 www.junehunter.com

In the riotous spiral of newcomers in the video below, you can see a mix of gulls with crows (probably brought over in the tide of excitement from the nearby dump) and you can hear, amid the uproar, a cool “knocking” call, almost like a raven.

Once we were surrounded by swirl and squawk on the overpass, we started to move on  to the next viewing spot — walking under the overpass and west on Still Creek road. We took the path that runs along the creek and emerged just behind Dick’s Lumber.

Light was fading by now and the crows were jostling for the best sleeping spot — on wires, on branches and on top of buildings. 

In the midst of the crow-cophany going on in the video below, you can hear at least two crows making a “barking” call.

I can’t wait to hear what the University of Washington study into the meaning of all the crow sounds at the big roost at their Bothell Campus finds out.

Still Creek Crow Roost. Photo by June Hunter. ©junehunterimages2018 www.junehunter.com

Happy New Year!!

As all the crows started to settle in for the night, we headed home.

Phillip went night snow-shoeing with some friends, but I was by now ready for my night in with the cat, dog, and cough syrup. I watched the Knowledge Network TV documentary about Judy Dench and the wonder of trees, then a 2007 film I found on Netflix called “Death At A Funeral” which kept me laughing until Phillip got home.

Really, a perfect New Year’s Eve.

I hope yours was similarly splendid, whatever form it took. And all good wishes to you all for a healthy and happy 2019.

Still Creek Crow Roost. Photo by June Hunter. ©junehunterimages2018 www.junehunter.com

6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

Marvin Close Up Dec 2018

1. Crows Are a Gateway Bird

The Look

Crows are often the only obvious representative of the natural world that a busy urbanite might see in a day. Many more wild things live among us, of course — but crows are so “in your face” that they’re hard to overlook, no matter how distracted you are. Once they’ve caught your eye, you can’t help but start to notice the rest of the quieter members of the urban nature gang… sparrows, chickadees, coyotes, eagles, hawks, bushtits, raccoons, ravens, squirrels, flickers, hummingbirds … and the precious scraps of urban greenery in which they thrive.

2. Crow as Mirror

Crows have evolved through millennia along an entirely separate path from humans.

And yet, and yet … here we find ourselves, crows and people, living strangely parallel urban lives.

TRIO

We all —crows and humans — have to deploy every bit of our creativity and hard work to get by in the urban jungle. We take comfort in our family groups, and we commute in tandem—  the nightly river of roost-bound crows soaring raucously over their earthbound fellow travellers, the latter inching their way homeward though traffic.

Still Creek Roost sunset

While I love and admire crows, I don’t usually think of them as my “spirit animal” or anything particularly mystical.

And yet, sometimes, when I look at Mavis …

monday-morning-mavis-post.jpg

3. Crows Really Don’t Care

Crows have a rather enviable devil-may-care attitude.

Crow's Eye Close Up

Their gaze is firmly outward, with little or no thought wasted on what others think of them.  They know that their crow-ness is sufficient.

I try to be more like them in that regard, … although I don’t think I don’t think I’m quite ready to start digging up  my neighbours’ lawns just yet.

Mr Pants Beard

For further reading on crow confidence: Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

4. Crow Puzzles

As I get older I wonder if I should start doing Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind sharp.

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I haven’t yet,  but I find that crow watching is a pretty good substitute. I see a crow doing something rather inexplicable. I wonder about it, read a book or an article about crows, I watch some more, and then — aha! — the puzzle pieces suddenly fit into place.  Then I have to try and keep that bit of information stored in my brain as I add more clues to a growing picture. It’s like being a crow P.I.

Take, for instance, the mystery of the barking crow …

See my previous blog post A Puzzlement of Crows for just how much of my brain this sort of thing occupies at any one time.

Whitewing Dec 2018

Whitewing here has a perennially wonky wing feather which helps me pick her out from the crowd.

5. Crows For Kids

We worry that our kids spend too much time inside, screen-mesmerized (much like the rest of us) and rarely keen to get outside and get involved with nature. They’re able to identify far more corporate logos than birds or plants.

From experiences with my own children when they were younger, the most effective way to get them interested in doing something is to create a story around it.

My son was reluctant to come on walks until we found Dragon Alley.  A street near our house is lined with massive trees, and the trunks are all covered in various kinds of thick moss. Once we “discovered” that this was were the local dragons came to rub off their old scales, walking was a delight.

dragon scales

I wish I’d started noticing crows when my children were little. The tales we could have spun! The characters we could have followed!  They loved books with animals in them, but most of them were not indigenous to East Vancouver. They read about tigers and badgers and hedgehogs in brambly hedges, none of which they were ever likely to actually find on their own adventures. It would have been fun to introduce them to some real life local crow characters.

Well I guess it’s never too late as I do that now, even though the kids are now in their twenties …

Slocan Street Crow Dec 2018

6. Crow Therapy is Egalitarian

Twig Carrying Crow

Just about anyone in a crow-populated city can take advantage of crow therapy. You don’t even need to get up close and personal — you can read their messages of beauty and nature from a distance in the calligraphy they write against the sky.

We simply need to stop for a moment to look up and try to interpret it.

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In fact, crow therapy is SO egalitarian that it doesn’t even need to involve crows.

If it’s wondering what the starlings are up to today, or how the light will hit the leaves on your favourite tree this morning, or which dragons left scales in Dragon Alley overnight — whatever gives you a thrill of anticipation as your step outside — that’s Crow Therapy.

Wild City

See also: Crow Therapy

 

 

 

Reading the Leaves

Leaves in a bowl with reflections, photo by June Hunter. ©junehunterimages2018

Words are important.

But sometimes there seem to be too many of them. Too many we’ve heard, spoken, written and read. This week has begun to feel like one of those times.

Whenever I’ve passed through the garden in the last few days — to do a little yard work, or on my way to the studio — I’ve felt drawn to this bowl.

It feels, somehow, as if it might hold answers. Wordless answers.

It does contain a kaleidoscope of fallen leaves.

The complicated leaf patterns compete with reflections of the very trees they’ve recently fallen from.

The bowl looks quite different at each visit. New leaves are added its miniature world, but  it’s the ever-changing light that makes the biggest difference.

Each day, it seems to hold a different message.

Words like “augury” and “scrying” and “oracle” pass through my mind.

But we’re getting back to words again, and we agreed we’ve had too many of them this week.

Plus, it’s actually not a crystal ball, but Geordie’s outdoor water bowl. He wonders why I’m letting it get so full of floaty bits, so I guess I’ll have to empty and clean it soon.

I’m still almost sure there are answers in there, even if I’m not qualified to interpret them fully.

I do know it’s very calming to stand there and wonder for a few moments — which is why I’m sharing my gazing bowl with you this week.

Mavis, the Oracle of East Van

You might also enjoy these blog posts —

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

Crow Photo Tips

Marvin 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months … possibly years.

I’m often asked about my photography — what kind of equipment I use, lighting and so on — so I naturally I thought I’d blog about it.

Starting a new post is a bit like deciding the angle from which you will dive into a pool. The first few attempts often end as belly flops.

I began composing an epic, encompassing my personal photographic journey, plus every thought that’s ever crossed my mind about the possible significance of photography.

You will be relieved to hear that it has, after days of literary struggle, been edited down to a more modest offering. Hopefully a cleaner dive.

If you’re in a BIG rush, here’s the Cole’s Notes version:

  • Keep everything portable. The best camera is the world is no good to you if you didn’t bring it along because it’s too heavy and/or precious.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the technology.
  • Flat light is your best friend. There are exceptions to this (and most) rules.
  • Photograph subjects that mean something to you, and aim to communicate why it’s special in each image.

 

EQUIPMENT/TECHNOLOGY

I am utterly hopeless at retaining any kind of technical information. Each and every time I go to reply to someone about what kind of camera and lens I use, I have to go and actually find the camera to have a look at the the numbers on it.

olympus OMD EM1 blog

So — this is the camera I use currently. It’s an Olympus micro-four thirds model, the OM-1D EM-1 model, about four or five years old. As you can see, it’s a bit battered, because I just pick it up a take it with me almost every time I head out of the door. It’s been soaked more that once. Last fall it suffered the camera version of a stroke — I took a picture and it made a terrible sound and everything went white. The shutter was stuck open and I had to take it for repair. It’s back in business now, but has never really been the same.

I almost always have my camera on the same setting for my crow photos — fast ISO, big aperture (so the background will be out of focus) and speed as fast as the available light will allow. Since my camera’s brush with death these are the only settings at which it will work properly — so I guess woman and machine have become one.

OMD w lens blog

The lens I use almost exclusively is an Olympus zoom, 75-300mm. It’s not the “best” quality lens by any means. It’s plastic, rather slow, has eccentric focusing habits. It too has also had to be repaired a couple of times. On the plus side, it’s not too heavy and relatively inexpensive, so if it does get terminally injured on a raven-seeking mountain trip in the snow, it’s not the end of the world. I do own an Olympus “pro” lens (40-150mm) and it is unquestionably a superior lens. I use it when photographing close to home, or when I go to the Still Creek roost, because it’s better in low light. But the weight of the thing! And the cost!!

camera strap blog

One technical tip — if you have a larger than pocket-sized camera, replace the strap with one like this that allows you to wear it over your shoulder and tuck it behind you when it’s not needed and swing to the front when you do. This one’s a Joby (there are lots of other brands) and the only reason I made this awesome discovery is because I won the strap, and some other gear, in a photography contest a few years back.

LIGHT

Coat of Many Colours

A bright sunny day would show this young crow as a black bird. The myriad subtle shades of sepia, indigo and mauve in those lovely immature feathers would be quite lost.

Flat light is what I love the most — those days when there is some high cloud and a weak sun filtering through it. Yes, I am one of those obnoxious people who complain about a long run of hot sunny days.  They’re terrible for taking photographs of dark feathered birds — too much deep shadow and burning highlight, and almost impossible to get the subtle detail. In the middle of summer I tend to get up really early to try and get  some photographs before the sun is fully up. I always aim for a photograph that looks as if it could have been painted, and diffuse light really is the only way I’ve found to achieve that effect.

Junior crow portrait

Exceptions to the Rule

Bright sunny days are often good for taking interesting corvid silhouette pictures.

Ruffled Crow Silhouette

SUBJECTS/REASONS

Obviously, crows and ravens are MY subjects, with occasional other birds, and a bit of rust and foliage on the side.

Whatever “your” subject is — fashion, flowers, architecture, slugs, barbed wire fences, kittens, soup tins — just follow it. Set yourself little assignments every day, if you can. Look at the results and see what you like and what you don’t like.

Does the image tell the viewer something specific about the subject, something that conveys the emotion you feel in its presence?

If yes — do more of that.

If no — try something slightly different next time.

The side effect of this process is that you set up a bit of a feedback loop. The more you look at your chosen subject, the more you think about the reasons why you take photos.

Picket Fence Crow

Some Reasons to Take Photographs

  • to create a periscope up from the choppy (or becalmed) sea of daily life
  • to try to stop time from moving on
  • to make yourself think more about a subject
  • to see that a single subject can look very different from another angle
  • to simply record things (many photos I take are just to keep a note of which crow is where and when)
  • to try (perhaps over years) to find the truth in something

 

Junior Crow on Blue Fence

I consider my work to be a combination of wildlife and portrait, with an emphasis on the latter. My daily struggle is to create images that don’t just tell the viewer what the bird looks like, but also to hint at what is going on behind those glinting, intelligent eyes.

Ultimately, I’d love to create the corvid version of Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill.

Moody Crow

Failing that, maybe just a few more like this …

Interpretive Dance

Corvid Interpretive Dance, Vol: 1

 

 

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Crow Murder (Attempted)

In contrast to the rather peaceful imagery of Crow Calligraphy, where corvid nesting behaviour evoked the peaceful strokes of Japanese brush painting — this post is more Sam Peckinpah meets Hieronymus Bosch.

I usually don’t like the term “murder” to describe a group of crows.

Rather prejudicial, I always think. In the case of this gathering, however,  it seemed apt.

Incredibly, (spoiler alert) all participants in this brawl did walk away — but the ferocity was something I’d never seen in my all years of crow-watching.

The crows are pretty fractious at this time of year. All of that bucolic nest building has the side effect of making them hyper-sensitive to territorial infringements, — by traditional foes (raven, eagle, cat,  racoon, coyote) — or their fellow crows.

On Sunday morning the crows were particularly loud. I assumed it was the usual group protest directed at the new raven in the neighbourhood.

Crows in the Poplars

I was first preoccupied with the raven, who seemed especially oblivious to the crows on this particular morning . She carefully ran through a full repertoire of calls and meticulously groomed her lovely feathers.

The crows weren’t bothering to swoop and harass her, and I noticed that their anger seemed focussed elsewhere. I walked over that way to see what was bothering them.

Just then, all hell broke loose. From a distance, it looked like a muscular black feather duster exploding in the middle of the alley way.

As I got closer the individual participants in the melée became more distinct.

Crow Fight 1

It seems that two or three crows are at the centre of the brawl, with one of them pinned to the ground.

Crow Fight 2

The fighters are surrounded by a vociferous crowd — like a scene from Gladiator, with some Hogarthian figures passing judgement from the sidelines.

Crow Fight 3

Crow Fight 5

Crow Fight 6

Just as I was thinking that this fight might need a human referee, a corvid one seemed to step in. Abruptly the flapping stopped and “discussion” resumed..

Crow Fight Mediator

Miraculously, the combatants, aside from some ruffled feathers, looked relatively unscathed.

Indignant, but uninjured.

Crow Fight 9

The warring factions decide to suspend hostilities, and live to fight (and nest) another day.

Crow Fight 8

Of course, someone always has to have the last word …

Crow Fight Aftermath

The crowd dispersed as far as the nearest trees and wires where they continued to comment on the event for quite a while.

Political panel

Political panel “unpacks” the issues.

Eventually the tribunal concluded and all participants went back to their own territories. There they resumed the more tranquil business of finding just the right twig to complete the perfect nest.

Crow with twig

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Raven Tutor

Well, obviously the ravens of East Vancouver did not think much of my raven language skills! The very morning I published Learning to Speak Raven, they sent a tutor to teach me some new phrases.

I could hear the crows fussing and a raven making some sounds I’d never heard before as soon as I got up. Threw on some clothes (out of consideration for the neighbours) and rushed outside with my camera — but I’d missed them.

But it was my day for a lesson in raven anyway. When I took Geordie out for his walk later, my instructor returned. She landed on the neighbour’s roof and began a virtuoso performance. I think she may have been trying to show me just how little “raven” I know.

If you don’t see the video below, click HERE.

Apologies for the quality of the video, but it was raining and  I had a dog on the end of a leash  who was more keen to continue his walk than to hang  around watching a raven.

As usual, the crows were unimpressed with the visitor.

Perhaps some of her song was a lament about the state of the Spring weather …

Eventually, she decided to take her performance elsewhere.

But not before taking a little walkabout.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Buckets of Birds

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On the way to the Women’s march on January 21 I saw a crow flying in front of me. She dropped a piece of food she’d been carrying and it fell through the air for a couple of feet before she casually swooped down and caught it. Clever, I thought. Then I watched as she dropped and caught the same object at least four more times before she flew out of my sight. I was so excited. I must write a blog about that, I thought. But I didn’t. Somehow it seemed too trivial in the face of everything else that was going on.

It’s not that I’ve stopped feeling inspired by urban nature — it’s just that every time I get on the computer to post something I get sidetracked by reading world news and commentary, and by the time I’ve done that, the games of a crow seem a bit irrelevant.

Today I’m going to try and pull myself together. I note that some serious political commentators sprinkle their posts with kitten pictures just to break up the general bleakness.

So, my theory is, that posting pictures of crows, other birds, pretty moss and rust etc. is a bit of a public service to the news-battered world.

And beyond the kitten-effect, I’d like to think that nature photos are especially important right now.

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If you happen to catch a glimpse of soul in a crow’s gaze, then I hope it will contribute to your resolve to guard all birds against the coming assault on their habitat. Birds, after all, are one of the “canaries in the mineshaft” for the planet.

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If you find yourself empathizing with a fluffed-up, chilly little hummingbird — I hope that this feeling will extend to refugees and any people who are “different” from you.

A forest fire of bigotry and distrust is starting across the world. A wind of ignorance is fanning the flames, and we are all being choked and disoriented by fake news and alternative facts.

We need to be forming a vast human to chain to chuck buckets and buckets and buckets of reason, compassion, joy and love on this mess before the whole forest catches alight.

So, whatever you need to fill your bucket — keeping informed, watching kitten videos, turning off the news, raising chickens, knitting, locking yourself in a dark room for ten minutes, or getting out and saying hi to some birds — keep that bucket well-filled. I have a feeling we’re going to be busy for some time ahead.

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Just in case you really need some cat content, Edgar always happy to oblige …

logo with crow

www.junehunter.com

Crows with broken beaks

Kaeli Swift gives a very full and scientifically sound answer to the questions we’ve all been asking about the chances of George’s beak regrowing. Thanks, Kaeli!

It hurts to look at.  The physical pain incurred at the time of the injury, the likely chronic pain on the path to recovery, the dubious chance of survival, it all makes me reach for my mouth in horror when I see this bird.  To me, the idea of living on in spite of such a grotesque injury seems impossible.   Yet here this bird is, surviving, reminding me of what life is capable of.

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So now that I had my moment of sadness and awe, let’s get to what everyone wonders when they see a bird like this: Will a crow’s beak grow back if it’s broken and if not, can it survive?

Cracks or complete fractures like this can result from a number of things, though the list could be longer since these accidents are so rarely observed firsthand.  Perhaps it was traumatic run in with a window, or perhaps…

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