Greenest City 2020?

If you’re a regular reader, you may be expecting a whimsical crow story , or perhaps some tongue-in-cheek home décor or fashion advice. This is not that, but don’t worry — normal programming will (as they say) resume shortly. Today I’m writing about something not so funny, but very important to an Urban Nature Enthusiast. 

We have a very local problem (as you may have read about in some earlier blog posts) in which a private school in our area plans to remove trees and construct an artificial turf sports facility. The more I look into it and talk to other Vancouver residents, I realize that this hyper-local problem, is symptomatic of larger problems facing urban nature throughout Vancouver.

I wrote first the post below for the  Notre Dame Neighbours blog — but I believe it’s worth sharing here too. 

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

The City of Vancouver has a long held (and widely publicized) aim of being the greenest city in the entire world by 2020. That’s next year folks!

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the strategies and initiatives for reaching this goal. See Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan.

greenest city logo

It all so good in theory, and yet, when I look at the proposed changes to our own neighbourhood, I find it very hard to put the two things together.

The proposed change of plan at Notre Dame School, to go from:

(a) grass practice field with trees retained, to

(b) sunken artificial turf games facility with trees removed,

… seems to be going in entirely the wrong direction.

Notre Dame is a private school, but it should be noted that the City’s green plan repeatedly calls for cooperation between “developers, planners, designers and public and private landowners.”

TREE REMOVAL

The proposed removal of the row of Lombardy Poplars on the school’s western border contradicts a large number of the the green initiatives that shelter under the Greenest City Action Plan umbrella.

To begin with, the maintenance of trees is part of the City’s Urban Forest Strategy

“Vancouver’s urban forest includes every tree in our city – on streets, in parks, public spaces, and back yards. Our urban forest plays important environmental and social roles: it cleans the air, absorbs rainwater, provides bird habitat, and improves our health and well-being.“

If every tree in Vancouver is part of the Urban Forest strategy, it follows that every effort should be made to retain the 23 mature, full-of-bird-and-bug-life, poplars on Kaslo Street.

I was told by an old-timer in the neighbourhood, who lived opposite the school site, that when the poplars were planted those particular trees were selected because of their prodigious ability to soak up water from the ground. This was important because Notre Dame was, and is, built over Hastings Creek and is also positioned at a low, water-collecting point of the neighbourhood. In the past it was a marsh. It is unknown what effect the removal of the poplars will have on the wetness of the school site, not to mention the surrounding area.

City trees are also a critical part of the City’s Access to Nature Goals

One specific goal within this strategy is:

Ensure that every person lives within a 5 minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020; restore or enhance 25ha of natural areas between 2010 and 2020.

As you can see from the aerial view below, the area around Notre Dame School (the red dot in the middle) is already very poorly served by green space.

 The walk to the nearest park is far longer than five minutes. Many people head to the tiny bit of “greenway” provided by the Notre Dame poplars to walk their dogs, or simply to stroll within the sound of birdsong and the whispering of wind in the leaves. Removal of this tiny strip of green is a big step in the wrong direction for a city aiming to provide its citizens with more green space, and the physical, mental and spiritual well-being it is known to promote.

A sub-set of the Access to Nature Strategy is the Vancouver Bird Strategy in which the City strives to make Vancouver a rich and welcoming year-round habitat for all kinds of native birds. A healthy and diverse population of birds is intended to add to the enjoyment and enrichment of Vancouver residents, and also attract visitors from around the world.

The Kaslo Street poplars provide an important habitat for local birds. Watching the trees  for any length of time will reveal a parade of chickadees, juncos, bush tits, northern flickers, crows and robins, and even hawks, ravens and bald eagles making occasional visits. Many birds nest in these trees in the spring time, making use of the security from ground-predators provided by their elevation. In spring, 2018, some migrating mountain bluebirds (rare in this region) used the school as a resting area for a few days on their trip to their summer habitat in northern BC.

A Mountain Bluebird resting at Notre Dame, April 2018.

Vancouver achieved its goal of attracting visitors from around the world last summer when the prestigious meeting of bird scientists (IOC2018) was held here. I met some of those scientists, and we discussed the small things that can make cities bird friendlier. We agreed that areas like the small stand of poplars in my neighbourhood are great examples of small spaces making a big difference within the urban environment. Ironically, this was just couple of weeks before we learned that those very trees were threatened.

Raven in the poplars

Note: The City required that the school have arborist’s inspection done of these poplars. We have to assume that resulting report said that the trees should be removed but, as far as we know, this is only because of the school’s plan to create a ten foot drop-off right at their base of the trees (to accommodate the sunken field) which will render them unstable. We would like to see a second arborist’s report undertaken on the viability of the trees without such drastic excavation.

Instructions on the Notre Dame Field permit issued by the City of Vancouver in 2008. The new plans, part of the “minor amendment,” no longer include this important detail.

Should the project go ahead and the poplars be removed, the city requires that the school replace them with other trees. I am curious to know what trees of any size could thrive on top of a ten foot retaining wall.

ARTIFICIAL TURF

The other way in which the Notre Dame proposal seems to be marching away from green city goals is by coating the entire remaining surface of the campus with a combination of artificial turf and parking lot.

Artificial turf can be played on for up to 80 hours a week and does not (normally) need watering. These two advantages seem to have caused a stampede by the Vancouver Park Board (as well as private institutions like Notre Dame School) to install this surface on as many fields as possible to increase playing time.

But there are some very serious disadvantages to artificial turf that really need to considered more closely, including possible adverse heath effects for those using the fields, as well as a variety of environmental problems.

As far as climate change is concerned, it seems a very bad idea — not only for the users of the field but for whole neighbourhoods around the fields.

From Health Impact Assessment of the Use of Artificial Turf in Toronto written in 2015,

Unlike natural grass which has evaporative cooling properties, artificial turf is made of several heat-retaining materials which can significantly increase field surface temperatures, substantially increase air temperatures near fields, and thus contribute to the urban heat island effect in surrounding neighbourhoods. This increases the risk of heat-related health impacts during hot weather events. Widespread use of artificial turf would also make Toronto less resilient to extreme weather events and increase adverse health impacts associated with these events.”

It also seems like a bad idea in terms of meeting the City’s rainwater management plan objectives. The aim is to maximize the amount of permeable surfaces on public and private property in order to cope with increased climate changed-caused rainfall.

Artificial turf is known to be far less permeable than natural grass, and Notre Dame plans to install such a surface in a sunken field, on natural marshland, and over the watercourse of Hastings Creek …  I’m not an engineer, of course, but this seems like a high drainage risk.

Artificial Turf Mountain

Part of the Greenest City Action Plan is Zero Waste 2040 and I can’t help but wonder where a mountain of worn out artificial turf fits into that.

Artificial turf does not last forever. Its lifespan depends on various factors, from the amount of use, to the quality of the product. But all of it is sure to wear out sooner or later, and then what? Off to the landfill it goes. This Dutch video follows an expired fake grass field to its final resting place at the Artificial Turf Mountain.

Does Vancouver want an Artificial Turf Mountain of its very own by 2040?

A SOLUTION?

Ideals, politics, and competing interests can make uneasy bedfellows. Creativity and ingenuity is required to work in such a scenario.

So here’s a modest proposal.

What if the school were to look at ways in which a grass field could work to meet its sports and exercise needs, and the trees could be saved?

In return for the school being such a good citizen, working with the City to reach its 2020 green goals, the City Park Board could take over maintenance of the Kaslo Poplars, pruning and tending to the trees, and perhaps planting native species grasses and shrubs on the City side of the trees. That way the school would soon have its exercise space, which would please students and parents who have waited so long for a field. They would have a sports area, plus an outdoor classroom area for Environmental Studies classes, providing amenities geared to students with a wide range of interests. The mountain bluebirds might even come back!

The school would gain positive public recognition for making such a wonderful contribution to the City’s green action plan, and the City would gain a small strip of green space to inch them a little towards their 2020 goal of everyone within five minute walk away from a bit of nature in the city.

Or shall we just chop the trees down, carpet everywhere with artificial turf, and call the city green, even if it’s just the uniform emerald of an endless sea of this?

Let’s go with the first idea!

It really doesn’t take a lot of green space to create foothold for nature and birds in the city, to the benefit of all city dwellers — so let’s try and work together to save this tiny oasis before it’s gone.

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

If you’d like to contact the City of Vancouver to express your opinion on either the specific Notre Dame School issue, or on the expanding use of artificial turf on Vancouver park space, here are few handy addresses: 

VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL

Adrienne Carr  adrienne.carr@vancouver.ca

Peter Fry  pete.fry@vancouver.ca

Melissa DeGenova  melissa.degenova@vancouver.ca

Lisa Dominato  lisa.dominato@vancouver.ca

Jean Swanson  jean.swanson@vancouver.ca

Colleen Hardwick  colleen.hardwick@vancouver.ca

Michael Wiebe  michael.wiebe@vancouver.ca

Christine Boyle  christine.boyle@vancouver.ca

Rebecca Bligh  rebecca.bligh@vancouver.ca

Sarah Kirby-Yung  sarah.kirby-yung@vancouver.ca

General message to Mayor and Council at this link.

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER PARK BOARD

Stuart McKinnon  stuart.mckinnon@vancouver.ca

John Irwin  john.irwin@vancouver.ca

Gwen Giesbrecht  gwen.giesbrecht@vancouver.ca

Camil Dumont  camil.dumont@vancouver.ca

Dave Demers  dave.demers@vancouver.ca

John Coupar john.coupar@vancouver.ca

Tricia Barker tricia.barker@vancouver.ca

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER CITY STAFF

Gil Kelley
(General manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability)

gil.kelley@vancouver.ca

604-873-7456

All calls and emails have to be logged, so each one counts!

A Letter to City Hall

Golden Poplars

Since September, I’ve done a lot of writing. Probably more writing than I’ve done since my long ago thesis on Anglo-Saxon poetry.

I’ve been writing letters … so many letters … to Vancouver City Council and staff.

They’ve been rather boring letters, full of carefully researched references to building permits, footnotes and traffic management plans. Petition wording, schematic views and the endless argument for community consultation.

Notre Dame stadium ariel

Google map view of Notre Dame School. and surrounding area. Green = proposed artificial turf stadium: Red = new parking lot


In summary, the issue is this: In 2004-5 Notre Dame School (located at the end of our street) revealed plans for a new campus, including a sports stadium and the removal of perimeter trees. Local residents were relatively happy about the new buildings, but very much opposed to the sports stadium and tree removal. We rallied to state our opposition and in 2006 a compromise was reached when the school agreed to build a grass practice field instead of the stadium, and to keep the trees. In 2008 they received a building permit for this. The buildings were finished a few years ago, but the sports field construction did not start. In September we found out, purely by accident, that, in January of this year,  the school had submitted a request for a minor amendment to the 2008 building permit to the City of Vancouver. The amendment would allow a sunken, full-sized artificial turf games field with stadium seating, and necessitate the removal of the trees on the west side of the site. Neither the school nor the City informed the local community of this change. We have been writing letters asking that this change not be allowed as a minor amendment, but require a new building permit, which would then create the opportunity for community input. Two months in, and we haven’t received any meaningful response from the City, the school, or the Archdiocese which overlooks the school.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the issue, visit our group web site at www.notredameneighbours.wordpress.com


Most of my official stadium-related correspondence with City Hall has centred on classic topics like street safety, traffic, parking and noise. All valid and very real concerns for our neighbourhood.

But now I’m taking some time to write an open letter straight from the heart on an even bigger subject — the one that really keeps me awake at night.

Dear City of Vancouver,

Welcome new mayor and council members. You are a politically diverse group and I hope you’ll be creative and collaborative in your decision making, and will do the City of Vancouver proud over the next few years.

This morning I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with someone from the University of BC Forestry Department talking about a project called Citizen Cool Kits — an initiative encouraging neighbourhoods to come together and hatch ideas to lower their carbon footprint — all in a community-based effort to combat climate change. An important aspect of this is the maintenance and enhancement of the “urban forest”.

You can find the Citizen Cool Kit here.

It’s a great idea, right? A positive approach to climate change challenges, very suited to a city that prides itself on being green and progressive.

But then I think about the school’s stadium plan, which the City seems poised to endorse. It could hardly be any more contrary to the idea of being collaborative, or climate and environment friendly.

What we have currently at Notre Dame School, from a neighbourhood point of view, are some quite spiffy looking new buildings, a rutted parking lot, a pile of rubble that has waist high grass has grown over it, and rows of tall Lombardy poplar trees on the north, east and west sides of the campus. It’s not exactly a beautiful site (or sight) but the trees do form a visual curtain and create a towering habitat for many bird species, from ravens to bushtits.

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In an area woefully under-served by parks or green space of any kind, those trees have been, for as long as I’ve lived here (27 years)  served as a low footprint vertical park space. Green poster-children for densification. When there aren’t many leaves, the stand of poplars is like a giant shadow puppet theatre, starring a huge and varied cast of birds and animals.

Crow Family

 

And this year, in April, Mountain Bluebirds – yes, Mountain Bluebirds! – spent a weekend at the school feasting on the smorgasbord of bugs living in the overgrown grass on the rubble pile before continuing on their journey north.

Mountain Bluebird on Chainlink

Male Mountain Bluebird on the chainlink fence at Notre Dame School.

Bluebird on my Shoulder

Literally, a bluebird of happiness on a shoulder

A raven often visits the dilapidated parts of the school campus, resting on the parking lot fence or perching in the poplar branches, peacefully ignoring the inevitable crow harassment. His call cuts through the urban sounds of traffic and construction noise like a clear bell reminding us of the mountains and forests just a few miles away.

Environmentally, it’s alive. The trees and the grassy wasteland are doing their bit to capture carbon and host living things.

Raven Toilette

True, it’s not particularly attractive at the moment, and it’s certainly not doing the students at the school much good as they run around the school on the sidewalk or up to the local park for exercise and sports practice.

It would be wonderful to see them have an attractive sports field, as laid out in the 2008 permit.

Sports are an important part of the school curriculum, but surely there are other things that children need to experience and learn in school. Environmental studies? Ethics? Poetry? At my high school I  loved the treed area by the grass hockey field and my best friend and I would read aloud to each other there at lunch breaks. Once a nerd, always a nerd.

Two male Mountain Bluebirds

If the school built a grass practice field as they agreed, it would save them millions of dollars over the cost of a fancy stadium. The trees could be saved and some of the savings could go into creating a border of native shrubs and grasses, encouraging the Mountain Bluebirds to visit every year. More fabulous educational possibilities – tracking the migratory path of the bluebird, exploring the challenges that climate change and human activity are posing for them on their journey, researching what could be added to the school grounds to make it an even more inviting stop over spot for them.

Crow in the poplars

UBC’s Citizen Cool Kit also offers a great potential project for students to explore how the school could make their grounds as green as possible. They could map where Hastings Creek runs under the school and imagine the land they’re standing on as it was a hundred years ago. Who lived there? What did it look like? Ecology class could lead field trips on their very own campus!

hastings creek map

If they go ahead with the sunken, artificial turf stadium, none of this will be possible.

First, the poplar trees will be doomed because the sunken field will run right up to the property line, and the root damage caused by such close proximity to a steep drop would make them unstable. City bylaws require that other trees replace those removed, but what tree of any size could grow atop an 8 foot retaining wall?

And don’t get me started on artificial turf! The City of Vancouver seems to love the stuff at the moment, especially as an “easy” answer for low maintenance sports facilities.

I covered a lot of my concerns about artificial turf in my early blog post, the cheerily titled Environmental Dead Zone — so I’ll just refer you to that. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the post for even more reading.

Robin on School Fence

Urban nature is pretty tough, but it’s far from invincible. It needs some help in the form of creative thinking by planners, developers and politicians to thrive.

If the stadium plan goes ahead, I fear that there will far less birdsong in the neighbourhood. An absence of ravens, certainly no mountain bluebirds.

I imagine the crows will find reasons to stick around, if only to steal fast food wrappers dropped by stadium attendees and to laugh at our human folly.

Sincerely, June Hunter

Crow Judgement

A final note: if anyone reading this feels inspired to contact Vancouver’s Mayor, Council or or staff, on this issue (or any other) all of their email addresses are at this handy link: https://notredameneighbours.wordpress.com/contact-mayor-and-council/

Delicate Balance

This last image is one of my favourites of many photographs taken of the poplars over the years. It is somewhat appropriately titled Delicate Balance.

 

Environmental Dead Zone

My previous post was more of a sentimental ode to the patch of scrappy urban nature that may soon be gone.

This one is bit more pragmatic — and a plea to any readers who know of research or information that would support the preservation of a few more fragments of wildlife habitat and green space.

Mavis and Marvin

As a young couple, struggling to make it the Vancouver housing market, Marvin and Mavis worry that their nesting site is going to be gentrified into oblivion.

The school that plans to fell the trees and install the artificial turf stadium is a private one and they own the land. They are quite entitled to have a sports facility for their students, of course, and we would love to see a field installed for the kids. We wish, though, that they could be content with a natural grass field. One that would allow a bit of nature, including the poplars, to co-exist with their sports needs.

In fact, this is a conversation that local residents had with the school over ten years ago, and was something we’d thought settled to everyone’s satisfaction when they submitted plans for a grass field in back in 2008.

Now we’ve learned that an amendment to the permit was submitted at the beginning of this year, with no notice to local residents. It’s come as bit of a shock.

The crows have held some ad hoc protest groups already …

 

If we want to keep a tenuous (and precious) thread to the natural world intact in our cities, we need to make a few compromises.

One of my favourite resources on this topic is John Marzluff’s book, Subirdia.

Marzluff offers ten commandments for small compromises we city dwellers can make in order eke out just enough habitat for our wild neighbours to survive, and maybe even thrive.

Needless to say, cutting down stands of trees and laying down artificial turf are not on his list of suggestions.

Marzluff writes eloquently about why the effort to make space for nature in our urban lives is worthwhile and vital:

“Experience shapes our ethics and actions. If experience no longer includes nature, then our ethics cannot reflect the full needs of our natural world. Our interaction with nature is reciprocal — as we affect it, it affects us. Strengthening our place in the city’s ecological web builds resilience to change and allows us to co-exist with a wonderful diversity of life. Cutting our ties to the web is like cutting the belay line climbers rely upon as they stretch for a distant handhold. As we stretch to live within a rapidly changing world, are we ready to gamble on an unprotected, solo climb?”

While high school students need sports and exercise as part of a well-rounded education, surely ecology and ethics should also be on the curriculum.

I am hoping that the school will be convinced to let the trees remain because of their importance to the shelter, breeding, and feeding for local birds, as well as for their simple beauty.

Mavis Sept 22-18

Mavis ponders life without the Notre Dame poplars

I never thought I’d find myself writing in favour of grass fields, but I also hope that the school and the City will give the artificial turf choice a hard second look. While large grass areas do have many environmental problems — their water water and pesticide consumption being the most obvious — I’m not sure we should replacing grass sports fields with artificial turf without some serious consideration.

The artificial turf “solution” may turn out to be one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sort of things. Some of the articles I’ve read on the pros and cons of artificial turf are listed below.*

This battle is going on in almost every city around the globe. It’s a rather unequal contest between urban development, and quieter voices trying to save some little bits of nature within the sprawl.

To return to Joni Mitchell’s words, “you don’t know what  you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Even if you don’t fully realize that your day is made a little more sane by the distant sound of birdsong, or the antics of a crow on the power lines, I’m pretty sure you would notice a silence and an absence.

Eric in Poplars

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See my previous post: Urban Nature is Fragile

Follow for news of community actionNotre Dame Neighbours

*SOME ARTICLES ABOUT PROS AND CONS OF ARTIFICIAL TURF

Government of Western Australia: Broader Environmental Considerations: Chapter 7 of the Natural Grass vs Synthetic Turf Surfaces Study Final Report.

The Conversation: Why artificial turf may truly be bad for kids

Mom’s Team, The Trusted Source for Sports Parents — Turf Wars: the Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Mike Ozanian, How Taxpayers Get Fooled On The Cost Of An Artificial Turf Field

Huffington Post:  Artificial Grass May Save Water, But Does It Endanger People?

The Guardian:  Growth in artificial lawns poses threat to British wildlife, conservationists warn

Urban Nature Is Fragile

I am filled with sadness every time I look out of my window lately.

We have lived here for 27 years and my favourite view has always been of the row of Lombardy poplars fringing the private school at the end of our block. In the fall it is golden, in the winter and early spring it’s a shadow puppet show of bird life. From ravens to tiny bushtits — the branches are full of bird activity all year round.

When the wind blows, the trees make a sound like rushing river.

Urban nature can be tough and tenacious. Dandelions forcing their way to the light through tarmac. Moss or rust overwhelming almost any surface, given time.

But urban nature is so very fragile in the face of human decision-making.

The school has not had a sports field for over ten years, since they redeveloped the site. We’ve been expecting a field to go in at any time over those years, and local residents are looking forward to the project being finished and seeing the students with somewhere to play and exercise.

But now we are realizing that they are not just going to build a field — they have plans for a sports stadium — complete with artificial turf and (most likely) the removal of the beloved poplars.

The neighbours are upset for many reasons — mostly the noise, traffic and parking headaches that the stadium will bring.

I’m anxious about those things too — but what makes me truly heartsick is the idea of converting  that little bit of urban nature into an environmental desert.

If the trees do come down, the City of Vancouver will require that some new trees are planted to replace them — but they won’t be anywhere near the stature of the existing stand of poplars.

The entire rest of the school campus will be covered with building, parking lot, and plastic grass.

It was on this campus that I spotted migrating mountain bluebirds this spring, and where I had my wonderful conversations with a raven.

The white crowned sparrows and finches like to bathe in puddles and feed on seeds from grass growing in currently fallow areas. 

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Northern flickers, I’ve noticed, love to watch the sun rise from the tops of the poplars.

I watched the whole unfolding drama of two crow families building and tending nests in those same trees from March to July.

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Nature in the city is a delicate balance.

It’s not as if they’re really taking paradise and putting up a parking lot.

You couldn’t really call it paradise — a big, rutted parking area with weeds around the edges and a big patch of free-growing grass left from when an old wing of the school was torn down years ago.

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But it has actually been paradise to those birds. They don’t really ask for much.

And, in terms of putting up a parking lot — there will be a new parking lot — but that parking lot will probably be marginally more environmentally friendly than the artificial turf football field  — an ocean of sterile plastic grass that will fill almost every square remaining inch of the campus.

So, yes — every time I look out of my window now, I’m sad as I wonder how many more times I’ll see the sun and moon rise behind those branches, and I ask myself where the birds will be nesting next spring?

 

See part two of this blog, coming soon, for a less heartbroken, and more pragmatic, view of this issue.

For more information on community response to the proposed Notre Dame Stadium, see the Notre Dame Neighbours website.

 

Owl Dreams

Some days just don’t go as planned, but in a good way.

Today, for example, I had a number of studio tasks set out for the morning, all of which seemed very important — until the crows started going bonkers outside.

I always try to go see what the crows are on about.

It’s usually something interesting — sometimes it’s just a cat, but often a skunk, racoon or, occasionally, a coyote or two.

This morning’s furor was in the katsura tree right in front of our house. I opened the front door to see what was up, and instantly found myself caught in the hypnotic gaze of a beautiful barred owl.

Well, good morning!

Work rule number one is that when there’s an urban nature event unfolding, it rockets to the top of the to-do list. Everything else has to wait. Tiles remain unfinished, web sites, neglected.

Today that rule DEFINITELY applied.

The katsura tree was full of crows from near and far, all voicing their displeasure at the owl. Even a young Northern Flicker was joining in the scolding. You can hear him in this video.

 

This next video gives a cool look at the owl’s blinking mechanism – the nictitating membrane that makes the eye look blue, and then the fluffy feathered eyelids. He was also making a little beak movement when blinking. So amazing!

For about half an hour the crows, with occasional flicker input, continued their furious show. Gradually most left, leaving only the paint-splattered crow that currently considers the tree “his” and his mate. Eventually even they grew weary and flew off for a rest.

It’s a rare sight to see an owl in daylight. They’re usually sleeping off a busy night of rodent hunting. It does happen though. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see a similar sight outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery, right in the downtown core. I wrote a blog (Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry) about that day too.

But this time he was right in front of my own house. What an amazing treat.

He was there all day, so I was able to spend hours watching him. Neighbours came out to watch too. Our owl was a bit of a local celebrity for the day.

Sometimes the owl would fluff up his feathers if he felt the crows were getting too bold.

But no crow with an ounce of sense would get too close to these feet. Owls are one of the reasons that thousands of crows fly every night to Still Creek, seeking nocturnal safety in numbers.

In this photo, the owl looks for all the world like a character from a Harry Potter novel.

Gradually the crow posse seemed to forget about the owl all together.

Most of the afternoon was peaceful enough to allow a bit of a beauty sleep catch-up.

It’s late afternoon now and he’s still snoozing out there. I expect he’ll be there until dusk and then it will be hunting time again.

For me, I’ve spent the majority of the day photographing him, sorting out photos and writing this blog. That’s OK though, because that’s really the most important part of my “job.”

Every time I close my eyes, I see his eyes looking back at me.

I expect I’ll have owl dreams tonight.

 

See what happened at the end of this amazing day in the next post, Night Owl.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Noisy New Neighbours

Watch for the last few seconds of this baby crow self-grooming video. I think he’s auditioning for his own show on Comedy Network.

 

It has been a bit quiet in the neighbourhood of late.

That’s all changed with the advent of the corvid triplets. They do not keep their feeling to themselves. When hungry (pretty much all of the time) the whole neighbourhood knows about it.

The parents both look pretty exhausted. That dishevelled “new parent” look is made more extreme by the onset of molting season.

This is one of the parents of the three Firehall baby crows. Although my “babies” are now in their twenties, I still remember the slightly stunned, “Am I really qualified for this?” feeling that this parent seems to be experiencing.

I call them the Firehall family because the parents seemed to have their nest in a tree right beside the fire station that is on the corner of our street.

The triplets are venturing further and further from home base. One of them made it all the way to my garden, looking impossibly cute in the coral bark maple tree.

In the video below a harassed parent tries to get away from the ceaseless demands. Again, I do empathize.

 

Meanwhile, where are Mabel and Eric and Clara?

Now that George is gone, Mabel seems happy to stay with the “teenager” crow she and George had last year, in the alley one over from ours. I visit her daily and she seems well.

Eric and Clara are in their usual territory. They didn’t have any babies this year, having lost their nest high in the poplar trees to a windstorm early in the season. They’re kind of taking it easy this year, watching their triplet-tending neighbours with something like relief.

 

City Crows 2018 Calendars

My 2018 City Crow calendar is at the printer’s now and will be ready to ship in the first week of September. You can order yours now! The first 100 orders will come with a large (1.75-inch) Frazzled Mabel button.

If you’ve already ordered a calendar, don’t worry, you’ll be getting a free button too.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Thank-You So Much

This blog post is really just a huge thank-you for all the lovely, thoughtful, funny, comforting, poetic messages I’ve received after my last post about the passing of George. They’ve come via blog comments, email, text, Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I expect a carrier pigeon at any moment …

There have been stories of how people enjoyed hearing about him; how he taught them new things, maybe even changed their minds about crows. There have been whimsical descriptions of bird companions loved (and sometimes lost). I’ve laughed and cried reading them all. I have tried to write back as much as I can, but I fear I’m never going to manage as many replies as I’d like. If I haven’t written back to you, please know that I really appreciate your words and feel as if I’ve had a big hug from the world.

This is one of my favourite photos of George when I first met him. You can just see the wisdom and engagement in his eyes.

It was tough to lose George. As my husband said, when called him in tears to tell him the news, “It’s not all beer and skittles, being an urban nature enthusiast.”

So true — disaster and heartbreak is always lurking around the corner. But that is, as they say, life. And to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

When I picked George up to bury him, he weighed almost nothing at all. I had never held him before, so it was a surprise.

I keep thinking about how very light he was. That lightness seemed such a contrast to his substantial personality and presence.

George was a gift. I hope he’ll pop into our minds whenever those of us who knew about him see other crows. And we’ll smile when we think of him.

George on one of his favourite perches at the local elementary school.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my City Crow Calendar to the printer, but I keep re-writing it. You would think I was working on a major novel, rather than a calendar.

I keep going back and forth on George in the calendar.

No George, therefore no morbid “dead crow” associations?

Lots of George, to honour him?

In the end, I’ve decided on some George, and a special page at the end to celebrate him.

This picture of George’s magnificent feet will be one of several in the 2018 City Crow Calendar.

Thank-you once again for all of the kind thoughts and messages.

I like to think that George, from his perch up in the Great Sky Roost, enjoyed them too.

www.junehunter.com

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Flicker Family Saga – Part Two

This is a quite long story, with many pictures, and some emotional ups and down. You might need to arm yourself with a cup of tea and take a comfy seat before settling in to read. OK, here we go …

By the end of June, the flicker nest was the talk of the street. Everyone was keeping a discreet eye on the plum tree goings-on and neighbours would discuss the activity over the garden fences.

baby flicker looks out of nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Each morning I was checking the tree to see if the sounds were still in there. Sometimes it was quiet (I guess there was nap time) and sometimes the little murmurings were there. Then, one morning in early July, I was rewarded by this adorable face at the “window.”

Note: If you missed PART ONE, you can read it HERE.

That’s a great big world out there …


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Hey, I’m hungry over here!


Baby Northern Flicker with Parent, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Ah, here comes Mom with lunch.

Northern Flicker mother feeds baby, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Everything was looking so good for the little family. The parents were such fierce guardians, and the babies seemed safe in their tree fortress.

One morning I got up very early to see what was new.

What was new was this: absolute silence at the nest and a sad pile of flicker feathers around the base of the tree.

Further exploration revealed the remains of a baby flicker on the road.

I’m not sure if the culprit was the returning squirrel, the neighbour’s cat, or my buddies the crows. I try to put in the perspective of the circle of life and all that, but I must say I was pretty sad.

The flicker parents were still around, but no sign of any babies. I wondered if they’d lost their one and only fledgling for that year.

Northern Flicker in Bird Bath, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Dad at the bird bath.

FLICKER SURPRISE

The following day I took a cup of tea out to the front of the house and was startled by a great flapping in the windowed end of the porch. It was a baby flicker, vainly trying to fly to freedom through the glass.

Luckily, I still had the “rescue box” from the last flicker episode on hand. I grabbed a towel (not fraying at the edges this time!) and put it over the head of the baby. She immediately stopped flapping and I put her in the box with the lid on.

I was somewhat torn about releasing her, worrying that whatever killed her sibling would get her too. However, I took a deep breath and let her go in the back garden, where there’s lots of cover.

Failed picture of release – but you can see her tail feathers as she exits the frame.


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

She sat for a minute in the lilac tree, getting her bearings.

I was worried that there were no sign of the parents. After a few moments to collect herself, the baby flicker took off and flew away north.

Over the next few days I’d hear calls of adult and baby flickers around the garden.

I heard the soft thud of baby flicker flight mishaps a few times.

FAMILY PHOTOS

My husband was sitting quietly in the garden and spotted the two adults and the fledgling flicker all together at the bird bath. I was happy to think that at least the surviving baby was gathering skills and under the guardianship of the parents.

Yesterday it was my turn. I saw both parents and, not one, but TWO baby flickers in the garden — one male, one female. Below is a video of the mother feeding the female fledgling on the roof of my studio.

Here are the siblings playing around in the lilac tree.

Northern Flicker fledglings, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

EVEN MORE BABIES!

This morning I actually think I spotted THREE fledglings – one male and two female. Now I’m starting to wonder how many baby flickers can fit into the trunk of a medium sized ornamental plum tree. No wonder there were so many sounds coming out of there!

Male Flicker fledgling on roof, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

Male Flicker fledgling


Sisters in the lilac


Sleepy Flicker fledgling in tree, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

There are few things cuter than a sleepy baby Flicker.

So, the Flicker Family Saga continues. As is the way of life, tomorrow may bring a sad pile of feathers, but for today things are looking pretty promising for the Flicker Family of Parker Street.

I have so many northern flicker images to work with now, I hardly know where to start.

For now, I have this print available in my online shop.

If you missed Part One of the FLICKER FAMILY SAGA, you can read it HERE.

www.junehunter.com

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Flicker Family Saga – Part One

 

Northern Flicker profile close up, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

I didn’t realize it was going to turn into a saga, but now I’ve accumulated about a hundred photos of our local Northern Flicker family, chronicling their ups and downs over the last few weeks.

I kept meaning to post some as things unfolded, but it turned into such a roller coaster, I didn’t want to start telling the story until I had an idea of how tragic (one a scale of one to three) the ending would be.

Now the number of images is just out of control. I feel as if I have the makings of a small novel! And, besides, who knows what the conclusion will be in any family’s story?

So here is part one of the Flicker Family album.

It began earlier this summer when I noticed a lot of flicker calling going on all around the house and garden. This handsome fellow was to be seen, with his mate, working away with their beaks at a hole in the plum tree right in front of our house.

Northern Flickers are a type of woodpecker, and quite common in Vancouver. In fact, they were the runners-up in the recent vote to elect an official bird to represent the city. You can tell the males from the females by the dashing red “moustache” at the base of their beaks.

After a few more weeks, strange noises began to come from the tree.

The flicker pair were on ferocious guard at all times. Here’s the dad, holding the fort against a marauding squirrel. The squirrel eventually gave up and snuck away down the far side of the tree trunk.

Below, you can see the female flicker on the lower part of the tree. If you look closely, you can see also the male’s head peeking out from the nest hole further up.

Northern Flicker profile pair at nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Here’s Mom visiting the feeder in the garden. She was usually in the nest and you can see that her feathers were getting a bit dishevelled in the confined space.

Dad on guard, nest bottom right.

 *** PART TWO OF THE FLICKER FAMILY SAGA COMING TOMORROW ***

*** STAY TUNED! ***

PART TWO now published. Read on HERE.

 

Meanwhile – in an unrelated Flicker incident, we had the …

FLICKER IN THE STUDIO FIASCO

In late June a neighbour brought me a flicker that she saw hit by a car as she was waiting for a bus on a main street near here. The bird was stunned and in danger of getting hit again, so she and her son braved the pointy beak and picked him up to bring to me.  The plan was I’d keep an eye on him and see if he needed to go to the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue for treatment.

I put him in a covered box and I moved it into the studio to keep warm. But then I noticed that the scrap of towel I’d put in the box to pad it had become a bit unraveled, and a thread was wrapped around the flicker. I tried to carefully untangle it and … of course … the bird got out of the box and suddenly regained his powers of flight.

Part bird, part Swiffer, he scooped up some cobwebs from the skylight.

Understandably scared, he took cover behind just about every counter and work table in the place, then flying up the skylight (and doing a bit of dusting for me as he went.)

Luckily he finally made its way to a window that I could open for him.

Apart from never wanting to be in a studio again, he seemed fine as he soared off in the direction he’d been rescued from.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Eric’s Canada Day Performance

There are a lot of celebrations going on for Canada Day, including entertainment offerings of every kind.

Eric didn’t want to feel left out, so he decided to perform his breath-taking “Balancing on a Fire Hydrant” act to mark the occasion.

Luckily, I was on hand to record the event.

So, for you viewing pleasure.

Now would be a good time to grab some ketchup chips and Nanaimo bars and settle in.

First, adopt a rugged pirate-like stance. Pause to make sure you have the audience’s full attention.

Feel around for balance. Build audience tension by making it look really, really difficult.

 

Crow on a Fire Hydrant

Then, when you have the audience on the edges of their seats, make a bold move.

 

Ally-oop. Careful not to choke on you peanuts at this point. That would ruin the effect.

 

Take a moment to bask in the audience’s adoration and drink in that applause.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

If you feel you must try this yourself, leave out the mouthful of peanuts.

Choking hazard.

http://www.junehunter.com

If you’re in the Lower Mainland area, I’ll be at the Ladner Farmer’s Market next Sunday (July 9) with lots of pictures of Eric, as well as  George, Mabel and the other local crows.

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