I love colour. I really do love colour.
But there is something very beautiful in a landscape stripped down to shades of black and white.
Stark and simple.
Here’s a little photo essay on a lovely world almost devoid of colour.
I would describe George’s 2015 as “catastrophic”. Still, there are lessons to be learned from his persistence.
His year has been so awful, it’s taken me a while to prepare myself to tell the story, and look again at some of the images.
George appeared in my garden about midway through the long, hot, dry summer last year. He was waiting for me one day when I came out of the studio, resting on a branch and looking at me as if we were already well acquainted. It turned out that George had a family — a mate (Mabel) and one fledgling.
The baby crow at first seemed like the average disheveled juvenile, doted upon my both of his parents. But as the summer continued, it became clear that all was not well with Junior. Lumps appeared on his face and then on his feet. He had avian pox, which is often fatal and very contagious to other birds of many species.
I had a crisis of conscience. Fearing for the health of all the other birds that come to my garden, I considered ignoring George’s pleading looks so that the family might start to seek food elsewhere and leave the area. Easier said than done.
After a couple of miserable days of looking at George’s expectant face through the studio window, I moved to plan B. This consisted of a rather rigorous schedule of feeding George and family at only one spot on the deck and then, after their visit, immediately cleaning the area with bleach and rinsing thoroughly. I also bleached the birdbath daily, and emptied and cleaned all the other bird feeders every few days. I went from crazy crow lady, to crazy bleach lady!
Of course, when I noticed the sick baby and family perched on the hydro wires all over the neighbourhood, I realized that there was a limit to what I could do in the sterilization department.
By the end of the summer, George and Mabel looked completely worn out. All Vancouver wildlife had a tough time dealing with the drought, and many birds started molting early in the summer. George looked thoroughly bedraggled by the time new feathers started to come in for the fall.
Finally, in early fall, his new feathers came in and he looked much more handsome. More importantly, he and Mabel showed no sign of having developed avian pox symptoms.
A little more on Mabel: she’s a lot more reluctant to get close to me than George. A problem with her right eye probably causes some vision impairment, naturally making her more cautious. At times the eye is completely closed and, at other times, it looks quite normal. Mostly it doesn’t seem to cause her great problems.
Sadly, the baby crow grew sicker, although both parents continued to feed and preen him with single-minded dedication. He could still fly, but his damaged feet made it hard for him to land and rest. We could hear his plaintive cries for food from one end of our alleyway to the other. Then the weather turned suddenly cold and he fell silent.
George’s bad luck did not end there.
Shortly after the sick baby crow died, I saw George waiting for me as usual in the garden and went out to say hello.
I gasped in horror. My brain couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. George the magnificent, was missing half of his top beak.
First of all, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how this happened.
I still can’t. If anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Then, I was grief stricken. After all that George had been through, this new catastrophe seemed so unfair.
I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to survive this new challenge. I didn’t post anything about it on Facebook because I was still mentally processing both the event, and my reaction to it.
I struggled with whether it’s wrong to be so very upset about the difficulties facing a crow — given all the terrible things going on in the world.
There’s a whole other, more thoughtful, blog post being pondered to answer that question. Until then, in brief, I’ve decided it’s OK. And even if it isn’t, I can’t help it.
It’s been several weeks now and I’ve become accustomed to George’s new look. I’m cheered by the adaptability he’s demonstrating with his food collection methods. When he comes for peanuts he turns his head almost upside down for better “shoveling” action. I try to help out by putting the nuts in contained space so he can trap them. It’s rather amazing how efficient he’s become.
And, happily, Mabel seems to be standing by her crow. George’s injury doesn’t seem to have affected her loyalty – the two of them remain a fierce team when it comes to protecting their territorial rights.
Clearly Mabel still thinks that George is the top crow, so I’m hoping the two of them together can survive and thrive. I’m full of admiration for George Halfbeak and his resilience. I’m even starting to see a certain dashing charm in his new look.
He had a pretty devastating 2015, but looks set to take on 2016 with typical crow determination. Good luck, George and Happy New Year.
It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).
Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.
Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.
I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.
I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.
Suddenly, trouble in paradise.
Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.
I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.
But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.
No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.
The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.
Hawk soaring, crows cawing.
So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.
Bundled in my stylish plaid dressing gown, I climbed to the top deck of our house first thing this morning to participate in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
As I surveyed a sea of fog, things did not look promising.
I could hear a lot of frantic crow activity, although it was hard to see where it was coming from, or what was causing it. Suddenly a raven burst out of the fog into a patch of blue sky directly above me and, just as suddenly, disappeared — followed by his retinue of angry crows. I could hear the chase continue in the distance – to the west, then north, then off to the east – all hidden by thick mist. Sentry crows called from vantage points all around, offering helpful advice to the chasing committee.
One of the crows decided it was time for breakfast, landing on the hydro pole with a snack in beak – forcing a quick exit by the pole’s previous tenant, a starling.
While the foghorns continued their mournful calling down by the Second Narrows, all of a sudden it was a full-on scorcher where I was. There had been a clear winner in the sun vs. fog battle.
The northern flickers I’d been hearing came into view, landing on the hydro wires in the alley. The family of three was clearly enjoying the sudden warmth. One of the flickers luxuriantly spread a wing to soak up the sun – or perhaps he was just showing off his finery to the others.
The flickers flew off and were quickly replaced by another sun worshipper — the collared dove that I’d heard eerily hooting in the fog earlier.
The lilac in the garden was full of the usual suspects – house sparrows, song sparrows and chickadees. I even spotted the first golden crowned sparrow of the spring in our neighbour’s plum tree.
Eventually I was so hot I had to come inside – another first for the season.
Turned out to be a perfect morning the great backyard bird count.
Not too late if you haven’t done yours yet.