Counting Birds in Fog

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.

The february sun takes on the fog

A pale February morning sunrise.

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.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

Another group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

A group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

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.

A crow and a starling seems set on a collision.

Crow arrival, starling exit.

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.


My feathers are prettier than your feathers


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.

Sunbathing collared dove.

Sunbathing collared dove.

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.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

Turned out to be a perfect morning the great backyard bird count.

Not too late if you haven’t done yours yet.


Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Occasionally the most ordinary of days is transformed out of all recognition.

It started with a dawn trip downtown for an early morning physiotherapy appointment (tennis elbow: even less fun that it sounds).

Post-appointment I popped into the Vancouver Art Gallery to drop off one of my bracelets, ordered by the gift shop. It was still so early that the gallery wasn’t open yet, but my friend was there so we went out for a quick coffee. Already the day was on the upswing!

After coffee, I decided to go back once again to the gallery with her to take a photo of my work on display in the shop. As we reached the entrance it was hard to miss the massive crow commotion going on in the tree just outside. My friend immediately guessed it was the barred owl that she’d seen several times over the years, usually in the evening. I guess this time the owl had pulled an all-nighter, because there she was, high in the tree, with about two dozen crows flapping around and cawing furiously.

Crow-owl stand-off.

Crow-owl stand-off.


Quite a large owl with big, soulful eyes, she was a breath-taking sight and not at all something you expect to find in downtown Vancouver on a Friday morning. Miraculously having my camera with me, all other plans for the day were put on hold.

Barred Owl at VAG

Barred owl on branch

The crows came and went … and came back again. The initial twenty or so dwindled to a skeleton crew of two dedicated owl harassers. For about 15 minutes even they left and all was quiet. Then they were back and the furious cawing resumed. Mostly the owl was able to ignore the hullaballoo and, secure in a particularly dense part of the tree, she seemed to nod off for a while. Then a crow would get too close and she’d make a lunge for it. Crows would explode from all sides of the tree. The owl would relocate to another branch and the game resumed.

The owl finally found a spot where the crows couldn't get too close.

The owl finally found a spot where the crows couldn’t get too close.

The Barred owl attempts to get some shut-eye in spite of the crow racket.

The Barred owl attempts to get some shut-eye in spite of the crow racket.

During the course of this I spoke to many people who were curious about the goings on – a couple who came equipped with binoculars, people who worked in the gallery, tourists, school children going in to see a show, a nice man from Ireland. Opinions were exchanged, stories told.

The Irish gentleman had a particularly memorable corvid tale. Back in Ireland, his aunt lived in a cottage close by a rookery. The rooks were very noisy and she tried to get rid of them by smoking them out – and in so doing, burned her own house down. The ultimate in “why you shouldn’t be mean to crows” stories.

Then a woman came to join the conversation and I noticed she was wearing one of my pendants. I commented on that and it turned out that she has several of my pieces and is a poet. She told me that she loves crows. We exchanged cards. Her name is Daniela Elza and her newest collection, milk tooth bane bone, explores her fascination with crows. I have just read a wonderful review of it here. I am seeking a copy immediately!

She also has a wonderful blog called Strange Places.

So, it was a day of multiple wonders – owls, crows, rook stories and poetry. Who could ask for more!

An hour of looking up into the high, high tree branches has left me in need of a new string of physio appointments, but so worth it.

Barred owl and tree trunk

Looking down

Sit Still, I Think I Missed a Bit

Crow grooming hilarity. The recipient of the thorough going-over seems happy enough for a while. S/he seems to tire of the process part way through — but there is no way the job is going to go unfinished! I am reminded of my mother polishing my face with a hankie before I headed into elementary school. You can almost hear the junior crow muttering, “gerroff”.

Honestly, I could spend all day watching the local crows. Luckily, it’s kind of my job!

Edgar the Crow makes his daily rounds, in spite of a torrential downpour.

Edgar the Crow makes his daily rounds, in spite of a torrential downpour.

Joie De Vivre


Goal: To have as much fun as this robin at least once a day.

Joie de VivreHow do you seek out those carefree moments?
I love to head out into the back yard, or around my East Vancouver neighbourhood, camera in hand and mind open to whatever lovely thing comes along.

I’d love to hear how you find your daily moments of “joie de vivre”. Just leave a comment to let us in on your secret.

Free as a Bird!


Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Association of BC out at Burnaby Lake, the female downy woodpecker is back on home turf. A volunteer called me this afternoon and we headed over with the same box I used the transport her to the refuge two weeks ago. Then she was unable to fly, quiet and still in box as I drove to Burnaby. She’d been attacked the day before by a cat, suffering bruises and abrasions.

Today, after two weeks of care and medication from the fine folk at WRA, she was deemed fit for release. She was certainly a lot more feisty on this drive, thrashing about impatiently in her box.

Let me out of this wretched box!

Let me out of this wretched box!

The moment we took the lid off she was off. First of all she hopped about in the snowbell tree and then the corkscrew hazel, before stopping for a refreshing drink at the birdbath.

Downy at Birdbath

Then she flew over to the other side of the garden and rediscovered the suet feeder.

Getting her bearings

Getting her bearings

Now this is looking familiar!

Now this is looking familiar!



Currently she’s flying around in the garden getting reacquainted with things. No sign so far of baby and dad downy woodpeckers. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a reunion and report back.

Two weeks later: I spotted a male and female adult and a juvenile downy woodpecker in the garden. I choose to believe that this is our original family, united at last.

Vancouver’s Urban Ravens



One evening I was leaving Granville Island after a day at the market. Daydreaming as I wandered back to where I’d parked, it took me a few moments to realize that I was experiencing an audio disconnect. My ears were hearing ancient forest soundtrack, but I was actually under the mighty iron girders of the Granville Street Bridge. What was causing me to feel momentarily off-kilter was the unmistakable and haunting call of a raven — presently answered by a second. I caught a glimpse of them retreating to a high perch under the bridge.

That was a couple of years ago and since then I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of this pair. Once, one of them flew right over my shoulder. I was between her and a dumpster and it was dark, so maybe she didn’t even see me. Quite a wind from those wings!

Last weekend I was bike riding with my husband near our home in East Vancouver. This time I knew the sound I heard was a raven, but with a twist. It sounded different from a raven in the way that a baby crow sounds different from an adult crow; a plaintive quality to the cry. We peered in the direction of the sound and way, way up, on the roof of an almost finished office building we saw a pair of black silhouettes, much bigger than the usual crows. From their posture it was clear that one was a baby and the other a parent. Excitement!

It's the classic "feed me" pose.

It’s the classic “feed me” pose.

There was even more delight when we cycled back that way later and found that parent and baby had come to ground level. And I had my camera! With the long lens! I spent a happy 15 minutes photographing them. Neither baby nor parent seemed very perturbed by my presence. Perhaps they are more confident than the frantic swooping crows. Just the thought of being dive-bombed by a raven is pretty hair-raising.

Just hangin' with mom (or dad) on the dumpster.

Just hangin’ with mom (or dad) on the dumpster.

Like the baby crows, the fledgling raven has pink at the side of the mouth.

Like the baby crows, the fledgling raven has pink at the side of the mouth.

We returned to the same area a few days ago to see if we could see any sign of the raven family. It was crow migration time and the spot was right on the crow flight path. We concluded that hanging out there at such a time would mean a world of aggravation for the ravens so they had probably wisely relocated, at least for that time of the evening.

The building that was a perch for the ravens a few days earlier is a popular stopping point for crows on their evening migration to Still Creek.

The building that was a perch for the ravens a few days earlier is a popular stopping point for crows on their evening migration to Still Creek.

More urban raven watching today – this time back on Granville Island. I had dropped my daughter off at the market where she was going to be minding my table of art and jewellery for the day. I headed to Opus Framing for some supplies and noticed the ravens making repeated trips between the cement plant and the bridge. Luckily, I had my camera with me again,  so I was able to get some shots of them making their gliding trips.

A raven soars effortlessly over the Granville Island cement plant.

A raven soars effortlessly over the Granville Island cement plant.

Then (bonus) one of them landed right in front of me to pick up some food someone had dropped.

Just hanging out with the tourists and traffic.

Just hanging out with the tourists and traffic.

Raven remembers he has somewhere else to be

Raven remembers he has somewhere else to be

No getting caught in traffic for ravens!

No getting caught in traffic for ravens!

I did some research on “ravens in the city” online. I found this National Post story about the bird watching community being “abuzz” at finding nesting ravens in that city.

So I guess we should be pretty abuzz here too. A bit of bad news for crows and smaller birds that will be part of the raven food chain, but still, so very cool.

Downy Woodpecker Rehab

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI called the Wildlife Rescue refuge out at Burnaby Lake again yesterday to check in on our little downy patient. The news is still good. She’s lively, off  medication and flying around in a large enclosure. They are keeping her a while longer so she can build up her strength and agility and not be easy prey for another cat once she’s released. They did tell me that’s she’s very lucky to be doing so well. Most bird/cat encounters do not end this well for the bird!

I’m told to check back next week when it’s likely I can go and pick her up to return her back to her own neighbourhood and, hopefully, her downy family.

Downy Woodpecker Update


An update on the downy woodpecker, injured last week by a cat and taken to the Wildlife Rescue clinic at Burnaby Lake: she’s doing much better! She has abrasions and bruising and they expect her to recover. Even better, when she’s ready to release, it’s likely that I’ll be able to go get her and release her back in our neighbourhood. I’ve seen the two males in the garden over the long weekend. I’m pretty sure they’re her mate and the baby and that they’ll be happy to see her!

While doing a little downy woodpecker research on the weekend I came across these two descriptions of these lovely little birds.

Audubon, in 1842 remarked that” it is perhaps not surpassed by any of its tribe in hardiness, industry, or vivacity”.

Another 19th century ornithologist, Alexander Wilson, in 1832 said that “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity, perseverance” and describes a pair of downys woodpeckers working at their nest “with the most indefatigable diligence”.

I feel quite thrilled every time I see one of these wonderful little birds, especially right here in my East Vancouver garden, so really rooting for Mrs Downy to make a full recovery and come home.


Downy Woodpecker Drama

Downy Woodpecker mother and baby
The week started so well for the downy woodpeckers in the garden. I captured this lovely moment when the mother downy, hardly any bigger than her offspring, carefully feeds him some suet from our feeder. Baby can fly a little but hasn’t quite figured out how to gain entry to the inner sanctum of the squirrel proof “suet palace”.

Baby Downy Woodpecker at Suet Feeder

Things began to go wrong for the family yesterday morning when the mother downy woodpecker ran into the neighbour’s cat. Luckily the neighbour was nearby and rescued her from the jaws of death. Meanwhile the baby downy woodpecker seemed at a loss and was sitting immobile in our lilac tree. We decided to try and reunite them. At first it seemed as if it might be a happy ending. Mom fluttered out of the box the neighbour had put her in, and made in the direction of her baby. Unfortunately it was soon apparent that she couldn’t fly. She did, however, manage to scoot up the lilac tree and even, after a major struggle, get into the suet palace for some food. Darkness was falling and I began to consult my more bird-savvy friends on the best course of action.

Injured Mother Downy Woodpecker

The consensus was that the mother woodpecker needed to be rescued because injuries caused by cats almost always become badly infected. Unfortunately she had disappeared into the high branches of the lilac and it was quite dark. Also I worried about what would happen to the baby without his mother. I hadn’t seen any sign of the male parent all week. A wet and fretful night followed, with midnight, 2am, 5am and 7am checks on the stranded birds. As soon as it opened at 8:30am, I called the Wildlife Rescue Association in Burnaby. As I was on the phone to the lovely volunteer there, a miraculous thing happened. The male woodpecker suddenly appeared. It would not in any way be an overstatement to say that their reunion was rapturous. It reminded me of one of the clips at the beginning of the movie “Love Actually” where long separated family and loved ones reunite at Heathrow Airport. Anyway, two good things came out of this. One: there was another parent so junior would not be alone with his mother gone. Two: the female was so exhausted after the excitement of her mate’s return that she fluttered to the ground. My daughter and I had a box and sheet ready and quickly scooped her up.

Injured Downy Woodpecker in boxOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So now we wait to see if she will make it. I have a case number and will call the rescue people tomorrow to see. If she does recover we can bring her back here to hopefully reunite with her family. If not, at least she’ll have been spared a lot of suffering.

Story continued:

Downy Woodpecker Update,  Downy Woodpecker Rehab and Free as a Bird