Sometimes, when everything is all just too much, it’s good to put your feet up and lose yourself in the flickering warmth of the TV yule log.
Should the hypnotically dancing flames start to lose their allure, I have a modest alternative for your viewing pleasure — soothing moments from nature on my YouTube Channel.
I’ve had a YouTube channel for ages (how passé, I know, TikTok etc) and still don’t really know how it works, but I’ve recently added a bunch of videos just so it’s a single stop easy destination for those who want to zone out for a bit with some of my collection of nature videos.
On offer we have a range of programming — including the ever-soothing ravens goofing around in the snow.
Suggested beverage to watch with this series — a nice steaming mug of hot chocolate. Don’t stint on the marshmallows.
For something a little more meditative, we have the “Gazing Bowl In Quiet Rain.” Best enjoyed with a mint tea.
If you need a burst of energy, try “Northern Flickers Having a Lively Conversation,” accompanied with a strong espresso.
You’ll find a ton of other things to keep you entertained on there, from a crow making barking and miaowing sounds, to a raven listening to their own echo. I’ve started to put some things into Playlists to make things easier to find, but ran out of time for now, so you may just have to wander around when you feel the need to escape. Just click on the second tab at the top of the YouTube page where it says Videos, and they will all appear for your distraction needs.
I’m not a videographer, but sometimes when I’m out taking photos I come across something that really needs video to convey the amazement. At those moments I switch the cameral to movie mode and do my best. I never have a tripod and I usually have at least one dog on a leash, so the quality is never going to be professional. Apologies in advance for the dodgy sound and random wobbles and lurches to left or right.
Some possible causes of technical difficulties …
Of course, the best thing to do when you feel you feel the need for nature is to head outside yourself. Whether it’s a hike in the woods, a scramble up a mountain or just a quick foray out of doors to say hi to the local crows, actual nature and real fresh air is always preferable — but circumstances can often conspire against such ventures. In these dire situations a few minutes spent with a crow parent and baby video might do the trick.
If you’d like to subscribe to my channel you’ll get notices when I post new videos.
Wishing you and yours a happy and peaceful holiday season with lots of birds and fresh air and laughs.
Marvin and Mavis are the models for some of my most popular images. Judgemental Crows, for example; that’s Marvin and Mavis . . . and I see them staring at me with that stern look every single day.
Their critical gazes always seem to imply that I’ve mucked up the service again.
Did I inadvertently press the “torrential rain” button again?
Have I gone and leaned on the “unbearable heat” lever in the climate control room?
And really, to be honest, they’ve had a few valid complaints over the last year and a bit.
How Come No-One Told Us How Exhausting Kids Are?
I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were even more thrilled than I that they were finally able to raise two beautiful fledglings this year after many years of disaster and disappointment. But of course, like all parents, they had their moments of asking “did I really sign up for this?” and it WAS a particularly challenging summer to be raising young of any species, with the Heat Dome and weeks of hot and unrelentingly dry weather on top of all the usual parent stuff.
Marvin and Mavis sneaking away to the stadium fence for a few minutes of peace.
They were busy for weeks, keeping the babies fed and alive while they learned the essential crow life skills of getting their own food, flying without crashing into stuff, not playing on the road, and avoiding getting eaten.
Mavis and one of the cute kids
Here’s one of the babies, after much encouragement from mom and dad, gingerly grabbing their own snacks from the back deck for the first time.
Once the kids finally got the knack of acquiring their own grub they became a lot more independent and free ranging. By late August they were off doing their own thing much of time and hanging out with the other neighbourhood teens.
At least they didn’t ask to borrow the car.
What Have You Done With All The Trees?
Another hot button topic for the past couple of years has been “who keeps taking all the darn trees?”
Since mid-2019 their little half block area has lost 24 big trees, leaving a big hole in their habitat, and that of all the local wildlife.
Raccoon peacefully sleeping in the old poplars
Twenty-one huge poplars were removed in summer 2019 to make way for the Notre Dame High School football stadium and were supposed to be replaced last spring. Trees WERE planted in April but most were dying even before the Heat Dome, and now they are a row of crispy sticks.
On behalf of the wildlife (and people) who are left without shade and beauty, I’ve been writing to the school and the City to see when replacement trees might be expected. We don’t have an answer on that as there’s a fundamental design flaw with the landscaping and retaining wall that needs to be resolved first.
I tell Marvin and Mavis this and they look less than impressed.
Marvin poses with one of the many dead trees at Notre Dame.
In addition to the lost poplars, three big street trees have been removed or fallen in this one half block over the last few months, making the loss of habitat and shade even more noticeable.
The plum tree shown below, further down the block, lost a limb recently and looks likely to be joining the list of the fallen any day now.
I’ve been writing more letters and reaching out to City staff and officials on the topic of street trees, as well as the privately-owned Notre Dame trees — asking to have lost trees on this block, and in the surrounding area, replaced as soon as possible.
I’m also trying to encourage the City to plant trees on the currently barren boulevard beside the school’s stadium. I hope that, once the school trees are finally replanted and thriving, a double row of trees would create a slightly pocket park-like area for our park impoverished neighbourhood, as well as providing nest sites and protection for the local wildlife.
Potential pocket park …
These proposals are crow-approved.
Who’s In Charge of Neighbourhood Watch?
Marvin and Mavis would like it known that that the ancient territorial rules, whereby each crow family keeps to its own half block, are not being taken seriously by certain crows this year.
Our fearless couple are spending a lot of time in full fierce ‘n’ fluffy mode, resolutely guarding their slice of paradise from crow rivals.
Regular flouters of boundaries include my old friend Mabel, who often makes cheeky incursions from the West. That’s almost expected as our backyard used to “belong” to George and Mabel, back in the day.
Below: Marvin deploys the “eyes in the back of the head” technique before eating his morning peanuts.
Mavis, eyes on the sky for interlopers.
I’m pretty sure some of the other crows they caw angrily at are actually the kids, trying to come home to do the corvid version of peering into the family fridge — as recently moved out young adults are wont to do.
One of today’s visitors, who definitely has the look of a returning family member.
All in all, I could sum up Marvin and Mavis’s current mood as “disgruntled.”
But who can blame them really? It’s been a tough, tough year for all of us.
This summer I gave a couple of webinars on the topic of Crow Therapy and it’s something I think about almost every day as I try to understand why, after 15 years or so, I never tire of watching and taking photos of my local crows. Somehow I feel that the crows are a key to unlocking a big mystery and I’m still working on what it is. But here’s what I’ve got so far, starting with what I don’t think it is.
Every time I write the phrase Crow Therapy I worry that it sounds just a little exploitative — as if crows, like the rest of nature, are just there for our entertainment.As if it’s something that could be packaged in a fancy jar and marketed to a stressed consumer. *
I hope it’s a more reciprocal arrangement — one in which crows can regularly jolt me out of my default setting of seeing the human race as the centre of the universe.
A little daily crow therapy reminds me that other lives— every bit as ordinary and epic as mine — are being lived alongside mine. This realization brings greatjoy, but also a weight of responsibility and I feel a constant obligation to communicate both.
Joy, I feel, is something that we’re going to need more of in the coming years — and it needs to be a different joy than the kind with which we’ve soothed ourselves up to now. We need a more sustainable source of joy — less of the kind acquired via tropical holidays and the general accumulation of material things. I’ve convinced myself at different times in my life that I’m just one Tupperware container, one pair of pants, or that fabulous kitchen appliance away from my whole life falling into place, so I’m as much in need of convincing on this front as anyone else.**
For the last few days my Twitter feed has been a rushing river of terrifying news from my own province of BC — roads and rail lines washed away, entire towns flooded, homes and lives lost in a moment. In the midst of this harrowing torrent, an ad for Lincoln cars bobs up regularly like a jolly life buoy. The ad assures me that driving a Lincoln will provide great relaxation in the face of life’s little frustrations — things liking having odd socks disappear in the laundry and (in a final touch of unintentional irony) having my umbrella blown inside out by the wind in a storm.
I am 100% sure that a new Lincoln is NOT the answer to life’s daily trials,and definitely not the way to relieve the sadness of seeing life inevitably altered by climate change and coming to terms with the difficult changes that will be needed.
But I do know that spending half an hour watching crows will help.
Or watching rain drip onto a patch of moss. Or listening to the Northern Flickers chattering.
This is a sustainable joy, free, readily available to anyone, and consuming no natural resources … and it’s the kind of joy I’m trying to rely on more and more.
I do realize that I spend so much time exploring the meandering rabbit hole of my Crow Therapy theory, that I often fail to get around to posting anything about actual crows any more. I have a musing problem, I know …
Consequently I have a huge backlog of crow news and photos, so I will try to remedy this, starting tomorrow with a Marvin and Mavis update.
I guess the one thing that I was trying to say in this post was that I mean the idea of crow therapy (and my images) to be, not just a respite from general and/or climate stress, but also an inspiration and a focus for taking action to make things better — for ourselves, for crows, for nature as a whole.
*& ** I say these things, even as I hope you’ll purchase my images, calendars, bags etc, to enable me to continue thinking about, writing about and photographing crows, so I am aware of contradictions and I am far from having all the answers.
The gazing bowl has become an autumn tradition now.
During the summer it’s the dog’s outdoor water bowl and gets refilled every day. It’s a nice bowl, but of little interest to anyone but Geordie — until the leaves begin to float down from the trees.
Once that time arrives, I allow it to fulfil its true destiny.
One day a utilitarian dog bowl; the next, a kaleidoscope of wonders.
Starting in late October (the dog is usually doing most of his drinking in the house by this time) I stop changing the water and just let the leaves and seeds fall and gather in the bowl. Some float. Some sink. The colours and composition change hourly depending on the weather, the light, and which leaves have most recently fallen.
I make visits to the gazing bowl many times a day — returning from dog walks, putting out the compost, walking back and forth from the studio. When I need something calming (more and more these days, it seems) I go outside just to lose myself in it for a few minutes.
It’s especially mesmerizing in the rain …
And, while I’m there, I always like to try my hand at “reading the leaves” — just in case I’ve managed to develop psychic abilities since last year. So far, no luck.
In fact, I generally come away with questions after letting my mind wander with the leaves and the reflections.
I wonder how soon it will be before we live in Meta world, with meta gazing bowls and meta outdoors, and real nature a privilege only for the very wealthy. I wonder if I should delete my Facebook account.
Will the COP26 Glasgow meeting make enough of a difference? I wonder if there are enough politicians brave enough to do what needs to be done.
I wonder if the trees that were meant to replace the Notre Dame poplars will ever be planted. I miss their little heart shaped leaves in the gazing bowl.
I wonder if the fritillaria meleagris bulbs I’ve just planted will bear flowers next spring. I’ve lost count of how many of these bulbs I’ve planted in the garden over the last 30 years, with very sparse results. But hope springs eternal and I like to imagine them biding their time in the soil, under their blanket of leaves, gathering strength for a spectacular showing next spring.
I’m not sure what Geordie wonders while I’m doing my gazing.
Will she or won’t she throw a tennis ball for me?
Are all humans this odd, or just mine?
Is it nearly dinner time?
Sometimes a snippet heard on the radio gets stuck in my head.
That small phrase seemed to sum everything up quite nicely, thank you very much.
Almost like a little poem.
The words came, oddly, from a supply chain expert during a CBC interview about the current unpredictability in the worldwide movement of goods. It was an interesting piece, also notable for the expert pointing out that we, the consumers, have become somewhat “diabolical” in our expectations for instant wish fulfilment.
I actually laughed when he said “a lot of vagaries can introduce themselves,” just. because it elicited the mental response, “No kidding!” I’m sure he chose those words quite carefully, seeming like a very thoughtful person. No reason why a supply chain management expert can’t also have the soul of a poet.
The phrase, rolling around like a stray ball bearing in my brain, has had me thinking in various ways about the different types of uncertainty we’ve all been living with for so long.
And how tiring that can be.
And where we can look for a little relief.
In these very vagrant times, I find some comfort in the predicability of pattern.
My daily walks around my own small neighbourhood are a pattern in themselves, repeated over the last thirty years with babies in strollers, toddlers, older kids going to school, and a succession of dogs.
And on those walks I now see the pattern of autumn unfurling like a roll of new wallpaper for the world.
The leaves are turning, berries and nuts are ripening.
Birds are returning from the north — just passing through, or settling in (like the rest of us) for a wet Vancouver winter. Just as they do every year.
One of the first returning goldfinches
Crows are doing what crows do in fall — being rowdy.
They’re always noisy, of course, but now is the time for that autumn-specific celebratory type of crow riotousness.
They gather in big groups — not just for the nightly roost, or a funeral, or in order to chase away a bird of prey — but simply to shout the odds amongst themselves. Parent crows are giddy with freedom from fledgling responsibilities, and those fledglings are now teenagers — anxious to get out into the world and find/cause trouble.
Sometimes the chaos IS the pattern.
Framing that thought in nature is comforting — although much less so when it comes to human affairs. That’s why it’s probably time for me to pick up my knitting needles and re-engross myself in that half-finished Fair Isle beret sitting in a tangle since early summer.
Just stick to the pattern and all will work out in the end, I tell myself.
Of course, I may drop a stitch or two, but at least now I’ve been reminded about those sneaky little vagaries. Maybe I’ll listen to the radio as I knit and see what I hear next …
Mavis at her customary watch on the roof — another comforting sight.
This a re-post of my original blog, first written in 2014.
I was reminded of it by the appearance of one of my images in the newly publishedBook of the Raven next to the chapter about Charles Dickens’ raven, Grip, who is said to have inspired Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven.
And to the original post, with the addition of some newer raven images …
I have concluded that Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, is nothing more than an unfortunate inter-species misunderstanding. Let me explain …
I was thinking of calling this new crow portrait “Nevermore”. Before making my final decision, I decided to reread the famous poem that has forever linked ravens with the word “nevermore”.
The last time I read it was in the 1970s when I was studying literature at university. Steeped as I was in the poetry and prose of the English Romantic poets, I rapturously devoured The Raven, reading it as the dramatic story of a heartbroken young man, mourning the loss of his true love, receiving a dire prophecy of everlasting gloom from his nocturnal avian visitor, a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore”.
Read in that light, I’d be reluctant to link “my” handsome fellow to such a bleak and rather morbid portrait of raven-kind. But then it came to me — the whole episode described in the poem is simply a terrible misunderstanding!
The raven isn’t saying “Nevermore” at all. He’s showing the typical corvid aptitude for mimicry and repeating what he’s heard the heartsick human calling out into the darkness – the name of his lost love, Lenore. (It’s sometimes a little tricky to interpret the raven accent.) Perhaps he’s even trying to cheer up our lachrymose hero.
So really, instead of calling upon the raven to “get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore,” he should have gone out for a nice brisk night-time walk with the friendly raven for company, and possibly felt quite refreshed by morning.
So, with this cheerier interpretation in mind, I think I’ll go ahead and call my image, Nevermore. The image is for sale as a fine art photographic print in my online store.
With apologies to serious Edgar Allen Poe fans everywhere.
But, if you would like to re-read the poem and decide if you see any truth in my interpretation, here is the poem:
by Edgar Allen Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today. Nothing too serious — just a sudden tweak to the back sustained, somewhat ironically, while tying the laces on my exercise shoes.
As I’m currently housebound, it’s time to access the memory vault of recent raven encounters.
Corvid-like, I cache these recollections like an emergency rainy day fund, or a jar of home-canned apricot jam set aside for a hopelessly dark and wet morning some time in January.
In peering into the raven pantry I hope to cheer myself (and you too, if you need it) with a reminder of all the raven beauty out there. The fact that it’s certainly going on right now, even if no human is watching, is always a source of comfort to me.
Here are some highlights from three recent trips to the back country.
Raven Reminiscence 1 — Dog Mountain
Near the end of August, with the diminishing of heat and crowds, and the completion (more or less) of major home renovations, we ventured out for the first hike of the summer. The short trip up to Dog Mountain was made tricky by the latticework of wet and slippery roots everywhere. The view at the top was just becoming veiled in cloud with nary a raven in sight.
A group of walkers had wandered off, leaving their lunches and backpacks unattended at the viewpoint. Rooky mistake — and yet the bags were left unmolested, leading me to believe there couldn’t possibly be any ravens on the mountain that day.
Still, it was lovely to be up there and I was resigning myself to a raven-free expedition (it happens) when, out of the blowing mist …
And where there is one raven, there is usually a mate
Summer’s End Raven
Raven Reminiscence 2 — Lillooet Lake
Right at the end of August we visited friends who live on Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton. So much space, and the distant sounds of ravens.
On one particular early morning walk along the lake shore we heard some raven calls I’d never experienced before.
A solo raven sat in tree by the lake making a few general “Here I am. Where are you?” calls to his mate, along with some gentle “water dripping from a bamboo pipe” sounds. There were small birds skimming across the surface of the lake too and we noticed that the raven began to turn his considerable vocal talents to mimicking their cheeping calls.
Moments later some distant dog barking inspired this next bit of impersonation …
Next, we see the raven couple enjoying a quiet moment in their enviable back yard. Raven real estate listings would include “Miles of lake, hundreds of kilometres of forest, towering cliffs for soaring, few people, birds of all kinds to imitate …”
Raven pair at Lillooet Lake
Raven Reminiscence 3 — Black Mountain
The third, and most recent, experience actually involved some amateur raven conjuring.
We’d hiked up to the Black Mountain area of Cypress Bowl. It was a beautify morning with not another human to be seen. The view was breath taking, the weather was perfect.
Geordie in his happy place …
Taking it all in, I said “This is so perfect. Only one thing could make it better . . . ”
I don’t need to tell you who landed with a dignified “quork” before I finished the sentence.
Only one single feather out of place, in spite of a light breeze.
Raven obligingly posing in front of the landmark Two Sisters peaks — also known as The Lions.
We walked around the whole area for a couple of hours and every once in a while we’d see our wish-summoned ravens in the distance. As usual, there was a pair of them.
The most surprising raven thing of the summer happened when we took a last break at Cabin Lake before hiking back from Black Mountain to the parking lot.
Our raven showed up once again. Popped up, in fact …
There was a bit of a raven promenade along the boardwalk …
One of them confidently took up a post on top of a park sign.
That still wasn’t the amazing thing.
Nor was it the fact that the raven stayed there, quite unperturbed, as several hikers walked along the boardwalk inches away from him.
No, the amazing thing was that the humans didn’t seem to even notice him!!
How can anyone walk right by such a commanding bird, so close and at eye level, and not even cast a glance their way — or at least offer a respectful greeting???
My mind was a bit boggled, but then again, perhaps those people were obsessed by lichen, wholly consumed by cloud formations, or just fitness-fixated and on to the next peak.
We all have our foibles, I guess.
But I would always, always advise taking a moment to greet a raven.
Sometimes they’ll even greet you back!
And, speaking of backs, time to go get the heat pad on mine after this little delve into the repository of raven recollection. If I start feeling really low I may have to revert to watching my “ravens playing in snow” videos on repeat.
I have been so slow at writing new blog posts — not because of a lack of things to write about, but Too Many Things!!!
I have a backlog of news about teenager crows and molting crows, ravens, some books I love and pressing local tree issues. But I’m putting all of those on the back burner for today to write about today’s big (well, tiny, actually) happening.
We decided to squeeze in a short walk on Cypress Mountain today. I had numerous errands to do before we left, so it was a lot later than we usually like to hit the trail. A perfect, crisp, sunny day in the last week of summer holidays and it was, predictably, kind of busy, but we were happy just to make a quick jaunt up to Bowen Lookout.
The lookout was pretty crowded and I was just talking to some fellow visitors about the Whisky Jacks when I noticed, only a few feet from our heads, an impossibly small owl. I’ve seen Northern Pygmy Owls a couple of times before, from a distance, and they are SMALL. But this bird was about half the size of an adult Pygmy Owl — a little fluffier, a lot fiercer, but not much bigger than the juncoes that were hopping and clicking around.
So tiny, she would fit into the palm of a hand — but judging by that expression, not something to be contemplated.
The lookout was busy with juncos, Steller’s Jays and Whiskey Jacks — all anxious for bits of trail mix or crumbs provided by the many human visitors.
Like their crow cousins in the city, the jays were all well into moulting madness season.
The distant raven looked pretty sleek, however.
But back to the breathtakingly small raptor. She was not content just to sit around being cute and fluffy.
Oh no, she was there on a mission.
She’d swivel her neck in an impossibly wide scanning arc (owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees without doing themselves any damage) and bob her head up and down, triangulating the exact position of her chosen target.
Her quarry did not seem to include the juncoes that would have been more realistic prey — she had her enormous eyes on bigger prizes — the Steller’s jays and Whiskey Jacks that were twice to three times the size of her.
She’d watch, swivel, triangulate and dive, over and over, at the relatively enormous birds. She didn’t have any success that we saw and the jays didn’t seem too worried about her presence. I wondered if her parents had left her there for the day just to practice her technique.
Day camp for baby owls.
I was so excited to see her so close that I neglected to take any wider shots to show just how tiny (did I mention how SMALL she was?) compared to the other birds. Ah well. But in the video below a Whiskey Jack lands beside her by accident and they scare each other. You can see in the blur of action at the end now big the jay is in comparison to the owl.
So, sometimes you set out on a trip, late and with modest expectations, and the universe surprises you with a fierce and wonderful baby owl.
Marvin and Mavis have had more than their share of nesting tragedy over the years. They’ve lost hatchlings to bald eagles, raccoons and cars. One particularly sad year, their only fledgling left the nest too soon and didn’t survive the landing. Marvin and Mavis seemed to have the hardest time accepting that particular loss, sitting and peering into the nest for days after, as if hoping the baby would magically reappear.
For a while it looked as if this year was heading down the same sorrowful path.
Things started happily enough, with a fledgling sighting in front of our house on the evening of July 18. I took a couple of photos of the new baby hopping in the flower bed and left the protective parents to it.
But when took a last peek out of the front door to see if they were OK before going to bed, I was just in time to see the fledgling flapping about across the street and crashing into a neighbour’s garden gate. Marvin and Mavis were beside themselves. With sinking heart, I went over to to see what had happened. The little bird was lying motionless and looking quite dead, just inside the gate. The neighbour came out onto her balcony and we discussed the situation, deciding to leave the body till morning — especially given that the parents were clearly distraught.
It was such a sad end to the day, and a seemingly very short life story for this little bird.
I was up first thing next morning, prepared for the worst — but there was no trace of the baby crow — not a single feather, nor any other evidence that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. Absolutely no sign of Marvin and Mavis. Later in the day I checked in with the neighbour and she told me she’d gone out after dark the evening before and there was no sign of any crows by then, living or dead.
All was very quiet for a day or two , but then one morning I woke up to the softest crow conversation I’d ever heard going on in a tree near the house. Little mewing sounds and soft quacks were being answered by very soft, almost raven-complex, murmurings from M & M. I honestly have rarely heard anything so lovely.
I peered up between the leaves, and there was this little face.
I’d been clinging to the very faint hope that the fledgling had just been stunned and given time to come round, had been whisked away by Marvin and Mavis. That just seemed too much to wish for, and yet . . .
In the next day or so, it almost seemed as if I heard an echo of the baby’s calls. A second fledgling really seemed far too much to hope for and I never could see more than one at once, given the jigsaw of leaves the family was hiding in.
But then, a day or so later, on the neighbour’s roof, incontrovertible proof . . . a pair!
It’s been so very hot and dry, I’ve been constantly providing fresh water for drinking and bathing. Also popping out every hour or so to see if I can still see or hear both of them has become the routine of the summer.
“Still two” is my relieved report after each outing.
Different baby crow personalities emerged almost from the beginning.
One of them seemed to need a lot more attention in the early days.
In the video below, mom and dad are both engaged in soft preening to try and sooth those sad little calls.
Meanwhile, the other fledgling seemed more of an explorer, enthusiastically collecting data on that essential “is this food or just fun?” research project while Marvin and Mavis were otherwise engaged.
As the days go by, both of the babies, even the initially needy one, are starting to get more independent.
You can see that the wings aren’t fully developed yet which, along with inexperience, is why the fledglings are not yet super proficient at flying.
Looking around at the big new world
Sometimes Marvin and Mavis even get a few moments to themselves now, while the siblings entertain themselves nearly — although one here seems more interested in napping than playing.
Sometimes the kids go off on their own down the street …
. . . while mom and dad ask themselves that question common to all new and exhausted parents, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”
Apologies in advance for the rather emotional blog post to follow.
I had planned a rather more joyful one about all the local crow babies, including two belonging to Marvin and Mavis. I have hundreds of photos, and posts will be coming soon, but this morning I am upset.
Every morning, when I’m out walking the dog in the early hours, I see cats in the neighbourhood. Many of them are clearly in hunting mode.
Early today I watched in horror as a cat about half a block ahead of us clawed excitedly at a baby bird on the sidewalk as the fledgling fought to get away. Although I am not one of nature’s runners, I pelted, with Geordie, towards the cat, yelling like a maniac. The cat kept right on toying with the bird until we were a foot away, when it backed off a very short distance. The bird (a juvenile starling, I think) hobbled off into a nearby grapevine. The cat stayed close, waiting for us to leave so he could finish his mission. I stayed there and called Phillip to come from home with a box and towel. The bird clearly had a broken wing, so I tried to capture him for delivery to Wildlife Rescue, but failed, and the bird flapped off into a dense brush area. I spent a long time looking for him, but eventually had to give up, feeling by now that I’d made the poor bird’s fate even worse than if I’d just let the cat get it in the first place. I’m feeling very sad and guilty about that.
But I also feel angry.
It’s upsetting when an eagle gets a baby crow, or a crow snatches a baby robin, but I know they’re just doing it to feed themselves and their family. A cat killing a bird is not a legitimate part of this circle of life and death. A cat will not cleanly kill a bird to eat it — it will maximize the entertainment by playing with it first. The cat is not hungry. It’s a pet, fed and pampered at home and is out killing wildlife recreationally.
I know this sounds hard, but it’s the truth.
I love cats. Cats are wonderful, and anyone who knows me knows I adore our cat, Edgar.
Many cat owners contend that their particular pet is too gentle, too lazy, or too old to be a hunter of birds. You may tell yourself that, but I present our aforementioned genteel Edgar as proof to the contrary. Although he’s an indoor cat, Edgar is allowed onto our back deck, under supervision, where he usually lays in the sun, keeping out of trouble except for the occasional verbal exchange with the crows.
One day, however, he accidentally got left out there for a couple of hours by himself and by the time we figured out where he was, I found him sitting, looking pleased with himself, beside a beautiful, but very dead, juvenile yellow warbler. Clearly the baby bird had landed near him on the deck and nature just kicked in. Not Edgar’s fault. Mine for leaving him out there and allowing it to happen.
Thirty years ago we had another cat; Elvis. At that point, we hadn’t realized the perils for both cat and wildlife, and allowed him to be an outdoor cat. Some vivid memories of Elvis: the time he brought a live pigeon into the house when I was home alone with a newborn and a two year old; the time he got sliced open by a raccoon and cost us several mortgage payments to have him sewn up again; the sad day we found him dead in a neighbour’s garden, having drunk anti-freeze that someone allowed to drain into the gutter.
Elvis lived outdoors, and to my regret, probably killed hundreds of birds, as well as suffering through, and finally dying from, his neighbourhood adventures. I will never have an outdoor cat again.