A Christmas Miracle – with Crows!

I’m just re-posting this story from this time last year as a reminder why it’s always important to pay attention to what those crows are up to!

It’s a story with everything — lost dogs, snow, mystery, love, determination, teamwork, social media and Geordie the wonder dog.

But crows are a key part of the the story!

I had planned a quiet day of wrapping and baking.  I have had the ingredients to make stollen bread for three years now, and not a single loaf has been produced. This year looks as if it might be year four, but I really don’t care.

The story started, as it often does, with a simple morning dog walk with Geordie. We were on our usual route when I saw a dog running towards us, off-leash. Geordie was very excited and I thought for a moment that perhaps it was a coyote. Once it got closer I could see it was a domestic dog, but very scared. Geordie, who assumes all dogs are his buddy, wanted to play and the ginger-coloured dog actually did let him get close enough for a sniff, before scooting off again. She did stay with us as we walked towards home and I was hoping I could lure her into our garden so I could read the tag on her collar.

Things went awry at Slocan and William, when something spooked her and she took refuge under a parked SUV. I couldn’t get her to come out, although she did eat a couple of treats I put near her. Not having an extra leash with me, and Geordie being beside himself with excitement, I decided to rush home with him and come back with a leash.

I drove back and the dog was still there, but definitely unwilling to budge. At that point I took this photo and put it on every social media platform I could think of.

Something scared her again and she took off. I saw her at the intersection of Slocan and Charles, amid a lot of cars and I braced for a horrible thud. Luckily none came, but by the time I got to the corner, there was no sign of the dog. Because of the cars in my line of sight, I couldn’t see which direction she’d gone from there.

There were, however, several crows in a tree, cawing angrily right there on the corner. That made me think that the dog might be hiding in the bushes that border the intersection, so I had a really good look around. No sight or sound of a dog. Maybe the crows were mad about something else.

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At this point I was beginning to feel a bit dizzy because I hadn’t had breakfast yet, so I decided to drive home, have some oatmeal, and enlist Geordie in the search. Just as I was about to head out again I got a call from Desirée, who was part of a group of people who have been searching for this dog for forty long days and had got my number from all the social media sharing.

The dog’s name, it turns out, is Mika, and she had gone missing from New Westminster (a long, long way from our neighbourhood) in mid-November.

Desirée and I met up near where I last saw Mika and I could see that the crows were still cawing. This time I took Geordie up there and he seemed pretty excited about the bushes. After he sniffed at one spot for a while, I heard a very soft growl. I got down on my hands and knees, and very deep in the hedge, I spotted a flash of ginger fur.

I stepped back and called Desirée. By then  a large group of other volunteers had appeared with all kinds of dog catching equipment. Apparently they had been this close to catching her before, but she was so scared she’d managed to escape.

This time we surrounded the hedge with blankets and — best of all — her actual owner arrived. (***Update — I’m told that the person who arrived was actually her original rescuer who had flow in from Taiwan! Even more amazing.***)

It was a tense ten minutes or so, but finally her owner managed to lure her close enough to get hold of her collar and she was safe at last!

I’m still not sure who all the dedicated volunteers were, but I think that they’re involved with rescuing dogs in Taiwan, and that Mika was one such rescue.

If I never end up making stollen bread again, I really don’t care. Seeing Mika back with her happy owner was far more delicious!

But honestly, if it had not been for the crows, I’m pretty sure she would not have been found today. The hedge was extremely dense and didn’t really look like a plausible hiding spot — but those crows are never to be fooled. Combined with Geordie’s sniffing abilities, we tracked her down!

So, next time you hear the crows making a terrible din, try not to get irritated with them.

It’s never about nothing.

I’ve seen some of the most amazing things (owls, racoons, coyotes … and now long lost dogs) by listening to what they’re on about.

Extra peanuts for the crows at Charles and Slocan next time I go by there. I may even give them some of the Cheezies I got as a special festive treat for Marvin and Mavis!

Geordie, the other tracking hero, has already received chew treats and much praise.

Who’s a good boy, then?

Thanks so much to all the people who spread the story on social media, to the great team of volunteers who showed up to find her, to Geordie for his sniffing prowess and, of course, thanks to the crows — who know everything single thing that goes on in our neighbourhood.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

The Sequel

A few days after I wrote this blog post I learned a lot more about the history of Mika’s adventure and all the people who teamed up to find her.

Mika was rescued from the streets of Taiwan by Tina Huang, the founder of CERA (Canine Education and Rescue and Adoption). A team of CERA volunteers had been searching tireless for Mika since she went missing and Tina herself had flown in from Taiwan the day before she was found.

They had been searching for Mika for almost 40 days before Geordie and I and the crows entered the scene.

Another key ingredient to the rescue that day was Barbara Borchardt, who is the creator of the I Live in East Van blog. Barbara is someone who seems to know everyone in Vancouver and everything that is going on, so it was great luck that she happened to see my social media post of Mika hiding under the car. She immediately recognized Mika from the many posters the volunteers had put up, and efficiently managed to get me and Desirée (one of the Mika search team) talking on the phone within minutes of the post going up.

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Half an hour later, volunteers with dog capture equipment, Tina, the crows, me and Geordie all came together — and Mika’s scary winter adventure was finally over.

A few days later I was contacted by the CERA group and we had the great pleasure of meeting Tina and other CERA dogs and owners, plus Mika herself at a meeting in Burnaby park. Tina had treats for Geordie and it was a lovely conclusion to the epic search for Mika.

tina, geordie and June

Tina presents Geordie with treats for his part in finding Mika.

christmas miracle

 

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Wall of Sound

Crow Wall of Sound

It sounded as if Crowmaggedon was in progress  in the back alley.

 

I went out to investigate — expecting, from the sheer volume of sound, to find a full scale murder going on.

Instead, I found two crows — Marvin and Mavis.

Sometimes just Marvin, as Mavis kept making trips back to check on the nest.

It was same call they make when poor Edgar (the cat) ventures out onto our back deck. It is, I’m guessing, their “gound threat” alarm call. They seem to have a slightly higher pitched one for airborne enemies.

Edgar was sleeping innocently on the couch, so not the cause of the ruckus this time.

But I did glimpse a raccoon’s tail disappearing under the neighbour’s fence. It must have gone to sleep there, because Marvin and Mavis kept up their protest for several hours.

Raccoon with Turquoise Wall

This is a raccoon photograph taken the day after the Wall of Sound incident. I never did get a picture of the one that Marvin and Mavis were so mad at. I imagine it was snoring peacefully in the neighbour’s woodpile.

I guess one of the signs that you’ve truly become a “crazy crow lady” is when the ceaseless sound of cawing (which is, objectively, quite annoying after an hour or more)  becomes a source of fascination.

Here is Marvin making his point. It’s impressive, for a solo effort.

Note: Videos follow, so if you’re reading this in an email, you’ll need to view the blog online to see see them play. CLICK HERE

 

 

But listen how, when Mavis joins in, they cooperate to create a continuous wall of sound. Eat your heart out Phil Spector.

 

 

Mavis seems to time her calls to fill every gap in Marvin’s sequence, so that they truly do sound like a flowing river of corvid fury.

The other interesting part of the performance was the incredible number of dynamic shapes they cut against the sky.

Marvin Marching on a Line

Marvin would pace theatrically along the neighbour’s washing line — sometimes struggling to combine keeping balanced with the vocal effort. Rather like trying to sing opera while tight rope walking, I should imagine.

 

Marvin on a Line 1

Marvin on a Line 4

Marvin on a Line 5

Marvin on Washing Line Reel

If the story the crows wrote against the sky with their nest building silhouettes was one of peace and tranquility (see Crow Calligraphy) — this more recent essay would be on the subjects of fear, fury and determination.

Mind you, in the middle of all of this, there was time for a bit of curiosity and play. Something at the top of the washing line pole would occasionally distract Marvin from his ranting. Periodic moments of blissful silence would ensue, before he’d remember his sacred mission and pick up the protest.

So, fear, fury, determination … with a side order of comedy.

Marvin Playing

 

Marvin and Mavis on Wires

Mavis reminds Marvin to keep on task.

 

I enjoyed the energy of the performance so much, that I decided to use one of the pictures from that day as part of the cover for the 2019 City Crow Calendar I’m now working on.

Somehow it seems to capture a lot of all that is “crow.”

City Crow Calendar cover 2019

Hoping to have the calendar printed and for sale by August this year!

Later that day, raccoon finally decided to move on and peace was restored.

Here’s a more relaxed Marvin that evening, taking in the view from his favourite power line pole. The nest and the distant North Shore mountains all within view, no predators around for a moment — time to let go of all that raccoon stress.

Sunset Marvin

Crow Wall of Sound

 

Crowpocalypse 2015

The summer of 2015 had been a rough one for crows. Actually it’s been tough for urban wildlife of all kinds, but since I watch the crows so much, I’ve been feeling their pain especially.

Crow silhouette against the eery red sunrise caused by smoke from forest fires

Crow silhouette against the eery red sunrise caused by smoke from forest fires in areas around Vancouver.

Raising fledglings is hard work at the best of times – constant feeding, along with perpetual vigilance against the usual dangers – racoons, hawks, eagles, cars, cats etc.  Added to the usual list of challenges this summer: high winds (just when babies were emerging from the nest), heat and drought, served with a garnish of forest fire smoke.

Tired crow parents, made fierce by anxiety, are prone to dive bombing unwary human pedestrians every nesting season. It seemed to me that they were even more ferocious than usual this year.

Furious guardian

Ferocious parent gives a warning to passers by. Stay away from my fledglings. Or else …

Who could blame them?

It was too hot for me to venture out at all after noon on days when the temperatures soared this summer. Pity the poor crow parent – obliged to fly about relentlessly, heat or no heat, seeking tasty morsels food satisfy their perpetually hungry, pink-mouthed babies.

Feed me, feed me, feed me ...

Feed me, feed me, feed me …

One of Eric's fledglings waits impatiently for a snack.

One of Eric’s fledglings waits impatiently for a snack.

Eric feeds one of his two babies

Tea time!

Even worse than the heat — drought. Until the fledglings learn to fly a longer distance, I don’t know how the parents keep them hydrated.

Eric and his family (for reasons I will go into) have been avoiding my garden and the bird bath there. Worried for them, I’ve been making early morning trips to their “territory” at the end of out street with a saucer of water and a few nuts.

Almonds and a fresh saucer of water

Eric enjoys some almonds and a fresh saucer of water!

All of the crows, even Eric the Elegant, are looking terribly bedraggled this summer. They began their moult in early July. This is a normal occurrence, but usually happens at the end of the summer. I can only imagine that the scorching temperatures must have brought it forward. The ground is littered with black feathers.

Eric Moulting

Earlier this year I read the wonderful book, Corvus, by Esther Woolfson. From her writing, I learned that the moulting process makes birds rather irritable and out of sorts.

One of thousands and thousands of dropped feathers.

One of thousands and thousands of dropped feathers.

In the garden in early summer we had Hank and Vera. After weeks of diligent nest construction and guarding, they lost their eggs to a hungry racoon. They remained for a while and then moved on. Here they are during the period in July when Vancouver’s air quality was affected by forest fires in surrounding areas – looking rather sepia in the smokey atmosphere.

Sepia Vera

Sepia Vera

Sepia Hank

Sepia Hank

When Hank and Vera left, I thought Eric and his family would return to the garden. Instead, I found that they would come to my front gate,  looking for handouts, but would never, ever venture into the back garden. Eric’s fledglings even adopted a “silent” begging mode, going through all of the usual baby crow pleading motions, but without sound. Its almost as if they didn’t want to attract the attention of other crows.

Eric in sepia

Eric in on the front fence (in sepia)

Meanwhile, Hank and Vera had been replaced in the back garden by another crow family – two devoted parents with a very homely looking fledgling. The baby crow had various lumps under his beak, and eventually on his feet too. Luckily, a sharp eyed visitor to my Facebook page, where I’d posted a photo of the new baby, pointed out that it could be a case of avian pox.

Sick baby crow

I checked the symptoms with the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue Association BC and they confirmed that this was likely the case. Avian pox is highly contagious among many bird species, harmless to humans.

I always keep my birdbath and feeders clean, but on hearing this news I’ve started cleaning the birdbath in particular with bleach twice a day. I don’t normally like using bleach, but apparently only a 10% solution of bleach to water is effective against the virus. You can read more about this illness in Corvid Research’s wonderful blog, here.

My theory is that Eric and his family know that there is a sick crow around, and that is why they haven’t returned to their old stomping grounds. I am heartened to think that this is yet another example of crow intelligence.

Clara

Eric’s mate, Clara.

Eric and his mate, Clara, started out with four fledglings. It’s to their credit that they have, so far, managed to nurse two of them through a very rough summer.

Eric baby

One of Eric’s two youngsters – already looking like a chip off the old block, and wonderfully healthy, thank goodness.

If you like crows in general and Eric in particular, you can follow my Facebook page for regular updates. Also, stay tuned to my website for news of a 2016 City Crow calendar, featuring the adventures of Eric and his family.

logo with crow

Look out – Crow!

Dive bombing crows are in the news again.
A scary experience for pedestrians, but it may help to know why they do it.

Incoming

Imagine this. You and your sleep-deprived spouse have just had triplets. A few days after they’re born they have the mobility capacity of toddlers — combined with the burning desire to see the world and the “I-can-do-it” attitude of teenagers!

They’ve got the keys to the car but have had no driving lessons.

They don’t know anything about “stranger danger”.

Is this food?

Is this food?

At the same time, they’re loudly demanding food and attention every moment of the day.

You’d be kind of wild-eyed too. You’d be prone to acts of desperate bravado to keep danger away, just until the kids get the hang of the flying business and the basics of urban survival.

 

Please may I have some more …?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If you know there are worry-crazed parent crows in your neighbourhood, I hope you’ll try to forgive their seemingly aggressive behaviour. It will pass soon, once the kids are just a little older.

In the meantime, give them a wide berth — or use an umbrella for protection. Maybe soothe their frazzled nerves and offer a bribe by dropping a few peanuts.
Try to put yourself in their shoes/claws for a minute.

Crow Family Moment

www.junehunter.com

logo with crow

Just Another Day

It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).

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Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.

Dawn bird

Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.

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I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.

Downy Woodpecker male

I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.

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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.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

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.

Hawk on High

A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.

 

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.

Consternation in the ‘Hood

Crow Protest Group

Yowza!! Major excitement in the neighbourhood this morning. The crows are pretty noisy at this time of year anyway. They’ve mostly given up dive-bombing pedestrians in our neighbourhood now that the babies are out of the nest. The young ones are pretty mobile and not so much in need of ferocious parental protection now. Still, there’s a lot of raucous crow conversation every morning as the babies cry out incessantly for food and the parents caw out safety advice. “Oy, Junior, that’s called a road. Not a good place to hang out. Those big metal things – cars – they hurt!”

This morning it was different though. There was frantic cawing coming from every direction in the neighbourhood. Crow delegations were dispatched from all of the local families and converged on wires one street over from us.  Cacophony! I had to investigate! The cause: not one, but TWO ravens, sitting on a roof on our street. Just as I arrived the ravens casually departed and the protest rally quickly dispersed.

One of two ravens visiting our street today.

One of two ravens visiting our street today.

Dive Bombed by Crows!

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If you have recently been terrorized by seemingly deranged crows — it’s likely because the crows ARE slightly unhinged. Like all new parents they are consumed by the fear that something is going to happen to their newborns. In the case of crows, the danger to their offspring is very real. Strolling along the boulevard, you may not see yourself as a threat to junior — but the hyper-vigilant parents can’t really tell you apart from real danger (cats, off leash dogs, eagles, racoons, cars etc). So please try to have some sympathy for their soaring stress level, and don’t feel too victimized. It’s not personal! Plus, dive-bombing season should be coming to an end soon as the babies become less vulnerable.

Here’s a guide I created to help you spot baby crows. They’re surprisingly adorable once you start noticing them. Don’t get too close though — remember those protective parents!

Guide to Baby Crows