The Young & The Restless

In the many years I’ve been photographing and following crows I had never actually had one make physical contact — until this week.

It was predictable in two ways.

It’s THAT Time of Year.

I never get close to being dive bombed in nesting season, which you’d think would be the riskiest season of all.
Nope, it’s early fall, when the local crows are giddy with new freedom, that seems to be the most perilous time for me. The adult crows are free of parental responsibility and the young crows are (literally) spreading their wings and testing the limits of what they can get away with.

These crows, the young and the restless, are unbound by the conventions of who’s territory is whose and general good manners.

This is an annual phenomenon and I’ve written about it a few times. (See Corvid Flash Mobs  and Autumnal Adjustments.)

My tactics at this time of year include suspending Peanut Diplomacy until the rowdy phase passes. Sometimes I even change my walking route if things are getting too disorderly.

This year’s bonus challenge is …

Dennis the Menace*

Meet Dennis: he is a 2021 fledgling of Pearl and Echo’s. He (or she) has stayed with mom and dad since then. There were no new fledgling this year, so Dennis is a pampered only child.

Crow Without A Pearl Earring — portrait of Pearl

Above is Pearl, so named because she often reminds me (in a corvid way) of Vermeer’s portrait, Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Pearl and Echo
Echo and Dennis last year

I wrote about Pearl and her family in my book, City Crow Stories.

Point Guard Point Guard portrait of Dennis from last summer

Anyway, Dennis the Menace (or possibly Denise the Menice) has always been a little bit cheeky, following me to the end of his family’s territory and often swooping very close — enough for the occasional rush of wind from a wing against my face. While last year he was kind of scrawny and generally stayed close to his parents, this year he seems to be full of boundless confidence.

Perhaps a little too much confidence …

He keeps a close eye on me as I walk by.

Dennis … and a few of his closest friends (none of them being his parents) following me beyond the normal Pearl family territorial boundaries …

I’m used to Dennis swooping after me, wondering where his peanuts are, and I usually turn around in time so that he’ll swerve off to left or right.

Crows, according to crow scientist John Marzluff, won’t fly at you from the front and he recommends affixing fake eyes to the back of your hat if necessary.

A couple of days ago Dennis actually managed to make contact. I think it was the touch of a claw on the back of my head. Very light and no damage done, but it just shows what a determined little character this particular crow is. No meanness on his part, just a spot of over-enthusiasm.

What worried me much more than Dennis was a time when another clever crow, realizing that swooping close to me didn’t faze me, started to try and find my Achilles heel by flying at Geordie from behind. Geordie (my dog) has always been extremely relaxed around crows, but it would only take one crow landing on his back to change all that — forever!!! Luckily he never noticed how close the crow got as I managed to turn around in time to ward off actual contact and we changed walking route for a couple of weeks, just in case.

Back to Dennis. We had a good talk last time I saw him and he hasn’t managed to catch me out over the last few days.  I also turn around a lot when I’m in his neighbourhood.

I was recently thinking of taking up my needle felting again to make some new birds, but now I’m wondering if I should first felt myself a couple of large “eyes” for the back of my head!

Dennis The Menace

 

* when I gave the name Dennis the Menace, I’m thinking (and giving away my age in saying so) about the comic strip, Dennis and Gnasher, from the UK children’s comic, the Beano  — very popular in the 50’s.

 

 

City Crow Stories — available on my web site

 

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Crow Fest 22 — Part 2

Once the nutty attractions of the Hazelnut Happening are exhausted the crows still just wanna have fun — and seem to know it’s now time for the …

Dogwood Disco

A temporary evening scene of colour and sound, the Dogwood Disco is a kaleidoscope of rosy berries, golden leaves, flapping black wings and excited crow calls.

The whole thing lasts for under half an hour between the arrival of the party guests and their departure for the roost just before sunset. They leave behind a bit of a red carpet situation on the sidewalk …

Dogwood trees run for several blocks along Charles Street and, for some reason, the crows seem to start at the west end and, each evening, move a little to the east. They leave quite a lot of berries uneaten. Some sort of mysterious crow etiquette … ?

Perhaps they’re leaving some of the berries for the humans. Apparently they are edible, though from what I’ve read, it would take quite a lot of work to make something palatable from them. These are Kousa dogwoods, and apparently the pulp of the berries tastes a little like persimmon, but to get to that, you first have to deal with a bitter skin and a lot of hard seeds within the fruit. If you’re interested in doing a little urban foraging, I found this helpful blog post with some tips from T. Abe Lloyd. He aptly describes the berry as “a pink soccer ball on a stick.”

You could also view them as teeny, crow-sized disco balls!

And here’s what the blooms look like in early summer when the street is a river of white …

But back to the crows …

They are clearly undeterred by any finicky concerns about bitter skin or seeds as they dig in for their evening snack, which seems to be as much competition as fine dining.

 

The leaves are still so thick on the branches, it often looks as if the crows are swimming along the surface to get to their prize.

Almost there …. I can already taste it!

Sometimes the berries are consumed in the tree, while others prefer a more stable surface for consumption.

Unless there’s too much competition …

Giving new meaning to the phrase “Fall Launch.”

Like the Hazelnut Happening, it seems that the event is partly about food but, like all good parties, it’s about much more — mixing and mingling, marking the end of summer, and teaching those fledglings about  group etiquette  — all while making as much noise and mess as possible. Woohoo!

Over the course of a week they seem to be getting the the eastern edge of the dogwood feasting area, so I’m not sure how many more nights they’ll be stopping. I expect there’s probably another important Crow Fest venue in their fall itinerary but, if there is, it must be out my walking range.

Who knows where they’re headed next, but keep your eyes open — it might be your neighbourhood!

 

A continuation of Crow Fest Part One: Hazelnut Happening

 

 

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Crow Fest 22 — Part One

Although my last post was about how miserable the local crows are as they go through their annual moult, don’t feel too bad for them — this season is also their most social and joyful.

Several things come together in the the crow world to make fall time the best time:

  • Parent crows are mightily relieved that their fledglings are (mostly) independent
  • Fledgling crows, like teenagers everywhere, are busting to get out there, meet their peers and show off a little
  • Crows, even the still-moulting ones, look fabulous in the golden fall light and glowing autumn leaves
  • There are feasting opportunities/excuses for crow parties all over town

Crow Fest in our neighbourhood begins with …

The Hazelnut Happening

Around the autumn equinox a couple of local hazelnut trees become ripe, and many crows seem to have this date carefully noted in their social calendar. Hundreds of them, and dozens of intrepid squirrels, show up for the event every year.

A few years back a human bravely tried to harvest their share of nuts, wisely wearing a bicycle helmet as protection from the competition. This year, even more wisely, they seem to have left it all for the wildlife.

Normally the crows fly over our neighbourhood at dusk, headed to the roost a few miles east of here with only a few distant caws to mark their passing.

But it’s reliable as clockwork — the very day the hazelnuts are ready, our normally sedate area becomes an evening Crowstock venue, complete with rousing musical accompaniment.

The cawing is accompanied by the random percussion of nuts hitting the tarmac as crows drop them to break the shells.

Bombs Away!

There are other seasonal delicacies on the menu too …

While the raucous crow chaos is the big story here, as with all big events, it’s made up of so many small and personal sub-plots.

I love to pick out small groups or individuals in the crowd and watch them for awhile, trying to parse out the individual stories.

In the seemingly undistinguishable line of crows on the wires, you can often detect a family group — parents and fledglings, or just couples taking a quiet moment in the midst of it all.

The other night I spotted a personal acquaintance on the wires.

White Wing!

I’ve been worried about the Wings as they’ve not been in their usual spot for most of the summer. As if to confirm this was indeed her Wingship, she came down and landed by my feet …

The party rages on, but still full of individual little crow vignettes.

One young, ambitious and agile crow takes a moment to show off the Cirque du Soleil skill set they’ve been working on.

Look, Ma, only one foot!

I’m an a-crow-bat!!!!

Another independently-minded crow in the crowd decides to add a distinctive yip to the chorus of cawing.

A quiet young crow whiles away the time by catching and playing with one of their own recently moulted underfeathers before it floats away on the evening air …

And so the nightly Hazelnut Happening hurtles on for a few days until, finally, the nuts are devoured and relative quietness returns to the ‘hood.

Don’t worry though — the fall festivities are far from over. It’s just time to move on to the Dogwood Disco up the street.

More on this later …

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Reading the Leaves Once More

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?

 

 

 

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Fall Patterns Unfurl

“A lot of vagaries can introduce themselves …”

 

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.

 

 

 

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The Gazing Bowl

There’s a lot (a lot!) of pressure on the gazing bowl this year.

Unlike tea leaves, the assorted bits of foliage in the gazing bowl confer no psychic abilities upon the reader — well, not this one, anyway.

Handy as that would be. Especially this year.

While the future remains stubbornly hidden, time spent peering into its depths does unveil some ephemeral truths.

October 25

Pondering the ever-changing patterns gives me a different way to see the world, if only for a few moments.

This year, I’ve been finding in it  metaphors for history and ideologies — one layer affecting another —murkiness in the complexity —shadows and light — one thing reflecting another.

November 2

But then, the bowl (and everything else) depends upon Nature — and I hope we all remember that in the coming hours, days, months and years, and steer our history and ideology to reflect that truth.

Geordie, who seems to think that my prognostication receptacle is actually his water bowl, has lately been hinting that the murkiness I am seeing in it is less metaphorical, and more a question of diminished drinkability.

Begging his indulgence, I think I’ll leave it for one more day and then tip it out and fill it with clean, fresh water.

 

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October Walk

As a sequel to yesterday’s post, here are some photos from this morning’s walk — just a few crows in an autumn landscape.

Most of today’s crows are not close acquaintances, but part of the mysterious entourage that follows me along the dog walking route.

As I mentioned yesterday, the autumnal rowdiness is kept in check by an absence of peanuts and a few kind words of thanks after I take their photos.

I’m not sure why they follow me, but I always get an especially warm welcome at the corner where (almost two years ago now) crows played a pivotal role in the finding of a lost dog.  I always thank them when I walk by and they seem to remember me still.

This character, photographed close to home, is one of Mabel’s offspring. I can’t tell it’s one of the 2020 batch, or one of two 2019 youngsters who still hang around.

It’s a very grounding feeling to walk your own neighbourhood and see familiar faces, human and corvid, and exchange daily pleasantries.

It makes me feel that the world is still spinning on some sort of stable axis.

 

 

 

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Autumnal Adjustments

For humans, the 2020 autumn season is bringing with it — along with pumpkin spice — a sprinkling of existential dread.

For crows, however,  it’s the normal rowdy, rollicking, freedom-from-fledglings social season.

No social or physical distancing for them.

In fact, the normal territorial boundaries are being blithely crossed in search of seasonal bounty. Any block with a nut or berry tree is a “go-zone” this month.

Contributing to the mayhem is the fact that the excitable new fledglings have yet to learn the finer points of corvid etiquette.

A certain amount of chaos inevitably ensues.

I find it’s best to employ my special autumnal version of Peanut Diplomacy at this unruly time of year.

Instead of stopping on my fall morning walks to exchange pleasantries and a few peanuts with each set of  crow acquaintances on their territorial corners, a far more parsimonious peanut distribution system is in order.

Normally token offerings are made, accepted with grace, and I move on to visit new crows on new corners.

At this time of year, however, the dog and I seem to be claimed as  territory-to-go and crows will follow us from their own domain and into their neighbour’s. This can result an accumulation of dozens of boisterous crows following us for blocks and/or unseemly crow brawling.

Fall Peanut Protocol is best deployed at this point.

Upon leaving the house, I offer a few peanuts to Marvin and Mavis, if they happen to be waiting, then a few more for Mabel and her gang at the other end of the block. From that point on I exchange only kind words with my crow (and human) walking acquaintances. I’m still followed, but it’s a much less fractious group.

Harmony restored …

I generally find that, by December, things will have settled down again and normal Peanut Diplomatic Relations may resume.

Besides, at this time of year, my paltry peanut offerings pale beside the bounty that nature has to offer.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reading the Leaves. Again.

Election Day here in Canada.

I will vote today.

I’ll also listen to the news and devour opinion and analysis pieces as they pop up on my phone.

Then, I’ll go into the garden and take a few moments at the annually recurring therapeutic gazing bowl.

In case you need a few seconds too, help yourself …

Even if you don’t live in Canada, you might enjoy a short respite from news and politics and shouting.

You might catch a glimpse of the future in the ripples.

At a minimum, you can be hypnotized by the reflections and raindrops dancing together, and take a few deep breaths.

Just for half a minute.

If you need a longer respite …

Then back to waiting for results and biting nails.

Reading the Leaves part one was posted at almost the same last time last year.

September Dreams

As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.

By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.

I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.

A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!

I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.

On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.

They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.

The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.

For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …

Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …

Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.

Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.

 

 

http://www.junehunter.com

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© junehunterimages, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.