Birds of Judgement

I hope you will enjoy my new Birds of Judgement series, if only because it makes you smile and because you may, or may not, see yourself or someone you know in those  faces.

But if you’re interested in the events and thinking that went into these particular images, read on. 

In a practical sense, I first started compiling a collection of angry looking birds when I was making my placard for the first of the 2019 Climate Action rallies initiated by young people rightfully worried about the future of the planet they are inheriting. The timing of the first rally in Vancouver coincided with the publishing of new research showing that bird populations across Canada and North America had declined by a whopping 29% (or 3 BILLION birds) in the preceding 50 years. Birds are, quite literally, the canaries in the coal mine of climate change and environmental degradation.

This brilliant cartoon by artist Dave Parkins, captures the issue perfectly.

I wanted to try and combine words and images in the same way, and give birds a small voice in the overall cry for Climate Action.  Anyway, see below for my sign in action at one of the demonstrations.


Earlier this year I read Esther Woolfson’s brilliant latest book, Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species.  In the chapter titled “Souls” she writes:

“Throughout history, ideas about who possesses a soul and who does not, have constituted part of the bedrock of the way we’ve thought about and treated other species.”

From Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species
by Esther Woolfson

The firm conviction that Nature is hierarchical — a pyramid with humanity at the top, and the rest of the creation below us, at our behest, is very ancient. This view of the world has led us, in many ways to to the ledge on which we currently find ourselves teetering. Apart from the looming issue of climate change, there is the small and humbling matter of how human society has been recently brought to its knees by a tiny microbe . . .

If all human project planning was preceded by the question “how would birds judge us for this?” I really think we’d all be much better off.

As I was searching through my many photographs for images of birds staring directly at the camera, I realized that I really do have a lot them.

Why is that? I wondered.

While it’s often thought that best bird photography practice is to have the bird look more “natural” by capturing them going about their business and gazing off to the side as if oblivious to human presence, I’m always happier to capture the fleeting connection (good or bad) between us.

Besides, they do say that the eyes are the window to to soul, bird or human, and we know how important these souls are in assigning importance to a species.

Looking at the birds boldly staring out of the frame reminds me of the of the late art critic, John Berger. I read a lot of his work in my 20’s and it changed my world view.  He often challenge us to consider the “gaze” in art— the gaze of the artist, the gaze of the subject and the gaze of the viewer. In other words, who’s looking at who, and how, and why?

He posed a lot of other questions too, but I often ask myself why I’m looking at birds the way I do, and why I take the kind of photographs I do.

Well, maybe not often.

But sometimes.

Every image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved — for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing. 

From Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I take photographs of birds, basically, because I feel a real connection with them and I want to try and convey that to the viewer in the hope that they can feel it too.

Sometimes it’s beauty that makes the connection. Sometimes it’s laughter.

And sometimes it’s just those eyes, staring from one soul to into another.

And if you do read into this series that birds are judging us … they probably are.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

 

Super Bowl, Floral

Just before the cold snap and snow arrived in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago I went around the garden burying the hellebore plants (many of them already optimistically blooming in mid-January) in drifts of dry leaves, saved from fall especially for the purpose, and topped with old bins, cardboard … whatever came to hand.

When the snow melted, they were still blooming away under their makeshift blankets and huts. Last week, even more varieties came into bloom.

It seems that we could have more snow next week, so I thought I’d better quickly put together my first floral gazing bowl of the season so we could pretend it’s spring for a minute.

I also took the psychic precaution of digging up a few of the garden’s rampant snowdrops and potting them up for indoor cheerfulness … just in case they also go missing in snow action next week. Here they are shown next to my latest treasure from Jane Ryan in Cornwall — a pair of pecking rooks.

As a final nod to #SuperbOwl, here is a video of a really superb barred owl that spent the day in front of our house a couple of years ago.

 

In the immortal words of Van Morrison, “gotta get through January, gotta get through February,” so I hope you’ve found what you need (flowers, owls, football games, knitting, a faithful pet, a good book, uplifting music …) to get there.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Owl Wrestling

Let me be clear. Actual owl wrestling is definitely not something I’d recommend.

However, it does feel as if I’ve been metaphorically getting to grips with owls for the last few weeks.

One particular owl, in fact.

Since the wonderful day a few weeks ago when a barred owl appeared in front of my house, I’ve been working on distilling the magic of that day into a small set of images.

It was such a special day, I really wanted to make sure that I did that beautiful owl justice. To that end, I’ve been faffing about with this series for weeks.

First of all there was the issue of making a short list of the photographs to start working from. That gorgeous owl posed so obligingly for me, for so many hours — it made choosing the final four images quite challenging.

Then I had to decide which other images to layer the owl portraits with. Below are most of the final images that, in the end, became merged with the owl — but in the process of working on this series I tried dozens of other combinations of  tree, foliage, stamp, fabric and texture images. They all ended up on the virtual cutting room floor, leaving the set of images that are now on my web site.

Lupins, cracked concrete, katsura leaves, sky, forest, an old barkcloth curtain and owls — all combined to create the atmosphere in the final set of four owl images.

 

Owl Dreams 1

Owl Dreams 2

Owl Dreams 3

Owl Dreams 4

Some of the other images of birds of British Columbia on my web site. Buy four or more, and save 15%.

www.junehunter.com

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Night Owl

Just a short follow-up to yesterday’s post, Owl Dreams.

At 8pm last night, the barred owl was still in the tree in front of our house, sleeping peacefully. We took Geordie for his evening walk and he was still there when we got back, but his behaviour was changing.

There was much more head movement and he was clearly shifting into night hunting mode. I took a little video to try and capture it. The quality isn’t great, but you can see what I mean.

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If you’re looking at this in an email, the video won’t show. You will need to click on the blog title at the top of the email and that will take you to the actual blog, where the video and all the photos will be found, and the blog layout will be much better.

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Just after I took the video, the owl flew off the tree, landed briefly on our car and then on to a plum tree across the street.

Goodnight, Owl

And then he was off and away like a ghost in the night.

He had been in front of our house for a full twelve hours.

I can still hardly believe that yesterday happened!

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Owl Dreams

Some days just don’t go as planned, but in a good way.

Today, for example, I had a number of studio tasks set out for the morning, all of which seemed very important — until the crows started going bonkers outside.

I always try to go see what the crows are on about.

It’s usually something interesting — sometimes it’s just a cat, but often a skunk, racoon or, occasionally, a coyote or two.

This morning’s furor was in the katsura tree right in front of our house. I opened the front door to see what was up, and instantly found myself caught in the hypnotic gaze of a beautiful barred owl.

Well, good morning!

Work rule number one is that when there’s an urban nature event unfolding, it rockets to the top of the to-do list. Everything else has to wait. Tiles remain unfinished, web sites, neglected.

Today that rule DEFINITELY applied.

The katsura tree was full of crows from near and far, all voicing their displeasure at the owl. Even a young Northern Flicker was joining in the scolding. You can hear him in this video.

 

This next video gives a cool look at the owl’s blinking mechanism – the nictitating membrane that makes the eye look blue, and then the fluffy feathered eyelids. He was also making a little beak movement when blinking. So amazing!

For about half an hour the crows, with occasional flicker input, continued their furious show. Gradually most left, leaving only the paint-splattered crow that currently considers the tree “his” and his mate. Eventually even they grew weary and flew off for a rest.

It’s a rare sight to see an owl in daylight. They’re usually sleeping off a busy night of rodent hunting. It does happen though. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to see a similar sight outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery, right in the downtown core. I wrote a blog (Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry) about that day too.

But this time he was right in front of my own house. What an amazing treat.

He was there all day, so I was able to spend hours watching him. Neighbours came out to watch too. Our owl was a bit of a local celebrity for the day.

Sometimes the owl would fluff up his feathers if he felt the crows were getting too bold.

But no crow with an ounce of sense would get too close to these feet. Owls are one of the reasons that thousands of crows fly every night to Still Creek, seeking nocturnal safety in numbers.

In this photo, the owl looks for all the world like a character from a Harry Potter novel.

Gradually the crow posse seemed to forget about the owl all together.

Most of the afternoon was peaceful enough to allow a bit of a beauty sleep catch-up.

It’s late afternoon now and he’s still snoozing out there. I expect he’ll be there until dusk and then it will be hunting time again.

For me, I’ve spent the majority of the day photographing him, sorting out photos and writing this blog. That’s OK though, because that’s really the most important part of my “job.”

Every time I close my eyes, I see his eyes looking back at me.

I expect I’ll have owl dreams tonight.

 

See what happened at the end of this amazing day in the next post, Night Owl.

 

www.junehunter.com

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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