Possibility of Spring

This wasn’t supposed to be a blog-writing day, but I feel I have some “stop press” news that must be shared, along with photographic evidence.

I almost hesitate to share this wild idea, but I think there is a small chance that … dare I even speak the thought? … spring might have arrived.

I hasn’t just been the rain.

So. Much. Rain.

Record-breaking rain.

It’s also been cold. Brr. We have lived on the same street for 25 years now. Normally at this time of year, it’s a candy-floss fiesta of pink blossoms. This year, it looks like this.

But yesterday, the rain stopped. The sun came out.

It’s actually mild enough to stop and stand in the garden and watch what’s happening.

These are a few of the amazing things I saw going on in the garden in just one hour this morning.

Chickadee calling his heart out in the snowbell tree

One of my favourite hellebores.

A fox sparrow taking a breather on the garden fence.

A crow with nesting on his mind. I saw George with a twig in his broken beak earlier this week.

Norther Flicker on the peak of our roof – taking a short break from hammering on the metal chimney.

The daphne bush that was crushed with snow all winter has survived!

Buds starting on the coral bark maple. Oh, and a crow.

 

Song sparrow in the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (aka Corkscrew Hazel).

A bushtit at the feeder. Only one pair came – not the usual “suet-feeder clogging” crowd. A sure sign that they’re getting ready to nest. And one of them left the garden with some moss in it’s beak.

Goldfinch stopping at the bird bath for a little paddle.

I’m sure the birds have known it’s spring for weeks now, in spite of the weather. They’ve got important business to be dealing with, rain or no rain.

I’ve just been a bit slow on the uptake, what with the amount of time and effort needed to struggle into full rain gear and wellies for every excursion — and then the overwhelming desire to get back inside as soon as humanly possible.

Now that it’s stopped raining for five minutes, I strongly suggest spending a few minutes outside.  Just drink it all in and catch up with the birds.

www.junehunter.com

Correspondence

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Later this week I will have sent myself “via airmail” to my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England. I’ll be there for the opening of Spring Show at The Biscuit Factory Gallery, where a series of my bird images, entitled Correspondence, will be exhibited.

aimail-prints

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CORRESPONDENCE: letters sent or received

So many airmail letters, cards, and pressed flower collections passed between my mother and me. We wrote to each other from 1976, when I moved to Canada, until 1997, when she died. I keep many of our letters in a box under the bed.

Letters

I like to re-read them every few years because I see completely different things in them now than when I received them in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I guess that’s because I’m now “catching up” with my mother; getting to the same stations on life’s journey that she’d passed through decades ahead of me. Parts that I had skipped over in my youth now grab my attention and recognition in an entirely different way.

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Although no more mail arrives from my mother; and although I no longer stick stamps on letters to her; I like to think the correspondence continues through my artwork. In my images I’m always pointing to things I know she’d have loved. I also like to think it’s the equivalent of a box of letters on the subject of “things that are important” for my children to go through one day in the distant future. At least, I’m fairly confident they will think of me almost every time they see a crow or a raven!

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Raven Correspondence

CORRESPONDENCE: a close similarity, connection, or equivalence:

I like to think of my photographs of birds as portraits, rather than as scientific illustrations. I try to capture a look in the eye or a pose that captures the connection between birds and people. Although they have evolved along an entirely different path from that of the human race, I can’t help but feel, especially after the hours I’ve spent watching crows, that there is much we have in common.

Worrying about our children, furnishing our nests, trying to survive … we are all connected.

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Song Sparrow with Snowdrops

 

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Buckets of Birds

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On the way to the Women’s march on January 21 I saw a crow flying in front of me. She dropped a piece of food she’d been carrying and it fell through the air for a couple of feet before she casually swooped down and caught it. Clever, I thought. Then I watched as she dropped and caught the same object at least four more times before she flew out of my sight. I was so excited. I must write a blog about that, I thought. But I didn’t. Somehow it seemed too trivial in the face of everything else that was going on.

It’s not that I’ve stopped feeling inspired by urban nature — it’s just that every time I get on the computer to post something I get sidetracked by reading world news and commentary, and by the time I’ve done that, the games of a crow seem a bit irrelevant.

Today I’m going to try and pull myself together. I note that some serious political commentators sprinkle their posts with kitten pictures just to break up the general bleakness.

So, my theory is, that posting pictures of crows, other birds, pretty moss and rust etc. is a bit of a public service to the news-battered world.

And beyond the kitten-effect, I’d like to think that nature photos are especially important right now.

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If you happen to catch a glimpse of soul in a crow’s gaze, then I hope it will contribute to your resolve to guard all birds against the coming assault on their habitat. Birds, after all, are one of the “canaries in the mineshaft” for the planet.

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If you find yourself empathizing with a fluffed-up, chilly little hummingbird — I hope that this feeling will extend to refugees and any people who are “different” from you.

A forest fire of bigotry and distrust is starting across the world. A wind of ignorance is fanning the flames, and we are all being choked and disoriented by fake news and alternative facts.

We need to be forming a vast human to chain to chuck buckets and buckets and buckets of reason, compassion, joy and love on this mess before the whole forest catches alight.

So, whatever you need to fill your bucket — keeping informed, watching kitten videos, turning off the news, raising chickens, knitting, locking yourself in a dark room for ten minutes, or getting out and saying hi to some birds — keep that bucket well-filled. I have a feeling we’re going to be busy for some time ahead.

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Just in case you really need some cat content, Edgar always happy to oblige …

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www.junehunter.com

Winter Hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird female

This fluffed up little female Anna’s hummingbird seems to have opted to over-winter in Vancouver. She may be wishing that she’d booked her winter getaway in the fall …but too late now. She’s here for the winter, and I feel committed to help her make it to spring.

I was horrified last week, the day we were rushing to get set up for a winter market, to see that the nectar I’d put out for her had frozen solid overnight. I pictured her tiny little frozen iridescent body somewhere in the snow. But no, she flitted by — so still alive! I had a second chance.

I put a fresh batch of nectar out for her and went off to the market. When I came home the feeder was covered in snow so the hummingbird couldn’t get at the fkk. New crisis management techniques were needed. A quick internet search brought up a number of solutions. The equipment most easily to hand was a trouble light, so I plugged that in close to the feeder to keep things warm enough to prevent freezing. That worked wonderfully for the next 24 hours.

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Enter a caption

The next, very snowy, day I came home from the market (luckily Make-It at the PNE is walking distance from home) to take the dog out. I heard a persistent clicking noise by my studio and noticed that (a) the bulb in the trouble light had gone out and (b) the hummingbird was sheltering under the eaves of the studio and looking at me with a touch of exasperated indignation.

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The bulb in the trouble light had burned out and the feeder was covered in snow. I replaced it. The next day it burned out again, so I built a “quick and dirty “shelter to keep the snow and rain off it. It’s been working fine since then. As a back-up, I have another feeder that adheres to the studio window. The heat from the building keeps it from freezing, although it’s been so unseasonably cold in Vancouver this week that it’s still been frozen in the morning.

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I posted my trouble light solution on Facebook and Instagram and got some great additional tips from other people. Here are some of them:

  • Bring the nectar in at night and put it out first thing in the morning. Normally this would be the easiest solution in Vancouver, but this week it’s been so cold that the nectar can freeze during the day. Plus, you might sleep in …
  • Find some old style incandescent Christmas lights and wrap them around the feeder. The heat of the bulbs will keep the nectar from freezing. This sounds great, and a lot prettier than the trouble light, so I’m on the hunt for some old-style fairy lights!
  • Wrap an old sock around the feeder to keep it warm.
  • Tuck some foot or hand warmers (the kind you get in a pack, open and shake and they give off heat for about 8 hours – available in bulk at Costco) in the sock.

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Here’s a photo of the hummingbird taken this morning. It’s getting colder all this week, so I’ll have to keep an eye on the trouble light. Maybe I’ll add the sock and foot warmer as a back-up in case the bulb goes out again.

When I take these extra measures to keep the hummingbird alive, I feel a bit like a kid leaving cookies out for Santa.

That’s partly because hummingbirds in general —and hummingbirds in a Canadian winter in particular — are rather magical.

And partly because the hummingbird brings me presents.

In return for just a little fiddling with trouble lights and extension cords, I get the gift of transcendent beauty. It’s a really good deal for me!

The Crow Calendar is Coming

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You may (or may not) have been wondering where in the blogosphere I’ve gotten to for the last few months.

Well, puppy training is surprisingly time consuming … and then there has been my City Crow Calendar project.

The puppy training and the cat/dog peace treaty are both, by the way, going well.

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But for a while it looked as if there wasn’t going to be a calendar this year.

First, there was the Canada Post dispute over the summer. I was worried that it would linger into to the busy mailing season and I’d have to hand deliver each and every calendar. Time to start Geordie’s sled training!

Happily, the dispute was settled by August. But then I thought maybe I’d left it too late.

Requests and queries started coming in. When will the 2107 calendar be ready? It did sell out by the beginning of December last year, so I guess people were anxious that they might have missed it already.

So in mid-September I finally got into calendar creation mind set.

Narrowing down the 12 images to feature is tough. From the thousands of crow images on my hard drive, it took at least a week to narrow it down to the dozen.

I could have been done then, and have the calendars already printed, but …

I had this lingering thought in my head that I’d like to give people more than just a calendar. I’d like to make it even more of a “crow-promotion” by adding interesting little facts about crows for every month. I also wanted to add some extra photos to help tell the “crow story”. I decided I could do this by using the little bits of vacant real estate on the calendar left by the grid spaces in each month that don’t have dates in them.

It wasn’t too hard to come up with “crow facts” for every month, although it took quite a bit of tweaking and editing to get them concise enough to fit into the little calendar grid boxes. It took a little bit more time to pick out the extra photos.

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I thought I was finally finished last Friday, but then I found that the reason that more sensible people don’t make these cute little additions is that it’s a technical nightmare!

I won’t bore you with the InDesign technical reasons why this is such a fiddle, but suffice to say that I spent hours this week going over it with a fine tooth comb to get the weensy boxes of text and mini photos to align perfectly with the grid part of the calendar.

bored-dog

Geordie waits patiently while the crazy woman mutters at the computer screen.

Finally I decided that my nitpicking was going beyond the rational, so Geordie and I took the file off to the printer today. It is now, I am happy to report, out of my hands.

I expect it to be back into my hands early next week when it will be available to order online. I’ll be sending out a newsletter when they’re actually available, just in case you’d like to get your hands on one.

UPDATE: The City Crows calendar is now available for order on my website. 

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www.junehunter.com

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Hug a Crow This Earth Day

Not literally, of course. Crow hugging is fraught with peril at the best of times, but especially in spring when nesting season has them a bit tense.

Baby Face Crow © June Hunter Images

Please, do not hug me.

But I do suggest that you give the crow (or pick your favourite bird, plant, patch of moss or mollusk) a special thought today.

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coral bark maple © June Hunter Images

mussels at Botanical Beach © June Hunter Images 2016

It’s Earth Day so, ideally, we should be extending our love to the entire planet.

But that’s a hard thing to do, particularly when what the planet needs from us right now is massive change —change that is going to be really tough for us to make.

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The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, where we often feel very cut off from what we think of as Nature.

Lyanda quote

So, given that most of us are urbanites these days, how are we to develop the necessary connection with nature in order to care enough to make change and move towards saving the planet?

As my dear mother used to say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

And where you are now, even if it’s in the heart of the city, has tenacious bits of nature thriving in it.

It just takes a slight focus shift to start becoming aware of, and amazed by it.

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This crow is tending a nest at Hornby and Robson in the heart of downtown Vancouver, right by the Art Gallery. A friend who works at the gallery told me that it’s probably the same pair who nested there last year and caused a traffic kerfuffle when one of their babies flew into the back of someone’s convertible just outside of Café Artigiano.

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Collecting nest furnishings in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

Often the thing you tend to notice first, just because of its size and boldness, is a crow.

CameliaCrow ©June Hunter Images 2016

I find that the crow is your gateway bird, leading to the habit of noticing the bird world as a whole. Once you’ve started to look up to see what the crows are up to, you can’t help but start to notice the robins, sparrows, bushtits, chickadees and hawks going about their more subtle, but equally fascinating, avian business.

Bushtit in the Rain © June Hunter Images 2016

Coopers Hawk on William © June Hunter Images 2016

Chickadee in the Snowbell Tree © June Hunter Images 2016

And noticing birds is, in turn, a gateway to the wonder of nature in general.

Colin Tudge quote

The task of saving the earth often seems far too big and therefore hopeless.

The tools we need this Earth Day are empathy and hope.

Someone who embodies both of these qualities is 87 year old Jean Vanier, who created L’Arche — a unique and loving community for mentally disable adults. Here are some of his thoughts on birds, as told to columnist and writer, Ian Brown in a Globe and Mail interview.

Jean Vanier quote

Eric and Erica on Roof

Hmmm, something to think about …

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Some notes on the author’s quoted in this blog post:

John Marzluff’s Wikipedia page says this:
“John Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of In the Company of Crows and Ravens, Gifts of the Crow, and Welcome to Subirdia. His lab once banded crows with a Dick Cheney mask.”
— so you know he’d be fun guy to know!
Subirdia is his most recent book about the amazing adaptability of birds, their importance, and what we can do to help them survive in our urbanized world.

I first discovered Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt when I picked up a copy of Crow Planet several years ago. It remains one of my favourite books, combining science, poetry and humour  in a way that I could read all day. She’s also written a wonderful book on city wildlife in general (The Urban Bestiary) and I look forward to her next one on the subject of starlings. And she has a blog: The Tangled Nest.

Colin Tudge is a British biologist and entertaining author, The Bird is only one of many books he’s written. I next want to read his book The Secret Life of Trees.

You can read more about the life and work of  Jean Vanier on his website.

Ian Brown is an author and  columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper. His books include Boy in the Moon, about his severely disabled son and his latest, Sixty, The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?  That one’s also on my reading list.

 

The Colour of Crows

Crows and ravens are generally (and understandably) described as birds with black plumage. It is their darkness that allows them to grace the sky with such striking calligraphy.

Formal sentences composed on wires; more fluid, improvisational characters when taking to the air.

crow dance

But it’s so much more complicated, and beautiful, than that.

Feather collage

Crow and raven feathers are highly iridescent. They collect and reflect the light and the colour of the world around them. Gunmetal storm clouds, cornflower blue summer skies, the fire of the rising or setting sun — all paint their feathers with fleeting shades of indigo, lavender, copper and gold.

Copper Dawn Crow

Dawn crow, gilded

George with Luminous Feathers

George, with his eye on the sky … and the sky reflected in his feathers

Vera Reflecting garden

Crow takes flight from birdbath

These reflected shades are often featured in my photography and jewellery, so I think of, and marvel at, corvid hues often.

Raven pendant

Raven pendant

Sometimes I wonder, idly, about how many colours you could actually find in a crow or a raven’s feathers.

Imagine my surprise when a computer glitch answered my question.

I recently downloaded a batch of photos taken of a crow (Vera) in my garden. I use software called Bridge to organize my images. It allows me to see the images from my camera in thumbnail size, like an old fashioned contact sheet. It’s handy to see at a glance what’s there and do a quick edit.

Bridge capture2

I was amazed to see that some of the Vera images had been randomly translated by Bridge into, part normal photo, and part digital sampling of the colours in the photo.

Crow Colour Abstract

Vera’s plumage of many colours

At a glance, I see lavender, lilac, violet, mauve, periwinkle, indigo, charcoal, forest green, sand, pearl, slate — hardly any black, in fact.

It was an ephemeral glitch, but I managed to “capture” a couple of versions.

Crow Colours abstract

Quasi-scientific proof that a crow is not just a black bird.

Young crow in the sun

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www.junehunter.com

Black and White World

Raven Departure

 

I love colour. I really do love colour.

But there is something very beautiful in a landscape stripped down to shades of black and white.

Stark and simple.

Here’s a little photo essay on a lovely world almost devoid of colour.

 

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

 

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

 

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

 

Raven call

Raven call

Raven reverse.

Raven callback.

 

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

 

Raven tracks

 

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Fluffy raven at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl, West Vancouver

 

Winter Tree

Tree skeleton

 

Raven acrobat. This is tricky, especially in a brisk wind.

Don’t try this at home.

 

Winter skyline with raven.

Winter skyline with raven.

 

George says hello in black and white.

George says hello in black and white.

 

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Ghost Raven

Whenever I go up into the mountains I’m hoping to see ravens.

They are actually part of my fitness program. If I ever feel like just sitting all day at the computer, I remind myself that if I don’t keep my knees in working order, I won’t be able to get up those mountains and therefore will not see those ravens.

So, ravens = fitness incentive.

On Saturday it was raining in Vancouver and you’d swear that the North Shore Mountains were non-existent.

But, as my father-in-law used to say, “If you don’t do things in the rain in Vancouver, you won’t do anything at all”.

So, we put the snowshoes in the car and headed up to Mount Seymour.

About halfway up the mountain a thick mist descended. By the time we reached the parking lot it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

The chances of a raven sighting seemed pretty remote, given that I could hardly see my feet to put my snowshoes on.

But, just as we got kitted up and ready to head to the trail, I spotted an ethereal silhouette ahead of us.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

I was pretty sure that this would be our only raven sighting for the day.

We headed off through the woods, stopping for a snack and break at First Lake. Just as we headed off again, I saw our ethereal raven land on the top of a tree by the lake and give a few mist-muffled calls.

Phillip at First Lake

Phillip at First Lake

We carried on to Dog Mountain. Normally this spot affords the most awe-inspiring panoramic views of Vancouver. On this day it offered a blank whitescape and a biting wind. After a couple of quick photos of the non-view, we prepared to retreat into the trees away from the gale.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying just above the small tree in the centre left.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying above the small tree in the centre left.

And suddenly, there he was. Like magic, our ghost raven became corporeal for a few moments. He landed on the snow beside us.

It was really gusty out there.

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The upswept punk look

The upswept punk look

I whipped off my mitts, dragged out the camera and was able to take a few shots of him before he turned around and wandered offstage again, back into the realm of mist and mystery.

Taking Leave

 

Magic.

More than enough motivation to keep my knees fit enough for further mountain expeditions.

For new raven portraits, visit my website.

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George’s Tough Year

I would describe George’s 2015 as “catastrophic”. Still, there are lessons to be learned from his persistence.

His year has been so awful, it’s taken me a while to prepare myself to tell the story, and look again at some of the images.

George Waiting

George appeared in my garden about midway through the long, hot, dry summer last year. He was waiting for me one day when I came out of the studio, resting on a branch and looking at me as if we were already well acquainted. It turned out that George had a family — a mate (Mabel) and one fledgling.

Mabel and Baby

The baby crow at first seemed like the average disheveled juvenile, doted upon my both of his parents. But as the summer continued, it became clear that all was not well with Junior. Lumps appeared on his face and then on his feet. He had avian pox, which is often fatal and very contagious to other birds of many species.

George preening baby

I had a crisis of conscience. Fearing for the health of all the other birds that come to my garden, I considered ignoring George’s pleading looks so that the family might start to seek food elsewhere and leave the area. Easier said than done.

Waiting for me outside the studio. Hard to resist.

Waiting for me outside the studio. Hard to resist.

After a couple of miserable days of looking at George’s expectant face through the studio window, I moved to plan B. This consisted of a rather rigorous schedule of feeding George and family at only one spot on the deck and then, after their visit, immediately cleaning the area with bleach and rinsing thoroughly. I also bleached the birdbath daily, and emptied and cleaned all the other bird feeders every few days. I went from crazy crow lady, to crazy bleach lady!

Of course, when I noticed the sick baby and family perched on the hydro wires all over the neighbourhood, I realized that there was a limit to what I could do in the sterilization department.

By the end of the summer, George and Mabel looked completely worn out. All Vancouver wildlife had a tough time dealing with the drought, and many birds started molting early in the summer. George looked thoroughly bedraggled by the time new feathers started to come in for the fall.

Bedraggled

Finally, in early fall, his new feathers came in and he looked much more handsome. More importantly, he and Mabel showed no sign of having developed avian pox symptoms.

George in new winter feather finery.

George in new winter feather finery.

 

A little more on Mabel: she’s a lot more reluctant to get close to me than George. A problem with her right eye probably causes some vision impairment,  naturally making her more cautious. At times the eye is completely closed and, at other times, it looks quite normal. Mostly it doesn’t seem to cause her great problems.

In this photo you can see Mabel's eye problem.

In this photo you can see Mabel’s eye problem.

Moments later, Mabel's right eye looks just fine, as she deftly juggles some peanuts.

Moments later, Mabel’s right eye looks just fine, as she deftly juggles some peanuts.

Sadly, the baby crow grew sicker, although both parents continued to feed and preen him with single-minded dedication. He could still fly, but his damaged feet made it hard for him to land and rest. We could hear his plaintive cries for food from one end of our alleyway to the other.  Then the weather turned suddenly cold and he fell silent.

George’s bad luck did not end there.

Shortly after the sick baby crow died, I saw George waiting for me as usual in the garden and went out to say hello.

I gasped in horror. My brain couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. George the magnificent, was missing half of his top beak.

George - still magnificent.

First of all, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how this happened.

I still can’t. If anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Then, I was grief stricken. After all that George had been through, this new catastrophe seemed so unfair.

I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to survive this new challenge. I didn’t post anything about it on Facebook because I was still mentally processing both the event, and my reaction to it.

I struggled with whether it’s wrong to be so very upset about the difficulties facing a crow — given all the terrible things going on in the world.

There’s a whole other, more thoughtful, blog post being pondered to answer that question. Until then, in brief, I’ve decided it’s OK. And even if it isn’t, I can’t help it.

Jaunty George

George's injury doesn't seem to have made less confident. Here he calls a warning to Hank and Vera to stay away from his food source.

George’s injury doesn’t seem to have affected his confidence. Here he calls a warning to Hank and Vera to stay away from his food source.

It’s been several weeks now and I’ve become accustomed to George’s new look. I’m cheered by the adaptability he’s demonstrating with his food collection methods. When he comes for peanuts he turns his head almost upside down for better “shoveling” action. I try to help out by putting the nuts in contained space so he can trap them. It’s rather amazing how efficient he’s become.

Modified Technique 2

Modified technique 1

And, happily, Mabel seems to be standing by her crow. George’s injury doesn’t seem to have affected her loyalty – the two of them remain a fierce team when it comes to protecting their territorial rights.

George and Mabel share a quiet domestic moment.

George and Mabel share a quiet domestic moment.

Clearly Mabel still thinks that George is the top crow, so I’m hoping the two of them together can survive and thrive. I’m full of admiration for George Halfbeak and his resilience. I’m even starting to see a certain dashing charm in his new look.

George this morning, braving the think frost for a few peanuts on the deck.

George this morning, braving the cold and frost for a few peanuts on the deck.

He had a pretty devastating 2015, but looks set to take on 2016 with typical crow determination. Good luck, George and Happy New Year.

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