On The Road Again

With careful notes made on things that we’d forgotten on our first little “shakedown cruise” in the teardrop trailer, we prepared to set out on our big trip up to the Cariboo district in central BC.

Now, the following is a lesson I have learned before in my life, but tend to forget from time to time. You could call it the “your entire life is a shakedown cruise” philosophy, but it’s probably best summed up by Robbie Burns — “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley”

You can make all the lists and plans you want, but there’s really no preparing for an overnight switch from a clear, blue sky to an off-the-scale level soup of particulate matter from wildfire smoke blowing in from hundreds of miles away.

Ah well, the morning we left the raven shown above dropped by at our local construction site to wish us well on our journey.

Naively, we thought we’d soon be driving out of the worst of the smoke, but it was still very dense at our first night’s camp site just north of Whistler.

After one smokey night we had a quick toast and tea breakfast and headed off along the lovely Duffey Lake Road,  hoping to outrun the smoke.

That dream proved elusive, however, as we passed through Lillooet, Pavillion Lake and Clinton with only minor improvements in visibility.

When it was still smokey, hours later, at 100 Mile House, we decided to just push on to our destination — Likely — instead of spending the night, as we’d originally planned, at Green Lake.

By the time we reached the familiar Likely road the smoke was at least high up  and not in our lungs. I drove that road so many times when I had my cabin out there, it always feels like going home, marking off the familiar landmarks along the way.

While we love the Cariboo landscape,  what we really, really looked forward to was seeing some much-missed faces. Spending time with old friends was the focus of our visit, although we usually managed to combine catching up with soaking up the scenery — Cariboo cocktail hour, for example.

We camped our little trailer outside the homes of two sets of old friends during our stay in the Cariboo — near Likely for a few days, and then closer to Horsefly, part way down the gorgeous Beaver Valley.

Making some early morning coffee, with a bit of fall chill already in the air.

All very cosy inside the camper.

Looking out onto lovely Lake George, one of Beaver Valley’s chain of small lakes.

It wasn’t just the humans that had a great time socializing. Geordie was thrilled to spend time with his boxer buddy, Samson — just as handsome, two years in since our last visit.

Both Geordie and Samson are always eager to jump into the truck for a woodsy adventure!

One especially fun expedition was to Quesnel Forks — home, in it’s 1860’s hey day, to around 2,000  fortune-seeking gold miners, before the chase for riches moved north to Barkerville.  Quesnel Forks has been a ghost town since the 50’s when the last resident died, but it’s now far less overgrown now than I remember it in the 70’s. Recently the trails have been cleared and some of the tumble-down cabins carefully rebuilt to give some sense of what it once looked like.

Lichen on some fallen and rotting wooden walls

A rather elegant old outhouse returning to the forest

There’s a rich and well-recorded history of gold mining in this part of British Columbia — with many colourful  and gripping tales of exploit, adventure, intrigue and suffering. The excellent little museum in Likely is well worth a visit to learn more about this period, although you can also glean some intriguing snippets from the gravestones in the Quesnel Forks cemetery — full of inscriptions recording deaths by drowning, robbery, smallpox and mine collapse.

Much less is written about the indigenous people who lived in this part of the world for thousands of years before the miners arrived — fishing, hunting, travelling, living and dying in this vast landscape. I imagine that this spot would have been very special to them too, at the meeting of these two powerful rivers, now known as the Quesnel and the Cariboo.

I was thinking of confluences … the turbulence created when people, cultures, rivers collide … when yet another visitor from a distant shore made a surprise appearance, flying, literally, right through my thoughts.

I took a photo of the newcomer when it landed on the rocky river shore.

I also filmed the bird’s incredible aquatic competence, confidently navigating the dangerous currents right where the rivers merge.

As soon as we got back to our friends’ house, out came the full collection of bird books and apps as we attempted to identify our mystery “video bomber.” We really couldn’t figure it out. Some sort of gull … but none of the one’s you’d expect to see …  perhaps a curlew of some sort …? Eventually, I posted the photo online with a plea for an ID from my more bird knowledgeable social media community. The answer came back that it was, in fact, a rather rare sighting of a Sabine’s Gull, way, way out of its normal range. They spend summers in the Arctic and normally migrate south via the waters off the West coast. I wonder if this one was driven so off course by the dense smoke that was still clinging to the more coastal areas. Fingers crossed that our little traveller eventually finds its way to the its winter destination.

It seemed sort of ironic for me, who likes to celebrate the everyday birds you find in your backyard, to see such a rarity. Just goes to show, things just show up when the time is right, I guess.

Bears and Salmon

Two things you do expect in the Cariboo in the early fall: many salmon returning to the rivers of their birth to spawn, and bears feasting on them.

Spawning Salmon near Horsefly, 2013

The Salmon Horsefly Festival was actually underway the day we left the Cariboo, but it was going ahead in the virtual absence of salmon. Due a variety of factors, including the 2019 Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River that blocked the spawning route, there were virtually no salmon in the local rivers. We walked along the same river bed where the photo above was taken a few years ago, at the same time of year, and saw not one single salmon.

Bears, however, are very much in evidence and this is not a good thing. The reason they’re so visible is that, with no salmon to fatten up on before hibernation, they’re desperate enough to come into town to dig up garden carrots. Four grizzlies are currently hanging around the small hamlet of Likely — something that was unheard of in years gone by — and a situation that’s likely to end very badly for the bears.

You can see that the bear droppings we saw (all over the place) were heavy on seeds and berries. It takes a heck of a lot of berries to make up for the missing salmon course in a meal.  So, next time you’re sad that you can’t get a sockeye salmon for the BBQ, spare a thought for the bears, for whom the shortage is more a matter of life and death.

In spite of the smoke and the worrying lack of salmon it was a real joy to switch for a week from “urban nature enthusiast” to wander the forests and learn to read the landscape from our Cariboo friends, who are all “wilderness nature enthusiasts.” They know their forests, lakes and rivers as well as I know my local streets and crows.

Moffat Creek Falls near Horsefly

I received a message from this Cariboo raven (with chickadee accompaniment) to bring back with me for my feathered friends in the city  — a call of the wild that echoes all the way from the remotest forest to heart of Vancouver — as I hope it always will.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Puzzlement of Crows

It’s taken me a ridiculous length of time to get to this simple little blog . I’m just trying to update you on the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of the local crow families. But it’s complicated!

I tried writing it all in words and it was confusing even me, so I decided we needed a map. Voila!

Honestly, I did feel as if I could use something fancier, like the opening credits to Game of Thrones to do the situation justice but, alas, the budget is limited and so the map will have to suffice.

In the post-summer corvid reshuffle, you can see we have four families vying for hegemony* in this little corner of East Vancouver.

Let’s have a look at the protagonists in this little neighbourhood drama.

MABEL

Normally, at this time of year, George and Mabel would have returned from their nesting area at the west end of the block to reclaim our alley way and my back garden.

Since the sad death of George this summer, Mabel seems happy to stay in the nesting area with the junior crow that she and George fledged the summer before last. They claim the elementary school end of the block and the alleyway to the south of our house.

ERIC & CLARA

Eric and Clara are sticking to their traditional territory which includes the south side of Notre Dame School (including the highly prized school dumpster in the parking lot), the east end of Parker Street and points west along Parker to Rossland Street. Of course, their jurisdiction includes the all-important ceremonial fire hydrant.

Sometimes they will make a sortie to my front gate if they see me coming out with the dog, or going to the car. They will also venture part way down “Mabel’s” alley, but turn back at “her” Hydro pole.

Eric takes his Block Watch duties very seriously.

They didn’t have any baby crows this spring. The nest they were working on blew away in an early summer windstorm and they didn’t seem to have the heart to start over.

THE FIREHALL FAMILY

The Firehall pair, on the other hand, had a very successful baby-raising year.  They have three surviving adolescents — quite an achievement, given the long drought and tough conditions this summer. Their little population explosion has been one of the major factors causing a fluctuation in the customary corvid boundaries.

The Firehall Triplets

I imagine the three young ones will soon go off and start their own little empires elsewhere but, for now, with five mouths to feed, they’re venturing out of their usual stomping grounds.

Crowded up there on the Hydro wires.

They’ve even had the nerve to go and try pinching peanuts off Eric’s fire hydrant. Such audacity is met with firm resistance. They also come to my back fence sometimes. They’ve never done this in previous years and their visits have led to some minor scuffles with Marvin and his mate.

MARVIN & MATE

In the summer months, when George and Mabel would abandon my garden for their nest site to the west, a notice must immediately have gone up on the Corvid Craigslist. I imagine it read something like: “Temporary vacancy in well-appointed garden with well-trained, peanut-serving human.” This year our summer tenants were a crow with paint on his neck and a  companion with the colourful feathers of a younger crow.

I believe that the crows that are most often coming to the garden now that it’s fall, are these same two — but it’s hard to tell for sure as the late summer moult took care of the  easy-to-spot painted and the colourful feathers, leaving us with two anonymously glossy black crows. I think, from their behaviour, it’s the same two. I’ve called the formerly painted crow Marvin after Lee Marvin, who starred in the movie, Paint Your Wagon, many years ago. I haven’t yet got around to a name for his mate. Indeed, I don’t really know who’s “he” and who’s “she” for sure at the  moment, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

We’re beginning that fun “getting to know you” routine, which involves a lot of “risk/benefit” calculation on their part. You can almost hear their brain cogs whirring as they try to figure out how close it’s safe to get to this crazy human and her dog.

They don’t look too dangerous …

How about from this angle?

I feel safer up on the roof.

Hmmm….

Gradually, they’re getting bolder. Or possibly just more desperate as the weather takes a turn for the worse and they settle in for the winter. I think we’ve even got to that cosy stage where they blame me for the weather.

So, for now, things are a bit fluid — and I don’t just mean what’s coming from the sky. When a crow shows up in my garden at the moment, it’s a bit of a guess as to whether it’s Marvin & co, or a Firehall visitor, or even Eric and Clara, testing the northernmost limits of their territorial boundaries.

This time last year I was pretty sure who was who, and now it’s like starting the puzzle over. But, hey, I figure it’s good exercise for my aging brain. I’ve never tried Sukuko, but examining and sorting all of the corvid “who’s who, and where?” clues has to be almost as good.

NOTE    * I have been waiting for 40+ years to use “hegemony” in a sentence. I believe I first came across it when reading about the foreign policy of Frederick the Great of Prussia for a very boring university essay in the mid-70’s. I knew it would come in handy eventually.

www.junehunter.com

A new project I’m working on — crow shapes with rust and other textures. Watch out for them in my online shop in the next week or so.

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Dishevelled Crows

My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.

If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”

I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.

They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.

Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.

This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and  constant appeals for food.

The Firehall Family

Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.

Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”

Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.

Eric and Clara

This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.

As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.

Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!

Mabel

Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.

Painted Crow

My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.

 

So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.

It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.

www.junehunter.com

 

 

Crow calendars now available online, or at the studio sale.

Where’s George?

We spent our Earth Day morning mounting a small neighbourhood search for George.

From late summer to spring, George and Mabel come by our garden several times a day without fail.

Then, one day each spring, they just seem to disappear. They don’t come to the house.  They don’t greet me on my dog walks. I’ve noticed this happen for a couple of years and I assume that they are off doing top secret nesting work somewhere.

But, still, I worry.

A fellow George-watcher in the neighbourhood contacted me on Instagram yesterday to see if I’d seen him lately.  She mentioned that she’d seen Mabel and their baby from last year at her end of the block. It worried me a bit that Mabel was around, but not George.

Since the two are usually pretty inseparable, that seemed strange.

This morning, my neighbour contacted me with the news that she’d seen George — several blocks away from where he usually hangs out. She included a silhouette photo of him on a lamp stand with the distinctive broken beak profile.

This morning’s dog walk naturally took us on an exploratory expedition to this distant intersection in search of George. It seemed a little odd that he’d be so far away, but how many broken-beaked crows could there be in one neighbourhood?

Geordie and Nina, fellow George seekers.

As soon as we got to the corner in question, there he was. But wait a minute.

This crow had a broken beak, just like George, but showed no sign of recognizing us. George usually zooms low all down the street to make a dramatic landing right beside me. This crow just continued his diligent turf-turning project on someone’s lawn (looking for chafer beetle grubs.) No interest in us whatsoever.

Although he looked pretty identical to George, I knew it couldn’t be him. It made me realize two things.

One:  this sort of beak injury can’t be that rare after all.

Two: crows look pretty identical to our undiscriminating human eyes. We have to use all the clues available to us — behaviour, location, which other crows they’re hanging out with, as well as little physical differences, to figure out who’s who. I figure it’s good exercise for the aging brain. Corvid Sudoko.

I gave our new acquaintance a few peanuts, wished him well, and headed back to our street.

George Lookalike

As we got to the area where George and family usually gather, I saw what looked like George Junior. No sign of dad anywhere. Sigh.

Then, like Batman dramatically arriving at a crime in progress, all of a sudden there he was! I think it was only because I was approaching his still-dependant offspring that he broke his cover to come and greet us.

Peanuts were served. Virtual champagne was quaffed.

George!

So, now I’m back to my original theory, which is that George is occupied on some high security nest-related project and won’t be visiting, or swooping down regularly until that job is completed.

Leaving me more time for my other worry project, Eric and Clara.

Their nest is at the other end of the block, high up in the poplars. My concerns for them are, first: the poplar leaves are taking so long to come out that the nest is very visible to predators. It’s too high up for racoons, but just the right height for eagles, hawks and ravens.

Eric and Clara’s nest is about 50 feet up there. The leaves are slowly, slowly providing camouflage.

Which brings to me to my second and latest worry.  If the babies do hatch successfully, how are they going to get to the ground safely. Baby crows often leave the nest before they can really fly. They hop around, do a bit of clumsy gliding, but real flying skill usually takes a couple of weeks to develop. So, what happens when you’re born in a high rise??

Once you start getting attached to wild birds, there really is no end to the list of things to worry about!

I’ll keep you posted.

STUDIO SALE COMING UP

I’ll be having my annual pre-Mother’s Day studio sale in a couple of weeks. If you’re in the Vancouver area, come on by and you can find out the latest news first hand.

Birth of An Urban Nature Enthusiast

Pardon the rather overwrought title, but it’s true; an elementary school “Nature Collection” assignment changed my life.

It was also, at the age of 7, my first bitter taste of academic failure.

On the face of it, it was a rather fun assignment — go out into nature and make a collection of pods, seed and leaves from a variety of trees.

leaf-collection-white

The one tiny problem was the complete lack of such trees anywhere near where I lived.

Most of my fellow pupils at Saint Andrew’s school, located in the middle of an English industrial city (Newcastle upon Tyne), probably shared my problem. Some of them may have lived within reach of Exhibition Park or the Town Moor, but I lived down on the Quayside. We had the Tyne river, docks, ancient buildings — but no sycamores, oaks or hazel trees for miles.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family's flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family’s flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo. I was much more acquainted with the exact girder pattern of the Tyne Bridge just above my bedroom window than I was with the mysteries of trees.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I loved growing up down there. In spite of the complete lack of any family-oriented facilities (including trees), it was a truly epic place for childhood adventure.

High Level Bridge

The High Level Bridge viewed from a part of the old walls where we liked to play. There are a few small trees growing there now, but it was mostly just weeds back in the 50’s and 60’s.

There were a handful of kids in the neighbourhood — my little brother and I, the two sons of the pub owner, and the two daughters of another bank caretaker.

We were “free range” and felt we owned the city.

The ancient city walls were our forts and houses, and many games were staged in the abandoned graveyard of All Saints Church.

All Saint's Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

All Saints Church had no congregation so it was left to turn into an overgrown adventure playground. Because the church itself was a protected historic building it was never demolished.

It didn’t occur to me for a moment that we were nature-deprived. There were, after all, plentiful weeds on the old World War II bomb-sites with which to create spectacular bouquets.

One of my favourite childhood bouquet ingredients. It’s called fireweed here in Canada, but in the UK it has the more poetic name “Rosebay WIllowherb.”

But the dreaded Nature Collection project was real eye opener. I’d never actually seen the sycamore trees it spoke of, with their clever little helicopter seedpods. I certainly had idea where to go and collect samples. My mum, who didn’t drive and had my little brother to look after, couldn’t really help, other that getting some books out of the library for me.

In the end I just handed in some pictures of the items we were supposed to collect. It felt like a massive failure.

sycamore seed pods

Looking back, I feel some lingering annoyance that we were set an assignment so bound fail. It was a classic curriculum vs real life mismatch.

On the other hand, it was a great gift. I feel as if I’ve been diligently working on that darn assignment ever since.

When I moved to other, greener parts of the world, I pressed all kinds of leaves and flowers in books. Sometimes I composed pictures of with the dried results and sent them to my mum back in Newcastle. I recently came across a few ancient specimens in my massive copy of Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Pressed flowers

I still feel a thrill, fifty plus years later, every time I come across any new or particularly beautiful little specimen of leaf, seed, fungus, nest or moss.

Or crow, come to that. We only saw pigeons and gulls down on the Quayside.

Vera the crow

I’m always especially thrilled to see the ways in which nature and the city intersect

I love to see a weed forcing it’s way through asphalt, or human rubbish selected by birds to furnish their nests.

Bushtit nest

I found this fallen and abandoned bushtit nest and “collected” it earlier this year.

Bushtit nest

Detail of the bushtit nest. Construction materials include moss, spider webs (for strength and stretch), leaves, grass and fragments of man-made fibres.

This crow’s nest I found on the ground recently is a great town bird/country bird collaboration – an ingenious mix of twigs, moss, twine, packing fluff and zap straps.

Crow's Nest

Crow's nest detail

So, every piece of moss or rust, every bird I see; every lovely fallen leaf that catches my eye; it’s all being mentally added to the ongoing “Nature Collection” project.

leaf-collection-2

www.junehunter.com

On another small note, greeting cards, ornaments and my City Crow calendar are now available on my web site.calendar-cover-sq

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Ornaments by June Hunter

City Crow Christmas cards by June Hunter

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Greeting Cards by June Hunter

 

 

Forest Bathing

sun in trees

Sometimes a little dip into nature does the trick, but sometimes, nothing short of full woodland immersion is going to work.

Most days my spirits can be revived by a quick dog walk round the block, appreciating the changing leaves, a bit of moss here and there. The crows, of course.

Last week though — I’m not sure it was a touch of flu, too much turkey at Thanksgiving, or watching the second US presidential debate — but I was running on my last cylinder.

Although I felt mostly like sleeping, we went for a walk around Lynn Headwaters Park.

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Because fierce rain and windstorms were predicted, last Wednesday seemed bathed in a golden light. It was a perfect fall day, all the more special for the impending weather doom and gloom.

Also, I hadn’t been in the woods for several weeks due to a series of unfortunate lower leg events. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

Three hours felt like the equivalent of a week’s magical vacation.

Coincidentally, ever since then I’ve been seeing the Japanese practice of “Forest Bathing” or “Shinrin-Yoku” popping up on my social media, and even in today’s local paper. If you Google the term “forest bathing” you’ll see that everyone from The Globe and Mail to Oprah is talking about it.

It seems that something we’ve always known intuitively is backed up by science. A walk in the woods is good for your health — physical and mental. No need to work up a sweat either. It’s simply being in the presence of trees that provides the benefit.

So, if you can, get out and find some trees to bathe with right now.

If you can’t fit it into your schedule immediately, I hope you’ll enjoy these photos.

Think of it as just a preview of your own real woodland walk, coming soon.

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Lynn waters

Should you ever doubt the calming effect of a woodland walk, compare Geordie’s before and after pics.

anxious-geordie

BEFORE – in the car on the way to the park. Geordie always suffers a bit of car-ride anxiety, worrying perhaps that we’ve changed our mind and are returning him to the shelter in California whence he came.

AFTER: Geordie, blissfully one with nature.

 

www.junehunter.com

logo with crow

The Crow Calendar is Coming

calendar-cover

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.

geordie-and-edgar

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.

feb-2017

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. 

calendar-back

www.junehunter.com

logo with crow

 

 

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.

John Marzluff quote2

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

Plot Twist

Sometimes you start reading a book, and it takes you somewhere you had no idea you were going.

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I have a weakness for vintage natural history books, so I was quite thrilled to find this treasure on the shelves of a used bookstore in Nanaimo a while ago. I was immediately taken with the lovely 50’s typography, and a quick look inside revealed some lovely illustrations of animals and birds of the Rocky Mountain area. I had to have it!

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The charming cover page, with it’s fabulous typeface and a little engraving of a beaver, credits the author —Kerry Wood, and the illustrator —Frank L. Beebe.

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No date was listed, but a quick online search found that it was published by Herbert R. Lawson Publishing Co. Ltd. of Victoria, BC in 1955 . A year after I was born.

The Table of Contents looked very promising, with headings like The Big Fellows, The Long Sleepers and A Lazy Loafer.

contents

I skipped ahead to the conclusion, or L’Envoi in which our author charmingly bids us adieu with the wish that we “could meet beside some campfire there in the Parks, with a chuckling stream just beyond the flame-glow, a majestic mountain behind us, and the zestful perfume of the pines combining with the wood-smoke to enrich that wonderful mountain air. Amid such a setting, we could take time to tell each other more about those fascinating creatures of the wilds which share this marvelous gift of life with us.”

Mr. Woods sounded like such an affable companion for an excursion through the Rockies!

I skipped back to the animal section, leafing from wolverine to coyote.

Coyote

A whimsical passage on the coyote describes the character of the animal:

“And there you have Don Coyote; pup, hunter, clown, epicure, speedster, vocalist, and ghost, the most versatile animal-actor in the West!”

We learn that the marmot is untroubled by  “coal bills, galoshes, a “gold in da doze,” and other nuisances of winter”, because this animal is one of “The Long Sleepers”.

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Mr. Wood tells us that black bears love to wallow, “perhaps as a way of defeating the attentions of insect pests which may be attracted by the unsavoury B.O. afflicting all such animals.”

black bear

I felt as if I could wander through the Rockies with Mr. Wood and enjoy this lovely folksy, conversational style of his all day.

Of course, I was anxious to get to the bird section. My flipping through had revealed some lovely pages of illustrations.

swallows

The hawks are given the honour of “finest bird family” although the author acknowledges that “someone is sure to get indignant about listing hawks as the finest bird family; folks will vehemently point out that hawks steal chickens and therefore are bad birdies.” Our author goes on to point out, that while chicken stealing does go on, hawks also keep mice and insect pests under control. And, besides, hawks are protected by law from hunting.

hawks

But what about  the crows and ravens?

Time to find out what our author had to say about my favourite birds.

This is where the plot twist comes in, as we segue from “charming period nature writing” right into horror.

I guess it should have come as a bit of clue that crows, ravens and magpies were listed under the heading, “Mostly Rogues”

Mostly Rogues Title

Thankfully, Mr. Wood declares himself against the practices of egg stealing and shooting and collecting the feet of these “rogue” birds, although mostly because these methods are inefficient.

The more cost effective method for crow control he describes sounds both horrific, and faintly ludicrous.

roost bombs

He suggests placing “shot bombs” in areas where crows roost in order to “humanely kill hundreds and thousands of the offending birds.”

Shot bombs, “costing less than a dollar apiece,” could be made by “enclosing two or three pounds of lead shot with a stick of dynamite inside a sheath of concrete.” Add a detonating cap and battery, and voila! The mind boggles.

It’s incredible to me that crows, such intelligent and charming birds, could be dismissed simply as vermin to be eradicated — although I know that the corvid species is still regarded in this way in many parts of the world, with a bounty placed on their feathered heads.

But this particular method of blasting hundreds of them into oblivion while they sleep in their roost seems both gruesome and vaguely absurd.

Would a flyer be circulated earlier in the day for the benefit of all the wildlife not on the “naughty” list so they can vacate the area? Pity the poor cat, dog or child who might wander into the detonation zone at the wrong time. And what of the trees and foliage caught up in the carnage? I was reminded of a story told to me by an Irish man about his ill-fated aunt. Her cottage was near a rookery and she didn’t like the noise the birds made. She tried to get rid of them by smoking them out, and wound up burning down her own cottage.

Mr. Wood goes on to explain how the “roost bombing” method could reduce crows to “negligible numbers” in a few years. Clearly it did not. Probably not because people felt sympathy for the crows, but perhaps because someone saw the holes (literal and figurative) in the scheme.

Although also listed under “Rogues,” ravens are not as vilified as the crows and magpies, if only because they seem to have been scarce at the time. We even get a little Edgar Allen Poe humour here!

raven

From the rest of the book, it’s clear that Kerry Woods (you can read more about him here)  loved the wilderness and most of its inhabitants. He even had a nature centre named after him. I can only conclude that his attitude to corvids must have been a reflection of the prevailing view at the time.

So, while we may, from time to time, harken back to simpler times and the “good old days” I don’t imagine you get many crows from the Rockies wishing to go back to the 50’s!

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Vera would not like to be living in the 50’s!

I still like my book, Birds and Animals of the Rockies, for its beautiful typography and illustrations, the jaunty writing style, and the window into the thinking of the times.

But, if you’re interested in curling up with some more up-to-date books and blogs on the corvid species, here are some of my favourites.

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Crow Planet, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Lyanda also has a lovely blog called The Tangled Nest

Corvus — A Life with Birds, by Esther Woolfson

Gifts of the Crow and In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John Marzluff

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrick

Corvid Research, a very informative blog by Kaeli Swift

 

 

www.junehunter.com

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