The Blue Bird of Happiness

Final Stellar's Jay Composition

May that blue bird of happiness sit on your shoulder as it sat on mine when (at last!) a member of the tricky and elusive Stellar’s Jay tribe took pity on me and posed for a portrait.

I can’t really complain about the birds I’ve been able to photograph this summer. From the lovely little white crowned sparrows in my garden to the ravens that seem to have followed me around in recent months, it’s been a splendid season of bird viewing.

But there was one that seemed to delight in teasing me. Hiking in the woods and on mountains I was constantly on the lookout for the vivid blue flash of a Stellar’s Jay. And that’s exactly what I would see – a streak of electric blue disappearing between the shadows. Far too fast and distant for any hope of a photograph, it seemed that the Stellar’s Jay was mocking me. Quite likely from what I know of their corvid personality!

Worse, people would tell me they had these birds visiting them regularly in their gardens. One friend had one expire in his after being attacked by a cat (keep your cats indoors people!). I did have one in my garden once, about three years ago. Unfortunately it was in the deep shadow of the curly hazel tree (collecting nuts) where it was too dark to get a good shot. I only ever use natural light and a hand-held camera, so I am always at the mercy of the light.

Summer was pretty much done when we went for our holidays on Vancouver Island, and I was almost resigned to yet another season without a good Stellar’s Jay photograph.

The first stop on our trip was a visit with old friends who live in the village of Cumberland. Walking with my friend in the woods around their house I could hear the enticing call of the jay and occasionally saw that oh so tantalizing streak of blue.

Finally, I was standing alone, admiring my friend’s garden, when the bird shown here flew close to me at the edge of the woods. Instead of flitting away as usual, this one just sat there — in sufficient light for a decent photograph — and looking magnificent. He even considerately posed on a gorgeous moss-covered branch in a shade of lime green that perfectly complemented his feathers.

This is the original photograph of the Stellar's Jay taken in the woods outside Cumberland, BC.

This is the original photograph of the Stellar’s Jay taken in the woods outside Cumberland, BC.

It was as if he was saying, “Here, you’ve suffered enough. I’m posing for a perfect photo for you. Don’t muck it up.”

The final Stellar’s Jay portrait is composed using my usual layered approach. There is the Cumberland jay in starring role, with a supporting cast of cracked concrete, a fennel plant, the shadows of maple leaves left in a wet fall sidewalk, a tiny crow feather, grey blue sky and a Canadian postmark.

Some of the other images used in the composition of the Stellar's Jay portrait.

Some of the other images used in the composition of the Stellar’s Jay portrait.

This little blue bird of happiness is available in my online shop as a signed print, tile and as jewellery. You may have him with you to cheer up on any day, no matter how grey.

Stellar's Jay Tile

Stellar's Jay Earrings

Free as a Bird!

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Thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers at the Wildlife Rescue Association of BC out at Burnaby Lake, the female downy woodpecker is back on home turf. A volunteer called me this afternoon and we headed over with the same box I used the transport her to the refuge two weeks ago. Then she was unable to fly, quiet and still in box as I drove to Burnaby. She’d been attacked the day before by a cat, suffering bruises and abrasions.

Today, after two weeks of care and medication from the fine folk at WRA, she was deemed fit for release. She was certainly a lot more feisty on this drive, thrashing about impatiently in her box.

Let me out of this wretched box!

Let me out of this wretched box!

The moment we took the lid off she was off. First of all she hopped about in the snowbell tree and then the corkscrew hazel, before stopping for a refreshing drink at the birdbath.

Downy at Birdbath

Then she flew over to the other side of the garden and rediscovered the suet feeder.

Getting her bearings

Getting her bearings

Now this is looking familiar!

Now this is looking familiar!

Yum.

Yum.

Currently she’s flying around in the garden getting reacquainted with things. No sign so far of baby and dad downy woodpeckers. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a reunion and report back.

Two weeks later: I spotted a male and female adult and a juvenile downy woodpecker in the garden. I choose to believe that this is our original family, united at last.

Downy Woodpecker Rehab

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI called the Wildlife Rescue refuge out at Burnaby Lake again yesterday to check in on our little downy patient. The news is still good. She’s lively, off  medication and flying around in a large enclosure. They are keeping her a while longer so she can build up her strength and agility and not be easy prey for another cat once she’s released. They did tell me that’s she’s very lucky to be doing so well. Most bird/cat encounters do not end this well for the bird!

I’m told to check back next week when it’s likely I can go and pick her up to return her back to her own neighbourhood and, hopefully, her downy family.

Downy Woodpecker Drama


Downy Woodpecker mother and baby
The week started so well for the downy woodpeckers in the garden. I captured this lovely moment when the mother downy, hardly any bigger than her offspring, carefully feeds him some suet from our feeder. Baby can fly a little but hasn’t quite figured out how to gain entry to the inner sanctum of the squirrel proof “suet palace”.

Baby Downy Woodpecker at Suet Feeder

Things began to go wrong for the family yesterday morning when the mother downy woodpecker ran into the neighbour’s cat. Luckily the neighbour was nearby and rescued her from the jaws of death. Meanwhile the baby downy woodpecker seemed at a loss and was sitting immobile in our lilac tree. We decided to try and reunite them. At first it seemed as if it might be a happy ending. Mom fluttered out of the box the neighbour had put her in, and made in the direction of her baby. Unfortunately it was soon apparent that she couldn’t fly. She did, however, manage to scoot up the lilac tree and even, after a major struggle, get into the suet palace for some food. Darkness was falling and I began to consult my more bird-savvy friends on the best course of action.

Injured Mother Downy Woodpecker

The consensus was that the mother woodpecker needed to be rescued because injuries caused by cats almost always become badly infected. Unfortunately she had disappeared into the high branches of the lilac and it was quite dark. Also I worried about what would happen to the baby without his mother. I hadn’t seen any sign of the male parent all week. A wet and fretful night followed, with midnight, 2am, 5am and 7am checks on the stranded birds. As soon as it opened at 8:30am, I called the Wildlife Rescue Association in Burnaby. As I was on the phone to the lovely volunteer there, a miraculous thing happened. The male woodpecker suddenly appeared. It would not in any way be an overstatement to say that their reunion was rapturous. It reminded me of one of the clips at the beginning of the movie “Love Actually” where long separated family and loved ones reunite at Heathrow Airport. Anyway, two good things came out of this. One: there was another parent so junior would not be alone with his mother gone. Two: the female was so exhausted after the excitement of her mate’s return that she fluttered to the ground. My daughter and I had a box and sheet ready and quickly scooped her up.

Injured Downy Woodpecker in boxOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So now we wait to see if she will make it. I have a case number and will call the rescue people tomorrow to see. If she does recover we can bring her back here to hopefully reunite with her family. If not, at least she’ll have been spared a lot of suffering.

Story continued:

Downy Woodpecker Update,  Downy Woodpecker Rehab and Free as a Bird