Waiting for Spring

It seems to have been an especially long wait this year. This, for example,  was my studio yesterday morning.

In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet these past few weeks it’s not, unfortunately, because I’m on a tropical beach somewhere. For most 2019 thus far you could find me in my living room, wrapped in a quilt and reading a large pile of books or watching Netflix. Not that you would want to find me — a Gollum-like coughing, sneezing and whinging creature.

If you read my New Year’s Eve blog, you know that cold/cough number one came as a Christmas gift and lingered over New Year and into early January.

For a couple of weeks later in January, things were looking up.

It was faux spring (better known as Fool’s Spring.) Flowers were blooming in the garden and I felt much better. “Ha, this winter’s going to be a doddle,” I may have thought to myself in a moment of jaunty optimism.

This is why it’s called Fool’s Spring.

The February snow arrived in drifts, burying any upstart flowers.

Along with the snow came the second, even worse, version of the dreaded lurgy. With maximum inconvenience, it struck the evening before my Valentine’s Day studio sale. My husband was even sicker than me, so it fell to my lovely and competent kids to run the show.

For part of February I was too sick to do anything at all. Since lying down made me cough more, I spent hours watching the BBC’s gardening guru, Monty Don, helping people to transform their rubble-filled backyards into replicas of the gardens at Versailles. We also toured the gardens of Italy together, which was very nice.

In between Netflix, I read a lot of books, mostly novels.

When the Christmas book bonanza ran out, I started downloading the Inspector Gamache mysteries to my iPad. They’re set in rural Quebec and I’ve been enjoying them, but after binge reading four in a row, it might be time for a change.

A bonus to being sick was that Edgar, at 9 years old, has finally condescended to sit on my lap. He’s been lap-phobic since we’ve had him, but suddenly this winter, perhaps because I was generally covered in a camouflaging quilt and immobile for days on end,  he decided to throw caution to the wind. We both love this new arrangement.

I’ve mostly stopped coughing now, but I have the speaking voice of  a chipmunk and about 40% of my usual energy.

On most days recently I’ve been able to get out for short walks with the dog. They’re slow walks but I’m at least able to see glimpses of the real world and keep up with the latest in the crow-munity.

Still winter woolly weather out there.

From the weather forecast, and from signs I’ve seen on my walks, it seems as if spring (or at least a second Fool’s Spring) is just around the corner. I’m hoping that it will bring with it some more energy for me,  and a few touches of colour in the landscape.

See tomorrow’s post for actual Signs of Spring.

 

Crowflix

Sometimes the best way to tear yourself away from binge-watching the TV is to drag yourself outside and tune in to the always entertaining Crow Channel.

I’d planned an archival Ken Burns-style documentary for this blog post, going over everything that’s happened with the local crows since I last did an update last fall.

After sorting through months of photographs I was still trying to wrap my mind around a way to fit everything into a post that would be slightly shorter than War and Peace.

A lot happens with crows in a few months!

This morning, while walking the dog. I had a epiphany. (This often happens, don’t you find?)

I decided to write the blog just about the hot-from-the-press crow news as gathered on the current morning walk — coming to you live (-ish) & local from East Vancouver.

No sign of Marvin and Mavis first thing, so Geordie and I headed out and put their Sunday morning breakfast (scrambled eggs) in the fridge for later.

The first star appearance in today’s crow drama is Mabel — of George and Mabel fame, and cover model for the 2018 crow calendar.

She and her new mate “own” the western end of our street. I’m sure it’s Mabel, partly because she knows me so well, and partly because of her bad eye. From one side she looks like any other crow.

But from the other, I can see that the eye that was starting to deteriorate when George was alive has gotten worse. I’m not sure if she can see out of it at all now, but somehow it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She rules her territory like a corvid Boudicca, faulty eye or not. All crows are action heroes.

Time for a short crow calligraphy break in the programming as we spot one of the several  Garibaldi School crows, creating an interesting silhouette agains some wavy branches.

Back to some supporting actors in the ongoing crowp opera. There are quite a few characters on Napier Street that I haven’t named yet, although they seem to know me (and Geordie) very well. The white blur in the photo below is Geordie walking between me and the crow. Dog and crow seem to take each other’s presence for granted.

Portrait of a crow, photograph by June Hunter<br /> ©junehunterimages2019<br /> www.junehunter.com

Another un-named, very confident, Napier Street crow …

It’s always a bit tricky when you get to the corner of a block, or wherever the boundary between crow fiefdoms lies. Here we’re on the border of Pants Family terrain, but the Napier crow on the stop sign seems inclined to make a bold incursion this morning.

Napier Street crow on the edge of his territory

Mr. Pants is not amused at the audacity.  We might have had to include a “Warning: Crow Violence” sticker on this program, but I traced my steps back a bit so I could distract the Napier crows with a few peanuts before having a short visit with the Pants Family.

Since the great moulting season of 2018  — see Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips — Mr. Pants has been lacking the feathered trousers that earned him his name. Now that it’s getting a bit colder, he does seem to be getting a bit fluffier around the nether regions, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever be quite so pantaloon-encumbered as he once was.

He probably enjoys the more streamlined life.

The Pants power couple.

Mr. Pants, dashing with or without trousers.

Brief pause for a commercial break … 

June Hunter Studio Sale Feb 2019

And now, back to scheduled programming …

On to William Street next to check in on the White Wing plot line. I know this is Ms. Wing by the way she greets me, even though I can’t see her distinctive wonky feather from this angle.

There we go …

A brisk wind catches her protruding feather this morning. It looks kind of awkward, but she seems to manage very well. In fact, of all the local crows, she was the most successful mom this year, successfully raising three fledglings to independence.

Another break for a spot of crow calligraphy.

The commotion in a tree near William and Kaslo made me think a crow or eagle must be involved, but it seemed to be an all-crow kerfuffle. The one on the far right had something in his beak and it seems that the others felt it was not rightfully his.

They chased him out of the tree, back to the tree and dive bombed repeatedly, but he stubbornly held on to whatever prize he’d managed to score.

On the home stretch  we run into two of our old favourites, Eric and Clara.

They’re Marvin and Mavis’s closest neighbours and there’s been a bit of rivalry between them lately.  When I stop to greet Eric and Clara, I immediately see and hear Marvin on a power line, making grumpy territorial calls.

Eric and Clara

As soon as I get a few steps closer to home, Marvin comes down to claim my full attention. Time for breakfast.

But no … there’s a final twist to the plot (isn’t there always?)

Mavis is watching something else from another hydro wire and she seems perturbed.

Raven!!!! Furious cawing and they take off to escort the intruder out of their territory.

It takes Marvin a few minutes to calm down after that little burst of crow-drenelin.

I thinks he’s earned a good breakfast, so the scrambled eggs are brought out again.

Marvin graciously lets Mavis have the first serving. Since she developed a spot of avian pox on her right foot late last year, I notice she’s a lot pushier about getting the food and Marvin seems to know she needs as much nutrition as she can get. You can see the small lesion on her back foot in the photo below. It doesn’t seem to be growing, so I’m hoping she’s got enough of an immune system to hold it at bay.

‘Scuse my table manners.

Marvin the patient.

And so today’s Crowflix programming comes to an end … and we didn’t even cover the Slocan Street Trio. Perhaps they’ll need their own episode. Remember, there’s probably a live crow show on offer in  your neighbourhood too. You just have to step away from the TV and out the door.

6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

Marvin Close Up Dec 2018

1. Crows Are a Gateway Bird

The Look

Crows are often the only obvious representative of the natural world that a busy urbanite might see in a day. Many more wild things live among us, of course — but crows are so “in your face” that they’re hard to overlook, no matter how distracted you are. Once they’ve caught your eye, you can’t help but start to notice the rest of the quieter members of the urban nature gang… sparrows, chickadees, coyotes, eagles, hawks, bushtits, raccoons, ravens, squirrels, flickers, hummingbirds … and the precious scraps of urban greenery in which they thrive.

2. Crow as Mirror

Crows have evolved through millennia along an entirely separate path from humans.

And yet, and yet … here we find ourselves, crows and people, living strangely parallel urban lives.

TRIO

We all —crows and humans — have to deploy every bit of our creativity and hard work to get by in the urban jungle. We take comfort in our family groups, and we commute in tandem—  the nightly river of roost-bound crows soaring raucously over their earthbound fellow travellers, the latter inching their way homeward though traffic.

Still Creek Roost sunset

While I love and admire crows, I don’t usually think of them as my “spirit animal” or anything particularly mystical.

And yet, sometimes, when I look at Mavis …

monday-morning-mavis-post.jpg

3. Crows Really Don’t Care

Crows have a rather enviable devil-may-care attitude.

Crow's Eye Close Up

Their gaze is firmly outward, with little or no thought wasted on what others think of them.  They know that their crow-ness is sufficient.

I try to be more like them in that regard, … although I don’t think I don’t think I’m quite ready to start digging up  my neighbours’ lawns just yet.

Mr Pants Beard

For further reading on crow confidence: Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

4. Crow Puzzles

As I get older I wonder if I should start doing Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind sharp.

wet-sunday-togetherness-e1544062468551.jpg

I haven’t yet,  but I find that crow watching is a pretty good substitute. I see a crow doing something rather inexplicable. I wonder about it, read a book or an article about crows, I watch some more, and then — aha! — the puzzle pieces suddenly fit into place.  Then I have to try and keep that bit of information stored in my brain as I add more clues to a growing picture. It’s like being a crow P.I.

Take, for instance, the mystery of the barking crow …

See my previous blog post A Puzzlement of Crows for just how much of my brain this sort of thing occupies at any one time.

Whitewing Dec 2018

Whitewing here has a perennially wonky wing feather which helps me pick her out from the crowd.

5. Crows For Kids

We worry that our kids spend too much time inside, screen-mesmerized (much like the rest of us) and rarely keen to get outside and get involved with nature. They’re able to identify far more corporate logos than birds or plants.

From experiences with my own children when they were younger, the most effective way to get them interested in doing something is to create a story around it.

My son was reluctant to come on walks until we found Dragon Alley.  A street near our house is lined with massive trees, and the trunks are all covered in various kinds of thick moss. Once we “discovered” that this was were the local dragons came to rub off their old scales, walking was a delight.

dragon scales

I wish I’d started noticing crows when my children were little. The tales we could have spun! The characters we could have followed!  They loved books with animals in them, but most of them were not indigenous to East Vancouver. They read about tigers and badgers and hedgehogs in brambly hedges, none of which they were ever likely to actually find on their own adventures. It would have been fun to introduce them to some real life local crow characters.

Well I guess it’s never too late as I do that now, even though the kids are now in their twenties …

Slocan Street Crow Dec 2018

6. Crow Therapy is Egalitarian

Twig Carrying Crow

Just about anyone in a crow-populated city can take advantage of crow therapy. You don’t even need to get up close and personal — you can read their messages of beauty and nature from a distance in the calligraphy they write against the sky.

We simply need to stop for a moment to look up and try to interpret it.

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In fact, crow therapy is SO egalitarian that it doesn’t even need to involve crows.

If it’s wondering what the starlings are up to today, or how the light will hit the leaves on your favourite tree this morning, or which dragons left scales in Dragon Alley overnight — whatever gives you a thrill of anticipation as your step outside — that’s Crow Therapy.

Wild City

See also: Crow Therapy

 

 

 

A Letter to City Hall

Golden Poplars

Since September, I’ve done a lot of writing. Probably more writing than I’ve done since my long ago thesis on Anglo-Saxon poetry.

I’ve been writing letters … so many letters … to Vancouver City Council and staff.

They’ve been rather boring letters, full of carefully researched references to building permits, footnotes and traffic management plans. Petition wording, schematic views and the endless argument for community consultation.

Notre Dame stadium ariel

Google map view of Notre Dame School. and surrounding area. Green = proposed artificial turf stadium: Red = new parking lot


In summary, the issue is this: In 2004-5 Notre Dame School (located at the end of our street) revealed plans for a new campus, including a sports stadium and the removal of perimeter trees. Local residents were relatively happy about the new buildings, but very much opposed to the sports stadium and tree removal. We rallied to state our opposition and in 2006 a compromise was reached when the school agreed to build a grass practice field instead of the stadium, and to keep the trees. In 2008 they received a building permit for this. The buildings were finished a few years ago, but the sports field construction did not start. In September we found out, purely by accident, that, in January of this year,  the school had submitted a request for a minor amendment to the 2008 building permit to the City of Vancouver. The amendment would allow a sunken, full-sized artificial turf games field with stadium seating, and necessitate the removal of the trees on the west side of the site. Neither the school nor the City informed the local community of this change. We have been writing letters asking that this change not be allowed as a minor amendment, but require a new building permit, which would then create the opportunity for community input. Two months in, and we haven’t received any meaningful response from the City, the school, or the Archdiocese which overlooks the school.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into the issue, visit our group web site at www.notredameneighbours.wordpress.com


Most of my official stadium-related correspondence with City Hall has centred on classic topics like street safety, traffic, parking and noise. All valid and very real concerns for our neighbourhood.

But now I’m taking some time to write an open letter straight from the heart on an even bigger subject — the one that really keeps me awake at night.

Dear City of Vancouver,

Welcome new mayor and council members. You are a politically diverse group and I hope you’ll be creative and collaborative in your decision making, and will do the City of Vancouver proud over the next few years.

This morning I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with someone from the University of BC Forestry Department talking about a project called Citizen Cool Kits — an initiative encouraging neighbourhoods to come together and hatch ideas to lower their carbon footprint — all in a community-based effort to combat climate change. An important aspect of this is the maintenance and enhancement of the “urban forest”.

You can find the Citizen Cool Kit here.

It’s a great idea, right? A positive approach to climate change challenges, very suited to a city that prides itself on being green and progressive.

But then I think about the school’s stadium plan, which the City seems poised to endorse. It could hardly be any more contrary to the idea of being collaborative, or climate and environment friendly.

What we have currently at Notre Dame School, from a neighbourhood point of view, are some quite spiffy looking new buildings, a rutted parking lot, a pile of rubble that has waist high grass has grown over it, and rows of tall Lombardy poplar trees on the north, east and west sides of the campus. It’s not exactly a beautiful site (or sight) but the trees do form a visual curtain and create a towering habitat for many bird species, from ravens to bushtits.

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In an area woefully under-served by parks or green space of any kind, those trees have been, for as long as I’ve lived here (27 years)  served as a low footprint vertical park space. Green poster-children for densification. When there aren’t many leaves, the stand of poplars is like a giant shadow puppet theatre, starring a huge and varied cast of birds and animals.

Crow Family

 

And this year, in April, Mountain Bluebirds – yes, Mountain Bluebirds! – spent a weekend at the school feasting on the smorgasbord of bugs living in the overgrown grass on the rubble pile before continuing on their journey north.

Mountain Bluebird on Chainlink

Male Mountain Bluebird on the chainlink fence at Notre Dame School.

Bluebird on my Shoulder

Literally, a bluebird of happiness on a shoulder

A raven often visits the dilapidated parts of the school campus, resting on the parking lot fence or perching in the poplar branches, peacefully ignoring the inevitable crow harassment. His call cuts through the urban sounds of traffic and construction noise like a clear bell reminding us of the mountains and forests just a few miles away.

Environmentally, it’s alive. The trees and the grassy wasteland are doing their bit to capture carbon and host living things.

Raven Toilette

True, it’s not particularly attractive at the moment, and it’s certainly not doing the students at the school much good as they run around the school on the sidewalk or up to the local park for exercise and sports practice.

It would be wonderful to see them have an attractive sports field, as laid out in the 2008 permit.

Sports are an important part of the school curriculum, but surely there are other things that children need to experience and learn in school. Environmental studies? Ethics? Poetry? At my high school I  loved the treed area by the grass hockey field and my best friend and I would read aloud to each other there at lunch breaks. Once a nerd, always a nerd.

Two male Mountain Bluebirds

If the school built a grass practice field as they agreed, it would save them millions of dollars over the cost of a fancy stadium. The trees could be saved and some of the savings could go into creating a border of native shrubs and grasses, encouraging the Mountain Bluebirds to visit every year. More fabulous educational possibilities – tracking the migratory path of the bluebird, exploring the challenges that climate change and human activity are posing for them on their journey, researching what could be added to the school grounds to make it an even more inviting stop over spot for them.

Crow in the poplars

UBC’s Citizen Cool Kit also offers a great potential project for students to explore how the school could make their grounds as green as possible. They could map where Hastings Creek runs under the school and imagine the land they’re standing on as it was a hundred years ago. Who lived there? What did it look like? Ecology class could lead field trips on their very own campus!

hastings creek map

If they go ahead with the sunken, artificial turf stadium, none of this will be possible.

First, the poplar trees will be doomed because the sunken field will run right up to the property line, and the root damage caused by such close proximity to a steep drop would make them unstable. City bylaws require that other trees replace those removed, but what tree of any size could grow atop an 8 foot retaining wall?

And don’t get me started on artificial turf! The City of Vancouver seems to love the stuff at the moment, especially as an “easy” answer for low maintenance sports facilities.

I covered a lot of my concerns about artificial turf in my early blog post, the cheerily titled Environmental Dead Zone — so I’ll just refer you to that. Be sure to check out the links at the bottom of the post for even more reading.

Robin on School Fence

Urban nature is pretty tough, but it’s far from invincible. It needs some help in the form of creative thinking by planners, developers and politicians to thrive.

If the stadium plan goes ahead, I fear that there will far less birdsong in the neighbourhood. An absence of ravens, certainly no mountain bluebirds.

I imagine the crows will find reasons to stick around, if only to steal fast food wrappers dropped by stadium attendees and to laugh at our human folly.

Sincerely, June Hunter

Crow Judgement

A final note: if anyone reading this feels inspired to contact Vancouver’s Mayor, Council or or staff, on this issue (or any other) all of their email addresses are at this handy link: https://notredameneighbours.wordpress.com/contact-mayor-and-council/

Delicate Balance

This last image is one of my favourites of many photographs taken of the poplars over the years. It is somewhat appropriately titled Delicate Balance.

 

Crow Therapy

It’s been a busy week, starting on Monday when I was interviewed by Gloria Macarenko on the CBC Radio One’s show — On The Coast.

You can listen to the interview here.

The subject of our chat was my City Crow calendar in particular, and “crow therapy” in general.

I must admit that when I first coined the phrase “crow therapy” for city dwellers, I half meant it as a joke.

After all, there are already so many cures from our mental and spiritual ailments these days — ranging from the snake oil variety, to the truly helpful.

As I scroll through my social media feed and my blood pressure inevitably begins to rise — there it is — the ad for “Calm”  (apparently the best-selling app of the year) floating serenely down the page. It seems to actually know which posts are going to aggravate me most so that it can make a timely and soothing appearance.

There is the lovely forest bathing therapy, and that is generally free – all you need is some forest in which to wander. That, and hiking in the mountains looking for ravens, are two of my favourite calming “apps.” Unfortunately, I have neither forest nor mountain on my doorstep, so those types of respite take a bit of time and planning.

Given how fraught our daily lives can be, we could all take to wandering the mountain trails and forest pathways on a full-time basis, having bid farewell to our jobs and families.

Or, we could look for a stress-busting technique that’s more readily at hand.

There are always those handy phone apps, of course. But it seems counter productive to spend yet more time looking at screens in order to reduce the tension often brought about by too much time immersed in that world to begin with.

What we need is a window OUT of our normal world, even for if it’s just for a few minutes.

Therefore, I present to you: Crow Therapy — 100% free, and readily available!

A crow knows what’s it like to be struggling to make it in the big city.

They understand.

A crow isn’t perfect.

They don’t expect you to be either.

So what are you waiting for?

A  Crow Therapist, or two,  are likely waiting for you outside right now.

Speak up, I don’t have all day here …

Coming soon: 6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

If you really need a lot of Crow Therapy,  you may benefit from the company of thousands of corvids. See my blog post: Last Call at Still Creek

 

 

Special Days

Some days there are ravens.

Some days, there are even mountain bluebirds.

When such things miraculously appear in my own urban neighbourhood I tend to (if at all possible) just drop everything and follow them.

I’ve been ridiculously lucky for the past two weekends.

It was the raven the weekend before last. She hung around for most of Saturday and Sunday and I was able to take several hours each day just to watch and listen.

I became quite convinced that this raven was here specifically to continue my rudimentary language instruction. We were moving on to “Conversational Raven.”

VIDEOS to follow—  so remember to go to the BLOG POST ITSELF to see them.

We started our day early when I saw her on the first dog walk of the day. You can see her raven breath in the chilly morning air.

In this next clip, I honestly felt she was trying to get through to a particularly slow student when she making her oh-so-carefully articulated speech.

Sometimes, you know how you choke up for the big performance. Especially when you have an audience …

But, for me, the highlight of the day was when I realized why it’s often so hard, just listening to her calls, to figure out exactly where she is. Sometimes it sounds like two birds calling to each other. Sometimes she sounds close, a second later, really distant.

The mystery was solved on Sunday, when I found her calling in a spot where she was surrounded by walls on three sides. The echo was so amazing that I just stood there for quite a while before I thought to try and video it. Unfortunately, the tiny and uni-directional microphone on my camera doesn’t pick up the echo that well — but you can see her stop and listen to her own voice coming back to her.

I wondered if she thought it was a second raven, or whether she did it to sound as if there were more of her and to generally drive the crows crazy.

Raven with Two Crows

Speaking of driving the crows crazy, I think this is Eric and Clara keeping an eye on her raven shenanigans.

Raven Grooming

Madame Raven completes her morning toilette, heedless of the scolding crows and the clicking cameras.

And then, this last weekend, came the bluebirds.

I only noticed them because I was scouring the area for the raven.

Something darted over an unused piece of grassland that looked, in it’s flight pattern, more like a swift or swallow that the usual small birds I see around here. Upon closer inspection, there was an improbable flash of summer sky blue.

Mountain Bluebird on Fence with Mountain View

Poor Geordie. I’m sure he sighed an enormous doggy sigh as our walk came to an abrupt halt and I started feverishly consulting the Sibley’s Bird app on my iPhone.

Not a Western Bluebird then — they have brown/orange chests. Could it be a Mountain Bluebird? I had never seen one, even though I lived and worked for years in the north and interior of BC, which is more their usual spring/summer range. It seemed so odd that they should make a sudden appearance in East Vancouver. The Sibley’s map shows the coast of BC as part of their migration route, so just passing through.

Mountain Bluebird on Twig

They like open grasslands with some trees for shelter and they had found exactly that for their Vancouver stopover. I guess they did some excellent BirdAirBnB research in advance.

The piece of overgrown grass had small bushes and fences for them to perch on to view their insect prey before diving in to dine.

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I “visited” them several times over the weekend, often pointing  them out to neighbours passing by. Some of them went to bring their families to see the amazing sight. None of us had ever seen them before. They reminded me of the little birds that helped Cinderella to do her housework and get ready for the ball in the original Disney animation.

More real … still magical.

Male Mountain Bluebird

Female Bluebird on Fence

The male birds are impossibly vivid. The females are more subtle in the their colouring, but there would still be a spectacular flash of blue from their wings when they took flight.

These appearances were, as they say in the furniture flyers, Limited Time Offer Only!

May many of your days be special, and may the Bluebird of Happiness fly over to your shoulder …

Bluebird Over Shoulder

… and rest there for a while.

Bluebird on Shoulder

Oh, and if you’re wondering, when will their be bluebird cushion covers? … don’t worry, I’m on it!

Mountain Bluebird Photo Collage

Coming soon to a couch near you!

See the sequel to this post at: Ordinary Days.

Snow Birds

Already it seems as if we might just have dreamed it.

Once upon a time, one Saturday morning in February, we woke up in a crystal palace.

A thick and flawless blanket of snow had fallen silently through the Vancouver night. The sun had come out. Everything looked like a fairy tale.

Photo of me, like a kid on Christmas morning, out in the garden in my dashing plaid housecoat.

The landscape itself was breathtaking so we just stood around, being robbed of breath.

Movement in my the trees made me think “… and there are birds.”

Not only is there landscape, but there are BIRDS in it. It felt like a surprise gift.

Of course I know this —  given that I think about, follow, write about, and photograph the darn things every day of my life. But somehow it just struck me then that birds are like an extra dimension. Like a new hue in the colour spectrum. A huge bonus.

Northern Flicker in a white landscape

It made me remember that I didn’t really notice birds much until my 50’s.

In my twenties, I lived in a cabin miles from anywhere, and there must have been many birds in my solitary world. Somehow I remember the trees, the moss, lichen and wild flowers in great detail, but no birds. There must have been ravens, for heaven’s sake, but I just didn’t register them.

Intrepid song sparrow

People often ask me how I came to start taking pictures of crows and other birds.

When both of my parents died within a couple of years of each other (almost twenty years ago now) I started photographing as a form of home-made therapy. I obsessively made very closely observed portraits of plants for several years, eventually turning it into my profession.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I was out in the garden, hunched over a hosta (as per usual) when I heard some crows making a terrific racket above me. I’m sure this was not the first time, but for some reason that day my head, tilted for so many years towards the earth, turned to look at the sky. In my mind, there was a creaking sound as I made the adjustment.

There are birds.

I finally noticed.

Better late than never, I guess.

Marvin and Mavis in the coral bark maple

And, as many of you know, once you start noticing crows, there’s no going back.

And they’re just the thin end of the wedge. Once you start watching crows, the next thing you know, there are house sparrows and starlings and robins and chickadees and flickers. And, good grief, was that a hummingbird …?

So, the snow day, beautiful as the scenery was, also served to make me appreciate the bird dimension of landscape all over again.

It was as if I’d forgotten about them all for a minute and then remembered.

Marvin “snow swimming” on the neighbour’s roof.

A robin and a flicker share the heated birdbath facilities.

A junco enjoys the pool to himself.

Marvin and Mavis enjoying some welcome sun.

Chickadee on one leg, trying to warm up one foot at a time.

Snow covered crow’s nest.

Marvin, having looked at snow from both sides now …

 

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Crow Gossip

Just in case you tire of human news, here’s a “celebrity profile” of a different sort.

I’m not sure “who” this up-and-coming power couple are wearing this fall.

Their lives seem to be pretty scandal-free, although you’d have to listen to the roost rumours to be sure of that.

Politically, I’d say they’re pretty apathetic — although very vocal on some local issues.

Marvin and Mavis have claimed my garden as their territory this fall. We’re really just starting to get to know each other, but I can already share a few juicy details about the lifestyle of the loud and feathery.

First of all, they’re art fans — with a particular fondness for sculptural pieces. Marvin was first wowed by the rusty metal jay bird on the back gate.

Then, he became intrigued by the metal figure on the bird feeder.

He’s so impressed with the whole “birds as art” concept , he’s taken to posing as a crow statue.

Corvid performance art.

It is said that crows can tell each other apart by their calls. Until recently, I thought that the difference must be too subtle for human ears, but Marvin has a particularly guttural caw that I can actually recognize at once.

 

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What gets both Marvin and Mavis really riled up is … cats. This is actually quite handy for me, because they often warn me that the neighbour’s cat is in the garden and lurking under the bird feeder, or by the bird bath. They’re quite pleased with how quickly they’ve trained me to run out of the house, waving my arms and yelling at the evil creature. They also notified me when Edgar, our indoor cat, snuck out during the Halloween preparations. Again, they were gratified to see how promptly the ginger devil was captured and contained.

For Halloween, apart from the usual chocolate bars, I also bought some mini bags of Cheezies. I wanted to save some for after Halloween to test Marvin and Mavis’s junk food susceptibility.

All crows I’ve ever known have had a weakness for these frighteningly orange snacks. I don’t buy them often because (a) I don’t want to fill my crows up with junk food and (b) I can’t resist them either.

I can reliably report that Mavis and Marvin are as weak in the face of Cheezie temptation as the rest of us.

Note that the dog kibble and peanuts have been left for a second trip. Best get the Cheezies while the getting’s good.

 

Well, that’s about it for the latest hot crow gossip around here. Stay tuned for the next instalment. Perhaps fashion and beauty tips …

Marvin and Mavis, captured in a candid moment by the relentless paparazzi.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

A whole year’s worth of corvid rumour and gossip in the City Crow Calendar.

Marvin is the model in this newest miniature crow pendant.

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.