Crow Calligraphy

Nest Building Triptych

It’s that time of year again.

Most of the local crows seem to have suddenly become enrolled in some sort of corvid witness protection program.

The normally gregarious garden visitors, and dog-walk-followers, are suddenly either absent altogether, or shifty and secretive.

It’s nesting time, and I’m resigned to not seeing so much of Marvin and Mavis and the others until later in the summer when, if we’re lucky, they’ll come back to show off their offspring.

But I don’t give up on watching crows for these few months.

Instead I watch for the calligraphy in the sky.

Big Twig

The crows start to exist in my consciousness as quick brushstrokes, furtively flitting by with tell-tale beak attachments.

The latest cargo for the nest in the poplar trees has been grass, leading me to believe that we’re at the finishing, soft furnishings, stage of construction.

Crow with Soft Furnishings for Nest

There are only a few short days to gather clues as to who’s nesting where. Just now, the trees aren’t quite leafed out, and the nests under construction are still visible.

But the crows are smart and have tactics to confuse.

I believe it’s Eric and Clara who are building in the poplars and  they have at least two nests on the go. I imagine they will decide which of the two to inhabit (or perhaps they have a third that I haven’t spotted at all) once the leaves give them full camouflage.

It’s a bit of a mystery/thriller, illustrated with simple silhouettes.

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There are characters other than crows in this year’s storyline. Ravens have decided to try the charms of city living in our neighbourhood this year.

Raven Call in Poplars

 

I’m thrilled. The crows are considerably less happy. Ravens will steal eggs from the their nests, so they’re on the “naughty” list, along with eagles, hawks, racoons etc.

As such they are mobbed relentlessly, making for a very busy crow spring.

Not only must nests be built – but ravens must be energetically harassed from dawn to dusk.

Raven Mobbed by Crows

Sometimes, it all just gets too much for the tired corvids.

One day last week I watched this raven in a tree, surrounded for about twenty minutes by a harmonious crowd of crows.

One crow even seemed to getting very close – perhaps trying for a diplomatic detente.

Raven Crow Detente

Note: Video follows, so if you’re reading this in email format, click HERE to go to the blog so that you can see the video.

For a moment it seemed that a crow/raven understanding might be reached …

… but talks broke off and hostilities resumed. I guess the crows were just taking a much-needed breather.

 

So, at this time of year, keep an eye on the sky for calligraphic messages from the crow world. You  might just learn where it’s going to be best to avoid (or at least to use an umbrella when walking by) later in the season.

See Dive Bombed by Crows! for more on this …

Twig Gift

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George and Mabel – A Love Story

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They say that crows usually mate for life.  George and Mabel have certainly stuck together through good, and some very bad, times — so, in honour of Valentine’s Day, here is their story.

I wrote about some of their trials and tribulations about a year ago in the blog post George’s Tough Year. This is the next installment of their story.

In spite of babies lost to illness  and a seemingly catastrophic injury, George has kept on keeping on and, with the help of his mate, Mabel, seems to be thriving.

We never did figure out what exactly caused George’s beak to break. Theories have included: crash landing; attack from other birds; and a run in with a rat trap. I don’t think George is going to tell me any time soon. In any case, I hardly think he notices his half-beak any more.

He’s developed his own method of scooping up food, turning his head upside down for a more efficient “shovelling” action.

You would think that other crows would take advantage of George’s disability, but he and Mabel, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. While George comes down to pick up their breakfast, Mabel stands guard on a higher roof and warns of incoming interlopers.

Mabel on sentry duty.

Mabel looking fierce on sentry duty

Mabel fixes me with a stern gaze, just in case I’m about to cause any problems

George’s great advantage over other crows is that he’s not afraid of me at all. If I’m present, the other crows are too afraid to come and eat, while George regards me as his personal catering manager. If I forget one of his “snacks” he will perch right by my studio and stare meaningfully at me through the window until I get the message.

The Look.

The Look.

In 2015 they had a baby but s/he was terribly afflicted by avian pox and died as soon as the cold weather came. Last summer I watched carefully to see what would happen. They had two babies. One didn’t make it, but the second is hanging in there. Boy/Girl George, as I like to call him/her has a small foot deformity, but has survived a bitterly cold winter, so fingers crossed.

Boy/Girl George

George and Mabel are working incessantly to make sure their offspring thrives. After George has collected the food I put out (and he can cram an amazing amount into his gullet and beak) he flies off to share the bounty with Mabel and the baby. I think George is trying to show Junior the food collecting ropes, but s/he remains skittish about coming too close for now.

Mom and baby

Crow family in silhouette

So this Valentine’s Day, we can celebrate the many kinds of love. From the giddy excitement of first infatuation, to the less dramatic but lifelong kind that George and Mabel enjoy.

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Happy Valentine’s Day from George and Mabel!

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Autumn Crow Walk

If you’ve been wondering where Eric the crow is these days, read on.

After a rather long day in the studio I was faced with the choice of a “feet up with tea” break, or a short walk. Luckily the sunshine outside persuaded me to go for the latter.

I do love autumn. The special light, the sharpness in the air, the colours. All were on offer for my half hour walk.

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

I set out in the direction of Notre Dame School at the end of our street and to my delight, as soon as I reached the corner, there was my old buddy, Eric.

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

He used to be in my garden all the time last winter, but he moved his family over to the school, with it’s stand of tall Lombardy poplars, for the nesting season.

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Since then, my garden has been “claimed” by Vera and Hank who tried and failed to raise a family in the big tree just across the alley. They vanished some time over the summer to be replaced by George and his family, which includes an ailing baby crow. Recently there’s been a bit of a territorial conflict with George defending “his” space from other crows — which may include Eric. It’s hard to tell who’s who when they’re swirling about in the air. Much as I’d love to have Eric back in the garden, I pretty much have to leave it to the crows to sort out their own pecking order.

However,  I do try to visit the school corner once a week or so to check in and see if Eric is still there and looking well. And, I am happy to report, he is.

Eric, looking good!

Eric, looking good!

After a short chat with Eric (crazy crow lady alert!) and the donation of a couple of peanuts I found in the seams of my pocket, I walked south a bit and then west along Charles Street.

As you may know, I have a bit of a hydrangea obsession — particularly at this time of year when they are a bit faded, but displaying gorgeous moody and subtle shades.

Yet another version of hydrangea's autumn colour palette.

Yet another version of hydrangea’s autumn colour palette.

The long view down Charles Street, with the sun behind the maple and dogwood trees created an explosion of autumn colour.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

A bonanza of fallen berries on Penticton Street. When we had two Labs we had to avoid this street in fall, because they’d just stop to feast. With disastrous results later … Those berries always remind me of Molly and Taz.

A bounty of fallen berries

A bounty of fallen berries

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Gold and Scarlet - berries waiting to fall.

Gold and Scarlet

Finally, it was time to head home. At the corner of Parker and Slocan, I was greeted by  George. I knew it was him at once because of (a) the meaningful look and (b) the sick baby crow he was with.

Look, it's George. I knew it was him by the way he recognized me and by the presence of the sick baby crow nearby.

Hi George!

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George's magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George’s magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George followed me the block home. We walked (well, he flew) down the alley.

Now that the leaves are mostly fallen, you can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at raising a family in the spring. Hopefully they’ll succeed next year after this spring’s practice run.

Now the leaves are falling, I can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at parenting this spring.

Back at the garden, George settles himself on the studio roof, waiting for a few peanuts.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

I only had half an hour “off”, but I felt as if I’d been on a proper little mini-vacation!

You can see portraits of Eric and George and the other local crow characters on my web site in the Crow Portrait series. The current gallery is about to be retired (on Oct 31) and replaced with a new series.

My City Crow calendar features all pictures of Eric and his family, taken in 2014 and 2015.

Happy autumn. Remember to get out and take a walk. You never know what (or who) you might see.

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