Some Wet Crows

It was a  classic Vancouver winter walk this morning — penetratingly cold and damp. And only October!!!

Looks as if frigid weather is set to come early this year, with snow falling on local mountains, and the rain down here in the city seeming on the edge of sleet at times.

But — another one of my mother’s many handy sayings — “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In this case, the silver lining is made of soggy crows.

I imagine their looks are long suffering, but that could just be me projecting.

In any case, I always politely extend my commiserations as I walk by.

One of Mabel’s extended family

Marvin posing with a gourd in a neighbour’s garden

Wet Arthur

Golden maple crow, possibly Ada

Some of my favourite crow portraits have been really wet crows.

Judgemental Crows, below, captures the look that Marvin and Mabel often give me on rainy days. It seems to imply that the weather is purely the result of some bungling on my part.

In Philosopher Crow, Mavis embodies all that is stoic and thoughtful in a crow’s expression.

Another from this morning — one of Mabel’s offspring, humming the lyrics of  You’ll Never Walk Alone

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Lyrics by Rogers and Hammerstein
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone 
You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Cue strings ….

While I may be imagining that the crows are suffering in the wet weather, I know for sure that Geordie, a California dog, can’t wait to get back in the dry.

Please can we go home now …?

While he loves snow, he really, really does not like rain, in spite of the stylish raincoat.

Back home and vying for fireside positioning with Edgar.

 

 

 

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October Walk

As a sequel to yesterday’s post, here are some photos from this morning’s walk — just a few crows in an autumn landscape.

Most of today’s crows are not close acquaintances, but part of the mysterious entourage that follows me along the dog walking route.

As I mentioned yesterday, the autumnal rowdiness is kept in check by an absence of peanuts and a few kind words of thanks after I take their photos.

I’m not sure why they follow me, but I always get an especially warm welcome at the corner where (almost two years ago now) crows played a pivotal role in the finding of a lost dog.  I always thank them when I walk by and they seem to remember me still.

This character, photographed close to home, is one of Mabel’s offspring. I can’t tell it’s one of the 2020 batch, or one of two 2019 youngsters who still hang around.

It’s a very grounding feeling to walk your own neighbourhood and see familiar faces, human and corvid, and exchange daily pleasantries.

It makes me feel that the world is still spinning on some sort of stable axis.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Autumnal Adjustments

For humans, the 2020 autumn season is bringing with it — along with pumpkin spice — a sprinkling of existential dread.

For crows, however,  it’s the normal rowdy, rollicking, freedom-from-fledglings social season.

No social or physical distancing for them.

In fact, the normal territorial boundaries are being blithely crossed in search of seasonal bounty. Any block with a nut or berry tree is a “go-zone” this month.

Contributing to the mayhem is the fact that the excitable new fledglings have yet to learn the finer points of corvid etiquette.

A certain amount of chaos inevitably ensues.

I find it’s best to employ my special autumnal version of Peanut Diplomacy at this unruly time of year.

Instead of stopping on my fall morning walks to exchange pleasantries and a few peanuts with each set of  crow acquaintances on their territorial corners, a far more parsimonious peanut distribution system is in order.

Normally token offerings are made, accepted with grace, and I move on to visit new crows on new corners.

At this time of year, however, the dog and I seem to be claimed as  territory-to-go and crows will follow us from their own domain and into their neighbour’s. This can result an accumulation of dozens of boisterous crows following us for blocks and/or unseemly crow brawling.

Fall Peanut Protocol is best deployed at this point.

Upon leaving the house, I offer a few peanuts to Marvin and Mavis, if they happen to be waiting, then a few more for Mabel and her gang at the other end of the block. From that point on I exchange only kind words with my crow (and human) walking acquaintances. I’m still followed, but it’s a much less fractious group.

Harmony restored …

I generally find that, by December, things will have settled down again and normal Peanut Diplomatic Relations may resume.

Besides, at this time of year, my paltry peanut offerings pale beside the bounty that nature has to offer.

 

 

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Mabel the Matriarch

Nest building triptych with blossom

Mabel and her mate began their 2020 nesting odyssey way back in April when I photographed the series above, written about in A Message in the Sky.

A nest was duly built in a nearby ornamental plum tree, and Mabel sat on it for a while, settled in a pretty pink world.

Blossom Crow's Nest

It seemed like a good early start, so I was all ears for baby crow sounds by mid-June. Sadly, something must have gone wrong with that nest location, as it was was abandoned sometime in June, and it looked as if Mabel and her partners might be deciding to take a year off from the parenting business. They did have an extremely busy time last summer with three demanding fledglings, two of which were still with them this spring.

Mabel the Crow on Favourite Perch July 2020

She surprised me again last week when I heard not one, but two, and possibly three fledglings calling from her neck of the proverbial urban woods.

And there was one …

Mabel baby crow Jul 18 2020

… and another …

Mabel baby crow with railings

I’m pretty sure I heard a third, but I haven’t seen all three together yet, so hard to say for certain. Either way, it looks like another long, hot, busy summer ahead for Mabel.

Hopefully the “teenagers” still with her be useful baby sitters from time to time. Mostly though, it’s Mabel I’ve seen doing the feeding and general herding of gormless babies out of danger.

Mabel feeding fledgling Jul 18

Fledgling crow with pebble

One of her fledglings beginning that vital crash course on what is, and what is not, food. Small pebbles now ruled out.

Fledgling crow on a peeling roof

Baby experiences his/her first heatwave

I saw Mabel and one of the babies near our house this morning. That’s not “their” end of the block but the parents do have to follow wherever their boundary-innocent offspring flap off to.

First, baby posed for a distant pop-up portrait …

Baby Crow pop up

Then, seeing how fearless mom is, in for a close-up …

Mabel crow fledgling jul 28

Mabel must be getting on bit by now. It looks as if her right eye is getting worse, and yet she continues to add to her corvid dynasty year by year.

More crows in line for her throne and her rusty chain of office — although she looks ready to rule for many years yet.

Mabel on her throne

 

Other posts about Mabel:

George and Mabel: A Love Story

More on Mabel

The Inheritance

 

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Some Good News

I confess. I have been hoarding a small bit of good news.

First, because I didn’t really believe it could be true.

Second, in a year with so little good news, I felt sharing it might be a jinx, leading to me having to give you bad news later (which no-one needs.)

The second reason still stands, but I can’t keep this little nugget of joy to myself any longer. Time to celebrate the small good things as they come along!

Drumroll, please . . . I think Marvin and Mavis, after 3 years of failure, may have finally achieved parenthood!

Our immediate neighbourhood has not heard the gurgling/quacking sound of a baby crow in some years. Raccoons, eagles and simple gravity have stymied Marvin and Mavis’s efforts time after time.

And, of all years, I hardly dared think that 2020 would be the one in which they’d  finally luck out. Apart from losing a big part of their habitat when the poplars disappeared in June, they’d already built and abandoned three nests in other trees before I lost track of their nesting activity during the construction chaos.

So, when I thought I heard baby crow sounds just outside the house in early July I wrote it off at first as wishful thinking. Or maybe a baby crow from elsewhere that had  flown off course on an early training flight.

But I heard it the next day too. And the next. Finally I saw this small face peering out of the tree in front of our house. Then this happy scene in the weeping birch across the street.

The “direct deposit” feeding method.

Now, small caveat: with all the upheaval going on in our neighbourhood, it is just possible that this is some other crow family taking advantage of the chaos to move in on Marvin and Mavis’s turf. All of the crows are behaving a little differently and varying their daily routines — partly due to the rigours of nesting season, and partly due to the suddenly changed local ecosystem. Other crows have been popping by from time to time, but judging by the regular appearance of these two and offspring,  I’m 95% sure this is Marvin, Mavis and family.

Anyway, I am trying to stop myself from feeling like a besotted new grandma. Unchecked, I could easily start knitting tiny crow-sized bonnets for this youngster.

As it is, I’m out several times a day taking photos. “See how adorable s/he is?” “Isn’t this absolutely the cutest little fledgling you’ve ever seen?” ”

One of the first “baby” photos — July 9

Such a good eater!

Strong family resemblance!!

I had all but given up on such good news for Marvin and Mavis this year. In the days after the poplars came down I often saw them sitting together on the construction fence assessing the devastation.

But somewhere, I guess, they had this little newcomer tucked away until rudimentary flight skills had been achieved.

Things could, of course, still go badly wrong. The survival rate for bird fledglings, including crows, seems to be 50-50 at best. Every morning the first thing I do is go outside and anxiously listen for the tell-tale begging sounds.

A few days ago, parents and baby came to hang out in the Katsura tree in front of the house for a couple of hours. One of the summer’s highlights so far!

So far they haven’t brought junior into the garden with them when they come for their breakfast, but I’m hoping they may do so soon.

Baby in the background

Parenting is a tiring business …

Worrying about a baby crow is a good exercise in taking one day at a time. Here is junior yesterday looking for interesting things in the gutter (a reminder to check around your car before taking off too quickly at this time of year!)

Checking out a wide new world

Here’s my most recent photo (I told you there’d be lots!) taken this morning. The blue eyes are changing to grey now and more adventures (much nail biting) are being undertaken.

The video below, also from this morning, captures one of the things that make crows so very entertaining to watch.

Who among us, human parents or kids,  cannot relate to this little exchange?

 

 

 

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The Pants Family, Spring 2020

After months operating undercover as an anonymously normal-looking crow, Mr. Pants will soon be coming into his own when, in the next few weeks, his glorious pants shall reappear. 

Photo by June Hunter

For details on the miraculous annual transformation see my earlier post The Metamorphosis of Mr. Pants.

Mr Pants on Fence

Mr P in full trouserly glory

Thankfully, he is no longer the bedraggled bird he was at peak moulting season last year. He got back to being a handsome, if unremarkable looking, crow by late fall.

Photo by June Hunter

Last spring I was away in the UK for the month of June, so I missed a lot of nesting season. For whatever reason, Mr. and Mrs. Pants produced no offspring in 2019, so I’ve been keeping a special eye on their progress this spring.

They had a rather trying fall and winter last year, with territorial trouble on their southern border from the Walker family. While Mr. and Mrs. P had no surviving babies last year, the Walkers did, and their need for more food and their numerical advantage led to bold and frequent incursions into Pantsland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Both of the Pants couple spent most of their time with eyes scouring the sky for invading forces and they were very jumpy and seemed … if it is possible to discern this in crows … stressed out.

Mrs. Pants scours sky

Mrs. Pants on guard

Photo by June Hunter

Mr. Pants on Shed Roof

Mr. Pants keeping a wary eye on things from above

Tail fanned Mr Pants Crow

Mr Pants employing full tail regalia to defend his territory.

Now that nesting season is well underway, all the crows are keeping a lower profile and things have at last quietened on the contested border.

Mr. Pants and Wisteria

Mr. Pants takes a relaxed moment to pose with wisteria.

As I mentioned in the last post, Small News, many crows are choosing small street trees as nesting sites of late. While they’re closer to the ground and the risk of predation by racoons, cats, squirrels etc. they’re less likely to be raided by large birds like ravens, hawks and eagles — which seems to be an increasing risk as these birds gain a firmer foothold in the city.

The Pants have long favoured the small tree option and this year is no exception.

I spotted Mrs Pants last week sitting in their nest in quite small street tree  — a crabapple of some sort, I think, and the same type of tree they chose two years ago. Fortunately they seem to have selected a healthier specimen this time, as the spring 2018 tree shed a lot of leaves in spring, leaving poor Mrs. P baking in the sun or thoroughly soaked, depending on the day, and not particularly well hidden. Even then, they did successfully fledge two little ones that year, although, sadly neither made it past the first few months. One just disappeared early on and the other succumbed to avian pox.

Being an urban nature enthusiast involves, as I learn anew every year, witnessing a lot of tragedy and well as joy.

Crow on Nest June 8 2020

Mrs. Pants on the nest this morning

Still, like the crows, we consider each day a new start, and each nesting season a potential bonanza of good news, so fingers crossed for the Pantses and all the other birds putting their all into the nesting business this spring.

Mrs. Pants above nest

Mrs Pants on guard above the nest.

 

Next up: the Walker Crow Family.

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Small News

Photo by June Hunter

I walk around the neighbourhood several times a day during nesting season, checking in on the crow news — taking photos and making mental notes of how things are with the various crow families I’ve become acquainted with over the years. 

At this point I’ve got so many crow-notes stuffed into my head, I’m not sure where to start unpacking them. 

Rather than trying to cram all the news into one post, I think I’ll go one crow family at a time, starting with the Pants family in the next post.

First though, I have to tell you about this morning’s drama. 

We’ve had nesting bald eagles in the neighbourhood for years, so all through each nesting season the eagle parents scour the area for baby eagle food, always followed by a loud and angry crow posse. This morning I happened to catch some of the action from relatively close quarters when the eagle landed in the school grounds at the end of the block.

The crows, backed up by screeching gulls, seemed even more loud and frantic than usual.

So impassioned, in fact, you can see one crow in the video below whacking the sitting eagle hard enough to cause it to fly off.

The reason they were so mad? It looked as if the eagle had scooped an entire crow’s nest right out of a tree. You can see a glimpse of the nest in the video below.

In the end, the eagle dropped most of the nest, although there was something still gripped in its claws as it flew off.

The eagle population is part of the reason the crows are changing their nesting habits. 

Local ornithology expert, Rob Butler, who spoke about crows last weekend on local CBC Radio show, North by Northwest, mentioned this change: crows who had previously chosen high nest sites for protection against ground based predators (raccoons, cats, coyotes) are now picking spots in lower, less eagle-accessible trees — even selecting quite small street trees they calculate will be awkward for raccoons to scale.

I’ve certainly noticed that our local crows have rejected the once-coveted penthouse suites in the Notre Dame poplars this year in favour of much lower and more camouflaged trees. Marvin and Mavis have picked such a low, mid-street location for the nest this year, it would be quite the drama if the eagle swooped that low. 

If you think being dive-bombed by a crow is exciting …!

The Pants crow family, who I’ll be looking at next time, have long been fans of the low-rise nest building solution and we’ll have a look at what they’re up to this spring.

 

 

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Marvin and Mavis Nesting 2020

I know I haven’t written about my crow neighbours for quite a while. There are a couple of reasons, apart from the distraction of Edgar and the Cabin Fever series.

One: I have just SO MANY images and stories filling up my brain and computer, I’m having a hard time knowing where to start. But, since it’s also time to start thinking about the 2021 City Crow Calendar, it’s time for a dive into Crowlandia.

Two: it is nesting season, which fills me with a certain level of anxiety. Like most of us, I already have a bit of an anxiety surfeit,  so I was trying to keep a slight emotional distance from the rough and tumble of the bird reproductive season.

But I know it’s hopeless, I can’t stop myself from getting invested in the drama.

I’ll start with a bit of an account of Marvin and Mavis’s nesting season so far. I worry especially about these two as they are my regular visitors and, over the past years, I’ve seen them lose three seasons’ worth of fledglings — to racoons, falling-out-of-tree mishaps and bald eagles.

Marvin and Mavis’s nest, May 2019

For the last two springs, they built their nests high in the Notre Dame poplars.

While those trees have the advantage of height and protection from ground predators, they are also a favourite buffet for the local eagles and hawks. All of the local crows seem to have come to the same conclusion, as I haven’t seen any of them building nests there this spring, although they’re still popular with smaller birds.

Marvin and Mavis got an early start on this year’s nest building back in March, choosing a nice dense pine tree. I’m not sure what went wrong with that project, but by April they were real estate shopping again.

They turned their attention to the dark red-leaved plum trees on our street, which offer great camouflage for dark coloured birds.  A couple of problems arose there.

First of all, Mabel and her mate got an earlier start, with their substantial nest all finished in another plum tree weeks ago. With the added advantage of two youngsters born last year hanging around as nest helpers, they’ve been able to wage war on Marvin and Mavis whenever they start a new building project.

Marvin and Mavis warding off a Mabel clan raid from our roof.

On the lookout for incoming raiders

Marvin and Mavis persevered, however, and managed to start a nice looking nest in one plum tree at the far end of the block from Mabel and co.

While it’s wonderful that many people, forced by the pandemic to slow down and stay close to home, have started appreciating their bird neighbours in a new way, it’s also true that it’s given people more time to become very particular about their gardens. Unfortunately for our intrepid couple, the humans whose house they were building in front of decided they did not want to experience the thrill of a crow’s nest so close to them, and started to knock the partly built nest out of the tree. I did try my best friendly Crow Evangelist pitch to get them to leave it alone, and I thought I’d made some progress, but by the next day the nest that Marvin and Mavis had started rebuilding was gone again, so I guess not.

Having read the writing on the wall, M & M selected another plum tree. This is where they are now — trying to be very quiet as it’s rather too close for comfort to Mabel’s nest. Luckily, all of the crows now seem to have entered the “witness protection” phase of the nesting season where they’re all just trying to be invisible from any potential predators.

Mavis checking out the view from the new nest.

Fingers crossed for them this year. I don’t think they have eggs in there yet as both of them have been coming to the house to visit several times a day — for pep talks and some peanuts.

I’m trying not to draw too much attention to their nest as they try to keep a low profile, and hoping that things go well from now on. Fingers crossed for some little Marvins and Mavises this year, even as I try not to get my nerves too jangled at every twist and turn of the nesting tale. I’ll keep you posted …

Some other posts about crow nesting seasons:

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Young Ada The Crow

Ada is only 7 months old, but already one of my most trusted Crow Therapists.

She lifted my mood earlier this year, when I was feeling a bit down about being in a cast, and about world news. Of course, none of us knew back in January that 2020 was only just getting warmed up!

Ada was our 2019 late summer surprise, hatched at the very tail end of the 2019 baby crow season — happy news in a year that saw many nest failures.

I first spotted her on the daily dog walk in mid-August last year, gape still very pink and eyes still blue  — hallmarks of a fledgling not long out of the nest.

I was worried that she had so little time to catch up with the other 2019 fledglings to be able to fly to the roost with all the other crows by fall.

Another challenge — she had a touch of avian pox on one foot. You can see the pink spot on the photo below.

Luckily, by December her foot had healed completely, as you see in the next photos, and she was keeping up with her cohort just fine.

She experienced some firsts in late 2019/early 2020.

Her first torrential downpour, which left her less than impressed.

She saw her first snow in January, and seemed to prefer that to rain, overall.

Or perhaps she had just acquired that philosophical attitude towards weather, essential for both crow and human mental health in a Canadian winter.

I’m calling Ada “her” — in this case, with no evidence of her gender. With many of my other local crows, observing them at nesting time has allowed me to see who sits on the nest at incubating time, but with Ada, it’s just a random guess. She could just as easily be a young Adam, but I have a 50% chance of being right.

In any case, she’s a feisty and curious young bird.

Ada theCrow being curious.

She’s still hanging about with her parents, but they’re no longer pampering her when it comes to getting food. When she was young, they would answer her calls for food.

Now it’s every crow for him/herself. If I drop some peanuts for Ada, she’s often shoved aside by Mom and Dad, so she’s learning to be faster and trickier — vitally important crow lessons.

She’s also kindly demonstrated for us the all-important cough into your sleeve/wing technique.

Here is my most recent photo of her, taken on a dog walk earlier this week.

You can see that, for a 7 month old, she’s already acquired lots of crow personality and intelligence. As she edges  closer to me you can see in those eyes the subtle risk/benefit calculations being made in real time.

I imagine she’ll be sticking around to help her parents with this spring’s nesting efforts, but after that she’ll probably find a mate and move to a new neighbourhood. I’ll miss her when she goes, but hey — she might end up in your neighbourhood and be your new crow therapist!

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

White Wing the Crow

I don’t think I’ve written about Ms. Wing before, even though we’ve been acquainted for a few years now.

I see her less often than some of my other crow friends because she lives on the outer range of my dog walks. If I go another way, I won’t see her at all — and I didn’t see her for weeks this winter when my foot cast kept me tethered within a smaller radius of home.

But the thing about White Wing is that she knows me instantly, and I know her instantly too. She doesn’t really have a white wing: it’s more of a wonky feather. The first time I saw her, about three years ago, the light hit the crooked feather in a way that made the whole wing look snowy, so her name stuck.

And White Wing does sound more romantic than Wonky Feather, right?

I thought I’d write about her now because, while the present moment is really tough in most ways, it IS a good time to get out and get to know some local crows — and Ms. Wing is good example of the kind of crow that can be the key to starting to figure out the Who’s Who of your local crow-munity. Solving that identity puzzle is good motivation to get out for a walk, and figuring it out can be a great distraction from other news.

As soon as I’m near the block that the Wing family lives on, I can tell for sure that, of all other crows, this one is definitely her. Even from a distance.

And I can tell that her companion must be Mr. Wing. I determined that she is the Ms. in the equation because, of the two of them, she’s the one who disappears for a few weeks during the nesting season when she’s sitting on the eggs. Mr. Wing doesn’t really have any distinguishing features, but I can identify him because of his proximy to Ms. Wing.

This is how Crow Cluedo works.

A couple of times a year, at moulting season, and sometimes during nesting, White Wing’s twisted feather comes out, and she looks, briefly, like any other crow.

However, it always grows back in the same crooked way and, luckily, it doesn’t seem to affect her flying ability … or her self esteem.

Mind you, she can look just as bedraggled as any of the crows on a wet day …

As I mentioned, I didn’t see her for at least a couple of months over the winter, but as soon as I got to “her” corner she picked me out and came down, with a slightly aggrieved expression, as if to say “where the heck have you been?”

Most of the crows I’m lucky enough to have become acquainted with have some sort of physical anomaly that allows me to pick them out from the crowd.

  • Mabel has one damaged eye
  • Mr. Pants has his pantaloons, in season
  • Marvin, when he first appeared has somehow spilled paint on himself, which lasted all summer until moulting
  • George had his broken beak (although it was intact when we first met.)

Sometimes the differences are easily visible, like White Wing’s feather.

Things like Mabel’s damaged eye are harder to spot, but I have my long camera lens to help out. A small pair of binoculars would do the trick too.  Crows are very territorial during the day, so if you see the same “different” bird in the same spot a few times in a row — congratulations — you’ve solved the first layer of the corvid Rubik’s Cube!

Mabel the Magnificent

See also: Peanut Diplomacy.

Stay safe everyone, and try to balance the understandably constant craving for news with a spot of Crow Therapy.

Some other posts you might enjoy at this unsettled time:

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.