September Dreams

As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.

By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.

I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.

A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!

I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.

On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.

They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.

The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.

For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …

Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …

Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.

Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.

 

 

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Late Summer Surprise

2019 has been a rough year for fledgling crows and their parents. Marvin and Mavis had three babies up in the nest one day, and then the local bald eagle swooped by and suddenly there were none.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, Whitewing and her mate, the Kaslo and the Napier crows were all fledgling-less by the time I got back from my UK trip in June.

Mabel and Gus, however (see most recent post) bucked the trend by successfully raising three babies, born in June some time. Their territory has been the neighbourhood nexus of juvenile crow begging sounds this summer. Both parents are looking a bit exhausted at this point and looking forward, I’m sure, to the young ones becoming fully independent any day now.

Mavis and the Terrible Trio back in early August.

The young ones still occasionally beg for food, but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in it. Mabel and Gus are pretty much ignoring their pleas now — encouraging them to become self-sufficient little urban foragers. The neighbourhood was becoming quiet.

So imagine my surprise when, only last week — well into the second half of August — there was a brand now source of begging sounds. It was the tentative call of quite a young juvenile crow. It took a while to spot her*, but there she was, way up in a sycamore maple, softly quorking …

… and playing with leaves.

It was on a corner I pass by at least once a day walking the dog, and one where I don’t usually see any crows. It’s a buffer zone between two crow territories (the Slocan trio and the Firehall Family) and is generally crow-free. I’m not sure where this little family came from, although I suspect they might be an offshoot of the Firehall gang (for reference see: A Puzzlement of Crows.)

She isn’t a brand new fledgling. She can already fly reasonably well and her eyes have transitioned from the just-out-of-the-nest bright blue, to the grey colour that comes next. But she is obviously several weeks younger than Mabel’s brood and still very much dependant on her two parents. Her beak is still rosy pink at the sides, marking the bright pink inner mouth (gape) that makes such a good target for the parents to deliver food to. Over and over again.

All of this begging and feeding is very usual, but not in late August. So what happened?

I imagine these parents lost their first batch of fledglings to one or more of the usual disasters (eagle, hawk, raven, racoon, car, cat, flying mishap, etc.) quite late in the first go-round, and decided to give it a second try. I can only imagine how much hard work went into the repeat project.

If it had been one of the recent summers, which have been hot and bone dry, I don’t think they’d have managed to find enough food and liquid for the baby so late in the season, but this year has luckily been a bit damper. I’m not sure where they kept her, safe and secret, until I first saw her last week, but they did an excellent job.

Our neighbourhood newcomer has the benefit of two parents devoted to her welfare, but she’s going to have to be a fast learner to catch up with the older juveniles and be able to join them all at the safety of the Still Creek Roost as the nights start to draw in.

She’s a lot noisier now than when I first spotted her last week. I can hear her from our garden (a couple of blocks away) calling to be fed. That in itself can be a bit of a predator-attracting risk when your’e the only noisy one around.

 

Luckily she does seem to be a quick study. While she still needs her parents to break food into tiny pieces for her, she’s already mimicking their food caching strategies.

Here she’s hiding a peanut that was too big for her to eat under a bit of moss. She’s enrolled in the accelerated Being An Adult Crow class, while still a baby.

She’s got all the curiosity needed to gather important information about this new world of hers. What is, and is not, edible is something that takes a while to figure out.

Now that’s one giant berry …

(… so if you find your Christmas light a bit sticky this year …)

She’s beaten the odds to have made it this far, so here’s hoping she makes it through the next few risky weeks and graduates from her Crow Adulting 101 class with flying colours.

May your late summer be full of nice surprises too!

 

*I’m referring to this young crow as “her” fairly randomly as, of course, at this point I have no way of knowing her gender. 

Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

Crows make it look as if they have the world by the tail. When the dark river of them flies over to the nightly roost, they look powerful and untouchable.

In her poem, Crows,  Mary Oliver describes this view of them:

glossy and
rowdy
and
indistinguishable.
The deep
muscle of the
world.

But that anonymous crowd, like all crowds, is made up of many individuals, — each with their own challenges, and their own story.

This is story of the special bond between just two of those many crows — Marvin and Mavis.

They first appeared in my garden around the time we lost George Brokenbeak. George’s mate, Mabel, stayed in the neighbourhood, but moved over a block, leaving my yard with a “vacancy for crows” sign on it. Marvin and Mavis had already been hanging around, so they were quick to move in and become fixtures. It seemed to me that they were a young couple, just starting out together.

Every time I look outside I scan the sky for them. Most of the time, when I can see them, they’re together. If they’re not, one of them is making that “I’m over here. Where are you?” call to check in.

Like most crow couples,  their thoughts turned to nest building last spring. They took on the task with gusto, scouring every tree for just the “right” twigs.

They made one “decoy” nest first and then settled on the real nest site in April.

Marvin watches over the nest — which is nestled in the crook of one of the poplars in the lower right side of the picture.

They worked so hard. They’d be there when the sun went down, forgoing the nightly trip to the roost to guard the nest and its contents, and they’d be back at it at dawn.

Weeks went by and the trees leafed out, making it harder for me to see what was going on up there. One day though, I could tell something had gone wrong.

Mavis left the nest and kept staring at it in confusion. Shortly after, I found their fledgling at the foot of the poplars. It had fallen from the nest and didn’t survive.

They grieved their loss for many days, spending a lot of time just sitting in the trees near the nest, as if hoping the baby would reappear.

Marvin spent a lot of time comforting Mavis, who seemed to have forgotten how to look after herself.

 

Gradually they picked up the pieces  and went back to their pre-nesting pursuits — going to the roost at night and guarding their territory by day.

The summer was hot, dry and smokey from nearby forest fires, so just keeping cool and hydrated was a challenge.

And then came the Great Moult of 2018.

I have never seen our local crows in such a bedraggled state … and for such a long time. It seemed to start in early August and go on well into October.

Mavis, at one point, had lost so many neck feathers, she looked partially decapitated.

O

Marvin lost all his nostril feathers.

They looked objectively terrible, but Marvin and Mavis didn’t seem to care.  They may, for all I know, have giggled a little at the sight of each other, but their devotion remained unwavering.

The new gleaming feathers did eventually come in, of course, and by late October they were their well groomed selves again.

Just in time for winter!

Which brings us to their latest challenge. In December I noticed a small growth on Mavis’s left foot. It’s avian pox, a virus that can spread and cause disability or death. Luckily, in her case, it seems to be not too serious and isn’t spreading. I make sure to put out extra nutritious food for her to keep her immune system in tip top shape.

Marvin seems to know she needs all the help she can get and he seems quite happy to let her shove him out of the way to get her share of food.

 

Their nest from last year is still tucked into the poplars, currently blanketed with snow. I hope that, once spring finally arrives, they’ll start checking out the neighbourhood for new real estate options and give the nest building another try.

Mavis, Feb 12 2019

Marvin, Feb 12, 2019

 

I’m pretty sure that Mavis will not expect roses this Valentine’s Day.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be making reservations at a fancy dumpster.

But they watch out for one another, they comfort each other in hard times, they keep each other warm in the cold, and they refrain from laughing at each other when they look like avian zombies — and, really,  isn’t that better than chocolates in heart-shaped boxes?

But a love song is always nice. Here, Marvin sings one, accompanied by our neighbour’s furnace sounds.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Crow Photo Tips

Marvin 2018

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months … possibly years.

I’m often asked about my photography — what kind of equipment I use, lighting and so on — so I naturally I thought I’d blog about it.

Starting a new post is a bit like deciding the angle from which you will dive into a pool. The first few attempts often end as belly flops.

I began composing an epic, encompassing my personal photographic journey, plus every thought that’s ever crossed my mind about the possible significance of photography.

You will be relieved to hear that it has, after days of literary struggle, been edited down to a more modest offering. Hopefully a cleaner dive.

If you’re in a BIG rush, here’s the Cole’s Notes version:

  • Keep everything portable. The best camera is the world is no good to you if you didn’t bring it along because it’s too heavy and/or precious.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the technology.
  • Flat light is your best friend. There are exceptions to this (and most) rules.
  • Photograph subjects that mean something to you, and aim to communicate why it’s special in each image.

 

EQUIPMENT/TECHNOLOGY

I am utterly hopeless at retaining any kind of technical information. Each and every time I go to reply to someone about what kind of camera and lens I use, I have to go and actually find the camera to have a look at the the numbers on it.

olympus OMD EM1 blog

So — this is the camera I use currently. It’s an Olympus micro-four thirds model, the OM-1D EM-1 model, about four or five years old. As you can see, it’s a bit battered, because I just pick it up a take it with me almost every time I head out of the door. It’s been soaked more that once. Last fall it suffered the camera version of a stroke — I took a picture and it made a terrible sound and everything went white. The shutter was stuck open and I had to take it for repair. It’s back in business now, but has never really been the same.

I almost always have my camera on the same setting for my crow photos — fast ISO, big aperture (so the background will be out of focus) and speed as fast as the available light will allow. Since my camera’s brush with death these are the only settings at which it will work properly — so I guess woman and machine have become one.

OMD w lens blog

The lens I use almost exclusively is an Olympus zoom, 75-300mm. It’s not the “best” quality lens by any means. It’s plastic, rather slow, has eccentric focusing habits. It too has also had to be repaired a couple of times. On the plus side, it’s not too heavy and relatively inexpensive, so if it does get terminally injured on a raven-seeking mountain trip in the snow, it’s not the end of the world. I do own an Olympus “pro” lens (40-150mm) and it is unquestionably a superior lens. I use it when photographing close to home, or when I go to the Still Creek roost, because it’s better in low light. But the weight of the thing! And the cost!!

camera strap blog

One technical tip — if you have a larger than pocket-sized camera, replace the strap with one like this that allows you to wear it over your shoulder and tuck it behind you when it’s not needed and swing to the front when you do. This one’s a Joby (there are lots of other brands) and the only reason I made this awesome discovery is because I won the strap, and some other gear, in a photography contest a few years back.

LIGHT

Coat of Many Colours

A bright sunny day would show this young crow as a black bird. The myriad subtle shades of sepia, indigo and mauve in those lovely immature feathers would be quite lost.

Flat light is what I love the most — those days when there is some high cloud and a weak sun filtering through it. Yes, I am one of those obnoxious people who complain about a long run of hot sunny days.  They’re terrible for taking photographs of dark feathered birds — too much deep shadow and burning highlight, and almost impossible to get the subtle detail. In the middle of summer I tend to get up really early to try and get  some photographs before the sun is fully up. I always aim for a photograph that looks as if it could have been painted, and diffuse light really is the only way I’ve found to achieve that effect.

Junior crow portrait

Exceptions to the Rule

Bright sunny days are often good for taking interesting corvid silhouette pictures.

Ruffled Crow Silhouette

SUBJECTS/REASONS

Obviously, crows and ravens are MY subjects, with occasional other birds, and a bit of rust and foliage on the side.

Whatever “your” subject is — fashion, flowers, architecture, slugs, barbed wire fences, kittens, soup tins — just follow it. Set yourself little assignments every day, if you can. Look at the results and see what you like and what you don’t like.

Does the image tell the viewer something specific about the subject, something that conveys the emotion you feel in its presence?

If yes — do more of that.

If no — try something slightly different next time.

The side effect of this process is that you set up a bit of a feedback loop. The more you look at your chosen subject, the more you think about the reasons why you take photos.

Picket Fence Crow

Some Reasons to Take Photographs

  • to create a periscope up from the choppy (or becalmed) sea of daily life
  • to try to stop time from moving on
  • to make yourself think more about a subject
  • to see that a single subject can look very different from another angle
  • to simply record things (many photos I take are just to keep a note of which crow is where and when)
  • to try (perhaps over years) to find the truth in something

 

Junior Crow on Blue Fence

I consider my work to be a combination of wildlife and portrait, with an emphasis on the latter. My daily struggle is to create images that don’t just tell the viewer what the bird looks like, but also to hint at what is going on behind those glinting, intelligent eyes.

Ultimately, I’d love to create the corvid version of Karsh’s portrait of Winston Churchill.

Moody Crow

Failing that, maybe just a few more like this …

Interpretive Dance

Corvid Interpretive Dance, Vol: 1

 

 

SaveSave

Last Call at Still Creek

The night’s watch at Still Creek

Crow roost visiting as therapy — I’m not sure it will catch on as a mainstream practice, but it works for me.

The first time I went to the Still Creek crow roost was about ten years  ago. I’d recently received some bad news and, having moped about for a few days,  felt the need to press the “reset” button on my mood.

I’d already been photographing crows for several years, but I had yet to make it to the mythical evening roost. Somehow I thought that seeing it at last might cheer me up.

It did. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say it changed my world view.

How did it feel?

Like witnessing a massive storm tide at Long Beach.

Like being bathed in a  sea of sound, with significance just beyond my understanding.

Like standing on the edge of another world.

<Please Note: there are videos in this post that will not play if you’re reading this in an email. To see the post in its proper layout, complete with videos, just click HERE. >

All the more amazing for the fact that I was standing in the midst of rush hour Vancouver traffic in a light industrial, urban area about ten minutes drive from my house.

That experience somehow put my troubles into a new and manageable perspective.

Since that evening, I’ve visited many times. I persuaded my husband to come along after the third or fourth trip, and now he’s hooked too. We don’t even have to be depressed to go — mostly we just go to join in the celebratory atmosphere.

Our routine is to arrive at the edge of the Costco parking lot just east of Willingdon about half an hour before sunset. Sometimes we  arrive a bit early and find no crows at all. Has the roost been called off?  Suddenly a single crow materializes in a nearby tree.

In the blink of an eye, there are ten, then twenty crows, in the same tree.

Then you look to the horizon on all sides and you see them coming. On a clear night you can see the mountains far to the east, pink in the twilight, with a corvid river meandering in front of them. They pour in from the west side of town, and from the north shore.

There’s an overpass just to the west of the Costco parking lot. We like to climb up the stairs to the higher level for a better view of them all rolling in, like a black, noisy tide.

One purpose of the roost is the give the crows a “safety in numbers” sleeping spot, but they really seem to have a whole lot on the agenda before they finally go quiet and turn in for the night.

 

Clouds of crows land on every tree branch, power line, lamp stand and roof within view. And they are loud. I mean, really, really loud. Amid the racket, you can pick out many different types of calls. Bossy, sergeant major calls, clicking, cooing, croaking and good old cawing. On our last visit to the roost I heard at least two crows that really seemed to be mimicking Canada geese!

What could be going on here, apart from crows seeking safety in numbers from owls and other night terrors?

Possibilities: a massive gossip session; a round-up of restaurant reviews (the highly coveted five star dumpster rating is given only occasionally); music class; singles club for young, unattached crows … *

With each explosive take-off the crows are generally moving from the east side of Willingdon, over to the west, towards the McDonalds restaurant.

At a certain point in the evening, the grass outside the McDonalds and the roof edges, are crow-carpeted.

Delicious as the smells coming from the McDonald’s may be (to them), that is not their final destination. As the light dims, they all move a little further west into the industrial/office area between Willingdon and Gilmore.

There always seem to be a few single crows, strategically positioned on posts and signs acting like raucous traffic wardens or air traffic controllers.

Last call for good spots on the Yellow Pages office building! Move along there!

As it gets darker, it’s harder to make out the moving crows. They take on a ghostly air as they fly to their chosen resting spots for the night. .

On a less ethereal note, I’m told that you can tell the “ranking” of a crow by how much white they have on their feathers the next day. The top tier crows get the highest spots, so the younger crows at the bottom of the roost are going to be wearing a lot of crow guano by morning.

If you stay until it’s fully dark, things will become a lot quieter and the crows will settle among the herons and other wildlife in the wooded area around the actual watery part of Still Creek.

You will also see their shadowy outlines on top of most of the buildings between McDonalds and the Still Creek/Gilmore intersection, on each of the small boulevard trees, and lined up like clothes pegs on the power lines along the road.

Note: Do not linger under any of these, unless you want to bear the mark of the low ranking crow.

 

Somehow the name “Still” Creek seems perfect.

Although the twilight hours there are some of the noisiest and busiest in the city, you can also find yourself being unusually still and peaceful in the middle of it all.

Still Creek Moon, print available online.

* A study is currently underway at the University of Washington, using recordings of the nightly vocalizations at their local roost, to try to unravel the mystery of what those crows are really on about.

www.junehunter.com

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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.

 

NOTE: IF YOU’RE VIEWING THIS IN AN EMAIL, YOU MAY NOT SEE VIDEO CONTENT. JUST CLICK HERE AND YOU’LL BE MAGICALLY TRANSPORTED TO THE WORDPRESS SITE WHERE THE VIDEOS WILL PLAY PERFECTLY.

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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