Meet Vera

Vera is a little nervous around the camera, but not as phobic as this photo would suggest. She was actually enjoying a good scratch!

She and her partner (Hank) are one of many young couples starting out and trying to raise a family here in East Vancouver.

Vera and Hank

Vera and Hank

The two of them started hanging out in my garden regularly a few weeks ago. Sadly, I haven’t seen Eric in a while, but I’m hoping he’s just busy nesting nearby. I hope to see him again in the fall.

Vera and Hank have been busy ransacking my trees for branches that are “just right” for weeks. I soon began to suspect they had plans to settle in the area. They fly in and out of a big tree close by, so I’m pretty sure that’s their new address.

This will look fabulous in the living room!

This will look fabulous in the living room!

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Vera begging for food and being fed by her partner, another sign that babies are on the way. Finally, I noticed a big pink patch of featherless skin under Vera’s belly. At first I was worried that she’d been in a fight and gotten injured, but then the phrase “brood patch” popped into my head.

Feeding Vera

Yum!

I’m nervously monitoring their progress. They both seem pretty young. Vera, in particular, could be one of last year’s babies. She still has the brownish feathers of juvenile crow. It seems that she’s pretty low ranking in the crow-verse. When I first saw her she’d appear in the morning adorned with droppings, meaning that, in the crow roost, she got to sleep on the lower branches. High branches are reserved for the senior crows, like Eric. Lately she’s been cleaner, probably because she’s not going to the roost at night, but staying with Hank to guard the nest.

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Curse those higher up crows!

Flying Cinderella

Vera looks as though she’s having a bit of a hard life. Her feathers are strangely tattered — the Cinderella of the crow world. She’s clearly at the opposite end of the crow hierarchy from Eric the Magnificent.

I named her Vera after one of my favourite British TV detectives. The fictional Vera is tough and determined, so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on this “Vera”. She’ll need all the help she can get make it in the rough and tumble world of the urban crow.

Vera, Incoming

I’ll keep you posted on any developments in the baby crow department!

For portraits of the crows of East Vancouver, check out my web site.

www.junehunter.com

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Look out – Crow!

Dive bombing crows are in the news again.
A scary experience for pedestrians, but it may help to know why they do it.

Incoming

Imagine this. You and your sleep-deprived spouse have just had triplets. A few days after they’re born they have the mobility capacity of toddlers — combined with the burning desire to see the world and the “I-can-do-it” attitude of teenagers!

They’ve got the keys to the car but have had no driving lessons.

They don’t know anything about “stranger danger”.

Is this food?

Is this food?

At the same time, they’re loudly demanding food and attention every moment of the day.

You’d be kind of wild-eyed too. You’d be prone to acts of desperate bravado to keep danger away, just until the kids get the hang of the flying business and the basics of urban survival.

 

Please may I have some more …?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If you know there are worry-crazed parent crows in your neighbourhood, I hope you’ll try to forgive their seemingly aggressive behaviour. It will pass soon, once the kids are just a little older.

In the meantime, give them a wide berth — or use an umbrella for protection. Maybe soothe their frazzled nerves and offer a bribe by dropping a few peanuts.
Try to put yourself in their shoes/claws for a minute.

Crow Family Moment

www.junehunter.com

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Crow Gifts of All Kinds

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I have to admit, I have been a bit envious of the little girl in Seattle* who has received so many fabulous gifts from the crows she feeds every day in her garden.

My local crow, Eric, and his family don’t usually leave me anything, except that which is white and rather slimy.

But the more I think about the nature of gift giving and receiving, I realize that I’ve gained many things, large and small, from my relationship with crows.

Some things are both large and small at the same time.

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Take the feather, for instance.

I was busy. I was putting out the recycling in the lane behind my studio. I noticed a small fluffy crow under-feather on the ground by the blue box. I picked it up and looked at it.

It was really beautiful. But I said to myself, “June, pull yourself together, you have book-keeping to get to. You can’t get distracted by every feather you find.”

I let go of the feather and it floated in the air. I walked back to the gate and re-entered the garden. The feather wafted along with me. As I closed the gate behind me, the feather snuck in.

At that point I felt that being actively followed by a feather must be a sign that the book-keeping could wait.

feather photos

I spend an hour taking detailed photographs of that feather. The images are integrated into many of my favourite compositions. To most, it just looks like an interesting texture. But to me, it’s a little reminder that the book-keeping can always wait.

A lesson and a gift from the crows.

shopify yoga crow banner

 

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Eric’s greatest gift to me is that he allows me to take his picture. There is a reciprocal agreement, of course, with peanuts being involved. Still, Eric is exceptional in his willingness to be photographed. I have been a crow observer and photographer for years now, and found that most crows are immediately terrified and/or evasive when something is pointed at them, peanuts or no peanuts. No doubt they have strong ancestral memories of being shot at by things other than cameras.

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Eric, perhaps because he’s seen me out with my camera so many times, is far less fearful. Which has given me the priceless gift of getting to “know” and capture images of an individual crow and his family ties and foibles. Eric has a “sliding scale” of how close I can be to him, based on the offerings I present. For the usual peanuts, I can be two feet away. For mouldy cheese or slightly stale sausage, a foot or less is permitted. He is the dominant bird among his group, always grabbing the biggest and choicest pieces of food before the others dare to sneak in. But he’s also an affectionate partner and parent.

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In some ways, the crows’ greatest gift is their potential role as a “gateway” to appreciating urban nature of all kinds.

In her wonderful book, Crow Planet, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt points out that these birds are “the most oft-encountered native wild animal” in most peoples’ lives. Learning to appreciate their intelligence, humour, agility and essential crow-ness can be the first step along the road celebrating all of nature, in the city and beyond.

As John Marzluff points out in his latest book, Subirdia, it is critical that humans maintain a “thirst to remain part of nature” in order to moderate our competing hunger for development, expansion and the continued degradation of the natural world.

So, while I still dream of some day receiving a little trinket from Eric as a token of our “friendship”, I’m happy just to enjoy his company each morning. Every day I notice some new things about the crow life he leads. While I watch him, I also soak up the beauty of the sky, the trees, and the light in the chickadee’s eye.

And I always keep any eye open for any crow feathers that might float by.


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If you’d like to read more about Eric, check out my earlier blog post Who Is Eric?

*More on the BBC story about the Seattle girl receiving gifts from her local crows.

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Last Dawn of 2014

Dawn Flight

I took some time to appreciate the last dawn of 2014 – and such a dawn it was.

After a festive season of heath challenges, it seems even more important that usual to appreciate the small things that are big.

Being with family, good friends, health (it’s all relative), moments of quiet loveliness, every dawn, every sunset. Crows, naturally.

A week or so before Christmas my husband was in a nasty bike accident. When we found him in emergency he couldn’t remember the last five years or so of his life, or how he had come to be in the ER. Thanks to his helmet, he did not have a major brain injury, “just” a concussion. By the next day he remembered everything, except for the ride to work, the accident, the ride in the ambulance and the hours spent in the hospital. These things he may never remember. Concussions, I am learning, are tricky things, taking anything from weeks to months to recover from. Phillip has spent about 90% of the holiday season in bed, in the dark with his new best friends — audio books. Even watching TV or reading is too much for his rattled brain at this point.

He will get better eventually, with rest and quiet, so as frustrating as the process of healing can be, we are grateful every day that things weren’t much, much worse.

So this morning I made a point of spending an hour or so bundled up on the top deck of our house to welcome in the last day of 2014 in all its splendour. This may be the most exciting part of my New Year’s celebrations this year, but that’s just fine with me.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

As the sun rose, the sky behind the poplars at the end of our street was painted with sugared almond shades of peach, raspberry and lavender. And, as reliable as clockwork, the crows began to arrive from the east and their night time roost at Still Creek. Most were just passing through, heading to their “day jobs” in North Vancouver and points west of here.

Crow's Nest View of the Dawn

But the locals stopped on the very tops of the poplars as if to take in the breath-taking views. I’ve often noticed them hanging around there on mornings with particularly gorgeous sunrises, as if they are as susceptible to the beauty as I am. Of course, it could be that they sit there every morning and I only notice them when I happen to be out taking in the view myself, but I prefer to go with my “crows as dawn worshippers” theory.

Incoming

You can see the neighbourhood waking up from the vantage point of our roof, the sky changing and a positive rush hour of birds – flickers, gulls, geese, sparrows, juncos, were spotted this morning, as well as Eric and the gang.

Gulls over the Mountains

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

As I watched Eric and his little group huddling together on the wires, I was also reminded of how grateful we’ve been for all the friends who’ve rallied around since the accident. It’s the crow equivalent of volunteers leaving the little crow family group to head over and scare away the eagle. I’m sure our friends would scare eagles away for us too, but, in the absence of winged predators, we are very grateful for all of the soup, cookies, help and concern that we’ve received.

Family Group on Pink

And, of course, I’m very grateful to Eric and his corvid kin, because watching them lifts me away from my worries and cares for a while as I realize there are so many lives being lived in parallel to our human ones, even here in the middle of East Vancouver.

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric's feathers

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric’s feathers

Happy New Year, everyone. From me, and Eric.

Who Is Eric?

Well, I’m sure he has a different self-image entirely, but this is his CV from my perspective.

Here I Am

Eric, first of all, is a crow.

He is, relative to others of his species, quite unconcerned by my camera. In fact, since I use a long lens, I often have to back away from him to keep him in focus. We crow paparazzi are a minor inconvenience in his life.

My husband has described Eric as the James Bond of crows.

He lands on any awkward surface with purpose, aplomb and minimal flapping.

One down, four to go.

One down, four to go.

If there are 5 nuts he will make sure he methodically picks up each one with no spillage.

If there are only 4 nuts, Eric will wait and look at me meaningfully until I fill his quota (5). After all, the trip has to be worth his time. Plus he’s letting me take his picture. Further evidence that birds can count!

Three down, two to go

Three down, two to go

Eric does not like celery. I saved the scraps from the turkey this Thanksgiving and froze small bags of it to serve up as special treats. He loves his turkey leftovers with stuffing, but I always find any trace of celery meticulously picked out and left behind.

Eric LOVES cheese puffs. I believe, like humans, he is addicted to whatever terrible substance is in that yellow powder. These are a very occasional treat. I don’t want to turn him into a junk food junkie.

Eric is a family crow. His mate usually watches his food gathering antics from the hydro wires. The two kids come with him to watch and learn. Occasionally Eric lets them get a morsel or two.

He’s a real stickler for appearances, spending a lot of time grooming his (sometimes impatient) offspring. I can almost hear him muttering, “How do you expect to get on in the world, with your feathers all uncombed like that?”

There. Now that's better.

There. Now that’s better.

Hmmm....

Eric Junior is not sure about the new hairdo.

Finally, why “Eric”?

The name just popped into my head one day.

It seems to combine Viking boldness with Monty Python humour.

This will be the first of what I hope will be many Eric Reports. Of course, you never know with wild creatures — today may be the last day I see him. So I’d better get out there with his five almonds!

Eric the Crow

Sit Still, I Think I Missed a Bit

Crow grooming hilarity. The recipient of the thorough going-over seems happy enough for a while. S/he seems to tire of the process part way through — but there is no way the job is going to go unfinished! I am reminded of my mother polishing my face with a hankie before I headed into elementary school. You can almost hear the junior crow muttering, “gerroff”.

Honestly, I could spend all day watching the local crows. Luckily, it’s kind of my job!

http://www.junehunter.com/collections/crow-portrait-series-fine-art-photo-prints

Edgar the Crow makes his daily rounds, in spite of a torrential downpour.

Edgar the Crow makes his daily rounds, in spite of a torrential downpour.

Crow vs Raven

In a competition judged on cuteness and goofiness, I would have said that crow babies would be the hands-down winners. Until, that is, I came across baby ravens. They are like giant baby crows — with impossibly large feet. This is a series of images in which I’m exploring beauty of these birds in their urban setting.

Baby Crow and Baby Raven

Crows and their babies seem pretty robust, especially in comparison to the little garden birds like chickadees and sparrows. When you see a raven close up, then you understand why the crows mob and chase ravens from the nesting areas with the same ferocity they exhibit for eagles. Clearly the raven is something of a bird of prey with these massive legs and a beak that is all business. The crows look positively delicate by comparison.

Note the size of these feet!

Note the size of these feet!

Look Ma! No Hands!!!

Look Ma! No Hands!!!

These new crow and and raven portraits are available for sale on my web site. There  you will also find more detail about how the images were composed using many layers of my own photographs; including ancient graffiti from the cave of a Welsh saint, and the Vancouver skyline.
I would love to hear what you think about them.

BABY RAVEN PORTRAIT

BABY CROW PORTRAIT

JUNE HUNTER FINE ART IMAGES

Consternation in the ‘Hood

Crow Protest Group

Yowza!! Major excitement in the neighbourhood this morning. The crows are pretty noisy at this time of year anyway. They’ve mostly given up dive-bombing pedestrians in our neighbourhood now that the babies are out of the nest. The young ones are pretty mobile and not so much in need of ferocious parental protection now. Still, there’s a lot of raucous crow conversation every morning as the babies cry out incessantly for food and the parents caw out safety advice. “Oy, Junior, that’s called a road. Not a good place to hang out. Those big metal things – cars – they hurt!”

This morning it was different though. There was frantic cawing coming from every direction in the neighbourhood. Crow delegations were dispatched from all of the local families and converged on wires one street over from us.  Cacophony! I had to investigate! The cause: not one, but TWO ravens, sitting on a roof on our street. Just as I arrived the ravens casually departed and the protest rally quickly dispersed.

One of two ravens visiting our street today.

One of two ravens visiting our street today.