Crow Parenting, Summer 2022, Part 4


Removing The Training Wheels

Just look at how grown up and fully crow-like he is already!

It’s been about twelve weeks since I first saw Lucky out of the nest, and he’s come such a long way since those first helpless days.

The first time I saw Lucky, back on June 11

Now that he’s going to the mix and mingle at the roost every night, I can’t help thinking he must be starting to feel the temptation to fly off to see the world with some fellow teen crows.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week I didn’t see or hear him at all, so I was beginning to think that was that for our little family of three.

Marvin and Mavis having a quiet morning to themselves

But no — it seems he’s not quite ready to ditch those training wheels yet. As grown up as he’s looking now, he (or she, just a guess at this point) is wise enough to know he’s still safer when mom and dad have his back.

In the photo below, Lucky looks just like a fully independent crow coming for snacks, but further investigation reveals a watchful mom, waiting in the wings in case of emergency.

I think she’s also making sure he’s following all the protocols he’s been taught over the past few weeks:

  • look left, look right, look up, look down, look left again and right again and up again, etc.before taking a moment to grab a snack … and repeat
  • grab the highest value snack items first in case this is your only chance
  • dunk snacks in water to add hydration boost
  • pack beak and gullet with maximum efficiency before take off

Nice work, but remember, look left, right, up …

Efficient snack packing starts with careful planning

I noticed that the constant begging (feed me, feed me, feed me) sounds that filled the air all summer have recently ceased.

The photo below, taken on August 18, was the last time I witnessed Lucky begging from his parents — and you can see the somewhat cynical and unobliging look he’s receiving in response.

He still calls for his parents, but it’s more of an “I’m here. Are you there?” type of communication.

From a distance, Lucky looks just like a grown up crow.

His eyes are no longer grey or blue — they’re now close to the same brown as an adult crow.

The pink gape at the side of his mouth is now quite subtle when his beak’s closed.

Still goofy, but then aren’t all crows, regardless of maturity?

However, as soon as he opens his mouth, especially when the sun hits it, that pink gape lights up like a stained glass window!

His mouth HAS been open a lot this week — not for begging purposes, but for keeping cool in the ongoing hot weather.

Aside from expelling heat via the open beak, he also sits with his wings held out from his body to let the heat out that way too, and catch any hint of a cooling breeze — just like mom and dad showed him.

I have so many photographs of Lucky now — partly because he’s so darn photogenic and partly because there are weirdly few other bird models around at the moment. That’s another, rather anxious, story for another day.

Suffice to say, at this point I have so many pictures of Lucky, he could easily have a calendar all to himself.

I have to stop and watch and photograph every time I spot him because I can’t shake the feeling that each time might be the last.

Of course, I’d be so thrilled if Lucky turned out to be one of those fledglings that sticks with mom and dad to help out and learn the ropes of nesting next year, but I can hardly bring myself to hope for that much.

Any day now he could decide to take off to complete his crow-ducation at a faraway institute of corvid higher learning.

I just hope he’ll remember to look left, right, up, down etc and to always take the good bits first.

 

 

 

For more Lucky:

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 2

As with all families, there are fractious days when Marvin and Mavis get frustrated with their fledgling — and yet there are just as many peaceful days when the family bumbles along in (relatively) quiet domestic companionship.

I call the following series of videos, Wind in The Wires.

There are no moles, badgers and or rats (though I’m sure some of the latter may be scurrying about down below somewhere) and there’s a noticeable dearth of meandering rivers and lush green woodland in these mini-tales

Instead, I offer you a soothing urban nature bedtime story featuring  East Van alleyways, crows, family bonds, Hydro wires and a stiff breeze.

(Note: There’s a bit of wind noise on the videos because, as the title suggests, it was rather blustery and muting those sounds, while keeping the crow voices, is beyond my technical ability. )

Wind in the Wires One

In which baby crow hangs out with mom while she preens and stretches and finds a stray bit of feather fluff.

 

Wind in the Wires Two

In which baby crow finds his own foot quite entertaining.

 

Wind in the Wires Three

In which baby crow hangs on in a gale and wants to be just like mom.

 

 

Other posts about Marvin and Mavis’s 2022 fledgling:

 

 

 

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Fledgling’s Progress

I try to resist naming fledgling crows until at least September, given the myriad ways in which disaster can befall them in the first few weeks of life. Marvin and Mavis’s young one is tempting me though — and I seem to have started thinking of him as Lucky, rather that just the “safer” Baby M.

Of all the crow parents who built nests this spring, Marvin and Mavis seem to be one of the very few around here with a fledgling surviving into August.

In years gone by all the other crows had much more success at child rearing, with up to three or four fledglings in one season to show for their efforts. Marvin and Mavis’s every nesting attempt met with disaster, until last summer when they successfully raised not one, but two fledglings.

Through a Heat Dome, no less.

This year they only have one, rather doted upon, offspring. His little begging voice is the only one I hear in the neighbourhood. I have to walk a few blocks to find another family with a single fledgling. I’m not sure if this is a Vancouver-wide phenomenon, or just a local quirk.

The Wings suffered some sort of early catastrophe and seem reconciled to a fledgling-less summer

In this area the other crow regulars seem to have resigned themselves to a year off from parenting. They all built nests in spring but, for one reason or another, no fledglings appeared and now there seems to be little appetite for a second, late season, attempt. I wonder if they’re learning to anticipate how dry the summers are getting to be, and remembering how challenging that makes the job of fledgling rearing.

It’s a worrying thought, but it makes me feel all the luckier to see Marvin and Mavis come by most days with little Lucky in tow. It’s such a privilege to watch him figuring the world out, one day at a time.

You can almost see his quick brain absorbing and analyzing every new sign and sound in his rapidly expanding world.

Earlier in July, he spent quite a bit of time napping in the shady Katsura tree in front of the house …

… allowing mom and dad a few precious moments to themselves …

Each parent gets to choose their own self care priority.

Spa treatment … meditation … each follows their own bliss.

I’ve realized that there are few things more peaceful than watching a sleeping bird, riding the gentle waves of the wind-wafted branches and dreaming bird dreams.

These photos were all taken earlier in July, before we went away for a short holiday.

You can see that. his beak was still that bright “feed me” pink, but the eyes had already faded from the bright blue of the first few weeks to a rather lovely soft grey. Marvin and Mavis were still mostly feeding him via “direct deposit” before we left, but also starting to encourage him to pick up his own food.

Worm for the win!!

By the time we came back from our ten day holiday, my first concern was whether Lucky was still with us. I was very happy to hear him squawking from a distance on our first morning back. Phew.

Seeing the family together, I note that Marvin and Mavis are getting incrementally more determined to have him get his own food. While his beak looks less dramatically pink when closed, you can see in the photo below how it still lights up like a beacon when he adopts the “feed me, feed me” pose and the sun catches it.

The begging still works some of the time, but mom and dad are getting a little less indulgent every day.

This morning I noticed Lucky hounding Mavis to bring her some peanuts from our deck railing, a few feet from where they both were. Mavis was having none of this.

Lucky: Mum, mum, mum, mum … peanuts, peanuts, peanuts ….!

Lucky: MUM! MUM! MUM! PEANUTS! PEANUTS!! PEANUTS!!!

Mavis: @#$%&!!!!

Mavis retires to a quiet branch to regroup

If all goes well, Lucky will be pretty independent by September and ready to either stick around with mom and dad until next year to help with nesting chores, or take off on his (or her) own to make their own (exciting, risky) crow way in the city.

Either way, I feel almost as lucky as Marvin and Mavis to have had his entertaining company this summer.

And, by the way, Lucky is already quite capable of getting his own peanuts. For all the fuss this morning, here he was calmly collecting his own food just the day before.  Like all skill acquisition, it’s one step forward and one step back, but there IS progress!

 

 

 

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Crows in the Boardroom

On Monday I jokingly posted the suggestion that crows would make excellently determined school zone speed limit enforcers.

I’ve often thought that an intense corvid stare might help bring home all kinds of messages.

Room for 28 crows more up here

The Wings enforcing their local stop sign

Today’s crow thought: why stop at traffic signs?

Put crows where the big decisions are made!

Instead of stuffy CEO portraits or generic landscapes, let’s see crows adorning the walls of the centres of power. We need giant judgemental crows gazing down at the humans sitting down to set policy in government and corporate settings.

A thoughtful corvid presiding over a meeting might help decision makers remember that any new plan should meet the objectives of that most important of all stakeholders — Nature.

At the very least, it would remind meeting attendees to not take themselves too seriously.

Crows — the ultimate influencers!

 

 

 

 

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Nesting News – The Walkers

The Walkers and their nest have got me puzzled this year. As you know, the Wings have also got me scratching my head, so it’s generally a perplexing time of year.

The benefits of watching several crow families over a number of years include (1) always having things to wonder about and (2) seeing the endless variety of crow story plot lines.

Mr. Walker, corvid matinee idol, June 8 2022

The story of the Walkers’ nesting season so far:

Unlike the Wings , who live on a street with a big tree canopy, the Walkers have smaller trees to work with, so I was able to see the location of their nest.

Wanda sitting on the nest, early May 2022

A slight wrinkle in the Walkers’ nesting plans appeared a few days after I took the previous photo. The City tree crew hung signs on every tree on their block announcing imminent trimming work.

I know the City crews struggle to keep up with all the maintenance work but I do hate to see the trees disturbed during nesting season. On behalf of Wanda, who was unable to get to a phone, I called and emailed the City and requested that they delay the work until later in the year. Somewhat to my amazement, the signs were removed the next day. Small victories!!

Things seemed to be coming along nicely with the nest. Last week I heard what sounded like at least one fledgling in the nest and Wanda was out and about collecting food with Mr. Walker. I was expecting little Walkers any day.

Instead, I was baffled to see Mr. Walker busily carrying twigs to the next tree down the street a few days later.

At first I wasn’t even sure it WAS Mr. Walker as, in the rain, he looked rather like a Mr. Pants impersonator!

But no — definitely Mr. Walker, as he proceeded to jog along beside me in his inimitable style.  Here he was more recently, clearly working on the soft furnishings stage of Nest #2.

Confirming that something must have gone amiss with Nest #1 is the fact that Wanda has reverted to the early nesting season female behaviour of begging for food. They do this to get their mates into the habit of bringing them food when they’re confined to the nest incubating the eggs. Again, in this case.

Wanda adopts begging posture

Mr. Walker obliges with peanuts …

… having first thoughtfully dunked them in gutter water for extra succulence and flavour.

So there we are … I have no idea what befell of Nest #1.
It could have been any number of things … raccoons, cats, hawks, cars, operator error …

Sadly, it’s not uncommon, and clearly the Walkers are wasting no time in getting to work on a second go. The story, therefore, continues and we hope we have some new little Walkers before the summer is out.

Detail from Mr. Walker’s section of City Crow Stories, showing 2021 fledglings

 

See also: Meet the Walkers (December 2020)

 

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All Quiet On The Nesting Front (For Now)

The crow nesting season goes through various phases, some quiet, others much louder.

Right now we’re in a seemingly tranquil phase

All is secretive and low key as the parents try to keep the nest locations hidden from predators. Sometimes the game is given away when the female, sitting on the eggs, makes begging sounds to remind their mate to hurry up with the food delivery, but generally it’s as if the whole neighbourhood is made up entirely of of very quiet bachelor crows.

Marvin going solo while Mavis sits on the eggs, spring 2022

The mother crow will remain on the nest, incubating 2-6 eggs, for between two and three weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will leave and return to the nest frequently to bring food. Another parental duty is carrying away the babies’ fecal sacs to keep the nest clean. A sure sign of hatched babies is seeing a poop-splattered adult crow — evidence of one of those sacs having failed in the disposal process. The love of a parent truly knows no bounds …

Mr. Walker on dad duty, Spring 2022

This is, of course, the calm before the storm. Soon things will start to get more exciting as dive bombing season begins.

This is such an issue in Vancouver that, a few years back, a Langara College professor created an open-source Geographic Information System called Crowtrax, allowing people to report where they were attacked by crows and thus contribute to a map of the most “crow-terrrorized” parts of the city.

I’m happy to report that there’s been a positive change in the way this part of the crow nesting season in covered by the local media over the past few years. It used to be all Hitchockian horror, with eyeball grabbing headlines about “savage” crows swooping from the sky and randomly mauling innocent pedestrians. In recent times there has been more curiosity about what’s really happening here, and much more thoughtful pieces have been written.

Last year, Georgia Strait reporter, Martin Dunphy, wrote such an article and one of my images was on the front cover.

The article included comments from Vancouver crow scientist, Rob Butler, and myself and was a refreshingly pro-crow look what can be a slightly hysterical time of year.

I have some tips on avoiding getting dive-bombed this year, but first of all it’s helpful understand what’s going on from the crows’ perspective.

The crow parents have been working on this nest since late February, carefully building it, sitting on eggs in secret, carrying bags of baby poop hither and yon, fighting off hawks, raccoons, cats and eagles. They are tired, stressed to the max, and very, very committed to the success of their little families. Now the precious babies are about the leave the relative security of the nest.

These “babies” are almost the same size as the parents at this point, so some people don’t even notice that they’re not adult crows. Sometimes they’re difficult to spot at all as they rest on the ground, camouflaged with dust and leaf litter. They’re often earthbound because, in what seems to be a bit of a design flaw, they come out of the nest before they can fly.

The young crows are curious and eager to explore, but have no idea what might be fun as opposed to fatal. The only things standing between the helpless fledglings and getting stepped on, run over or attacked by animals or birds of prey are good old mom and dad. These exhausted and very tense parents and are the “savage” dive bombers — and it’s really nothing personal, they just want you to STAY AWAY from their precious offspring until they can fly.

In my experience, sometimes the raucous cawing isn’t even directed at us humans. Often they seem to be screaming instructions at their fledging and/or making a lot of racket just to drown out the baby crow noises that might attract real predators.

So try to remember, you’re not in a Hitchcock movie — just a small domestic drama.

TIPS FOR KEEPING YOURSELF AND THE CROWS SAFE

  1. Avoiding the nest area if possible.
  2. If you can’t stay clear, wear a hat or use an umbrella when you walk by.
  3. Try pinning fake eyes (paper drawings, or make some with felt) on the back of your hat or hood. Crows only attack from the rear and if they see a pair of eyes “looking” at them they won’t swoop — according to Seattle crow scientist John Marzluff.
  4. Earn some trust with a small offering of  unsalted peanuts. Not a big pile — just 3 or 4 peanuts as a gesture of friendliness.
  5. This might just be me, but I always speak softly to the parents and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
  6. If you see a crow fledgling alone on the ground, don’t assume it needs rescuing. There will be a parent crow nearby watching over things and, unless the baby is obviously injured, it’s always best to leave it alone.

 

This following little diagram is something I put together years ago as an easy guide to telling fledgling crows apart from adults …

 

Once the baby crows are able to fly the parents will become a lot more relaxed and spend a lot of time feeding, grooming and showing the young ones the ropes of being a successful city crow.

Spending time watching this process will reward you with many laughs as you see yourself reflected in the behaviour of the parents, kids, or both.

 

 

 

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Modern Travel

“Wherever you go, there you are” was just one of my mother’s vast repertoire of Handy Sayings For All Occasions.

It sounded a bit eye roll inducing when I was young, but gets increasingly profound as I age.

Which brings me to travel.

Most of my journeys, especially over the past two years, have been of the internal variety, moving from one state to another. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.

We’re all confined our own little vessels, one way or another.

This has limitations and does take a toll — leaving us at the mercy of time, wind, rain and whatever passing reflections come to visit.

Things become worn and begin to fall apart.

Colours fade — but then others become richer and more transparent.

I’ve always had a fondness for travelling in place, perhaps dating back to the time I lived alone in my little cabin. 

My studies of bowls in the garden are like small, eagerly anticipated, annual journeys.

I love the hellebore bowls in spring, which are always beautiful when first arranged, but often become far more interesting when left to their own devices — week after week, or even month after month.

Some of the images here are of the glass bowl hellebores from last week’s post, left to drown in a week of heavy rain since then. Others are one of last year’s collections, left in the garden to make their fading journey from March until May 2021.

Each fall there’s always the adventure of the gazing bowl to look forward to. Starting off as a rather pedestrian dog’s water bowl in September … by late November, who knows where it might have taken me?

I believe that my interest in watching the crows in my neighbourhood falls into the same category of static travel— spending so much time watching, not just a single bird species, but actually the same individual birds, year after year, is a bit like gazing into a solitary bowl.

It never gets boring.

The longer you look, the more ways of seeing you find.

The crow world is also full of reflections — yourself reflected in the eyes of the birds is the simple version. It becomes a hall of mirrors as you consider the infinity of crow reflections, real and imaginary, in the looking glass of your own eye and brain.

So there you have it: the future of modern travel lies with crows, reflections, faded foliage, and is always far more about the journey than the destination.

Get your tickets now!

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Crows to the Rescue

The peace of wild things has been so very much needed over the past weeks and months. Years.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

It can be hard to chisel those precious nuggets of joy from the daunting and somewhat featureless rock face of pandemic living —and there’s certainly no shortage of  things to wake us, clammy and panic stricken, in the night. In those sleepless hours, poetry and quiet prose is a wonderful solace (along with a cat on the lap, some medium-complicated knitting and a cup of Ovaltine.)

Going to lie down where the wood drake rests, however,  remains less of an option for us city dwellers.

Luckily, nature is really is everywhere — even in the the cacophonous concrete city.

It’s so easy to miss it all among all the stresses and distractions of urban life —but this is where the crow rescue squad can help. Just pay them a little attention, and they will drag your attention (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the Peace of Wild Things. Dammit.


Crows are wild things, but something … something … about them —  their tight family units, that look in the eye, that tilt of the head — makes them feel like quite close relations.

It really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch (trust me) to start having conversations with them.

Hey, Mabel — how’s the family? Got one of the kids home visiting I see.

Any sign of spring out there, Marvin and Mavis?

Again, I ask myself quietly, am I spending too much time with birds … ?

And I conclude: not possible. I’d happily spend a lot MORE time with birds!

In fact, every time a see any bird — crow, sparrow, hawk or bushtit, I feel a thrill.

Perhaps it’s because where I grew up, on the Quayside of the industrial Tyne River in Newcastle in  50’s and 60’s Britain, the only birds I saw were rooftop pigeons and distant gulls. (See: Birth Of An Urban Nature Enthusiast)

It seemed to me then that things like birds and trees and squirrels and grass were just for rich people — so that’s what makes spending time with crows and all the other birds lurking in my part of the city, feel like such luxury.

And why it feels as if having a crow rescue committee for darker days is wealth beyond compare, even if I don’t have anywhere to lie down with them.
Probably not such a good idea in any case, when it comes to crows …

I’ve looked at life from both sides now …

 

 

 

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For Your Holiday Viewing

Sometimes, when everything is all just too much, it’s good to put your feet up and lose yourself in the flickering warmth of the TV yule log.

Should the hypnotically dancing flames start to lose their allure, I have a modest alternative for your viewing pleasure  — soothing moments from nature on my YouTube Channel.

I’ve had a YouTube channel for ages (how passé, I know, TikTok etc) and still don’t really know how it works, but I’ve recently added a bunch of videos just so it’s a single stop easy destination for those who want to zone out for a bit with some of my collection of nature videos.

On offer we have a range of programming — including the ever-soothing ravens goofing around in the snow.

Suggested beverage to watch with this series — a nice steaming mug of hot chocolate. Don’t stint on the marshmallows.

For something a little more meditative, we have the “Gazing Bowl In Quiet Rain.” Best enjoyed with a mint tea.

If you need a burst of energy, try “Northern Flickers Having a Lively Conversation,” accompanied with a strong espresso.

You’ll find a ton of other things to keep you entertained on there, from a crow making barking and miaowing sounds, to a raven listening to their own echo. I’ve started to put some things into Playlists to make things easier to find, but ran out of time for now, so you may just have to wander around when you feel the need to escape. Just click on the second tab at the top of the YouTube page where it says Videos, and they will all appear for your distraction needs.

I’m not a videographer, but sometimes when I’m out taking photos I come across something that really needs video to convey the amazement. At those moments I switch the cameral to movie mode and do my best. I never have a tripod and I usually have at least one dog on a leash, so the quality is never going to be professional. Apologies in advance for the dodgy sound and random wobbles and lurches to left or right.

Some possible causes of technical difficulties …

Of course, the best thing to do when you feel you feel the need for nature is to head outside yourself. Whether it’s a hike in the woods, a scramble up a mountain or just a quick foray out of doors to say hi to the local crows, actual nature and real fresh air is always preferable — but circumstances can often conspire against such ventures. In these dire situations a few minutes spent with a crow parent and baby video might do the trick.

If you’d like to subscribe to my channel you’ll get notices when I post new videos.

Wishing you and yours a happy and peaceful holiday season with lots of birds and fresh air and laughs.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

Crow Therapy Thoughts

This summer I gave a couple of webinars on the topic of Crow Therapy and it’s something I think about almost every day as I try to understand why, after 15 years or so, I never tire of watching and taking photos of my local crows. Somehow I feel that the crows are a key to unlocking a big mystery and I’m still working on what it is. But here’s what I’ve got so far, starting with what I don’t think it is.

Precarious

Every time I write the phrase Crow Therapy I worry that it sounds just a little exploitative — as if crows, like the rest of nature, are just there for our entertainment.  As if it’s something that could be packaged in a fancy jar and marketed to a stressed consumer. *

Fashion Statement

I hope it’s a more reciprocal arrangement — one in which crows can regularly jolt me out of my default setting of seeing the human race as the centre of the universe.

A little daily crow therapy reminds me that other lives  —  every bit as ordinary and epic as mine — are being lived alongside mine. This realization brings great  joy, but also a weight of responsibility and I feel a constant obligation to communicate both. 

Interpretive Dance

Joy, I feel, is something that we’re going to need more of in the coming years — and it needs to be a different joy than the kind with which we’ve soothed ourselves up to now.  We need a more sustainable source of joy — less of the kind  acquired via tropical holidays and the general accumulation of material things. I’ve convinced myself at different times in my life that I’m just one Tupperware container, one pair of pants, or that fabulous kitchen appliance away from my whole life falling into place, so I’m as much in need of convincing on this front as anyone else.**

Judgemental Crows

For the last few days my Twitter feed has been a rushing river of terrifying news from my own province of BC — roads and rail lines washed away, entire towns flooded, homes and lives lost in a moment. In the midst of this harrowing torrent, an ad for Lincoln cars bobs up regularly like a jolly life buoy. The ad assures me that driving a Lincoln will provide great relaxation in the face of life’s little frustrations — things liking having odd socks disappear in the laundry and (in a final touch of unintentional irony) having my umbrella blown inside out by the wind in a storm. 

I am 100% sure that a new Lincoln is NOT the answer to life’s daily trials,  and definitely not the way to relieve the sadness of seeing life inevitably altered by climate change and coming to terms with the difficult changes that will be needed.

But I do know that spending half an hour watching crows will help.

Philosopher Crow

Or watching rain drip onto a patch of moss. Or listening to the Northern Flickers chattering.

This is a sustainable joy, free, readily available to anyone, and consuming no natural resources … and  it’s the kind of joy I’m trying to rely on more and more.

I do realize that I spend so much time exploring the meandering rabbit hole of my Crow Therapy theory, that I often fail to get around to posting anything about actual crows any more.  I have a musing problem, I know …

Consequently I have a huge backlog of crow news and photos, so I will try to remedy this, starting tomorrow with a Marvin and Mavis update.

I guess the one thing that I was trying to say in this post was that I mean the idea of crow therapy (and my images) to be, not just a respite from general and/or climate stress, but also an inspiration and a focus for taking action to make things better — for ourselves, for crows, for nature as a whole.

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*& **  I say these things, even as I hope you’ll purchase my images, calendars, bags etc, to enable me to continue thinking about, writing about and photographing crows, so I am aware of contradictions and I am far from having all the answers.

 

 

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