Nervous Nesting Notes

Crow couple photo

It’s a stressful time of year, nesting season.

Mostly for the birds, of course — but peripherally for those of us who anxiously watch the goings on.

Yesterday, for example, was very tense.

I don’t know where Marvin and Mavis are nesting this year. I used to be able to see them from my house, when they nested in the Notre Dame poplars and, for good or bad, could distantly watch every development.

In the absence of those trees, I mostly see them on construction fences of various kinds, or perched on the new duplex being built on the corner. Their nesting location this year remains a mystery.

I’m pretty sure they have built one nearby somewhere, as Mavis has been mostly absent for a few weeks, presumably sitting on eggs. One local nest possibility is a big tree in a neighbour’s garden. It looks like a pretty promising location — on paper — but they suffered a raccoon-related nesting disaster there about four years ago.

Crow collecting “soft furnishings” for final touches to a nest.

Yesterday it became clear that (a) someone WAS nesting in there and (b) raccoons have a good memory. We had a crow riot as about a dozen birds whirled round the tree, calling angrily from nearby wires and diving into the branches from time to time.

At first I couldn’t see the raccoon, but  eventually spotted her on a neighbour’s deck, moving somewhat clumsily up to the drain pipe …

Raccoon on a drainpipe

… and from there to the roof to examine the feasibility of leaping directly back into the tree.

In the end, she decided the jump was too much, but must have found another way up as the frenzied cawing went on from the afternoon and into the evening.

I imagine the raccoon probably got what she was after in the end. They usually do, in spite of all the crow racket and, after all, she doubtless had hungry kits waiting at home.

Many crows came to harangue the raccoon and, while I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were among them. I don’t know if this was actually their nest or not. Only time will tell, I say to myself, in an effort to see the big “Nature Unfolding” picture without giving myself a heart attack in the process.

The local bald eagles are another constant threat to the crows’ nests. They have their own nest nearby and cruise the neighbourhood several times a day, inevitably pursued by large groups of irate crows.

Crows pursuing a bald eagle

In the photos above you can see how close the crows are willing to get to those big claws. In the second photo the crow looks as if he’s trying to grab the eagle by the tail and pull the bigger bird back. You can also see that, in the eagle claws, is a bird  — most likely a crow fledgling.

So, you see what I mean about this being a tense few weeks!

In other, less traumatic, nesting news   — I’m starting to see the breeding female crows again. In April it’s as if they’ve all  joined a witness protection program, suddenly disappearing from sight in order to sit (ever so, ever so, quietly) on the nest.  If you hear a subtle croak from the nest in April, it’s most likely not a hungry fledgling, but a female quietly reminding her mate that he needs to bring her a snack. The males are also quiet and uncharacteristically low key. Definitely not the time of year to be drawing any unnecessary attention to yourself and give hints to nest location.

White Wing and her mate live on a shady street with a lot of big trees and she’s usually among the first of the local female crows to disappear into the nest. She reappeared this week, indicating that the eggs have probably hatched, and now she’s joining her mate in foraging for food for those endlessly hungry little beaks.

It also seems that, perhaps to entertain herself during those  tedious weeks on the eggs, White Wing was taking language lessons as this (earlier this week) was the first time I’ve ever heard her make sounds like this.

Just around the corner, Mr. Walker has been seen solo for a number of weeks now, keeping lookout on his favourite tree.

In recent days he’s been absent too, so I imagine he and his mate are being kept extremely busy somewhere up in the leafy branches.

In the next few weeks, I hope to see some of these little faces popping up around the neighbourhood.

The parents will be fiercely protective, especially during that high risk period when the baby is out of the nest but can’t fly. There may well be some dive bombing of unwary humans. But we should try to remember how hard these crow parents have worked to get that little fledgling to this stage, how many perils there were along the way, how many more dangers still stand between this little crow and adulthood. The crow parents may seem a little crazy at this time of year, but if you know the backstory you can understand why.

A few tips to avoid being dive bombed:

  • Avoid the area for a week or two if possible;
  • Put fake eyes on the back of a hat (they won’t dive bomb if they think you’re looking right at them;
  • Use an umbrella;
  • Leave a peanut or two as a token of peace.

More about crow nesting season in last week’s Georgia Straight (with Mavis on the cover.)

 

And remember, fingers crossed, in a few weeks time we should be getting to know some brand new crow friends in the neighbourhood!

One of Mabel’s fledglings, summer 2020, with tell tale blue eyes and pink beak edges.

 

 

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Snow Crows

There’s something magically transformative about snow. I’ve amassed a large collection of vintage snow globes, and even made some of my own featuring quirky local landmarks. In summary, I’m a bit of a sucker for snow.

We had what looks to be this winter’s only snowfall here in Vancouver in mid-February. I was excited to write about it then, but since Texas and other US states were undergoing very real suffering from unseasonably cold weather, snow and ice at that point, it didn’t seem tactful to be waxing lyrical about it. I’m feeling that it might be OK to indulge now …

We get very few days of snow in a typical Vancouver winter, so when the flakes start to fall I’m out of the house with my camera as much as possible. On top of the beguiling alliteration, the combination of “crow” and “snow” is pure enchantment.

Here is a crow with snow, folk music and starling accompaniment …

From a technical point of view, snow is both blessing and curse for crow photography. The camera wants to focus on each falling snowflake rather than the bird, so that’s a challenge. The contrast of the black feathers and the all white landscape also needs considerable over-exposure to reveal the detail in the crows.

But the light! The light is magic — beautifully soft, no harsh highlights, bouncing back into those dark feathers and bringing out the shades of mauve and indigo, pearl and navy. It’s as if the whole world is a light box designed especially for photographing crows. Woohoo!!!

White Wing in the snow

The Wings in a Winter Wonderland

And you just never know what might happen. I accidentally found the snow version of a four leafed clover when photographing Mavis in the back garden this year.

Not yet …

Be patient …

Keep looking …

Bingo!

For just one microsecond a snowflake kept its perfect crystalline form on her face. And I got a photo of it!!

Particularly amazing to see this in Vancouver, where the temperature is usually too warm for snow crystals to remain intact long enough to be visible. It’s the little things that make a photographer’s day!

Another fun thing about a snow day is seeing how the crows adapt to it.

The Walkers not only dealt with the weather conditions, they also gave me instructions on how to do so.

Instead of walking along with me to the bump at the bottom of the tree where I customarily leave a few peanuts, as he normally does, Mr. Walker flew over my shoulder and landed on a higher, slightly less snow covered burl on the tree as if to say, “this will be a better spot to leave them today.”

So I did as instructed and everyone was pleased.

It was young Chip’s first snowfall.

A puzzling development,  but she shook it off with aplomb.

Now the flowers are coming up, birds are collecting nesting materials and spring is very much in the air, but I had fun looking back at our brief yet magical period of Crows in a Winter Wonderland. Hope you did too.

 

 

 

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Crow Bingo

Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:

Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.

But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.

My goals for Crow Bingo:

  • get people out of the house
  • give parents a focus for walks with kids
  • introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
  • encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
  • sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet

So here we go …

For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:

You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …

 INTERMEDIATE LEVEL CROW BINGO:

If you want take your own copy of CROW BINGO to take on your walks with you here  are printable versions of BEGINNERS and INTERMEDIATE CROW BINGO.

Feel free to print as many as you like, share with friends, teachers, whoever you think might benefit from a therapeutic round of Crow Bingo.

I’ll be working on a special Nesting Season Bingo card soon!

Also, I’d love to hear from you with ideas for new squares in Crow Bingo.

 

 

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Crow Signals

While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.

It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.

You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.

But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant,  makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.

Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.

Exclamation point!

Full stop.

Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.

In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.

You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .

Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .

Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)

The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.

By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.

And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we  see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.

Some miscellaneous messages from crows:

A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.

Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.

So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …

The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.

This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.

Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll.  For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.

At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.

The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.

The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.

Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!

 

 

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

New Year’s Eve

This vintage wooden roller coaster at East Vancouver’s Playland is often ringed with crows as they enjoy a little sub-party on their way to or from the big roost at Still Creek.

When we walked by this morning, on this the last day of 2020, there was only a solitary crow. It sat alone with the whole row of coloured light bulbs all to itself.  No roller coaster cars rattling by. No other crows.

Perhaps because I tend to view almost everything through a crow-shaped lens, our solo crow seemed an apt symbol for New Year’s Eve 2020.

No big parties. Many of us sitting at home viewing the world from a lonelier vantage point than we’re used to, especially on this night of the year.

Many of us with twinkly lights for mood lifting company.

To be honest, I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit of a melancholy celebration. The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne make me feel a bit weepy. It’s early in the evening still here, so I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling by midnight.

Possibly more weepy than usual.

Possibly less, as the end of 2020 leaves little to regret.

However you’re feeling, remember (yet another treasure from my mother’s kit bag of handy sayings) “tomorrow is another day.”

And, also, another year.

And that day/year will have crows in it.

Crows you may know quite well,  and other crows you may admire from afar and rashly imbue with symbolic importance.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

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Tiny Points of Light

Sometimes it’s just the smallest thing that illuminates your day.

I was walking the dog the morning before the winter solstice when an urgent crow meeting convened in the treetops. Crows were flying in from the whole neighbourhood to share their opinions.

I took quite a few photographs in an effort to see what the cause of the commotion was. While I never did figure that out, I did notice that the frail morning light struggling through the clouds at the base of the trees, combined with the darker overlapping of branches and crows at the top, made a rather pleasing composition.

As it seemed to capture the tentative return of the light, I chose the one at the top of this post to share on social media yesterday to mark the solstice.

But that wasn’t the tiny thing that really made me smile.

That came later, when I was sorting through some of the other photos and realized that, of all those crows in the trees, I actually recognized one of them!

See that crow sitting at the top, just right of the one taking off? That’s White Wing!
Recognizable from a hundred feet because of her distinctive silhouette, her wonky wing feather sticking out.

I can’t say exactly why that little observation made me so happy. I was listening to a CBC Radio show earlier today in which they talked about how popular complex jigsaw puzzles have been this year. They mentioned the contentment of being fully immersed in a project that has a fixed end in mind. Flow state, they called it.

When I’m out walking every day I’m also working on a puzzle — the endless mystery of what’s going on in the crow world. I don’t suppose there’s an actual end to this project — no single piece that will dramatically pull every element together.

But picking out White Wing —one small, distinctive component in the giant crow jigsaw — was a moment of pure delight.

White Wing, closer up, December 14

White Wing alone in a tree, December 8

The only other crow I’ve been able to reliably identify by silhouette was George. After his beak was broken, that subtle step down on the upper beak was his signature.

George and Mabel: Love’s Delicate Balance

There’s been a lot of darkness this year, and so much uncertainty.

Perhaps that’s why each small answer — even if it’s just one tiny puzzle piece coming home to its rightful place — seems like a comforting ray of light.

 

 

 

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Nothing Is Simple

Simplicity is a rare thing these days.

I’m sure I’m not alone in spending hours online seeking a simple answer to the questions, “how did we get to this place?” and “is there a way to get out of this place.”

The fine art of doomscrolling takes up far too much of my days. You too?

And, of course, in world full of  confusion, contention and endless, endless complexity, there simply are no simple answers.

One recent distraction has been reading Dostoyevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment, in tandem with my son who’s reading it for a course.  As you may imagine, it’s not exactly light reading, but it very immersive and a trip to mid-nineteenth century Russia is a getaway of sorts.

Berries and birds have been my other escape this week.

In case you need a distraction, and at least the illusion of simplicity, come along . . .

There is a street near us lined with berry laden trees.

At various times, it’s populated with hundreds of birds. Many species are enjoying the buffet, but robins are the main customers.

Joined by a strong starling contingent ..,

… and a good showing from house finches and juncos.

The rarest visitors (be still my beating heart) are the cedar waxwings, filling up for their journey further south. More on them in a coming post!

And the crows. Of course, the crows. Some of my dog walk followers end up on this street with me and discover the berry delights.

As always, they are excellent models, pleased I’m sure, at how fine the ebony of their winter feathers looks against the scarlet berries.

The world does seem quite simple while I’m peering up into those branches and I actually have to force myself to head home.

Besides, while I’m photographing, Geordie is grazing on the fallen berries, with some unfortunate gastrointestinal results — giving me another reason to tear myself away and get back to the doomscrolling.

But I’ll certainly be back tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

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October Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Autumnal Adjustments

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

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

No social or physical distancing for them.

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

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

A certain amount of chaos inevitably ensues.

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

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

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

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

Fall Peanut Protocol is best deployed at this point.

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

Harmony restored …

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

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

 

 

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Being Adept at Adapting

2020 so far has been pretty tough for many of us, requiring all kinds of adjustment to ever-changing conditions.

Our local corvids sympathize. While free of covid worries (as far as we can tell) — they too have faced a lot of challenges in 2020.

The trees that had provided them with shade, shelter, nesting sites and a navigational landmark for the last 60 years suddenly disappeared in mid-nesting season. The bit of grassy wasteland they used as a refuge and a food source was dug up. The ear splitting racket going on 6 days a week makes it hard for them to hear each others’ calls.

Their small corner of the world has changed beyond all recognition since early summer, when construction of the sunken artificial turf sports facility for Notre Dame School got underway. For a glimpse of what used to be there, here’s a post from 2018.

Heartbroken and worried for the local environment as I am, I can’t help smiling when I see the local crow and raven reaction to the situation. I shouldn’t be surprised, as corvids have a long and illustrious history of making silk purses out of the sow’s ears that humans have left them over the centuries.

With no leafy branches to perch on, they sit instead on the construction fence and watch the crazy human shenanigans during the noisy construction hours.

Marvin and Mavis settling in for a new shift.

When, at last, the machines stop beeping, roaring and pounding for the day, the site then becomes a corvid beach resort of sorts.

Yes, that is rather a lot of water. To be expected, as the area once was marshland and has streams running through it, including Hastings Creek.

Some corvid commentary …

One Sunday a couple of ravens even stopped by to check out the “beach” scene.

While it was fun to see the ravens exploring the weird new landscape and drinking at the new “lake,” I can’t help worrying about the safety of the water as a thirst quencher. Part of the area’s history before the school was built was as an unofficial dump site. I see that tanks are now on site to remediate the water, so I’m hoping the crows and ravens haven’t been harmed by drinking and playing in it.

Marvin and Mavis are keeping a very close eye on proceedings — on wet days …

… and hot dry ones …

For now they’re keeping their opinions close to their feathered chests.

Although I rather think they might be muttering amongst themselves …

 

 

 

 

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