Small News

Photo by June Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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© 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.

Urban Nature Challenge

“Explore your own neighbourhood,” advises our provincial premier, John Horgan for this long weekend in British Columbia.  We’re all being asked to stay relatively close to home to limit the spread of COVID-19. So, much as I long for the forest and mountains after weeks and months confined to the city, I decided have some fun and set myself a real Urban Nature Enthusiast challenge.

Geordie and I heading out on our urban nature safari.

We headed out to one of the least promising-looking locations, nature-wise, in our East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Our destination was the old Grandview Hydro Substation located at the noisy intersection of First Avenue and Nanaimo Street. This cavernous space is a perennially popular filming location for the local movie industry. From what I can discover, it was built in 1937 as a substation for the BC Electric Railroad Company to help power the old interurban rail lines that once criss-crossed the city.

As the traffic roared past, Geordie and I scouted around for some interesting moss, lichen or rust. I wasn’t really expecting to find much in the way bird life, but the trilling, whistling sound of many starlings lured me around the corner of the building.

The east side of the substation is covered in a cascade of ivy and, at first, that’s all I could see. It took a few moments before I realized that it was alive with starlings; specifically, fledgling starlings, merrily feasting on the ivy’s dark berries. Very few adult starlings were around, making it seem like a massive starling nursery — a relatively safe place to leave the kids while running errands.

Roll call at the starling nursery school.

Apart from the starling crowd, there were some robins and sparrows also enjoying the dining facilities. Nearby, a pair of crows seemed more focussed on another project.

These two were industriously flying back and forth to a nearby tree with a succession of twigs, mud and grass.

First, some structural stuff …

… and then some soft furnishings …

… finally, some scraps of cedar bark fibres, which crows often use to line the nest for its antimicrobial properties.

I thought that was a pretty good dose of urban nature for a trip to an old substation in a busy traffic area next to a gas station and was about to call it a day when I noticed the swallows.

At first I thought they were just more starlings darting around in the sky, but  I could see they were much smaller and more erratic. When one swooped only feet from my head I realized they were Violet Green Swallows!

I tried for quite a while to get a photo of them flying, which is hard enough because of their speed and random direction changes, but just about impossible in an urban area with all the power lines and poles getting in the way of the camera’s focus.

I found the best strategy was to focus on one bird when it stopped on a wire and hope that some others would fly close by. I just had my light “walking” lens with me, so success was limited, but here are few shots of the magical substation swallows.

I grew up in a very industrial part of a northern English town and I spent my childhood playing along the Newcastle quayside, discovering places like this all the time. Forgotten by the grown-ups, slightly dirty, dodgy and dangerous,  but full of adventure and new understanding for free range kids. My substation outing reminded me of those days, and the sense of having made small but amazing discoveries.

If you’re looking for something to do, I really suggest setting yourself an urban nature challenge, checking  out some new part of your local neighbourhood. It’s important to give it a a few minutes of waiting and watching to see what’s going on in the slightly hidden world of nature in the city. Bring the kids — they love a good expedition and, if it helps,  imagine it being narrated by David Attenborough!

A small chickadee making himself heard over the river of traffic.

A Small Care Package

I had meant to write another crow update blog post today, but somehow it was a bit hard to focus on pulling the images and words together.

So, instead, here is a small, somewhat random bouquet of things that are helpful for my mental health at this tough time. I hope they help you too.

First, here is Norman the Nuthatch visiting the garden this morning.

It’s just 5 seconds, but I find playing him over and over again kind of restful.

Second, here is Mr. Pants, looking at me from the wires on our morning dog walk.

Crow Therapy is proving to be a lifeline for me at the moment.

Third, in exceptionally good timing we have Luke the Super Emotional Support dog staying with us for the weekend. Triple-strength dog therapy with Geordie and Nina. They take their work very seriously.

Fourth, and last, we need Edgar’s advice …

As an indoor cat he is already a master of both social distancing and extreme cleanliness.

Further advice he would like to share:  stay safe, nap frequently, and be very kind to others.

 

 

 

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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.

The Inheritance

Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.

George, fall 2016

Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017,  only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.

Mabel, February 2020

The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.

A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.

In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.

As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed  one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.

Whew, that was close …

Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.

Family meeting on the railings.

Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.

Practice percher

The Heir Apparent, apparently.

I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.

I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.

I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.

Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows

In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.

Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …

And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.

I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.

 

logo with crow

 

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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.

In Other News …

Partly to distract myself from the actual news, partly to distract you, here is a long overdue local crow news update.

Finally out of my foot cast, I’m really appreciating being able to get about and check what’s going on with my various crow pals.

So much to catch you up on! I think it’s best I divide this into instalments lest I overwhelm you with it all.

Let’s start today with the general crow mood.

Apparently, one in three crows already think it’s time to get started on the nest.

Three crows silhouette

The air is full of pre-nesting season energy. In previous years I’ve noticed Marvin and Mavis starting to gather twigs as soon as the blossoms are fully out on the plum trees on our street. Almost there now!

In the meantime, there are lots of crow-diverting things going on.

And it’s always worth going to see what the commotion is about.

On one dog walk this week we first saw the conductor with his orchestra.

A walk down the alley where they were performing revealed the reason …

Raccoon under gate

By far the most spectacular gathering was a few days ago when a whole street was suddenly full of crow fury. Trees up and down the block were venues for cacophonous corvid conventions. No “social distancing” or Skype meetings for them, obviously.

All the fury was directed to one chimney, and once I got to the right angle I could see a lone raven trying to enjoy a leisurely brunch on the conveniently flat surface.

Judging by the feathers that floated from the “table” it looked as if a mid-sized bird (possibly a robin) was on the menu.

Even though the raven wasn’t feasting on one of their own, and even though they’re a relative, the crows were in full attack. The raven is permanently on the crows’ naughty list because they will, when the time is right, snatch crow eggs and fledglings.

In spite of their best efforts, the raven spent a good fifteen minutes in the chosen spot finishing their meal.

 

The owner of the chimney came out, wondering why her house was under attack. While I was explaining what was going on the raven finished their snack and flew off.

Today was quieter — a blustery day, so a lot of just-for-fun windborn antics and posing.

Tomorrow I’ll update you on the specific news re. the various crow groups. Quite a few to get through — Marvin & Mavis, Mabel and family, The Pantses, Art and his family, Young Ada — so I think I’ll tackle one a day till we’re up to date.

Think of it a little corvid gossip to break up all the COVID19 news.

 

logo with crow

 

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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.

 

Good News, Bad News, Good News

If my personal life looked like a flow chart this week, it would be alpine in aspect.

Monday started very well when eagle-eyed Phillip spotted my ring, lost for over a week, in a melted spot of the snowy garden. I wear the ring, made by Vancouver artist Joanna Lovett Sterling, as my engagement ring. Having lost the central stones from two earlier engagement rings (my own and then the one inherited from my mother) I concluded I was too hard on my hands for rings with parts that could be lost. Joanna’s ring creates sparkle just from the way it’s made, without any gems to go missing, and I love it.

Imagine, then, my dismay as the “invincible” ring slid off my freezing finger and flew in a graceful arc over the deck railing to land out of sight somewhere in piles of fluffy snow that were just beginning to accumulate early last week. Now, you might be wondering what I was doing, flapping my freezing hands on the deck and causing the ring’s flight.  All bird-related, of course. I had put Marvin and Mavis’s breakfast (kibble and peanuts) out for them on the deck railing and then gone to the garden to top up the bird bath and check on the bird feeders. While I did that, the cheeky starlings came and polished off M & M’s food. I went back up to replenish the breakfast bar, but before Marvin and Mavis could get there, the starlings were coming in for second helpings.  I was waving my arms about to  deter them when the ring went on its unscheduled journey.

The snow was so deep and fluffy, the ring just vanished without a trace. And the snow just kept on falling, with about seven inches falling the next day and yet more piled up as we dug out the garden path. Patience was required, and a couple of friends kindly offered the use of metal detectors if necessary.

Luckily no Detectorists were required in the end because Phillip spied the ring, newly freed from its icy prison, yesterday morning. Hooray. Flow chart banks steeply upwards.

Finger and ring, reunited.

I was hoping that my good luck would continue for the whole day, as I was seeing my foot doctor in the afternoon and sincerely hoped he would tell me that my days in an air cast (six weeks and counting) would be numbered.

Unfortunately that’s not the way it went. My foot is still swollen. Apparently I am not that good at staying off my feet, and the doctor sent me for another x-ray with some ominous comments about possibly needing some non-weight bearing equipment (please, not crutches!)

Sadly, this means I won’t be able to host my usual February studio sale, and there will be no snow-shoeing (with ravens) in the foreseeable future. It was in a rather dark mood that I went to bed in last night.

This morning I woke up to a cheery email from the UK about the use of some of my images in a project over there (details later) and things seemed slightly less gloomy.

Then, as I was waiting for the coffee machine to warm up and was staring out of the window into the branches, I saw a varied thrush. Such a beautiful bird, and the first time in 29 years I’ve seen one in our garden. I felt the visit was timed especially to cheer me up, bringing greetings from the forest that I’ve been unable to visit for so long. He was telling me that it’s still there, waiting for me when I’m ready.

And, while I wait (with varying degrees of patience) to get back to where the ravens are, I can keep watching my video of some of them playing with snowballs last winter.

And the flow chart ascends somewhat.

 

 

 

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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.

Festive Greetings and Tips

Wishing you all peace, joy and a reasonable amount of merriment this holiday season.

Geordie and Edgar are, as you can see, anxiously waiting for Santa. There is a rumour that the man in red is bringing them each a cosy new bed.

I am still in my cast of course, so no far-ranging adventures until the foot heals. Luckily Marvin and Mavis come by several times a day to check in and assure me that they’ve both been very good crows this year.

Marvin, the always magnificent

Mavis, the ever-marvellous

Edgar wanted me to share with you some of his top tips for the having the best sort of holiday season …

  1. Do lots of bird watching (or whatever brings you joy)
  2. Keep up with your napping schedule
  3. Listen to “Drinking White Wine in the Sun” by Tim Minchin (or your favourite holiday tune) and sing along
  4. Don’t worry about the dusting, or anything else that seems overwhelming and/or not fun. Domestic triage is key.
  5. Once the gravy is made, you’re entitled to a drink with rum in it

. . . OK, so those last few might have been me . . .

You can actually make up your own rules. I’m pretty sure Edgar’s good with that.

Crow Collective

In spite of local squabbles, crows will come together for a crisis. Instantly.

Border skirmishes, crow etiquette lapses, hereditary rivalries  — all forgotten in a corvid heartbeat when the alarm call goes out.

Peregrine falcon in the ‘hood!

People sometimes consider crows’ mobbing behaviour towards larger birds as somehow mean. The collective noun, a “murder” of crows, is referenced, darkly.

To me, it’s one of their more admirable features — having the sense to know that they’re stronger together, and the ability to put aside individual differences in the face of a common danger.

Raccoons, coyotes, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and even their own cousin, the raven, are considered enemies by crows. All of these creatures will snatch and eat juvenile crows and/or crow eggs, thus earning themselves a permanent spot on the crows’ “naughty” list.

It’s not that they’re really naughty, of course — just doing what nature dictates — going out grocery shopping for the family. The same applies to crows when they feed on smaller birds, and on through the spiralling circle of life.

While nesting season is over now, and most juvenile crows are now smart and fast enough to stay out of the way of the falcon (who is more likely on the lookout for a tasty pigeon) the crow response to a “sometimes-crow-predator” in the neighbourhood is automatic.

Every crow drops what they’re doing and flies off to join the collective effort to repel the enemy. Their job is to convince the “threat” that crows are just way too much bother and get them to move along and become someone else’s problem.

Individual crows will swoop very close to the offending predator. Sometimes too close for their health. Generally, however, the bird of prey will make a pragmatic cost/benefit calculation as to whether it’s worth the caloric output to chase a provocative crow. Most often they decide to wait out the mob for a while and eventually move on to a quieter spot.

All in all, I think “collective” is a much better, and more descriptive, word for a group of crows than a “murder.”

Apart from group defence, another advantage of crow mobbing behaviour is that, if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For other posts about crow-revealed nature sighting:

Raccoons: Wall of Sound

Owls: Owl Dreams

Owls and Poets: Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Ravens: Raven Tutor

Missing Dogs: A Christmas Miracle — With Crows

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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.

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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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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.

The Metamorphosis of Mr. Pants

To keep an eye on Mr. Pants year round  is to witness a miracle of transmogrification.

If you didn’t know it was him, by the territory he guards and by the company he keeps (Mrs. Pants), you might think he was a different crow in each season.

We all first came to know him for his breathtaking breeches, his tremendous trousers,  his peculiar pantaloonery …  I could go on, but I’ll be merciful and stop now,  letting a series of summer pictures of Mr. P at his most sartorially splendid  tell the story.

Purple haze, all in my brain …

Splendour In The Grass

Mr. Pants with his summer hipster beard, cover model for the 2020 City Crow Calendar

The following video captures his fantastic pantaloons fluttering in the summer breeze.

 

But. like a perfect truffle, ice wine, or a pumpkin spice lattée, Mr. P’s trouserly splendour is a seasonal offering, and must be appreciated as such.

In winter, he really just looks likes your average pant-less crow.

Suave and handsome for sure, but minus the feathery kilt.

In particularly frosty weather he can, like all the other crows, deploy some feathery long johns, but they’re not the same as his summer finery.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, January 2018

By spring … still just your normal dapper city crow.

Mr. Pants as seen in the May page of the 2020 City Crow Calendar

But we keep watching.

Around June the fashion miracle begins and the legendary leggings reappear  …

But it is perhaps the autumnal transition from summer splendour to his streamlined winter look that is the most eye catching. For Mr. Pants the molting season is very, very dramatic.

It’s true that every one of the local crows looks like a rejected extra from a pirate/zombie movie, but Mr. P takes things to the extreme.

He does nothing by halves on the feathery fashion front, and the late summer/early fall molting season is no exception. Go big, or go home, seems to be his philosophy.

Here he is as photographed yesterday, September 10, 2019

By October he will be smoothly magnificent once again.

By mid-June 2020 we should see the beginnings of tremendous trousers.

It is the circle of life (and of feathery fashion) embodied in one magnificent crow.