Raven Games

I was worried that I wasn’t going to get well soon enough to go up on the mountains again this winter. Luckily, it’s been snowing like crazy up there (as well as in the city!) and I finally started to feel better earlier this week.

Yesterday we headed up to Mount Seymour for a short outing.

Nothing too ambitious,  just a nice stroll in the winter wonderland.

The silence in the snow-baffled woods … the traditional peanut butter sandwich at the Dog Mountain lookout … and fresh, fresh air, were all very therapeutic.

But he most joyful thing of all was seeing the ravens playing.

I’ve never seen them have fun with snowballs before, but conditions yesterday were extremely snowball friendly. In fact, I developed a ball of it under one of my feet at the end of our walk. I tried to knock it off with my walking pole, but it was so persistent that part of it was still stuck the underside of my boot when we got home. This snow just INSISTED on being made into snowballs, and the ravens were happy to oblige.

As you can see from the video below, they were quite committed to this game. They reminded me very much of puppies playing.

Gloating when you’ve got the snowball is an important part of the game.

If you lie on the snowball, that makes it hard for your opponent to get it, rather like rugby.

Flying away with the snowball is the final solution.

Let the good times roll!

Just to emphasize how puppy-like the ravens were, here are Geordie and Luke wrestling this morning.

Compare the fun and strategy to these two ravens …

 

In my trips to the mountains in the winter, I’ve seen the ravens playing in the snow many times — rolling in it, playing with found objects — but I’ve never seen them having so much fun with snowballs. It wasn’t just this one pair either — I could see other groups further away engaged in the same game.

A few minutes later they all flew away to pursue other winter pastimes, so I felt very lucky to have watched this, and keen to share the fun with you!

More raven stories, photographs and video:

Raven Tutor

Learning to Speak Raven

Special Days (with ravens and mountain bluebirds)

Ghost Raven

Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

And then came the Great Moult of 2018.

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

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

O

Marvin lost all his nostril feathers.

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

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

Just in time for winter!

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

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

 

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

Mavis, Feb 12 2019

Marvin, Feb 12, 2019

 

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Crowflix

Sometimes the best way to tear yourself away from binge-watching the TV is to drag yourself outside and tune in to the always entertaining Crow Channel.

I’d planned an archival Ken Burns-style documentary for this blog post, going over everything that’s happened with the local crows since I last did an update last fall.

After sorting through months of photographs I was still trying to wrap my mind around a way to fit everything into a post that would be slightly shorter than War and Peace.

A lot happens with crows in a few months!

This morning, while walking the dog. I had a epiphany. (This often happens, don’t you find?)

I decided to write the blog just about the hot-from-the-press crow news as gathered on the current morning walk — coming to you live (-ish) & local from East Vancouver.

No sign of Marvin and Mavis first thing, so Geordie and I headed out and put their Sunday morning breakfast (scrambled eggs) in the fridge for later.

The first star appearance in today’s crow drama is Mabel — of George and Mabel fame, and cover model for the 2018 crow calendar.

She and her new mate “own” the western end of our street. I’m sure it’s Mabel, partly because she knows me so well, and partly because of her bad eye. From one side she looks like any other crow.

But from the other, I can see that the eye that was starting to deteriorate when George was alive has gotten worse. I’m not sure if she can see out of it at all now, but somehow it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She rules her territory like a corvid Boudicca, faulty eye or not. All crows are action heroes.

Time for a short crow calligraphy break in the programming as we spot one of the several  Garibaldi School crows, creating an interesting silhouette agains some wavy branches.

Back to some supporting actors in the ongoing crowp opera. There are quite a few characters on Napier Street that I haven’t named yet, although they seem to know me (and Geordie) very well. The white blur in the photo below is Geordie walking between me and the crow. Dog and crow seem to take each other’s presence for granted.

Portrait of a crow, photograph by June Hunter<br /> ©junehunterimages2019<br /> www.junehunter.com

Another un-named, very confident, Napier Street crow …

It’s always a bit tricky when you get to the corner of a block, or wherever the boundary between crow fiefdoms lies. Here we’re on the border of Pants Family terrain, but the Napier crow on the stop sign seems inclined to make a bold incursion this morning.

Napier Street crow on the edge of his territory

Mr. Pants is not amused at the audacity.  We might have had to include a “Warning: Crow Violence” sticker on this program, but I traced my steps back a bit so I could distract the Napier crows with a few peanuts before having a short visit with the Pants Family.

Since the great moulting season of 2018  — see Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips — Mr. Pants has been lacking the feathered trousers that earned him his name. Now that it’s getting a bit colder, he does seem to be getting a bit fluffier around the nether regions, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever be quite so pantaloon-encumbered as he once was.

He probably enjoys the more streamlined life.

The Pants power couple.

Mr. Pants, dashing with or without trousers.

Brief pause for a commercial break … 

June Hunter Studio Sale Feb 2019

And now, back to scheduled programming …

On to William Street next to check in on the White Wing plot line. I know this is Ms. Wing by the way she greets me, even though I can’t see her distinctive wonky feather from this angle.

There we go …

A brisk wind catches her protruding feather this morning. It looks kind of awkward, but she seems to manage very well. In fact, of all the local crows, she was the most successful mom this year, successfully raising three fledglings to independence.

Another break for a spot of crow calligraphy.

The commotion in a tree near William and Kaslo made me think a crow or eagle must be involved, but it seemed to be an all-crow kerfuffle. The one on the far right had something in his beak and it seems that the others felt it was not rightfully his.

They chased him out of the tree, back to the tree and dive bombed repeatedly, but he stubbornly held on to whatever prize he’d managed to score.

On the home stretch  we run into two of our old favourites, Eric and Clara.

They’re Marvin and Mavis’s closest neighbours and there’s been a bit of rivalry between them lately.  When I stop to greet Eric and Clara, I immediately see and hear Marvin on a power line, making grumpy territorial calls.

Eric and Clara

As soon as I get a few steps closer to home, Marvin comes down to claim my full attention. Time for breakfast.

But no … there’s a final twist to the plot (isn’t there always?)

Mavis is watching something else from another hydro wire and she seems perturbed.

Raven!!!! Furious cawing and they take off to escort the intruder out of their territory.

It takes Marvin a few minutes to calm down after that little burst of crow-drenelin.

I thinks he’s earned a good breakfast, so the scrambled eggs are brought out again.

Marvin graciously lets Mavis have the first serving. Since she developed a spot of avian pox on her right foot late last year, I notice she’s a lot pushier about getting the food and Marvin seems to know she needs as much nutrition as she can get. You can see the small lesion on her back foot in the photo below. It doesn’t seem to be growing, so I’m hoping she’s got enough of an immune system to hold it at bay.

‘Scuse my table manners.

Marvin the patient.

And so today’s Crowflix programming comes to an end … and we didn’t even cover the Slocan Street Trio. Perhaps they’ll need their own episode. Remember, there’s probably a live crow show on offer in  your neighbourhood too. You just have to step away from the TV and out the door.

Sudden Sky Drama

I thought I was actually going to be documenting the sudden and violent demise of Marvin this past Sunday.

I was at Make-It! Market for most of last week, but I took an hour or so off on Sunday morning to mail some online orders. On the way back from the post office, walking down the alley to the garden gate I heard a crow-motion, along with a simultaneous flash of massive wings.

A bald eagle had landed in the tree one street over. We often see them around here, but they’re usually soaring high overhead so you don’t really appreciate how very huge they are. You can see its true size as it perches next to the Crow Complaints Committee (CCC), voicing their various grievances from a nearby branch.

Eagle Hop

Eagle Take Off

I’m sure that the four crows are Marvin, Mavis, Eric and Clara — the two pairs with territory closest to the offending eagle visitor.

And this is where I thought I was about to witness the death of one of them.

Based on what I know of the personalities of the four crows, Marvin is the most likely to pull this stunt.

As I clicked the shutter I closed my eyes, not wanting to see what happened next.

Amazingly, what did happen  was that the eagle took off in search of a less irritating spot to spend Sunday morning … and Marvin the Maniac lived to annoy birds of prey another day.

Post eagle-exploits, Marvin was looking pretty full of himself.

While, at the same time, keeping a close eye on the sky.

With help from Mavis.

6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

Marvin Close Up Dec 2018

1. Crows Are a Gateway Bird

The Look

Crows are often the only obvious representative of the natural world that a busy urbanite might see in a day. Many more wild things live among us, of course — but crows are so “in your face” that they’re hard to overlook, no matter how distracted you are. Once they’ve caught your eye, you can’t help but start to notice the rest of the quieter members of the urban nature gang… sparrows, chickadees, coyotes, eagles, hawks, bushtits, raccoons, ravens, squirrels, flickers, hummingbirds … and the precious scraps of urban greenery in which they thrive.

2. Crow as Mirror

Crows have evolved through millennia along an entirely separate path from humans.

And yet, and yet … here we find ourselves, crows and people, living strangely parallel urban lives.

TRIO

We all —crows and humans — have to deploy every bit of our creativity and hard work to get by in the urban jungle. We take comfort in our family groups, and we commute in tandem—  the nightly river of roost-bound crows soaring raucously over their earthbound fellow travellers, the latter inching their way homeward though traffic.

Still Creek Roost sunset

While I love and admire crows, I don’t usually think of them as my “spirit animal” or anything particularly mystical.

And yet, sometimes, when I look at Mavis …

monday-morning-mavis-post.jpg

3. Crows Really Don’t Care

Crows have a rather enviable devil-may-care attitude.

Crow's Eye Close Up

Their gaze is firmly outward, with little or no thought wasted on what others think of them.  They know that their crow-ness is sufficient.

I try to be more like them in that regard, … although I don’t think I don’t think I’m quite ready to start digging up  my neighbours’ lawns just yet.

Mr Pants Beard

For further reading on crow confidence: Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

4. Crow Puzzles

As I get older I wonder if I should start doing Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind sharp.

wet-sunday-togetherness-e1544062468551.jpg

I haven’t yet,  but I find that crow watching is a pretty good substitute. I see a crow doing something rather inexplicable. I wonder about it, read a book or an article about crows, I watch some more, and then — aha! — the puzzle pieces suddenly fit into place.  Then I have to try and keep that bit of information stored in my brain as I add more clues to a growing picture. It’s like being a crow P.I.

Take, for instance, the mystery of the barking crow …

See my previous blog post A Puzzlement of Crows for just how much of my brain this sort of thing occupies at any one time.

Whitewing Dec 2018

Whitewing here has a perennially wonky wing feather which helps me pick her out from the crowd.

5. Crows For Kids

We worry that our kids spend too much time inside, screen-mesmerized (much like the rest of us) and rarely keen to get outside and get involved with nature. They’re able to identify far more corporate logos than birds or plants.

From experiences with my own children when they were younger, the most effective way to get them interested in doing something is to create a story around it.

My son was reluctant to come on walks until we found Dragon Alley.  A street near our house is lined with massive trees, and the trunks are all covered in various kinds of thick moss. Once we “discovered” that this was were the local dragons came to rub off their old scales, walking was a delight.

dragon scales

I wish I’d started noticing crows when my children were little. The tales we could have spun! The characters we could have followed!  They loved books with animals in them, but most of them were not indigenous to East Vancouver. They read about tigers and badgers and hedgehogs in brambly hedges, none of which they were ever likely to actually find on their own adventures. It would have been fun to introduce them to some real life local crow characters.

Well I guess it’s never too late as I do that now, even though the kids are now in their twenties …

Slocan Street Crow Dec 2018

6. Crow Therapy is Egalitarian

Twig Carrying Crow

Just about anyone in a crow-populated city can take advantage of crow therapy. You don’t even need to get up close and personal — you can read their messages of beauty and nature from a distance in the calligraphy they write against the sky.

We simply need to stop for a moment to look up and try to interpret it.

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In fact, crow therapy is SO egalitarian that it doesn’t even need to involve crows.

If it’s wondering what the starlings are up to today, or how the light will hit the leaves on your favourite tree this morning, or which dragons left scales in Dragon Alley overnight — whatever gives you a thrill of anticipation as your step outside — that’s Crow Therapy.

Wild City

See also: Crow Therapy

 

 

 

Crow Therapy

It’s been a busy week, starting on Monday when I was interviewed by Gloria Macarenko on the CBC Radio One’s show — On The Coast.

You can listen to the interview here.

The subject of our chat was my City Crow calendar in particular, and “crow therapy” in general.

I must admit that when I first coined the phrase “crow therapy” for city dwellers, I half meant it as a joke.

After all, there are already so many cures from our mental and spiritual ailments these days — ranging from the snake oil variety, to the truly helpful.

As I scroll through my social media feed and my blood pressure inevitably begins to rise — there it is — the ad for “Calm”  (apparently the best-selling app of the year) floating serenely down the page. It seems to actually know which posts are going to aggravate me most so that it can make a timely and soothing appearance.

There is the lovely forest bathing therapy, and that is generally free – all you need is some forest in which to wander. That, and hiking in the mountains looking for ravens, are two of my favourite calming “apps.” Unfortunately, I have neither forest nor mountain on my doorstep, so those types of respite take a bit of time and planning.

Given how fraught our daily lives can be, we could all take to wandering the mountain trails and forest pathways on a full-time basis, having bid farewell to our jobs and families.

Or, we could look for a stress-busting technique that’s more readily at hand.

There are always those handy phone apps, of course. But it seems counter productive to spend yet more time looking at screens in order to reduce the tension often brought about by too much time immersed in that world to begin with.

What we need is a window OUT of our normal world, even for if it’s just for a few minutes.

Therefore, I present to you: Crow Therapy — 100% free, and readily available!

A crow knows what’s it like to be struggling to make it in the big city.

They understand.

A crow isn’t perfect.

They don’t expect you to be either.

So what are you waiting for?

A  Crow Therapist, or two,  are likely waiting for you outside right now.

Speak up, I don’t have all day here …

Coming soon: 6 Reasons Why Crows Make Great Therapists

If you really need a lot of Crow Therapy,  you may benefit from the company of thousands of corvids. See my blog post: Last Call at Still Creek

 

 

Crow Photo Tips

Marvin 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EQUIPMENT/TECHNOLOGY

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

olympus OMD EM1 blog

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

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

OMD w lens blog

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

camera strap blog

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

LIGHT

Coat of Many Colours

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

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

Junior crow portrait

Exceptions to the Rule

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

Ruffled Crow Silhouette

SUBJECTS/REASONS

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

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

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

If yes — do more of that.

If no — try something slightly different next time.

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

Picket Fence Crow

Some Reasons to Take Photographs

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

 

Junior Crow on Blue Fence

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

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

Moody Crow

Failing that, maybe just a few more like this …

Interpretive Dance

Corvid Interpretive Dance, Vol: 1

 

 

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Nesting News

Eric Face

In our local Crowlandia we’re ricocheting between serenity and stress.

Suspense is the name of the game as eggs and hatchlings start to fill the nests.

Most days it’s seems really very peaceful. The crows maintain an uncharacteristic hush behind leafy screens, quietly guarding their nests.

In April, it was possible to see a pair of crows constructing, and then sitting on, a nest high in the poplars from the comfort of my dining room window …

A couple of weeks later and the nest is discreetly hidden by foliage.

I’m pretty sure that this nest belongs to the Firehall Family of crows.

One day earlier this week both of the nesters made a rare double trip down to terra firma for a chat.

Perhaps they were out on a date, although one of them seemed to be feeling the need for a little personal space ….

Eric and Clara are around too. I think their nest is also in the poplars, just a bit to the south of the Firehall nest. It’s not within view of my window and too far up to see from the ground, but Eric is guarding his corner diligently.

Eric on Alert

A couple of weeks ago there were a few inter-crow skirmishes between Eric and the Firehall gang, presumable sparked by minor breaches of neighbourly conduct.

Crow Skirmish

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A detente seems to have been reached lately.

A circumspect hush has fallen over the neighbourhood.

Now that nests are becoming populated, location is an even more closely guarded secret. Energy must be saved for the most important things.

Part of the silence seems due to the absence of some of usual crow enemies at the moment.

The ravens have moved on. I haven’t seen or heard one near here for almost a month now. Also missing: the pair of bald eagles that usually cruise the area at this time of year. Perhaps both ravens and eagles are waiting to hear the quacking of baby crows before they start their “grocery shopping” expeditions.

But there is one sure thing around now that will get the nesting crows to break their silence.

With a vengeance.

Crow Raccoon Committee

Meeting of CCC (Concerned Corvid Citizens) in the alley earlier this week.

Cawing Marvin

Two weeks ago Marvin cawed for an entire day. He was cawing when I got up, before 6am, and he was still at it when dusk fell. Even by crow standards, he was sounding a bit hoarse by then.

The culprit, in both of these incidents, was almost certainly the masked bandit. The tree in which Marvin and Mavis seem to have their nest has been robbed by racoons every spring since I’ve been noticing such things.

Yesterday, on the dog walk, I heard a furious crow, then noticed a small, lollipop-shaped tree in someone’s garden shaking as if in a hurricane.

As it was a windless morning I decided to wait and see what happened next.

Sure enough …

Raccoon climbs out of a tree

Raccoon on a Wall

I’m not sure if the raccoon scored any eggs this time. Perhaps Geordie and I interrupted this particular heist, but those clever little hands are very adept at nest robbing. I suppose there are little raccoon kits waiting for lunch somewhere.

Circle of life, and etc …

Crow Seeking Advice

Marvin and his trusty pal, Rusty, engage in philosophical discussion on the back gate.

Marvin is still coming by occasionally for a snack and visit. I imagine Mavis is on the nest, so I’m hoping Marvin is thoughtfully saving some peanuts to take back for her.

Morning Visit from Marvin

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On a recent dog walk I heard a crow begging call coming form a cedar tree. It sounded just like a baby crow calling for “food, food, food” — but it’s too early for such noisy youngsters. As I suspected, it was a mother crow, confined to nest duty, calling out to dad to quit lolling about, pondering the meaning of life, and *@#*%! bring her something to eat.

Mother Crow with Nest

Soon, we will be hearing the ceaseless “quacking” sound of dozens of baby crows, all vying for parental feeding service

Calling Baby Crow

Feeding Baby Crows

I am the cutest of my siblings. I am the loudest. Feed me. Feed me. F-E-E-D M-E!!

For a further preview of things to come, see my 2014 post: DIVE BOMBED BY CROWS

In the meantime, at least when the area is raccoon-free, it’s pretty quiet around here.

But those devoted parents are ever-vigilant. Was that the shadow of an eagle  … ?

Crow Sky Watchers

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Special Days

Some days there are ravens.

Some days, there are even mountain bluebirds.

When such things miraculously appear in my own urban neighbourhood I tend to (if at all possible) just drop everything and follow them.

I’ve been ridiculously lucky for the past two weekends.

It was the raven the weekend before last. She hung around for most of Saturday and Sunday and I was able to take several hours each day just to watch and listen.

I became quite convinced that this raven was here specifically to continue my rudimentary language instruction. We were moving on to “Conversational Raven.”

VIDEOS to follow—  so remember to go to the BLOG POST ITSELF to see them.

We started our day early when I saw her on the first dog walk of the day. You can see her raven breath in the chilly morning air.

In this next clip, I honestly felt she was trying to get through to a particularly slow student when she making her oh-so-carefully articulated speech.

Sometimes, you know how you choke up for the big performance. Especially when you have an audience …

But, for me, the highlight of the day was when I realized why it’s often so hard, just listening to her calls, to figure out exactly where she is. Sometimes it sounds like two birds calling to each other. Sometimes she sounds close, a second later, really distant.

The mystery was solved on Sunday, when I found her calling in a spot where she was surrounded by walls on three sides. The echo was so amazing that I just stood there for quite a while before I thought to try and video it. Unfortunately, the tiny and uni-directional microphone on my camera doesn’t pick up the echo that well — but you can see her stop and listen to her own voice coming back to her.

I wondered if she thought it was a second raven, or whether she did it to sound as if there were more of her and to generally drive the crows crazy.

Raven with Two Crows

Speaking of driving the crows crazy, I think this is Eric and Clara keeping an eye on her raven shenanigans.

Raven Grooming

Madame Raven completes her morning toilette, heedless of the scolding crows and the clicking cameras.

And then, this last weekend, came the bluebirds.

I only noticed them because I was scouring the area for the raven.

Something darted over an unused piece of grassland that looked, in it’s flight pattern, more like a swift or swallow that the usual small birds I see around here. Upon closer inspection, there was an improbable flash of summer sky blue.

Mountain Bluebird on Fence with Mountain View

Poor Geordie. I’m sure he sighed an enormous doggy sigh as our walk came to an abrupt halt and I started feverishly consulting the Sibley’s Bird app on my iPhone.

Not a Western Bluebird then — they have brown/orange chests. Could it be a Mountain Bluebird? I had never seen one, even though I lived and worked for years in the north and interior of BC, which is more their usual spring/summer range. It seemed so odd that they should make a sudden appearance in East Vancouver. The Sibley’s map shows the coast of BC as part of their migration route, so just passing through.

Mountain Bluebird on Twig

They like open grasslands with some trees for shelter and they had found exactly that for their Vancouver stopover. I guess they did some excellent BirdAirBnB research in advance.

The piece of overgrown grass had small bushes and fences for them to perch on to view their insect prey before diving in to dine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I “visited” them several times over the weekend, often pointing  them out to neighbours passing by. Some of them went to bring their families to see the amazing sight. None of us had ever seen them before. They reminded me of the little birds that helped Cinderella to do her housework and get ready for the ball in the original Disney animation.

More real … still magical.

Male Mountain Bluebird

Female Bluebird on Fence

The male birds are impossibly vivid. The females are more subtle in the their colouring, but there would still be a spectacular flash of blue from their wings when they took flight.

These appearances were, as they say in the furniture flyers, Limited Time Offer Only!

May many of your days be special, and may the Bluebird of Happiness fly over to your shoulder …

Bluebird Over Shoulder

… and rest there for a while.

Bluebird on Shoulder

Oh, and if you’re wondering, when will their be bluebird cushion covers? … don’t worry, I’m on it!

Mountain Bluebird Photo Collage

Coming soon to a couch near you!

See the sequel to this post at: Ordinary Days.

Crow Murder (Attempted)

In contrast to the rather peaceful imagery of Crow Calligraphy, where corvid nesting behaviour evoked the peaceful strokes of Japanese brush painting — this post is more Sam Peckinpah meets Hieronymus Bosch.

I usually don’t like the term “murder” to describe a group of crows.

Rather prejudicial, I always think. In the case of this gathering, however,  it seemed apt.

Incredibly, (spoiler alert) all participants in this brawl did walk away — but the ferocity was something I’d never seen in my all years of crow-watching.

The crows are pretty fractious at this time of year. All of that bucolic nest building has the side effect of making them hyper-sensitive to territorial infringements, — by traditional foes (raven, eagle, cat,  racoon, coyote) — or their fellow crows.

On Sunday morning the crows were particularly loud. I assumed it was the usual group protest directed at the new raven in the neighbourhood.

Crows in the Poplars

I was first preoccupied with the raven, who seemed especially oblivious to the crows on this particular morning . She carefully ran through a full repertoire of calls and meticulously groomed her lovely feathers.

The crows weren’t bothering to swoop and harass her, and I noticed that their anger seemed focussed elsewhere. I walked over that way to see what was bothering them.

Just then, all hell broke loose. From a distance, it looked like a muscular black feather duster exploding in the middle of the alley way.

As I got closer the individual participants in the melée became more distinct.

Crow Fight 1

It seems that two or three crows are at the centre of the brawl, with one of them pinned to the ground.

Crow Fight 2

The fighters are surrounded by a vociferous crowd — like a scene from Gladiator, with some Hogarthian figures passing judgement from the sidelines.

Crow Fight 3

Crow Fight 5

Crow Fight 6

Just as I was thinking that this fight might need a human referee, a corvid one seemed to step in. Abruptly the flapping stopped and “discussion” resumed..

Crow Fight Mediator

Miraculously, the combatants, aside from some ruffled feathers, looked relatively unscathed.

Indignant, but uninjured.

Crow Fight 9

The warring factions decide to suspend hostilities, and live to fight (and nest) another day.

Crow Fight 8

Of course, someone always has to have the last word …

Crow Fight Aftermath

The crowd dispersed as far as the nearest trees and wires where they continued to comment on the event for quite a while.

Political panel

Political panel “unpacks” the issues.

Eventually the tribunal concluded and all participants went back to their own territories. There they resumed the more tranquil business of finding just the right twig to complete the perfect nest.

Crow with twig

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