Marvin and Mavis: 2020 in Review

Marvin and Mavis have had a pretty stressful 2020.

They’re far from alone, of course, but spare an extra thought for these two.

Spring was looking pretty good. Several years of effort had paid off and they’d finally driven all other crows out of “their” row of poplar trees on Kaslo Street.

I like to think they had a couple of weeks of feeling satisfied with their achievement before the trees were all felled in June.

Left with a blue construction fence instead of 22 stately trees, they tried at least two different nesting sites in smaller street trees. At one point it seemed that they did have a single fledgling, which came to the house a few times and was spotted on the construction fence.

It’s always hard to keep track of the crows during this period as they change their habits, protecting their young ones and chasing off in unpredictable directions after their novice flyers. All that, combined with the summer of noise and dust on the construction site, caused me to completely lose sight of Marvin and Mavis and the young one.

Unfortunately, by the time the literal and metaphorical dust settled at summer’s end, there were just the two of them again, looking a bit glum on the blue fence and starting to moult.

Fall feathers came back in and I was looking forward to getting back to the normal routine of them coming by the house a couple of times a day and  having some quiet chats about world events.

Trouble on this front too, though.

For new readers, a short crow history lesson may be needed here.

Before Marvin and Mavis became our “house crows”, our place “belonged” to George and Mabel. When George died in summer 2017, Mabel moved to the other end of the block and eventually started a new family there.

Mabel and just a couple of her clan.

In 2019  Mabel and her new mate had three fledglings, with two of them staying with mum and dad. This spring they had three more, and the two survivors of that batch are with them now as well — creating a large family unit of six crows.

Six is a lot of beaks to feed, and Mabel seems to have now remembered that our house was once her territory. Consequently, we have a bit of a power play going on, with Marvin and Mavis seriously outnumbered.

Mabel on the garden gate post, back to her old haunt

I have tried to apply the Peanut Diplomacy method to the problem, scouring the scene for the Mabel gang before putting a few discreet peanuts out for M & M.

But, with six pairs of sharp crow eyes on lookout, it’s very rare that anything gets past them — and Marvin and Mavis are constantly having to fend off interlopers.

It’s rare to see either of them these days without fully deployed head or pants feathers, trying to look as fearsome as possible.

Or ducking …

Anxious to avoid crow riots, and potential crow injuries when they dive bomb each other,  I’ve stopped putting peanuts out for anybody for now. When the dog and I leave our gate and I find eight crows waiting, I just walk off and try to lure Mabel and company back to their usual territory at the other end of the block, before rewarding them with a small nut offering.

At the end of the walk, I arrive by a different route at the back of the house and, if I’ve succeeded in losing my “tail,” I can usually find Marvin and Mavis and we can have a bit of discussion about how 2020 is going for each of us.

Suffice to say, sympathy is offered on both sides.

 

 

 

 

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The Gazing Bowl

There’s a lot (a lot!) of pressure on the gazing bowl this year.

Unlike tea leaves, the assorted bits of foliage in the gazing bowl confer no psychic abilities upon the reader — well, not this one, anyway.

Handy as that would be. Especially this year.

While the future remains stubbornly hidden, time spent peering into its depths does unveil some ephemeral truths.

October 25

Pondering the ever-changing patterns gives me a different way to see the world, if only for a few moments.

This year, I’ve been finding in it  metaphors for history and ideologies — one layer affecting another —murkiness in the complexity —shadows and light — one thing reflecting another.

November 2

But then, the bowl (and everything else) depends upon Nature — and I hope we all remember that in the coming hours, days, months and years, and steer our history and ideology to reflect that truth.

Geordie, who seems to think that my prognostication receptacle is actually his water bowl, has lately been hinting that the murkiness I am seeing in it is less metaphorical, and more a question of diminished drinkability.

Begging his indulgence, I think I’ll leave it for one more day and then tip it out and fill it with clean, fresh water.

 

See also:

 

 

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Cedar Waxwing Extravaganza

I’ve only seen Cedar Waxwings in Vancouver once before. In the snowy winter of 2017 they appeared very fleetingly on a crabapple tree-lined street near us.

One morning in February there was a whole flock — and all gone the very next day.

Cedar Waxwing, East Vancouver, February 2017

Ever since, I keep an eye open for them when I walk the dog down that street.

No luck … until this week! I first spotted those little crests, bright yellow tail tips and Zorro masks on Tuesday.

Ironically, we’d wanted to go out to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary that day, but had left it too late to make a reservation. I was, therefore, feeling a bit glum when I set out on the usual walk around the ‘hood — same old, same old …

Just goes to show something or other, because if we’d gone to the bird sanctuary I might never have noticed these rare visitors in our very own backyard.

I went back every day this week, expecting them to have moved on, but they’re still there!

There seems to be at least a dozen of them, with quite a few juveniles in the party.

The young ones have a less defined bandit mask around the eyes and a more speckled appearance than the adults.

The mature birds have a smoother feathers, pinky brown merging into lemon yellow on the lower body. The mask is sharper — and it’s always exciting to spot the waxy red tips on the secondary wing feathers that give them their name.

Cedar waxwings eat mostly fruit — although they won’t say no to some delicious bugs.  They eat the berries whole and, apparently, are prone to getting drunk on berries that have started to ferment. Fun as that sounds, it isn’t really, as they then tend to fly into windows and perish.

In fact, a neighbour who lives on this berry-lined street, was just setting up his own system of Acopian Bird Savers for their windows to try and stop this from happening.  I have a similar set up on my glass studio doors and it really seems to work!

We’ve had a bit of every sort of weather this week, from pouring rain to strong winds, and back to bright sunshine, and still they remain. I have started to wonder if they might stay for the winter.

This berry cornucopia is popular with all kinds of small birds, so it’s not surprising that it eventually popped up on the local hawk’s radar too.

This morning the crows were making a big fuss and scared up a small hawk — a Sharp Shinned, I think — which finally gave up a flew away, for now.

The trees were very empty this morning, but I noticed a few brave robins and a couple of waxwings were back this afternoon.

So, Cedar Waxwings, are you staying or going?

I guess I’ll just keep checking and be prepared to see them gone — until the next time.

 

 

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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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Some Wet Crows

It was a  classic Vancouver winter walk this morning — penetratingly cold and damp. And only October!!!

Looks as if frigid weather is set to come early this year, with snow falling on local mountains, and the rain down here in the city seeming on the edge of sleet at times.

But — another one of my mother’s many handy sayings — “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In this case, the silver lining is made of soggy crows.

I imagine their looks are long suffering, but that could just be me projecting.

In any case, I always politely extend my commiserations as I walk by.

One of Mabel’s extended family

Marvin posing with a gourd in a neighbour’s garden

Wet Arthur

Golden maple crow, possibly Ada

Some of my favourite crow portraits have been really wet crows.

Judgemental Crows, below, captures the look that Marvin and Mabel often give me on rainy days. It seems to imply that the weather is purely the result of some bungling on my part.

In Philosopher Crow, Mavis embodies all that is stoic and thoughtful in a crow’s expression.

Another from this morning — one of Mabel’s offspring, humming the lyrics of  You’ll Never Walk Alone

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Lyrics by Rogers and Hammerstein
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone 
You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Cue strings ….

While I may be imagining that the crows are suffering in the wet weather, I know for sure that Geordie, a California dog, can’t wait to get back in the dry.

Please can we go home now …?

While he loves snow, he really, really does not like rain, in spite of the stylish raincoat.

Back home and vying for fireside positioning with Edgar.

 

 

 

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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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Mabel the Matriarch

Nest building triptych with blossom

Mabel and her mate began their 2020 nesting odyssey way back in April when I photographed the series above, written about in A Message in the Sky.

A nest was duly built in a nearby ornamental plum tree, and Mabel sat on it for a while, settled in a pretty pink world.

Blossom Crow's Nest

It seemed like a good early start, so I was all ears for baby crow sounds by mid-June. Sadly, something must have gone wrong with that nest location, as it was was abandoned sometime in June, and it looked as if Mabel and her partners might be deciding to take a year off from the parenting business. They did have an extremely busy time last summer with three demanding fledglings, two of which were still with them this spring.

Mabel the Crow on Favourite Perch July 2020

She surprised me again last week when I heard not one, but two, and possibly three fledglings calling from her neck of the proverbial urban woods.

And there was one …

Mabel baby crow Jul 18 2020

… and another …

Mabel baby crow with railings

I’m pretty sure I heard a third, but I haven’t seen all three together yet, so hard to say for certain. Either way, it looks like another long, hot, busy summer ahead for Mabel.

Hopefully the “teenagers” still with her be useful baby sitters from time to time. Mostly though, it’s Mabel I’ve seen doing the feeding and general herding of gormless babies out of danger.

Mabel feeding fledgling Jul 18

Fledgling crow with pebble

One of her fledglings beginning that vital crash course on what is, and what is not, food. Small pebbles now ruled out.

Fledgling crow on a peeling roof

Baby experiences his/her first heatwave

I saw Mabel and one of the babies near our house this morning. That’s not “their” end of the block but the parents do have to follow wherever their boundary-innocent offspring flap off to.

First, baby posed for a distant pop-up portrait …

Baby Crow pop up

Then, seeing how fearless mom is, in for a close-up …

Mabel crow fledgling jul 28

Mabel must be getting on bit by now. It looks as if her right eye is getting worse, and yet she continues to add to her corvid dynasty year by year.

More crows in line for her throne and her rusty chain of office — although she looks ready to rule for many years yet.

Mabel on her throne

 

Other posts about Mabel:

George and Mabel: A Love Story

More on Mabel

The Inheritance

 

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It’s A Wired World

Without the Notre Dame poplars to host much of the local bird activity, the local Hydro and telephone wires seem to have become much busier.

Early in the morning it’s like watching a cross between theatre and a cartoon strip.

Here are a few shows from the last couple of days.

First, the drama of the Violet Green Swallow vs. the rowdy young House Finch.

A seemingly peaceful early morning scene as a House Finch and a Violet Green Swallow share the wire

House Finch youngster decides that things are just too peaceful

This is known as the “getting in your face” technique

Now the feisty house finch goes for the claws first approach.

Oh-Oh

Now the swallow is seriously annoyed

House Finch concedes defeat

To the victor go the skies

Next a bit of heartwarming family comedy with Marvin, Mavis and junior.

Marvin and Mavis enjoy a quiet moment — so rare for new parents

Too good to last …

Incoming!!!

Isn’t this more cozy?

And last, another family moment with the Northern Flickers. Apparently it’s not just the crow (or human) parents that get fed up with the constant badgering of their children.

Mom, mom, mom …

You’re not listening!!!!

Mom takes swift and agile evasive action

Ninja mom is on the move

Found you!!!

OK have this pretend snack …

… and I’m off again …

But mom, I’m bored …

OK, I’m going upstairs for some peace and quiet.

Hope you enjoyed your small sampling of Birdflix.

Subscriptions are free  — you just go outside and stand around for a while looking up!

 

 

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Some Good News

I confess. I have been hoarding a small bit of good news.

First, because I didn’t really believe it could be true.

Second, in a year with so little good news, I felt sharing it might be a jinx, leading to me having to give you bad news later (which no-one needs.)

The second reason still stands, but I can’t keep this little nugget of joy to myself any longer. Time to celebrate the small good things as they come along!

Drumroll, please . . . I think Marvin and Mavis, after 3 years of failure, may have finally achieved parenthood!

Our immediate neighbourhood has not heard the gurgling/quacking sound of a baby crow in some years. Raccoons, eagles and simple gravity have stymied Marvin and Mavis’s efforts time after time.

And, of all years, I hardly dared think that 2020 would be the one in which they’d  finally luck out. Apart from losing a big part of their habitat when the poplars disappeared in June, they’d already built and abandoned three nests in other trees before I lost track of their nesting activity during the construction chaos.

So, when I thought I heard baby crow sounds just outside the house in early July I wrote it off at first as wishful thinking. Or maybe a baby crow from elsewhere that had  flown off course on an early training flight.

But I heard it the next day too. And the next. Finally I saw this small face peering out of the tree in front of our house. Then this happy scene in the weeping birch across the street.

The “direct deposit” feeding method.

Now, small caveat: with all the upheaval going on in our neighbourhood, it is just possible that this is some other crow family taking advantage of the chaos to move in on Marvin and Mavis’s turf. All of the crows are behaving a little differently and varying their daily routines — partly due to the rigours of nesting season, and partly due to the suddenly changed local ecosystem. Other crows have been popping by from time to time, but judging by the regular appearance of these two and offspring,  I’m 95% sure this is Marvin, Mavis and family.

Anyway, I am trying to stop myself from feeling like a besotted new grandma. Unchecked, I could easily start knitting tiny crow-sized bonnets for this youngster.

As it is, I’m out several times a day taking photos. “See how adorable s/he is?” “Isn’t this absolutely the cutest little fledgling you’ve ever seen?” ”

One of the first “baby” photos — July 9

Such a good eater!

Strong family resemblance!!

I had all but given up on such good news for Marvin and Mavis this year. In the days after the poplars came down I often saw them sitting together on the construction fence assessing the devastation.

But somewhere, I guess, they had this little newcomer tucked away until rudimentary flight skills had been achieved.

Things could, of course, still go badly wrong. The survival rate for bird fledglings, including crows, seems to be 50-50 at best. Every morning the first thing I do is go outside and anxiously listen for the tell-tale begging sounds.

A few days ago, parents and baby came to hang out in the Katsura tree in front of the house for a couple of hours. One of the summer’s highlights so far!

So far they haven’t brought junior into the garden with them when they come for their breakfast, but I’m hoping they may do so soon.

Baby in the background

Parenting is a tiring business …

Worrying about a baby crow is a good exercise in taking one day at a time. Here is junior yesterday looking for interesting things in the gutter (a reminder to check around your car before taking off too quickly at this time of year!)

Checking out a wide new world

Here’s my most recent photo (I told you there’d be lots!) taken this morning. The blue eyes are changing to grey now and more adventures (much nail biting) are being undertaken.

The video below, also from this morning, captures one of the things that make crows so very entertaining to watch.

Who among us, human parents or kids,  cannot relate to this little exchange?

 

 

 

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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.