Mavis and I could really use your help to put in a good word for the Notre Dame poplar trees on Kaslo Street!
Read on for how you can help. Oh, and it has to by tomorrow (April 18) – no pressure. 😉
If you have followed my blog, even for the shortest time, you will know these trees. They’re the setting for many of the bird adventures I photograph and write about. They played a starring role in last week’s Game of Nests, for example.
Marvin and Mavis are in them at this very moment, guarding their new nest.
But there is a strong likelihood that, by next spring’s nesting season, they’ll be gone.
The school on who’s property the poplars stand wants to install a sunken, artificial turf football stadium that, in its current form, would mean the demise of the trees. You may have read my earlier posts about this (see links at end of this post.)
Instead of an unbiased arborist report the school has presented a “Tree Risk Assessment” to the City in support of their plan. This report states the obvious: if a sunken field, 3 metres deep at the foot of the poplars is installed, the roots will be damaged to such an extent they will be at “high risk” of falling. In 2007, a more balanced arborist report found ways in which the trees could be spared by making the field just a little smaller.
To voice your support for giving these lovely trees a FAIR assessment before they’re removed in favour of a synturf stadium, please contact the City of Vancouver Project Facilitator, Andrew Wroblewski and let him know you’d like to see the City find a way to save the trees.
It would be helpful to copy your remarks to Vancouver’s Mayor and Council. You can send them a group email HERE.
If you have already done this because of my requests on social media earlier this week: THANK YOU SO MUCH.
We are running out of time to make a difference. The City Planning Department has set April 19 as the deadline to receive comments on the Notre Dame project. As April 19 is Good Friday, we really only have until THURSDAY, April 18.
Hundreds of local residents have signed a paper petition that we will hand in at City Hall tomorrow. But, even if you don’t live locally, you can speak out on behalf of these beautiful trees.
All we ask is that they be given a fair and unbiased assessment instead of the report based only on what will happen if the roots are fatally compromised.
These trees are an important local landmark. They also provide habitat for many kinds of birds, bugs and animals and are the only green space for miles around in an urban area sorely lacking in natural beauty.
As I look forward to watching the currently taping first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, I’m also addicted to following the real life epic drama going on right outside my window … Game … Of … Nests!
It’s a tense, political and, at times, violent tale.
Marvin and Mavis have been plotting since February to expand their territory from the north half of the Kaslo poplars to encompass the whole darn row.
Historically, Eric and Clara ruled the southern end of the stand, nesting there for the past few years. Marvin and Mavis, it seems, are an ambitious couple nursing expansionist dreams. They spent weeks harassing the other pair and “encouraging” them to move to the street trees further down Kaslo Street.
February skirmish with Eric and Clara
By early March I noticed that Marvin and Mavis seemed to have won. Eric and Clara ceded their hold on the poplars and began to consolidate their grip on the block to the south.
All seemed to be going well for the new King and Queen of the Poplars.
Twig gathering was in full progress by March.
Marvin looking for some sturdy twigs in our snowbell tree in March.
By early April, Mavis was looking to brighten up the place with some blossom twigs.
But Marvin and Mavis had made a terrible strategic error. Spending so much time fighting for control of the south end of the trees, they’d neglected their northern front.
The firehall crows took advantage and started to build a nest in the northernmost tree in the stand.
Incensed, Marvin and Mavis rushed to the defence of their neglected territory and days of fierce battle ensued.
Marvin and Mavis spent so much time chasing the interlopers that I was worried they’d forgotten about their own new nest at the south end of the block.
On several occasions I saw them visit their ill-fated nest from last year — just a couple of trees over from the new nest being built by the Firehall newcomers.
It’s almost as if they were mulling over what went wrong last year (their only fledgling fell out of the nest and didn’t survive) and were taking a few moments to pay their respects.
At last they seemed to decide to leave the past behind and let the northern invaders keep their nest, turning their attention back to the new nest.
Here is a terribly wobbly video, taken from far away of Mavis and Marvin working together on the nest. Warning: do not watch if prone to motion sickness.
While things have quietened down a bit in the Game of Nests, there are still periodic outbreaks of hostility. This morning another crow got too close to the nest and Marvin and Mavis gave furious chase.
The Land of the Tall Poplars, like Westeros, is filled with danger on all sides. No sign of dragons so far — but there is an eagle’s nest visible from my house. That means there will soon by hungry baby eagles. Mom and Pop eagle are already cruising the poplars keeping an eye on where food will be be available later in the season.
The poplars are also home to lots of four-legged crow enemies. This raccoon looks pretty adorable snoozing in the hammock of some high branches … but come nesting time there’s nothing they like better to snack on than crow eggs. In fact, that’s the fate that met Marvin and Mavis’s brood the spring before last.
I find I have to “watch” many parts of Game of Thrones from behind a cushion, asking when the terrible thing is over.
Yet, as full of drama and heartbreak as the HBO series is, it’s nothing compared to the real life struggle for survival going on right outside.
All we can do is root for my favourite characters to make it unscathed through the season/series. Now where’s that cushion …?
The signs of spring are there. Admittedly, they’re a little tricky to spot in the world of snow and ice outside …
What the …?
Frozen puddle on this morning’s dog walk.
… but the birds know, in their featherlight bones, that spring is just around the corner. The small birds, finches and song sparrows especially, are in full mating mode, chasing each other around the garden like daredevil Spitfire pilots.
Song sparrow diving into the season, even if it is covered in snow.
Female house finch and junco share a perch.
Male house finch in rosy finery
Goldfinch feasting on the coral bark maple tree.
A sure sign of spring is the sudden and ominous banging noise that makes me think the furnace is about to blow up … an annual event which always turns out to be a Northern Flicker hammering on the metal chimney. The neighbourhood will soon be echoing with the sounds of amorous male flickers experimenting with different percussive surfaces, checking to see which offers the most impressive volume.
This flicker discovered that hollow aluminium deck railings deliver awesome reverb.
One morning a few days ago we left the house to find our street magically full of robins, singing their song of spring, and feasting on the large holly bush at the end of the street.
A close look at the ornamental plum trees on our street shows some tightly furled little buds starting to appear.
In the 28 years we’ve lived beside them, the average time for these trees to bloom is the third week of March. They’re looking a wee bit behind schedule at the moment, but some sunshine and warmth in the coming weeks could get them back on track.
I haven’t seen any overt signs of nest building yet, but the crows are arguing along the edges of their territories. All of this squabbling leads me to believe they’re in the early stages of nest site selection.
Eric and Clara vie with Marvin and Mavis for hegemony in the poplars.
Marvin and Mavis view their real estate options from the Crows Nest vantage point.
Ms. and Mr. Wing stand guard at the entrance to their fiefdom up on William Street.
Garden-wise, the signs of spring are obscure.
I feel a psychic kinship with the frost-fainted snowdrops.
The poor hellebores were breezily blooming in January only to be hastily buried in leaves when February’s snow and freezing weather swept in. They remain hidden, hopefully poIsed for a second act when things finally warm up.
Perhaps because I miss them, and possibly influenced by my convalescent hours with Monty Don, I’ve been playing around with some of my floral images from years gone by to create some new cushion cover designs.
While I dream of waking up to this view again …
… I’m working on some new images to invoke that spring feeling.
It’s difficult to say when Real Spring will finally show up, but Marvin seemed to be consulting a third party this morning.
Tell me, oh All Knowing Bird, when will Spring arrive?
As reliable source of weather information as any.
Perhaps I should ask him some of my financial planning questions …
They started nest building in mid-April, choosing a spot in the poplar trees bordering the high school at the end of our street. It was visible for a while, but in May the leaves filled in and the nest was veiled in secrecy
Just before the leaves popped out enough to render the nest invisible.
Weeks passed by and I waited to see signs of baby crows. Radio silence — until last week when I woke up to a loud crow-fuffle outside the school.
Half a dozen adult crows were cawing at each other in a circle inside the school fence. Outside the fence sat this little bundle. It seemed as if the adults were trying, and failing, to reach consensus on what do do about the problem at hand.
The dilemma: baby crow was sitting right where, in another half an hour, cars would be pulling up as parents dropped off their children at school.
I went home to collect a protective hat and some conciliatory peanuts, and returned, prepared to move the baby off the road to the relative security of the fence line about 5 feet away. Of course, this did not go over well at all with the adults. A crowd of about a dozen outraged crows had gathered by now, and they all offered their opinions (loudly) from the trees and fence.
Whether it was their advice, or my getting closer, the baby crow picked himself up and scuttled under his own steam to the fence and off the road edge.
Day 2: My husband spotted the baby, somehow herded by it’s parents to the inside of the fence line and into an area overgrown with blackberry bushes. Excellent cover.
Day 3: No sign of baby, but parents being very loud and protective.
Day 4: Spotted the baby up in a small crabapple tree on boulevard beside the school.
Day 5: Nightmare — the school gardener had taken a weed-wacker to the area where the baby had been taking cover. A sea of chopped up blackberry stems. No sign of baby.
Day 6: Spotted the baby hopping around the diced foliage. Phew. Parents cawing protectively.
Day 7: Heart stopping moment when I see this inert form lying in the middle of the empty school parking lot.
Closer inspection reveals it to be a rolled up black sock. But no sign of baby and parents around but not being protective. Not a good sign.
Day 8: Up very early again to see if I can catch the faintest sound of a baby crow calling. Silence. No baby sounds, no parental cawing. Eric and Clara were in their usual spots but not seeming to be in protective mode any more.
Eric offers a rattle call this morning, around 6 am. I’m not sure if he’s trying to give me bad new.
If this fledgling hasn’t survived, it will be the second year in a row that Eric and Clara have not produced any young. Last year no babies made it out of the nest — I think because a big windstorm that happened just as they were about to fledge.
However, better news from …
FAMILY NUMBER TWO
This crow family lives about six blocks from us. I see them on the daily dog walks.
It’s rather hospitable area for a growing crow family — a quiet street, lined on both sides with very big, leafy trees The crows there seem to be the first ones in the neighbourhood to have their babies out of the nest.
Last winter I started to notice one particular crow around there. She stood out from the corvid crowd because of what looked like a streak of white on one wing. The flash of white is actually because one feather sticks out at an awkward angle, but the name White Wing stuck in my head.
Her feather mishap didn’t seem to slow her down at all and I saw her almost every day — until early March, when she disappeared. I was quite worried. as it seemed a bit early for the annual nest building, when couples do tend to make themselves scarce.
I saw her companion almost every day, but no sign of White Wing.
Until just over two weeks ago.
Remember this little fellow from my last blog post, Fledgling Alert — he had just dragged himself (literally) out of the gutter. It turns out that he and two siblings are White Wing’s offspring.
Three baby crows and Dad (Mr White Wing) in one of the leafy trees.
Now I see White Wing every day, being harassed by her brood of hungry offspring.
These crow babies are gaining skills fast. They can fly now — airborne, if not graceful. This fledgling was playing with a twig on a roof and managed to hop/fly to another roof while still hanging on to her treasure.
Already the bright blue eyes of the first few days are changing to a soft grey. They’ll keep the bright pink “gape” of the mouth for a few more weeks as they continue to beg their parents to be fed.
Sibling puddle fun.
While life will continue to be a risky business for Whitewing’s three offspring — fledglings seem to do quite well in this little neighbourhood every year.
The leafy canopy of trees provides some cover from aeriel predators like eagles and hawks (although there is a hawk’s nest in those same trees a block or so down the street). It’s a street with lots of gardens, providing plenty of cover, and not much traffic.
I’ll try and keep you posted on the progress of families one and two. I’m still hoping against hope for Eric and Clara’s single fledgling, but preparing to accept that things haven’t worked out for them this year.
There is also a third family on my radar — post pending.
Marvin and Mavis have a nest in the same trees as Eric and Clara and they seem determined to keep their babies in there until the last minute.
Most of the local crows seem to have suddenly become enrolled in some sort of corvid witness protection program.
The normally gregarious garden visitors, and dog-walk-followers, are suddenly either absent altogether, or shifty and secretive.
It’s nesting time, and I’m resigned to not seeing so much of Marvin and Mavis and the others until later in the summer when, if we’re lucky, they’ll come back to show off their offspring.
But I don’t give up on watching crows for these few months.
Instead I watch for the calligraphy in the sky.
The crows start to exist in my consciousness as quick brushstrokes, furtively flitting by with tell-tale beak attachments.
The latest cargo for the nest in the poplar trees has been grass, leading me to believe that we’re at the finishing, soft furnishings, stage of construction.
There are only a few short days to gather clues as to who’s nesting where. Just now, the trees aren’t quite leafed out, and the nests under construction are still visible.
But the crows are smart and have tactics to confuse.
I believe it’s Eric and Clara who are building in the poplars and they have at least two nests on the go. I imagine they will decide which of the two to inhabit (or perhaps they have a third that I haven’t spotted at all) once the leaves give them full camouflage.
It’s a bit of a mystery/thriller, illustrated with simple silhouettes.
There are characters other than crows in this year’s storyline. Ravens have decided to try the charms of city living in our neighbourhood this year.
I’m thrilled. The crows are considerably less happy. Ravens will steal eggs from the their nests, so they’re on the “naughty” list, along with eagles, hawks, racoons etc.
As such they are mobbed relentlessly, making for a very busy crow spring.
Not only must nests be built – but ravens must be energetically harassed from dawn to dusk.
Sometimes, it all just gets too much for the tired corvids.
One day last week I watched this raven in a tree, surrounded for about twenty minutes by a harmonious crowd of crows.
One crow even seemed to getting very close – perhaps trying for a diplomatic detente.
Note: Video follows, so if you’re reading this in email format, click HERE to go to the blog so that you can see the video.
For a moment it seemed that a crow/raven understanding might be reached …
… but talks broke off and hostilities resumed. I guess the crows were just taking a much-needed breather.
So, at this time of year, keep an eye on the sky for calligraphic messages from the crow world. You might just learn where it’s going to be best to avoid (or at least to use an umbrella when walking by) later in the season.
This is a quite long story, with many pictures, and some emotional ups and down. You might need to arm yourself with a cup of tea and take a comfy seat before settling in to read. OK, here we go …
By the end of June, the flicker nest was the talk of the street. Everyone was keeping a discreet eye on the plum tree goings-on and neighbours would discuss the activity over the garden fences.
Each morning I was checking the tree to see if the sounds were still in there. Sometimes it was quiet (I guess there was nap time) and sometimes the little murmurings were there. Then, one morning in early July, I was rewarded by this adorable face at the “window.”
Note: If you missed PART ONE, you can read it HERE.
That’s a great big world out there …
Hey, I’m hungry over here!
Ah, here comes Mom with lunch.
Everything was looking so good for the little family. The parents were such fierce guardians, and the babies seemed safe in their tree fortress.
One morning I got up very early to see what was new.
What was new was this: absolute silence at the nest and a sad pile of flicker feathers around the base of the tree.
Further exploration revealed the remains of a baby flicker on the road.
I’m not sure if the culprit was the returning squirrel, the neighbour’s cat, or my buddies the crows. I try to put in the perspective of the circle of life and all that, but I must say I was pretty sad.
The flicker parents were still around, but no sign of any babies. I wondered if they’d lost their one and only fledgling for that year.
Dad at the bird bath.
The following day I took a cup of tea out to the front of the house and was startled by a great flapping in the windowed end of the porch. It was a baby flicker, vainly trying to fly to freedom through the glass.
Luckily, I still had the “rescue box” from the last flicker episode on hand. I grabbed a towel (not fraying at the edges this time!) and put it over the head of the baby. She immediately stopped flapping and I put her in the box with the lid on.
I was somewhat torn about releasing her, worrying that whatever killed her sibling would get her too. However, I took a deep breath and let her go in the back garden, where there’s lots of cover.
Failed picture of release – but you can see her tail feathers as she exits the frame.
She sat for a minute in the lilac tree, getting her bearings.
I was worried that there were no sign of the parents. After a few moments to collect herself, the baby flicker took off and flew away north.
Over the next few days I’d hear calls of adult and baby flickers around the garden.
I heard the soft thud of baby flicker flight mishaps a few times.
My husband was sitting quietly in the garden and spotted the two adults and the fledgling flicker all together at the bird bath. I was happy to think that at least the surviving baby was gathering skills and under the guardianship of the parents.
Yesterday it was my turn. I saw both parents and, not one, but TWO baby flickers in the garden — one male, one female. Below is a video of the mother feeding the female fledgling on the roof of my studio.
Here are the siblings playing around in the lilac tree.
EVEN MORE BABIES!
This morning I actually think I spotted THREE fledglings – one male and two female. Now I’m starting to wonder how many baby flickers can fit into the trunk of a medium sized ornamental plum tree. No wonder there were so many sounds coming out of there!
Male Flicker fledgling
Sisters in the lilac
There are few things cuter than a sleepy baby Flicker.
So, the Flicker Family Saga continues. As is the way of life, tomorrow may bring a sad pile of feathers, but for today things are looking pretty promising for the Flicker Family of Parker Street.
I have so many northern flicker images to work with now, I hardly know where to start.
We spent our Earth Day morning mounting a small neighbourhood search for George.
From late summer to spring, George and Mabel come by our garden several times a day without fail.
Then, one day each spring, they just seem to disappear. They don’t come to the house. They don’t greet me on my dog walks. I’ve noticed this happen for a couple of years and I assume that they are off doing top secret nesting work somewhere.
But, still, I worry.
A fellow George-watcher in the neighbourhood contacted me on Instagram yesterday to see if I’d seen him lately. She mentioned that she’d seen Mabel and their baby from last year at her end of the block. It worried me a bit that Mabel was around, but not George.
Since the two are usually pretty inseparable, that seemed strange.
This morning, my neighbour contacted me with the news that she’d seen George — several blocks away from where he usually hangs out. She included a silhouette photo of him on a lamp stand with the distinctive broken beak profile.
This morning’s dog walk naturally took us on an exploratory expedition to this distant intersection in search of George. It seemed a little odd that he’d be so far away, but how many broken-beaked crows could there be in one neighbourhood?
Geordie and Nina, fellow George seekers.
As soon as we got to the corner in question, there he was. But wait a minute.
This crow had a broken beak, just like George, but showed no sign of recognizing us. George usually zooms low all down the street to make a dramatic landing right beside me. This crow just continued his diligent turf-turning project on someone’s lawn (looking for chafer beetle grubs.) No interest in us whatsoever.
Although he looked pretty identical to George, I knew it couldn’t be him. It made me realize two things.
One: this sort of beak injury can’t be that rare after all.
Two: crows look pretty identical to our undiscriminating human eyes. We have to use all the clues available to us — behaviour, location, which other crows they’re hanging out with, as well as little physical differences, to figure out who’s who. I figure it’s good exercise for the aging brain. Corvid Sudoko.
I gave our new acquaintance a few peanuts, wished him well, and headed back to our street.
As we got to the area where George and family usually gather, I saw what looked like George Junior. No sign of dad anywhere. Sigh.
Then, like Batman dramatically arriving at a crime in progress, all of a sudden there he was! I think it was only because I was approaching his still-dependant offspring that he broke his cover to come and greet us.
Peanuts were served. Virtual champagne was quaffed.
So, now I’m back to my original theory, which is that George is occupied on some high security nest-related project and won’t be visiting, or swooping down regularly until that job is completed.
Leaving me more time for my other worry project, Eric and Clara.
Their nest is at the other end of the block, high up in the poplars. My concerns for them are, first: the poplar leaves are taking so long to come out that the nest is very visible to predators. It’s too high up for racoons, but just the right height for eagles, hawks and ravens.
Eric and Clara’s nest is about 50 feet up there. The leaves are slowly, slowly providing camouflage.
Which brings to me to my second and latest worry. If the babies do hatch successfully, how are they going to get to the ground safely. Baby crows often leave the nest before they can really fly. They hop around, do a bit of clumsy gliding, but real flying skill usually takes a couple of weeks to develop. So, what happens when you’re born in a high rise??
Once you start getting attached to wild birds, there really is no end to the list of things to worry about!
I’ll keep you posted.
STUDIO SALE COMING UP
I’ll be having my annual pre-Mother’s Day studio sale in a couple of weeks. If you’re in the Vancouver area, come on by and you can find out the latest news first hand.