Pretty much every day is a bird expo around here, in its own little way.
Mavis, positively piebald in her molting magnificence.
But last week I had the great privilege of being part of the Bird and Nature Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre. It was an event that combined, for the first time, three important gatherings:
the 27th meeting of the International Ornithological Congress (IOC)
the first Vancouver International Bird Festival
the 8th Annual Artists For Conservation Festival
At my booth with Rue the Kenku (member of a mythical bird race) and Rob Butler, Chair of the Vancouver International Bird Festival.
The IOC is the oldest and most prestigious meeting of bird scientists, having started in 1884 in Vienna, Austria. They meet every four years, and this was the very first time the event took place on the Pacific Coast.
The Vancouver International Bird Festival is an expansion of the successful Vancouver Bird Weeks that have been enjoyed in the city since 2013. The event included talks, walks, tours and community art celebrating and spreading the love of birds. All of it came together in the Nature and Bird Expo.
Artists For Conservation (AFC) is an important group of artists dedicated to supporting the environment through their beautiful work. A highlight of the Nature and Bird Expo was their stunning Silent Skies mural — a hundred foot long mosaic in which many AFC artists collaborated to depict 678 endangered bird species.
So, having explained the nuts and bolts of what was going on, let me tell you a bit about the atmosphere.
As someone who spends a lot of solitary work time — thinking about, writing about, looking at, and photographing birds, there was something quite euphoric about being in a room with hundreds of people who are similarly obsessed. Many of the people I spoke to were scientists, rather than artists, but there is no divide between disciplines when it comes to sheer bird enthusiasm.
At the back of the huge space in which the Expo was held was an area where scientists who weren’t presenting their abstracts in a bigger venue could pin up a poster about their research and have half an hour or so to present it to anyone interested. That area was like a beehive, buzzing with ideas being shared, vibrating with energy.
I met bird scientists from Russia, Korea, South Africa, China, Columbia, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, all parts of Canada and the United States. One thing they had in common was — if you asked them what their area of research was, they positively lit up. I’m pretty sure the percentage of people who love their jobs was way above the general average.
The Expo showcased organizations that work with birds, rescue birds, rehab birds, publish books about birds, sell binoculars and cameras, the better to watch and photograph birds, and equipment to track birds. Really, you name it, if it had to do with birds, it was there. On Saturday, there was a kids’ bird feeder building workshop, paper bird puppets were made and the place was full of children working on various bird-related projects.
Wide-eyed Boobook Owl — native to Australia, but abandoned in Canada and rescued by OWL — an orphaned wildlife rescue association, specializing in raptors since 1985. Mr. Boobook was at the Expo with OWL to meet and greet the public during the week.
Handsome Harris Hawk, brought to the Expo by The Raptors, a group of biologists dedicated to educating the public about birds of prey, working to conserve them, and to using falconry as a natural method of wildlife management.
And the bird-inspired art was, well … inspiring.
My neighbour was jewellery Joanna Lovett Sterling who makes gorgeous jewellery with thoughtful bird-sparked stories. I’m not sure how it’s possible that we both live in Vancouver and hadn’t met until then, we have so much in common. We did a a lot of laughing over the five days we were there.
In the wider art world, there were breath-taking bird paintings, drawings and sculptures and even intricately carved bird eggs.
Birds on Parade
I was sorry to have missed the Bird Parade that opened the event. We had visitors from the UK and we couldn’t quite coordinate things to get downtown in time — but we did manage to get to the Still Creek Roost that night, so they did witness a bird parade of a different sort.
Happily, some of the stilt walkers came by the Expo later in the week and I did meet the American Crow.
One of the really interesting things about last week’s event was the variety of ways in which people shared their love of all things avian. Two costume artists (one from Seattle, the other from New York) were some of the most dynamic.
You can read more about the amazing work of H. “Rah” Esdaile (@rah-bop) and Jennifer Miller (@nambroth) on the IOC web site at Artist Showcase (scroll down to Bird Costumes.) The costumes they made were spectacularly detailed, and their movements stunningly bird-like. Their presence brought an electric energy and everyone was thrilled to have their photograph taken with them. It was as if “Bird Elvis” was in the building!
Costumes by Jennifer Miller, with Jennifer and her husband Brian as a bearded vulture (Lammergeier) and a endangered Philippine eagle. Note excited people in the back, reviewing photos taken with the bird people.
Bird artist, Sarah Hammond, surrounded by giant birds.
Rue, member of the mythical Kenku bird race. Of course, she had many corvid qualities, so I was particularly star struck!
Some of the amazing detail in Rah-Bop’s amazing costume design — Rue’s belt of mysterious collected treasures.
One last amazing detail in Rue’s costume. The eyes can close to allow a great range of bird expressions!
Finally, for those of you who were worried about the small, confused Expo attendee shown below, (many people wondered about his fate after I posted him on Instagram and Twitter) rest easy. His story has a happy ending. He did not run into the Harris Hawk, but was reunited with the pigeon delegation in the great outdoors.
Well, the Expo, Congress and Festivals are over now, but my head is full of great memories and happy thoughts about the wonderful people I met. I feel as if the world is a better place, just knowing they’re all out there doing their various bird-focused work.
Back now, to my owl small Nature and Bird Expo. A new one each day when I take my morning walk around the neighbourhood.
Ideally, when your long awaited visitors arrive, you and your home are looking their spiffy best. As we know, this often does not work out exactly as planned, but it’s important to make the best of things and make the guests welcome anyway.
Today I went on my usual early morning “urban nature enthusiast” walk, which mostly consists of chatting with my local crows and topping up their strategically located water bowls. As I visited my corvid acquaintances, I began to imagine what they might have to say to our out of town visitors.
“First of all, sorry about how we’re looking.
We’d really hoped the molting season would be over by now and we’d be sporting our fabulous fall feathers. All midnight blues, deep amethysts and shimmery sheen. Sigh. Instead, we’re still in the midst of our crazy “hey, look, I could be an extra in a low budget pirate movie” phase.
We like to think of this as our Late Summer Casual look.”
Mr. Pants shows off his molting season hipster beard.
The crow shown here is one I’ve been following and photographing for a few months. I started calling him Fluffy Pants, meaning to come up with a more dignified name later. Somehow he’s gotten stuck as FP, but we call him Mr. Pants for short which I like to think is slightly more respectable. His claim to fame is (obviously) his extravagantly feathered pair of trousers. He had them last year too, so I assume they’ll stick with him through the molting season.
Although, this morning, as he flew over my head, one of his precious pant feathers came loose and spiralled slowly, slowly downward — right into my waiting hand.
Here it is, as fluffy and delicate as you’d imagine.
Mr Pants looking more fully fluffy and pleasingly purple, only a couple of weeks ago.
This is Mavis, one of the crows that lives right beside my house. She’s usually the first bird I see each morning. Fluffed up, her molting feathers, in all their faded colours, look rather magnificent
Mavis’s mate, Marvin, was looking a bit more dishevelled today. You can actually see the “nostril” holes in his beak as he’s lost the feathers that usually cover them.
“So, yes, human visitors, we realize that we crows are not looking our most magnificent for your visit.
But don’t write us off. We’re as clever, funny, feisty and fascinating as ever. Make sure and keep your eyes open for us. You can’t miss us. We’re everywhere. Watch for us at dusk, when we fly in crowds to the east for our nightly roost at Still Creek.
Oh, yeah, you may also have noticed that the much hyped mountains, and some other breath-taking vistas, have disappeared behind a pall of forest fire smoke.
Things are breath-taking, just not in a good way.
It’s been yet another long, hot, tinder dry summer and lots of BC is burning.
We’re sorry the view is more dsytopian than utopian for your visit.
On the small bright side, it’s visceral proof that the human race really needs to take a look at what it’s been up to for the last couple of millenia.
Many of you are scientists and activists, and we crows are cheering you in your work to help chart a new course for this environmental pirate ship we’re all crewing on.
Otherworldly sunrise over the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, East Vancouver.
Vancouver summer 2018
On another note (June speaking again, not crows) ….
… I’ll have a booth at the Nature and Bird Expo at the Vancouver Convention Centre this week. Hope to see you there (Booth #623) and we can talk crows and murky skies …