Let me be clear. Actual owl wrestling is definitely not something I’d recommend.
However, it does feel as if I’ve been metaphorically getting to grips with owls for the last few weeks.
One particular owl, in fact.
Since the wonderful day a few weeks ago when a barred owl appeared in front of my house, I’ve been working on distilling the magic of that day into a small set of images.
It was such a special day, I really wanted to make sure that I did that beautiful owl justice. To that end, I’ve been faffing about with this series for weeks.
First of all there was the issue of making a short list of the photographs to start working from. That gorgeous owl posed so obligingly for me, for so many hours — it made choosing the final four images quite challenging.
Then I had to decide which other images to layer the owl portraits with. Below are most of the final images that, in the end, became merged with the owl — but in the process of working on this series I tried dozens of other combinations of tree, foliage, stamp, fabric and texture images. They all ended up on the virtual cutting room floor, leaving the set of images that are now on my web site.
Lupins, cracked concrete, katsura leaves, sky, forest, an old barkcloth curtain and owls — all combined to create the atmosphere in the final set of four owl images.
Owl Dreams 1
Owl Dreams 2
Owl Dreams 3
Owl Dreams 4
Some of the other images of birds of British Columbia on my web site. Buy four or more, and save 15%.
It’s going to be a scorcher this week in Vancouver. The news is full of dire sunstroke warnings, and tips on how to beat the heat.
The birds know what to do, and here is one of our backyard Northern Flickers to do a little demo for you.
Stick to cool, shady places. Preferably near water.
If the thermometer is really sky rocketing, it’s time to take the plunge.
Get thoroughly soaked. Feel your core temperature go down.
Aaah. Now that’s better.
This part of the flicker post-bathing behaviour might not be so advisable for humans.
I <3 Flickers
NOTE: In this hot dry weather, the birds may need a little help from us to stay cool and hydrated. If you have a bird bath, keep it clean and full. If not, a simple shallow container of water put out for the birds is a big help when there are no puddles to be found.
Apart from enviously watching the bathing birds, I’m working feverishly on putting together to 2018 City Crow Calendar. It’s coming together well. In fact, it would be done if not for the little anecdotes and smaller pictures I’m adding to spare spaces in the grid parts of the calendar.
Anyway, it should be off to the printer soon, and available to purchase on my web site by the beginning of September.
The cover model for the calendar will be … guess who?
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.
The neighbourhood is alive with all kinds of baby bird noises.
Loudest of all, naturally, are the baby crows.
Here is a sample of some of the hilarious baby crow moments I’ve had the joy to observe in the last few days of dog walking. I’m very lucky that Geordie is a patient sort of dog, willing to put up with many unscheduled stops on our expeditions.
Geordie the Crow Watcher
We came across this brand new addition to our block this morning. Could be one of George and Mabel’s, as it was at “their” end of the block. We watched him/her spend several minutes trying to figure out (unsuccessfully) how to squeeze through a garden fence.
Has anyone seen my mom???
Not to worry. Mom (or Dad) was supervising from a nearby roof.
This baby was still in the early stages of flying lessons.
OK, first you spread the wings …
Then, you take a good run and jump …
Oops. Going down …
The baby crows who live a couple of blocks west of us are a week or two ahead in their Skills Development program.
Here’s one taking a deep breath and taking off from the hydro wires.
Woohoo! Here we go. Now, how did that flapping thing go again?
Figuring out what is, and isn’t, edible is a bit of a process of trial and error.
Baby crows are very vocal about their constant state of ravenous hunger.
Mom, mom, mom!!! Food, food, food!!!
It seems that the frazzled parents will try anything to get some peace and quiet.
Look – I brought you this delicious stick.
Hold still and eat this delicious bit of wood!
Look, I went to all the trouble to get you this delicious stick, so you WILL eat it.
Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to come back to the studio to get some work done.
I can’t bear to think what I might be missing in the ongoing reality show of Real Baby Crows of East Van.
It was just like a door-crasher sale for crows, with home furnishings 50% off.
Like a gang of bargain bin foragers, they created an explosion of tugging, flapping, snapping, inspecting and discarding. Reject twigs littered the sidewalk. In spite of the massive effort involved in finally getting a stick free, the crows would often cast a critical look at their prize and dump it. Perhaps they decided it was going to mess up the feng shui, or didn’t quite match the colour scheme — whatever — it wasn’t up to snuff so time to head back into find the “right” one. Even if a twig was worth flying off with, it would often be taken to a rooftop for some further DIY modification before being deemed nest-worthy.
These photos are of Eric and Clara. I know it’s them because of where they’re building their nest. That half block has been “theirs” for as long as I’ve been watching them — at least four years.
Eric finally flies off with a “perfect” twig.
Eric and Clara’s nest, way up in the poplars.
Because it’s been such a delayed spring here in Vancouver, crows are building their nests before the trees are leafed out enough to camouflage them. I can actually watch Eric and Clara working on the nest from my living room window at the moment. I only hope the local bald eagles and racoons aren’t also making notes!
There was a definite joie de vivre in the air last Friday. Not only were the blossoms out (three weeks late) but it was also dry and sunny for the whole day.
In between battling to acquire furniture, the crows would spend a bit of time just relaxing in their newly-pink world, and enjoying the novelty of the twin phenomena of sun and “not rain.”
Clara in the pink.
The blossoms were still there the next day, but the weather took a severe U-turn. There was very little twig collecting going on in the pouring rain. Trying to shake a twig loose from the soaking trees would have resulted in near drowning. And the wind!
I think this juvenile crow’s look spoke for many of us when the rain started up again.
Nest Construction Notes
Last year, after nesting season was over, I found this fallen crow’s nest. I brought it home to photograph its architectural features — a perfect embodiment of urban and nature. The main form was constructed from sturdy twigs, grass and moss, then reinforced with human detritus — old zap straps and twine. A bit of packing fluff for a luxurious finishing touch.
This wasn’t supposed to be a blog-writing day, but I feel I have some “stop press” news that must be shared, along with photographic evidence.
I almost hesitate to share this wild idea, but I think there is a small chance that … dare I even speak the thought? … spring might have arrived.
I hasn’t just been the rain.
So. Much. Rain.
It’s also been cold. Brr. We have lived on the same street for 25 years now. Normally at this time of year, it’s a candy-floss fiesta of pink blossoms. This year, it looks like this.
But yesterday, the rain stopped. The sun came out.
It’s actually mild enough to stop and stand in the garden and watch what’s happening.
These are a few of the amazing things I saw going on in the garden in just one hour this morning.
Chickadee calling his heart out in the snowbell tree
One of my favourite hellebores.
A fox sparrow taking a breather on the garden fence.
A crow with nesting on his mind. I saw George with a twig in his broken beak earlier this week.
Norther Flicker on the peak of our roof – taking a short break from hammering on the metal chimney.
The daphne bush that was crushed with snow all winter has survived!
Buds starting on the coral bark maple. Oh, and a crow.
Song sparrow in the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (aka Corkscrew Hazel).
A bushtit at the feeder. Only one pair came – not the usual “suet-feeder clogging” crowd. A sure sign that they’re getting ready to nest. And one of them left the garden with some moss in it’s beak.
Goldfinch stopping at the bird bath for a little paddle.
I’m sure the birds have known it’s spring for weeks now, in spite of the weather. They’ve got important business to be dealing with, rain or no rain.
I’ve just been a bit slow on the uptake, what with the amount of time and effort needed to struggle into full rain gear and wellies for every excursion — and then the overwhelming desire to get back inside as soon as humanly possible.
Now that it’s stopped raining for five minutes, I strongly suggest spending a few minutes outside. Just drink it all in and catch up with the birds.
Later this week I will have sent myself “via airmail” to my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England. I’ll be there for the opening of Spring Show at The Biscuit Factory Gallery, where a series of my bird images, entitled Correspondence, will be exhibited.
CORRESPONDENCE: letters sent or received
So many airmail letters, cards, and pressed flower collections passed between my mother and me. We wrote to each other from 1976, when I moved to Canada, until 1997, when she died. I keep many of our letters in a box under the bed.
I like to re-read them every few years because I see completely different things in them now than when I received them in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I guess that’s because I’m now “catching up” with my mother; getting to the same stations on life’s journey that she’d passed through decades ahead of me. Parts that I had skipped over in my youth now grab my attention and recognition in an entirely different way.
Although no more mail arrives from my mother; and although I no longer stick stamps on letters to her; I like to think the correspondence continues through my artwork. In my images I’m always pointing to things I know she’d have loved. I also like to think it’s the equivalent of a box of letters on the subject of “things that are important” for my children to go through one day in the distant future. At least, I’m fairly confident they will think of me almost every time they see a crow or a raven!
CORRESPONDENCE: a close similarity, connection, or equivalence:
I like to think of my photographs of birds as portraits, rather than as scientific illustrations. I try to capture a look in the eye or a pose that captures the connection between birds and people. Although they have evolved along an entirely different path from that of the human race, I can’t help but feel, especially after the hours I’ve spent watching crows, that there is much we have in common.
Worrying about our children, furnishing our nests, trying to survive … we are all connected.
On the way to the Women’s march on January 21 I saw a crow flying in front of me. She dropped a piece of food she’d been carrying and it fell through the air for a couple of feet before she casually swooped down and caught it. Clever, I thought. Then I watched as she dropped and caught the same object at least four more times before she flew out of my sight. I was so excited. I must write a blog about that, I thought. But I didn’t. Somehow it seemed too trivial in the face of everything else that was going on.
It’s not that I’ve stopped feeling inspired by urban nature — it’s just that every time I get on the computer to post something I get sidetracked by reading world news and commentary, and by the time I’ve done that, the games of a crow seem a bit irrelevant.
Today I’m going to try and pull myself together. I note that some serious political commentators sprinkle their posts with kitten pictures just to break up the general bleakness.
So, my theory is, that posting pictures of crows, other birds, pretty moss and rust etc. is a bit of a public service to the news-battered world.
And beyond the kitten-effect, I’d like to think that nature photos are especially important right now.
If you happen to catch a glimpse of soul in a crow’s gaze, then I hope it will contribute to your resolve to guard all birds against the coming assault on their habitat. Birds, after all, are one of the “canaries in the mineshaft” for the planet.
If you find yourself empathizing with a fluffed-up, chilly little hummingbird — I hope that this feeling will extend to refugees and any people who are “different” from you.
A forest fire of bigotry and distrust is starting across the world. A wind of ignorance is fanning the flames, and we are all being choked and disoriented by fake news and alternative facts.
We need to be forming a vast human to chain to chuck buckets and buckets and buckets of reason, compassion, joy and love on this mess before the whole forest catches alight.
So, whatever you need to fill your bucket — keeping informed, watching kitten videos, turning off the news, raising chickens, knitting, locking yourself in a dark room for ten minutes, or getting out and saying hi to some birds — keep that bucket well-filled. I have a feeling we’re going to be busy for some time ahead.
Just in case you really need some cat content, Edgar always happy to oblige …
Pardon the rather overwrought title, but it’s true; an elementary school “Nature Collection” assignment changed my life.
It was also, at the age of 7, my first bitter taste of academic failure.
On the face of it, it was a rather fun assignment — go out into nature and make a collection of pods, seed and leaves from a variety of trees.
The one tiny problem was the complete lack of such trees anywhere near where I lived.
Most of my fellow pupils at Saint Andrew’s school, located in the middle of an English industrial city (Newcastle upon Tyne), probably shared my problem. Some of them may have lived within reach of Exhibition Park or the Town Moor, but I lived down on the Quayside. We had the Tyne river, docks, ancient buildings — but no sycamores, oaks or hazel trees for miles.
The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family’s flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo. I was much more acquainted with the exact girder pattern of the Tyne Bridge just above my bedroom window than I was with the mysteries of trees.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I loved growing up down there. In spite of the complete lack of any family-oriented facilities (including trees), it was a truly epic place for childhood adventure.
The High Level Bridge viewed from a part of the old walls where we liked to play. There are a few small trees growing there now, but it was mostly just weeds back in the 50’s and 60’s.
There were a handful of kids in the neighbourhood — my little brother and I, the two sons of the pub owner, and the two daughters of another bank caretaker.
We were “free range” and felt we owned the city.
The ancient city walls were our forts and houses, and many games were staged in the abandoned graveyard of All Saints Church.
All Saints Church had no congregation so it was left to turn into an overgrown adventure playground. Because the church itself was a protected historic building it was never demolished.
It didn’t occur to me for a moment that we were nature-deprived. There were, after all, plentiful weeds on the old World War II bomb-sites with which to create spectacular bouquets.
One of my favourite childhood bouquet ingredients. It’s called fireweed here in Canada, but in the UK it has the more poetic name “Rosebay WIllowherb.”
But the dreaded Nature Collection project was real eye opener. I’d never actually seen the sycamore trees it spoke of, with their clever little helicopter seedpods. I certainly had idea where to go and collect samples. My mum, who didn’t drive and had my little brother to look after, couldn’t really help, other that getting some books out of the library for me.
In the end I just handed in some pictures of the items we were supposed to collect. It felt like a massive failure.
Looking back, I feel some lingering annoyance that we were set an assignment so bound fail. It was a classic curriculum vs real life mismatch.
On the other hand, it was a great gift. I feel as if I’ve been diligently working on that darn assignment ever since.
When I moved to other, greener parts of the world, I pressed all kinds of leaves and flowers in books. Sometimes I composed pictures of with the dried results and sent them to my mum back in Newcastle. I recently came across a few ancient specimens in my massive copy of Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.
I still feel a thrill, fifty plus years later, every time I come across any new or particularly beautiful little specimen of leaf, seed, fungus, nest or moss.
Or crow, come to that. We only saw pigeons and gulls down on the Quayside.
I’m always especially thrilled to see the ways in which nature and the city intersect
I love to see a weed forcing it’s way through asphalt, or human rubbish selected by birds to furnish their nests.
I found this fallen and abandoned bushtit nest and “collected” it earlier this year.
Detail of the bushtit nest. Construction materials include moss, spider webs (for strength and stretch), leaves, grass and fragments of man-made fibres.
This crow’s nest I found on the ground recently is a great town bird/country bird collaboration – an ingenious mix of twigs, moss, twine, packing fluff and zap straps.
So, every piece of moss or rust, every bird I see; every lovely fallen leaf that catches my eye; it’s all being mentally added to the ongoing “Nature Collection” project.