Crow Calligraphy

Nest Building Triptych

It’s that time of year again.

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.

Big Twig

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.

Crow with Soft Furnishings for Nest

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.

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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.

Raven Call in Poplars

 

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.

Raven Mobbed by Crows

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.

Raven Crow 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.

See Dive Bombed by Crows! for more on this …

Twig Gift

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Cloud Mystery

The clouds this morning made me really, really happy.

I was so happy, that I had to question what it was about them that made me feel so darn chipper.

Perhaps is because they made such a spectacular change from skies that have been either blue and cloudless or filled with sepia smoke for the past few months.

They weren’t just any old boring grey clouds, either. It was a symphony of mauve and lavender to begin with. Then piles of dark navy clouds budged up against  candy floss threads of peaches and cream.

The clouds seem to mark the change in the seasons more accurately than the falling leaves. It’s hard to tell if the leaf drop is a sign of autumn’s arrival, or the result of the long, hot, dry summer.

All day I’ve been thinking about why the changes in the sky and the season make me feel so excited.

Partly, of course, it’s because I’m a photographer, and intermediate and changing light is always more interesting that boring old sunshine.

But I think also has something to do with “in between” spaces where more interesting things seem to happen. There’s something about seasonal change that seem to open new doors.

It’s like the edge of something and edges are always a bit exciting. One thing ends, another begins, but they get to overlap and mingle for a while. When day is turning to night, night to day, summer to fall, winter to spring: these times, with their transitional magic, are my favourite.

Of course, the other great thing about clouds, is what they’re sometimes hiding.

I could hear a sound like laughing getting closer and closer. A pair of ravens burst out of the clouds over the North Shore, flipping, diving, air-wrestling and squabbling their way across the sky until they disappeared somewhere to the south.

 

www.junehunter.com

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The Colour of Crows

Crows and ravens are generally (and understandably) described as birds with black plumage. It is their darkness that allows them to grace the sky with such striking calligraphy.

Formal sentences composed on wires; more fluid, improvisational characters when taking to the air.

crow dance

But it’s so much more complicated, and beautiful, than that.

Feather collage

Crow and raven feathers are highly iridescent. They collect and reflect the light and the colour of the world around them. Gunmetal storm clouds, cornflower blue summer skies, the fire of the rising or setting sun — all paint their feathers with fleeting shades of indigo, lavender, copper and gold.

Copper Dawn Crow

Dawn crow, gilded

George with Luminous Feathers

George, with his eye on the sky … and the sky reflected in his feathers

Vera Reflecting garden

Crow takes flight from birdbath

These reflected shades are often featured in my photography and jewellery, so I think of, and marvel at, corvid hues often.

Raven pendant

Raven pendant

Sometimes I wonder, idly, about how many colours you could actually find in a crow or a raven’s feathers.

Imagine my surprise when a computer glitch answered my question.

I recently downloaded a batch of photos taken of a crow (Vera) in my garden. I use software called Bridge to organize my images. It allows me to see the images from my camera in thumbnail size, like an old fashioned contact sheet. It’s handy to see at a glance what’s there and do a quick edit.

Bridge capture2

I was amazed to see that some of the Vera images had been randomly translated by Bridge into, part normal photo, and part digital sampling of the colours in the photo.

Crow Colour Abstract

Vera’s plumage of many colours

At a glance, I see lavender, lilac, violet, mauve, periwinkle, indigo, charcoal, forest green, sand, pearl, slate — hardly any black, in fact.

It was an ephemeral glitch, but I managed to “capture” a couple of versions.

Crow Colours abstract

Quasi-scientific proof that a crow is not just a black bird.

Young crow in the sun

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www.junehunter.com

Plot Twist

Sometimes you start reading a book, and it takes you somewhere you had no idea you were going.

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I have a weakness for vintage natural history books, so I was quite thrilled to find this treasure on the shelves of a used bookstore in Nanaimo a while ago. I was immediately taken with the lovely 50’s typography, and a quick look inside revealed some lovely illustrations of animals and birds of the Rocky Mountain area. I had to have it!

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The charming cover page, with it’s fabulous typeface and a little engraving of a beaver, credits the author —Kerry Wood, and the illustrator —Frank L. Beebe.

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No date was listed, but a quick online search found that it was published by Herbert R. Lawson Publishing Co. Ltd. of Victoria, BC in 1955 . A year after I was born.

The Table of Contents looked very promising, with headings like The Big Fellows, The Long Sleepers and A Lazy Loafer.

contents

I skipped ahead to the conclusion, or L’Envoi in which our author charmingly bids us adieu with the wish that we “could meet beside some campfire there in the Parks, with a chuckling stream just beyond the flame-glow, a majestic mountain behind us, and the zestful perfume of the pines combining with the wood-smoke to enrich that wonderful mountain air. Amid such a setting, we could take time to tell each other more about those fascinating creatures of the wilds which share this marvelous gift of life with us.”

Mr. Woods sounded like such an affable companion for an excursion through the Rockies!

I skipped back to the animal section, leafing from wolverine to coyote.

Coyote

A whimsical passage on the coyote describes the character of the animal:

“And there you have Don Coyote; pup, hunter, clown, epicure, speedster, vocalist, and ghost, the most versatile animal-actor in the West!”

We learn that the marmot is untroubled by  “coal bills, galoshes, a “gold in da doze,” and other nuisances of winter”, because this animal is one of “The Long Sleepers”.

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Mr. Wood tells us that black bears love to wallow, “perhaps as a way of defeating the attentions of insect pests which may be attracted by the unsavoury B.O. afflicting all such animals.”

black bear

I felt as if I could wander through the Rockies with Mr. Wood and enjoy this lovely folksy, conversational style of his all day.

Of course, I was anxious to get to the bird section. My flipping through had revealed some lovely pages of illustrations.

swallows

The hawks are given the honour of “finest bird family” although the author acknowledges that “someone is sure to get indignant about listing hawks as the finest bird family; folks will vehemently point out that hawks steal chickens and therefore are bad birdies.” Our author goes on to point out, that while chicken stealing does go on, hawks also keep mice and insect pests under control. And, besides, hawks are protected by law from hunting.

hawks

But what about  the crows and ravens?

Time to find out what our author had to say about my favourite birds.

This is where the plot twist comes in, as we segue from “charming period nature writing” right into horror.

I guess it should have come as a bit of clue that crows, ravens and magpies were listed under the heading, “Mostly Rogues”

Mostly Rogues Title

Thankfully, Mr. Wood declares himself against the practices of egg stealing and shooting and collecting the feet of these “rogue” birds, although mostly because these methods are inefficient.

The more cost effective method for crow control he describes sounds both horrific, and faintly ludicrous.

roost bombs

He suggests placing “shot bombs” in areas where crows roost in order to “humanely kill hundreds and thousands of the offending birds.”

Shot bombs, “costing less than a dollar apiece,” could be made by “enclosing two or three pounds of lead shot with a stick of dynamite inside a sheath of concrete.” Add a detonating cap and battery, and voila! The mind boggles.

It’s incredible to me that crows, such intelligent and charming birds, could be dismissed simply as vermin to be eradicated — although I know that the corvid species is still regarded in this way in many parts of the world, with a bounty placed on their feathered heads.

But this particular method of blasting hundreds of them into oblivion while they sleep in their roost seems both gruesome and vaguely absurd.

Would a flyer be circulated earlier in the day for the benefit of all the wildlife not on the “naughty” list so they can vacate the area? Pity the poor cat, dog or child who might wander into the detonation zone at the wrong time. And what of the trees and foliage caught up in the carnage? I was reminded of a story told to me by an Irish man about his ill-fated aunt. Her cottage was near a rookery and she didn’t like the noise the birds made. She tried to get rid of them by smoking them out, and wound up burning down her own cottage.

Mr. Wood goes on to explain how the “roost bombing” method could reduce crows to “negligible numbers” in a few years. Clearly it did not. Probably not because people felt sympathy for the crows, but perhaps because someone saw the holes (literal and figurative) in the scheme.

Although also listed under “Rogues,” ravens are not as vilified as the crows and magpies, if only because they seem to have been scarce at the time. We even get a little Edgar Allen Poe humour here!

raven

From the rest of the book, it’s clear that Kerry Woods (you can read more about him here)  loved the wilderness and most of its inhabitants. He even had a nature centre named after him. I can only conclude that his attitude to corvids must have been a reflection of the prevailing view at the time.

So, while we may, from time to time, harken back to simpler times and the “good old days” I don’t imagine you get many crows from the Rockies wishing to go back to the 50’s!

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Vera would not like to be living in the 50’s!

I still like my book, Birds and Animals of the Rockies, for its beautiful typography and illustrations, the jaunty writing style, and the window into the thinking of the times.

But, if you’re interested in curling up with some more up-to-date books and blogs on the corvid species, here are some of my favourites.

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Crow Planet, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Lyanda also has a lovely blog called The Tangled Nest

Corvus — A Life with Birds, by Esther Woolfson

Gifts of the Crow and In the Company of Crows and Ravens by John Marzluff

Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrick

Corvid Research, a very informative blog by Kaeli Swift

 

 

www.junehunter.com

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Black and White World

Raven Departure

 

I love colour. I really do love colour.

But there is something very beautiful in a landscape stripped down to shades of black and white.

Stark and simple.

Here’s a little photo essay on a lovely world almost devoid of colour.

 

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

Calligraphy in the water at Hastings Sanctuary

 

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

Pair of ravens at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl

 

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

Snow, trees and sky. Mount Washington, Vancouver Island.

 

Raven call

Raven call

Raven reverse.

Raven callback.

 

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

Garry oaks on Hornby Island

 

Raven tracks

 

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Fluffy raven at Bowen Lookout, Cypress Bowl, West Vancouver

 

Winter Tree

Tree skeleton

 

Raven acrobat. This is tricky, especially in a brisk wind.

Don’t try this at home.

 

Winter skyline with raven.

Winter skyline with raven.

 

George says hello in black and white.

George says hello in black and white.

 

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Ghost Raven

Whenever I go up into the mountains I’m hoping to see ravens.

They are actually part of my fitness program. If I ever feel like just sitting all day at the computer, I remind myself that if I don’t keep my knees in working order, I won’t be able to get up those mountains and therefore will not see those ravens.

So, ravens = fitness incentive.

On Saturday it was raining in Vancouver and you’d swear that the North Shore Mountains were non-existent.

But, as my father-in-law used to say, “If you don’t do things in the rain in Vancouver, you won’t do anything at all”.

So, we put the snowshoes in the car and headed up to Mount Seymour.

About halfway up the mountain a thick mist descended. By the time we reached the parking lot it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead.

The chances of a raven sighting seemed pretty remote, given that I could hardly see my feet to put my snowshoes on.

But, just as we got kitted up and ready to head to the trail, I spotted an ethereal silhouette ahead of us.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

A ghostly figure in the fog and snow.

I was pretty sure that this would be our only raven sighting for the day.

We headed off through the woods, stopping for a snack and break at First Lake. Just as we headed off again, I saw our ethereal raven land on the top of a tree by the lake and give a few mist-muffled calls.

Phillip at First Lake

Phillip at First Lake

We carried on to Dog Mountain. Normally this spot affords the most awe-inspiring panoramic views of Vancouver. On this day it offered a blank whitescape and a biting wind. After a couple of quick photos of the non-view, we prepared to retreat into the trees away from the gale.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying just above the small tree in the centre left.

The non-existent view from Dog Mountain on Saturday. You can just faintly see the raven flying above the small tree in the centre left.

And suddenly, there he was. Like magic, our ghost raven became corporeal for a few moments. He landed on the snow beside us.

It was really gusty out there.

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The upswept punk look

The upswept punk look

I whipped off my mitts, dragged out the camera and was able to take a few shots of him before he turned around and wandered offstage again, back into the realm of mist and mystery.

Taking Leave

 

Magic.

More than enough motivation to keep my knees fit enough for further mountain expeditions.

For new raven portraits, visit my website.

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“Spooky” Halloween Crows

I always love to see crows, but I must admit I’m always a bit sad to see them typecast as harbingers of death and all things spooky, especially at Halloween.

crow stamps

I was torn between excitement at seeing a crow on a book of stamps I just bought at the post office, and disappointment that they were supposed to be “haunted”.

My new “red sky crow” pendant would seem, at first blush, to be part of the problem.

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But, I’d like people who wear it to know the actual story behind the image. It’s a story that paints a truer picture of people being far, far scarier than crows.

This summer in Vancouver was rather frightening. I wrote something about it in my early blog, Crowpocalypse 2015.

In some ways it was great — day after day of dry sunny weather. Great for the beach and outdoor activities. But it was a brutal summer too, with the drought making the usual summer wildfire season much more severe. Lack of water made it a disastrous summer for wildlife of all kinds.

Red sunrise

During the hottest part of the summer I was in the habit of getting up early to walk and work before it got too warm. In July there were so many forest fires in the surrounding areas that Vancouver was blanketed in smoke for several days. At dawn things looked particularly apocryphal when the sun rose, an eerie red ball on the horizon.

Smokey the Crow

Smokey the Crow

So, this is where the Red Sky Crow came from. It’s not a spooky Halloween Crow at all. In fact it’s a “wake up people and smell the climate-change coffee” sort of crow.

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Red Dawn Crow

It just so happens that the colours of the image and pendant are perfect for Halloween and fall – but if you do wear it, or see someone else wearing it  — remember (and share) the real scary story behind it.

Red Sky Crow Pendant

I suppose everyone has their own opinion of crows. I think of them as beautiful, wise, powerful, agile, funny, social and symbolic, but never spooky.

And don’t forget, tomorrow …CROW VOTER

If you’d like to celebrate the beauty and intelligence of crows all through 2016, check out my City Crow calendar.

Eric Calendar cover and back

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www.junehunter.com

Counting Birds in Fog

Bundled in my stylish plaid dressing gown, I climbed to the top deck of our house first thing this morning to participate in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

As I surveyed a sea of fog, things did not look promising.

The february sun takes on the fog

A pale February morning sunrise.

I could hear a lot of frantic crow activity, although it was hard to see where it was coming from, or what was causing it. Suddenly a raven burst out of the fog into a patch of blue sky directly above me and, just as suddenly, disappeared — followed by his retinue of angry crows. I could hear the chase continue in the distance – to the west, then north, then off to the east – all hidden by thick mist. Sentry crows called from vantage points all around, offering helpful advice to the chasing committee.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

A crow bursts out of the fog in pursuit of a raven.

Another group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

A group of crow sentries in the lombardy poplars.

One of the crows decided it was time for breakfast, landing on the hydro pole with a snack in beak – forcing a quick exit by the pole’s previous tenant, a starling.

A crow and a starling seems set on a collision.

Crow arrival, starling exit.

While the foghorns continued their mournful calling down by the Second Narrows, all of a sudden it was a full-on scorcher where I was. There had been a clear winner in the sun vs. fog battle.

The northern flickers I’d been hearing came into view, landing on the hydro wires in the alley. The family of three was clearly enjoying the sudden warmth.  One of the flickers luxuriantly spread a wing to soak up the sun – or perhaps he was just showing off his finery to the others.

Sunworshipping.

My feathers are prettier than your feathers

 

The flickers flew off and were quickly replaced by another sun worshipper — the collared dove that I’d heard eerily hooting in the fog earlier.

Sunbathing collared dove.

Sunbathing collared dove.

The lilac in the garden was full of the usual suspects – house sparrows, song sparrows and chickadees. I even spotted the first golden crowned sparrow of the spring in our neighbour’s plum tree.

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Eventually I was so hot I had to come inside – another first for the season.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

The sun lights up the scarlet coral bark maple and the lime green moss on the studio roof.

Turned out to be a perfect morning the great backyard bird count.

Not too late if you haven’t done yours yet.

GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT

Crow vs Raven

In a competition judged on cuteness and goofiness, I would have said that crow babies would be the hands-down winners. Until, that is, I came across baby ravens. They are like giant baby crows — with impossibly large feet. This is a series of images in which I’m exploring beauty of these birds in their urban setting.

Baby Crow and Baby Raven

Crows and their babies seem pretty robust, especially in comparison to the little garden birds like chickadees and sparrows. When you see a raven close up, then you understand why the crows mob and chase ravens from the nesting areas with the same ferocity they exhibit for eagles. Clearly the raven is something of a bird of prey with these massive legs and a beak that is all business. The crows look positively delicate by comparison.

Note the size of these feet!

Note the size of these feet!

Look Ma! No Hands!!!

Look Ma! No Hands!!!

These new crow and and raven portraits are available for sale on my web site. There  you will also find more detail about how the images were composed using many layers of my own photographs; including ancient graffiti from the cave of a Welsh saint, and the Vancouver skyline.
I would love to hear what you think about them.

BABY RAVEN PORTRAIT

BABY CROW PORTRAIT

JUNE HUNTER FINE ART IMAGES

Vancouver’s Urban Ravens

 

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One evening I was leaving Granville Island after a day at the market. Daydreaming as I wandered back to where I’d parked, it took me a few moments to realize that I was experiencing an audio disconnect. My ears were hearing ancient forest soundtrack, but I was actually under the mighty iron girders of the Granville Street Bridge. What was causing me to feel momentarily off-kilter was the unmistakable and haunting call of a raven — presently answered by a second. I caught a glimpse of them retreating to a high perch under the bridge.

That was a couple of years ago and since then I’ve caught fleeting glimpses of this pair. Once, one of them flew right over my shoulder. I was between her and a dumpster and it was dark, so maybe she didn’t even see me. Quite a wind from those wings!

Last weekend I was bike riding with my husband near our home in East Vancouver. This time I knew the sound I heard was a raven, but with a twist. It sounded different from a raven in the way that a baby crow sounds different from an adult crow; a plaintive quality to the cry. We peered in the direction of the sound and way, way up, on the roof of an almost finished office building we saw a pair of black silhouettes, much bigger than the usual crows. From their posture it was clear that one was a baby and the other a parent. Excitement!

It's the classic "feed me" pose.

It’s the classic “feed me” pose.

There was even more delight when we cycled back that way later and found that parent and baby had come to ground level. And I had my camera! With the long lens! I spent a happy 15 minutes photographing them. Neither baby nor parent seemed very perturbed by my presence. Perhaps they are more confident than the frantic swooping crows. Just the thought of being dive-bombed by a raven is pretty hair-raising.

Just hangin' with mom (or dad) on the dumpster.

Just hangin’ with mom (or dad) on the dumpster.

Like the baby crows, the fledgling raven has pink at the side of the mouth.

Like the baby crows, the fledgling raven has pink at the side of the mouth.

We returned to the same area a few days ago to see if we could see any sign of the raven family. It was crow migration time and the spot was right on the crow flight path. We concluded that hanging out there at such a time would mean a world of aggravation for the ravens so they had probably wisely relocated, at least for that time of the evening.

The building that was a perch for the ravens a few days earlier is a popular stopping point for crows on their evening migration to Still Creek.

The building that was a perch for the ravens a few days earlier is a popular stopping point for crows on their evening migration to Still Creek.

More urban raven watching today – this time back on Granville Island. I had dropped my daughter off at the market where she was going to be minding my table of art and jewellery for the day. I headed to Opus Framing for some supplies and noticed the ravens making repeated trips between the cement plant and the bridge. Luckily, I had my camera with me again,  so I was able to get some shots of them making their gliding trips.

A raven soars effortlessly over the Granville Island cement plant.

A raven soars effortlessly over the Granville Island cement plant.

Then (bonus) one of them landed right in front of me to pick up some food someone had dropped.

Just hanging out with the tourists and traffic.

Just hanging out with the tourists and traffic.

Raven remembers he has somewhere else to be

Raven remembers he has somewhere else to be

No getting caught in traffic for ravens!

No getting caught in traffic for ravens!

I did some research on “ravens in the city” online. I found this National Post story about the bird watching community being “abuzz” at finding nesting ravens in that city.

So I guess we should be pretty abuzz here too. A bit of bad news for crows and smaller birds that will be part of the raven food chain, but still, so very cool.