Snow Birds

Already it seems as if we might just have dreamed it.

Once upon a time, one Saturday morning in February, we woke up in a crystal palace.

A thick and flawless blanket of snow had fallen silently through the Vancouver night. The sun had come out. Everything looked like a fairy tale.

Photo of me, like a kid on Christmas morning, out in the garden in my dashing plaid housecoat.

The landscape itself was breathtaking so we just stood around, being robbed of breath.

Movement in my the trees made me think “… and there are birds.”

Not only is there landscape, but there are BIRDS in it. It felt like a surprise gift.

Of course I know this —  given that I think about, follow, write about, and photograph the darn things every day of my life. But somehow it just struck me then that birds are like an extra dimension. Like a new hue in the colour spectrum. A huge bonus.

Northern Flicker in a white landscape

It made me remember that I didn’t really notice birds much until my 50’s.

In my twenties, I lived in a cabin miles from anywhere, and there must have been many birds in my solitary world. Somehow I remember the trees, the moss, lichen and wild flowers in great detail, but no birds. There must have been ravens, for heaven’s sake, but I just didn’t register them.

Intrepid song sparrow

People often ask me how I came to start taking pictures of crows and other birds.

When both of my parents died within a couple of years of each other (almost twenty years ago now) I started photographing as a form of home-made therapy. I obsessively made very closely observed portraits of plants for several years, eventually turning it into my profession.

I can’t remember what year it was, but I was out in the garden, hunched over a hosta (as per usual) when I heard some crows making a terrific racket above me. I’m sure this was not the first time, but for some reason that day my head, tilted for so many years towards the earth, turned to look at the sky. In my mind, there was a creaking sound as I made the adjustment.

There are birds.

I finally noticed.

Better late than never, I guess.

Marvin and Mavis in the coral bark maple

And, as many of you know, once you start noticing crows, there’s no going back.

And they’re just the thin end of the wedge. Once you start watching crows, the next thing you know, there are house sparrows and starlings and robins and chickadees and flickers. And, good grief, was that a hummingbird …?

So, the snow day, beautiful as the scenery was, also served to make me appreciate the bird dimension of landscape all over again.

It was as if I’d forgotten about them all for a minute and then remembered.

Marvin “snow swimming” on the neighbour’s roof.

A robin and a flicker share the heated birdbath facilities.

A junco enjoys the pool to himself.

Marvin and Mavis enjoying some welcome sun.

Chickadee on one leg, trying to warm up one foot at a time.

Snow covered crow’s nest.

Marvin, having looked at snow from both sides now …

 

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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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