I realize that I’m incredibly lucky to have a garden I can escape into, even if we’re confined to home.
It’s like having a cabin with an outside deck on the cruise ship of pandemic life.
The least I can do, in gratitude for my good fortune, is to share some of the things going on out there.
I hope to be posting every other day, about birds, or crows, or ravens . . . but some days I (like many of you) feel just a bit too discombobulated to construct a sentence, so bear with me if there are gaps.
Newly returned pine siskin enjoying the bird bath.
Now that it’s officially spring, I took the bold move of finally removing the bird bath heater. Call me crazy! We may even go hog wild and get the small fountain out of winter mothballs too.
I keep thinking that the Steller’s Jays have moved on permanently, but then, when I’m reconciled to their absence, back they come. It’s not hard to know when they’ve arrived, what with the shrieking calls and flashes of electric blue — my cue to stop listening to the radio and rush outside and enjoy them before they move on again.
The finches, House and Gold, are providing a more melodic garden sound track with an almost constant chorus of song.
Mr and Mrs House Finch
The bushtits are back, but often in groups of only two, now that nesting season has arrived.
Female bushtit with her pale gold eyes.
And those bushtits are still using their clever little claws for holding their food like a the world’s smallest burrito.
I have been doing my Feederwatch bird count each week, even though sometimes it’s hard to settle down and do it. I have to say, I highly recommend it as a mental health strategy. Even if you don’t have a garden, you just need to pick a spot with some birds (even if it’s just a few crows or pigeons), register, and do a count when you feel like it. It doesn’t have to be every week — just when you can.
Often when I go out there to count it’s as if the birds know and they all scarper.
But I’ve learned that if you are quiet enough and just sit for a few minutes, you will find that there’s always a bird somewhere out there.
Often it’s just one modest brown song sparrow scuffling ever so softly through the shadowy leaf litter.
Or a finch, outlined against the sun on a high branch, gathering a long breath for the next musical recitation.
I suspect there may be a metaphor to be sifted out of that word litter . . .
Song sparrow tightrope walking on the Daphne Odora
To close, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog, and sometimes writing to let me know it helps a bit.
The fact is that writing the blog helps me a lot too, by giving me something positive to focus on at this crazy time.
So, thanks and stay well, be kind to each other. And to the birds, of course.
It seems to have been an especially long wait this year. This, for example, was my studio yesterday morning.
In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet these past few weeks it’s not, unfortunately, because I’m on a tropical beach somewhere. For most 2019 thus far you could find me in my living room, wrapped in a quilt and reading a large pile of books or watching Netflix. Not that you would want to find me — a Gollum-like coughing, sneezing and whinging creature.
If you read my New Year’s Eve blog, you know that cold/cough number one came as a Christmas gift and lingered over New Year and into early January.
For a couple of weeks later in January, things were looking up.
It was faux spring (better known as Fool’s Spring.) Flowers were blooming in the garden and I felt much better. “Ha, this winter’s going to be a doddle,” I may have thought to myself in a moment of jaunty optimism.
This is why it’s called Fool’s Spring.
The February snow arrived in drifts, burying any upstart flowers.
Along with the snow came the second, even worse, version of the dreaded lurgy. With maximum inconvenience, it struck the evening before my Valentine’s Day studio sale. My husband was even sicker than me, so it fell to my lovely and competent kids to run the show.
For part of February I was too sick to do anything at all. Since lying down made me cough more, I spent hours watching the BBC’s gardening guru, Monty Don, helping people to transform their rubble-filled backyards into replicas of the gardens at Versailles. We also toured the gardens of Italy together, which was very nice.
In between Netflix, I read a lot of books, mostly novels.
When the Christmas book bonanza ran out, I started downloading the Inspector Gamache mysteries to my iPad. They’re set in rural Quebec and I’ve been enjoying them, but after binge reading four in a row, it might be time for a change.
A bonus to being sick was that Edgar, at 9 years old, has finally condescended to sit on my lap. He’s been lap-phobic since we’ve had him, but suddenly this winter, perhaps because I was generally covered in a camouflaging quilt and immobile for days on end, he decided to throw caution to the wind. We both love this new arrangement.
I’ve mostly stopped coughing now, but I have the speaking voice of a chipmunk and about 40% of my usual energy.
On most days recently I’ve been able to get out for short walks with the dog. They’re slow walks but I’m at least able to see glimpses of the real world and keep up with the latest in the crow-munity.
Still winter woolly weather out there.
From the weather forecast, and from signs I’ve seen on my walks, it seems as if spring (or at least a second Fool’s Spring) is just around the corner. I’m hoping that it will bring with it some more energy for me, and a few touches of colour in the landscape.
But the robin in our garden seems to be getting ready for something special, so maybe there’s some truth in the forecast this time.
NOTE: Videos to follow, so if you’re reading this as an email, CLICK HERE TO SEE THEM.
This joyful exuberance explains why the bird bath needs to be refilled every day …
When you’re anticipating tail-feather-shaking weather, you must have each and every tail feather in top condition.
Spring cleaning complete!
Tomorrow is a brand new day.
In the words of Van Morrison:
“When all the dark clouds roll away
And the sun begins to shine
I see my freedom from across the way
And it comes right in on time
Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light
And it comes from the sky above
Makes me feel so free makes me feel like me
And lights my life with love”
May your weekend contain as much fun and freedom as the robin.
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.
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.
It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).
Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.
Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.
I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.
I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.
Suddenly, trouble in paradise.
Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.
I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.
But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.
No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.
The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.
Hawk soaring, crows cawing.
A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.
So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.