It was going to be just me and my Buckley’s cough syrup for New Year’s Eve, but that seemed a slightly anticlimactic way to say farewell to 2018
Then I remembered the standing invitation to the wildest, loudest, coolest party in town. Attended by thousands, all in a mood to socialize … and everybody tucked up for bed by 5:30. My kind of party!
I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit melancholy, to be honest, so that, combined with the cold I’d had since just before Christmas, put me in need of an extra large dose of #crowtherapy
So, around 4pm, we arrived at Still Creek. Hardly any crows were there and I fretted, as I always do, that something was wrong and they wouldn’t show up this time.
We scaled up to our usual vantage spot on the Willingdon overpass, and from there, nestled among a small herd of abandoned Whole Foods shopping carts, we saw the crows coming. Rivers of them, as usual.
It’s always such a relief when I see them start to arrive. Larger swirling crow figures in the foreground and tiny, barely visible, specks on the horizon that mark those bringing up the rear.
In the riotous spiral of newcomers in the video below, you can see a mix of gulls with crows (probably brought over in the tide of excitement from the nearby dump) and you can hear, amid the uproar, a cool “knocking” call, almost like a raven.
Once we were surrounded by swirl and squawk on the overpass, we started to move on to the next viewing spot — walking under the overpass and west on Still Creek road. We took the path that runs along the creek and emerged just behind Dick’s Lumber.
Light was fading by now and the crows were jostling for the best sleeping spot — on wires, on branches and on top of buildings.
In the midst of the crow-cophany going on in the video below, you can hear at least two crows making a “barking” call.
I can’t wait to hear what the University of Washington study into the meaning of all the crow sounds at the big roost at their Bothell Campus finds out.
Happy New Year!!
As all the crows started to settle in for the night, we headed home.
Phillip went night snow-shoeing with some friends, but I was by now ready for my night in with the cat, dog, and cough syrup. I watched the Knowledge Network TV documentary about Judy Dench and the wonder of trees, then a 2007 film I found on Netflix called “Death At A Funeral” which kept me laughing until Phillip got home.
Really, a perfect New Year’s Eve.
I hope yours was similarly splendid, whatever form it took. And all good wishes to you all for a healthy and happy 2019.
Crow roost visiting as therapy — I’m not sure it will catch on as a mainstream practice, but it works for me.
The first time I went to the Still Creek crow roost was about ten years ago. I’d recently received some bad news and, having moped about for a few days, felt the need to press the “reset” button on my mood.
I’d already been photographing crows for several years, but I had yet to make it to the mythical evening roost. Somehow I thought that seeing it at last might cheer me up.
It did. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say it changed my world view.
How did it feel?
Like witnessing a massive storm tide at Long Beach.
Like being bathed in a sea of sound, with significance just beyond my understanding.
Like standing on the edge of another world.
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All the more amazing for the fact that I was standing in the midst of rush hour Vancouver traffic in a light industrial, urban area about ten minutes drive from my house.
That experience somehow put my troubles into a new and manageable perspective.
Since that evening, I’ve visited many times. I persuaded my husband to come along after the third or fourth trip, and now he’s hooked too. We don’t even have to be depressed to go — mostly we just go to join in the celebratory atmosphere.
Our routine is to arrive at the edge of the Costco parking lot just east of Willingdon about half an hour before sunset. Sometimes we arrive a bit early and find no crows at all. Has the roost been called off? Suddenly a single crow materializes in a nearby tree.
In the blink of an eye, there are ten, then twenty crows, in the same tree.
Then you look to the horizon on all sides and you see them coming. On a clear night you can see the mountains far to the east, pink in the twilight, with a corvid river meandering in front of them. They pour in from the west side of town, and from the north shore.
There’s an overpass just to the west of the Costco parking lot. We like to climb up the stairs to the higher level for a better view of them all rolling in, like a black, noisy tide.
One purpose of the roost is the give the crows a “safety in numbers” sleeping spot, but they really seem to have a whole lot on the agenda before they finally go quiet and turn in for the night.
Clouds of crows land on every tree branch, power line, lamp stand and roof within view. And they are loud. I mean, really, really loud. Amid the racket, you can pick out many different types of calls. Bossy, sergeant major calls, clicking, cooing, croaking and good old cawing. On our last visit to the roost I heard at least two crows that really seemed to be mimicking Canada geese!
What could be going on here, apart from crows seeking safety in numbers from owls and other night terrors?
Possibilities: a massive gossip session; a round-up of restaurant reviews (the highly coveted five star dumpster rating is given only occasionally); music class; singles club for young, unattached crows … *
With each explosive take-off the crows are generally moving from the east side of Willingdon, over to the west, towards the McDonalds restaurant.
At a certain point in the evening, the grass outside the McDonalds and the roof edges, are crow-carpeted.
Delicious as the smells coming from the McDonald’s may be (to them), that is not their final destination. As the light dims, they all move a little further west into the industrial/office area between Willingdon and Gilmore.
There always seem to be a few single crows, strategically positioned on posts and signs acting like raucous traffic wardens or air traffic controllers.
Last call for good spots on the Yellow Pages office building! Move along there!
As it gets darker, it’s harder to make out the moving crows. They take on a ghostly air as they fly to their chosen resting spots for the night. .
On a less ethereal note, I’m told that you can tell the “ranking” of a crow by how much white they have on their feathers the next day. The top tier crows get the highest spots, so the younger crows at the bottom of the roost are going to be wearing a lot of crow guano by morning.
If you stay until it’s fully dark, things will become a lot quieter and the crows will settle among the herons and other wildlife in the wooded area around the actual watery part of Still Creek.
You will also see their shadowy outlines on top of most of the buildings between McDonalds and the Still Creek/Gilmore intersection, on each of the small boulevard trees, and lined up like clothes pegs on the power lines along the road.
Note: Do not linger under any of these, unless you want to bear the mark of the low ranking crow.
Somehow the name “Still” Creek seems perfect.
Although the twilight hours there are some of the noisiest and busiest in the city, you can also find yourself being unusually still and peaceful in the middle of it all.
Still Creek Moon, print available online.
*A study is currently underway at the University of Washington, using recordings of the nightly vocalizations at their local roost, to try to unravel the mystery of what those crows are really on about.