Birds of Judgement

I hope you will enjoy my new Birds of Judgement series, if only because it makes you smile and because you may, or may not, see yourself or someone you know in those  faces.

But if you’re interested in the events and thinking that went into these particular images, read on. 

In a practical sense, I first started compiling a collection of angry looking birds when I was making my placard for the first of the 2019 Climate Action rallies initiated by young people rightfully worried about the future of the planet they are inheriting. The timing of the first rally in Vancouver coincided with the publishing of new research showing that bird populations across Canada and North America had declined by a whopping 29% (or 3 BILLION birds) in the preceding 50 years. Birds are, quite literally, the canaries in the coal mine of climate change and environmental degradation.

This brilliant cartoon by artist Dave Parkins, captures the issue perfectly.

I wanted to try and combine words and images in the same way, and give birds a small voice in the overall cry for Climate Action.  Anyway, see below for my sign in action at one of the demonstrations.


Earlier this year I read Esther Woolfson’s brilliant latest book, Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species.  In the chapter titled “Souls” she writes:

“Throughout history, ideas about who possesses a soul and who does not, have constituted part of the bedrock of the way we’ve thought about and treated other species.”

From Between Light and Storm: How We Live With Other Species
by Esther Woolfson

The firm conviction that Nature is hierarchical — a pyramid with humanity at the top, and the rest of the creation below us, at our behest, is very ancient. This view of the world has led us, in many ways to to the ledge on which we currently find ourselves teetering. Apart from the looming issue of climate change, there is the small and humbling matter of how human society has been recently brought to its knees by a tiny microbe . . .

If all human project planning was preceded by the question “how would birds judge us for this?” I really think we’d all be much better off.

As I was searching through my many photographs for images of birds staring directly at the camera, I realized that I really do have a lot them.

Why is that? I wondered.

While it’s often thought that best bird photography practice is to have the bird look more “natural” by capturing them going about their business and gazing off to the side as if oblivious to human presence, I’m always happier to capture the fleeting connection (good or bad) between us.

Besides, they do say that the eyes are the window to to soul, bird or human, and we know how important these souls are in assigning importance to a species.

Looking at the birds boldly staring out of the frame reminds me of the of the late art critic, John Berger. I read a lot of his work in my 20’s and it changed my world view.  He often challenge us to consider the “gaze” in art— the gaze of the artist, the gaze of the subject and the gaze of the viewer. In other words, who’s looking at who, and how, and why?

He posed a lot of other questions too, but I often ask myself why I’m looking at birds the way I do, and why I take the kind of photographs I do.

Well, maybe not often.

But sometimes.

Every image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is an appearance, or a set of appearances, which has been detached from the place and time in which it first made its appearance and preserved — for a few moments or a few centuries. Every image embodies a way of seeing. 

From Ways of Seeing by John Berger

I take photographs of birds, basically, because I feel a real connection with them and I want to try and convey that to the viewer in the hope that they can feel it too.

Sometimes it’s beauty that makes the connection. Sometimes it’s laughter.

And sometimes it’s just those eyes, staring from one soul to into another.

And if you do read into this series that birds are judging us … they probably are.

 

 

 

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Hug a Crow This Earth Day

Not literally, of course. Crow hugging is fraught with peril at the best of times, but especially in spring when nesting season has them a bit tense.

Baby Face Crow © June Hunter Images

Please, do not hug me.

But I do suggest that you give the crow (or pick your favourite bird, plant, patch of moss or mollusk) a special thought today.

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coral bark maple © June Hunter Images

mussels at Botanical Beach © June Hunter Images 2016

It’s Earth Day so, ideally, we should be extending our love to the entire planet.

But that’s a hard thing to do, particularly when what the planet needs from us right now is massive change —change that is going to be really tough for us to make.

John Marzluff quote2

The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, where we often feel very cut off from what we think of as Nature.

Lyanda quote

So, given that most of us are urbanites these days, how are we to develop the necessary connection with nature in order to care enough to make change and move towards saving the planet?

As my dear mother used to say, “wherever you go, there you are.”

And where you are now, even if it’s in the heart of the city, has tenacious bits of nature thriving in it.

It just takes a slight focus shift to start becoming aware of, and amazed by it.

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This crow is tending a nest at Hornby and Robson in the heart of downtown Vancouver, right by the Art Gallery. A friend who works at the gallery told me that it’s probably the same pair who nested there last year and caused a traffic kerfuffle when one of their babies flew into the back of someone’s convertible just outside of Café Artigiano.

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Collecting nest furnishings in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

Often the thing you tend to notice first, just because of its size and boldness, is a crow.

CameliaCrow ©June Hunter Images 2016

I find that the crow is your gateway bird, leading to the habit of noticing the bird world as a whole. Once you’ve started to look up to see what the crows are up to, you can’t help but start to notice the robins, sparrows, bushtits, chickadees and hawks going about their more subtle, but equally fascinating, avian business.

Bushtit in the Rain © June Hunter Images 2016

Coopers Hawk on William © June Hunter Images 2016

Chickadee in the Snowbell Tree © June Hunter Images 2016

And noticing birds is, in turn, a gateway to the wonder of nature in general.

Colin Tudge quote

The task of saving the earth often seems far too big and therefore hopeless.

The tools we need this Earth Day are empathy and hope.

Someone who embodies both of these qualities is 87 year old Jean Vanier, who created L’Arche — a unique and loving community for mentally disable adults. Here are some of his thoughts on birds, as told to columnist and writer, Ian Brown in a Globe and Mail interview.

Jean Vanier quote

Eric and Erica on Roof

Hmmm, something to think about …

logo with crow


Some notes on the author’s quoted in this blog post:

John Marzluff’s Wikipedia page says this:
“John Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of In the Company of Crows and Ravens, Gifts of the Crow, and Welcome to Subirdia. His lab once banded crows with a Dick Cheney mask.”
— so you know he’d be fun guy to know!
Subirdia is his most recent book about the amazing adaptability of birds, their importance, and what we can do to help them survive in our urbanized world.

I first discovered Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt when I picked up a copy of Crow Planet several years ago. It remains one of my favourite books, combining science, poetry and humour  in a way that I could read all day. She’s also written a wonderful book on city wildlife in general (The Urban Bestiary) and I look forward to her next one on the subject of starlings. And she has a blog: The Tangled Nest.

Colin Tudge is a British biologist and entertaining author, The Bird is only one of many books he’s written. I next want to read his book The Secret Life of Trees.

You can read more about the life and work of  Jean Vanier on his website.

Ian Brown is an author and  columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper. His books include Boy in the Moon, about his severely disabled son and his latest, Sixty, The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning?  That one’s also on my reading list.