Thank-You So Much

This blog post is really just a huge thank-you for all the lovely, thoughtful, funny, comforting, poetic messages I’ve received after my last post about the passing of George. They’ve come via blog comments, email, text, Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I expect a carrier pigeon at any moment …

There have been stories of how people enjoyed hearing about him; how he taught them new things, maybe even changed their minds about crows. There have been whimsical descriptions of bird companions loved (and sometimes lost). I’ve laughed and cried reading them all. I have tried to write back as much as I can, but I fear I’m never going to manage as many replies as I’d like. If I haven’t written back to you, please know that I really appreciate your words and feel as if I’ve had a big hug from the world.

This is one of my favourite photos of George when I first met him. You can just see the wisdom and engagement in his eyes.

It was tough to lose George. As my husband said, when called him in tears to tell him the news, “It’s not all beer and skittles, being an urban nature enthusiast.”

So true — disaster and heartbreak is always lurking around the corner. But that is, as they say, life. And to quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, ” ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

When I picked George up to bury him, he weighed almost nothing at all. I had never held him before, so it was a surprise.

I keep thinking about how very light he was. That lightness seemed such a contrast to his substantial personality and presence.

George was a gift. I hope he’ll pop into our minds whenever those of us who knew about him see other crows. And we’ll smile when we think of him.

George on one of his favourite perches at the local elementary school.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my City Crow Calendar to the printer, but I keep re-writing it. You would think I was working on a major novel, rather than a calendar.

I keep going back and forth on George in the calendar.

No George, therefore no morbid “dead crow” associations?

Lots of George, to honour him?

In the end, I’ve decided on some George, and a special page at the end to celebrate him.

This picture of George’s magnificent feet will be one of several in the 2018 City Crow Calendar.

Thank-you once again for all of the kind thoughts and messages.

I like to think that George, from his perch up in the Great Sky Roost, enjoyed them too.

www.junehunter.com

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In Memory of George

 


I knew I’d be upset when, inevitably, something happened to one of my crow acquaintances.

Even so, I’m surprised at how many tears I’ve shed since burying my pal, George Brokenbeak.

He’s laid to rest on the “garden of tears” side of the yard, along with countless beloved goldfish and hamsters, and the late Elvis (our cat, not the human — although there was some confusion about that when my son was little …)

George has been gone since Friday, but I didn’t want to cast sadness over the long weekend by writing about it then. I don’t really want to write about it now because it makes me cry again, but I thought you’d want to know.

On Friday morning I got a phone call from a friend and fellow dog walker (two rescue Westies.)  We often stop and chat about the foibles of our dogs, and the comings and goings of the local crows. He knew George quite well, because he and Mabel were spending the summer hanging out behind his house — and dunking food in his dogs’ water bowl. George, in fact, was a minor local celebrity.

Not nearly as famous as Canuck, his much more well known fellow corvid, but known in this immediate neighbourhood for his friendly manner, as well as his distinctive profile.

You could tell George in profile from far away. He and Mabel, sharing a quiet moment in the poplars in my “Delicate Balance” image.

My friend had found George lying dead earlier that morning, and he knew I’d want to know.

Since about May, George and Mabel stopped coming to my garden, staying closer to their annual nesting site a block or so away. Still, I’d see them almost every day when out walking the dog. We’d exchange pleasantries and peanuts.

I last saw him what must have been a day or two before he died.  All of the crows are looking pretty scruffy at the moment with the molting season underway, so if he looked a bit the worse for wear, I didn’t worry too much.

I think this may be the last picture I took of George.

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in British Columbia. As a result, many parts of the province are, or have been, on fire. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and many have lost everything. Livestock and wildlife up there have died.

Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to only have the smoke to contend with, blocking a lot of the summer sun.

The sun rises in the eerie smoke-filled sky behind the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge in East Vancouver.

But from an urban wildlife perspective, this summer is a disaster. We had less than two mm of rain in July.  None so far in August. Every puddle dried up weeks ago. Any worms must be ten feet down in the earth by now. I’ve seen skunks wandering the streets in broad daylight. They’re normally nocturnal and shy, so this is stressed behaviour. This morning I saw two coyotes on the corner of our block, again in daylight.

In the end, I’m not sure what killed George, but I suspect that, with the extra challenge of his broken beak, it was just too hard to get enough to eat and drink. I’ve been putting water out in front and back of my house, and over by the school at the end of the street. I know George had access to my friend’s dogs’ water bowls, but possibly it was too hard for him to drink efficiently enough for these harsh conditions.

George was found lying at the end of our alley — just a few houses from my back yard. I can’t help wondering if he was making his way back, coming for a drink in the birdbath and some peanuts. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near that part of our neighbourhood since May, so he was on some kind of special mission.

There was no crow funeral being held for George when I got there.  He was just lying there, looking rather peaceful. No signs of injury.

At first I thought I’d just leave him to Nature. Or the City coming to pick him up. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I came home, put my rubber gloves on, and found a shoe box.

I dug a deep hole in the pet graveyard, wrapped George in a linen napkin, and sprinkled flowers on him. I’m sure he didn’t care about any of this, but it made me feel a little better. I placed a flat stone on his grave and stencilled a crow silhouette on it.

Let future archaeologists make of this what they may.

My daughter summed it up well when she replied to my distraught text with the words: “He was a good crow.” Indeed he was. Perhaps it was just his time to go, two years after his original beak injury. For some reason I had come to think he was immortal.

To read more about the wonder that was George, you can visit earlier stories:

And, in consideration of the thirsty and distressed birds out there, please think about putting a shallow bowl of water out for them wherever you can.

I’m sure George would approve.

www.junehunter.com

PS I know you’ll be wondering what’s become of Mabel. She is still hanging in there, over in the other alleyway. I walked by there this morning to give her my sympathy (and some peanuts.)

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Beat The Heat, Bird-Style

It’s going to be a scorcher this week in Vancouver. The news is full of dire sunstroke warnings, and tips on how to beat the heat.

The birds know what to do, and here is one of our backyard Northern Flickers to do a little demo for you.

Stick to cool, shady places. Preferably near water.

If the thermometer is really sky rocketing, it’s time to take the plunge.

Get thoroughly soaked. Feel your core temperature go down.

Aaah. Now that’s better.

This part of the flicker post-bathing behaviour might not be so advisable for humans.

I ❤ Flickers

NOTE: In this hot dry weather, the birds may need a little help from us to stay cool and hydrated. If you have a bird bath, keep it clean and full. If not, a simple shallow container of water put out for the birds is a big help when there are no puddles to be found.

Apart from enviously watching the bathing birds, I’m working feverishly on putting together to 2018 City Crow Calendar. It’s coming together well. In fact, it would be done if not for the little anecdotes and smaller pictures I’m adding to spare spaces in the grid parts of the calendar.

Anyway, it should be off to the printer soon, and available to purchase on my web site by the beginning of September.

The cover model for the calendar will be … guess who?

Frazzled Mabel, naturally!

www.junehunter.com

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Flicker Family Saga – Part Two

This is a quite long story, with many pictures, and some emotional ups and down. You might need to arm yourself with a cup of tea and take a comfy seat before settling in to read. OK, here we go …

By the end of June, the flicker nest was the talk of the street. Everyone was keeping a discreet eye on the plum tree goings-on and neighbours would discuss the activity over the garden fences.

baby flicker looks out of nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Each morning I was checking the tree to see if the sounds were still in there. Sometimes it was quiet (I guess there was nap time) and sometimes the little murmurings were there. Then, one morning in early July, I was rewarded by this adorable face at the “window.”

Note: If you missed PART ONE, you can read it HERE.

That’s a great big world out there …


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Hey, I’m hungry over here!


Baby Northern Flicker with Parent, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Ah, here comes Mom with lunch.

Northern Flicker mother feeds baby, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

TRAGEDY STRIKES

Everything was looking so good for the little family. The parents were such fierce guardians, and the babies seemed safe in their tree fortress.

One morning I got up very early to see what was new.

What was new was this: absolute silence at the nest and a sad pile of flicker feathers around the base of the tree.

Further exploration revealed the remains of a baby flicker on the road.

I’m not sure if the culprit was the returning squirrel, the neighbour’s cat, or my buddies the crows. I try to put in the perspective of the circle of life and all that, but I must say I was pretty sad.

The flicker parents were still around, but no sign of any babies. I wondered if they’d lost their one and only fledgling for that year.

Northern Flicker in Bird Bath, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

Dad at the bird bath.

FLICKER SURPRISE

The following day I took a cup of tea out to the front of the house and was startled by a great flapping in the windowed end of the porch. It was a baby flicker, vainly trying to fly to freedom through the glass.

Luckily, I still had the “rescue box” from the last flicker episode on hand. I grabbed a towel (not fraying at the edges this time!) and put it over the head of the baby. She immediately stopped flapping and I put her in the box with the lid on.

I was somewhat torn about releasing her, worrying that whatever killed her sibling would get her too. However, I took a deep breath and let her go in the back garden, where there’s lots of cover.

Failed picture of release – but you can see her tail feathers as she exits the frame.


Baby Northern Flicker, photo by © June Hunter Images, 2017

She sat for a minute in the lilac tree, getting her bearings.

I was worried that there were no sign of the parents. After a few moments to collect herself, the baby flicker took off and flew away north.

Over the next few days I’d hear calls of adult and baby flickers around the garden.

I heard the soft thud of baby flicker flight mishaps a few times.

FAMILY PHOTOS

My husband was sitting quietly in the garden and spotted the two adults and the fledgling flicker all together at the bird bath. I was happy to think that at least the surviving baby was gathering skills and under the guardianship of the parents.

Yesterday it was my turn. I saw both parents and, not one, but TWO baby flickers in the garden — one male, one female. Below is a video of the mother feeding the female fledgling on the roof of my studio.

Here are the siblings playing around in the lilac tree.

Northern Flicker fledglings, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

EVEN MORE BABIES!

This morning I actually think I spotted THREE fledglings – one male and two female. Now I’m starting to wonder how many baby flickers can fit into the trunk of a medium sized ornamental plum tree. No wonder there were so many sounds coming out of there!

Male Flicker fledgling on roof, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

Male Flicker fledgling


Sisters in the lilac


Sleepy Flicker fledgling in tree, photography by June Hunter, © June Hunter 2017 www.junehunterimages.com

There are few things cuter than a sleepy baby Flicker.

So, the Flicker Family Saga continues. As is the way of life, tomorrow may bring a sad pile of feathers, but for today things are looking pretty promising for the Flicker Family of Parker Street.

I have so many northern flicker images to work with now, I hardly know where to start.

For now, I have this print available in my online shop.

If you missed Part One of the FLICKER FAMILY SAGA, you can read it HERE.

www.junehunter.com

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Flicker Family Saga – Part One

 

Northern Flicker profile close up, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

I didn’t realize it was going to turn into a saga, but now I’ve accumulated about a hundred photos of our local Northern Flicker family, chronicling their ups and downs over the last few weeks.

I kept meaning to post some as things unfolded, but it turned into such a roller coaster, I didn’t want to start telling the story until I had an idea of how tragic (one a scale of one to three) the ending would be.

Now the number of images is just out of control. I feel as if I have the makings of a small novel! And, besides, who knows what the conclusion will be in any family’s story?

So here is part one of the Flicker Family album.

It began earlier this summer when I noticed a lot of flicker calling going on all around the house and garden. This handsome fellow was to be seen, with his mate, working away with their beaks at a hole in the plum tree right in front of our house.

Northern Flickers are a type of woodpecker, and quite common in Vancouver. In fact, they were the runners-up in the recent vote to elect an official bird to represent the city. You can tell the males from the females by the dashing red “moustache” at the base of their beaks.

After a few more weeks, strange noises began to come from the tree.

The flicker pair were on ferocious guard at all times. Here’s the dad, holding the fort against a marauding squirrel. The squirrel eventually gave up and snuck away down the far side of the tree trunk.

Below, you can see the female flicker on the lower part of the tree. If you look closely, you can see also the male’s head peeking out from the nest hole further up.

Northern Flicker profile pair at nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Here’s Mom visiting the feeder in the garden. She was usually in the nest and you can see that her feathers were getting a bit dishevelled in the confined space.

Dad on guard, nest bottom right.

 *** PART TWO OF THE FLICKER FAMILY SAGA COMING TOMORROW ***

*** STAY TUNED! ***

PART TWO now published. Read on HERE.

 

Meanwhile – in an unrelated Flicker incident, we had the …

FLICKER IN THE STUDIO FIASCO

In late June a neighbour brought me a flicker that she saw hit by a car as she was waiting for a bus on a main street near here. The bird was stunned and in danger of getting hit again, so she and her son braved the pointy beak and picked him up to bring to me.  The plan was I’d keep an eye on him and see if he needed to go to the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue for treatment.

I put him in a covered box and I moved it into the studio to keep warm. But then I noticed that the scrap of towel I’d put in the box to pad it had become a bit unraveled, and a thread was wrapped around the flicker. I tried to carefully untangle it and … of course … the bird got out of the box and suddenly regained his powers of flight.

Part bird, part Swiffer, he scooped up some cobwebs from the skylight.

Understandably scared, he took cover behind just about every counter and work table in the place, then flying up the skylight (and doing a bit of dusting for me as he went.)

Luckily he finally made its way to a window that I could open for him.

Apart from never wanting to be in a studio again, he seemed fine as he soared off in the direction he’d been rescued from.

 

www.junehunter.com

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Real Baby Crows of East Van

The neighbourhood is alive with all kinds of baby bird noises.

Loudest of all, naturally, are the baby crows.

Here is a sample of some of the hilarious baby crow moments I’ve had the joy to observe in the last few days of dog walking. I’m very lucky that Geordie is a patient sort of dog, willing to put up with many unscheduled stops on our expeditions.

Geordie the Crow Watcher

We came across this brand new addition to our block this morning. Could be one of George and Mabel’s, as it was at “their” end of the block. We watched him/her spend several minutes trying to figure out (unsuccessfully) how to squeeze through a garden fence.

Baby Crow, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Has anyone seen my mom???

Not to worry. Mom (or Dad) was supervising from a nearby roof.

This baby was still in the early stages of flying lessons.

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

OK, first you spread the wings …

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Then, you take a good run and jump …

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Oops. Going down …

The baby crows who live a couple of blocks west of us are a week or two ahead in their Skills Development program.

Here’s one taking a deep breath and taking off from the hydro wires.

Baby Crow Flying, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Woohoo! Here we go. Now, how did that flapping thing go again?

Baby Crow with Feather, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Figuring out what is, and isn’t, edible is a bit of a process of trial and error.

Baby crows are very vocal about their constant state of ravenous hunger.

Baby yells for food, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Mom, mom, mom!!! Food, food, food!!!

It seems that the frazzled parents will try anything to get some peace and quiet.

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Look – I brought you this delicious stick.

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Hold still and eat this delicious bit of wood!

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Look, I went to all the trouble to get you this delicious stick, so you WILL eat it.

Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to come back to the studio to get some work done.

I can’t bear to think what I might be missing in the ongoing reality show of Real Baby Crows of East Van.

Baby Crow on a car roof, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

 

You might also enjoy:

Dive Bombed by Crows!

Crow vs Raven

George and Mabel: A Love Story

www.junehunter.com

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Where’s George?

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.

George Lookalike

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.

George!

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.

Nesting Instinct

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.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

Possibility of Spring

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.

Record-breaking 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.

www.junehunter.com

Birth of An Urban Nature Enthusiast

Pardon the rather overwrought title, but it’s true; an elementary school “Nature Collection” assignment changed my life.

It was also, at the age of 7, my first bitter taste of academic failure.

On the face of it, it was a rather fun assignment — go out into nature and make a collection of pods, seed and leaves from a variety of trees.

leaf-collection-white

The one tiny problem was the complete lack of such trees anywhere near where I lived.

Most of my fellow pupils at Saint Andrew’s school, located in the middle of an English industrial city (Newcastle upon Tyne), probably shared my problem. Some of them may have lived within reach of Exhibition Park or the Town Moor, but I lived down on the Quayside. We had the Tyne river, docks, ancient buildings — but no sycamores, oaks or hazel trees for miles.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family's flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo.

The Quayside in more recent years (2010). Our family’s flat used to be the area circled in red to the left of the photo. I was much more acquainted with the exact girder pattern of the Tyne Bridge just above my bedroom window than I was with the mysteries of trees.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I loved growing up down there. In spite of the complete lack of any family-oriented facilities (including trees), it was a truly epic place for childhood adventure.

High Level Bridge

The High Level Bridge viewed from a part of the old walls where we liked to play. There are a few small trees growing there now, but it was mostly just weeds back in the 50’s and 60’s.

There were a handful of kids in the neighbourhood — my little brother and I, the two sons of the pub owner, and the two daughters of another bank caretaker.

We were “free range” and felt we owned the city.

The ancient city walls were our forts and houses, and many games were staged in the abandoned graveyard of All Saints Church.

All Saint's Church, Newcastle upon Tyne

All Saints Church had no congregation so it was left to turn into an overgrown adventure playground. Because the church itself was a protected historic building it was never demolished.

It didn’t occur to me for a moment that we were nature-deprived. There were, after all, plentiful weeds on the old World War II bomb-sites with which to create spectacular bouquets.

One of my favourite childhood bouquet ingredients. It’s called fireweed here in Canada, but in the UK it has the more poetic name “Rosebay WIllowherb.”

But the dreaded Nature Collection project was real eye opener. I’d never actually seen the sycamore trees it spoke of, with their clever little helicopter seedpods. I certainly had idea where to go and collect samples. My mum, who didn’t drive and had my little brother to look after, couldn’t really help, other that getting some books out of the library for me.

In the end I just handed in some pictures of the items we were supposed to collect. It felt like a massive failure.

sycamore seed pods

Looking back, I feel some lingering annoyance that we were set an assignment so bound fail. It was a classic curriculum vs real life mismatch.

On the other hand, it was a great gift. I feel as if I’ve been diligently working on that darn assignment ever since.

When I moved to other, greener parts of the world, I pressed all kinds of leaves and flowers in books. Sometimes I composed pictures of with the dried results and sent them to my mum back in Newcastle. I recently came across a few ancient specimens in my massive copy of Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Pressed flowers

I still feel a thrill, fifty plus years later, every time I come across any new or particularly beautiful little specimen of leaf, seed, fungus, nest or moss.

Or crow, come to that. We only saw pigeons and gulls down on the Quayside.

Vera the crow

I’m always especially thrilled to see the ways in which nature and the city intersect

I love to see a weed forcing it’s way through asphalt, or human rubbish selected by birds to furnish their nests.

Bushtit nest

I found this fallen and abandoned bushtit nest and “collected” it earlier this year.

Bushtit nest

Detail of the bushtit nest. Construction materials include moss, spider webs (for strength and stretch), leaves, grass and fragments of man-made fibres.

This crow’s nest I found on the ground recently is a great town bird/country bird collaboration – an ingenious mix of twigs, moss, twine, packing fluff and zap straps.

Crow's Nest

Crow's nest detail

So, every piece of moss or rust, every bird I see; every lovely fallen leaf that catches my eye; it’s all being mentally added to the ongoing “Nature Collection” project.

leaf-collection-2

www.junehunter.com

On another small note, greeting cards, ornaments and my City Crow calendar are now available on my web site.calendar-cover-sq

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Ornaments by June Hunter

City Crow Christmas cards by June Hunter

Winter Birds of the Pacific Northwest Greeting Cards by June Hunter