Hummingbird Interlude

Ive been trying to write another blog post for over a week now, but I feel rather as if I ran out of words in my arguments to save the Notre Dame poplars until after nesting season.

That bid failed and I’ve been feeling a bit how weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world -ish for the past couple of weeks.

The trees are gone, and only one day’s work at the site has been done in the last 7, so I am left wondering what the huge rush was.

However, in the interests of my psyche and my blood pressure, I am trying not to look that way or think about it for a while.

Today a small Anna’s Hummingbird cheered me up with a joyful visit to our small fountain.

So, by way of dipping my toe back into the blog posting world, here she is.

I hope she is as cheering for you as she was for me.

The Pants Family, Spring 2020

After months operating undercover as an anonymously normal-looking crow, Mr. Pants will soon be coming into his own when, in the next few weeks, his glorious pants shall reappear. 

Photo by June Hunter

For details on the miraculous annual transformation see my earlier post The Metamorphosis of Mr. Pants.

Mr Pants on Fence

Mr P in full trouserly glory

Thankfully, he is no longer the bedraggled bird he was at peak moulting season last year. He got back to being a handsome, if unremarkable looking, crow by late fall.

Photo by June Hunter

Last spring I was away in the UK for the month of June, so I missed a lot of nesting season. For whatever reason, Mr. and Mrs. Pants produced no offspring in 2019, so I’ve been keeping a special eye on their progress this spring.

They had a rather trying fall and winter last year, with territorial trouble on their southern border from the Walker family. While Mr. and Mrs. P had no surviving babies last year, the Walkers did, and their need for more food and their numerical advantage led to bold and frequent incursions into Pantsland.

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Both of the Pants couple spent most of their time with eyes scouring the sky for invading forces and they were very jumpy and seemed … if it is possible to discern this in crows … stressed out.

Mrs. Pants scours sky

Mrs. Pants on guard

Photo by June Hunter

Mr. Pants on Shed Roof

Mr. Pants keeping a wary eye on things from above

Tail fanned Mr Pants Crow

Mr Pants employing full tail regalia to defend his territory.

Now that nesting season is well underway, all the crows are keeping a lower profile and things have at last quietened on the contested border.

Mr. Pants and Wisteria

Mr. Pants takes a relaxed moment to pose with wisteria.

As I mentioned in the last post, Small News, many crows are choosing small street trees as nesting sites of late. While they’re closer to the ground and the risk of predation by racoons, cats, squirrels etc. they’re less likely to be raided by large birds like ravens, hawks and eagles — which seems to be an increasing risk as these birds gain a firmer foothold in the city.

The Pants have long favoured the small tree option and this year is no exception.

I spotted Mrs Pants last week sitting in their nest in quite small street tree  — a crabapple of some sort, I think, and the same type of tree they chose two years ago. Fortunately they seem to have selected a healthier specimen this time, as the spring 2018 tree shed a lot of leaves in spring, leaving poor Mrs. P baking in the sun or thoroughly soaked, depending on the day, and not particularly well hidden. Even then, they did successfully fledge two little ones that year, although, sadly neither made it past the first few months. One just disappeared early on and the other succumbed to avian pox.

Being an urban nature enthusiast involves, as I learn anew every year, witnessing a lot of tragedy and well as joy.

Crow on Nest June 8 2020

Mrs. Pants on the nest this morning

Still, like the crows, we consider each day a new start, and each nesting season a potential bonanza of good news, so fingers crossed for the Pantses and all the other birds putting their all into the nesting business this spring.

Mrs. Pants above nest

Mrs Pants on guard above the nest.

 

Next up: the Walker Crow Family.

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Small News

Photo by June Hunter

I walk around the neighbourhood several times a day during nesting season, checking in on the crow news — taking photos and making mental notes of how things are with the various crow families I’ve become acquainted with over the years. 

At this point I’ve got so many crow-notes stuffed into my head, I’m not sure where to start unpacking them. 

Rather than trying to cram all the news into one post, I think I’ll go one crow family at a time, starting with the Pants family in the next post.

First though, I have to tell you about this morning’s drama. 

We’ve had nesting bald eagles in the neighbourhood for years, so all through each nesting season the eagle parents scour the area for baby eagle food, always followed by a loud and angry crow posse. This morning I happened to catch some of the action from relatively close quarters when the eagle landed in the school grounds at the end of the block.

The crows, backed up by screeching gulls, seemed even more loud and frantic than usual.

So impassioned, in fact, you can see one crow in the video below whacking the sitting eagle hard enough to cause it to fly off.

The reason they were so mad? It looked as if the eagle had scooped an entire crow’s nest right out of a tree. You can see a glimpse of the nest in the video below.

In the end, the eagle dropped most of the nest, although there was something still gripped in its claws as it flew off.

The eagle population is part of the reason the crows are changing their nesting habits. 

Local ornithology expert, Rob Butler, who spoke about crows last weekend on local CBC Radio show, North by Northwest, mentioned this change: crows who had previously chosen high nest sites for protection against ground based predators (raccoons, cats, coyotes) are now picking spots in lower, less eagle-accessible trees — even selecting quite small street trees they calculate will be awkward for raccoons to scale.

I’ve certainly noticed that our local crows have rejected the once-coveted penthouse suites in the Notre Dame poplars this year in favour of much lower and more camouflaged trees. Marvin and Mavis have picked such a low, mid-street location for the nest this year, it would be quite the drama if the eagle swooped that low. 

If you think being dive-bombed by a crow is exciting …!

The Pants crow family, who I’ll be looking at next time, have long been fans of the low-rise nest building solution and we’ll have a look at what they’re up to this spring.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Urban Nature Challenge

“Explore your own neighbourhood,” advises our provincial premier, John Horgan for this long weekend in British Columbia.  We’re all being asked to stay relatively close to home to limit the spread of COVID-19. So, much as I long for the forest and mountains after weeks and months confined to the city, I decided have some fun and set myself a real Urban Nature Enthusiast challenge.

Geordie and I heading out on our urban nature safari.

We headed out to one of the least promising-looking locations, nature-wise, in our East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Our destination was the old Grandview Hydro Substation located at the noisy intersection of First Avenue and Nanaimo Street. This cavernous space is a perennially popular filming location for the local movie industry. From what I can discover, it was built in 1937 as a substation for the BC Electric Railroad Company to help power the old interurban rail lines that once criss-crossed the city.

As the traffic roared past, Geordie and I scouted around for some interesting moss, lichen or rust. I wasn’t really expecting to find much in the way bird life, but the trilling, whistling sound of many starlings lured me around the corner of the building.

The east side of the substation is covered in a cascade of ivy and, at first, that’s all I could see. It took a few moments before I realized that it was alive with starlings; specifically, fledgling starlings, merrily feasting on the ivy’s dark berries. Very few adult starlings were around, making it seem like a massive starling nursery — a relatively safe place to leave the kids while running errands.

Roll call at the starling nursery school.

Apart from the starling crowd, there were some robins and sparrows also enjoying the dining facilities. Nearby, a pair of crows seemed more focussed on another project.

These two were industriously flying back and forth to a nearby tree with a succession of twigs, mud and grass.

First, some structural stuff …

… and then some soft furnishings …

… finally, some scraps of cedar bark fibres, which crows often use to line the nest for its antimicrobial properties.

I thought that was a pretty good dose of urban nature for a trip to an old substation in a busy traffic area next to a gas station and was about to call it a day when I noticed the swallows.

At first I thought they were just more starlings darting around in the sky, but  I could see they were much smaller and more erratic. When one swooped only feet from my head I realized they were Violet Green Swallows!

I tried for quite a while to get a photo of them flying, which is hard enough because of their speed and random direction changes, but just about impossible in an urban area with all the power lines and poles getting in the way of the camera’s focus.

I found the best strategy was to focus on one bird when it stopped on a wire and hope that some others would fly close by. I just had my light “walking” lens with me, so success was limited, but here are few shots of the magical substation swallows.

I grew up in a very industrial part of a northern English town and I spent my childhood playing along the Newcastle quayside, discovering places like this all the time. Forgotten by the grown-ups, slightly dirty, dodgy and dangerous,  but full of adventure and new understanding for free range kids. My substation outing reminded me of those days, and the sense of having made small but amazing discoveries.

If you’re looking for something to do, I really suggest setting yourself an urban nature challenge, checking  out some new part of your local neighbourhood. It’s important to give it a a few minutes of waiting and watching to see what’s going on in the slightly hidden world of nature in the city. Bring the kids — they love a good expedition and, if it helps,  imagine it being narrated by David Attenborough!

A small chickadee making himself heard over the river of traffic.

Downy Dating Tips

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest of all the North American woodpeckers, a compact and handsome little bird, often found in urban backyards.

The male wears a jaunty red cap, while the female restricts her fashion palette to a crisp and dapper black and white.

They are firm believers in the saying “good things come in small packages.”

I was out walking the dog a few mornings ago and heard what sounded like a small jackhammer. A bit rude to be working on a construction project so early, I thought.

But, getting closer to the hammering, I realized the source was the top of a Hydro pole. I then assumed that it was the usual suspect — the amorous male Northern Flicker looking to impress the ladies.

I stared at the pole for quite a while without being able to spot the percussionist. It took my camera lens finally pick him out — a tiny, but talented, male downy woodpecker.

He was exploring the whole T-bar of the pole, testing here and there to find the best reverb. And he’d found the sweet spot for sure, making a noise that echoed richly around the neighbourhood.

So impressive did he sound — he finally attracted a  female Northern Flicker to his perch.
They both looked at each other as if they’d arrived on a blind date . . . and both parties had stretched the truth in their dating profiles.

You can see Mr. Downy trying to look inconspicuous on the far right.

After an awkward moment or two, the downy made a quiet exit stage right — off in search of his true love.

Here’s the actual object of his affections, taking a little spa time at our bird bath. I’m hoping they’ve sorted the confusion out now and that we can look forward to some even littler downies later in the season.

Incidentally, my very first blog post, written in spring 2014 was about a Downy Woodpecker. You can read it here: Downy Woodpecker Drama

Two big things to take away from the 2014 story:

  1. Keep your cat indoors
  2. Donate to your local wildlife rescue centre. Nesting season is always an extra busy time for these volunteer run organizations, especially as they try to work through the Covid-19 complications, so help them out if you can. The organization that saved the downy in 2014 (and countless other birds and other wildlife before and since) is Wildlife Rescue BC.

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cocktail Party Guests

Cocktail hour is quite a big deal these days.

The rules are as follows: once the dog and cat have been fed (and they are very good at keeping us on schedule with that) it’s cocktail hour.

Actually, that’s about it really. So … rule. Singular.

As it’s still a bit chilly out, the front porch is the best bet for sitting al fresco without a blanket. Toque and down jacket, yes — but no blanket!

Photo 2020-04-12, 5 33 32 PM

Geordie, with  black and white tux colours and serious expression, does a passably good imitation of a maitre de in a very high class establishment.

Photo 2020-04-12, 6 22 22 PM

How are the first sips tasting, madam?

Really, it’s a highlight of the day. The only thing that could make it better?

Friends coming over, of course — but that’s not possible right now.

Or is it?

During cocktail hour a couple of days ago we noticed that we DID have company. Marvin and Mavis, after a hectic day of nest building, were enjoying the corvid equivalent of cocktail hour with us.

Bobbing gently in the breeze in the Katsura tree by the porch, they sat together, dozing, preening and softly chatting for a least half an hour.

Just as we were making a move to head inside, they flew off — only to replaced a second later by the next round of cocktail party guests — a pair of collared doves.

It was almost, almost, like sitting on the patio of one of favourite restaurants, enjoying a drink and some people (or in this case, bird) watching.

It’s the little things . . .

 

 

Moon Phases

As the Super Pink Moon rose over our little part of the world last night I realized that it seemed like such a long, long time since the last full moon — the Super Worm Moon of early March.

Back then (in another lifetime) clouds were gathering, but life was still fairly normal here in Vancouver.

Super Worm Moon, March 9 2020

Many other people were out in the early evening enjoying the air and the appearance of the Pink Moon. “How breath taking is the moon?” we exclaimed from our 2 metre exclusion zones, as it miraculously rose above the city tangle of roof tops, wires and poles.

If there is something to be taken from our current situation it might be that, even in our urban setting, people finally have the time to just stop and watch the Nature channel.

On the last few nights I noticed neighbours taking advantage of any viewpoint to better enjoy the gorgeous sunsets. The top of the local school’s “earthquake preparedness box” seems to be a favourite way to gain some altitude.

The Pink Moon, lovely as it is, isn’t actually pink. Because it’s the first full moon of Spring, it rises at a time when the rest of the world is turning pink with blooms and blossoms. It reflects the pinkness of the world below.

Our neighbourhood is in full pink glory. We’re on the fulcrum between the falling snow of the darker pink plum blossom and the blooming of the shell pink cherry ones.

Mr. Pants guards “his” corner

Ornamental Plum Blossom

 

Quince blooming on a neighbour’s weathered wall.

Pink-tinged snow on Mount Seymour where, in a different universe, we’d be enjoying some late season snow shoeing and raven visiting …

Marvin in a pink world

Blossom nest  — the destination for this furniture delivery from a week or so ago.

As I try to adjust to the changes between the last full moon and this, I’m starting to get back to some work. I’ve got some new prints ready and I plan to re-open my online shops this weekend, just in case people want to browse in world of garden birds, crows and ravens.

The next full moon, in May, will be the Full Flower Moon.

Its arrival is a certainty in uncertain times.

May we all be safe and well to see it — and all the moons to come through summer, fall and winter — all the way to the lovely Pink Moon of 2021.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Nesting News

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

Here’s a re-post from this time last year, and the chickadees are equally busy this year.

Also, a reminder, if you haven’t read it already, don’t miss the gripping sequel to yesterday’s post: Flicker Saga Part Two

The Chickadee Edition

On your marks, get set, go.

As soon as the plum blossoms flower on our street it’s the signal for serious nesting building to start. From the biggest to the tiniest birds, the clock is ticking.

With great good luck, we have a pair of chickadees, including my special buddy, Braveheart (with the teardrop marking) building a nest in the ornamental plum tree by our house.

Cherry Blossom Chickadee

When I feel too busy, I just go out and watch these two working ceaselessly for a few minutes. Their level of dedication to the job at hand is pretty inspiring.

Busy Chickadee in Plum Tree

Phase One: expanding the existing small tree cavity. The original hole was clearly not spacious enough for their interior design ambitions, so remodelling was undertaken with zeal.

With those tiny beaks, you can imagine how many trips it took do the job. For about a week, the pair of them took turns flying in and out, hundreds of times a day, with their micro-loads of wood chips.

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Even when they stopped for a break, you could see the sawdust stuck to their hardworking little faces.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASawdust beak

I imagine it was a pretty dry and uncomfortable job, chewing and spitting out wood for days on end. The photo below catches one of our intrepid builders coughing up a bit of sawdust. I felt as if I should offer them each a very tiny beer, but I guess they made do with the water in the bird bath.

Chickadee Cough

It’s hard to say if they finally decided the space was big enough, or they just couldn’t stand any more digging …

Chickadee Looking Into Nest

… but one day efforts suddenly switched from digging to interior design.

Moss Collecting Chickadee

Chickadee with Plum Blossom Flower

Nothing like some fresh cut flowers to bring a new living space alive!

I’m not sure what’s going on in there now. I try not to spend too much time hanging around in case I attract unwanted predatory attention, but I’ll keep you posted on developments.

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flicker Family Saga – Part One

This gripping tale is a repost from nesting season 2017 … enjoy!

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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Norman News

I didn’t like to mention that Norman has been missing.

I mean, so much else to worry about these days . . .

But it was with a disproportionate level of  excitement that I greeted our wanderer this morning when I spotted him in the lilac.

My family thought something was badly wrong (in the “she’s fallen and can’t get up” category) but I was just whooping with joy.

I thought my screeching would have scared him out of the garden, but he obligingly stayed long enough for me to get a few corroborating photos.

So, that’s it.

The world is still going to hell in hand basket, but at least we know Norman’s OK.

It’s the little things . . .

See also: Norman the Nuthatch

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.