Fledgling Fun

Crow babies are a particularly efficacious form of Crow Therapy. I know they’ve really helped to keep my spirits up during the long and strange summer of 2020.

Mabel, in particular, is having a busy time this year. Again.

She had three fledglings last year. Two survived the winter and have stayed with her and Gus to help with nesting season this year. Just as well, as she has another three to contend with this year!

Three babies. It’s a lot …

Normally she doesn’t come to the house, although our back yard used to “belong” to Mabel and the late lamented George Broken Beak. This summer, however, with three new mouths to feed, and the lure of a bird baths and an occasional sprinkler too strong to resist, she’s been coming back. There have been occasional spats with Marvin and Mavis, but Mabel’s clan have the numerical advantage, with four adult crows and the three rambunctious babies.

Young opera star in training

It started a couple of weeks ago when I was watering the katsura tree in front of the house and it turned into an impromptu corvid version of Splashdown Park.

Enjoying a nice cooling mist.

Learning how to sit with beak open to release heat on those hot summer days.

The triplets first fledged in around mid-July. Most birds don’t indulge the youngsters for nearly such a long time period as crow parents. The babies of smaller birds, like sparrows and finches, are expected to fend for themselves after a few short weeks. Their parents are usually keen to try and fit in a second round of nesting before the season ends, so it’s a short but intensive course on necessary survival skills, and then “good luck and off you go.”

Young crows, however, can be heard, loudly begging for food all summer long and into early fall.

The parents will start refusing to feed them after a few weeks, insisting they learn to forage for their own grub — but they do let the goofy youngsters hang around all summer — and often, as in Mabel and Gus’s case, right into the following year and beyond.

Mabel enjoys a brief moment to herself.

Scientific studies seem to suggest that this extended period of time with mom and dad contributes to the braininess of crows. You can almost hear the mental cogs spinning in the young crows’ brains as they gradually start to figure out the big new world around them.

Some things — like “is foliage a good snack?” — they just have to work out for themselves.

But a lot of the time, you can see them watching intently to see what mom or dad will do in a given situation — and carefully storing that information away for future reference.

I’ve had such fun watching Mabel’s babies this summer, I’m working on prints from some of the pictures.

The Rookie

Bedraggled

Bedraggled

I also had some buttons made from these new images, plus one of Mabel and a fledgling last year (The Art of Parenting) and I’m mailing them out, in random fashion, with all current  orders from my shop.

I’m not sure what it is that I like so much about buttons. I think it reminds me of the thrill of getting a free badge with one of my comics in England, back when I was a fledgling, many years ago.

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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.

Being Adept at Adapting

2020 so far has been pretty tough for many of us, requiring all kinds of adjustment to ever-changing conditions.

Our local corvids sympathize. While free of covid worries (as far as we can tell) — they too have faced a lot of challenges in 2020.

The trees that had provided them with shade, shelter, nesting sites and a navigational landmark for the last 60 years suddenly disappeared in mid-nesting season. The bit of grassy wasteland they used as a refuge and a food source was dug up. The ear splitting racket going on 6 days a week makes it hard for them to hear each others’ calls.

Their small corner of the world has changed beyond all recognition since early summer, when construction of the sunken artificial turf sports facility for Notre Dame School got underway. For a glimpse of what used to be there, here’s a post from 2018.

Heartbroken and worried for the local environment as I am, I can’t help smiling when I see the local crow and raven reaction to the situation. I shouldn’t be surprised, as corvids have a long and illustrious history of making silk purses out of the sow’s ears that humans have left them over the centuries.

With no leafy branches to perch on, they sit instead on the construction fence and watch the crazy human shenanigans during the noisy construction hours.

Marvin and Mavis settling in for a new shift.

When, at last, the machines stop beeping, roaring and pounding for the day, the site then becomes a corvid beach resort of sorts.

Yes, that is rather a lot of water. To be expected, as the area once was marshland and has streams running through it, including Hastings Creek.

Some corvid commentary …

One Sunday a couple of ravens even stopped by to check out the “beach” scene.

While it was fun to see the ravens exploring the weird new landscape and drinking at the new “lake,” I can’t help worrying about the safety of the water as a thirst quencher. Part of the area’s history before the school was built was as an unofficial dump site. I see that tanks are now on site to remediate the water, so I’m hoping the crows and ravens haven’t been harmed by drinking and playing in it.

Marvin and Mavis are keeping a very close eye on proceedings — on wet days …

… and hot dry ones …

For now they’re keeping their opinions close to their feathered chests.

Although I rather think they might be muttering amongst themselves …

 

 

 

 

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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.

Mabel the Matriarch

Nest building triptych with blossom

Mabel and her mate began their 2020 nesting odyssey way back in April when I photographed the series above, written about in A Message in the Sky.

A nest was duly built in a nearby ornamental plum tree, and Mabel sat on it for a while, settled in a pretty pink world.

Blossom Crow's Nest

It seemed like a good early start, so I was all ears for baby crow sounds by mid-June. Sadly, something must have gone wrong with that nest location, as it was was abandoned sometime in June, and it looked as if Mabel and her partners might be deciding to take a year off from the parenting business. They did have an extremely busy time last summer with three demanding fledglings, two of which were still with them this spring.

Mabel the Crow on Favourite Perch July 2020

She surprised me again last week when I heard not one, but two, and possibly three fledglings calling from her neck of the proverbial urban woods.

And there was one …

Mabel baby crow Jul 18 2020

… and another …

Mabel baby crow with railings

I’m pretty sure I heard a third, but I haven’t seen all three together yet, so hard to say for certain. Either way, it looks like another long, hot, busy summer ahead for Mabel.

Hopefully the “teenagers” still with her be useful baby sitters from time to time. Mostly though, it’s Mabel I’ve seen doing the feeding and general herding of gormless babies out of danger.

Mabel feeding fledgling Jul 18

Fledgling crow with pebble

One of her fledglings beginning that vital crash course on what is, and what is not, food. Small pebbles now ruled out.

Fledgling crow on a peeling roof

Baby experiences his/her first heatwave

I saw Mabel and one of the babies near our house this morning. That’s not “their” end of the block but the parents do have to follow wherever their boundary-innocent offspring flap off to.

First, baby posed for a distant pop-up portrait …

Baby Crow pop up

Then, seeing how fearless mom is, in for a close-up …

Mabel crow fledgling jul 28

Mabel must be getting on bit by now. It looks as if her right eye is getting worse, and yet she continues to add to her corvid dynasty year by year.

More crows in line for her throne and her rusty chain of office — although she looks ready to rule for many years yet.

Mabel on her throne

 

Other posts about Mabel:

George and Mabel: A Love Story

More on Mabel

The Inheritance

 

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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.

It’s A Wired World

Without the Notre Dame poplars to host much of the local bird activity, the local Hydro and telephone wires seem to have become much busier.

Early in the morning it’s like watching a cross between theatre and a cartoon strip.

Here are a few shows from the last couple of days.

First, the drama of the Violet Green Swallow vs. the rowdy young House Finch.

A seemingly peaceful early morning scene as a House Finch and a Violet Green Swallow share the wire

House Finch youngster decides that things are just too peaceful

This is known as the “getting in your face” technique

Now the feisty house finch goes for the claws first approach.

Oh-Oh

Now the swallow is seriously annoyed

House Finch concedes defeat

To the victor go the skies

Next a bit of heartwarming family comedy with Marvin, Mavis and junior.

Marvin and Mavis enjoy a quiet moment — so rare for new parents

Too good to last …

Incoming!!!

Isn’t this more cozy?

And last, another family moment with the Northern Flickers. Apparently it’s not just the crow (or human) parents that get fed up with the constant badgering of their children.

Mom, mom, mom …

You’re not listening!!!!

Mom takes swift and agile evasive action

Ninja mom is on the move

Found you!!!

OK have this pretend snack …

… and I’m off again …

But mom, I’m bored …

OK, I’m going upstairs for some peace and quiet.

Hope you enjoyed your small sampling of Birdflix.

Subscriptions are free  — you just go outside and stand around for a while looking up!

 

 

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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.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 . . .