Raven Watching at the Tower of London

Watching the ravens: amazing.

Meeting the Ravenmaster: fabulous.

Watching the ravens and tourists interact: priceless.

We were a bit jet lagged for our Tower trip (first morning in the UK) and I was still trying to figure out how to use my new, tiny, and infinitely complicated,  travel camera. But with only two days in London, it was time to dive right in!

If you’re planning a trip to the Tower of London,  tip number one would be to get there as early in the day as you can. This is a massively popular tourist attraction and, while the first hour or so were relatively quiet, the place fills up fast!

My childhood included annual trips to the Tower of London when we came down from Newcastle to visit my grandparents.  A standing family joke was that we shouldn’t call it the Bloody Tower because “that’s swearing.” Somewhat ironic, coming from our dear Dad! Our jovial family name for it was the Woody Tower. 

I do remember ravens on those trips, but they were secondary to the haunting tales of imprisonment, intrigue, mystery and murder that have always permeated those ancient walls.

This time though, my priority was clear — ravens, ravens and more ravens.

Phillip, who had never been to the Tower before, was determined to see it all — the Crown Jewels, and every tower, gate and courtyard.  I set off in search of the ravens and their “master.”

I started off at the raven enclosure. Poppy* (one of the younger Tower ravens) was posing on top.

NOTE: Thanks to my online friend, Samantha, who is a volunteer with the ravens at the Tower and who helped me identify them retroactively from the colour combinations of the bands on their legs. I think Sam can tell them apart just from knowing them so well, but the banding code is handy for me, the Tower Raven neophyte. 

Just like the ravens I’ve watched in the West Coast mountains, Poppy was starting her day by getting all those magnificent feathers in order. Must look one’s best for the visitors.

And speaking of the visitors, I had almost as much fun listening to their comments about the ravens, as I did watching the ravens themselves.

“Good grief, these crows are enormous,” “how did they all get out of their cages?” were a couple of entertaining things I overheard.

Poppy is particularly keen on interfacing with the public — mostly, it would seem, because she has a bit of a shoe fixation. Watching peoples’ reaction to having their footwear inspected by a raven was very entertaining. Of course, I was kind of thrilled when she had a bit of a peck at my shoes. Others were a bit less sure.

Poppy seemed to be available for selfies …

… but it turned out there was a fee for service.

She was very curious about this man’s hair and they had a genial encounter.

Time for some more preening …

And off to check out some more footwear.

So many to choose from!

I probably could have just watched Poppy all day. In fact, I was so fascinated by her I didn’t really notice that George, the Tower’s very newest raven, was inside the enclosure having a rat for brunch. He’s one of four baby ravens born at the Tower earlier this year. I did take a picture of him, but since I hadn’t had time to figure out the manual focus on my new fangled new camera, he’s just a blur behind the perfectly focused enclosure mesh. 😦

But there were lots more ravens to see. Here, for example is Jubilee — looking rather magnificent on an ancient parapet.

Jubilee was also a regular guard by the the Jewel House (where the Crown Jewels are housed.)

Looking slightly less magnificent as he does a bit of a feather shuffle …

But pulling himself together in time to make an important announcement.

Here’s Jubilee again, looking utterly at home among the throngs of tourists, completely unfazed by the paparazzi.

One more announcement …

The next raven is Erin (my friend, Samantha’s special buddy at the Tower). Here she is looking terribly official on the multi-lingual warning sign, “Caution, Ravens May Bite.”

Here she is again, in a slightly less official capacity …

It looks a bit as if the Yeoman Warder’s arm in the poster is reaching out to stop her …

A small child was yelling at her that this was a naughty thing to do, but Erin clearly feels that littering rules do not apply to her.

Erin strikes a pose with some more ravenly gravitas …

By now, almost six hours of raven watching had gone by. Phillip had explored everywhere and it was time to leave. I was a bit disappointed that our wanderings hadn’t turned up the Ravenmaster himself, but I was still really happy with my visit.

But luck was smiling upon us.

Not only did we run into Chris Skaife (AKA The Ravenmaster) — he was momentarily not surrounded by fans. In fact, he was all on his own until he gave a signal to his special raven friend, Merlina, who flew directly over to join us.

Having read his book and followed him online, I was thrilled to meet him in person and I can now confirm that he’s just as nice a man as you’d expect him to be. We managed to have a short chat about the amazing personalities of the ravens, the enormous value of  nature in an urban setting, and about his efforts to move away from the closely manicured landscaping traditions at the Tower to a slightly wilder, more creature-friendly environment. We were very lucky to get to talk to him for 10 or 15 minutes (time flew by) before he was once again deluged by other visitors.

You’ll notice that I was (of course) carrying my raven bag.

Bye, bye, Merlina — till next time.

This is moments after we left, so you can see how lucky we were to get the Ravenmaster (and Merlina)  to ourselves for a few moments.

So day one of our UK trip was amazing and , as it turned out, was just the start of four action-packed weeks of fun. More blog posts to come!

PS  — on another note, the 2020 City Crow Calendar is almost ready to go the the printer. I’ll let you know when it’s available on the web site. I sold out again last year, so it’s always a good idea to get one early!

The Stadium, The Trees and Terrible Timing

I was very disappointed when this postcard arrived in our mailbox earlier this week. The matter of the Notre Dame School football stadium has now been put to the Development Permit Board for a decision on June 10.

This is personally very disappointing,  because I’ll be in the UK for my long-planned trip and won’t be able to attend.

On a more general level it’s sad because it means, in spite of all of the research, articles, information and letters shared with the Mayor and Council, they have opted to look the other way and leave it in the hands of City staff.

This post is based on a letter I’ve just sent to each individual Councillor and the Mayor.

While the fate of our neighbourhood is a relatively small municipal matter, the character of a city is made up of these “small” issues and how they are dealt with. The principles that are being ignored in this situation are vital ones. Allowing them to slide says something disturbing about our city.

The permit process has been unfair from the start. Front line Permit staff were not correctly briefed on the content of the original permit (DE410128) and went on to treat the matter, in error, as a minor permit amendment for months. Although they were forced to admit the mistake in late March 2019, the process has still not been amended in any meaningful way. Now there is a rush to get it over the finish line by June 10, only weeks after it was “discovered” to be a new permit application at all.

Because of all this confusion, no independent studies have been done on safety, traffic, parking, noise and environmental problems posed by the stadium. A 2018 one-sided “Tree Risk Assessment” has been allowed to supersede an earlier, far more complete, Arborist report that said the trees on Kaslo could be saved by setting the field back by 5.5 metres.

While this may seem a minor matter,  is top of mind for many of the people living in our neighbourhood. 360 of us signed a petition to that effect, and many people wrote letters to the City of Vancouver on the topic. As Vancouver taxpayers, we stand to have our lives turned upside down by this project. Beneficiaries of the stadium are students, parents, staff, alumni of a private school, many of whom do not live in Vancouver, let alone close enough to the school to be affected.

We accept that our area is becoming denser as more people need housing. Housing people is a necessity and a  moral issue. A recreational facility for people who drive here and leave is not.

 This issue could well come back to haunt Council later. Notre Dame School insists that their stadium will be used very occasionally for school games, drawing negligible traffic. If you look at the cases of St. Patrick’s School in Toronto and Immaculata High School in Ottawa the potential problems are made crystal clear. In each example the sports fields there are rented extensively, causing traffic and noise problems sufficient to destroy local quality of life. Legal action is pending in Toronto, and City officials in both cities are left scrambling to retroactively solve the problem. 

Once a permit is issued, there will, as far as we can tell, be nothing preventing Notre Dame School from emulating the revenue-gathering practices of these Ontario schools, in spite of current  assurances to the contrary. 

Vancouver Council has a chance to get in front of this issue now and take a greater interest in what it really means for our neighbourhood — and for other Vancouver neighbourhoods where similar issues will no doubt be arising soon.

This council was recently elected on the promise to do business differently than the previous Vision Council, with more listening to, and consulting with, citizens.

I have asked them look at this matter again. Live up to the promise: halt the rubber stamping Development Permit Board meeting, and subject this project to proper scrutiny.

Aside from the issues explored in my letter, which I tried to keep as brief and simple possible, there is the equally important point that the proposed stadium flies in the face of almost every aspect of Vancouver’s much vaunted Greenest City Action Plan.

I’ve already written at length about that in an earlier post, way back in January – Greenest City 2020?

WHAT TO DO NEXT?

If you have any thoughts/frustrations on this process, please send them to Mayor and Council. There is a handy list of all their contact addresses on the Notre Dame Neighbours website.

If, by chance, you are free on Monday,  June 10 at 3pm and would like to speak on this matter for up to 5 minutes, you can register with the Development Permit Board Assistant Kathy Cermeno. You can call her at 604-873-7770 or contact her by email at kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca

Even if you don’t feel comfortable to speak, you could just attend the meeting and support those who do make presentations.

I am bitterly disappointed I can’t be there. I’ll be celebrating my 65th birthday with with good friends in Wales that very day, but will be there in thought.

Written submissions are also accepted. Please email Kathy Cermeno or (kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca)  or send a letter to her attention at City Hall​, ​453 West 12th Ave​.​Vancouver, BC​ ​V5Y 1V4.

You can find our more about the Vancouver Development Permit Board at vancouver.ca/dpboard

Clinging to Hope

Sorry this has been such a relatively boring post with few birds. I promise fun things from the UK will be coming soon!

Meanwhile, I leave you with some birds who are angry about all of this …

Conflict Resolution

Well, I’m not sure if they did it by guile, by force, or by consulting the Office of the Housing Ombirdsman, but somehow the Northern Flickers have regained occupancy of their nest.

As you may recall, it wasn’t looking good for them in the last post, Battle of the Nest. The Starlings had moved right in and were even installing  their own furniture.  And yet, when I went by the next day, this familiar head was defiantly sticking out of the nest.

I check every time I go by and almost every time there is a  Northern Flicker sentry at the door. Mom or dad are on duty 24/7 to ward off future home invasions.

Oops, looked unguarded for a minute there, but a closer look reveals mother Flicker on the upper deck keeping an eye on things.

Still some last minute renovations going on too.

Meanwhile, what of the starlings?

I must admit I was rooting for the Northern Flickers, given that they were in the nest first and had done all the hard work of digging it out. Fair play and all, right?

It can be hard to sympathize with the starlings, and yet . . .

It’s really not the Starlings’ fault that a well meaning, homesick, but misguided English immigrant (human) released a bunch of them in Central Park, NY in 1890. His goal was to eventually introduce every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America, but the starling was his great “success.” A great example of “be careful what you wish for.”

Neither is it their fault that they’re tough and adaptable birds so that now there are many millions of them in North America, competing with native birds for habitat, food and nest sites.

A few other things in defence of the Starling:

  • If you still really think you can’t appreciate starlings (and remember, a lot of people felt that way about crows until quite recently . . . ) I really recommend reading Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

So . . . what happened to the Starling invaders of the Flicker nest? Well, it seems they just moved one tree over and took over the tree cavity that was used by Flickers for the 2017 nesting season (recorded in Flicker Family Saga Part One and Part Two. ) It’s been vacant since then, so they moved in without any drama and everyone seems to be getting along for the time being.

Just to be on the safe side, the male Flicker makes regular and  emphatic pronouncements regarding property and tenancy rights.

Huge Thanks!

Believe me, Marvin, we’d all like to know …

Marvin (Mavis is otherwise occupied with nest sitting) and I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone responded to my request last week and wrote letters to Vancouver’s Planning Department and Council. You wrote about the Notre Dame poplars in particular, and the importance of urban nature in general.

Vancouver City staff and council heard from all over North America and from Europe. As Vancouver has an international image as a “green” city, I believe that international comments are fully valid. They also heard from many, many people from Vancouver. They received letters from those who have a personal fondness for this area, and from others who have never seen the site in person, but who are concerned about how inappropriate and environmentally reckless developments seem increasingly able to slip through cracks in the permit and public consultation process.

Many people copied me on the letters they wrote and, wow, what an articulate bunch you are! Heartfelt, lucid and logical – they made for compelling reading and I hope they are being read and pondered as we speak over at City Hall.

On April 18 we also hand-delivered a paper petition gathered from our immediate neighbourhood with 360 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office.

So, what’s next? Well, the fight continues. The City Planning department gave April 19 as the deadline for comments, but we will keep on campaigning regardless.

Our first choice would be that the school give up on the sunken, artificial turf stadium plan and go back to the site-appropriate grass practice field that they already have a permit for, and which they agreed upon with neighbours back in 2006.

Failing that, we feel that the new development must go through a proper development permit, including appropriate studies, advisory panels, real community engagement, and review by Mayor and Council before any permits are issued.

Thanks again for your great response, all the letters and the moral support. Much appreciated by me and the local wildlife!

Help The Poplars

Mavis the Crow Portrait

Mavis and I could really use your help to put in a good word for the Notre Dame poplar trees on Kaslo Street!

Read on for how you can help. Oh, and it has to by tomorrow (April 18) – no pressure. 😉

If you have followed my blog, even for the shortest time, you will know these trees. They’re the setting for many of the bird adventures I photograph and write about. They played a starring role in last week’s Game of Nests, for example.

Marvin and Mavis are in them at this very moment, guarding their new nest.

Marvin and Mavis Guard Nest Apr 17

But there is a strong likelihood that, by next spring’s nesting season, they’ll be gone.

The school on who’s property the poplars stand wants to install a sunken, artificial turf football stadium that, in its current form, would mean the demise of the trees. You may have read my earlier posts about this (see links at end of this post.)

Mavis on Nest April 17

Instead of an unbiased arborist report the school has presented a “Tree Risk Assessment” to the City in support of their plan. This report states the obvious: if a sunken field, 3 metres deep at the foot of the poplars is installed, the roots will be damaged to such an extent they will be at “high risk” of falling. In 2007, a more balanced arborist report found ways in which the trees could be spared by making the field just a little smaller.

To voice your support for giving these lovely trees a FAIR assessment before they’re removed in favour of a synturf stadium, please contact the City of Vancouver Project Facilitator, Andrew Wroblewski and let him know you’d like to see the City find a way to save the trees.
It would be helpful to copy your remarks to Vancouver’s Mayor and Council. You can send them a group email HERE.
If you have already done this because of my requests on social media earlier this week: THANK YOU SO MUCH.

We are running out of time to make a difference. The City Planning Department has set April 19 as the deadline to receive comments on the Notre Dame project. As April 19 is Good Friday, we really only have until THURSDAY, April 18.

Marvin Watching Over Nest Apr 17

Hundreds of local residents have signed a paper petition that we will hand in at City Hall tomorrow. But, even if you don’t live locally, you can speak out on behalf of these beautiful trees.

All we ask is that they be given a fair and unbiased assessment instead of the report based only on what will happen if the roots are fatally compromised.

These trees are an important local landmark. They also provide habitat for many kinds of birds, bugs and animals and are the only green space for miles around in an urban area sorely lacking in natural beauty.

poplar seasons

The City has already admitted that errors have been made in this development process.
Let’s not have the trees removed and then find out that was another one. One that cannot be reversed.
For more background and to keep up with latest news, check our web site: Notre Dame Neighbours or follow on Facebook or Twitter.
Earlier posts on this topic:

Help Save the Poplars

Game of Nests

As I look forward to watching the currently taping first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, I’m also addicted to following the real life epic drama going on right outside my window … Game … Of … Nests!

It’s a tense, political and, at times, violent tale.

Marvin and Mavis have been plotting since February to expand their territory from the north half of the Kaslo poplars to encompass the whole darn row.

Historically, Eric and Clara ruled the southern end of the stand, nesting there for the past few years. Marvin and Mavis, it seems,  are an ambitious couple nursing expansionist dreams. They spent weeks harassing the other pair and “encouraging” them to move to the street trees further down Kaslo Street.

February skirmish with Eric and Clara

Poplar negotiations

By early March I noticed that Marvin and Mavis seemed to have won. Eric and Clara ceded their hold on the poplars and began to consolidate their grip on the block to the south.

All seemed to be going well for the new King and Queen of the Poplars.

Twig gathering was in full progress by March.

Marvin looking for some sturdy twigs in our snowbell tree in March.

By early April, Mavis was looking to brighten up the place with some blossom twigs.

But Marvin and Mavis had made a terrible strategic error. Spending so much time fighting for control of the south end of the trees, they’d neglected their northern front.

The firehall crows took advantage and started to build a nest in the northernmost tree in the stand.

Incensed, Marvin and Mavis rushed to the defence of their neglected territory and days of fierce battle ensued.

Marvin and Mavis spent so much time chasing the interlopers that I was worried they’d forgotten about their own new nest at the south end of the block.

On several occasions I saw them visit their ill-fated nest from last year  — just a couple of trees over from the new nest being built by the Firehall newcomers.

It’s almost as if they were mulling over what went wrong last year (their only fledgling fell out of the nest and didn’t survive) and were taking a few moments to pay their respects.

At last they seemed to decide to leave the past behind and let the northern invaders keep their nest, turning their attention back to the new nest.

Here is a terribly wobbly video, taken from far away of Mavis and Marvin working together on the nest. Warning: do not watch if prone to motion sickness.

While things have quietened down a bit in the Game of Nests, there are still periodic outbreaks of hostility. This morning another crow got too close to the nest and Marvin and Mavis gave furious chase.

The Land of the Tall Poplars, like Westeros, is filled with danger on all sides. No sign of dragons so far — but there is an eagle’s nest visible from my house. That means there will soon by hungry baby eagles. Mom and Pop eagle are already cruising the poplars keeping an eye on where food will be be available later in the season.

The poplars are also home to lots of four-legged crow enemies. This raccoon looks pretty adorable snoozing in the hammock of some high branches … but come nesting time there’s nothing they like better to snack on than crow eggs. In fact, that’s the fate that met Marvin and Mavis’s brood the spring before last.

I find I have to “watch” many parts of Game of Thrones from behind a cushion, asking when the terrible thing is over.

Yet, as full of drama and heartbreak as the HBO series is, it’s nothing compared to the real life struggle for survival going on right outside.

All we can do is root for my favourite characters to make it unscathed through the season/series. Now where’s that cushion …?

Nesting News

Nesting News Chickadee and Blossom

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Coming up next: Crow’s Nest News (and Eagles)

Signs of Spring

The signs of spring are there.  Admittedly, they’re a little tricky to spot in the world of snow and ice outside …

What the …?

Frozen puddle on this morning’s dog walk.

… but the birds know, in their featherlight bones, that spring is just around the corner. The small birds, finches and song sparrows especially, are  in full mating mode, chasing each other around the garden like daredevil Spitfire pilots.

Song sparrow diving into the season, even if it is covered in snow.

Female house finch and junco share a perch.

Male house finch in rosy finery

Goldfinch feasting on the coral bark maple tree.

A sure sign of spring is the sudden and ominous banging noise that makes me think the furnace is about to blow up …  an annual event which always turns out to be a Northern Flicker hammering on the metal chimney.  The neighbourhood will soon be echoing with the sounds  of amorous male flickers experimenting with different percussive surfaces, checking to see which offers the most impressive volume.

This flicker discovered that hollow aluminium deck railings deliver awesome reverb.

One morning a few days ago we left the house to find our street magically full of robins, singing their song of spring, and feasting on the large holly bush at the end of the street.

A close look at the ornamental plum trees on our street  shows some tightly furled little buds starting to appear.

 

In the 28 years we’ve lived beside them, the average time for these trees to bloom is the third week of March. They’re looking a wee bit behind schedule at the moment, but some sunshine and warmth in the coming weeks could get them back on track.

I haven’t seen any overt signs of nest building yet, but the crows are arguing along the edges of their territories. All of this squabbling leads me to believe they’re in the early stages of nest site selection.

Eric and Clara vie with Marvin and Mavis for hegemony in the poplars.

Marvin and Mavis view their real estate options from  the Crows Nest vantage point.

Ms. and Mr. Wing stand guard at the entrance to their fiefdom up on William Street.

 

Garden-wise, the signs of spring are obscure.

I feel a psychic kinship with the frost-fainted snowdrops.

The poor hellebores were breezily blooming in January only to be hastily buried in leaves when February’s snow and freezing weather swept in. They remain hidden, hopefully poIsed for a second act when things finally warm up.

Perhaps because I miss them, and possibly influenced by my convalescent hours with Monty Don, I’ve been playing around with some of my floral images from years gone by to create some new cushion cover designs.

While I dream of waking up to this view again …

… I’m working on some new images to invoke that spring feeling.

Spring Couple

New Growth

It’s difficult to say when Real Spring will finally show up, but Marvin seemed to be consulting a third party this morning.

Tell me, oh All Knowing Bird, when will Spring arrive?

As reliable source of weather information as any.

Perhaps I should ask him some of my financial planning questions …

A sequel to: Waiting For Spring

Waiting for Spring

It seems to have been an especially long wait this year. This, for example,  was my studio yesterday morning.

In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been so quiet these past few weeks it’s not, unfortunately, because I’m on a tropical beach somewhere. For most 2019 thus far you could find me in my living room, wrapped in a quilt and reading a large pile of books or watching Netflix. Not that you would want to find me — a Gollum-like coughing, sneezing and whinging creature.

If you read my New Year’s Eve blog, you know that cold/cough number one came as a Christmas gift and lingered over New Year and into early January.

For a couple of weeks later in January, things were looking up.

It was faux spring (better known as Fool’s Spring.) Flowers were blooming in the garden and I felt much better. “Ha, this winter’s going to be a doddle,” I may have thought to myself in a moment of jaunty optimism.

This is why it’s called Fool’s Spring.

The February snow arrived in drifts, burying any upstart flowers.

Along with the snow came the second, even worse, version of the dreaded lurgy. With maximum inconvenience, it struck the evening before my Valentine’s Day studio sale. My husband was even sicker than me, so it fell to my lovely and competent kids to run the show.

For part of February I was too sick to do anything at all. Since lying down made me cough more, I spent hours watching the BBC’s gardening guru, Monty Don, helping people to transform their rubble-filled backyards into replicas of the gardens at Versailles. We also toured the gardens of Italy together, which was very nice.

In between Netflix, I read a lot of books, mostly novels.

When the Christmas book bonanza ran out, I started downloading the Inspector Gamache mysteries to my iPad. They’re set in rural Quebec and I’ve been enjoying them, but after binge reading four in a row, it might be time for a change.

A bonus to being sick was that Edgar, at 9 years old, has finally condescended to sit on my lap. He’s been lap-phobic since we’ve had him, but suddenly this winter, perhaps because I was generally covered in a camouflaging quilt and immobile for days on end,  he decided to throw caution to the wind. We both love this new arrangement.

I’ve mostly stopped coughing now, but I have the speaking voice of  a chipmunk and about 40% of my usual energy.

On most days recently I’ve been able to get out for short walks with the dog. They’re slow walks but I’m at least able to see glimpses of the real world and keep up with the latest in the crow-munity.

Still winter woolly weather out there.

From the weather forecast, and from signs I’ve seen on my walks, it seems as if spring (or at least a second Fool’s Spring) is just around the corner. I’m hoping that it will bring with it some more energy for me,  and a few touches of colour in the landscape.

See tomorrow’s post for actual Signs of Spring.

 

Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

Crows make it look as if they have the world by the tail. When the dark river of them flies over to the nightly roost, they look powerful and untouchable.

In her poem, Crows,  Mary Oliver describes this view of them:

glossy and
rowdy
and
indistinguishable.
The deep
muscle of the
world.

But that anonymous crowd, like all crowds, is made up of many individuals, — each with their own challenges, and their own story.

This is story of the special bond between just two of those many crows — Marvin and Mavis.

They first appeared in my garden around the time we lost George Brokenbeak. George’s mate, Mabel, stayed in the neighbourhood, but moved over a block, leaving my yard with a “vacancy for crows” sign on it. Marvin and Mavis had already been hanging around, so they were quick to move in and become fixtures. It seemed to me that they were a young couple, just starting out together.

Every time I look outside I scan the sky for them. Most of the time, when I can see them, they’re together. If they’re not, one of them is making that “I’m over here. Where are you?” call to check in.

Like most crow couples,  their thoughts turned to nest building last spring. They took on the task with gusto, scouring every tree for just the “right” twigs.

They made one “decoy” nest first and then settled on the real nest site in April.

Marvin watches over the nest — which is nestled in the crook of one of the poplars in the lower right side of the picture.

They worked so hard. They’d be there when the sun went down, forgoing the nightly trip to the roost to guard the nest and its contents, and they’d be back at it at dawn.

Weeks went by and the trees leafed out, making it harder for me to see what was going on up there. One day though, I could tell something had gone wrong.

Mavis left the nest and kept staring at it in confusion. Shortly after, I found their fledgling at the foot of the poplars. It had fallen from the nest and didn’t survive.

They grieved their loss for many days, spending a lot of time just sitting in the trees near the nest, as if hoping the baby would reappear.

Marvin spent a lot of time comforting Mavis, who seemed to have forgotten how to look after herself.

 

Gradually they picked up the pieces  and went back to their pre-nesting pursuits — going to the roost at night and guarding their territory by day.

The summer was hot, dry and smokey from nearby forest fires, so just keeping cool and hydrated was a challenge.

And then came the Great Moult of 2018.

I have never seen our local crows in such a bedraggled state … and for such a long time. It seemed to start in early August and go on well into October.

Mavis, at one point, had lost so many neck feathers, she looked partially decapitated.

O

Marvin lost all his nostril feathers.

They looked objectively terrible, but Marvin and Mavis didn’t seem to care.  They may, for all I know, have giggled a little at the sight of each other, but their devotion remained unwavering.

The new gleaming feathers did eventually come in, of course, and by late October they were their well groomed selves again.

Just in time for winter!

Which brings us to their latest challenge. In December I noticed a small growth on Mavis’s left foot. It’s avian pox, a virus that can spread and cause disability or death. Luckily, in her case, it seems to be not too serious and isn’t spreading. I make sure to put out extra nutritious food for her to keep her immune system in tip top shape.

Marvin seems to know she needs all the help she can get and he seems quite happy to let her shove him out of the way to get her share of food.

 

Their nest from last year is still tucked into the poplars, currently blanketed with snow. I hope that, once spring finally arrives, they’ll start checking out the neighbourhood for new real estate options and give the nest building another try.

Mavis, Feb 12 2019

Marvin, Feb 12, 2019

 

I’m pretty sure that Mavis will not expect roses this Valentine’s Day.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be making reservations at a fancy dumpster.

But they watch out for one another, they comfort each other in hard times, they keep each other warm in the cold, and they refrain from laughing at each other when they look like avian zombies — and, really,  isn’t that better than chocolates in heart-shaped boxes?

But a love song is always nice. Here, Marvin sings one, accompanied by our neighbour’s furnace sounds.

Happy Valentine’s Day!