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!

 

Crowflix

Sometimes the best way to tear yourself away from binge-watching the TV is to drag yourself outside and tune in to the always entertaining Crow Channel.

I’d planned an archival Ken Burns-style documentary for this blog post, going over everything that’s happened with the local crows since I last did an update last fall.

After sorting through months of photographs I was still trying to wrap my mind around a way to fit everything into a post that would be slightly shorter than War and Peace.

A lot happens with crows in a few months!

This morning, while walking the dog. I had a epiphany. (This often happens, don’t you find?)

I decided to write the blog just about the hot-from-the-press crow news as gathered on the current morning walk — coming to you live (-ish) & local from East Vancouver.

No sign of Marvin and Mavis first thing, so Geordie and I headed out and put their Sunday morning breakfast (scrambled eggs) in the fridge for later.

The first star appearance in today’s crow drama is Mabel — of George and Mabel fame, and cover model for the 2018 crow calendar.

She and her new mate “own” the western end of our street. I’m sure it’s Mabel, partly because she knows me so well, and partly because of her bad eye. From one side she looks like any other crow.

But from the other, I can see that the eye that was starting to deteriorate when George was alive has gotten worse. I’m not sure if she can see out of it at all now, but somehow it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She rules her territory like a corvid Boudicca, faulty eye or not. All crows are action heroes.

Time for a short crow calligraphy break in the programming as we spot one of the several  Garibaldi School crows, creating an interesting silhouette agains some wavy branches.

Back to some supporting actors in the ongoing crowp opera. There are quite a few characters on Napier Street that I haven’t named yet, although they seem to know me (and Geordie) very well. The white blur in the photo below is Geordie walking between me and the crow. Dog and crow seem to take each other’s presence for granted.

Portrait of a crow, photograph by June Hunter<br /> ©junehunterimages2019<br /> www.junehunter.com

Another un-named, very confident, Napier Street crow …

It’s always a bit tricky when you get to the corner of a block, or wherever the boundary between crow fiefdoms lies. Here we’re on the border of Pants Family terrain, but the Napier crow on the stop sign seems inclined to make a bold incursion this morning.

Napier Street crow on the edge of his territory

Mr. Pants is not amused at the audacity.  We might have had to include a “Warning: Crow Violence” sticker on this program, but I traced my steps back a bit so I could distract the Napier crows with a few peanuts before having a short visit with the Pants Family.

Since the great moulting season of 2018  — see Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips — Mr. Pants has been lacking the feathered trousers that earned him his name. Now that it’s getting a bit colder, he does seem to be getting a bit fluffier around the nether regions, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever be quite so pantaloon-encumbered as he once was.

He probably enjoys the more streamlined life.

The Pants power couple.

Mr. Pants, dashing with or without trousers.

Brief pause for a commercial break … 

June Hunter Studio Sale Feb 2019

And now, back to scheduled programming …

On to William Street next to check in on the White Wing plot line. I know this is Ms. Wing by the way she greets me, even though I can’t see her distinctive wonky feather from this angle.

There we go …

A brisk wind catches her protruding feather this morning. It looks kind of awkward, but she seems to manage very well. In fact, of all the local crows, she was the most successful mom this year, successfully raising three fledglings to independence.

Another break for a spot of crow calligraphy.

The commotion in a tree near William and Kaslo made me think a crow or eagle must be involved, but it seemed to be an all-crow kerfuffle. The one on the far right had something in his beak and it seems that the others felt it was not rightfully his.

They chased him out of the tree, back to the tree and dive bombed repeatedly, but he stubbornly held on to whatever prize he’d managed to score.

On the home stretch  we run into two of our old favourites, Eric and Clara.

They’re Marvin and Mavis’s closest neighbours and there’s been a bit of rivalry between them lately.  When I stop to greet Eric and Clara, I immediately see and hear Marvin on a power line, making grumpy territorial calls.

Eric and Clara

As soon as I get a few steps closer to home, Marvin comes down to claim my full attention. Time for breakfast.

But no … there’s a final twist to the plot (isn’t there always?)

Mavis is watching something else from another hydro wire and she seems perturbed.

Raven!!!! Furious cawing and they take off to escort the intruder out of their territory.

It takes Marvin a few minutes to calm down after that little burst of crow-drenelin.

I thinks he’s earned a good breakfast, so the scrambled eggs are brought out again.

Marvin graciously lets Mavis have the first serving. Since she developed a spot of avian pox on her right foot late last year, I notice she’s a lot pushier about getting the food and Marvin seems to know she needs as much nutrition as she can get. You can see the small lesion on her back foot in the photo below. It doesn’t seem to be growing, so I’m hoping she’s got enough of an immune system to hold it at bay.

‘Scuse my table manners.

Marvin the patient.

And so today’s Crowflix programming comes to an end … and we didn’t even cover the Slocan Street Trio. Perhaps they’ll need their own episode. Remember, there’s probably a live crow show on offer in  your neighbourhood too. You just have to step away from the TV and out the door.

Greenest City 2020?

If you’re a regular reader, you may be expecting a whimsical crow story , or perhaps some tongue-in-cheek home décor or fashion advice. This is not that, but don’t worry — normal programming will (as they say) resume shortly. Today I’m writing about something not so funny, but very important to an Urban Nature Enthusiast. 

We have a very local problem (as you may have read about in some earlier blog posts) in which a private school in our area plans to remove trees and construct an artificial turf sports facility. The more I look into it and talk to other Vancouver residents, I realize that this hyper-local problem, is symptomatic of larger problems facing urban nature throughout Vancouver.

I wrote first the post below for the  Notre Dame Neighbours blog — but I believe it’s worth sharing here too. 

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

The City of Vancouver has a long held (and widely publicized) aim of being the greenest city in the entire world by 2020. That’s next year folks!

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written on the strategies and initiatives for reaching this goal. See Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan.

greenest city logo

It all so good in theory, and yet, when I look at the proposed changes to our own neighbourhood, I find it very hard to put the two things together.

The proposed change of plan at Notre Dame School, to go from:

(a) grass practice field with trees retained, to

(b) sunken artificial turf games facility with trees removed,

… seems to be going in entirely the wrong direction.

Notre Dame is a private school, but it should be noted that the City’s green plan repeatedly calls for cooperation between “developers, planners, designers and public and private landowners.”

TREE REMOVAL

The proposed removal of the row of Lombardy Poplars on the school’s western border contradicts a large number of the the green initiatives that shelter under the Greenest City Action Plan umbrella.

To begin with, the maintenance of trees is part of the City’s Urban Forest Strategy

“Vancouver’s urban forest includes every tree in our city – on streets, in parks, public spaces, and back yards. Our urban forest plays important environmental and social roles: it cleans the air, absorbs rainwater, provides bird habitat, and improves our health and well-being.“

If every tree in Vancouver is part of the Urban Forest strategy, it follows that every effort should be made to retain the 23 mature, full-of-bird-and-bug-life, poplars on Kaslo Street.

I was told by an old-timer in the neighbourhood, who lived opposite the school site, that when the poplars were planted those particular trees were selected because of their prodigious ability to soak up water from the ground. This was important because Notre Dame was, and is, built over Hastings Creek and is also positioned at a low, water-collecting point of the neighbourhood. In the past it was a marsh. It is unknown what effect the removal of the poplars will have on the wetness of the school site, not to mention the surrounding area.

City trees are also a critical part of the City’s Access to Nature Goals

One specific goal within this strategy is:

Ensure that every person lives within a 5 minute walk of a park, greenway, or other green space by 2020; restore or enhance 25ha of natural areas between 2010 and 2020.

As you can see from the aerial view below, the area around Notre Dame School (the red dot in the middle) is already very poorly served by green space.

 The walk to the nearest park is far longer than five minutes. Many people head to the tiny bit of “greenway” provided by the Notre Dame poplars to walk their dogs, or simply to stroll within the sound of birdsong and the whispering of wind in the leaves. Removal of this tiny strip of green is a big step in the wrong direction for a city aiming to provide its citizens with more green space, and the physical, mental and spiritual well-being it is known to promote.

A sub-set of the Access to Nature Strategy is the Vancouver Bird Strategy in which the City strives to make Vancouver a rich and welcoming year-round habitat for all kinds of native birds. A healthy and diverse population of birds is intended to add to the enjoyment and enrichment of Vancouver residents, and also attract visitors from around the world.

The Kaslo Street poplars provide an important habitat for local birds. Watching the trees  for any length of time will reveal a parade of chickadees, juncos, bush tits, northern flickers, crows and robins, and even hawks, ravens and bald eagles making occasional visits. Many birds nest in these trees in the spring time, making use of the security from ground-predators provided by their elevation. In spring, 2018, some migrating mountain bluebirds (rare in this region) used the school as a resting area for a few days on their trip to their summer habitat in northern BC.

A Mountain Bluebird resting at Notre Dame, April 2018.

Vancouver achieved its goal of attracting visitors from around the world last summer when the prestigious meeting of bird scientists (IOC2018) was held here. I met some of those scientists, and we discussed the small things that can make cities bird friendlier. We agreed that areas like the small stand of poplars in my neighbourhood are great examples of small spaces making a big difference within the urban environment. Ironically, this was just couple of weeks before we learned that those very trees were threatened.

Raven in the poplars

Note: The City required that the school have arborist’s inspection done of these poplars. We have to assume that resulting report said that the trees should be removed but, as far as we know, this is only because of the school’s plan to create a ten foot drop-off right at their base of the trees (to accommodate the sunken field) which will render them unstable. We would like to see a second arborist’s report undertaken on the viability of the trees without such drastic excavation.

Instructions on the Notre Dame Field permit issued by the City of Vancouver in 2008. The new plans, part of the “minor amendment,” no longer include this important detail.

Should the project go ahead and the poplars be removed, the city requires that the school replace them with other trees. I am curious to know what trees of any size could thrive on top of a ten foot retaining wall.

ARTIFICIAL TURF

The other way in which the Notre Dame proposal seems to be marching away from green city goals is by coating the entire remaining surface of the campus with a combination of artificial turf and parking lot.

Artificial turf can be played on for up to 80 hours a week and does not (normally) need watering. These two advantages seem to have caused a stampede by the Vancouver Park Board (as well as private institutions like Notre Dame School) to install this surface on as many fields as possible to increase playing time.

But there are some very serious disadvantages to artificial turf that really need to considered more closely, including possible adverse heath effects for those using the fields, as well as a variety of environmental problems.

As far as climate change is concerned, it seems a very bad idea — not only for the users of the field but for whole neighbourhoods around the fields.

From Health Impact Assessment of the Use of Artificial Turf in Toronto written in 2015,

Unlike natural grass which has evaporative cooling properties, artificial turf is made of several heat-retaining materials which can significantly increase field surface temperatures, substantially increase air temperatures near fields, and thus contribute to the urban heat island effect in surrounding neighbourhoods. This increases the risk of heat-related health impacts during hot weather events. Widespread use of artificial turf would also make Toronto less resilient to extreme weather events and increase adverse health impacts associated with these events.”

It also seems like a bad idea in terms of meeting the City’s rainwater management plan objectives. The aim is to maximize the amount of permeable surfaces on public and private property in order to cope with increased climate changed-caused rainfall.

Artificial turf is known to be far less permeable than natural grass, and Notre Dame plans to install such a surface in a sunken field, on natural marshland, and over the watercourse of Hastings Creek …  I’m not an engineer, of course, but this seems like a high drainage risk.

Artificial Turf Mountain

Part of the Greenest City Action Plan is Zero Waste 2040 and I can’t help but wonder where a mountain of worn out artificial turf fits into that.

Artificial turf does not last forever. Its lifespan depends on various factors, from the amount of use, to the quality of the product. But all of it is sure to wear out sooner or later, and then what? Off to the landfill it goes. This Dutch video follows an expired fake grass field to its final resting place at the Artificial Turf Mountain.

Does Vancouver want an Artificial Turf Mountain of its very own by 2040?

A SOLUTION?

Ideals, politics, and competing interests can make uneasy bedfellows. Creativity and ingenuity is required to work in such a scenario.

So here’s a modest proposal.

What if the school were to look at ways in which a grass field could work to meet its sports and exercise needs, and the trees could be saved?

In return for the school being such a good citizen, working with the City to reach its 2020 green goals, the City Park Board could take over maintenance of the Kaslo Poplars, pruning and tending to the trees, and perhaps planting native species grasses and shrubs on the City side of the trees. That way the school would soon have its exercise space, which would please students and parents who have waited so long for a field. They would have a sports area, plus an outdoor classroom area for Environmental Studies classes, providing amenities geared to students with a wide range of interests. The mountain bluebirds might even come back!

The school would gain positive public recognition for making such a wonderful contribution to the City’s green action plan, and the City would gain a small strip of green space to inch them a little towards their 2020 goal of everyone within five minute walk away from a bit of nature in the city.

Or shall we just chop the trees down, carpet everywhere with artificial turf, and call the city green, even if it’s just the uniform emerald of an endless sea of this?

Let’s go with the first idea!

It really doesn’t take a lot of green space to create foothold for nature and birds in the city, to the benefit of all city dwellers — so let’s try and work together to save this tiny oasis before it’s gone.

Greenest City graphic on artificial turf

If you’d like to contact the City of Vancouver to express your opinion on either the specific Notre Dame School issue, or on the expanding use of artificial turf on Vancouver park space, here are few handy addresses: 

VANCOUVER CITY COUNCIL

Adrienne Carr  adrienne.carr@vancouver.ca

Peter Fry  pete.fry@vancouver.ca

Melissa DeGenova  melissa.degenova@vancouver.ca

Lisa Dominato  lisa.dominato@vancouver.ca

Jean Swanson  jean.swanson@vancouver.ca

Colleen Hardwick  colleen.hardwick@vancouver.ca

Michael Wiebe  michael.wiebe@vancouver.ca

Christine Boyle  christine.boyle@vancouver.ca

Rebecca Bligh  rebecca.bligh@vancouver.ca

Sarah Kirby-Yung  sarah.kirby-yung@vancouver.ca

General message to Mayor and Council at this link.

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER PARK BOARD

Stuart McKinnon  stuart.mckinnon@vancouver.ca

John Irwin  john.irwin@vancouver.ca

Gwen Giesbrecht  gwen.giesbrecht@vancouver.ca

Camil Dumont  camil.dumont@vancouver.ca

Dave Demers  dave.demers@vancouver.ca

John Coupar john.coupar@vancouver.ca

Tricia Barker tricia.barker@vancouver.ca

Or call 311 and leave a comment.

VANCOUVER CITY STAFF

Gil Kelley
(General manager of Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability)

gil.kelley@vancouver.ca

604-873-7456

All calls and emails have to be logged, so each one counts!