Bushtits To The Rescue

Group of bushtits sheltering from rain on a metal rack with flowers

Well, it turns out that one of the lesser known symptoms of COVID is the complete and utter inability to write blog posts. 

Like many others, we had a rather Omicrummy Christmas as the virus raced through our household, and although triple-vaxxed, we were laid low for a couple of weeks.

Fortunately it’s been mainly just medium horrible cold and flu symptoms, overlaid with exhaustion and the need for many naps and lots of Advil.

Every day I’ve thought “must write a blog post’” . . . and every day I’ve taken the alternative route of  flopping in my comfy chair and watching hours of TV.  Even daytime TV was not off limits! Some desultory knitting or needle felting was completed in between naps.

Throughout this period there was a tiny, slightly more active, part of my brain just itching to write a blog post. Whenever I did get outside to walk the dog, or just stand in my dressing gown in the garden, there was bird inspiration everywhere — just begging to be shared.

It seems, however, that the COVID brain cannot process inspiration.

Also, complete sentences seemed like just . . . so . . . much . . . w — o — r — k

Yesterday, however, the bushtits decided enough was enough. A committee came, literally,  to my back door to FORCE me to write about them.

In case you’re not familiar with these characters, bushtits are tiny, grey, determined and objectively adorable birds. See my previous post Consider the Bushtit for just some of the reasons why.

During the very cold weather we had over the holidays they came to the garden many times a day to visit the suet feeder.

I did manage to write a few short social media posts while I was sick and one of them was about the bushtits …

Single female bushtit on a branch

The rare sight of a lone bushtit. 

They travel in close knit chattering charabanc tours of 20-30. The rest of the tour group was close by. I always wonder if one of them is the Rick Steves of the gang, pointing out the local attractions. “On our left we have the famous suet feeder — but be sure to step out of your comfort zone and try the exotic delights of the hummingbird feeder. Don’t miss the bugs up there on the maple. OK, time’s up … on to the next step on the tour … no laggards please.”

It is just possible that I am spending too much time with birds … 🤪

Of course, as many of you wisely pointed out, it is impossible to spend too much time with birds!

And here’s a photo of the tour group having a refreshment break at the hummingbird feeder.

Flock of bushtits at hummingbird feeder

Bottoms up!

Incidentally, I’d been wondering for a while why I kept losing the little yellow nectar covers on the hummingbird feeders until I noticed them lying in the snow after the bushtits had been by. How did they get them off? Again, see Consider the Bushtit to see how cleverly they can use their tiny claws.

So what could these birds have done yesterday that was even cuter and cleverer than all of this?

For context, the weeks of snow and icy slush have been replaced this week by yet another Atmospheric River, bringing relentless rain and grey skies. Not much inspiring to look at outside, but I just happened to glance outside of my back door window and did a double take. It looked like a scene from the old Cinderella cartoon of my childhood …

This is only a small portion of the whole group. By the time I got my phone out to video them, about two thirds of the crowd had moved on, but you can see that they were making themselves very cosy under our deck, taking advantage of the heated hummingbird feeder and  arranging themselves on the big floral metal shelf as if it were a specially designed bushtit drying rack.

Snuggling bushtit couple sheltering from rain on a heated hummingbird feede

Pair of sleeping bushtits sheltering from rain on a floral rack under a deck

Bushtits drying out, and apparently napping.

As you can see, this was already too amazing not to write about, but there was more!

Check out the couple snuggling together in the next video. They were pressed so tightly together, and for so long, I worried that they’d got sugar water on themselves from the hummingbird feeder and become stuck!

Sorry the video and pictures aren’t the best quality. I was filming sometimes through the window and the shadow in some of the video is the door, open just a crack to stick a lens out.

While the whole group was heart stoppingly cute, this particular couple took the cake. This is one of the chief joys of watching birds. You may think you’ve seen all the amazing things about them.

But you never have!

Very cute snuggling bushtit couple sheltering from rain

The delicacy of their tiny, wet, translucent, slightly bedraggled tails …

I’m not sure if they are actually shivering here, as the weather was much milder than it’s been, or if it was part of their feather drying technique. Or perhaps they were just so excited to be together …

I imagine that the bushtit delegation was sent by the other birds to overcome my inertia by dint of sheer cuteness. Now that I’ve actually found where my keyboard is again, I hope I’ll be able to make some new posts about some of the other amazing birds that stopped by over the last couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for what new and amazing things the bushtits have up their tiny feathery sleeves.

Snuggling bushtit couple sheltering from rain on a metal rack with flowers

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2022. 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.

Fall Patterns Unfurl

“A lot of vagaries can introduce themselves …”

 

Sometimes a snippet heard on the radio gets stuck in my head.

That small phrase seemed to sum everything up quite nicely, thank you very much.

Almost like a little poem.

The words came, oddly, from a supply chain expert during a CBC interview about the current unpredictability in the worldwide movement of goods. It was an interesting piece, also notable for the expert pointing out that we, the consumers, have become somewhat “diabolical” in our expectations for instant wish fulfilment.

I actually laughed when he said “a lot of vagaries can introduce themselves,” just. because it elicited the mental response, “No kidding!” I’m sure he chose those words quite carefully, seeming like a very thoughtful person. No reason why a supply chain management expert can’t also have the soul of a poet.

The phrase, rolling around like a stray ball bearing in my brain, has had me thinking in various ways about the different types of uncertainty we’ve all been living with for so long.

And how tiring that can be.

And where we can look for a little relief.

In these very vagrant times, I find some comfort in the predicability of pattern.

My daily walks around my own small neighbourhood are a pattern in themselves,  repeated over the last thirty years with babies in strollers, toddlers, older kids going to school, and a succession of dogs.

And on those walks I now see the pattern of autumn unfurling like a roll of new wallpaper for the world.

The leaves are turning, berries and nuts are ripening.

Birds are returning from the north — just passing through, or settling in (like the rest of us) for a wet Vancouver winter. Just as they do every year.

One of the first returning goldfinches

Crows are doing what crows do in fall — being rowdy.

They’re always noisy, of course, but now is the time for that autumn-specific celebratory type of crow riotousness.

They gather in big groups — not just for the nightly roost, or a funeral, or in order to chase away a bird of prey — but simply to shout the odds amongst themselves. Parent crows are giddy with freedom from fledgling responsibilities, and those fledglings are now teenagers — anxious to get out into the world and find/cause trouble.

Sometimes the chaos IS the pattern.

Framing that thought in nature is comforting — although much less so when it comes to human affairs. That’s why it’s probably time for me to pick up my knitting needles and re-engross myself in that half-finished Fair Isle beret sitting in a tangle since early summer.

Just stick to the pattern and all will work out in the end, I tell myself.

Of course, I may drop a stitch or two, but at least now I’ve been reminded about those sneaky little vagaries. Maybe I’ll listen to the radio as I knit and see what I hear next …

Mavis at her customary watch on the roof — another comforting sight.

 

 

 

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Viewpoints

I shouldn’t really be writing a blog post, having promised myself that I will dedicate this month to (a) getting the City Crow Calendar 2022 ready to go the printer and (b) finishing my upcoming Crow Therapy online presentation.

But it’s crow fledgling season out there and therefore hard to stay on task. As justification for the distraction, one small drama currently playing out meshes rather well with aspects of my Crow Therapy talk.

It concerns periscopes and perspectives

As we go about our day, periscope firmly pointed in the direction of human life goals — not being late for a meeting, what to make for dinner, what’s going to happen next in our favourite TV show — it can come as a bit of a shock to be attacked out of nowhere by a crow.

As always at this time of year there are lots of news stories and tweets about “harrowing” experiences with “crazed” crows. I guess it can seem like that if it comes out of the blue.

But crow nesting season is a perfect time to swivel the periscope in your personal submarine and take in a different view.

There have been some screams from the end of our street lately. The elementary school there is currently being used as a training centre for School Board staff so there’s a lot of coming and going. At least one unsuspecting person has been pursued by furious crows.

Mabel and her mate to be specific.

Frazzled parent, Mabel

From the point of view of the dive-bombee, the crows have inexplicably gone bonkers and need to be restrained in some way.

But (swivel periscope … c-r-e-a-k) let’s look at the situation from Mabel’s point of view.

Mabel and mate have been tending a nest just across the street from the school since April. Early this week their fledgling (probably against parental advice) exited the safety of the nest and took refuge in a small bush right on the corner of school.  Junior can’t yet fly enough to get into a tree, or onto of the school roof, leaving them heartbreakingly vulnerable in a terribly high traffic area.

At one point, I’m told by a neighbour, a landscaping crew heedlessly started weed whacking in the area!!!

From the point of view of Mabel and her mate, people are definitely bonkers and need to be restrained in whatever way possible.

The innocent people walking into work don’t have any idea where all this avian wrath is coming from. Minds inevitably turn to Hitchcockian scenes of malevolent bird invasions.

Mabel and her mate just know that people are deeply unpredictable and often dangerous.

They might step on their baby without even noticing, or back their car over it, they might let their dog or cat attack it, they might inexplicably assault the bushes in which the baby is hiding with a foliage chopping hell machine. You can’t make this stuff up!

So, if warning caws are ignored, humans must be kept away from the fledgling using the only way open to crow parents — the time honoured dive bomb technique.

I’ve attempted to bridge the understanding gap by explaining to a human person from the school what is going on, so hopefully periscopes will be redirected on the human side.

At least until Junior here figures out the flying thing.

I’ve also had a word with Mabel, but I’m not sure she’s about to change her mind.

 

 

 

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Raven Therapy Part Two

About a year ago I posted the first Raven Therapy story. The world had just shifted in ways that, at that point, we couldn’t really grasp. All I knew was that I needed therapeutic ravens, and that other people might need them too.

Formal raven couple, convinced that this trail has been groomed just for them

I turns out that, in the months since then, there were long periods when it was impossible to get up into the mountains and hang out with ravens — trails being closed to avoid crowding … or trails open, but too crowded to feel safe. On rare and happy occasions a raven or two would grace our neighbourhood.

As we mark the Covid anniversary (even with glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel) I definitely needed a booster dose of raven therapy. Perhaps you do too.

Resisting the covid with the corvid.

These are photos and videos from a couple of recent early morning trips to the local mountains.

Just in case you’re in a rush and don’t have time to read all of this at once, here’s the most potent shot of raven therapy first.

Ravens playing in the snow. In my humble opinion, there are few things more joyful.

If you have time to stay around, I’ll be sharing a few looks at the details of raven beauty and some more observations on their amazing behaviour. A veritable raven therapy spa experience!

Like crows in snow, I love photographing ravens in that pure white backdrop — especially on a nice cloudy day where all the details are revealed.

Raven catching just the softest rays of early morning sunshine

 

The intricate armour of a raven’s feet

Raven feet and feathers

Raven strut

 

Raven’s Leap — another excellent pub name!

Hearing a little more of the complicated raven vocabulary is always a thrill (see also Learning to Speak Raven.)

A snippet of raven conversation …

And a general “here I am” raven call …

Perhaps the most joyful sight was this behaviour between a raven pair.

Raven joins her mate

 

He feeds her. This is preparation behaviour for nesting season, where the female will beg for food from the male to trigger that instinct in him to keep her fed later in the season while she’s sitting on the eggs.

Just after this happened, I saw this rather funny exchange.

Raven couple standing together

 

A slight head movement …

 

Beaks touch …

The moment turns into a full examination of his beak for possible hidden snacks — say aaaah

 

 

 

For more raven therapy:

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

Snow Crows

There’s something magically transformative about snow. I’ve amassed a large collection of vintage snow globes, and even made some of my own featuring quirky local landmarks. In summary, I’m a bit of a sucker for snow.

We had what looks to be this winter’s only snowfall here in Vancouver in mid-February. I was excited to write about it then, but since Texas and other US states were undergoing very real suffering from unseasonably cold weather, snow and ice at that point, it didn’t seem tactful to be waxing lyrical about it. I’m feeling that it might be OK to indulge now …

We get very few days of snow in a typical Vancouver winter, so when the flakes start to fall I’m out of the house with my camera as much as possible. On top of the beguiling alliteration, the combination of “crow” and “snow” is pure enchantment.

Here is a crow with snow, folk music and starling accompaniment …

From a technical point of view, snow is both blessing and curse for crow photography. The camera wants to focus on each falling snowflake rather than the bird, so that’s a challenge. The contrast of the black feathers and the all white landscape also needs considerable over-exposure to reveal the detail in the crows.

But the light! The light is magic — beautifully soft, no harsh highlights, bouncing back into those dark feathers and bringing out the shades of mauve and indigo, pearl and navy. It’s as if the whole world is a light box designed especially for photographing crows. Woohoo!!!

White Wing in the snow

The Wings in a Winter Wonderland

And you just never know what might happen. I accidentally found the snow version of a four leafed clover when photographing Mavis in the back garden this year.

Not yet …

Be patient …

Keep looking …

Bingo!

For just one microsecond a snowflake kept its perfect crystalline form on her face. And I got a photo of it!!

Particularly amazing to see this in Vancouver, where the temperature is usually too warm for snow crystals to remain intact long enough to be visible. It’s the little things that make a photographer’s day!

Another fun thing about a snow day is seeing how the crows adapt to it.

The Walkers not only dealt with the weather conditions, they also gave me instructions on how to do so.

Instead of walking along with me to the bump at the bottom of the tree where I customarily leave a few peanuts, as he normally does, Mr. Walker flew over my shoulder and landed on a higher, slightly less snow covered burl on the tree as if to say, “this will be a better spot to leave them today.”

So I did as instructed and everyone was pleased.

It was young Chip’s first snowfall.

A puzzling development,  but she shook it off with aplomb.

Now the flowers are coming up, birds are collecting nesting materials and spring is very much in the air, but I had fun looking back at our brief yet magical period of Crows in a Winter Wonderland. Hope you did too.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. 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.

Raven Kisses

Corvids don’t really kiss like humans … but they do show affection for each other in a number of ways. In the case of the pair above — they were touching beaks in a very affectionate way for quite a while.

I think this behaviour would come under the umbrella of corvid allopreening which usually involves a crow or raven gently (more or less) combing through their partner’s feathers. This solicitous behaviour strengthens the pair bond between them, and helps to keep those very important feathers in tip top condition. I’ve also read an article about ravens using allopreening to restore harmony after some sort of dispute — Ravens Kiss and Make Up After a Brawl (New Scientist.)

On our last snowshoeing trip a couple of weeks ago we saw this pair of ravens …

Watching them was especially therapeutic as it was the day after the storming of the US Capitol building. Such loving care made me want to cry.

Just seeing ravens in general was the equivalent of a Club Med vacation!

In spite of the wet snow.

Geordie also had an excellent day

A rather censorious Steller’s Jay

I may add some new images from the last trip to my Raven Portraits gallery, but for now, Raven Kiss is available now … in time for Valentine’s Day (hint.)

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Crow Signals

While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.

It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.

You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.

But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant,  makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.

Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.

Exclamation point!

Full stop.

Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.

In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.

You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .

Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .

Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)

The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.

By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.

And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we  see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.

Some miscellaneous messages from crows:

A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.

Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.

So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …

The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.

This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.

Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll.  For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.

At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.

The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.

The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.

Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!

 

 

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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.

New Year’s Eve

This vintage wooden roller coaster at East Vancouver’s Playland is often ringed with crows as they enjoy a little sub-party on their way to or from the big roost at Still Creek.

When we walked by this morning, on this the last day of 2020, there was only a solitary crow. It sat alone with the whole row of coloured light bulbs all to itself.  No roller coaster cars rattling by. No other crows.

Perhaps because I tend to view almost everything through a crow-shaped lens, our solo crow seemed an apt symbol for New Year’s Eve 2020.

No big parties. Many of us sitting at home viewing the world from a lonelier vantage point than we’re used to, especially on this night of the year.

Many of us with twinkly lights for mood lifting company.

To be honest, I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit of a melancholy celebration. The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne make me feel a bit weepy. It’s early in the evening still here, so I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling by midnight.

Possibly more weepy than usual.

Possibly less, as the end of 2020 leaves little to regret.

However you’re feeling, remember (yet another treasure from my mother’s kit bag of handy sayings) “tomorrow is another day.”

And, also, another year.

And that day/year will have crows in it.

Crows you may know quite well,  and other crows you may admire from afar and rashly imbue with symbolic importance.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

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Cedar Waxwing Extravaganza

I’ve only seen Cedar Waxwings in Vancouver once before. In the snowy winter of 2017 they appeared very fleetingly on a crabapple tree-lined street near us.

One morning in February there was a whole flock — and all gone the very next day.

Cedar Waxwing, East Vancouver, February 2017

Ever since, I keep an eye open for them when I walk the dog down that street.

No luck … until this week! I first spotted those little crests, bright yellow tail tips and Zorro masks on Tuesday.

Ironically, we’d wanted to go out to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary that day, but had left it too late to make a reservation. I was, therefore, feeling a bit glum when I set out on the usual walk around the ‘hood — same old, same old …

Just goes to show something or other, because if we’d gone to the bird sanctuary I might never have noticed these rare visitors in our very own backyard.

I went back every day this week, expecting them to have moved on, but they’re still there!

There seems to be at least a dozen of them, with quite a few juveniles in the party.

The young ones have a less defined bandit mask around the eyes and a more speckled appearance than the adults.

The mature birds have a smoother feathers, pinky brown merging into lemon yellow on the lower body. The mask is sharper — and it’s always exciting to spot the waxy red tips on the secondary wing feathers that give them their name.

Cedar waxwings eat mostly fruit — although they won’t say no to some delicious bugs.  They eat the berries whole and, apparently, are prone to getting drunk on berries that have started to ferment. Fun as that sounds, it isn’t really, as they then tend to fly into windows and perish.

In fact, a neighbour who lives on this berry-lined street, was just setting up his own system of Acopian Bird Savers for their windows to try and stop this from happening.  I have a similar set up on my glass studio doors and it really seems to work!

We’ve had a bit of every sort of weather this week, from pouring rain to strong winds, and back to bright sunshine, and still they remain. I have started to wonder if they might stay for the winter.

This berry cornucopia is popular with all kinds of small birds, so it’s not surprising that it eventually popped up on the local hawk’s radar too.

This morning the crows were making a big fuss and scared up a small hawk — a Sharp Shinned, I think — which finally gave up a flew away, for now.

The trees were very empty this morning, but I noticed a few brave robins and a couple of waxwings were back this afternoon.

So, Cedar Waxwings, are you staying or going?

I guess I’ll just keep checking and be prepared to see them gone — until the next time.

 

 

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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.

Some Wet Crows

It was a  classic Vancouver winter walk this morning — penetratingly cold and damp. And only October!!!

Looks as if frigid weather is set to come early this year, with snow falling on local mountains, and the rain down here in the city seeming on the edge of sleet at times.

But — another one of my mother’s many handy sayings — “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In this case, the silver lining is made of soggy crows.

I imagine their looks are long suffering, but that could just be me projecting.

In any case, I always politely extend my commiserations as I walk by.

One of Mabel’s extended family

Marvin posing with a gourd in a neighbour’s garden

Wet Arthur

Golden maple crow, possibly Ada

Some of my favourite crow portraits have been really wet crows.

Judgemental Crows, below, captures the look that Marvin and Mabel often give me on rainy days. It seems to imply that the weather is purely the result of some bungling on my part.

In Philosopher Crow, Mavis embodies all that is stoic and thoughtful in a crow’s expression.

Another from this morning — one of Mabel’s offspring, humming the lyrics of  You’ll Never Walk Alone

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Lyrics by Rogers and Hammerstein
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone 
You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Cue strings ….

While I may be imagining that the crows are suffering in the wet weather, I know for sure that Geordie, a California dog, can’t wait to get back in the dry.

Please can we go home now …?

While he loves snow, he really, really does not like rain, in spite of the stylish raincoat.

Back home and vying for fireside positioning with Edgar.

 

 

 

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