Where’s George?

We spent our Earth Day morning mounting a small neighbourhood search for George.

From late summer to spring, George and Mabel come by our garden several times a day without fail.

Then, one day each spring, they just seem to disappear. They don’t come to the house.  They don’t greet me on my dog walks. I’ve noticed this happen for a couple of years and I assume that they are off doing top secret nesting work somewhere.

But, still, I worry.

A fellow George-watcher in the neighbourhood contacted me on Instagram yesterday to see if I’d seen him lately.  She mentioned that she’d seen Mabel and their baby from last year at her end of the block. It worried me a bit that Mabel was around, but not George.

Since the two are usually pretty inseparable, that seemed strange.

This morning, my neighbour contacted me with the news that she’d seen George — several blocks away from where he usually hangs out. She included a silhouette photo of him on a lamp stand with the distinctive broken beak profile.

This morning’s dog walk naturally took us on an exploratory expedition to this distant intersection in search of George. It seemed a little odd that he’d be so far away, but how many broken-beaked crows could there be in one neighbourhood?

Geordie and Nina, fellow George seekers.

As soon as we got to the corner in question, there he was. But wait a minute.

This crow had a broken beak, just like George, but showed no sign of recognizing us. George usually zooms low all down the street to make a dramatic landing right beside me. This crow just continued his diligent turf-turning project on someone’s lawn (looking for chafer beetle grubs.) No interest in us whatsoever.

Although he looked pretty identical to George, I knew it couldn’t be him. It made me realize two things.

One:  this sort of beak injury can’t be that rare after all.

Two: crows look pretty identical to our undiscriminating human eyes. We have to use all the clues available to us — behaviour, location, which other crows they’re hanging out with, as well as little physical differences, to figure out who’s who. I figure it’s good exercise for the aging brain. Corvid Sudoko.

I gave our new acquaintance a few peanuts, wished him well, and headed back to our street.

George Lookalike

As we got to the area where George and family usually gather, I saw what looked like George Junior. No sign of dad anywhere. Sigh.

Then, like Batman dramatically arriving at a crime in progress, all of a sudden there he was! I think it was only because I was approaching his still-dependant offspring that he broke his cover to come and greet us.

Peanuts were served. Virtual champagne was quaffed.

George!

So, now I’m back to my original theory, which is that George is occupied on some high security nest-related project and won’t be visiting, or swooping down regularly until that job is completed.

Leaving me more time for my other worry project, Eric and Clara.

Their nest is at the other end of the block, high up in the poplars. My concerns for them are, first: the poplar leaves are taking so long to come out that the nest is very visible to predators. It’s too high up for racoons, but just the right height for eagles, hawks and ravens.

Eric and Clara’s nest is about 50 feet up there. The leaves are slowly, slowly providing camouflage.

Which brings to me to my second and latest worry.  If the babies do hatch successfully, how are they going to get to the ground safely. Baby crows often leave the nest before they can really fly. They hop around, do a bit of clumsy gliding, but real flying skill usually takes a couple of weeks to develop. So, what happens when you’re born in a high rise??

Once you start getting attached to wild birds, there really is no end to the list of things to worry about!

I’ll keep you posted.

STUDIO SALE COMING UP

I’ll be having my annual pre-Mother’s Day studio sale in a couple of weeks. If you’re in the Vancouver area, come on by and you can find out the latest news first hand.

Nesting Instinct

It was just like a door-crasher sale for crows, with home furnishings 50% off.

Like a gang of bargain bin foragers, they created an explosion of tugging, flapping, snapping, inspecting and discarding.  Reject twigs littered the sidewalk. In spite of the massive effort involved in finally getting a stick free, the crows would often cast a critical look at their prize and dump it. Perhaps they decided it was going to mess up the feng shui, or didn’t quite match the colour scheme — whatever — it wasn’t up to snuff so time to head back into find the “right” one. Even if a twig was worth flying off with, it would often be taken to a rooftop for some further DIY modification before being deemed nest-worthy.

These photos are of Eric and Clara. I know it’s them because of where they’re building their nest. That half block has been “theirs” for as long as I’ve been watching them — at least four years.

Eric finally flies off with a “perfect” twig.

Eric and Clara’s nest, way up in the poplars.

Because it’s been such a delayed spring here in Vancouver, crows are building their nests before the trees are leafed out enough to camouflage them. I can actually watch Eric and Clara working on the nest from my living room window at the moment. I only hope the local bald eagles and racoons aren’t also making notes!

There was a definite joie de vivre in the air last Friday. Not only were the blossoms out (three weeks late) but it was also dry and sunny for the whole day.

In between battling to acquire furniture, the crows would spend a bit of time just relaxing in their newly-pink world, and enjoying the novelty of the twin phenomena of sun and “not rain.”

 

Clara in the pink.

The blossoms were still there the next day, but the weather took a severe U-turn. There was very little twig collecting going on in the pouring rain. Trying to shake a twig loose from the soaking trees would have resulted in near drowning.  And the wind!

I think this juvenile crow’s look spoke for many of us when the rain started up again.

Nest Construction Notes

Last year, after nesting season was over, I found this fallen crow’s nest. I brought it home to photograph its architectural features — a perfect embodiment of urban and nature. The main form was constructed from sturdy twigs, grass and moss, then reinforced with human detritus — old zap straps and twine. A bit of packing fluff for a luxurious finishing touch.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

Possibility of Spring

This wasn’t supposed to be a blog-writing day, but I feel I have some “stop press” news that must be shared, along with photographic evidence.

I almost hesitate to share this wild idea, but I think there is a small chance that … dare I even speak the thought? … spring might have arrived.

I hasn’t just been the rain.

So. Much. Rain.

Record-breaking rain.

It’s also been cold. Brr. We have lived on the same street for 25 years now. Normally at this time of year, it’s a candy-floss fiesta of pink blossoms. This year, it looks like this.

But yesterday, the rain stopped. The sun came out.

It’s actually mild enough to stop and stand in the garden and watch what’s happening.

These are a few of the amazing things I saw going on in the garden in just one hour this morning.

Chickadee calling his heart out in the snowbell tree

One of my favourite hellebores.

A fox sparrow taking a breather on the garden fence.

A crow with nesting on his mind. I saw George with a twig in his broken beak earlier this week.

Norther Flicker on the peak of our roof – taking a short break from hammering on the metal chimney.

The daphne bush that was crushed with snow all winter has survived!

Buds starting on the coral bark maple. Oh, and a crow.

 

Song sparrow in the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (aka Corkscrew Hazel).

A bushtit at the feeder. Only one pair came – not the usual “suet-feeder clogging” crowd. A sure sign that they’re getting ready to nest. And one of them left the garden with some moss in it’s beak.

Goldfinch stopping at the bird bath for a little paddle.

I’m sure the birds have known it’s spring for weeks now, in spite of the weather. They’ve got important business to be dealing with, rain or no rain.

I’ve just been a bit slow on the uptake, what with the amount of time and effort needed to struggle into full rain gear and wellies for every excursion — and then the overwhelming desire to get back inside as soon as humanly possible.

Now that it’s stopped raining for five minutes, I strongly suggest spending a few minutes outside.  Just drink it all in and catch up with the birds.

www.junehunter.com

Correspondence

postmark

Later this week I will have sent myself “via airmail” to my home town of Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England. I’ll be there for the opening of Spring Show at The Biscuit Factory Gallery, where a series of my bird images, entitled Correspondence, will be exhibited.

aimail-prints

dictionary2

CORRESPONDENCE: letters sent or received

So many airmail letters, cards, and pressed flower collections passed between my mother and me. We wrote to each other from 1976, when I moved to Canada, until 1997, when she died. I keep many of our letters in a box under the bed.

Letters

I like to re-read them every few years because I see completely different things in them now than when I received them in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. I guess that’s because I’m now “catching up” with my mother; getting to the same stations on life’s journey that she’d passed through decades ahead of me. Parts that I had skipped over in my youth now grab my attention and recognition in an entirely different way.

june-rita-bridge

letter-lvoe

Although no more mail arrives from my mother; and although I no longer stick stamps on letters to her; I like to think the correspondence continues through my artwork. In my images I’m always pointing to things I know she’d have loved. I also like to think it’s the equivalent of a box of letters on the subject of “things that are important” for my children to go through one day in the distant future. At least, I’m fairly confident they will think of me almost every time they see a crow or a raven!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Raven Correspondence

CORRESPONDENCE: a close similarity, connection, or equivalence:

I like to think of my photographs of birds as portraits, rather than as scientific illustrations. I try to capture a look in the eye or a pose that captures the connection between birds and people. Although they have evolved along an entirely different path from that of the human race, I can’t help but feel, especially after the hours I’ve spent watching crows, that there is much we have in common.

Worrying about our children, furnishing our nests, trying to survive … we are all connected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Song Sparrow with Snowdrops

 

logo with crow

George and Mabel – A Love Story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They say that crows usually mate for life.  George and Mabel have certainly stuck together through good, and some very bad, times — so, in honour of Valentine’s Day, here is their story.

I wrote about some of their trials and tribulations about a year ago in the blog post George’s Tough Year. This is the next installment of their story.

In spite of babies lost to illness  and a seemingly catastrophic injury, George has kept on keeping on and, with the help of his mate, Mabel, seems to be thriving.

We never did figure out what exactly caused George’s beak to break. Theories have included: crash landing; attack from other birds; and a run in with a rat trap. I don’t think George is going to tell me any time soon. In any case, I hardly think he notices his half-beak any more.

He’s developed his own method of scooping up food, turning his head upside down for a more efficient “shovelling” action.

You would think that other crows would take advantage of George’s disability, but he and Mabel, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. While George comes down to pick up their breakfast, Mabel stands guard on a higher roof and warns of incoming interlopers.

Mabel on sentry duty.

Mabel looking fierce on sentry duty

Mabel fixes me with a stern gaze, just in case I’m about to cause any problems

George’s great advantage over other crows is that he’s not afraid of me at all. If I’m present, the other crows are too afraid to come and eat, while George regards me as his personal catering manager. If I forget one of his “snacks” he will perch right by my studio and stare meaningfully at me through the window until I get the message.

The Look.

The Look.

In 2015 they had a baby but s/he was terribly afflicted by avian pox and died as soon as the cold weather came. Last summer I watched carefully to see what would happen. They had two babies. One didn’t make it, but the second is hanging in there. Boy/Girl George, as I like to call him/her has a small foot deformity, but has survived a bitterly cold winter, so fingers crossed.

Boy/Girl George

George and Mabel are working incessantly to make sure their offspring thrives. After George has collected the food I put out (and he can cram an amazing amount into his gullet and beak) he flies off to share the bounty with Mabel and the baby. I think George is trying to show Junior the food collecting ropes, but s/he remains skittish about coming too close for now.

Mom and baby

Crow family in silhouette

So this Valentine’s Day, we can celebrate the many kinds of love. From the giddy excitement of first infatuation, to the less dramatic but lifelong kind that George and Mabel enjoy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happy Valentine’s Day from George and Mabel!

logo with crow

www.junehunter.com

valentine-invite-2017

Buckets of Birds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the way to the Women’s march on January 21 I saw a crow flying in front of me. She dropped a piece of food she’d been carrying and it fell through the air for a couple of feet before she casually swooped down and caught it. Clever, I thought. Then I watched as she dropped and caught the same object at least four more times before she flew out of my sight. I was so excited. I must write a blog about that, I thought. But I didn’t. Somehow it seemed too trivial in the face of everything else that was going on.

It’s not that I’ve stopped feeling inspired by urban nature — it’s just that every time I get on the computer to post something I get sidetracked by reading world news and commentary, and by the time I’ve done that, the games of a crow seem a bit irrelevant.

Today I’m going to try and pull myself together. I note that some serious political commentators sprinkle their posts with kitten pictures just to break up the general bleakness.

So, my theory is, that posting pictures of crows, other birds, pretty moss and rust etc. is a bit of a public service to the news-battered world.

And beyond the kitten-effect, I’d like to think that nature photos are especially important right now.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you happen to catch a glimpse of soul in a crow’s gaze, then I hope it will contribute to your resolve to guard all birds against the coming assault on their habitat. Birds, after all, are one of the “canaries in the mineshaft” for the planet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you find yourself empathizing with a fluffed-up, chilly little hummingbird — I hope that this feeling will extend to refugees and any people who are “different” from you.

A forest fire of bigotry and distrust is starting across the world. A wind of ignorance is fanning the flames, and we are all being choked and disoriented by fake news and alternative facts.

We need to be forming a vast human to chain to chuck buckets and buckets and buckets of reason, compassion, joy and love on this mess before the whole forest catches alight.

So, whatever you need to fill your bucket — keeping informed, watching kitten videos, turning off the news, raising chickens, knitting, locking yourself in a dark room for ten minutes, or getting out and saying hi to some birds — keep that bucket well-filled. I have a feeling we’re going to be busy for some time ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just in case you really need some cat content, Edgar always happy to oblige …

logo with crow

www.junehunter.com

Winter Hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird female

This fluffed up little female Anna’s hummingbird seems to have opted to over-winter in Vancouver. She may be wishing that she’d booked her winter getaway in the fall …but too late now. She’s here for the winter, and I feel committed to help her make it to spring.

I was horrified last week, the day we were rushing to get set up for a winter market, to see that the nectar I’d put out for her had frozen solid overnight. I pictured her tiny little frozen iridescent body somewhere in the snow. But no, she flitted by — so still alive! I had a second chance.

I put a fresh batch of nectar out for her and went off to the market. When I came home the feeder was covered in snow so the hummingbird couldn’t get at the fkk. New crisis management techniques were needed. A quick internet search brought up a number of solutions. The equipment most easily to hand was a trouble light, so I plugged that in close to the feeder to keep things warm enough to prevent freezing. That worked wonderfully for the next 24 hours.

feeder-at-night

Enter a caption

The next, very snowy, day I came home from the market (luckily Make-It at the PNE is walking distance from home) to take the dog out. I heard a persistent clicking noise by my studio and noticed that (a) the bulb in the trouble light had gone out and (b) the hummingbird was sheltering under the eaves of the studio and looking at me with a touch of exasperated indignation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bulb in the trouble light had burned out and the feeder was covered in snow. I replaced it. The next day it burned out again, so I built a “quick and dirty “shelter to keep the snow and rain off it. It’s been working fine since then. As a back-up, I have another feeder that adheres to the studio window. The heat from the building keeps it from freezing, although it’s been so unseasonably cold in Vancouver this week that it’s still been frozen in the morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I posted my trouble light solution on Facebook and Instagram and got some great additional tips from other people. Here are some of them:

  • Bring the nectar in at night and put it out first thing in the morning. Normally this would be the easiest solution in Vancouver, but this week it’s been so cold that the nectar can freeze during the day. Plus, you might sleep in …
  • Find some old style incandescent Christmas lights and wrap them around the feeder. The heat of the bulbs will keep the nectar from freezing. This sounds great, and a lot prettier than the trouble light, so I’m on the hunt for some old-style fairy lights!
  • Wrap and old sock around the feeder to keep it warm.
  • Tuck some foot or hand warmers (the kind you get in a pack, open and shake and they give off heat for about 8 hours – available in bulk at Costco) in the sock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a photo of the hummingbird taken this morning. It’s getting colder all this week, so I’ll have to keep an eye on the trouble light. Maybe I’ll add the sock and foot warmer as a back-up in case the bulb goes out again.

When I take these extra measures to keep the hummingbird alive, I feel a bit like a kid leaving cookies out for Santa.

That’s partly because hummingbirds in general —and hummingbirds in a Canadian winter in particular — are rather magical.

And partly because the hummingbird brings me presents.

In return for just a little fiddling with trouble lights and extension cords, I get the gift of transcendent beauty. It’s a really good deal for me!