Spring is over
Offers second chances
Spring is over
Offers second chances
Sounds like the perfect name for an English Pub. I like to think there is one somewhere, and that I’ll enjoy a pint there one day.
But for today it’s a just good title for my blog.
A new dog is a lot of fun, but so much work. Not a single blog post has been written since the arrival of Geordie, except for the one I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how he got to us.
You may think the crows are being neglected. But fear not!
It’s true that I’ve had less time to take photographs of them, but all of the walkies I’ve been on lately have kept me well informed of their progress.
HANK AND VERA
Hank and Vera are our “resident” crows. During the rest of the year the other crow families (Eric and George’s) stop by, but during nesting season they get more territorial. Eric and family do occasionally swing by, but this causes mighty outrage on Hank and Vera’s part.
Vera disappeared for a while, and only Hank came for food so I think they had a nest. But then Vera reappeared, and at the same time I saw part of a dead baby crow on the neighbour’s lawn, leading me to think that (like last spring) a racoon or cat spoiled their plans. Vera seems to have vanished again, so I think they might be giving it another try.
Of all the local crows, Hank is one I worry most about. He’s always had a limp, but his left foot and leg seem to be getting much worse. He often stands only on the other leg, and sometimes has a hard time making a landing.
Vera, on the other hand, has gone from the Cinderella crow of last spring, to Boudicea the Warrior Queen. Still a little smaller than the other crows, she makes up for it with sheer attitude. I think she, rather than Hank, is responsible for jealously guarding their territory from other crows.
ERIC AND FAMILY
Eric’s clan claim the tall poplars on the west side of Notre Dame School at the east end of our block. Their challenge this year is the fact that the school finally cleaned out the rotting portables and tangle of blackberry bushes. While it does make the area a lot nicer looking from a human perspective, a lot of that “wasted” space was perfect for keeping crow fledglings out of sight of predators until they learned to fly.
Every time I walk by the school on “their” corner, Eric comes down to say hello.
I haven’t seen any young ones yet, but it seems that Eric, Clara and at least one of last year’s youngsters are busy. I’ll be listening out for the lovely quacky sound of baby crows any day now.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST – GEORGE
Of all the neighbourhood crows, George has most enthusiastically adapted to our new dog walking schedule. Every single time I walk to the west side of the block, George is there.
I’m especially happy to see him as for weeks he seemed to have vanished. I was worried that his bad luck had gotten even worse. On the contrary though, he and Mabel seem to be doing just fine and George, broken beak and all, looks to be in the best of health.
Every single time Geordie and I get to “his” corner, George comes and lands on a fence right beside us. I always try to have a few peanuts on board for him — although he’s also pretty fond of dog treats. His beak doesn’t look as if it’s going to grow back any more, but it seems to be well healed and I’d say George is managing just fine.
And what does Geordie think of the crows?
Like many of the new things in Geordie’s life, his first crow sightings were cause for nervous fidgeting and fretting. Now, having seen hundreds of them in the last few weeks, and the same ones several times a day, they barely register on his doggy radar.
He does like to listen to whatever Vera is saying from the roof of the house while he’s relaxing in the garden.
Oh, and if anyone does know of a pub called The Dog and Crow, do let me know and I’ll put in on my bucket list.
This week I was going write a blog post with an update on the nesting crows.
There were a lot of things I planned to do this week.
But everything has gone to the dogs. Well, THE dog.
Our house has been dogless for over two years, since Molly, the last of the brother and sister Labrador duo, died at the age of 15.
We’ve been thinking of getting a rescue pup for the last few months. Our daughter, Lily, introduced us to lots of fabulous rescue dogs through her volunteer work with Leash of Hope, so it just seemed the right way to go.
Leash of Hope is a wonderful charity that rescues unwanted dogs and trains them to be service dogs. You can read more about the amazing work here.
Lily and I visited some local shelters, and tried local dog adoption agencies but we found that many small/medium dogs and puppies were quickly spoken for.
We began to spend hours looking at heart-breaking photos of puppies online. Most of them were in the US or abroad in what are known as “high kill” shelters. In Canada, dogs are generally kept in shelters until they’re adopted unless found to be too aggressive or too sick to be saved. But in the US, Mexico and other parts of the world, the sheer volume of unwanted dogs means that they have only a short time in a shelter before being moved to the “euthanize” list.
It was so tempting to just send for any of the lovely little faces we saw on these web sites, but I really wanted to meet the dog we were going to share a home with for (hopefully) 15 or more years before committing.
Also, there’s Edgar. Any new family member would have obviously have to pass the Edgar approval test.
Then, as I had a feeling it would, the very perfect dog just appeared.
About a month ago, a Leash of Hope trainer saw this photo online and brought the puppy to Vancouver from a shelter in LA.
He had only a few days left there before running out of time, and they hoped he’d be a good candidate to be a service dog.
However, his traumatic early days in the shelter (and wherever he was before that) had left a mark. After being assessed while in foster care, it was determined that he was a just bit too nervous for life as an assistance dog. And so a home was needed.
First, there was the Edgar test. It helps that Edgar is one of the most relaxed cats in the world. He was very tolerant of the pup unless he went into “let’s play” mode. Edgar, first of all, gave him a hiss and a rapid-fire series of a slaps to the face (no claws) to express his disapproval. Message received. When the pup forgot the first lesson an hour or so later, Edgar only had to languidly raise a paw to refresh his memory.
Just to make sure, we had the pup over one more time. We decided he was definitely the dog for us. An intensive naming debate ensued. Suggestions were texted furiously back and forth between family members and collected on this white board. A final selection was made. Geordie was the unanimous choice.
For one of the best Mother’s Days ever, we brought him home for good.
While his shelter profile had him listed as a Lab, I don’t think there’s much, if any, labrador retriever in his make-up. Some border collie for sure and perhaps some spaniel ..?
He’s a lovely dog and I’m sure he’s going to be the perfect family dog.
While some puppies are boundlessly optimistic and bold, Geordie seems like an old soul. He’s been through a lot in the four short months of his life, which tends to make him a bit pessimistic about anything new (particularly vans and crates). For now, he sleeps on the floor of our bedroom, rides in the car with a seatbelt harness, and gets a little bit more optimistic every day.
Not literally, of course. Crow hugging is fraught with peril at the best of times, but especially in spring when nesting season has them a bit tense.
But I do suggest that you give the crow (or pick your favourite bird, plant, patch of moss or mollusk) a special thought today.
It’s Earth Day so, ideally, we should be extending our love to the entire planet.
But that’s a hard thing to do, particularly when what the planet needs from us right now is massive change —change that is going to be really tough for us to make.
The majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, where we often feel very cut off from what we think of as Nature.
So, given that most of us are urbanites these days, how are we to develop the necessary connection with nature in order to care enough to make change and move towards saving the planet?
As my dear mother used to say, “wherever you go, there you are.”
And where you are now, even if it’s in the heart of the city, has tenacious bits of nature thriving in it.
It just takes a slight focus shift to start becoming aware of, and amazed by it.
Often the thing you tend to notice first, just because of its size and boldness, is a crow.
I find that the crow is your gateway bird, leading to the habit of noticing the bird world as a whole. Once you’ve started to look up to see what the crows are up to, you can’t help but start to notice the robins, sparrows, bushtits, chickadees and hawks going about their more subtle, but equally fascinating, avian business.
And noticing birds is, in turn, a gateway to the wonder of nature in general.
The task of saving the earth often seems far too big and therefore hopeless.
The tools we need this Earth Day are empathy and hope.
Someone who embodies both of these qualities is 87 year old Jean Vanier, who created L’Arche — a unique and loving community for mentally disable adults. Here are some of his thoughts on birds, as told to columnist and writer, Ian Brown in a Globe and Mail interview.
Some notes on the author’s quoted in this blog post:
John Marzluff’s Wikipedia page says this:
“John Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of In the Company of Crows and Ravens, Gifts of the Crow, and Welcome to Subirdia. His lab once banded crows with a Dick Cheney mask.”
— so you know he’d be fun guy to know!
Subirdia is his most recent book about the amazing adaptability of birds, their importance, and what we can do to help them survive in our urbanized world.
I first discovered Seattle author Lyanda Lynn Haupt when I picked up a copy of Crow Planet several years ago. It remains one of my favourite books, combining science, poetry and humour in a way that I could read all day. She’s also written a wonderful book on city wildlife in general (The Urban Bestiary) and I look forward to her next one on the subject of starlings. And she has a blog: The Tangled Nest.
You can read more about the life and work of Jean Vanier on his website.
Ian Brown is an author and columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper. His books include Boy in the Moon, about his severely disabled son and his latest, Sixty, The Beginning of the End, or the End of the Beginning? That one’s also on my reading list.
Crows and ravens are generally (and understandably) described as birds with black plumage. It is their darkness that allows them to grace the sky with such striking calligraphy.
Formal sentences composed on wires; more fluid, improvisational characters when taking to the air.
But it’s so much more complicated, and beautiful, than that.
Crow and raven feathers are highly iridescent. They collect and reflect the light and the colour of the world around them. Gunmetal storm clouds, cornflower blue summer skies, the fire of the rising or setting sun — all paint their feathers with fleeting shades of indigo, lavender, copper and gold.
These reflected shades are often featured in my photography and jewellery, so I think of, and marvel at, corvid hues often.
Sometimes I wonder, idly, about how many colours you could actually find in a crow or a raven’s feathers.
Imagine my surprise when a computer glitch answered my question.
I recently downloaded a batch of photos taken of a crow (Vera) in my garden. I use software called Bridge to organize my images. It allows me to see the images from my camera in thumbnail size, like an old fashioned contact sheet. It’s handy to see at a glance what’s there and do a quick edit.
I was amazed to see that some of the Vera images had been randomly translated by Bridge into, part normal photo, and part digital sampling of the colours in the photo.
At a glance, I see lavender, lilac, violet, mauve, periwinkle, indigo, charcoal, forest green, sand, pearl, slate — hardly any black, in fact.
It was an ephemeral glitch, but I managed to “capture” a couple of versions.
Quasi-scientific proof that a crow is not just a black bird.
Sometimes you start reading a book, and it takes you somewhere you had no idea you were going.
I have a weakness for vintage natural history books, so I was quite thrilled to find this treasure on the shelves of a used bookstore in Nanaimo a while ago. I was immediately taken with the lovely 50’s typography, and a quick look inside revealed some lovely illustrations of animals and birds of the Rocky Mountain area. I had to have it!
The charming cover page, with it’s fabulous typeface and a little engraving of a beaver, credits the author —Kerry Wood, and the illustrator —Frank L. Beebe.
No date was listed, but a quick online search found that it was published by Herbert R. Lawson Publishing Co. Ltd. of Victoria, BC in 1955 . A year after I was born.
The Table of Contents looked very promising, with headings like The Big Fellows, The Long Sleepers and A Lazy Loafer.
I skipped ahead to the conclusion, or L’Envoi in which our author charmingly bids us adieu with the wish that we “could meet beside some campfire there in the Parks, with a chuckling stream just beyond the flame-glow, a majestic mountain behind us, and the zestful perfume of the pines combining with the wood-smoke to enrich that wonderful mountain air. Amid such a setting, we could take time to tell each other more about those fascinating creatures of the wilds which share this marvelous gift of life with us.”
Mr. Woods sounded like such an affable companion for an excursion through the Rockies!
I skipped back to the animal section, leafing from wolverine to coyote.
A whimsical passage on the coyote describes the character of the animal:
“And there you have Don Coyote; pup, hunter, clown, epicure, speedster, vocalist, and ghost, the most versatile animal-actor in the West!”
We learn that the marmot is untroubled by “coal bills, galoshes, a “gold in da doze,” and other nuisances of winter”, because this animal is one of “The Long Sleepers”.
Mr. Wood tells us that black bears love to wallow, “perhaps as a way of defeating the attentions of insect pests which may be attracted by the unsavoury B.O. afflicting all such animals.”
I felt as if I could wander through the Rockies with Mr. Wood and enjoy this lovely folksy, conversational style of his all day.
Of course, I was anxious to get to the bird section. My flipping through had revealed some lovely pages of illustrations.
The hawks are given the honour of “finest bird family” although the author acknowledges that “someone is sure to get indignant about listing hawks as the finest bird family; folks will vehemently point out that hawks steal chickens and therefore are bad birdies.” Our author goes on to point out, that while chicken stealing does go on, hawks also keep mice and insect pests under control. And, besides, hawks are protected by law from hunting.
But what about the crows and ravens?
Time to find out what our author had to say about my favourite birds.
This is where the plot twist comes in, as we segue from “charming period nature writing” right into horror.
I guess it should have come as a bit of clue that crows, ravens and magpies were listed under the heading, “Mostly Rogues”
Thankfully, Mr. Wood declares himself against the practices of egg stealing and shooting and collecting the feet of these “rogue” birds, although mostly because these methods are inefficient.
The more cost effective method for crow control he describes sounds both horrific, and faintly ludicrous.
He suggests placing “shot bombs” in areas where crows roost in order to “humanely kill hundreds and thousands of the offending birds.”
Shot bombs, “costing less than a dollar apiece,” could be made by “enclosing two or three pounds of lead shot with a stick of dynamite inside a sheath of concrete.” Add a detonating cap and battery, and voila! The mind boggles.
It’s incredible to me that crows, such intelligent and charming birds, could be dismissed simply as vermin to be eradicated — although I know that the corvid species is still regarded in this way in many parts of the world, with a bounty placed on their feathered heads.
But this particular method of blasting hundreds of them into oblivion while they sleep in their roost seems both gruesome and vaguely absurd.
Would a flyer be circulated earlier in the day for the benefit of all the wildlife not on the “naughty” list so they can vacate the area? Pity the poor cat, dog or child who might wander into the detonation zone at the wrong time. And what of the trees and foliage caught up in the carnage? I was reminded of a story told to me by an Irish man about his ill-fated aunt. Her cottage was near a rookery and she didn’t like the noise the birds made. She tried to get rid of them by smoking them out, and wound up burning down her own cottage.
Mr. Wood goes on to explain how the “roost bombing” method could reduce crows to “negligible numbers” in a few years. Clearly it did not. Probably not because people felt sympathy for the crows, but perhaps because someone saw the holes (literal and figurative) in the scheme.
Although also listed under “Rogues,” ravens are not as vilified as the crows and magpies, if only because they seem to have been scarce at the time. We even get a little Edgar Allen Poe humour here!
From the rest of the book, it’s clear that Kerry Woods (you can read more about him here) loved the wilderness and most of its inhabitants. He even had a nature centre named after him. I can only conclude that his attitude to corvids must have been a reflection of the prevailing view at the time.
So, while we may, from time to time, harken back to simpler times and the “good old days” I don’t imagine you get many crows from the Rockies wishing to go back to the 50’s!
I still like my book, Birds and Animals of the Rockies, for its beautiful typography and illustrations, the jaunty writing style, and the window into the thinking of the times.
But, if you’re interested in curling up with some more up-to-date books and blogs on the corvid species, here are some of my favourites.
Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrick
Corvid Research, a very informative blog by Kaeli Swift
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a crow memo circulating, directing slightly invalided birds to my place. There’s George Brokenbeak and also Hop-Along Hank.
Hank walks with a limp because of a problem with his right foot that he’s had for as long as I’ve known him. Flying is no problem for him, but I can spot him on a roof top from quite a distance because of his distinctive stance, favouring the sore foot. That and his slightly hooked beak.
Hank and Vera have been around since last spring. I wrote about them in an earlier blog, Here’s Hank, charting their failed effort at parenthood last year. I have a feeling that Hank is one of Eric’s offspring. Eric has seemingly ceded our backyard territory to Hank, in favour of a superior nesting spot in the tall poplars at the end of the street.
Now Hank and Vera and George and Mabel vie for my attentions. The four of them often sit together peaceably on the wires in the alley, but as soon as there are peanuts, it’s game on. The two pairs will never cooperate and share the food. Much ferocious cawing and occasional dive bombing ensue if I put nuts out when both couples are nearby.
We seem to have worked out a more or less harmonious system where Hank and Vera come first thing in the morning. George and Mabel take the later shift, coming later in the morning , and sometimes in the afternoon too, for a last minute snack before the nightly journey to the Still Creek roost.
Most of the time, Hank doesn’t seem too bothered by his foot problem, but when the weather is cold and wet, I sometimes see him standing forlornly on one leg.
Another one of Hank’s characteristics is that he seems to like to yawn. I don’t know if crows actually do yawn, but he often opens his beak very wide without any sound coming out — so it looks very much like a yawn.
So, this is Hank, as I know him. I’m sure Vera could tell some tales too!
And I’ll be writing another Vera update soon.
And, for those of you wondering about Eric — he’s still fine. I just saw him in the leafless poplar trees, swaying gently in the wind, from my dining room window.