Monday, March 16, 2009

Crow Whisperer

There were a lot of little jobs to finish after regular classes yesterday.  45 of my band students will go on a trip to Victoria  for three days next week, to do workshops at the music conservatory.  I was still at my desk at seven o'clock and called Bill to let him know I was about ready to start out, but as we spoke, the branches outside my window began to sway, and it seemed a storm might be brewing.  I told him I might take the bike, or possibly the bus, if the weather was too bad.    As I looked out, hundreds of crows came flying by my window, moving much, much faster than usual.  My desk is one of many in a large teachers' workroom.  It faces west, looking across a little river to the industrial activity on the other side.  There are also windows to my left, facing south, looking over the ocean to downtown Vancouver.  Every night, at sundown, the crows come towards my window, and continue around the corner, making their journey east to a roosting spot quite a distance away, in Burnaby.  They come in waves, and if any teachers are still there, I have to bite my tongue to keep from announcing their arrival.  It always seems to me everyone should be rushing to the window to watch the phenomena of their flight ritual.  I've seen less of them lately, though, with the longer days and later start times .  My pictures never reflect the energy and focus in their flight, but reluctant to brave the weather, I pulled my camera, which had been packed to go home, out of my pannier.  In the first wave, I caught only the last crow as it approached the corner of the building.
By the time the next wave of crows arrived, a squall raged.  Black blurs, tossed about like leaves, struggled to get around the corner.  Thick grey obliterated the ocean view.
There was still a west view from my window.  The lights were on in the room, and the reflected books and papers on my desk melded into the river whirls and rain droplets.  
More waves of crows turned the corner, and decided not to carry on.  I thought I heard one of them whisper, "Take the bus."  They settled in some trees looking over the ocean.  
Then, only one crow remained in the tree. Was it scared to follow the others?  Too weak?  An independent thinker?
The other crows did something I've never seen before.  Normally, once they are en-route for Burnaby, they may stop and rest/reorganize, but they never turn back.  This time, they came back around the corner to a tree by the buildings and boats.  They were all facing south, their bodies leaning into the wind.  I decided to wait it out.  
A few minutes later, light appeared across the ocean, and the crows were gone.  I took their disappearance as a sign that it would be fine on the bike.  It was a rainless, wind-free, beautiful ride.    
One picture to catch the evening light around the Lions Gate, before heading over it and home to Bill.  He had a magnificent supper ready, and it felt good to eat, share my stories and pictures, and join in some Black Jack play before bedtime. 


  1. Sometimes when it is very windy I see crows trying to fly into the wind but going nowhere, like suspended cartoon characters. I always wonder if they have an actual destination in mind or if they are playing, much like I enjoy trying to swim up a river.

    Fascinating that they got tired and took a break. And fascinating that you were able to cue the suitability of your ride off their behavior. It snowed here last night, but no wind (unlike the night before).

  2. I can't see your photos here on my school computer (blocked) but your narrative intersts me enough that I'll look as soon as I get home tonight (late--teacher conferences this week).
    We had wind here too, and just enough snow to fill the frozen furrows of my-not-ready-to-ride-in-but-drug-anyway arena. And, not anticipating the weather, I had left the barn doors open enough to scoot through for morning chores, and that was just enough for the wind to do likewise, and blow bedding, unused horse blankets, and muck buckets all about the barn aisle!
    Glad it cleared for your ride home! hope the crows got fair passage eventually as well.

  3. dp, I know that crows have a highly developed sense of play. I love to watch them tumble through the sky. They're true acrobats. But, at sundown, I always feel there is a sense of urgency to get to their roosting spot. However, I suspect I may have implanted my own idea of what is important to crows, so it could be a feeling totally unbased on scientific reason:) Certainly, last night, I felt they were struggling and somewhat stressed. Honestly, the crows' behavior in Vancouver is so interesting to me, I could get really excited about doing a research project on the subject. Maybe when I retire:)

    EvenSong, Thanks for your kind comment. I do feel I must apologise for the quality of the photos, taken from indoors, with lights on and through less than clean windows. Even under decent conditions, I've never captured a crow crowd adequately. I felt silly including the pictures last night (except maybe for the last two, which were taken outside) but I wanted a bit of an illustration to go with the narrative.

  4. I suspect the difficulty with photographing black crows is the same that the Food Lady (3W&W) is having with photographing black hamsters--hard to get definition. And you're right about shooting through a window--even a clean one will kick back reflections. I've heard it helps to shoot at a slight angle, so the reflection goes off a different direction, but maybe that's just the flash reflection...