The Day the Eagles Came

I saw them one Friday from my balcony looking east into the morning. I defiantly sat and smoked. By treat of three days notice to evict, smoking on the property is forbidden. I tried to enjoy my hand rolled cigarette free from guilt and ravens and crows, and looked out into the Verdugo hills. That’s when I see them coming. Circling high at first; slowly descending on the busy NoHo downtown, two hawks, I don’t know what kind, one bigger than the other, circle houses and streets a block away. Two fast movng preditors set the birds in the hood into a sharp, quiet alertness. All I did was smile, watch the fun, and enjoy my cigarette. The small hawk aimed its body toward a roost of resident pigeons lining Magnolia and sent feathers into the air. It darted straight into the center of the group; a moment of amusment rather than lunch I gathered.

I do smoke two or three rolled cigarettes a day, and 90 per cent of my smoking is in the car, in the street. Obviously, defending my decision to light up on the balcony is dumb, but I need that moment from time to time, to pretend I have a real outdoor space free from guilt and shame for 10 or 15 minutes. A hand rolled cigarette is often re-lit and burns slow. I’ve time to hold a complete phone conversations sitting in my car savoring the curling blue smoke. Usually I listen to NPR and watch a dying, once quiet residential street try and adjust to rapid and large-scale changes. I should quit fucking smoking, huh? But enjoy the ritual too much, and a moment of sanity and pleasure a few times a day is worth all I have to give. I don’t want my neighbors to deal with the second hand effects of my vice; forced to close a window, or drive them from their balcony, but one periodic indulgence here and there can’t be critical to ones overall health, only a temporary inconvenience. Right?

The street birds; finches, house sparrows, humming birds, and I think at least two towhee families, pepper a thin line of trees on a street in the throws of gentrification. Me in a parked car, in the street, almost daily, I try to enjoy a rollie while birds of all kinds flit from fence to bough. I use to hear the chatter and see the attention differently once when I felt like a friend and less of a threat.

The pair came, over two weeks ago, and I wasn’t in my car, but breaking laws and maybe inconvenience people, I don’t know, happy either way for a moment. Smoke curled up over the railing as they circled, navigated the neighborhood, quieting the restless and irritated ravens, and silencing anything else born with feather and hollow bones. I hope those hawks come again soon.

Real Rain. Total Bliss.

Any amount of rain in Southern California is a gift, and it looked like Christmas came early this year when, on December 6, 2 inches of water fell on Los Angeles and environs. Record setting amounts. Water has been scant in SoCal for the last 10 years, but when we moved here from the east in 2007 it did rain in the winter and quite hard as I recall. Since then, SoCal had two droughts to make a total of 5 drought years out of the whole decade. But on Thursday of last week, the rain took out some of the PCH near Malibu with mud slides, and it snowed hard north through the Grapevine and closed off a chunk of the 5 freeway.  In North Hollywood, Vineland was a lake and Riverton a river. Rather than struggle out in the street with terrified Angelenos for parking and time, I invited Wade to stop by the apartment for coffee. 

The North Hollywood Ravens

The rain really started the day before; a change in air pressure, a brisk wind, cool with clouds, and a clear scent of moisture in the air. I craved comfort food and a warm blanket. The change in weather quieted the neighborhood bird community; you could feel them waiting for the big rain. The hard rain pounded the skylight and woke me in the night.  I happily went  back to sleep knowing, for the first time in months, the crows had no choice but to wait, wait and wait, for the next chance to pick up a stone and drop it on my kitchen skylight. But on Thursday, rain is all I heard for 48 blissful hours. The skylight is King Henry’s weapon and last great hope to get rid of me and those strangers invading their territory. I named him King Henry and his mate Queen Isabella; the king and queen who rule the NoHo crow family. 

King Henry

Henry is head honcho in charge of the strategy to eliminate the problem. Several times a day for reasons unknown, except for my interpretation and theory, the king drops pebbles and stones on my kitchen skylight. I don’t know when I first began to notice, months ago I recollect. When I first took notice, stones were heard pinging off the hard plastic dome constantly. Henry had recruited his henchmen, and certainly Bella, to fly over  the apartment building and rain down on a bitch. The skylight is only one of many intimidation methods these old raptors cooked up; blast me with their caws and fly menacing straight at me on my balcony, antagonize the dogs next door, and ruffle the feathers of all the smaller birds living in the area.  When the rain came though, Henry and Bella’s main plan no longer had any effect. 

I was grateful for the real rain while it lasted. The moment I heard the last drop fall, king and queen regrouped and solidified their reign of terror. They doubled stone-drop efforts and perched around the apartment cawing to reestablish boundary markers. All the attention stems from three persistent Venice beach crows risking even safety, to stay by my side.  I write about it now publicly, but I’ve kept a written journal documenting the earliest times with birdlife in Venice.  Living in Venice, I believe, had more difficult times when Agrippa ran around the neighborhood cloaked by a huge clan. He made life at the beach so crazy, I suffered anxiety and stress and even stopped riding my bike on the regular. Living in NoHo, he’s been relegated to the outer tree line of Henry and Bella’s territory, and direct access is almost impossible. He still tries everyday to let me know he’s around, today and always.

Thursdays and a trip over the hill.

Last week I traveled over the hill from North Hollywood to Westwood. It’s been awhile and I know the drive makes the crows happy.  It’s like having three dogs! I took the 405 and saw them dip and fly through the Santa Monica hills as I approached the Skirball Center Dr. exit.  I didn’t see them sneak around, or fly close by when I parked and walked to the dentist office. But when I got back in the car and headed to Venice to tour the old neighborhood and drop off a package at UPS on Lincoln Blvd, I saw them. Even though I’ve had it with their bird shenanigans and years of being under constant observation and torment, I always feel good when I see them reunite with their clan. And they have a sizable clan; maybe over 100 crows between Marina Del Ray to Santa Monica. The sky over Lincoln Blvd at Pico clouded over with at least 25 crows, swooping and dog fighting in the ocean breeze. I’m familiar with this crow clan, and use to visit the roost on the north side of the Penmar Golf Course almost daily for at least a year. March 2016 is when we bonded; And a bond with crow, I’ve now learned, is for life. Among the sentinel pines, calling out in my own bird-call language, I was perceived as a nonthreatening observer who seemed to want to communicate with the neighborhood birds.

For the crows who moved with me to North Hollywood in June 2018, Venice is their old neighborhood too. I secretly hope they decide to stay and not return with me home to NoHo every time I’ve travel to the west side. These days I’m less hopeful they recognize living by the ocean with their own family where the air is fresh, is a much better life than here in the dry, hot, inhospitable and hostile environment of the valley. I’ve traveled to Santa Ana, Irvine, Orange, Malibu, Van Nuys, Thousand Oaks, Downtown, and anywhere else I’ve driven or cycled in LA County in the last two years, and these crows have watched from above the freeway and fly a straight line over hills and roads to meet me at my destination. It’s crazy and I know my account of the truth sounds fucking crazy. All true.

These birds have unbelievable tracking and memory skills. I took the metro (underground) to the west side once last summer and thought I could ditch them for a moment of sanity. Wrong. Granted, the routine on Thursdays over the last two years is fairly consistent, and going to the site I’d most likely emerge isn’t hard for them to conclude, but it made me start to realize the depth of the bond and cleverness of these animals. I’ve always know they ride with me on all my bike trips, and I remember the day I realized I Agrippa, Germanicus and little Claudius (who is possibly female) followed me in my car. I think the truth punched me in the face when, perched outside the second story office window I worked downtown, the three of them called to me and let me know.

I’ll admit I do like to travel with them. We talk more when we’re away together. I talk to them rather than completely ignore them when we’re at home. You can think me heartless to pretend they’re not there, ignore them and keep to myself, but I have a few very good reasons.  The bossy attitude, the loud crow calls as close to my home office as possible just to antagonize me, and piss off neighbors and dogs, is just the surface of why I’ve created a flimsy barrier by demonstrating certain behavior and emotion they recognize as ‘unhappy’. Yes. My crows know when I’m unhappy and have backed off substantially since moving away from Venice.  I’ll see them again on Thursday and so will Wade, a friend who has been sucked into my avian world by association.

From Venice to North Hollywood as the crow flies.

I didn’t know. I don’t know a lot, but I thought I knew something about nature. So how did this happen? How?! And why is this new reality happening to me? Lives altered, changed for a lifetime; mine, people around me, and a few who have no idea.  Me, I did it, and I blame myself of course, now; I didn’t know I’d be casting blame or later think I’d lost my mind. To talk openly about my suspicion is out of the question for reasons I’ll explain in future posts.  Only after I’d been hit by a car while riding my bike and, as a result, entering into group therapy sessions to help overcome residual fear and anxiety, did I openly talk about, unbelieving at times, a new life with birds.

The truth is I’m writing this blog first to help myself; part therapy, part urban nature log. But I’d also like to reach out to other terra bound humans wondering if they’re being followed, recognized or hated even, by the nature in their backyards. I made contact with an Ornithologist and received a response including unhelpful tidbits like, “Wow. I’ve never heard of the strange behavior you mentioned without a caloric payoff.” In my mind I’m thinking ‘yes bitch. I know! I need some scientific help here and you’re not giving it to me’.  But I’ve only tried to contact researchers briefly and the time has arrived to make an effort to learn more and find out if my experiences might contribute to a body of knowledge rooted in less tangible, less group driven behavior of the individual urban animal.

Growing up in Canada I camped as a kid, canoed, fished and traveled from coast to coast over my fifty years. I learned the basics of mingling with nature; a bee hive, spotting poison ivy and bear dung, knowing a hawk call, what catching a big fish meant. But I didn’t know, ‘fucking with nature’ means more than leaving trash in campsites and out in the woods, or feeding wildlife human food or pet food, or being made to remember local animal ecosystem are permanent and I’m a tourist. All these lessons are true and none of it’s changed, but I didn’t know ‘fucking with nature’ also has a base character/animal element category. I learned though, and I learn still. 

I spent my young adult life in Toronto, Ontario and animal interaction meant domestic types. A few up close wild animal moments happened while camping or country living in rural PEI and Ontario; I always knew to keep my distance.  I grew up in the suburbs and cites; raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, pigeons, starlings, chickadees, etc., and occasionally crows, is the bulk of wildlife. Living now in Los Angeles, I continue to keep a distance, but I confess to have fed the occasional house sparrow or little bird hanging out at the donut or coffee shop. One Google search and you’ll be able to pull up a ton of video clips of people around the world either saving wild animals or recording what is mostly perceived as adorable behavior, especially in North American and the West.  I’ll never look at birds the same way again after the transpiring events I’ve experienced in the last two and more years. 

We’ve interacted with urban wildlife since towns and cities were built.  As humans, we basically look and act the same way on the regular, but we constantly communicate individually with our surroundings in less obvious ways. People feed urban animals all the time. Totally unnecessary. Plenty of human food around. I’ve grown to understand having a relationship with urban wildlife isn’t only about the ‘caloric’ payoff, or from a source of independence on behalf of the, likely, abandoned or injured animal. An emotional relationship is also possible build on nothing more than regular visits to location; an emotional bond developed from individual recognition outside the group.  Animals understand individual character. And not only the higher mammal species; animals and insets of all types, all the way down the chain of life, I’d say,  have the ability to understand individual human behavior and vice versa. The urban wildlife community has the true, broad, and socially untainted insight of human behavior and character beyond our ability to identify or even comprehend.