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A Raven Comes to Call

Thursday, April 17, 2008

We live in Appalachian Ohio, but just in the foothills. What we have are hills, not mountains. The common raven nests at high elevations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but there may be but one pair nesting in all of Ohio, as we are short of mountains. Nevertheless, in the last five years, we've had four records of common ravens flying over our yard. As our eloquent friend and Ohio Rare Bird Records Committee poobah Jim McCormac put it, that makes us "the only Ohio backyard with multiple records of this jumbo croaker."
This is Liam's willow, planted the summer of his birth. Just to show you that it's indeed in our backyard.

The first record came on March 15, 2003, when my artist friend Cindy House and I were standing in our backyard. Bill was inside playing the guitar. Groop groop groop groop! croaked a raven. Cindy heard it and didn't give it a second thought, since she was visiting from Vermont where common raven was a yard bird for her. I heard it and started jumping up and down and flapping my arms and hollering for Bill. We saw the bird flying over the orchard, croaking all the way, but by the time I got Bill out, it was gone. Arrrgh. Anyway, it was #180 for our yard list. It was headed southwest.

On September 29, 2005, our friend Wezil Walraven, a professional bird guide, contender for Funniest Man on the Planet and all around sharpie, was lying out in a chaise in our front yard, skywatching, when a common raven flew over, croaking, and disappeared headed north. He figured it might be a good record, even though he was visiting from Arizona, so he mentioned it at lunch. I jumped up and down and flapped my arms again.

On April 7, 2008, while I was in Ithaca, Bill heard what sounded like a common raven flying over, but then a bunch of crows started cawing and he wondered if perhaps it was just an odd vocalization from a crow.

On April 9, 2008, Bill and I were preparing to take a birdwalk around the yard. "I'm going to leave my camera inside," he said, and I said, "OK, I'll take my long lens, in case we see something good that needs its picture taken." We had just rounded the corner of the house when we heard the unmistakable groop groop groop of a honking common raven. Our eyes bugged out and we shouted, "RAVEN!" at the same moment. The bird was huge, coming low over our driveway and the roof of our house, hollering all the way. It landed on our roof and croaked some more. This may have had something to do with the fact that Bill and I were croaking like ravens for all we were worth, trying to get the bird to linger long enough to be immortalized by my Canon. While flipping out that a raven was sitting on our roof, I was frantically trying to get my autofocus to listen to me. "Get it, Zick! Get it!" Bill urged, which helped a lot. My autofocus ground away fruitlessly, focusing on everything but the bird, so I switched to manual focus and managed to fire a couple of shots, to document common raven in our backyard at long last. Like the March '03 raven, it was headed southwest. A phalanx of crows came out to harrass it. I felt sorry for the raven, just croaking away, looking for one of its own kind. Bill realized that his bird two days earlier was probably being harrassed by crows as well.
The tail was a bit molty as you can see. The heavy bill and eagle-like wings are typical of common ravens. Man, it's nice to have a picture, however dull.

I've had a bit of friendly static from people who want to hear all about Ithaca and the Lab of Ornithology. The problem is that there is too much going on right now to carve out the time to write it up and edit all the photos. I've been working like a mule, reclaiming the yard from the grip of winter, tilling and planting, mowing (thanks Bill!) and weeding. I cleaned the pond, bleccch. Sucked up about ten billion toad eggs and then they laid ten billion more. Beats sucking up tadpoles, I figure. The peas and lettuce I planted April 9 are coming up! Meanwhile, both kids have softball practices two nights a week, which means I have to magically produce dinner by 5 pm and drive them to different fields for a four-hour block of time. Whee! While rehearsing for a Swinging Orangs gig tomorrow night. Here's the poster that Andy Hall, our awesome drummer/designer made.

Something about it makes me belly laugh. We are very much looking forward to playing for other parents from the school, and to making lots of tips which we'll donate to Phoebe's class trip to Pittsburgh. I have no idea what to wear, but it will not be cropped pants, nor will it be hula pants, nor a purple squall jacket. It will be something in between, or perhaps beyond. Purple cropped hula pants?

Have a wonderful weekend. We will!


Ravens seem to be expanding in several directions; we started getting them in my area around the same time I believe as your first sighting, and we don't have mountains either. Gotta luv 'em; and nice to see some birds expanding their ranges even while so many others are rapidly declining.
And the poster looks great; almost like some famous rock band on a worldwide tour (just happening to stop in Whipple that night).

I feel so sorry for your raven. Ours are never in singles, if so, never far from the others.

Girl, you HAVE got to come to my house! Our ravens make so many, many kinds of calls. They can sound like a troop of monkeys.

I had one that used to talk to me, sitting on the top of the cross on the Russian Orthodox Church as I walked to work. I was crazy huge with Zoey, maybe that explains her love of all things avian.

Julie, and now ravens! Maybe they are getting a whiff of the corpse flower. :) Good luck on your performance, I am sure you guys will be a big hit!

I wish you could see the mated pair we have on the UCLA campus! I've been watching them since Dec. 2007 and I've even observed some courting behavior twice (the two of them secreted away up in a tree, making unearthly sounds, grooming each other, making odd bodily gestures). I thought they were building a nest in one of the towers of Royce Hall, as I'd seem them breaking twigs off a sycamore tree and carrying them off in that direction, and very often see them up there. But if they are parents, they are certainly away from the nest a lot. Ravens are very interesting creatures!

Love the poster. Good luck with that gig tonight, Julie.

I love ravens -they're very different from crows, although you'd think they're not. We spent the summer of '02 in Nova Scotia, and the ravens outnumbered crows there. They do NOT like one another. I see few now, and I stop whatever I'm doing when they appear.

Wish we could all come to the rockin concert! Hope you all make oodles of tips!

Great poster! Are you selling them?

Raven....COOL! I've only seen them in northern MN (and on Trixie's blog) but I'd be jumpin' up & down & flapping my arms too if one ever flew over my house!

Hi Julie,
Just a note of interest. My friends and I spotted a raven on 3/7/94 in Noble County Ohio. It was not excepted by the Ohio records commitee.

Congrats on the Raven on your Roof. That has to be a sign of good luck. I'm with Trixie though -- my ravens are always, always in groups. Poor lonely raven.

Oh, Julie, have a wonderful time tonight! I'm dying to know what you'll wear - how 'bout blue jeans and boots with the furr? Tee-hee.

I hope Liza Lee sees this post. If I have seen a raven, I'd remember it.

Lucky you.

BTW - thank you for the link to the Toadsucking Dog. That goofy story started my day with a good belly laugh! I'll bet no one ever kissed that poor, addicted spaniel!

Hey Julie we are the hot spot for ravens...we have so many of them and they can really talk...I have deleted most of my pictures of them as they are as common as a northwestern crow here. They are rarely alone and love to be together...I find them around eagles nests a lot. Hope the concert went well!!

Very very interesting! Ravens typically start nesting in the early spring. Any ideas about locations where they might be nesting nearby? This would be a great record for the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas II.

~Aaron Boone

we saw a pair of ravens here too, for the very first time twice this week. Funny part, the two Ravens where perched in a tree in my backyard with a friend tagging along, a blue jay. Croaking away!

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