Watching the ravens: amazing.
Meeting the Ravenmaster: fabulous.
Watching the ravens and tourists interact: priceless.
We were a bit jet lagged for our Tower trip (first morning in the UK) and I was still trying to figure out how to use my new, tiny, and infinitely complicated, travel camera. But with only two days in London, it was time to dive right in!
If you’re planning a trip to the Tower of London, tip number one would be to get there as early in the day as you can. This is a massively popular tourist attraction and, while the first hour or so were relatively quiet, the place fills up fast!
My childhood included annual trips to the Tower of London when we came down from Newcastle to visit my grandparents. A standing family joke was that we shouldn’t call it the Bloody Tower because “that’s swearing.” Somewhat ironic, coming from our dear Dad! Our jovial family name for it was the Woody Tower.
I do remember ravens on those trips, but they were secondary to the haunting tales of imprisonment, intrigue, mystery and murder that have always permeated those ancient walls.
This time though, my priority was clear — ravens, ravens and more ravens.
Phillip, who had never been to the Tower before, was determined to see it all — the Crown Jewels, and every tower, gate and courtyard. I set off in search of the ravens and their “master.”
I started off at the raven enclosure. Poppy* (one of the younger Tower ravens) was posing on top.
NOTE: Thanks to my online friend, Samantha, who is a volunteer with the ravens at the Tower and who helped me identify them retroactively from the colour combinations of the bands on their legs. I think Sam can tell them apart just from knowing them so well, but the banding code is handy for me, the Tower Raven neophyte.
Just like the ravens I’ve watched in the West Coast mountains, Poppy was starting her day by getting all those magnificent feathers in order. Must look one’s best for the visitors.
And speaking of the visitors, I had almost as much fun listening to their comments about the ravens, as I did watching the ravens themselves.
“Good grief, these crows are enormous,” “how did they all get out of their cages?” were a couple of entertaining things I overheard.
Poppy is particularly keen on interfacing with the public — mostly, it would seem, because she has a bit of a shoe fixation. Watching peoples’ reaction to having their footwear inspected by a raven was very entertaining. Of course, I was kind of thrilled when she had a bit of a peck at my shoes. Others were a bit less sure.
Poppy seemed to be available for selfies …
… but it turned out there was a fee for service.
She was very curious about this man’s hair and they had a genial encounter.
Time for some more preening …
And off to check out some more footwear.
I probably could have just watched Poppy all day. In fact, I was so fascinated by her I didn’t really notice that George, the Tower’s very newest raven, was inside the enclosure having a rat for brunch. He’s one of four baby ravens born at the Tower earlier this year. I did take a picture of him, but since I hadn’t had time to figure out the manual focus on my new fangled new camera, he’s just a blur behind the perfectly focused enclosure mesh. 😦
But there were lots more ravens to see. Here, for example is Jubilee — looking rather magnificent on an ancient parapet.
Jubilee was also a regular guard by the the Jewel House (where the Crown Jewels are housed.)
Here’s Jubilee again, looking utterly at home among the throngs of tourists, completely unfazed by the paparazzi.
The next raven is Erin (my friend, Samantha’s special buddy at the Tower). Here she is looking terribly official on the multi-lingual warning sign, “Caution, Ravens May Bite.”
Here she is again, in a slightly less official capacity …
A small child was yelling at her that this was a naughty thing to do, but Erin clearly feels that littering rules do not apply to her.
By now, almost six hours of raven watching had gone by. Phillip had explored everywhere and it was time to leave. I was a bit disappointed that our wanderings hadn’t turned up the Ravenmaster himself, but I was still really happy with my visit.
But luck was smiling upon us.
Not only did we run into Chris Skaife (AKA The Ravenmaster) — he was momentarily not surrounded by fans. In fact, he was all on his own until he gave a signal to his special raven friend, Merlina, who flew directly over to join us.
Having read his book and followed him online, I was thrilled to meet him in person and I can now confirm that he’s just as nice a man as you’d expect him to be. We managed to have a short chat about the amazing personalities of the ravens, the enormous value of nature in an urban setting, and about his efforts to move away from the closely manicured landscaping traditions at the Tower to a slightly wilder, more creature-friendly environment. We were very lucky to get to talk to him for 10 or 15 minutes (time flew by) before he was once again deluged by other visitors.
So day one of our UK trip was amazing and , as it turned out, was just the start of four action-packed weeks of fun. More blog posts to come!
PS — on another note, the 2020 City Crow Calendar is almost ready to go the the printer. I’ll let you know when it’s available on the web site. I sold out again last year, so it’s always a good idea to get one early!