Raven Watching at the Tower of London

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.

So many to choose from!

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.)

Looking slightly less magnificent as he does a bit of a feather shuffle …

But pulling himself together in time to make an important announcement.

Here’s Jubilee again, looking utterly at home among the throngs of tourists, completely unfazed by the paparazzi.

One more announcement …

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 …

It looks a bit as if the Yeoman Warder’s arm in the poster is reaching out to stop her …

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.

Erin strikes a pose with some more ravenly gravitas …

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.

You’ll notice that I was (of course) carrying my raven bag.

Bye, bye, Merlina — till next time.

This is moments after we left, so you can see how lucky we were to get the Ravenmaster (and Merlina)  to ourselves for a few moments.

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!

Raven Games

I was worried that I wasn’t going to get well soon enough to go up on the mountains again this winter. Luckily, it’s been snowing like crazy up there (as well as in the city!) and I finally started to feel better earlier this week.

Yesterday we headed up to Mount Seymour for a short outing.

Nothing too ambitious,  just a nice stroll in the winter wonderland.

The silence in the snow-baffled woods … the traditional peanut butter sandwich at the Dog Mountain lookout … and fresh, fresh air, were all very therapeutic.

But he most joyful thing of all was seeing the ravens playing.

I’ve never seen them have fun with snowballs before, but conditions yesterday were extremely snowball friendly. In fact, I developed a ball of it under one of my feet at the end of our walk. I tried to knock it off with my walking pole, but it was so persistent that part of it was still stuck the underside of my boot when we got home. This snow just INSISTED on being made into snowballs, and the ravens were happy to oblige.

As you can see from the video below, they were quite committed to this game. They reminded me very much of puppies playing.

Gloating when you’ve got the snowball is an important part of the game.

If you lie on the snowball, that makes it hard for your opponent to get it, rather like rugby.

Flying away with the snowball is the final solution.

Let the good times roll!

Just to emphasize how puppy-like the ravens were, here are Geordie and Luke wrestling this morning.

Compare the fun and strategy to these two ravens …

 

In my trips to the mountains in the winter, I’ve seen the ravens playing in the snow many times — rolling in it, playing with found objects — but I’ve never seen them having so much fun with snowballs. It wasn’t just this one pair either — I could see other groups further away engaged in the same game.

A few minutes later they all flew away to pursue other winter pastimes, so I felt very lucky to have watched this, and keen to share the fun with you!

More raven stories, photographs and video:

Raven Tutor

Learning to Speak Raven

Special Days (with ravens and mountain bluebirds)

Ghost Raven

Learning to Speak Raven

How I’d love to stumble across and old English/Raven dictionary in a thrift shop.

Or be able to take a Conversational Raven online course.

My husband is currently refreshing his Spanish skills using such an app. I can imagine him repeating Spanish phrases in one corner of the house, and me practicing my “knocking call” in another …

As it is, I have just been piecing things together from books and blogs, and from my own limited observations over the years. Lately there have been a group of ravens in our very own neighbourhood, so it’s a thrill to see and hear them on the daily walks with the dog.

Here are a few bits and pieces of video and photography to share with you some of the interesting things I’ve noticed. I’m not, of course, a scientist — so I’m mostly casting about in the dark about the significance of what I see. I’m always thrilled to hear from people who properly study these matters who can fill in the many blanks.

Before we go any further, there are a lot of videos in this post. As they won’t show up in an email, make sure to click on the BLOG POST itself to be able to see them OK.

This is the most common call that I hear ravens make.

It almost seems like an “I’m here. Where are you?” sort of call. The raven in the video above was filmed only a few metres from our house in the tall trees around one of the local schools. The raven seemed to make that call,  listen for a distant answering call, and then call again.

Of course, the local crows are not pleased about the newcomers to the ‘hood and spend a lot of time and energy mobbing their larger corvid cousins, trying to get them to “move on.”

That raven call has amazing carrying power. I can hear it from what seems like miles away — over the city noises of traffic, construction, conversation and angry crows. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m always listening for it, or because it’s at just the right frequency to cut through.

Of course, in the quiet of the mountains it’s easier to hear more subtle raven calls. My favourite one is a kind of “knocking” call that sounds like water dripping into a still pool.  Recently I was lucky enough to be out snowshoeing on Mount Seymour and witness the call being made at close quarters.

This raven hung around for a while, making this fabulous sound. Long enough for me to notice that when he or she made it, all of those magnificent throat feathers stick out like an Elizabethan ruff.

It made me wonder … do ravens have that fabulous feather cravat  just to add visual splendour to that particular call … or do they make that sound just as an excuse to show off their feathery abundance?  Always more questions than answers …

Ruff flaunting raven in mid “knocking” call.

More wondering. Do their feathers stick out like that because they have to somehow puff out their throat and make it taut to create such a hollow, musical sound? It does sound like some sort of percussion instrument.

The raven below, spotted on Mount Washington, is making a slightly different call, more of a hollow wooden sound. You may have to turn the sound up, as s/he was quite far away.

Feather preening, in between performances.

The raven in the next video is making yet another call. I call it the “wow” sound.

My raven vocalist friend.

In the Raven's Eye

Me, reflected in the raven’s eye. I love this image because I spend so much time watching, and thinking about, crows and ravens that it seems appropriate for me to be “caught” there.

Some playful muttering and off-camera raven commentary in this video.

Finally our raven pals got tired of being our house band and took off for other adventures.

This last video is a couple of years old, taken near the ski hill parking lot at Cypress Mountain.

This is one of my favourite snippets of raven film. It’s not very good, technically. I took it from a distance with a lot of car park noise in the background and, as usual, no tripod. But I watch it quite often and it always makes me smile. It reminds me of a scene from a Jane Austen novel. The raven couples are doing the rounds at the ball. Social rituals are observed, silent judgements are made, gossip and meaningful looks are exchanged. Meanwhile, at the top of the frame, one young single raven, oblivious to the formalities, plays in the snow.

As you see, I’m still a million miles away from that Raven to English translation program, but it’s a lot of fun to work towards it.

www.junehunter.com

 

FREE set of 4 raven gift tags with orders
over $40 from my shop today (March 29).

 

 

 

 

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