My title sounds a bit ominous, like Edgar Allen Poe’s doleful visitor tapping on a window, but have no fear. In my world, when the raven knocks, you should always answer!
As winter drags on down here in the city, only letterbox shaped views of the mountains are available most days, peeking out between the gunmetal clouds.
Those glimpses do serve to remind me that the mountains and the ravens are out there — and that I might get up to see them once a week or so. Many people head south for this gloomy part of the winter, but I’m always drawn to the snow rather than the sand.
Often we get up on the mountain and there’s only a matching letterbox view back out at the city through the same clouds …
… but every time it’s wonderful in some different way.
To hear a raven calling in the snow-hushed forest — that knock, knock, knock call, something between a tapping on hollow bamboo and water dropping into a still pool — that sound alone is worth getting out of bed early and stepping into long johns and winter woollies.
You can see the raven’s chilly morning breath in this video and, if you listen closely, hear a stream merrily running in the background.
We met this suave raven below in the forest on our last trip. I like to think I “called” him or her. I have been practicing my raven calling, with mixed results. Usually they ignore me, but occasionally they do a U-turn in mid-flight, possibly to come see if something down below is dying and available for lunch.
But, back to the raven and the beautiful call.
Like a trained opera singer, the raven pours all kinds of skill and stamina into that effortless sounding “clock clock clock.”
Head thrown back for best possible vocal projection.
Nictitating membrane of the eye deployed, giving the impression that our performer is blocking out all distraction in order to produce the purest sound.
Throat expanded, presumably to make a hollow space from which to draw that echoing call. Magnificent feathery “cravat” sticking out in all directions.
Wings held out to the side and tail spread out — that horizontal line behind the raven is the tail, held out like a fan.
I’m feeling a little sorry for myself today. Nothing too serious — just a sudden tweak to the back sustained, somewhat ironically, while tying the laces on my exercise shoes.
As I’m currently housebound, it’s time to access the memory vault of recent raven encounters.
Corvid-like, I cache these recollections like an emergency rainy day fund, or a jar of home-canned apricot jam set aside for a hopelessly dark and wet morning some time in January.
In peering into the raven pantry I hope to cheer myself (and you too, if you need it) with a reminder of all the raven beauty out there. The fact that it’s certainly going on right now, even if no human is watching, is always a source of comfort to me.
Here are some highlights from three recent trips to the back country.
Raven Reminiscence 1 — Dog Mountain
Near the end of August, with the diminishing of heat and crowds, and the completion (more or less) of major home renovations, we ventured out for the first hike of the summer. The short trip up to Dog Mountain was made tricky by the latticework of wet and slippery roots everywhere. The view at the top was just becoming veiled in cloud with nary a raven in sight.
A group of walkers had wandered off, leaving their lunches and backpacks unattended at the viewpoint. Rooky mistake — and yet the bags were left unmolested, leading me to believe there couldn’t possibly be any ravens on the mountain that day.
Still, it was lovely to be up there and I was resigning myself to a raven-free expedition (it happens) when, out of the blowing mist …
And where there is one raven, there is usually a mate
Summer’s End Raven
Raven Reminiscence 2 — Lillooet Lake
Right at the end of August we visited friends who live on Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton. So much space, and the distant sounds of ravens.
On one particular early morning walk along the lake shore we heard some raven calls I’d never experienced before.
A solo raven sat in tree by the lake making a few general “Here I am. Where are you?” calls to his mate, along with some gentle “water dripping from a bamboo pipe” sounds. There were small birds skimming across the surface of the lake too and we noticed that the raven began to turn his considerable vocal talents to mimicking their cheeping calls.
Moments later some distant dog barking inspired this next bit of impersonation …
Next, we see the raven couple enjoying a quiet moment in their enviable back yard. Raven real estate listings would include “Miles of lake, hundreds of kilometres of forest, towering cliffs for soaring, few people, birds of all kinds to imitate …”
Raven pair at Lillooet Lake
Raven Reminiscence 3 — Black Mountain
The third, and most recent, experience actually involved some amateur raven conjuring.
We’d hiked up to the Black Mountain area of Cypress Bowl. It was a beautify morning with not another human to be seen. The view was breath taking, the weather was perfect.
Geordie in his happy place …
Taking it all in, I said “This is so perfect. Only one thing could make it better . . . ”
I don’t need to tell you who landed with a dignified “quork” before I finished the sentence.
Only one single feather out of place, in spite of a light breeze.
Raven obligingly posing in front of the landmark Two Sisters peaks — also known as The Lions.
We walked around the whole area for a couple of hours and every once in a while we’d see our wish-summoned ravens in the distance. As usual, there was a pair of them.
The most surprising raven thing of the summer happened when we took a last break at Cabin Lake before hiking back from Black Mountain to the parking lot.
Our raven showed up once again. Popped up, in fact …
There was a bit of a raven promenade along the boardwalk …
One of them confidently took up a post on top of a park sign.
That still wasn’t the amazing thing.
Nor was it the fact that the raven stayed there, quite unperturbed, as several hikers walked along the boardwalk inches away from him.
No, the amazing thing was that the humans didn’t seem to even notice him!!
How can anyone walk right by such a commanding bird, so close and at eye level, and not even cast a glance their way — or at least offer a respectful greeting???
My mind was a bit boggled, but then again, perhaps those people were obsessed by lichen, wholly consumed by cloud formations, or just fitness-fixated and on to the next peak.
We all have our foibles, I guess.
But I would always, always advise taking a moment to greet a raven.
Sometimes they’ll even greet you back!
And, speaking of backs, time to go get the heat pad on mine after this little delve into the repository of raven recollection. If I start feeling really low I may have to revert to watching my “ravens playing in snow” videos on repeat.
We started our day early when I saw her on the first dog walk of the day. You can see her raven breath in the chilly morning air.
In this next clip, I honestly felt she was trying to get through to a particularly slow student when she making her oh-so-carefully articulated speech.
Sometimes, you know how you choke up for the big performance. Especially when you have an audience …
But, for me, the highlight of the day was when I realized why it’s often so hard, just listening to her calls, to figure out exactly where she is. Sometimes it sounds like two birds calling to each other. Sometimes she sounds close, a second later, really distant.
The mystery was solved on Sunday, when I found her calling in a spot where she was surrounded by walls on three sides. The echo was so amazing that I just stood there for quite a while before I thought to try and video it. Unfortunately, the tiny and uni-directional microphone on my camera doesn’t pick up the echo that well — but you can see her stop and listen to her own voice coming back to her.
I wondered if she thought it was a second raven, or whether she did it to sound as if there were more of her and to generally drive the crows crazy.
Speaking of driving the crows crazy, I think this is Eric and Clara keeping an eye on her raven shenanigans.
Madame Raven completes her morning toilette, heedless of the scolding crows and the clicking cameras.
And then, this last weekend, came the bluebirds.
I only noticed them because I was scouring the area for the raven.
Something darted over an unused piece of grassland that looked, in it’s flight pattern, more like a swift or swallow that the usual small birds I see around here. Upon closer inspection, there was an improbable flash of summer sky blue.
Poor Geordie. I’m sure he sighed an enormous doggy sigh as our walk came to an abrupt halt and I started feverishly consulting the Sibley’s Bird app on my iPhone.
Not a Western Bluebird then — they have brown/orange chests. Could it be a Mountain Bluebird? I had never seen one, even though I lived and worked for years in the north and interior of BC, which is more their usual spring/summer range. It seemed so odd that they should make a sudden appearance in East Vancouver. The Sibley’s map shows the coast of BC as part of their migration route, so just passing through.
They like open grasslands with some trees for shelter and they had found exactly that for their Vancouver stopover. I guess they did some excellent BirdAirBnB research in advance.
The piece of overgrown grass had small bushes and fences for them to perch on to view their insect prey before diving in to dine.
I “visited” them several times over the weekend, often pointing them out to neighbours passing by. Some of them went to bring their families to see the amazing sight. None of us had ever seen them before. They reminded me of the little birds that helped Cinderella to do her housework and get ready for the ball in the original Disney animation.
More real … still magical.
The male birds are impossibly vivid. The females are more subtle in the their colouring, but there would still be a spectacular flash of blue from their wings when they took flight.
These appearances were, as they say in the furniture flyers, Limited Time Offer Only!
May many of your days be special, and may the Bluebird of Happiness fly over to your shoulder …
… and rest there for a while.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, when will their be bluebird cushion covers? … don’t worry, I’m on it!