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.
Well, obviously the ravens of East Vancouver did not think much of my raven language skills! The very morning I published Learning to Speak Raven, they sent a tutor to teach me some new phrases.
I could hear the crows fussing and a raven making some sounds I’d never heard before as soon as I got up. Threw on some clothes (out of consideration for the neighbours) and rushed outside with my camera — but I’d missed them.
But it was my day for a lesson in raven anyway. When I took Geordie out for his walk later, my instructor returned. She landed on the neighbour’s roof and began a virtuoso performance. I think she may have been trying to show me just how little “raven” I know.
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.
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.