Ravens At Play

Watching ravens is always wonderful.

Watching them play has an element of the magical.

I feel really lucky  to have witnessed them playing in snow on several occasions. The lovely moment captured in the photo at the top of this post is a still from my 2019 video of ravens playing with snowballs in which one of them seems to be holding a perfectly heart-shaped snowball at about the 9 second mark.

While I’m usually out there to take photographic portraits, sometimes it seems as if moving pictures are needed to capture the moment — hence my rather amateur attempts at emergency videography. My focus is never quite 100% stable, there is often the sounds of blowing wind, or me breathing after holding my breath in order to stay still (no tripod.) Occasionally there will be a dramatic camera move. This is not an attempt at artistry on my part. It’s the dog, who is often attached to me, deciding that something elsewhere urgently needs his attention.

As we reach the end of the Snow Raven season for this spring, I thought I’d share some of my latest videos and also some of my (unscientific) theories about raven play.

First of all, sometimes people don’t really believe they’re playing at all. It’s true that part of the reason birds will roll in snow is to take a kind of bath, but I do think it’s clear that they’re also messing around and teasing each other in the process. Others have suggested that perhaps the ravens are digging around in the snow because they’re starving. In this context I know that can’t be the case, because they’re at a ski hill and if they were peckish, I know they’d be smart enough to just hop over to the nearest parking lot trash bin, or simply steal an unwary snowboarder’s sandwich.

Based on watching the ravens playing with snowballs in 2019 (see Raven Games) I can tell that the ravens in the latest video (below) are actually “mining” for suitably beak-sized ball of snow to play with. At the weather warms in March the clumping snow seams to create just the right conditions for these pre-made snowballs. Eventually one raven finds the perfect lump of snow and flies off with his buddy in hot pursuit.

The other magical thing — it’s foggy and kind of mysterious — and just listen to the other worldly raven calls coming from the forest behind the play zone.

I’ve noted that this kind of raven play often seems to happen later in the day, and mostly on days with really poor visibility. The early morning time is more about the serious business of finding food and holding motivational raven meetings. Sunny days seem to invite more soaring fun   — chasing each other, eagles or hawks, high in the sky or performing lazy, breath-taking arial acrobatics on the thermal lift of warm air rising.

But the later hours of a snow-stormy or foggy day seem to invite fun on the ground — the equivalent of a cozy snow day at home doing puzzles, perhaps. I usually see several groups playing at once. While there are only one or two ravens in my videos, it’s because I’m only focussing on  a single raven or pair of ravens — but there are usually other small gatherings and some solo ravens doing similarly goofy things in the area. And there is often a back-up band of ravens experimenting with making ethereal sound in the trees nearby.

The couple shown below are taking a break on the sidelines, with other playing ravens flying over.

One of them finally found a snowball (see top photo) and immediately flew off with it, hotly pursued by the other.

One last question I ask myself — why is watching ravens at play so darn enchanting?
At first I thought it might just be me, but the response every time I post a video of this kind is overwhelming. The snow-rolling ravens I filmed in February have been all around the world a few times by now. See below to for when they were weaving their spell on the home page of the Weather Network. The Weather Network!

How they got there I have no idea, but obviously they were popular.

So why is that? I think it’s partly because being goofy in the snow is, for people who don’t already know ravens well, very much out of character. Somehow you can’t imaging Poe’s dour raven visitor* mucking about with snowballs and doing face plants in the snow.

I think the other reason is that play on the part of any species — just they sheer reckless joy of it — is something that we could all watch a lot of these days. I know from comments on the video that many people wistfully tag friends, remarking that they look forward to similar carefree times together in a more relaxed, silly and sociable human future. It’s nice to see ravens as harbingers of joy rather than ill omen.

 

NOTE: If you feel pressing need to zone out of the endless zoom meetings and analysis of Covid curves and waves, I’ve put a collection of some of my favourite raven and crow videos all together on my hithero rarely used  YouTube page and on my web site

* See my post Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-U for a tongue in cheek analysis of the famous poem.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Going Viral in a Pandemic

Well it’s been quite the week since my last post.

The video of the ravens playing and rolling in snow, featured in Raven Therapy Part 2, was also posted on social media. I thought there were probably a few people out there, feeling stressed like me, who might enjoy losing themselves in raven fun for a few minutes.

It turned out there were a LOT of people who really, really needed to see ravens being goofy in the snow last week. The first indication that things were going bonkers was when I got an email from a company called Viral Hog, wanting to “rep” my video and see if it could bring in revenue. I decided against that, but I did end up being interviewed for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Vancouver is Awesome. (You can see the CBC TV interview here. It’s the whole news show and I don’t appear until about the 10:10 point but you can fast forward after the ads.) I’m told the video was also featured on the Weather Network. In weather obsessed Canada, that is truly making it to the big time.

I’m not too savvy with figuring out the statistics for my social media — I normally just post things I like and hope other people like them too. I did manage, however, to find a thing called Insights on my FB page and it showed that it’s “reach” had climbed from whatever humble number it normally hovers at, to 3.42 million. Now that’s almost scary!

If you’ve been waiting for a reply from me, I apologize as I’ve just lost track of the emails, comments and messages on all the different platforms. I’m gradually working my way through them, but I may never get back to everyone. I think things are beginning to settle down now. Phew.

I did manage to escape back up the mountains a couple of times amid all of this. There were, alas, no more playing ravens this week — but there was magic of many other varieties.

There were, for example, the impossibly cute Douglas squirrels darting about through the snowy landscape. I think they were feeding on seeds from cedar trees as we saw lots of those shaken from the trees and lying on top of the snow.

In the video below, a Douglas squirrel gives an energetic alarm call. I’m not sure what the emergency was, since they’re generally quite fearless around humans.

And a small squirrel drama in which the protagonist drops his seed, is confused and seems to blame me …

On another mountain trip, devoid of ravens, we were amply compensated by a Northern Pygmy Owl sighting.

Almost missed it as it’s just a tiny little dot on top of this tall tree on the right.

Far away as it was, it obligingly sat there for quite a while so I could use my long lens to get some photos of it …

The perfect little tree topper. I’m tempted to try and make one out of felt for next year’s Christmas tree!

The last time we went up the mountain, we reached the view point over Vancouver early in the morning— only to find someone there ahead of us. His presence may have explained the absence of ravens.

While the ravens (and the squirrels, ironically) were keeping a low profile, someone else was furious and not shy about letting everyone know. You can hear them in this video.

And here is our tiny protester …

Our little Norman the Nuthatch didn’t return to the garden this last winter, so every time I see one somewhere else I wonder if it’s him, living his best life out in the wide world.

Much, much smaller than a raven, but in their own minds, just as majestic!

Do not mess with this bird!

You would not want this bird to collide with any part of your body …

Another bird displeased by the eagle’s visit was this vociferous Steller’s Jay.

… and furthermore …

The literal blue bird of happiness

And so, no more viral raven videos this week — just the run-of-the-mill magic of finding all different kinds of amazing beauty.

You never know what it will be until you get there.

 

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raven Therapy Part Two

About a year ago I posted the first Raven Therapy story. The world had just shifted in ways that, at that point, we couldn’t really grasp. All I knew was that I needed therapeutic ravens, and that other people might need them too.

Formal raven couple, convinced that this trail has been groomed just for them

I turns out that, in the months since then, there were long periods when it was impossible to get up into the mountains and hang out with ravens — trails being closed to avoid crowding … or trails open, but too crowded to feel safe. On rare and happy occasions a raven or two would grace our neighbourhood.

As we mark the Covid anniversary (even with glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel) I definitely needed a booster dose of raven therapy. Perhaps you do too.

Resisting the covid with the corvid.

These are photos and videos from a couple of recent early morning trips to the local mountains.

Just in case you’re in a rush and don’t have time to read all of this at once, here’s the most potent shot of raven therapy first.

Ravens playing in the snow. In my humble opinion, there are few things more joyful.

If you have time to stay around, I’ll be sharing a few looks at the details of raven beauty and some more observations on their amazing behaviour. A veritable raven therapy spa experience!

Like crows in snow, I love photographing ravens in that pure white backdrop — especially on a nice cloudy day where all the details are revealed.

Raven catching just the softest rays of early morning sunshine

 

The intricate armour of a raven’s feet

Raven feet and feathers

Raven strut

 

Raven’s Leap — another excellent pub name!

Hearing a little more of the complicated raven vocabulary is always a thrill (see also Learning to Speak Raven.)

A snippet of raven conversation …

And a general “here I am” raven call …

Perhaps the most joyful sight was this behaviour between a raven pair.

Raven joins her mate

 

He feeds her. This is preparation behaviour for nesting season, where the female will beg for food from the male to trigger that instinct in him to keep her fed later in the season while she’s sitting on the eggs.

Just after this happened, I saw this rather funny exchange.

Raven couple standing together

 

A slight head movement …

 

Beaks touch …

The moment turns into a full examination of his beak for possible hidden snacks — say aaaah

 

 

 

For more raven therapy:

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© junehunterimages, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raven Anecdote

Earlier this week I wrote about a new study into the impressive range of raven intelligence. Lots of people wrote to me or commented on Raven Reasoning with their own first hand stories of raven cleverness.

So now I’m inspired to tell my favourite raven story …

The ravens of Mount Seymour are well known for their lunch and snack stealing prowess. On almost every hiking or snowshoeing trip there we’ve witnessed a skilful heist of one sort or another, with prizes ranging from sandwiches to chocolate bars to full party-sized bags of chips.

But this one incident stands out.

It was winter and we’d snowshoed to a poplar destination where people always rest to take in the view out over Vancouver and eat their lunch.

We’d eaten ours and were about to head back down, but we stopped to talk to a group of six people who were still eating. A pair of ravens were nonchalantly strolling about nearby.

One of the men in the group fixed the ravens with a stern gaze and recounted how they’d stolen his sandwich on the last trip. “Never again,” he asserted. With a flourish, he took the remaining half of his sandwich and pushed it well into the depths of the backpack lying close beside him.

As we were chatting I had one eye on a raven (as I always do) and was just halfway through uttering the phrase, “I think this raven is casing the joint,” when …

In a move too quick for human eye to follow, the raven darted right through the middle of this large group of raven-suspicious humans, unhesitatingly plunged his head far into the man’s backpack, and flew off with his prize. There may have been a raven cackle as he disappeared into the distance.

The skill and daring took our collective breath away. Once we recovered the power of speech, most of us (excluding the theft victim) declared it pretty hilarious. And definitely very impressive.

The reason I’d been about to say my bit about “casing the joint” was I’d noticed his raven eyes darting back and forth, measuring the distance between the people, gauging how distracted we were by the conversation and the view and, all the time, remembering exactly which compartment of the backpack contained the sandwich.

We really didn’t stand a chance.

I can’t count the times I’ve been impressed by raven shrewdness, but that was one of the funniest.

Another incident: raven solves a banana problem, see following photos.

This is going to be delicious, but it’s hard to carry like this …

The theme tune of a banana company’s ad campaign from my childhood comes to mind, “Un-zip a banana!”

That’s better!

Play is a well known indicator of intelligence and social sophistication in a species so, for further proof that ravens are geniuses …

I’ve posted these ravens playing snowball videos before but I didn’t think you’d mind seeing them again. I could watch them over and over, particularly if I need cheering up!

Lastly, a rousing rendition of Joy to the World, raven style …

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content