Josh’s Raven Encounter

Language of Ravens: Ravens in Bryce Canyon National Park
Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Bryce Canyon National Park
Courtesy US National Park Service
And found on Wikipedia

I was three days downriver and hadn’t seen a soul since shoving my canoe away from the boat ramp outside of town. The only sounds accompanying my solitude were the white noise of rapid water and the echoes of thoughts pin-balling around my mind—that is, until the third morning when, stooped over the small, blue roar of my cook stove, I was startled by an unfamiliar sound. It was a dry heave and the snap of a twig to my imagination at first, before I turned on my haunches to face the raven. But when I saw its eyes reflecting my own, set within a Victorian ruffled collar of frosted ebony feathers, the sounds became a gesture, an announcement of the bird’s presence.

At first, it was only the eyes I could track—deep, watery, and of a midnight hue, darker even than the feathery blanket they peered through. I didn’t respond quickly enough, I suppose. The raven blinked first, hopped toward the cold charcoal of last night’s fire and scooped a piece into his beak—not intending to eat it I’m sure; there was no tilting of the head as to swallow it. And after the first unpalatable bit was cast aside, another was scooped and cast in the same fashion. Then another. Four or five times before I realized what the raven wanted—my oatmeal, of course. As I turned back to my stove, there came the sound again, an ‘Urp!’ and a click of the beak.

The languages of birds in general are vastly complex and nuanced. And the language of ravens is supreme among them. In the unassuming journal Psychology Today, Avian Einsteins blogger and bird author John Marzluff dissects the reasons why. “A complex social lifestyle, long lifespan, and songbird brain provide the motive and machinery a raven needs to remain the most eloquent of avian orators,” Marzluff explains. The clucks, trills, haaas, and quorks common among all ravens are, in and of themselves, amazingly contextual and referential, used in varying sequences and settings to convey different meanings. And according to Marzluff, “New, useful, and intriguing noises can be memorized…and imitated as near perfect renditions,” to be “incorporated into a growing and individual repertoire.” This capacity for continued song learning not only makes raven language one of the most complex in the Animal Kingdom, but it also allows them to engage us humans.

My raven had given up scattering charcoal chips across the sand and had taken to watching me spoon oatmeal into my mouth as I stared back at him. Sat atop my cooler, hunched against the cold, January wind blowing up the canyon, I must not have been a menacing sight to the raven. Every few seconds, it hopped several inches forward toward me and clicked its beak, just as it had done when we first met. Then came the ‘Urp!’ again.

I would relay this experience several weeks later to a colleague and teacher of avian ecology. “It’s a begging behavior,” he would tell me. I was starting to figure this out for myself that morning—however late. I could tell the raven was getting frustrated with me, my relative intelligence coming into question within those midnight black eyes.

Our eyes kept finding each other. Only then did the ‘Urps’ and clicks stop. I was clearly not the first of its human encounters, but this was the first acquaintance I’d ever formally made with a raven. It was both thrilling and unsettling. I thought of Poe, shuddered, and looked away, back to my breakfast which was finally getting cold. I didn’t look at the raven anymore.

He left in disgust, I think, with a parting scoff. I turned at the gesture’s remarkable humanity, a familiar emotion translated between species. And I swear, as he banked into the river bend, he turned his head to glare back at me with those watery midnight eyes.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US FWS, US NPS
Sound: Courtesy ESA and Popular Culture via YouTube
Text: Josh Boling, 2017

Sources & Additional Reading

Raven Sounds:

Max Ushakov, A huge raven making weird sounds in front of a crowd at the Tower of London., YouTube.com, July 14 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7jgjovK5lY

ESL and Popular Culture, Raven ~ bird call, YouTube.com, Dec 12, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDv_PlrBg14

Common Raven, Animals, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/c/common-raven/

Bird Note, How to Tell a Raven From a Crow, Oct 22, 2012, Audubon, http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tell-raven-crow

https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/raven_intelligence

Ravens, Arches National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: February 8, 2017, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/ravens.htm

Common Raven, Zion National Park, National Park Service – NPS.gov, Last updated: January 31, 2016 https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/raven.htm

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/sounds” target=”newWindow”>https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/sounds”>https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/sounds
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/id

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/common-raven

https://www.audubon.org/news/how-tell-raven-crow

http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/common_raven

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/c/common-raven/

https://abcbirds.org/bird/common-raven/

http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2007/04/09/just-how-smart-are-ravens/

https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2010/06/creature-feature-common-raven-uncommonly-intelligent-bird5933




Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard

Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife National Wildlife Federation 2004 Cover Courtesy and Copyright Creative Homeowner a.k.a Fox Chapel Publishing
Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife
National Wildlife Federation 2004
Cover Courtesy and Copyright Creative Homeowner a.k.a Fox Chapel Publishing
As human populations increase, and construction developments overtake agricultural land and wildlife habitat, some people may feel as if there is little hope for local connections to nature. Don’t raise the white flag of surrender. There is much you can do in your own yards to help attract wild songbirds and butterflies.
The simple answer is to keep things in line with restoring their natural habitat by providing food, water, shelter and places to raise their young.

The best way to restore, or maintain, a successful and healthy ecosystem is to utilize “native” plants. Natives are basically the plants that would grow in the area naturally. Although some exotic transplants from other locations can be stunning to look at, and may even grow successfully in a new environment, wildlife may not be able to adapt to its use as food or shelter. In fact, those foreign plants may actually spread and push out native plants and prevent songbirds and pollinators from entering your yard. Some of them also carry diseases for which our native plants have no immunity.

Scientific studies have proven that having a diversity of plant species in an area improves the health of all those plants…..if they are natives to that locale. And healthy plants provide healthy benefits for wildlife and people. Westerners should reconsider the idea of having a monoculture lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass that is so common in the Eastern parts of the U.S.

What are some factors that determine which native plants will succeed in your area?
Learn about the elements and nutrients in your soil by using simple soil-test kits which can be purchased at Garden Centers.

Can you obtain plants that will succeed in natural soils, or will you have to supplement it with chemical fertilizers? Are you willing to deal with the potential effects of additional chemical use?
Some plants require mostly sunny areas, some shady, and some a combination of both.
What is the climate like in your locale? Don’t confuse this with weather. Climate is the average condition of a place for twenty years or more.

What is the normal precipitation pattern? Will you have to supplement that with irrigation? Can you afford that if your area is suffering from drought conditions?
Make certain that you check the cold-hardiness zone of plants you purchase. Some commercial retail stores will sell whatever they are shipped, often knowing that those plants will never survive in your area.

For a list of Utah native trees, shrubs, and flowers, research:
* Utah Native Plant Society at unps.org

*Utah State University Extension Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping at cwel.usu.edu

And you can always “Google” Native Plants + Utah.

* Plantnative.org/rpl-ut.htm

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright 2004 NWF.org
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

D. Mizejewski, Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife (Reston, VA: National Wildlife Federation/Fox Chapel Publishing, 2004). https://www.amazon.com/National-Wildlife-Federation-Attracting-Butterflies/dp/1580111505/
Publisher Website: https://foxchapelpublishing.com/national-wildlife-federation-r-attracting-birds-butterflies-backyard-wildlife.html

Certify Your Wildlife Habitat, National Wildlife Federation, Accessed 20 July 2017, http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Certify: http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215

Hidden in Plain Sight

Hidden in Plain Sight: Western Sceech Owl Courtesy & Copyright Lou Giddings
Western Sceech Owl
Courtesy & Copyright Lou Giddings

My wife and I paddled our kayak gingerly into the eaves of a limestone cliff, our eyes scanning its face for some sort of concavity or movement where there was none. “I don’t see where she could possibly be,” my wife confessed. She was right. We knew we had found the right rock, soiled as it was with bird refuse, but there was nowhere for the nest to lie it seemed. Just then, on cue, a stirring of movement. Dark triangles rose out of the rock, followed by the lemony-yellow eyes of a mother Western Screech Owl. She climbed slowly from her grotto before exploding out of the rock toward us. A flurry of feathers rocketed toward us. I’m pretty sure I screamed, ducked as the bird soared away over our heads. We backed off a little. Concerned about the integrity of the nest site and our own well-being, we didn’t want to venture too close. When we were finally far enough away for mother’s comfort, she leap-frogged her way back to the cliff-side and disappeared again into the rock.

It’s a wonder she was there at all! Inconspicuous as it is, her placement is nevertheless adjacent to a highly frequented recreational reservoir. As we watched her descend back into her incubation chamber, country music blared from the opposite shore and the joyous yelps of our fellow boaters rang out through the air. To be sure, this wasn’t the first time she had been stirred from her nest; but she must have somehow grown accustomed to human sights and sounds. Otherwise, she wouldn’t choose this same nesting site year after year, as I’d heard she does. My wife and I marveled at her bravery in defying what seemed a too-close proximity to our louder, more aggressively curious species; but the more I thought about it, the peculiarity of her choice faded. This was not the first intimate space we had discovered this spring.

Hidden in Plain Sight: American Dipper Peter Hart, Photographer Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
American Dipper
Peter Hart, Photographer
Photo credit: PEHart via Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
A couple weeks earlier, as we sat at swift water’s edge, a small charcoal feather-bundle fell out of the sky toward the water near the opposite bank. A Water Ouzel—otherwise known as the American Dipper—had just lit upon a boulder where it commenced its famous bouncing. At once, it lunged at the riffles of water at its feet, torpedoing itself toward whatever invertebrate morsel was to be found in early spring. Having fetched what it was after, the dipper surfaced into full flight. I thought it would have returned to the rock; but instead, it swept itself into the girders of the small bridge spanning the river.

American Dipper Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
American Dipper
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
I waited for what I thought was a polite enough amount of time before investigating the scene. As I peered into the dim shadows beneath the bridge, my eyes adjusted to two others blinking back at me from the rounded doorway of a mossy, gourd-like dipper nest. “Why here?” I wondered aloud. The bird had taken offense to the question and took its immediate leave of my presence. This was the second dipper nest I’d found within a few miles’ stretch of river—the mark of a healthy and robust riparian zone, and perhaps also indicative of a healthy human/nature relationship. The other, too, neighbored a well-travelled recreational space.

It seems heroic at first glance, the wild ones enduring our somewhat rude domesticity; but perhaps it’s a complement. They’re comfortable enough to hide in plain sight.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US FWS
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Western Screech Owl (images & sounds), AllAboutBirds.org, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/

American Dipper (images & sounds), AllAboutBirds.org, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Dipper/sounds

Spring’s Gifts

Glacier Lilies, Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
Glacier Lilies,
Courtesy Andrea Liberatore, Photographer
I doubt there was a song left unsung as I worked my way up Birch Canyon early am. Testosterone laden birds filled the morning with delight. Robins, finches, meadow larks, song sparrows- what a marvelous symphony! I breathed deeply to fully absorb air filled with titillating odors from last night’s gentle spring rain- nature’s perfume, free and priceless.

Waters surging down Summit and Birch creeks released from winter’s cold grip. Further along, I take notice of recent bloom- glacier lilies exploding with bluebells soon to follow. Yellow bells in sage with promise of early Indian paintbrush. Arrowleaf balsamroot and penstemon only a few weeks away.

Thanks to earth’s 23 degree tilted axis spring is in full swing! This combined with the annual journey around our medium sized star brings the rebirth once again. How boring it would be had it been a tilt of zero degrees- negating our seasonal change. We complain as temperatures swing wildly from 60 degree days plummeting to 30’s in the course of a few hours. But please don’t despair- it may return to pleasantness almost as quickly.

I would not care to be a meteorologist in San Diego where temperatures rarely deviates more than a few degrees, winds are calm, and precipitation comes primarily during winter in dribbles. I relish the beauty and drama of a cumulonimbus cloud burst pummeling me with a deluge of rain pushed by strong wind spawned by a warm, moist air mass colliding with another cool and dry. Grand symbols crashing as lightening energizes countless trillion molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. How could something minute as a gas particle make such a ruckus! Miracles abound.

A spring trek across Zion N.P. last week to welcome spring on the south end. Townsend solitaires, scrub and Steller jays, mountain chickadees, and courtship drumming of woodpecker species were there to welcome me. White throated swifts launched from towering cliffs with occasional canyon wrens emitting cascading, descending notes from their vertical realm.

All three species of nuthatches were present- white and red breasted with small flocks of gregarious pygmies in ponderosa pine forest, busily searching bark crevasses for delectable grubs and insect eggs.

Indian potato and spring beauty were found among the sage near 8000 feet beneath lava point. These delectables were enjoyed by Native Americans. I sampled a few flowers leaving the mini-potato like roots undisturbed. I enjoyed waterleaf stems growing in hardwood forested areas.

After 36 miles of sublime scenery beyond comprehension, I descended into throngs of park visitors from many distant lands evident by their strange dialects. There are no down seasons in Zion these days that I once enjoyed years ago while working as a park seasonal. But the stunning beauty remains, with new greenery showing on cottonwood and boxelder in contrast to the warm glow of massive cliff.

Please don’t inquire of me which season I enjoy most.

This is Jack Greene and I’m wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy & Copyright Andrea Liberatore
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Northern Utah Hikes & Lakes, HikesandLakes.com, http://www.hikesandlakes.com/northern.html

Birch Canyon Road Trail, AllTrails.com, https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/utah/birch-canyon-road-trail