The Language of Ravens

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.

This is Josh Boling, writing and reading for 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

Our Winterless Winter

Drought conditions across the United States as of January 2, 2018. Moderate drought (peach) expanded in size across Arizona according to the first United States drought monitor of 2018. Overall, much of the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States is in some form of drought. Climate.gov map, based on data from the National Drought Monitor project. Courtesy: NOAA Climate.gov Data: NDMC
Our Winterless Winter: Drought conditions across the United States as of January 2, 2018. Moderate drought (peach) expanded in size across Arizona according to the first United States drought monitor of 2018. Overall, much of the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States is in some form of drought. Climate.gov map, based on data from the National Drought Monitor project.
Courtesy: NOAA Climate.gov
Data: NDMC
I’ve been in this lovely valley over 30 years and have never experienced such a balmy January, and now February. The thaw began January first and never ended. As an avid cross country skier, I fear my days of low elevation skiing have ended over a month early.

And I’m well aware that my home state of Michigan is having an epic winter of extreme cold and snow. While we westerners are crying global warming, those across the Mississippi are saying “bring it on!”
So what do the computer models tell us about these phenomena as they predict our future in a warming climate? Our jet stream is acting might wimpy and limpey these days, which was what the climatologists saw coming in their modeling. I will attempt a brief explanation.

The jet streams are high-altitude, racing rivers of air that can influence the path of storms as they track over North America from the Pacific Ocean. The jet streams meander and shift from day to day, but during La Niña events, they tend to follow paths that bring cold air and storms into the Upper Missouri River Basin. Map based on original graphics from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Courtesy NOAA
The jet streams are high-altitude, racing rivers of air that can influence the path of storms as they track over North America from the Pacific Ocean. The jet streams meander and shift from day to day, but during La Niña events, they tend to follow paths that bring cold air and storms into the Upper Missouri River Basin. Map based on original graphics from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Courtesy NOAA
The jet stream is highly impacted by the temperature differences between the poles and the mid latitudes where we reside. The greater this difference, the more robust the jet stream. The poles have been warming at a crazy rapid pace- several times faster than the lower latitudes. This has reduced the temperature differences which has two profound effects on the jet stream. First, with less energy to move it along, it stalls out so to speak and its patterns linger longer over our continent. Thus the prolonged extreme warm temps in the west, and prolonged cold in the east. A month ago my son living in Atlanta, GA called to say he was walking his dog in a foot of snow, a new experience for that southern boy!

Jet streams also "follow the sun" in that as the sun's elevation increases each day in the spring, the average latitude of the jet stream shifts poleward. (By Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is typically found near the U.S. Canadian border.) As Autumn approaches and the sun's elevation decreases, the jet stream's average latitude moves toward the equator. Courtesy NOAA
Jet streams also “follow the sun” in that as the sun’s elevation increases each day in the spring, the average latitude of the jet stream shifts poleward. (By Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is typically found near the U.S. Canadian border.) As Autumn approaches and the sun’s elevation decreases, the jet stream’s average latitude moves toward the equator.
Courtesy NOAA
The second effect is the deep trough that allows the cold to reach well into those once toasty southern states. These sags can be shown with a jump rope. As you slow the energy, or rate of whip moving the rope, it begins to sag, creating a deeper, slower moving trough that even I can leap over!

So our western part of the jump rope is stuck in an inverted trough (the upward swing of the rope), creating a high pressure system that has dominated our state and much of the west with very warm temps and very little precip. This does not bode well for our ski industry nor our water supply, which is locked in our scant snow pack.

Many students from around the state have been working on a resolution with their state legislators which addresses this climate weirding. Bill HCR7 now resides in the House Natural Resources Committee, where it will probably be heard before you hear this. It may even have been on the House floor by then, and on to the Senate. The students are filled with hope that our state leaders will hear their testimonies in behalf of a future we all wish them to have.

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

Credits:

Images: Courtesy NOAA
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

https://www.climate.gov/news-features/features/missouri-river-flood-drama-likely-took-direction-la-ni%C3%B1a

Emma Penrod, Some Utah lawmakers deny climate change, but OK a bill recognizing its impacts after hearing pleas from students, Salt Lake Tribune, Feb 15, 2018 https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2018/02/15/some-utah-lawmakers-deny-climate-change-but-ok-a-bill-recognizing-its-impacts-after-hearing-pleas-from-students/

Emma Penrod, Some Utah lawmakers deny climate change, but OK a bill recognizing its impacts after hearing pleas from students, Salt Lake Tribune, Feb 13, https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2018/02/13/wary-of-saying-humans-are-responsible-utah-lawmakers-postpone-vote-on-two-climate-change-resolutions/

Rebecca P. Edwards, Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship, Utah State Legislature, HCR007

Soundscapes

Scoundscape Recording Equipment Courtesy US NPS
Scoundscape Recording Equipment
Courtesy US NPS
Imagine yourself in your favorite place outside. What sounds do you expect to hear? The sound of water rushing over rocks? Crickets chirping? The wind softly blowing through the trees? These are some of the natural sounds you might expect to hear, but it might not always work out that way. Recreation areas are often filled with anthropogenic noises like vehicles, people talking, music playing, machinery, and more.

Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park Courtesy US NPS
Checking sound equipment set up near the McKinley Bar Trail, Denali National Park
Courtesy US NPS
Soundscapes, or the acoustic environment, are not often thought of as a natural resource, but are actually an important part of the environment. A common reason people go to nature is for peace and quiet. Quiet is considered a valuable resource. Humans have grown accustomed to a constant background of noise, but it is not always good. Escaping to nature can potentially provide relief from noise pollution, but natural soundscapes are becoming less and less common.

Noise pollution significantly impacts human health. Physical and mental impacts can include hearing disorders, sleep disruption, and even interruptions in the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Sound is more important than you might realize.

Soundscapes may be important to humans, but they are arguably even more important for wildlife. Many animals depend on hearing for warning them of danger, communicating with other animals, and locating prey. Birds and other animals can hear noises from very far away, and noise interference can disrupt them easily. Behavioral responses may include leaving an area for a brief time or leaving an area for good.

Through evolution, some animals have lost sight, because it was not a necessary trait in some situations. Up to this point, there has been no animal discovered that has lost its hearing through evolution. This illustrates how vital the acoustic environment is to wildlife and ecosystem health.

Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Barn Owl Courtesy US FWS
Think of a Barn Owl. Hunting in the dark, they rely on the tiniest rustle to lead them to their prey. Their sense of hearing is fine-tuned and adapted specially for this purpose. One ear hole is slightly higher than the other, which allows them to perceive depth through hearing. Also, one ear hole can hear sounds below them on the ground, and the other can hear the sounds in the air. Just by listening, an owl can locate a mouse far below it on the ground. Noise pollution would make it nearly impossible for owls to hunt.

Owls are just one example of noise pollution negatively effecting wildlife. As soundscapes are disturbed, wildlife will be displaced or even die. Public land managers now have the challenge of managing soundscapes. This is a difficult, but soundscapes are important for humans recreating, wildlife, and whole ecosystems.

As William Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”

This is Aspen Flake and I am Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US NPS ans US FWS
Text: Aspen Flake

Additional Reading & Listening

http://naturalheroes.org/videos/natures-orchestra/

Bernie Krause, Recording Artist:
https://www.wildsanctuary.com/

Bryan C. Pijanowski, Luis J. Villanueva-Rivera, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Almo Farina, Bernie L. Krause,
Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti, Soundscape Ecology: The Science
of Sound in the Landscape, BioScience, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 March 2011, Pages 203–216, https://www.wildsanctuary.com/BioScience2011-SoundscapeEcology.pdf or https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/61/3/203/238162

Wild Soundscapes: Discovering the Voice of the Natural World, Revised Edition Paperback – May 24, 2016
by Bernie Krause (Author),‎ Roger Payne (Foreword) https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Soundscapes-Discovering-Natural-Revised/dp/0300218192

Voices of the Wild: Animal Songs, Human Din, and the Call to Save Natural Soundscapes (The Future Series) Hardcover – August 25, 2015
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Wild-Animal-Natural-Soundscapes/dp/0300206313

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places Paperback – March 12, 2013
by Bernie Krause (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Great-Animal-Orchestra-Finding-Origins/dp/031608686X/

Kevin Colver, Recording Artist:

Know Your Bird Sounds: Common Western Species (with audio CD) (The Lang Elliott Audio Library) Paperback – January 10, 2008
by Lang Elliott (Author),‎ Kevin Colver (Contributor) https://www.amazon.com/Know-Your-Bird-Sounds-Western/dp/0811734463/

Songbirds of Yellowstone and the High Rockies Audio CD – January 1, 1996
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yellowstone-Rockies-Kevin-Colver/dp/1929797079/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/all-albums/products/songbirds-of-yellowstone-and-the-high-rockies

Songbirds of the Southwest Canyon Country Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Southwest-Canyon-Country-Colver/dp/1929797036/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-southwest-canyon-country

Songbirds of the Rocky Mountain Foothills Audio CD – January 1, 1994
by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Rocky-Mountain-Foothills-Colver/dp/192979701X/ or https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-the-rocky-mountain-foothills

Songbirds of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas by Kevin J. Colver (Author) https://www.amazon.com/Songbirds-Yosemite-Sierra-Nevadas-Colver/dp/B00004T1L2/, or
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/songbirds-of-yosemite-and-the-sierra-nevadas

Frogs and Toads, Kevin J Colver, August 16, 2011 https://www.amazon.com/Frogs-Toads-Kevin-J-Colver/dp/B005I0C4ZQ/

https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/katmai-wilderness
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/saguaro-sunrise
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/voice-of-the-arctic-refuge
https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/products/starvation-creek-utah

Jeff Rice, Recording Artist:
Dobner, Jennifer, LISTENING TO THE NATURAL WEST
The U’s Western Soundscape Archive captures the animal and ambient music of the wild., CONTINUUM
THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH, Summer 2014, https://continuum.utah.edu/web-exclusives/listening-to-the-natural-west/

Vanderbilt, Tom, You Need to Hear This, Recording engineer Jeff Rice is on a mission to preserve the sounds of nature. Why? Listening to them might actually make us healthier., OutsideOnline.com, 20 Oct 2011, https://www.outsideonline.com/1887466/you-need-hear

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/index.htm

A Symphony of Sounds, US National Park Service (US NPS), https://www.nps.gov/articles/denali-understanding-managing-soundscapes.htm

Utah Envirothon

Utah Envirothon T-Shirt 2017 Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Utah Envirothon 2017 T-Shirt
Courtesy Ron Hellstern, Photographer
No matter where you live in the State of Utah, you are located in one of the 38 Conservation Districts managed by the Utah Conservation Commission. Each of those Districts sponsor and support a wonderful program for High School students called the Utah Envirothon (which simply means a marathon competition to understand Utah’s environments).

The program started in 1979 in Pennsylvania. In 1995 a handful of teachers from the Cache and Logan School Districts, Utah State University, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Logan started the program in Utah.

The Envirothon is unique in science and Ag contests because teams of five students from each school get to work together as they compete in the subjects of Forestry, Wildlife, Soils and Land Use, Aquatic Ecology, and a Current Issue which changes topics each year. This isn’t a typical Science Fair where a student displays a cardboard backdrop explaining an experiment they may have done. In the Envirothon, without teachers present, the students are given written tests AND all day outdoor field-tests where they use professional scientific equipment to understand the functions of the natural world around them. They are also given an actual current problem that deals with Utah’s wild lands or agricultural settings and they must produce an Oral Presentation regarding their solution to a panel of Agency Judges. The students also get to learn about dozens of outdoor careers in the Natural Resources, Forest Service, Agriculture, Wildlife Management, and the National Park Service

The Judges are not acquainted with any of the students, who are required to wear identical team T-Shirts, during the entire competition. Scores are compiled from tests, equipment use, and the oral presentation to determine the State Champion who is presented with Olympic-quality medals and scholarships to universities within our State, and then goes on to the North American Envirothon, which is held in a different location in the U.S. or Canada each summer. Last year, about 60 State and Provincial winning teams went to Maryland to compete for the North American Championship.

The Utah competition has been held the last weekend in April, in places ranging from Logan to Saint George, on university campuses, forests, rangelands, farms, and even in Zion National Park.

Currently, more than half a million students participate throughout all the United States, Canada, and China. Europe, Mexico, Japan and Australia are also investigating how to establish the program.

For more information contact your local Conservation Districts or online at utahenvirothon.org for the simple rules, learning resources, and training videos about each topic. The North American website has even more detailed information at www.envirothon.org.

This is Ron Hellstern and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

NCF-Envirothon, A Natural Resource Encounter for the Next Generation, https://www.envirothon.org/