+++*

Symbolic Forest

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Blog : Posts tagged with ‘birds’

Corvids again

But the question is still there

Today, when I went for my daily walk,* I took my camera with me, intending to take shots for a planned series of posts about railway history that I’m slowly putting together. However, this post is more of a follow-up to the one from the other day on the various types of corvid you can see in this area.

I mentioned in that post that, around here, jackdaws nest in the girders of railway bridges in much the same way that pigeons do elsewhere. I’d only just passed under the railway bridge that I was thinking of when writing that, when I realised that I was walking along a few feet away from a jackdaw, at head height but on the other side of some iron railings. The ground on the other side of the wall was rather higher than by the footpath, so as I walked, the jackdaw was walking too, stopping to look for things in the grass. I tried taking a photo, and it didn’t seem overly bothered. I took a few before eventually it flew away.

A jackdaw

You can see the significant feature of jackdaws that makes them easy to recognise: the silvery-grey head and neck.

Later on, as I was on a slightly more rural part of the walk, I spotted a much larger bird on the far side of a meadow. This is what I was talking about before: sometimes I see larger black birds, that might be ravens, but they are never quite close enough to get a definite identification. Even with the good camera, this is the best I could do.

A raven, maybe

To my eyes, that could well be a raven. It seems to have a raven-like profile to the head, and it seemed to be quite a big bird too. Whether it really was a raven: well, I’m no birdwatcher. If I do manage any better, more definite raven identifications, I’ll let you know.

* Daily in aspiration if not in fact.

Corvid awareness

Or, there's been a murder

You might think that moving from an inner-city house to a suburban house, only about thirty or forty miles apart, you’d not see much change in the wildlife you see in the area. It’s been interesting, though, since moving, noticing the changes.

Take birds for example. In Bristol, the most common large birds were seagulls, and the most common small birds house sparrows; every house along our terrace had one or two house sparrow nests under the tiles at the edge of the roof. Occasionally a sparrowhawk would come and perch on the garden fence. The most common corvids were magpies, a family of them in most streets. When I started working from home, sitting at the window with a telegraph pole just outside it, one local magpie would regularly come to investigate me: perching on a rung of the pole at my eye-level, making eye contact and giving me a good curious look.

Here in the new house, the fauna is actually quite different. There are still seagulls, occasionally, coming up the valley; but the most frequent large birds are buzzards, slowly soaring over the neighbourhood sending all the other birds into a panic. The most common small birds are blackbirds and wagtails; pied wagtails in the garden and grey wagtails along the riverbank. In between, though, I often hear the calls of wood pigeons, but the most common birds of all are corvids of various types. I have been trying to sit down, watch them, and work out exactly which are which.

Magpies, of course, are easy to recognise, both by sight and by call. There are a few magpies here that come into the garden occasionally, but they’re not common as they were in Bristol. The most common birds here, though, are jackdaws. They arrive in pairs or in bigger flocks, and now I’ve learned to spot them, their silver heads are very recognisable. They nest here almost like pigeons do in a city, in spare ledges, under railway bridges and suchlike, as well as in more traditional spots such as in the hollow end of a sawn-off tree branch. They fill the main “medium-sized scavenger” niche taken by pigeons in a city centre.

There are, though, a few larger corvids, and these are the ones I’m having trouble with. Basically: are the larger black corvids I can see occasionally ravens, rooks or crows?

They’re probably not rooks. Rooks have pale beaks, and I haven’t seen any of those. Rooks, like jackdaws, tend to nest and travel in flocks; when I see a black bird larger than a jackdaw it’s usually on its own. Crows, then? Some of them probably are. The problem I have identifying any of these birds is: they have a distinct aversion to photography, if they spot you doing it, and I’m not someone with any specialist long lenses or other bird-photography equipment. If I see a bird from the window, in any case, by the time I’ve gone to get the SLR it’s probably flown off. If I photograph it with my phone, it’s either an indistinct black blob, or it sees me pointing my phone at it and, as you might expect, flies off. These birds, of the “indistinct black blob” category, I’m pretty sure are crows.

Crows, probably

Every so often, though, I see a much larger black bird, usually much further away. I see it sitting on the peak of a roof, in the next street, and it looks much larger than a crow should look in my approximate mental map of these things. Is it a raven? Or just a particularly big crow? The problem there is, I’ve never seen it close-up, I think. Is it just an optical illusion, the sort of thing where somebody sees a black cat crossing their path a few hundred yards away and thinks it’s a panther?

If it is a raven, I suspect there’s probably only one of it. It doesn’t visit very often, and I don’t think I’ve seen it flying. Could it just be a big crow? I suppose it could. If I don’t get any closer sightings of it, maybe that’s a sign that it really is just a mirage; that, in my hand, it would just be the size of an ordinary crow. I’m going to keep looking. There might not be any sightings, but if there is, I’ll keep you updated.

Photo post of the week

Or, autumn in the park

I know it can be a bit of a cliche, photos of yellow and orange leaves falling in autumn, but the park was looking so seasonally russet-hued the other day that I regretted not bringing a Proper Camera along. We fed the swans and the ducks, and caused a flurry of seagulls frenzied enough to have Du Maurier reaching for her notebook.

Birds in the park

Birds in the park

Birds in the park

Naturally, the local pigeons also wanted to get involved, despite their inability to swim.

The pigeons arrive

The pigeons arrive

After the food was gone, all was calm again. I photographed The Child Who Likes Fairies staring pensively out across the lake, and in return she took a photo of a tree she particularly liked.

The lake quietens down

The child who likes fairies

A particularly nice tree