Category Archives: Ravens

Bears and Birds

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The salmon are returning to the Eagle River. I have to take care not to step on their desiccating bodies as we cross a riverside meadow. There are no bears or their scat just see a cranky pair of ravens, so I decide to continue our walk along the river. Just in case, I place the little dog on her leash.

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The dead salmon smell blends with the others of fall—the sweet and sour smell of ripe cranberries, leaf mold, and the sharp tang of grass. I wonder if the strong bouquet threatens to overwhelm Aki’s sensitive nose. But the poodle-mix shows her usual keen interest in, for me, unremarkable spots along the trail.

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We pass a family with small children picnicking along the river. One of their members operates a drone, which gives off an annoying hum. I’m thinking about letting Aki loose when she gives out a little growl. Two people just up the trail point to a bear munching away on a salmon it had carried up from a nearby stream.

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I’m holding Aki now. We watch the bear saunter over to an alder tree and bury her nose in tree moss. Then it moves into the forest. I carry Aki a little further and then let her walk. She stays on the lead. We pass gravel bars covered with gulls, crows, and ravens and, just seconds before I can focus the camera on it, a fishing bear.

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On the drive home, near a different salmon stream, I have to stop the car to let a black bear waddle across the road. Just after Aki gives another low growl, the bear turns, for the first time, to look in our direction. Who knew that bears had such sensitive hearing?

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Corvid Daycare

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It doesn’t take knowledge of raven language to know what these juvenile birds are screeching out. Momma, Momma, bring us food. We are hungry. Aki I have wandered into a corvid day care. The adults are off gathering food for their kin. But that doesn’t stop the children from filling the forest with their pleas.1

The forest is really just a collection of old growth spruce occupying the end of Point Louisa. Gulls and two eagles patrol the surrounding beaches. One eagle or a gull gang could make a meal out of a baby raven but they don’t seem too concerned. One, which had wandered from the protection of the trees climbs to the top of a small rock to get a better view of Aki and me. Watch out little guy, curiosity can kill a corvid.2

You Would Be Nervous Too

 

4Fifty feet ahead an immature bald eagle rises from the creek, a twelve–inch-long fish dangling from its talon. The fish drops as the bird wings skyward. I know the scene took only seconds but when I play it back in my head, the bird and prey moved in slow motion, like I could have dashed over and caught the fish before it hit the meadow grass.

3Aki clung to my side during the walk. She was spooked by the sound of 10-20 pound king salmon splashing in the creek pond and the off-key symphony performed by ravens and crows in the creek side alders. I was spooked too by the angry sounding splashes and the smell of dead salmon, both of which draw bears.

2It was low tide when we reached the creek delta. Clutches of six or more eagles loitered on the exposed wetlands. One burst out of the tree just above my head when I stopped to count its cousins. Any peace the eagles and gulls had reached was broken when an immature eagle flew over a gull-feeding zone. The little white birds dived bombed the eagles and drove them into a nearby spruce forest.1

Now Aki and I prepare to pass again through the salmon zone. Just ahead a Sitka black tail deer feeds among a thick patch of flowering fireweed. Aki will never see it or its companion. In a fluid series of jumps, the deer reach mid-meadow and turn to look at me until I lower my camera, walk beneath two roosting bald eagles, and enter the spawning zone.5

Blues and Grays

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One of the big Princess cruise ships moves up Gastineau Channel while we drive over the bridge that connects Juneau to the island of Douglas. A gentle rain falls on the boat and those passengers who ventured on deck to watch the docking. Down channel, only a small oval of blue skies survives a complex of gray clouds that is delivering rain. Are the passengers excited by the challenging weather or crushed? Will they hike up Juneau’s European-narrow streets to the Basin Road trail system or sulk in the Franklin Street tee shirt shops? Aki and I won’t see any of them wandering the Treadwell mining ruins.2

It stops raining before we have passed through the forested ruins and stepped onto a beach made of crushed mine tailing. A resident pair of ravens watch Aki and I from atop jagged-topped wharf pilings. The one with a white spot on its wing bows toward my little dog when she trots up to its piling. After Aki follows me over to the collapsed glory hole for a visit with the belted kingfisher, the two ravens fly off down the beach, turning their backs on a battle taking place near the southern tip of Douglas Island between blue sky and rain-charged clouds.3

Carrion Birds

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Aki is off lead on this riverside forest trail. I am not too worried. Dog salmon splash in the river but I’ve not heard the fwaap of a bear paw sending a fish and part of the river onto a gravel bar. I see bushes stripped of salmon berries but can’t detect the death stink of a bruin.1

Near the edge of a tidal meadow jays, crows, ravens and eagles chit, caw, squawk, or scream. They sound cranky, like hungry people in a town with no restaurants. Aki and I skirt a fresh pile of bear scat and walk to Eagle River now filling with chum salmon that ride the incoming tide to their spawning streams.4

Many of the salmon will take a sharp left turn in a tiny creek a quarter-a-mile upstream where early arrivals already mill. The lucky ones will end their one-way trip squirting out eggs or fertilizing milt into the waters of their home waters. Others will swim up dead end streams and die without procreating. The carrion birds now making such a racket along the river don’t care if the salmon die frustrated or satisfied. The just want the dying to begin.2

Ravens in the Rain

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Rain or boredom seems to have depressed the Treadwell eagles this morning. Even though it is low tide and therefore the best time to find food or carrion, two mature bald eagles are glued to the tops of splintered pilings. Two more hunker on the beach near the water. The inclement weather doesn’t seem to have bothered the ravens. They fly back and forth over the glory hole, harassing first the piling plunked eagles and then returning to the beach occupied by those squatting on the sand.2

Aki finds a cache of dog kibble that has been sprinkled on the top of a foot-high piling. Someone, perhaps the sprinkler, placed a flat stone over the kibble but Aki manages to tongue out a morsels before I convince her to stop. Two ravens land on nearby pilings to watch. I have little doubt that they will have the stone off and the kibble down their beaks before we make it back to the car.3

False Finds

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Reunited after my stint at the Skagway writer’s school. Aki and I patrol Downtown Juneau. The little dog is all business, but doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about my absence. We walk in soft drizzle that dampens the morning’s color. A noisy raven, angry that one of his kind hold a tasty stick of something in its beak, lets us approach within a few feet. When he flies off, it is only to an alder a meter away where he continues to monitor the greed of his neighbor.1

The lucky raven seems more stressed than the one with an empty beak. After trying to squawk with food in its mouth, it stops feeding and shifts his prize to one of his claws. The other grips the wet skin of a Chevrolet pickup. Down on South Franklin Street, where the docks are empty and the stores are closed, three women of commercial beauty have been pasted to the side of a cruise ship perfumery. The brunette in the center declares her’s an ageless society. But soon, even her beauty will fade, victim of rain and sun.

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