Saturday, April 26, 2008

Raven' For The Birds

On Friday, April 11, 2008 I witnessed a scene that I never expected to see in two lifetimes! The day began in an ordinary way – I arose wickedly early and headed to pick up a load of Urea fertilizer in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I arrived there at 6am and had no line-up to endure. By 11am, I rolled into Camrose, Alberta (near the capital of Edmonton) and met Ron. As I was unloading, he mentioned that a raven had nested at the top to the elevator platform and that I was welcome to climb up for a gander. He pointed it out and I spotted the nest. It must have been at least a hundred feet up!

Having had adventure in my blood since before I can remember, I strapped on my camera and located the ladder. “Watch out for the mother!” Ron said as I began. “She has about a four inch beak and is quite protective!” I nodded, but never slowed. About two thirds of the way up the complex of ladders I was feeling the burn. Sitting in my semi for the previous 4 ¼ hours hadn’t helped my aerobic capacity any! I pushed onward, upward until suddenly, a chilling cry sounded overhead.

A huge raven launched herself out of the nest. She was polished ebony against the deep blue sky; so perfectly preened that she appeared to be an animated argillite carving. I felt an unbidden chill shoot through me. She had a wingspan of at least 40 inches and an intimidating black beak glinting in the brilliant sunshine. As the giant bird hung in the warm air the burnished beak parted to expel a threatening cry. It was not a cry of fear, but of anger. I glanced happily at the cage behind me, put there to protect the climber from falling off the exposed ladder. I had no fear of falling, but the steel strapping was protecting me from a worse fate.

I peered upward at the massive nest. It was at least thirty inches across and constructed of sticks as thick as my fingers. I had barely focussed on it when a second raven swooped towards me; screaming wildly. My wide eyes darted from bird to bird. Still, I held my position within the ladder cage. The pair of angry fowl circled and wheeled. They perched for fleeting moments on bits of steel out-rigging before taking to the air again. “Ron never warned me about a second bird” I thought as their screeches and screams shattered the silence. I watched a moment and then pulled out my camera. At least for the moment I was safe.

I snapped several shots of the magnificent birds. Then, with my wits on edge, I began to climb the last ladder below the nest. The cries increased, but I was so close. Upward I moved, slowly but surely. Finally, the top of my head came level with the massive nest. It was a work of art! I stared in awe! I listened, but between the angry cries, I could hear nothing to betray the sounds of hatchlings. Perhaps there were just eggs inside? I glanced apprehensively at the distraught parents. They were above me, and seemed to be maintaining the same distance from me as before. I poked my head above the protective ladder cage, dying with curiosity to see into the nest. Without the cage for comfort, I feared. My legs stopped pushing me upwards, and instead, I raised my camera. Holding it high above my head, I aimed the lens at the nest and carefully squeezed off a shot. Grateful for a digital camera, I examined the photo on the display. It was not a very good shot. The nest was deeper than I had anticipated.

Slowly I pushed up one more rung. Now my entire heard and shoulders were exposed. Quickly I raised the camera again. The shutter fired and I hastily descended to the safety of the cage to inspect the shot. It was perfect! Lying on the bottom of the giant, feather-lined nest were four pink baby ravens and two unhatched eggs. I stared in awe at the sight. I never expected the hatchlings to be so pink!
I tore my eyes away from the photograph; my attention returning to the anxious parents of the little miracles. I could not in good conscience climb up for a second look. Reluctantly, I began my decent. Perhaps I shouldn’t have disturbed them at all, but I was glad I had. And if I hadn’t brought my camera, perhaps I wouldn’t even have gotten a look into that wondrous nest.

PS: I later learned that the Corvus corax, or common raven, is also known in French as, Grand corbeau, and in Spanish as, Cuervo grande. My Internet searches for newborn ravens turned up nothing, making these photos a very special rarity to rave about!

1 comment:

Anne Bradshaw said...

This is amazing! How interesting. I never knew baby ravens were pink.

Coincidentally, we chose a raven as a 'bad guy' in our screenplay, The Ardanea Pendant. Took a few reruns to get the raven looking like a raven! Hope we succeeded in the end.

I posted the color artwork last weekend if you want to take a peek :-)