Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Raven roam(ance)ing

Coming back from a meeting in Hamilton I found myself with a half hour spare at the exciting venue of Bellshill railway station, Strathclyde; after a few minutes looking around I was pondering how tough inland birding can be, semi-industrial and unremarkable landscape as far as the eye could see - yet we know even scarcities like YBW are not infrequently picked up inland, they're out there but a needle in a haystack to say the least. No, no chance of spotting anything of even remote interest right here, I thought.

No sooner, but I picked up two apparently large birds approaching from the south, almost glued together; no bins and hard to judge distance but by flapping action clearly something "big"; as they came close thoughts of raptors or herons vanished as I could see they were clearly a pair of Raven, albeit too high to really discern the wing and tail shapes. Over the next 20 minutes they were in view continuously, until the tiniest of specks that I could barely discern, a good few miles north. Throughout, they flew in formation, circling, occasionally changing direction to do a figure of eight, never more than a couple of metres apart and most of the time nearly touching. No true aerobatics, but it was quite apparent these two were close, seemingly enjoying the tightly synchronised flying.

Turning to the trusty BWP, where so many fascinating insights can be found under the various headings on things like social behaviour (many clearly derived from a lifetime's study by the cited author), I noted the following relevant comments:

"Monogamous. Almost certainly pairs for life (e.g. Heinrich 1990) ... Pairs remain together throughout year and occupy same territory year after year (e.g. Harlow 1922). Members of pair readily recognize each other individually and transmit modified vocal information directed only at mate, even over long distances (Gwinner 1964). ... Behaviour interpreted as play often reported. Studies on semi-captive birds reveal much more complex play repertoire than reported for any other bird (Gwinner 1966), including hanging upside-down, and sliding down sloping surfaces. Play sequences prone to great individual variation and group-specific play combinations arise by mutual imitation."

Another valuable reference, the BTO bird facts, tells us the max recorded age of a wild bird was 17 years. Another source states 25 years for a captive bird. Wonder how long those two I saw today have been together?

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