There are some strange professions. Many of them are with the British Royal Household, like Keeper of the Queen’s Stamps, Grand Carver, and Royal Clock Winder. However, the one that caught my eye was written about on October 21, 2018, in the Washington Post: Ravenmaster.
The Ravenmaster takes care of the seven ravens who reside at the Tower of London, the 11th-century fortress that is one of Britain’s most popular tourist sites. It was a prison and an execution site for many, like Anne Boleyn. It has numerous lurid stories from it’s long and brutal history.
Ravens seem to have started living at the Tower in the Victorian era when the Gothic Revival was in full swing. Charles Dickens kept a raven as a pet.
The Tower birds are now celebrities in their own right and they receive loving and meticulous care from the current Ravenmaster, Christopher Skaife. He gives them treats of dog biscuits soaked in blood and he has had to climb parts of the Tower to retrieve rogue ravens.
Mr. Skaife was a machine gunner in the British Army for 24 years and then became a Yeoman Warder, one of 37 élite guards who are keepers of tradition and tour guides. He now lives at the Tower with his family. It must be fun for his kids to bring friends ‘home’ for playdates!
The Tower ravens come from bird breeders. They are wild, though acclimated to humans. They roam free during the day. At night, Skaife has to round them up and put them in airy enclosures to protect them from foxes, who ate two ravens in 2013.
In the morning, Skaife releases the birds in careful order, from least dominant to the most dominant. The birds apparently have a very strict hierarchy which the Ravenmaster must respect. They have also divided the tower into individual territories according to that hierarchy.
The birds are scavengers and like to rummage through the trash cans. They are particularly fond of potato chips but they don’t like the flavored kind, like cheddar or onion. So they wash the flavored chips in puddles to get rid of the extra flavoring, which I think is very clever! They are also known to steal sandwiches from children.
Ravens can fly but not too far or too often. They can fly to the roof or the ramparts, but that’s about it. Previous caregivers would trim their feathers so they couldn’t fly at all. But one bird, on Skaife’s watch, climbed up some scaffolding and leaped off it. He died in Skaife’s arms so Skaife will no longer limit the ravens’ flight.
Once one raven did manage to escape the Tower and flew down the Thames River. She was captured by a local birdwatcher who recognized the bracelet on her leg as belonging to the Tower flock. The Good Samaritan put the raven in her gym bag and returned her to her home.
I love all animals so this job caught my imagination. While not the cutest or friendliest of birds, it must be gratifying to preserve a long-held tradition at an historically famous site. Caring for a ‘conspiracy’ or an ‘unkindness’ of ravens, the words for a group of ravens is clearly not a job for everyone.
After eleven years, Christopher Skaife is still going strong at his job. He’s even written an autobiography. Who knew that being a Ravenmaster could be the route to becoming a published author!
I am not particularly great at identifying birds, especially since from watching them, I’m come to realize that books and websites notwithstanding they don’t necessarily look exactly like the picture on the computer or the book.
The black and white “laddering” may be complete, or askew, or have a white stripe where none of them has a white stripe. The head may have a BIG red patch, a little red patch, no red at all. A black back. A big white stripe down the back or a big black stripe down the back. Or a ladder-back.
They are all woodpeckers (or flickers, who really are woodpeckers by another name). These are all my woodpeckers. Anyone who cares to jump into the fray is free to tell me what they think this bird is.
The only thing we need to agree on is that they are woodpeckers of some kind. Some of bigger and some are smaller. A big downy and a small hairy woodpecker are essentially identical and the flickers just ruin your concentration. Somewhere in the woods is a big Pileated Woodpecker, but I don’t think he will ever get close enough for me to get a clear picture of him. He is not “human house” friendly and it’s possible he won’t eat seeds.
I don’t have suet because the squirrels would get it before the birds anyway AND I have no place to hang a third feeder. My backyard, once the snow falls, is impenetrable. I can get to the deck usually unless we’ve gotten a 2-foot blizzard.
Following last night’s snow — I think we might have gotten three inches, all told, it has begun to rain and if we don’t get that freeze tonight, the snow should magic itself away in a day or two. Meanwhile, I’m not going any further than the coffee machine in the kitchen — and the fall of yesterday is really hurting today.
I’m one of those funny people who feel fine the day of the accident and really hurts 24-hours later. I and my heating pad have had (ahem!) a warm relationship this morning.
White with black primaries. Often rust-stained from feeding in muddy or iron-rich waters.
She checked “snow goose” from her “life list” of viewed birds. It was among the last of the remaining ones. She stood in the marsh, up to her shins in the same brown mud that had stained the lower feathers of her snow goose. She wondered if the world would last long enough for her to make the rest of her life list birds … or even if the birds would last long enough for her to put that check mark there.
She packed up her gear. Put away her glasses, her camera, and her book. It was a newer book because the birds had moved around. Many were gone, others no longer migrated or lived only in very small areas and distant from her.
And then, she walked back to her car. She had found her snow goose. As for the rest? It was all far too big for her … a world-class problem. Meanwhile, it was a very long drive back to civilization.
NOTES ABOUT THE PICTURE:
The big male goose (there was another one, the slightly smaller female who was taking on other geese in another part of the lake (these birds mate for life as do geese) was attacking the geese who had taken their nest on the little island.
You won’t see geese and swans sharing a lake. Or, for that matter, herons who are equally possessive about”their” space. The geese were trying to move in and had stolen the swan’s nest They probably had eaten the eggs by then, too. That’s what big birds do to stop the encroachment of other large birds.
Geese and swan do NOT get along at all. It’s a kill or be-killed thing going on. A pity for us, because the lake is more than big enough for both, but they will not share it and the herons have the river and don’t come to the lake.
Ducks are every bird’s pal, oddly enough — but geese, swans, and herons are enemies. That had been a swan’s nest, We had watched them build it. There were no cygnets that year.
I couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew something was. It was on the other side of the lake. All I could see was white feathers and something happening, but the battle had underway for hours. Both swans had been patrolling, but the geese kept popping up.
Canada Geese are much faster than mute swans and surprisingly strong for their weight, but a full-grown Swan is MUCH bigger and stronger. They can’t take off and fly as the geese do — they are too heavy and need a lot of runway to get into the air, which is why they walk around lakes while the geese fly. So give it to the geese for mobility, but for sheer strength, swans have it.
As for me, I set the camera on “all the way out” and shot. I didn’t know what I had until I put the pictures in the computer. My eyes don’t do that well. The far side of the lake is too far for my eyes even with my “long distance” glasses on, but the lens got it.
We think only people fight, but animals have their lines drawn too.
I looked out the back door and finally — a Cardinal! I’ve been waiting for him to show up. He used to be a regular in my hedge every winter and finally, there he was sitting on the railing.
He wasn’t fully convinced about the whole feeder arrangement and was eying it up. I was eying him up while quietly opening my camera.
It wouldn’t focus. No matter what I did.
I finally realized I’d turned off the little clicker on the lens for AutoFocus. I wish they wouldn’t put little tiny buttons on the lens where you can accidentally move them and not even know you did it. After I got it set to focus, I also realized it was set to the wrong setting. I probably moved the ring when I put the camera away.
I put it back where it belonged … which is when I realized the flashing red symbol in my viewfinder was my camera letting me know the battery was about to die.
By the time I got the new battery inserted, the Cardinal had long since done whatever he was planning to do and flown away. I could have taken a picture of where he had previously been, but I didn’t.
I did take a few pictures. Nothing unusual. In fact, you could say this was a lineup of “the usual suspects.”
One of the better parts of taking so many bird pictures is that these days, I can wait until they do something cute. I know the birds will be back and if I don’t take pictures today, I will find something to shoot tomorrow.
And, as the weather gets colder, I figure we’ll have a few more suspects lining up. You think?
I’m having a lot of fun with my new lens.
When it functions properly which is not all the time — sometimes it has a fit of “macro-ness” and decides that it just can’t figure out where to focus. It’s annoying but overall, it is a wonderful lens.
It is sharp, crisp, has excellent color. I’m really enjoying it!
Most of the time it works very well. Razor sharp. However, at its longest length, sometimes it can’t quite decide what item it should focus on and even though, in theory, I am focusing manually, it’s electronic and has its own issues.
Owen refilled the feeder today. I was surprised we didn’t have our usual volume of visitors, but it was sunny and I notice that a lot of the birds were ‘working the woods’ for leftover goodies of warmer days, like seeds, dried berries, and any insect that (so far) survived the weather.
I finally saw my a Blue Jay today. They were such common visitors to our house in New York, it’s strange how rarely they show up here. They are not feeder visitors, usually, so this guy sort of hung around. I believe he was considering coming to the feeder, but Jays are suspicious and he kept his distance.
Nope, not part of a challenge. It’s merely that I have so many pictures of birds taken this week, I figure I ought to share them.
I have a new bird book. I broke my vow and ordered the long lens for my Olympus OMD — which cost more than the camera cost — but it’s the only game in town and I really need to use the camera that I can focus.
I don’t see a lot of squirrels in the feeder, but by the volume of disappearing food, I’m betting they get there, eat a lot, and disappear. Probably to take a long nap in a tall tree.
In the course of this week, the various flocks of Goldfinch (Magnolia, American, et al) have totally taken over the feeder. They fly around it in flocks. Somehow, a few Tufted Titmouses, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and various woodpeckers drop by, but mostly … lots and lots of Goldfinch.
Oh, and about the Juncos. I have a few that are so fat, I’m surprised they can still fly.
Today, the feeder was pretty close to empty. My son has other stuff going on and I didn’t want to bother him, so I figured “How long can it take to fill a bird feeder?” Owen does it in two minutes.
But you see, he’s well over six feet tall and I am just barely hitting five feet. I couldn’t reach the feeder. I dragged out something to stand on, but it was too tall and I was afraid I’d ruin my future by falling off the deck head first, so finally, I turned it sideways and stood crookedly on its legs. Not very comfortable — or steady.
And it turns out that this bird feeder holds five pounds of food. Maybe more. It’s a lot of food. A lot more food than you think. Like … tubs of it. Maybe that’s why the Juncos are so fat? Also, some of the Goldfinch look pretty well-rounded too.
Eventually, they will all just sit on my deck waiting for the goodies. Unable to fly. Just sitting like little, feathered cupcakes.
Is it possible that I am over-feeding my wild creatures?
And finally, just so you don’t think I’m delusional, this is a picture of my Pileated Woodpecker. It’s blurry, but I think it’s definitely that big woodpecker. I’m hoping one day, he’ll drop by and hang around long enough for me to take a picture that has … you know … edges.