TWO BUT NOT OF A KIND IN BLACK & WHITE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Two of Anything


This time of year, I have a shortlist of things of which I take pictures.

  • Birds.
  • Squirrels.
  • Heaps of snow.
  • And occasionally, people.

That’s it. We don’t go to the falls or parks. We do very little traveling because there are crazy drivers out there and all the little parks and falls are blocked by snow. You can’t get there from here.

On the other hand, bird and squirrel watching is at its peak. Everything is hungry and we are the open banquet. I try not to think about how much it costs to buy all that birdseed. Yikes!

Two pink blossoms on the Christmas Cactus

Two hungry birds

Two!

A bit of red remaining on the Cardinal

Two chubby Doves

Two TV persons. Guess which one is the weather guy?

Cee's Black-White

THUS QUOTH THE RAVENMASTER – By ELLIN CURLEY

In this work, there are some unusual professions. Many of them exist within 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 cares for 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 nobles — Anne Boleyn being a primary example.

The Tower holds numerous lurid stories throughout its long and brutal history, though it was originally built as a tower for the earliest royal family (post-Norman invasion).

Christopher Skaife in his regular Ravenmaster uniform

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.

Treats for the 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.

Night enclosures

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.

Ceremonial Ravenmaster uniform

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 is very clever! Ravens are surprisingly bright compared to other birds, probably on par with parrots.

They are also known to steal sandwiches from children.

Ravens at Tower

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.

Raven at the Tower

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 a 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!

BIRDS AND THE FIRST SNOW WITH ONE SQUIRREL — Marilyn Armstrong

This is not the first major storm on the second day of December. There was a blizzard in Boston in December in the mid-1990s. The thing is, when we got significant early snow, it generally means that it’s going to be a rough winter. A snowy winter. Last year was, as we say around here, a piece of cake.

Not this year.

Oh how much I want to be wrong about this. And, you never know. We might have a month of fine weather after this. Even two months. It has happened. In terms of weather? If you live around here, EVERYTHING has happened and not just once.

The birds were really hungry today. There were flocks of them surrounding the feeders. I know the squirrels line up in the morning and I let them have the morning to feed, but by lunchtime, it’s time to let the rest of the wildlife have some food. If it were possible to actually reason with the feathery and furry crew, I’d explain that they could share. Squirrels on one feeder, birds on the other.

Sharing!

In fact, I have a picture — something you never see: a Chickadee and a squirrel together on one feeder. If a squirrel and a Chickadee can do it, why can’t our senators and congresspeople be equally reasonable?

GROWLING AT THE SQUIRRELS – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m sorry no one took pictures this morning before I decided that they’d already knocked off most of the seeds in two 4-1/2-pound feeders. No matter what they think, they are going to have to get at least some of their food somewhere else.

But it was funny. There were two squirrels clinging to each wired feeder and literally, a line of squirrels on the rail of the fence. There must have been at least ten squirrels on the deck and the feeders. There was also a tiny chipmunk on the deck and all the birds waiting in the nearby trees, waiting for me to do whatever I do so they could have a little bit of lunch.

I opened the top of the Dutch door and explained, in my best dulcet tones, that we had already discussed this business of endless eating. They dead-eyed me. I swear they did. They wouldn’t budge. I could hear their little squirrelly brains thinking: “She won’t do anything anyway. All she does is yell at us.” They kept eating while ignoring me.

I opened the screen door and starting growling. I’ve been practicing. Obviously talking to them hasn’t done the job. Growling works for the Duke. It worked pretty well for me except for that one big fat guy who would NOT leave feeder. Then, after dropping the few inches to the railing stared right back at me. For all I know he was growling too.

I finally went out onto the deck and chased him around until he finally gave up and leapt for the nearest tree. I went to get a cup of coffee while he and two of his best buds came back to the feeders. I wasn’t gone longer than a minute or two. Those guys are FAST.

I did some more running around the deck while growling — with a little background help from the Duke himself.

Oh, how much he’d like to join in the festivities. We never do anything really fun and he wanted to come outside and play too. My problem is I’m afraid he’ll try to jump the fence and that’s a long first step. The birds like to dive off the feeders, waiting until they are nearly on the ground before opening their wings, but I don’t think this would work out well for the Duke. It’s that whole “lack of wings” thing.


Actually, I wish someone had videoed me and the squirrels chasing around our 12-foot by 12-foot deck. It’s not a very big deck. It was like one of those 1920s cartoons with the mice and the farmer chasing each other around the kitchen table.

I was trying to figure out if there was a way I could put in a special squirrel feeding station and maybe they’d do their eating over there and let the birds eat … but then I realized they would eat everything in their feeder and when they were finished, they’d be back.

They aren’t going to leave. Ever. If there is food, they will be lining up, wearing their bibs. I hope they bring their own utensils. I wouldn’t want them to be stopped by not having the proper nutcracker!

BLUE BIRDS OF HAPPINESS – Marilyn Armstong

I kept wondering why I never saw a bluebird. Ever. Not here or in New York. And I know they live here. But this morning I got up and looked out my back windows and the deck was full of bluebirds!

A good sign for Thanksgiving, isn’t it? Here are some of them.

Two bluebirds

Bluebird and Chickadee

And the Chickadee is about to take off!

Bluebird on the fence rail

AND OUT CAME THE SUN — Marilyn Armstrong

I woke up feeling a lot better. Tired, but better. Little rays of sunshine were sneaking in around the blinds and at 6 in the morning, which is this time of year, just before dawn, the sky was that beautiful deep violet that promises a sunny day. They promised it last night on the weather, but rain again by tomorrow with much heavier rain on Wednesday. I don’t think we’ll run out of water!

Hairy Woodpecker

I tried having a little coffee this morning, but my body started screaming “NO NO NO!” I decided maybe I should listen. But I have the cup and the coffee here, so I can pretend I’m drinking it.

I also took pictures.

Woodpecker

About those squirrels. We filled both wire feeders last night and discarded the flat feeder. The squirrels eat the entire contents of the flat feeder in mere minutes. At least they have to eat more slowly from the wired ones. When we finished cleaning them, they were full. Nine pounds of seeds.

Nuthatch

Still hungry after all those seeds!

Beware birds! The hanging squirrel is here!

The squirrels were out in full force today. Each wire feed had two squirrels hooked on it. I swear they looked like huge, furry leeches. They can’t eat as much from the wire feeders as from the flat feeder, but they still knocked off about five pounds of seeds before lunch.

Furry

One of them decided to try a direct face-off with me, so I let Duke out on the porch. Big fluffy might try to face ME down, but not a dog. About five minutes later, the birds decided it was safe to come back.

Titmouse

Another Titmouse

We must have done a good job with the squirrels last year because there are so MANY of them this year. Most of them were quite little when we put the feeders up, but they aren’t little now. They are big and round and have absolutely gorgeous fur. Every day, they are less afraid of me and Garry (though Garry seems to have more impact than I do).

A baby Downy Woodpecker

Today, they dug in and wouldn’t leave. I had to go outside. They waited until I was standing next to them. Then they inched back a foot or two. Cheeky! Garry and I need to learn to growl and bark. Apparently, they take dogs more seriously than people. So I have a few bird pictures I took this morning.

Titmouse on the railing

A lot of the birds are very small. I think they are just post fledgling. Many of them still have the flecks of color on their white breasts from their brief teenage years. The tiny woodpeckers are especially cute.