Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Spring has (probably) sprung

When I moved “Up North” to York I didn’t expect to notice a huge difference in the weather. It is only one county away, after all. But over the past few weeks we’ve been alternating between the kind of bright sunshine which makes padded jackets uncomfortably warm and temperatures which seem almost Arctic. (Did anyone else see snow today? I’m sure I didn’t imagine it!)

Nonetheless, signs of spring are beginning to start in earnest. The campus is full of the green spikes of daffodil leaves, and last time I walked into the city I saw hazels with catkins by the riverside. You can also really notice the birds now. There seem to be blackbirds everywhere and the birdsong has got louder and longer as the weeks have gone on.

I went for a walk across the common where we went for the Big Garden Birdwatch (actually called Walmgate stray, as I found out this week) a little while ago. I had some time between lectures and wanted to make the most of the fact that, for once, it wasn't foggy. There was a kestrel hunting, hovering in the wind before diving and landing in a patch off rough grass. It flew away unlucky, but I kept an eye on it and saw something which surprised me. The kestrel flew towards one of the large flocks of crows which tend to gather on the stray, which started to mob the kestrel. I couldn’t quite believe it (and unfortunately also couldn’t get a photo)- I’d always thought mobbing was either a defense strategy or a way of stealing food, but the kestrel wasn’t carrying anything and I find it bizarre to think that a flock of 20 crows would see a raptor as small as a kestrel as a threat. So if anyone else has ever seen anything similar or has any ideas about what might have happened, I’d love to hear from you!

Walmgate Stray with the not-very-threatening kestrel in the distance
I was still a bit bewildered as I carried on to the allotments. They were yet again full of small birds, with sparrows and great tits zooming over my head like tiny aerobatic display teams or really oversized bees. Three robin were chasing each other in and out of a hedge- whether they were fighting over territory or a mate I don’t know but the energy of it was incredible.

The other mystery of my walk happened on the way back. I heard a repeated noise, almost like a knocking. For a few seconds I thought it might be a woodpecker until I saw the bird sat on the top of a tree, throwing its head back in time with the sound. I’m going to very cautiously say it was a raven. I feel like, having never knowingly seen one before (to my shame), being cautious is justified.

I think it was a raven. It was big and it seemed to have the ruffed neck and a wedge shaped tail I vaguely remembered from Springwatch descriptions. And the sound it was making seemed wrong for a carrion crow, changing from the knocking which first caught my attention to a “quork” which sounded so much like the way raven calls are written in gothic novels I almost laughed. It certainly seemed to match the calls I found on audio clips online (here and here), and my photos match reasonably well with the one in my bird book.

Searching for the audio clips lead to me to more reading on ravens, which in turn lead to corvids in folklore, but I’ll save that for another post. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one- if you want to get in touch (including about the kestrel behaviour or to correct my raven identification!) please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!


  1. You could try posting your raven pics on the RSPB forum, as they have a section for help with identification. I thought I had a raven visiting my garden recently, posted my pics and after a bit of deliberation some wise owls decided it was actually a big carrion crow. Good luck!

    1. Thank you so much for this advice, I've just posted them on the forum. Hopefully I'll get some replies. I'm sorry to hear your raven wasn't quite what it seemed, but I think carrion crows are still gorgeous birds!

  2. Lovely post! I love that robin picture it's beautifully captured! I too noticed the snow, the weather has been acting a little crazy at the moment - that one day comprised of quite literally, a mini snowstorm, pouring rain and sunshine!

    Josie x

    1. Thank you! I'm really glad you liked the photo, I took so many that it's a relief one of them turned out well. As for the weather, I've found myself taking umbrellas everywhere with me even when it's beautiful sunshine because I do not trust it to stay like that any more!

      Alexandra x

  3. Absolutely love the photography!

    The weather up north is rather crazy, and this is further south than where I'm from!

    Lucy x
    Dinosaur Dances

    1. Thank you, I'm so glad you liked the photos!

      Alexandra xx

  4. Great post! I love the photo of the robin!