Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (
www.simoncherriman.com). This blog contains updates about various things I've been up to, interesting environmental issues and observations I make regularly while going about my day. It is designed to be fun AND educational, and inspire you about our wonderful natural world. Happy reading!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Blown Away: Breeding time for Ravens

I knew the easterly wind would try its best to blow me out of the tree. It howled across the shrubland with enormous force as I pushed my way through the entangled wattle thicket toward the nest. The raven was very well hidden, except for a few tail feathers which protruded above the basket of sticks, telling me it was incubating. As I discarded my shoes for much sturdier, comfortable bare feet, the wind roared across my eardrums. It’s strength increased with every metre I pulled myself into the low Flooded Gum. WHAT a breeze!

The nest was only about 6 metres up. I was nearly under it when an enormous gust sent the trunk bending sideways. My adrenalin was pumping softly, keep me focused but not frightened. Another huge burst of air, the leaves swished against me, as though like clutching fingers they sought to rip me from the trunk. The wind dropped slightly for a moment and I stood, stretching upward with the camera, pointing it downward at the nest and snapping a few shots. One. Two. Not the right angle to even think about using the viewfinder. I hadn’t seen the incubating bird fly off but this didn’t surprise me. Any feathered animal flapping up would be carried a hundred metres sideways in seconds!

I could feel another gust coming; it had been ‘still’ for too long. I slunk into the fork supporting my feet, folding up like a Koala. Whhiiieeeeeeeewww! A massive gust hit me, sending the whole trunk lurching over like a piece of rubber. It was like being on a bucking bull with the fieriest attitude! The gale persisted and I swayed around, clinging on for dear life. I had several thoughts of the tree-top snapping off, sending me plummeting downward with it. Although I wasn’t that high, it would still hurt.

It was difficult to see into the nest in the first couple of photos, but eventually I managed to grab a shot which revealed the contents.

The above picture shows a typical clutch of eggs laid by the Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides). They are nothing short of beautiful, one of the prettiest eggs of all Australian birds. July is the month when this, one of our earliest breeding songbirds, begins to nest. In the Perth hills, ravens (and NOT crows, as they are often mistakenly called) are a common songbird. Their usual clutch is 4, but I will never forget the first nest I discovered at the age of 16 which contained 6. The eggs are laid inside a deep cup which is almost always made of carefully woven strips of bark. Ravens collect bark directly from tree trunks and tear it into strips with their beak before adding it to the nest. Occasionally you will find bits of man-made fibre too, like the blue twine in the above photo. The raven’s cozy cup forms the inner lining of the large stick nest, a bulky structure which is normally conspicuous at the very top of the tree. Every time I see a nest belonging to this species, or the closely related Little Crow (Corvus bennetti; - which is not found in Perth), the term ‘crow’s nest’ pops into my head. The platform at the top of a ship’s mast is a fitting analogy with the real thing.

Despite my battle with the wind, I was happy to scale the tree as it was lucky to find a raven’s nest less than 10 metres off the ground. In the Perth hills the species normally builds in a fork over 20 m high, often at the top of a very tall Marri tree. Today’s Flooded Gum on the sandy Coastal Plain north of Perth was much lower, but in any case ravens like to have a good view over the habitat surrounding their nest. This is presumably to see intruders (like me!) approaching, allowing a fast getaway.

After snapping a dozen photos, I thought I’d better quit while I was ahead, so I slid down the tree-trunk like a fireman. Another nest, another thrill, another wonder from the natural world. There’s nothing like climbing to a nest in the top of a gum tree.

Spot the nest - top right-hand fork in the tree on the left.

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