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A Naturalists' Notebook

article spread
by John Schmitt
 

12 June 1977
Huff ’s Hole, Coastal Mountain Range
San Luis Obispo County, California

Late on this warm, sunny morning the activities of a Common Raven divert my attention from my observations of a large downy nestling Peregrine Falcon in its cliffside eyrie. I notice the raven clambering along on the cliff face about 100 meters from the peregrine’s nest ledge, and it soon becomes evident that the big corvid is searching for the nests of Canyon Wrens, House Finches, Violet-green, Rough-winged, and Cliff swallows, and White-throated Swifts, which nest all over the sandstone cliffs jutting up from the chaparral.

The raven would creep in and out of potholes of all shapes and sizes and along ledges, peering into every fissure and likely nook, often reaching in and sometimes pulling out grass and other things. At times, the raven would fly up and cling, with its wings flailing, to the sheer cliff face and old mud Cliff Swallow nests under the overhangs like a huge satiny black woodpecker, and continue its probing.

Although I never saw the raven eat anything during the fifteen or twenty minutes it foraged on the cliff, a small cloud of anxious swallows swirled constantly beside the larger bird. The raven kept up a constant output of guttural croaking, varied in both character and volume, while foraging. It finally sailed away, buoyed upward on the cliff ’s updrafts, with the sun’s hot white light glinting sharply off its enamel black feathers.

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See more of John Schmitt's Naturalist Notebook artwork in these columns: