Friday, 3 July 2015

Night Shift at the Raven Roost

Having been unable to run my moth trap on that warm night a couple of days ago, I hoped to get out trapping last night instead. However, forecasts of clear skies, plummeting temperatures and a full moon caused be to rethink my plans, so I reluctantly abandoned the planned mothing for a raven count.
For some unknown reason, the ravens have been flying out earlier than usual, these past three years, with last year's starting at 03:45 and in 2013, they started leaving at 03:25. As always, I take the earliest departure time as a target and aim to be in position at least fifteen minutes beforehand. As it happens, this morning, I was there at 02:50, which was fortunate, for while getting my stuff out of the car and sorting myself out, prior to heading off down the parish road to my usual counting spot, I was only partially surprised to hear a raven flight call, quite close and after a quick naked eye scan of the dim, twilit sky above me, I could just about make out six ravens flying over me, then turning and heading back towards the roost.
I hurriedly grabbed my things and headed off down the road, but hadn't got far when I heard more ravens. It took me a few seconds to get my eyes zeroed into them, but I was helped by these flying between me and the brighter sky to the east of me. I hadn't yet zeroed my hand tally, so I counted them manually and as soon as they were gone, I got my tally out, zeroed it and added the count to it, by which time, more ravens could be heard approaching, so despite being quite a distance up the road from where I usually slouch, I decided to stay put for the time being and count from there.
About seventy birds had left by 03:15, then it went quiet, with just the occasional small group or pair flying past. As I sat there waiting, a Nightjar suddenly started churring from somewhere in the direction of the roost; the first time this has happened for several years.

By 03:30, around a hundred birds had flown out and it had become really quiet, so I took advantage of the lull to move down to my usual spot. As usual, the first songbirds to start singing were Stonechats, followed after a while, by Wren and Reed Bunting. As I sat there listening to the Stonechats, I saw something whiffling past and almost immediately heard the bubbling call of a female Cuckoo. It was 04:05 and no further ravens had left the roost, when I heard some approaching it from behind me and to my dismay and frustration I saw three groups, amounting to twenty four birds fly back to the roost and only two go the other way. Normally the flying out is all over in an hour, often a lot less, but it was now 04:30 and in the past hour almost nothing had left the roost and I began to wonder if that was it, but decided to give it until five before calling it a day.

At 04:55, a couple of pairs flew out, followed by more small groups, then a steady trickle of small groups from then until it all fizzled out completely at 05:45, by which time I was colder than I thought it possible to be while fully clothed on a July morning.

At two and three quarter hours, it was by far the most protracted raven count I've ever done and by turns, frustrating, tedious and occasionally exciting. However, despite all that, the total, whatever it is, is always worth the effort (it's the whole point after all) and this one was, at 415, the highest ever for July, so we got there in the end. Based on their behaviour, these last three July counts, I am beginning to wonder whether they actually roost properly, these short nights, particularly when there is a bright moon, or whether groups of them to and fro between the roost and the tip or a loafing place, through the night. 

On by way back up to the car, I was surrounded by Linnets singing and calling, the males looking superb.
Before heading off home, I visited my flint site and found two Mesolithic blade fragments, which were the cherry on the cake and adequate compensation for a mothless night.

The largest of the prehistoric blade fragments.Approximately 3.50 cm long

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