Saturday, January 14, 2012

A death in the park

I was at the end of a walk when I heard, then saw, a mob of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) circling nearby. It sounded and looked as though they were mobbing a predator so I decided to investigate further and walked quickly to the spot the birds seemed to be circling. In a little grove of oak and manzanita I found the fresh remains of a crow. The mob had disappeared and gone silent as soon as I arrived on the scene. There was no sign of the predator though I guessed that I might have interrupted the meal of a hawk or an owl.

As I looked around I saw that I was being regarded by a Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) with what appeared to be dignified indifference. I got out some paper and a pencil and began to draw. The vulture proceeded to take care of some personal grooming then gathered herself together and lifted off with enviable grace.

I returned to the spot where I first heard the ruckus. The crows had begun flying about again, though this time over a larger area while still making a lot of noise. There were more of them, too. Then most of them disappeared, though I could still hear them. Finding an open area, I found them roosting in a tree at the top of the ridge I had walked off of just before all of the excitement. I watched for a while as the crows flew out and about then returned to the tree, calling out their harsh cries. After a while, there were only a handful still in the tree, mostly silent. I packed up my sketch gear as the last of the crows dispersed.