Sunday, November 29, 2009

Big, black birds

Crows and ravens
Ravens and crows
What's the difference between them?
Nobody knows!

Not true, of course -- that's just a little ditty off the top of my head to express the challenge in identifying these species from afar. They look so alike, I've had to learn them by voice and behavior. The first raven I saw, out West 15 years ago, matched the picture and description (huge, coarse, shaggy) in my Eastern field guide. But our local ravens look just like the glossy, sleek crows.

Recently I got a chance to see them together. I went outside one sunny, crisp morning and heard a cacophony round back of the house, in the woods up the hill. What seemed like dozens of giant blackbirds were screaming and flapping around an area I couldn't see. Their mobbing suggested either a territorial dispute or the presence of a predator. Since normally a half-dozen crows and a pair of ravens live in amity around our neighborhood, I deduced that they had cornered a hawk.

While waiting for the cause to reveal itself, I studied the blackbirds. Clearly, some were bigger; clearly, their caws and yells differed; clearly, their wing size, tail shape, and flight maneuvers jived with voice and size per the guidebooks. And, clearly, more crows and ravens live around here than I thought!

Presently, in a rioting crescendo, the mob swung in my direction and a red-tailed hawk emerged amid them. No question about identity there: The sun lit up his fanned tail in a brilliant russet. He perched deep in a tree while the hecklers continued until satisfied they had cowed him. Then the ravens circled away in pairs while the crows flapped off in groups or solo, and the land became quiet again. The hawk didn't dare move for a while.

All this I was able to observe without binoculars. So now, thanks to an accident of timing, I know the differences between ravens and crows.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The other November

Yes, November can be blear and drear. But it also has another face, caused by the same forces that often make it bleak and depressing.

The tumultuous skies and low sun angle sometimes combine to light up the world with gold and drama. Some of the most gorgeous moments of the year occur early or late in a November day. The starkness of the landscape, when illuminated by sun flaring below the cloud cover, looks more like a painting than reality and takes my breath away. Drab colors become vivid, clothing the naked world in beauty. Sunrises and sunsets take on hues not seen any other time of year.

Though temperatures drop below freezing at night and struggle above it during the day, the air is crisp and vivifying. It's the best time of year for outdoor work and play. You can exert without overheating, so your energy stays up for hours. And because nothing is growing, yet the ground hasn't frozen, you can undertake yard and garden or construction projects that would be miserable any other time of year.

If not for these benefits, I would dread November. Each day is shorter than the last, and the annual, expensive drudgery of keeping warm dominates daily life. But the onset of holiday bustle and the race to get things done before snow make the calendar pages flip by quickly. When the month is gone, I look forward to it coming around again just to experience those fleeting, gilt-edged moments that only occur in November.

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

These simple words from Thomas Hood, a British poet and humorist, say it all:

"No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruit, no flowers, no leaves, no birds--

Carolyn Haley
Author: Open Your Heart with Gardens
First-year blog archives at